Monday, 5 June 2017

Brian Linklater: A Kind and Gentle Soul

Some 25 years ago, I found myself rudderless, having sold my rather large pile of a house in Orleans after my husband left me with three little kids. At the time, Dan had offered to take the kids for the summer, and I agreed. I needed to spend the summer healing.

I bought myself a townhouse and sold most of my belongings to pay for the move. With the little cash I had left, I invested in some cheap Ikea furniture. Trouble was, I had no idea how to wield an Allan key. Let's just say, I had left all the heavy lifting and practical stuff to my husband, who was now in the wind.

One day, after dropping the kids off at our mid-point, where Dan's girlfriend picked them up, I decided to stroll over to the National Press Club. It was tough. I was still reeling, still grieving the death of my marriage, and hurting about passing off my three little kids to the woman who helped break up my marriage.

It was summer, with the Parliamentary recess on, and there was absolutely nobody around except for Dave the bartender, and a rather largish man whom I had seen many times, but whom I had never met. He was sitting in his usual place, in the tub chairs right off the bar, having a Scotch and reading a book.

He smiled at me, and waved me over. I sat there and told him about my sad life.

"My birthday is coming up," I told him. "My kids are gone, and I have all this Ikea furniture to put together. Guess that's how I'll be spending my birthday."

"Let me treat you to lunch," he said. "Next Friday. Downstairs."

I thanked him, grateful, like Blanche Dubois, for the kindness of a stranger.

The next week,  I showed up for lunch, and the kind man bought me wine and lunch, and then presented me with a gift -- a set of tools.

"I'll come over tomorrow and help you put that furniture together," he said, smiling.

And he did.

That was typical of Brian Linklater, who died last week in Ottawa. He was a kind man, thoughtful, sensitive, with a great sense of humor. Over the years, Brian did many a good deed for me. He helped me find work when I had none, introduced me to a vast number of interesting folk from the association community, and most importantly, listened.

He was really great at listening.

Over the years, at the club, Brian stopped reading his book and began to come out of his shell, holding court at his usual table at the side of the bar. He arrived precisely at 4 p.m. and would leave at precisely 5:50, in time for his wife, Jan, to pick him up. He liked his Scotch, and pipe, though he gave up the latter about ten years ago.

Most of all, Brian loved people.

This unassuming man had a great career in the association business. He rose through the ranks within the Canadian Society of Association Executives and even became the Chairman of the Ottawa Board of Trade. Many years ago, he left his executive position at the Canadian Printers Association to hang out his shingle as a consultant for a number of small associations. Like the salesman he was, Brian travelled around the country to trade shows and to the small offices of  tiny associations whose members sold tools, lumber, and gift and tableware.

 Brian helped save the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs from near extinction, taking on the job of executive director until its restructuring. He worked with the CAFC for many years, and even became an honorary fire chief. Of that award, he was most proud.

Brian worked into his 70s but found it difficult to ply his trade in the age of the Internet. Sadly, he gave up his company. His health was failing, and he finally admitted it was time to put himself out to pasture.

I haven't seen Brian for years now. I moved on, and found a new person to wield the Allan Key. While we continued to be friends, we began to drift, as people do.

We lost track of each other about five years ago. I'd heard he was ill, and only found out about his death yesterday.

In the old days, it would have been all the news at the National Press Club.

There would have been a wake where we would all get together to tell Brian stories.

Those days are gone.

And so I write this as my small remembrance of a remarkable man.

Good night, Mr. Linklater.

From the girl who still doesn't know how to use tools.

I dedicate the following song to Brian who liked to whistle a good tune. 

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Ashley Simpson: No More Stolen Sisters

In the town of Enderby, British Columbia, the community got together to create a moving mural entitled No More Stolen Sisters. The mural was painted over a skateboard installation to commemorate the three women who went murdered and missing from this community last year.

Deanna Wertz, Caitlin Potts, and my cousin Ashley Simpson all went missing from here, and from nearby Salmon Arm, within months of each other. These were not random disappearances, nor were they atypical in a province that is becoming known as much for its murdered women as it is for its breathtaking mountain scapes.

The epidemic of lost women, mostly indigenous women and girls, has left a black mark on this nation known more for hockey and poutine than for violence. It has also raised serious concerns about the endemic racism that exists in many communities where First Nations people and other Canadians live side-by-side, or co-exist within sprawling rural/urban communities. 

The alarm bells rang so loudly that the federal government established a commission to look into the matter eight months ago. So far, that commission has spent $6 million and shown little, if any, progress. Its "ineptitude" was recently laid bare by the CBC's Neil Macdonald who tried to contact the commission only to hit what he describes as a "bureaucratic" fortress. People within and outside the commission have pointed to the commission's "obsession with secrecy, officious incompetence, however well-intentioned." You can read Neil's excellent piece here. 

Meanwhile, even the father of Canada's Justice Minister, Bill Wilson, has condemned the commission. In a Facebook site, he calls it a "bloody farce." 

"It has done nothing but pay salary and expenses," he wrote in a posting. "When asked what they were doing (the commissioner) said they were busy working" making sure they had rooms in Whitehorse and arranging catering. They also decided to take the summer off. 

"You have failed miserably," said Wilson, who is a respected hereditary chief from B.C. 

One thing about Ottawa, I've learned after more than four decades of working here, when the government wants an issue to go away, it sets up a commission and throws a bundle of money at it. 

Action and Commission -- these are two words that have little to do with one another. 

Dirty little secret

The epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women is just one more dirty little secret that Canada likes to ignore. Like residential schools,  

It's not a sexy issue for voters. And it's thorny, and fraught with racism, sexism, and indifference at all levels. 

These women aren't, after all, our soccer queens going missing, right?

And it's not like they didn't, well, you know, drink, or "run off". 

It seems the only way to care about the missing and murdered is to know one, remember her laugh, or how her hair smelled, or what she was like as a little girl before the boogeyman got to her. 

In the case of my cousin Ashley, it took days for those who knew her to report her missing, even to her mother. And it took ten days before anybody even started looking for her. It's been over a year, and her father has been given no information, only that the police are "following the evidence".

Her family has lost its life savings trying to find her. Her dad is paying people, as we speak, to fly drones around the Salmon Arm area to look for the three women. 

And as an extra fish slap to the face, John lost his EI, the very EI he got because he is a father of a missing child, because he had to travel back to B.C. from his home in Niagara to look for her -- because everybody has stopped looking for her. Even the police. 

Before Ashley disappeared, I was among the ignorant. 

Like most Canadians, I had only vague knowledge about missing indigenous women,  What I did learn came from a smattering of salacious newspaper accounts about disappearing prostitutes found Robert Pickton's pig farm.

For that I feel ashamed.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Ashley Simpson: Remember

On Saturday, Ashley Simpson's spirit was felt across the country as her family, friends and supporters participated in walks in tribute to the missing and murdered women of Canada.

In B.C., her father, John Simpson, joined the families of Caitlin Potts and Deanna Wertz who also disappeared last year from Enderby and Salmon Arm. The walk, organized by Jody Leon, is meant to remember the murdered and missing indigenous women who have been the target of so much violence and neglect.

Across the country, in St. Catharines, Ontario, there was a walk in Ashley's memory.

Students and staff from Brock University joined in the walk. Ashley's cousin, Sarah McGean, Administrative Coordinator and Academic Advisor at Brock's Tecumseh Centre for Aboriginal Research and Education walked in her honor.

Ashley's aunt, Julie Major also organized a walk in Marathon, Ontario.

The walks were a success. There was only one low point. That time city staff in Enderby took down a poster right in front of a family member. Shame!

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Ashley Simpson: Mayor Snowflake

The folks running the town of Enderby must have breathed a sigh of relief after I took down part of my blog yesterday, in which I reported that the town was taking down posters promoting a local walk for missing and murdered women.

Some of the organizers of the walk had accused the local mayor, and town, of taking down the posters because they were afraid that they were bad for tourism -- that they were a buzzkill. One organizer even said she was hung up on by the mayor.

I suggested the story reminded me of the plot of Jaws.

Don't tell anybody there's a shark on the loose. And we all know what happened.

I took down my post because I received a note from the town's Chief Admin Officer, who said he took a drive around town and noted that all the posters were still up including those which had been placed on city infrastructure spots including kiosks, light standards and more.

"They have not been removed since they were posted yesterday," he noted.

He also defended the mayor who had been rumored to be behind the ripping down of posters on city property, and he explained that only one poster was removed in a window at city hall, and that poster had been taken down by a city staffer.

"This window needs to be kept clear, so use of this particular space is restricted."

As a blogger, it's pretty difficult to report what is going on 3,000 miles away. I want to be fair, so I decided to get more information. I asked those who attended the walk.

Boy, did I get an earful from people who were there.

As it turns out, the story is not about posters at all.

The story is about a mayor who said he was "too busy" to show up, and lend his support for the walk to support the families of three women who went missing last year from the same areas.

The photos of Ashley Simpson, Deanna Wertz and Caitlin Potts are posted above. All of these women disappeared last year from Enderby and nearby Salmon Arm.

I know it's the long weekend and all. But part of the job of the mayor is to show up at things like this. Important things.

Two, it doesn't look good that he sent his Chief Admin Offer after me to set the record straight.

What the mayor did -- I forget his name and so should you -- was sloppy and insensitive.

This doesn't make him a bad person. But it does make him a lousy politician.

He might be starting to care because people are really pissed.

"Maybe the families should have offered to pay for his time, as he obviously has more pressing things going on," wrote Cathy McLeod, after I posted my blog.

Meagan Louis expressed her disbelief in the town's side of things.

"I wish I had recorded the mayor when he called (organizer) Jody Leon!. His words were not so nice then -- he was very angry, accusatory. He said he was too busy to attend our walk. The Mayor of Armstrong attended the walk along with chiefs and dignitaries from surrounding communities.

"Way to cover his ass up!"

Nichole Fleming believes the mayor's indifference to the walk is just one more dagger in the collective heart of the families of the missing. "The important fact is Enderby is not stepping up to the plate. These women have been swept under a rug and just forgotten. It's absolutely disgusting."

Melisa Lynn Roudebush suggested the organizers change the posters, just to get the mayor's attention.

"Stay safe," they should read. "Stay off the back roads, and for the love of God, don't travel anywhere alone. Welcome to Salmon Arm!"

You see, Mr. Mayor, or should I call you Mayor Snowflake? It's not about ripped posters, it's about your feckless disregard for your constituents. It's about your clear inability to read the climate of your town. People are afraid. Women feel devalued. Families feel their women are forgotten.

I also received this chilling comment from a woman with the moniker Gayle Andrea Astrologer.

"I lived in that town for sixteen years. Lotta strange things go on in the backwoods. Thrives on secrecy. And women are held in low regard for the most part. Especially, women who 'run off''."

The real point is this.

On a day when strangers, family and friends all take the time to lace up to raise awareness about a growing epidemic in crimes against women, we shouldn't be talking about bad politicians. They can, and should, be thrown out of office.

Instead, we should be saluting those politicians who do show up, like the mayor of Salmon Arm who walked the whole route in solidarity.

As Elaine noted: "She participated in the blessings and prayers for those that are missing, and she was touched by the tragedy of it all. That is what the mayor of a community should do, without question."

So here's to Nancy Cooper for giving a hoot.

Thanks, Nancy Cooper, for lending your support.

Maybe you should have a talk with that mayor over in Enderby.

You could give Mayor Snowflake a few pointers.

For the complete story, please visit Global News.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Ashley Simpson: Walk for the Missing

While many Canadians will be preoccupied with settling into their cottages, or campsites, on this long weekend, others will be lacing up their running shoes to walk in the memory of their loves ones -- women who have gone missing and are presumed murdered.

Members of my immediate family will be participating in walks from coast to coast. Some will be walking in St. Catharines/Niagara to remember my cousin Ashley Simpson who disappeared a year ago from her home in Salmon Arm. She is one of three women missing from the B.C. Interior towns of Salmon Arm and Enderby. Deanna Wertz and Caitlin Potts are also missing.

Her father, John Simpson, will join in the B.C. walk. The organizers of walk have put the emphasis on aboriginal women because the majority of the missing come from the First Nations communities. But they have also taken John into their fold. Grief has no ethnicity, after all.

The walk will cap off a frustrating time for John who dropped everything and set off to find his daughter.

He's spent the last two weeks scouring the creeks and bushes near Yankee Flats Road where both Ashley and Deanna were last seen. Sadly, John will leave the area after the walk, having failed in his quest to bring Ashley home.

The weather has been challenging, with flooding, and record rain fall so John has only had a few days to look for her. Luckily, the community has pitched in, offering help with food, lodging and money to keep John going. He's also been aided by drones which have enabled him to search in the most treacherous areas, places where humans have been unable to go -- until now.

Despite the strong support, John has also encountered unexpected road blocks. The federal government cut off the employment insurance which has kept John going since Ashley's disappearance. There is a provision in the legislation which allows short term cash for family members of the murdered and missing. Unfortunately, John had his EI disallowed because he left the province of Ontario to search for Ashley because he wouldn't be able to look for work during this time.

What a stupid, moronic, bean counting, box checking thing to do to a father who is going mad, sitting at home, unable to look for his daughter. So much for Canada's social safety net.

What a joke.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Ashley Simpson and her Mother Bear

When Ashley Simpson went missing a year ago, the person who placed the call to the RCMP was her mom, Cindy Mcgean Simpson. That was the hardest day of Cindy's life.
No, let me take that back.
Everyday since has been the hardest day of her life, always wondering what happened to poor Ashley. If it's hard for John, who literally wakes up crying every single day, it must be excruciating for Cindy.
I have watched her over the past year, and I've been amazed at her strength and resolve as she continues to prop up the rest of the family and carry on.
This weekend, while John was out in Salmon Arm starting his search for his missing girl, Cindy was busy holding a garage sale to raise money for his quest. At Christmas, she went on a ship through the Welland Canal to cook, and help keep the lights on at home.
We share the soul and heart of the Mother Bear protecting her cubs.
We put aside our own pain to soothe the hearts of our children, and to put salve on every cut and wound.
We inspire them to greatness even when we ourselves feel small.

But I wonder: who soothes the heart of a mother who has had her child ripped away from her in such a terrible fashion?
My sincere wish for Mother's Day is that John finds Ashley and finally brings her home to her mother where she belongs.

Let us never forget that motherhood is not just a lifelong job, it's a calling.
Bless you, Cindy.
I hope the kids make you something nice for dinner.
And make them do the dishes.