Note: Transcripts may contain errors. If you wish to re-use all, or part of, a transcript, please contact CBC for permission. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print. Copyright © CBC 2016
The Current Transcript for April 15, 2016
Host: Piya Chattopadhyay
STORIES FROM THIS EPISODE
Listen to the full episode
When a sentence is handed down, it weighs heavily on the fact that that individual is going to learn from their mistakes. But when we throw FASD into the mix, we know that's not going to work.
PIYA CHATTOPADHYAY: FASD, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, is a debilitating, lifelong condition that cuts across Canadian society, but it hits very hard inside indigenous communities. It could also be part of the reason that too many indigenous offenders seem stuck in a revolving-door with our justice systems. In a moment, we'll hear about new efforts to take account of FASD in the sentencing process. After that, we'll talk taxes.
In terms of my own financial affairs, I have no shares, no offshore trusts, no offshore funds, nothing like that.
PC: The British PM, David Cameron, would later admit that he had indeed owned shares, but sold them off. It's the kind of admission political leaders around the world are being forced to make in the ongoing wake of the Panama Papers. Maybe it'd be easier if politicians' tax returns were put on public display automatically. Or would that just keep more people out of public service? That's a debate we'll give full airing to in a half hour from now. Then, what can make an octopus laugh? Ten-tickles. All right, enough with the bad jokes, but let's face it, we've all got octopuses on our minds this week.
[splashing, heavy breathing]
VOICE 1: He did it!
VOICE 2: Is he going to be okay, Gill?
VOICE 3: Don’t worry. All drains lead to the ocean.
PC: It was true for Nemo, and for Inky, too! If you have not heard the story of the octopus who slithered through a drain pipe to freedom, we're going to get you caught up. And meet some of the other highly intelligent members of the animal kingdom, as well. Hello, I'm Piya Chattopadhyay and this is the Friday edition of The Current.
Back To Top »
Proposed bill takes FASD into account when sentencing offenders
Guests: Russ Hilsher, Jonathan Rudin, Dan Brodsky
PIYA CHATTOPADHYAY: What a week's it's been for the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples. A state of emergency in Northern Ontario's Attawapiskat First Nation set off conversations about the crises of suicide and despair. And yesterday's Supreme Court decision will redefine the federal government's jurisdiction over all Indigenous Canadians, including non-status Indians and Métis. Today, we're focusing in on a smaller story, but one with the potential for a large impact. It's about proposed legislation aimed at changing the way the justice system views criminal defendants who have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, or FASD. FASD affects people of all backgrounds, but it's an issue of particular importance for Indigenous Canadians, and one that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission specifically cited for attention and action.
FASD is a disability that is caused by prenatal alcohol exposure. It is a spectrum disorder, meaning that people have different ranges of being affected and different ways of being affected. Behaviourally, there can be memory deficits; there can be a lack of understanding of cause and effect. There can be some social skills that have not been developed. Executive functioning is impaired.
PC: That was Leslie Allen, she is the executive director of the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Network of Saskatchewan. And some of those characteristics she mentioned contribute to why many people with FASD get caught up in the criminal justice system. Yukon Liberal MP Larry Bagnell has tabled a private-member's bill, Bill C-235, aimed at stopping what he calls the "revolving door" of people with FASD winding up before the courts over and over again. Larry Bagnell says the bill proposes four significant changes to the criminal code.
One, is it allows FASD people to be assessed by the courts if they think there's a possibility of a person having FASD. Second of all, they can use that assessment to mitigate the sentencing, because the sentencing isn't set up to be logical to deal with people with FASD. The third thing is to have a plan when a person comes out of incarceration, to help them reintegrate into society. The last thing is that while they're incarcerated, the Corrections Act recognizes the types of programming this person needs, and to be flexible, and adjust to that.
PC: That’s Yukon Liberal MP Larry Bagnell. Now, a similar Conservative bill failed to pass under the previous government. We'll discuss what Mr. Bagnell’s proposed changes would mean to the criminal code. But first, we're reached someone with a personal perspective on this. Russ Hilsher has Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, and he’s spent most of his adult life going in and out of jail. He joins us from Winnipeg. Hello.
RUSS HILSHER: Hello.
PC: So Russ, you just heard that one of the characteristics of FASD is that it makes it hard to connect actions with their consequences, that cause and effect thing. Is that something that you've experienced?
RUSS HILSHER: Yes, that is something that I have experienced time and time again. And it's something that I’m just learning to get a grasp on, to prevent that from happening again.
PC: What's it like for you to live with FASD?
RUSS HILSHER: It's hard. It's definitely not easy. I'm faced with everyday challenges that the average person may not face.
PC: Take us through a day. Tell me what's hard on a given day for you to do.
RUSS HILSHER: Anything from, you know, going to work on my own can be hard. Making it to appointments could be hard. Doctor’s appointments, lawyer’s appointments, especially being involved with the criminal system now for the past 20 years of my adult life. It's hard.
PC: How so?
RUSS HILSHER: How so? An example, I was given an ATM card one time, and I was told that it was clean and good to use, and we needed to use it for our children. But it was a dirty ATM card. And I was the one not got caught, because I was the one that was seen.
PC: What do you mean by dirty?
RUSS HILSHER: That was stolen. Yeah.
PC: So someone gave you a stolen ATM card, and they told you it was a legitimate ATM card.
RUSS HILSHER: Yes.
PC: And then you went and used it, and were caught breaking the law.
RUSS HILSHER: Yes.
PC: And so, I think what I’m hearing from is that you couldn't understand that it was a dirty ATM card.
RUSS HILSHER: Yes, exactly.
PC: Would someone like me, someone who doesn't have FASD, do you think I would have understood that?
RUSS HILSHER: I think so. I think, yeah, it would have been one of the questions probably anyone who didn't have FASD would have asked.
PC: Hmm. You’ve called yourself a yes man. What does that mean?
RUSS HILSHER: Not having the ability to say no in the moment, which always leads to the impulsivity, the drinking, the using, the impulsivity of putting something in my pocket.
PC: What kinds of crimes have you been convicted of that has put you in and out of jail for a number of years?
RUSS HILSHER: A lot of assaults, breaches, thefts.
PC: And are you aware now the kinds of actions that will get you in trouble with the law?
RUSS HILSHER: Yeah, I am aware of those now, and I think the reason behind that is because of the learning that I had to go through to actually learn that those were the consequences.
PC: And when you were inside, those many times inside jail, what kind of support and treatment did you have on the inside?
RUSS HILSHER: None at all. There was no support in there whatsoever, other than the support that was given to me from the community that came into jail to visit me.
PC: And what was that like for you, what affect that have on you, for spending so much time in jail with no support?
RUSS HILSHER: It taught me a different way of attitude. Obviously, it's a lot different environment.
PC: Must have been pretty lonely.
RUSS HILSHER: It was. Not having no one to come visit you, other than supports, and they’re only funded maybe once a month.
PC: You now get support from an organization called Initiatives For Just Communities, IJC. How are they helping you?
RUSS HILSHER: They support me, just to help me take me to my appointments, anything where I need to be, that's what they're there for.
PC: What other kind of help would you like, what do you need?
RUSS HILSHER: Life skills, shopping, money management. Just your everyday life skills, situations, that's what I need help.
PC: I want to ask you about being a First Nations man. You live away from your reserve; does your Aboriginal status have an impact and determine the kinds of supports you are able to receive?
RUSS HILSHER: It does. And I say that is because I live off reserve, so I’m given funding. The people who live on reserve get no funding, not all.
PC: Meaning if you went back to your reserve and live there now, the supports that you just talked about, they wouldn't exist anymore?
RUSS HILSHER: Yes, exactly. Add to me, that's a crying shame. All those people on reserve are falling through the cracks, no support, you know. What makes them any different than me?
PC: You heard a bit from Yukon MP Larry Bagnell, who wants to change the law so that it would recognize that someone like you, someone with FASD, needs more treatment, less jail time.
RUSS HILSHER: Yes.
RC: Does that make sense to you? What difference would that make for you?
RUSS HILSHER: It would make a huge difference, because jail doesn't really teach us anything other than just to continue that life that we're living, right, that just kind of puts up the blinders around our eyesight and that’s all we can see as it's going in and out. Meanwhile, programs like this and services that are offered help bring blinders down and can show us that there’s other options and other programs out there that are willing and wanting to help.
PC: I'm not telling you anything that you haven't heard before, and that is the argument that people who commit crimes, for whatever reason, need to take personal responsibility for the things they do. What do you say to that?
RUSS HILSHER: Yeah, that's a tough one. It's hard to put, to have someone who has FASD, to hold them responsible for something that they had no control over. To me, that doesn't seem right. But at the same time, society would want that. So there's a line that has to be drawn, or something has to come up in some kind of format or way, you know, where we can say, hey, you know this is this person has FASD. Okay, well, then let's just deal with it that way. Continue to have that patience and understanding, and we will continue to make an effort in our lives the best that we know how.
PC: Russ, thank you for speaking with me this morning.
RUSS HILSHER: Yeah, thank you, you're welcome.
PC: Russ Hilsher has FASD, he is a spokesperson for the Winnipeg-based Initiatives for Just Communities, an organization which supports people with intellectual disabilities. And just to clarify, on the issue of funding for people with FASD. As Russ said, he would lose funding for his particular program if he were on reserve. But, there are other programs offered, on and off reserve. On the whole, though, there are big gaps. And support and treatment varies from individual to individual, and from community to community. The proposed private member's bill would mandate that the court system consider when an offender has FASD. An FASD diagnosis would mitigate sentencing; and the courts would recognize that treatment and support are needed while in prison and after release. To discuss whether these changes to the law would help, those proposed changes, I'm joined by two guests now. Jonathan Rudin is program director of Aboriginal Legal Services and also chair of the FASD Justice Committee. He is with me in our Toronto studio. And joining us on the line, also in Toronto, is Dan Brodsky, criminal lawyer who represents many clients who have FASD. Hello to both of you.
BOTH: Good morning.
PC: Jonathan Rudin, let me begin with you. Would these changes, these proposed changes, be a step in the right direction?
JONATHAN RUDIN: There's no question that they would be definitely a step in the right direction.
PC: And how would they change the experience of someone with FASD who has been charged with an offense?
JONATHAN RUDIN: The first thing is that the sentencing process in Canada is a very quick process, and you heard Russ, he sounded fairly articulate. He sounded like he was doing. In the criminal justice system, someone like him would go through, and no one would know that he had FASD. So unless someone lets the court know that and individual is affected by FASD, they’re sentenced like anyone else. They get sentences based on the fact that everyone assumes they know exactly what they're doing, that their decisions were all perfectly willful, and so they get sentences that aren't helpful and they end up caught in, as he talked about, as you talked about, in this revolving door. They get probation conditions or bail conditions, they breach them, they get picked up, they go to jail, etcetera. And this would help get rid of that, primarily because it would allow people to be diagnosed with FASD, because FASD is largely an invisible disability in Canada.
PC: And arguably then, in the sentencing process, a judge could take that into consideration.
JONATHAN RUDIN: Certainly, our experience has been that when judges know that someone has FASD, they usually take that into account in a positive way.
PC: And Dan Brodsky, where you on this? What do you think of the proposed changes?
DAN BRODSKY: Well, I am a bit concerned and I think we all are in Canada. We're aware of some blunders that have been made when law reformers with good ideas, good theories, enact legislation based upon some hypothesis about whether things will work or not. In this case, there's no question what Jonathan said is moving in the right direction. But in criminal law, there's only been two times, there are only two opportunities to conscript people against themselves, to force people to have assessments that they may choose not to participate in. One is when a person is unfit to stand trial, so they may not even know they are in court. And the other chance for courts to do that would be if a person doesn't know right from wrong, and should be excused because they are morally blameless of a crime. This would add a new category. When a court was concerned the person was so violent and also had an inability to control their violence, or they had an inability to understand the consequences of behavior, including violent behavior, for the prosecutor to apply to a judge to have a person potentially sent off to jail to have an assessment that they may not want to participate in. You see, what this legislation does is it takes away the choice that a person has, who has or may have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and the truth of the way the criminal law works is defendants’ choices are respected. A client hires a lawyer, they sit down in the lawyer’s office, and one of the discussions that may happen in a lawyer’s office with a client is, do you want to participate in the assessment? Do you want to create a record that you can't control your violent behavior, because while it may get you a lower sentence this time, if you get in trouble two more times, well, judges are only human. After a while, when they're presented with a person in court who has a condition which causes them to be dangerous, I'm not so sure that this legislation will hit the mark in terms of emptying our jails.
PC: So would it make sense to you if the defendant could volunteer that information if he or she wanted to, to a court?
DAN BRODSKY: Well, that happens now.
DAN BRODSKY: I think a part of the process is the broader problem, and where this may miss the mark, is I think Jonathan is right. This is information that the court should be aware of so that the defendant can make the choice, with legal advice, about whether to raise it in his case or not. Because you're talking about a spectrum disorder from a more minor case, that may well, you know, apply to the person who just spoke to you, versus somebody who’s a lot more aggressive.
PC: Let me ask you this. You're a defense lawyer, you've had clients with FASD. Do you have a real life example of when you walked into a courtroom defending a client who had FASD and that was disclosed, that resulted in what you determined to be a worse outcome for the defendant?
DAN BRODSKY: Oh, sure. It's not uncommon in the real world for me to say, ooh, you know what, that person has a condition which is going to scare the court. He has a condition where he is uncontrollably violent. You see, what you have to do when you're advising a client, is you have to do this little calculus is. We know that people who suffer from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, some of them who are treated do very well. And they can be managed very well. And others don't. And if you if you have the ability to make your own choices of what's in your interest, you sit with your lawyer, you have your assessment, you do it in private. What this bill would allow, it takes away that choice. Takes away that discussion in the lawyers’ office, and it gives it to the prosecutor. It will be to the prosecutor to decide, because as things sit right now, a defendant can just go and hire a doctor and have the assessment and make the choice.
PC: Okay, let me give Jonathan Rudin a chance to respond. You’ve said much there. Jonathan Rudin, what do you think of Dan's concerns?
JONATHAN RUDIN: Well, I think Dan raises some very important issues. One is the question of being able to consent and decide what you want. And I think we have to understand that an FASD diagnosis is a significant diagnosis. It has an impact on the individual, and also it has an impact on their family, because the reason they have FASD is because their mother consumed alcohol. So we have to understand that, and I think choice is important. But at the same time, most people can't get an FASD diagnosis. I mean, this is a reality.
PC: Because it's a hard diagnosis to make.
JONATHAN RUDIN: Two problems: one, it's a hard diagnosis to make, it's expensive, and There are almost no capacity for assessing adults in Canada. So if you're one of the few people who had an FASD diagnosis when you were young, and you still have a copy of that diagnosis, so you can bring it with you to your lawyer. Then yes, your lawyer can decide whether or not to disclose it. But for most people in the criminal justice system, nobody knows they have FASD. And one of the strong parts of this bill is that it allows for a diagnosis. I agree with Dan that the client should be able to consent, but most people going through the courts who are affected by FASD are undiagnosed, and unless there's a process by which they can get a diagnosis, no one will ever know that. And if all your lawyer can say is, you know, I think my client may have FASD because we heard that his mother drank when she was pregnant, and we look at his behavior, and maybe that's what it is. Then you're often in the situation that Dan talks about, where people are scared, because they don't actually know what the diagnosis means for this particular person. One of the advantages of a real FASD diagnosis is it actually tells you what the particular challenges and strengths of that individual are, and allows the court to actually fashion a sentence that makes sense.
PC: Dan, do you think that this bill, should it move forward, and I’ve just got to ask you to be brief here. Do you think it will make things better within the justice system for these people who are who are being repeat offenders?
DAN BRODSKY: There's no science, so it's hard to say what's going to happen. I think this is just another example of well-meaning lawmakers singling out a category of offender. In this case, someone who suffers from a mental disability, who primarily is going to be a First Nations person, and then saying, well, we know what's good for them.
PC: I want to thank you both for coming in, to you, and as well, Dan, for joining us on the line. Thank you.
DAN BRODSKY: Thanks for having us on the show.
JONATHAN RUDIN: Thank you.
PC: Jonathan Rudin is program director of Aboriginal Legal Services. He is here in our Toronto Studio. He's also chair of the FASD Justice Committee. And Dan Brodsky is a criminal defence lawyer and co-founder of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted. He too, was in Toronto. Well, we want to get your thoughts on this one. Do you think FASD should be a consideration in sentencing? To get in touch with us, you can send us an e-mail by going to our website, cbc.ca/thecurrent, and clicking on the contact link. We are, of course, also on Facebook and on Twitter. Our handle is @TheCurrentCBC. My personal handle, by the way, is @Piya. My name is Piya Chattopadhyay, and you're listening to the Friday edition of The Current.
Back To Top »
Should elected officials have to make their tax returns public?
Guests: Sven Steinmo, Paul Thomas, Duff Conacher
PIYA CHATTOPADHYAY: Hi, I’m Piya Chattopadhyay and you're listening to the Friday edition of The Current.
PC: Still to come. It seems everyone's a sucker for a good animal story. We will hear more about Inky the octopus who made the news this week for escaping a New Zealand aquarium and we'll ask why it is that we're consistently wowed by stories of animal intelligence. But first, bringing tax returns out in the open.
DAVID CAMERON: Yesterday I published all the information in my tax returns not just for the last year but for the last six years. I've also given additional information about money inherited and given to me by my family so people can see the sources of income that I have.
PC: That's British Prime Minister David Cameron speaking earlier this week after becoming the first UK Prime Minister to release a summary of his tax returns to the public. What it took to bring about this newfound transparency was the epic leak of the Panama Papers. Pressure had been mounting on Mr. Cameron to reveal more about his finances since the trove of offshore banking records became public just as pressure has been building on political leaders around the globe. Though, back in Britain not everyone in the political class is in favour of disclosure.
VOICE 1: [jeers] We risk seeing a House of Commons which is stuffed full of low achievers who hate enterprise, hate people who look after their own family and who know absolutely nothing about the outside world.
VOICE 2: If we do publish tax returns because people say nothing to fear, nothing to hide, I'll bring forward a private members' bill in parliament to ban curtains from people's homes on the same basis. Why should I have my right to look into someone's home impinged by a curtain?
PC: Well, as the debate rages in the UK and elsewhere, one country whose tax reporting system deserves a closer look this week is Norway. There's no question there about just how much tax their politicians have paid because in Norway everyone's tax returns are available online. Sven Steinmo has studied the Scandinavian tax system. He is a political economist at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute where he is heading up a project on tax evasion. Sven Steinmo is in Florence, Italy. Hello to you.
SVEN STEINMO: Hello.
PC: So it is tax time in Canada. Our taxes are due the end of this month and most people dread doing their taxes because there is a lot of information for us to fill out. How do Scandinavians file their taxes?
SVEN STEINMO: Well, for most people they simply answer a text message on their phone.
PC: What do you mean?
SVEN STEINMO: I mean that taxes are so much more simple there, that the government essentially sends you a text message saying according to our records you have earned x, y or z and your taxes were d or f. If you have any other information, fill out a form. Otherwise press essentially, yes.
PC: What about things like capital gains, charitable donations, things that we include on our taxes. Do Norwegians have to do that as well?
SVEN STEINMO: Sure, they have to report their interest income, capital gains income, etcetera, but the tax rates are very, very simple and when you have a capital gains at the certain rate, you don't have all the deductions and the multiple forms you have to fill out. As a consequence, there's really nothing to be done for 80 to 90 percent of taxpayers.
PC: Okay, so their system is simpler. Is that fair to say it that way?
SVEN STEINMO: Much simpler.
PC: Okay, and how much can Norwegians for example, find out about each other then, by looking up tax returns online? What kind of information do you get?
SVEN STEINMO: You get information about people's earnings and their tax. You get full information about what they've earned and what they’ve paid in taxes.
PC: Okay, so it's a pretty simple thing, this is how much you made, how much you’ve paid—
SVEN STEINMO: Exactly. It’s not that people actually do this, but it is available to you. You have the right to go look at someone else's income. It's historic, it's been around for centuries actually.
PC: Well, I was going to ask you about both those things which is, first of all, how often do people actually look up say their neighbours information?
SVEN STEINMO: I've never known anyone to ever do it.
PC: You've never known anyone to do it. Okay, well Norway and Sweden, you know in the Scandinavian countries, have not themselves been immune to the Panama Papers scandal. There have been allegations that Norway's top bank helped set up offshore companies, for example. So given that context, how much does the openness of the Norwegian tax system, where Sweden’s which is somewhat comparable, deter tax avoidance and evasion?
SVEN STEINMO: Well, I think it does in rather fundamental ways. It doesn't obviously—tax evasion isn't impossible to completely avoid, especially for somebody who has a lot of money offshore, but in general, what it does is encourages people to do is to be more honest about their tax returns because they know it's possible that somebody could look at their taxes and look at their income. So if you're driving around in a $75,000 Mercedes Benz and you reported an income of only $30,000, somebody might question you.
PC: Okay, there would be an outcry in many countries about what many people would deem to be an infringement on privacy and we've heard that in the last number of days when this call has been made. Why are Scandinavians okay with that?
SVEN STEINMO: The obvious reason is that it has never been considered to be private. The idea that your income is private is actually a more modern concept. In other words, that people always used to know it in the village what other people had, how many cows you had, how many sheep you had, etcetera. The idea that your income or your earnings should be private is a new concept that's been introduced in some places like Britain and Canada and the United States.
PC: So, it's a bit of a cultural difference, that we think that money should be private?
SVEN STEINMO: I think it we should look at it the other way around. The question should be why should it be private, why shouldn't other people know what your income is? What's so special about it?
PC: Okay, let me throw some criticism your way to get your take on this. Some have criticized the open system like they have in Norway. They call it tax porn, they say you know, it's more about entertainment rather than fairness. What do you say to that?
SVEN STEINMO: I think it's a silly argument, frankly. Of course people are interested in what other people make. As the newspapers will publish if somebody has made an enormous amount of money by inventing a new video game, for example it has happened in Finland recently, that gets published by the newspapers and it's curious. Just as when Forbes publishes the list of the top 500 individuals or the billionaires and so on, people are curious about it. Do you call Forbes a porn magazine?
PC: [laughs] Well, I don't, but I’m saying other people are saying it's tax porn, I'm not saying that necessarily.
SVEN STEINMO: That’s saying Forbes is a porn magazine, I think that’s silly.
PC: Okay, well, let me add this to the criticism that's coming out. That beyond it just being satisfied curiosity, is what they would say, that that's all it is, so talk about the larger implications of all this. Are there larger implications for society?
SVEN STEINMO: Well, the idea--one of the things that this does is it enables, no one can basically claim that they are a politician running on behalf of the poor when in fact, I'm poor and argue that they're poor, too if they haven't been. So, one of the dilemmas, in Britain for example, is that many of the representatives of the Labour Party are in fact, very, very wealthy people and really don't want to advertise, let's say, the fact that they're very, very wealthy. So, you know, the irony that someone could be claiming I am poor and not be poor is, it's too easily revealed. So I guess it's just a matter of people have to be more honest about their income etcetera, and I think honesty is a good thing.
PC: I want to ask you about that because you use the words honesty and trust which I think a lot of people sort of ascribe to Scandinavian culture. They believe in things like honesty and trust perhaps more than in the public domain, perhaps than others do. Does that play into this in the sense that, well we trust paying our taxes, like we should do this, is that the mindset?
SVEN STEINMO: Exactly. If you know that everyone else is paying their taxes and you have a much better sense of that, I mean if you really did want to go look and you probably aren’t yourself, but a newspaper reporter could do this on your behalf, let's say. You have a sense that everybody who lives around you is paying pretty much the same taxes you are. That's going to make you feel more confident and more willing to pay your taxes. If everyone does that, then everyone thinks the system is more fair and it's more egalitarian in that sense.
PC: Norway and Sweden, they have a simpler, flatter tax system than we do in our country, say also in the United States and other countries. Is it feasible, I mean would you suggest that other countries adopt this model?
SVEN STEINMO: Well, I think first off, as a student of tax policy, I would strongly argue that America, I know less about Canada, but America and Canada should have a simpler tax system, absolutely. We shouldn't get deductions for every single thing we do. And instead you should have a, I believe, in a progressive system you could have one rate for the very poor and one rate for middle class and a rate for the very, very top earnings. That's perfectly reasonable and simple enough but to have a deduction for every charitable contribution, or depending on how far you drive your car or, if you live in a particular town or whatever, it complicates the system so that then no one knows what anyone else is paying, we're likely to suspect that everyone else is getting away with something and therefore try harder to avoid our own taxes. If everybody does that you end up in a scenario like Italy, where I live now, where 30 percent of taxes that are owed to the government are not paid.
PC: Sven Steinmo, thank you for your perspective on all this. I appreciate it.
SVEN STEINMO: Thank you.
PC: Sven Steinmo is a political economist at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the University European University Institute. We reached him in Florence, Italy. Back here at home in Canada, the issue of politicians and public tax returns has also gained some currency lately thanks to those Panama Papers and the leak. It's become an issue in Manitoba’s current provincial election. NDP leader Greg Selinger made his tax return public and he's called on other leaders to do the same.
GREG SELINGER: There's a global movement for transparency among political leaders in the world. You can see it in Iceland, you can see it in England. Everybody's putting on the table where they stand, whether they have offshore holdings, whether they're using schemes to avoid taxes. My tax return is pretty straightforward. Money earned as an income as the Premier, what I paid in taxes, what I owned.
PC: Well, that is Manitoba NDP leader Greg Selinger who says that if re-elected, he would require all MLA's to make their tax returns public, along with any offshore holdings. Manitoba Liberal leader, Rana Bokhari released some tax return information of her own, but the Progressive Conservative’s Brian Pallister refused, calling this desperation politics.
BRIAN PALLISTER: I respect people's privacy and I have nothing to hide but nonetheless, if I go down that road, you can’t come back out.
PC: We have two guests here to talk about how much financial information Canadian elected officials should be required to release. Paul Thomas is a professor emeritus in political studies at the University of Manitoba. He's in Winnipeg. And Duff Conacher is a co-founder of Democracy Watch, as well as a visiting professor in political science at the University of Ottawa. He's in Ottawa. Hello to both of you.
GUESTS: Good morning, Piya.
PC: Paul Thomas, let me start where you are because you've been watching this Manitoba election campaign closely. What do you think is going on there with the tax returns debate?
PAUL THOMAS: Well, I think the event that Selinger staged was partly based on acceptance of the principle of greater openness in terms of the financial position of the party leaders. But, it also had a political calculation attached to it. He knew that Brian Pallister, the leader of the official opposition, the Progressive Conservatives, is a person of some wealth and has a very sizeable home here that's received a lot of publicity, so he knew that it would put pressure on Mr. Pallister—sorry, to touch on the image of himself as a very privileged person within society and the governing New Democrats are behind in the polls on the eve of an election. It may not have been desperation, but it was definitely calculated.
PC: Okay, so some partisanship going on there as it does in every election campaign, but overall, Paul Thomas, do you think politicians should be required to release their tax returns and offshore holding information?
PAUL THOMAS: I think that that's inevitable; that it's going to be pushed further and further. We're asking about what's the right balance as you suggested in the earlier conversation between accountability of politicians and their individual privacy and the privacy of their family finances. I think in practical terms, the debate in Canada has been around, not so much about disclosure in principle, but whether that disclosure should be to another public official like an Ethics Commissioner or a conflict of interest Commissioner and then only become public when questions are raised or concerns arise whether the politician will be required to disclose that information. I think more and more the tendency is we want proactive disclosure and pushing it beyond certain bounds to include dependent children, and friends of a politician who have made, again, a connected financial interest with a politician. I think where we're pushing the limits, I think the value of privacy is more deeply entrenched in the Canadian culture and even more strongly, adhered to in the American culture than in the Scandinavian countries.
PC: We'll talk in just a moment about that, where the balance perhaps should be in the Canadian context, but Duff Conacher, overall do you think that we Canadians, their politicians, not me [laughs], politicians should be required to release their tax returns?
DUFF CONACHER: Well, they are sort of in a way now required to do that. It's on a sliding scale. For example, at the federal level, the more power you have, so if you're a cabinet minister, you have more disclosure to the Ethics Commissioner first, and then a summary of your assets, your liabilities, and your income is disclosed then publicly by the Ethics Commissioner. So, if you think of what's on a tax return, your assets, your liabilities and your income are on your tax return, it wouldn't be fully redundant to also have the tax return disclosed to the Ethics Commissioner. You would then talk about what details are released publicly.
DUFF CONACHER: I think people would definitely be interested in seeing whether people are using any kind of tax avoidance schemes, including offshore schemes, and that that should be publicly disclosed. But it's essentially I think, we have a system now that just facilitates adding tax returns to it, having it disclosed to the Ethics Commissioner and having some summary details come out.
PC: But it's a bit different releasing to an Ethics Commissioner than as they do in the Scandinavian context, throwing them up online and anyone can look at it. Do you back that?
DUFF CONACHER: Some parts of your tax return. But, I think there are some parts that are personal information. For example, you can claim medical expenses. Does the public have a right to know and that's something that you do in conjunction with your spouse. Does the public have the right to know that you've claimed medical expenses? You might have a private health condition, doesn't affect your job at all and then people start probing okay what's it for, what treatments were you seeking? I think those kinds of things the public doesn't have a right to know. The public are the employers of every politician and there is a right to know and there's also the very important issue of ethics and conflicts of interest. And then, the issue also of loyalty and the public looking to see, by a politician's actions, whether they are loyal to Canada and that's when you get into the offshore schemes. People are interested in where politicians take their vacations for the same reason. Are they vacationing in Canada or do they go elsewhere? These are issues that the voters have a right to know and to take into account in assessing their politicians.
PC: What's the vacation thing? I don’t get it.
DUFF CONACHER: Well, if you're going elsewhere all the time but claiming you're a big booster of Canada, then I think people can, it obviously depends on each voter, can take that into account and say well you know, this person talks a lot about really boosting Canada, but every time they want to take a break from work, they go elsewhere. These kinds of things go to the whole overall politician’s record and to the gap between what they may be saying and what they are actually doing.
PC: Okay, Paul Thomas, come on in.
PAUL THOMAS: First the CBC investigative team here in Manitoba looked into the Panama Papers, none of our leaders had offshore holdings revealed by those documents. The second point is, the Leader of the Opposition has been in trouble recently because again, the same investigative team at the CBC, using entry permits for Costa Rica, discover that Mr. Pallister, the leader of the Conservatives, had spent one in five days since he became Leader of the Opposition, that's over four years or something in Costa Rica where he owns a home. So, the question was are politicians expected to be in full time attendance performing their public duties, and I don't think either legally or ethically, Mr. Pallister did anything wrong, but from a perspective of optics and appearances, he's taking a hit for this. It's not going to affect the outcome of the election which happens on Tuesday, but he got in more trouble because he claimed that he missed being a part of the flood situation here where he could have been front and centre saying how much he stood behind the Premier and the people responding to the flood emergency. So the cover up was worse than the original action of spending time outside of the province.
PC: All right, when we're talking about the tax question and possible public disclosure, there are arguments that this is as much about perception as reality in the sense that the cliché, you know if you've got nothing to hide then why not just disclose that, and we heard earlier from a British politician, which is an argument we've heard elsewhere, that a new requirement to publicly disclose would also lead to a government or governments filled with, as he put it quote “low achievers”. Paul Thomas, do you think expanding disclosure rules for politicians and their taxes would have an effect on who actually wants to get into politics?
PAUL THOMAS: I think there are a number of disincentives to be involved in politics. I think financial disclosure of your assets, your income and assets, and so on, is not the major one but it's one on the on the top of a pile of many requirements now that people find burdensome and difficult to live. People who go into public life in elected roles now, many of them expect a drop in their income. They now have to include the holdings of their spouses and dependent children. Now they are including people who are friends. We have a very aggressive media who use a number of access to information and whistleblowing mechanisms to expose the misdeeds of politicians so we're all in favour of clean government and we want to prevent wrongdoing and we want to hold politicians accountable when they are guilty of misdeeds. And they should face consequences whether those are legal, financial, reputational, or even loss of office. But, on the other hand I think some people who have been very successful in their lives will find it difficult to give up their privacy and expose their family, not just themselves, to investigations and exposure for actions that are problematic perhaps, but don't cross any legal lines in any clear way. I think there are deterrents. I would also say when you leave public office now, whatever job you've been in, there's usually a cooling off period so you can't embark on another career that capitalizes on your recent service in public office.
PC: Duff Conacher, what do you think of those quote unquote “fears” that people just won't go in because of what they've done in their their past; legitimately how much money they've earned, and will deter generally rich people from going in because they don't people judging by their money?
DUFF CONACHER: That may be true, but anyone who really wants to serve the public won't be concerned about that and preventing conflicts of interests, preventing corruption is paramount. I mean, if we do not prevent those things, the Supreme Court of Canada has said we don't have a democracy. So, we need these rules, they need to be strong. They're actually loophole filled. Paul Thomas mentioned cooling off periods, those have huge loopholes, the disclosure has huge loopholes, the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers and Premiers and cabinet ministers across the country can all make decisions that they profit from because of loopholes in the conflict of interest rules. They actually need to be strengthened quite a bit more to discourage bad people from going in and serving themselves instead of serving the public.
PC: So tighten up the loopholes, what else do you think should be done?
DUFF CONACHER: Well, I think you could add the tax return given the income, assets, and liabilities already have to be disclosed to an Ethics Commissioner. Have the tax return disclosed as well as a check to make sure that what they're telling the tax agency is the same thing that they're telling the Ethics Commissioner and then have summary details disclosed of that. We need to strengthen enforcement and penalties. There's no penalty for violating the conflict of interest laws at the federal level now. The whistleblower protection system is not very strong. There are lots of things to do still in the anti-corruption area. Canada violates the UN convention against corruption in many, many ways because we do not have a system that complies with the UN’s requirements, even though we ratified that deal almost ten years ago.
PC: Okay, Paul and Duff, we'll have to leave it there. Thank you both very much.
GUESTS: Thank you.
PC: Paul Thomas is a professor emeritus in political studies at the University of Manitoba. That’s where Winnipeg is and that’s where he is [laughs] and Duff Conacher is a co-founder of Democracy Watch as well as a visiting professor in political science at the University of Ottawa, he's in our Ottawa studio. What do you think about all this in light of the Panama Papers? Would you want your tax return information to be available online? And should politicians be required to publicly disclose their tax returns? You can send us an e-mail by going to our web site cbc.ca/thecurrent, click on the contact link. You can also find us on facebook or on twitter. We are @thecurrentcbc. That is our handle.
Back To Top »
Famous octopus escape reveals intelligent, soulful creature beneath tentacles
Guests: Sy Montgomery, Stephen Newmeyer
PC: Hi, I'm Piya Chattopadhyay and this is the Friday edition of The Current. We are headed under the sea for this next story because that's where one of the biggest newsmakers of this week is currently residing. Until quite recently he was housed in New Zealand's National Aquarium, but it seems the National Aquarium couldn't hold him. I'm speaking of Inky the octopus.
The lid had been left just slightly ajar, just slightly and he found this rather tempting, climbed out, and he managed to make his way to one of the drain holes that go back to the ocean and off he went and didn't even leave us a message. He just off and went.
PC: Well, Inky’s great escape from that New Zealand aquarium has captured the imagination of people around the world this week. The eight-armed invertebrate has made enough headlines to rival Donald Trump as the media marvels at his fierce intelligence, Inky’s that is. But perhaps we shouldn't be so gobsmacked to see such smarts on display in the animal kingdom, least of all from an octopus. Writer Sy Montgomery spent three years getting to know the octopuses at the New England Aquarium. She is the author of The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness. And Sy Montgomery joins me from Hancock, New Hampshire. Hello.
SY MONTGOMERY: Hi.
PC: So, how surprised were you about Inky’s escape?
SY MONTGOMERY: Well, that an octopus got out of its enclosure did not surprise me one bit. They are fantastic escape artists. They're real Houdinis. They can squeeze themselves through the tiniest holes, because, of course, they have no bones at all. The only hard part of their body is their beak, which is conveniently in their mouth located in their armpits. So they can go through little tiny spaces and they have such curiosity that they often do.
PC: Okay. When you're talking about octopuses, in my head, I think of like these giant creatures. Are we talking about all kinds – because I know some are small – are we talking about all sizes of octopuses that can do these things?
SY MONTGOMERY: Yes, absolutely. There's over 250 species of octopus worldwide there's, over 40 in New Zealand. But the largest one and the one that I've had the most experience with, the Giant Pacific octopus, the largest of which got to 300 pounds, an animal that size can squeeze through an opening just a little bigger than an orange.
PC: Hmm. Okay. So we're, you know, us laypeople, are all amazed by Inky’s adventures. How common is that behaviour for octopuses, being able to get out? I appreciate that you say they have the ability to do it, but how often do they actually do it?
SY MONTGOMERY: Well, generally, keepers, aware that the octopus is an escape artist, will be fairly careful about putting the lid on super tight and that the lid is adequately secured with absolutely no holes. But even experienced keepers have found that the octopus will still surprise them. They're tremendously strong, unbelievably strong. They are like one huge muscle and, you know, not the fellow mollusk muscle, but muscle like your bicep. But, really, their muscles are more like our tongues than are biceps, which is another way you can picture how you can kind of squeeze your tongue through an opening to a bottle but you couldn't squeeze your bicep through there. But, man, are they strong and if there's a way to get out they're going to find it, because they want to know what’s out there.
PC: Who blames them, really? I mean, the world’s a big place, right?
SY MONTGOMERY: Right. And I love it that Inky, you know, he had been kind of beat up when he arrived at the aquarium. He had it arrived in a, I think it was a lobster trap, some kind of a trap for another critter and he had lost the tips of some of his arms and was kind of beat up. Well, they can regrow their arms in a matter of weeks. So it sounds like he basically got checked into the hospital, got some Ran R, and then took things into his own hands - or tentacles - and went home.
PC: Now, I understand that Inky’s escape-- Is it new for you, in the sense that you've actually seen, witnessed an escape yourself. Can you tell me about that?
SY MONTGOMERY: Well, I wasn't there when this happened. It was pretty heartbreaking. We had a beautiful, lovely young octopus who I loved and her name Kali. And she was growing up behind the scenes getting bigger and bigger almost every day while our elderly octopus, Octavia, was taking up the only truly octopus-proof exhibit that we had in the aquarium. Meanwhile, our giant ocean tank, which is the centrepiece of New England aquarium, was being reconstructed so. Anyway, it seems that there was nowhere that we could put Kali that was really big enough for her. But then one day, a larger tank became available and our wonderful keeper, Bill, secured the top with weights and clamps and it seemed to be totally secure. He even stuffed something into the teeny tiny hole through which one of the pumps had to exit the tank. But Kali got out that very first night once she was moved into that aquarium. And unfortunately, she died. And they found her on the floor of the aquarium in the morning and they to do artificial respiration and none of it worked and it was a really tragic thing.
PC: I’m sorry.
SY MONTGOMERY: Well, a lot of them, though, get out and do other very amusing things. At the aquarium, we used to have an octopus - and I've heard about this, I never sought it - who seemed to be staying put and everything was wonderful but oddly next door in the tank, you know, the next door tank to her, these special flounder were just disappearing inexplicably. And one day they found out that she was getting out of her tank, eating the flounder, and then getting back into her, and looking like nothing had happened. And I have heard about this at many, many places. I've also heard and seen video of octopuses who are hauled up on to ships when people are fishing for something else and there are videos of these animals getting out of the bucket or container or whatever it is, slithering across the deck of the ship, and then often squeezing themselves through a tiny opening, pouring themselves almost like water through a little hole, and then returning to the sea.
PC: So, as you say, these beings—They’re strong. Octopuses are strong, but they’re also smart. How intelligent are these eight-armed beings?
SY MONTGOMERY: They are amazingly smart. They're so smart that octopus keepers have an enrichment handbook of ways to keep their intelligence occupied. You've got to keep your octopus busy or they'll do something that's not very good, almost like border collies or pigs. So, we give them the same toys that we give our children. They love to play with Mr. Potato Head. They love to play with Legos. They'll take them apart and sometimes they put them back together. They love to unscrew jars and sometimes screw the lid back on. And at New England aquarium we had an inventor with many patents to his name, Wilson Menashi, who was tasked with coming up with a toy to entertain the vast brain of an octopus. And what he came up with was a series of interlocking clear cubes, each one having a different lock on it. The last of the three had two different locks and the octopus would unlock every one of those locks to get to a crab inside.
PC: They’re problem solvers.
SY MONTGOMERY: They totally are. At another New Zealand aquarium, there's an octopus who has learned to take photographs of the visitors by pressing, sticking his arm into a tube and pressing a red button.
PC: That is amazing.
SY MONTGOMERY: I know. It’s so great. And then you could sell those photos to the people, you know, and pay for the upkeep of the octopus. Another place in Hatfield, here in the United States, has created an apparatus that allows the octopus, by pulling on different leavers, to create art work. So these guys, man, I think I'm going to put an octopus in charge of my stock trade. Also, if you've ever had trouble opening one of those darned childproof caps, octopuses have no trouble.
PC: I need to get one of these things.
SY MONTGOMERY: I know. We need a pocket octopus. [laughs]
PC: Alright. Look, they’re strong, they’ve got brawn. They've got brains. They're great problem solvers. Do they have personality?
SY MONTGOMERY: Oh, very, very much. Each one has as individual personality as a person. And often this is reflected in their names. In the Seattle aquarium there was one they named Emily Dickinson because she was so shy she never came out from in back of the filter. But there was another one they named the Leisure Suit Larry because he was so friendly that he'd put one arm on you, you’d peel it off, then he'd put two arms on you, you peel those off, three arms on you. Another they named Lucretia MacEvil because she liked to dismantle everything in her tank. So they are quite distinct as individuals. And they recognize us as individuals as well, just by looking up at us through the water and this has been proven in experiments by Dr. Jennifer Mather of Lethbridge University.
PC: What did she find?
SY MONTGOMERY: Well, she and Roland Anderson, her colleague at Seattle Aquarium, asked volunteers, wearing the exact same clothes, if some of them would consistently feed the octopus delicious fish and the others would touch the octopus with a bristly stick. They did this with several different volunteers and different octopuses. And very quickly, just by looking up at the volunteer, the octopus would recognise those who had fed him, even if they left their fish behind. And those who would touch them with bristly stick, the octopus would take one look and move away. But sometimes before they did they blasted that person in the face with salt water.
PC: [laughs] All right. They’ve got personality then. You've also talked about the soul of the octopus. What does that mean?
SY MONTGOMERY: Well, I chose that title for my book because it is so arresting. We don't tend to think of mollusks, and octopuses are mollusks like clams and snails, as somebody with intelligence, somebody with a self, much less someone with a soul, which we consider holy. But after getting to know these animals-- Over the course of three years I got to be very close friends with several octopuses. I also met octopuses in the wild. I came to the conclusion that if I've got a soul, so does an octopus.
PC: They seem to me to be the full package deal, as you’ve said, you know, beauty, brawn, brains. From where we are, we are human beings, what should we take away from octopuses?
SY MONTGOMERY: Well, I’ll tell you what I take away from it and that is the truth of something that Thales of Miletus is thought to have said centuries ago and that is, this is a quote: At the universe is alive and has fire in it and is full of gods. And, to me, that says that our world is far more alive and far more cognizant and far more magical and maybe even holy than we could have previously imagined.
PC: Well, I've learned a lot more from you about octopuses than I did from just, you know, hearing about what Inky did, I just thought this was, like, a pretty clever little thing getting, you know, finding its adventure in the world and I really want to thank you for helping me understand octopuses better. Thanks a lot.
SY MONTGOMERY: Oh, Piya, it was my pleasure. Thank you.
PC: Bye, Sy.
SY MONTGOMERY: Bye bye.
PC: Sy Montgomery is the author of The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness. She was in Hancock, New Hampshire. By the way, I just called Inky a small little thing. I looked it up. Inky was about the size of a rugby ball, so about 11 to 12 inches long, about 24 inches thick, and he contorted his body down that drain hole, which is about six inches. So, there’s some context for you about the magnificent feat that Inky accomplished. Well, Inky and our conversation just now with Sy may leave no doubt that the octopus has a lot going upstairs. But how does it compare to others in the animal world? Glad you asked.
VOICE 1: In the animal kingdom, when it comes to smarts and intelligence, octopuses get a run for their money from a number of other species.
VOICE 1: Elephants are known for their long memories. They can keep tabs on their friends and enemies even after 50 years.
VOICE 1: They never forget a face or a mouse.
VOICE 1: Bees have an amazing ability to use abstract thought and symbolic language to engineer complex honeycomb structures and they have perfected division of labour within the beehive. They also learn from their elders. We could learn a lot from bees.
VOICE 1: Chimpanzees are more closely related to human beings than they are to gorillas. In fact, humans and chimpanzees differ by just one percent of their DNA. Chimps can learn what symbols mean, they can solve problems, and use tools. They're smart and handy.
VOICE 2: To a thirsty chimp Rainwater trapped in the hollow of a tree is inviting but not easily reached. The chimps have learned to solve a problem by fashioning a tool. Watered leaves act as a sponge. Chewing makes them more absorbent. Using the sponge, the chimp can get as much as eight times more water than with fingers alone.
VOICE 1: Of all the birds, crows are among the smartest. They are keen observers and expert problem solvers, capable of making tools to get what they want. Luckily for us, it’s usually grubs. Never mess with a crow.
[Chirping and squeaking]
VOICE 1: In the water, dolphins are the top of the smarts list. They have large brains and, some argue, are just behind humans in their cognitive capacity. In fact, some scientists say the psychological continuity between humans and dolphins is so profound, dolphins should be considered non-human persons.
VOICE 1: Dogs have evolved to become highly intelligent and have the ability to learn to understand up to a thousand different words.
VOICE 3: Look at me. Say, hello!
[Dog whines and sounds like ‘hello’]
VOICE 1: They also have a highly developed ability to read human emotions. That's why they are our best animal friends.
PC: Well, there you have it, some of our most intelligent animal friends, some of them being our best friends. Well, human conversations about just how intelligent our animal friends are is nothing new. It goes back at least as far as the empires of the Greeks and the Romans, which just happens to be the specialty of our next guest. Stephen Newmeyer is a Professor of Classics at Duquesne University. He is in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Hi.
STEPHEN NEWMEYER: Hi. Thanks for having me.
PC: Thank you for being here. Are you surprised by the level of intelligence of animals, such as Inky the octopus?
STEPHEN NEWMEYER: Not at all. And I was intrigued by your previous speaker and also the tape in between. In almost every example that was quoted is mentioned in classical literature - from the dolphins to the tool makers with often the very same examples. So, I wasn't surprised at all. And in preparation for today, being a schoolteacher, I did a tiny bit of research. On a treatise that was written by Plutarch, who's more famous for biographies that every school student suffered through, but he wrote a treatise called Whether Land Animals or Sea animals are More Clever. And I looked up octopus. And he said that other sea creatures do things by accident, but octopi save themselves deliberately and consciously. So this is, of course, why Inky escaped. The Greeks understood him.
PC: The Greeks understood him. As you say, all of these animals that we listed earlier – elephants, bees, crows – they all have their place in those ancient writings.
STEPHEN NEWMEYER: They do.
PC: So, tell me more, where did chimps or crows or bees fit in?
STEPHEN NEWMEYER: Well, crows are mentioned, in particular corvids, the class of birds that includes jays and magpies and ravens, for just the same tool using ability that was discussed on the tape. There are discussions of how ravens, who see water in a pan that they can't reach, will put stones into it until they can raise it up so they can drink it. That's mentioned in Plutarch also. And it's also mentioned in modern books on bird intelligence, the exact same [indecipherable]. The Ancients also mentioned that birds can use strings to pull things up to eat that they can't reach without help. So many ancient people, like Aristotle, believed that animals could not make- excuse me - use tools, but there's even some evidence that they can make them as well, but they used them quite frequently. There's one very intriguing story about how when birds were flying migratory from continent to continent and they were taking a rest they would put out little soldiers to make sure they weren't harmed. And that bird was supposed to keep in this mouth of stone and if he should fall asleep, the stone would fall out and he would wake up to make sure there was nothing wrong. So, I don't know whether that seems a little farfetched or a little anthropomorphizing, but it certainly is well along the line with what we know now.
PC: Yeah. Well, let me ask you about that because, you know, as you said, we humans have been interested in the intelligence of animals for a very long time, but things have changed. How would, in ancient times, how would people, humans, assess animal intelligence? Which you laid out, but how accurate were they in those assessments?
STEPHEN NEWMEYER: Well, my particular interest is in how ancient attitudes have anticipated modern views, say, in ethology - animal behavioral science - and in ethics. But it stands to reason, a lot of what the ancients used was not from experimental science. It was from anthropomorphizing anecdotes. And they're often criticised for those things, making analogies that may not in fact be valid, if they're looked into very scrupulously, but this is true also with modern ethologists as well. They’re often criticized for it, seeing too much in what they do. And I wouldn't be surprised if Inky’s behaviour was re-examined in a less favourable light by some people who are not so willing to ascribe a great deal of intelligence to animals. There’s still quite a lot of prejudice against understanding ourselves as animals.
PC: Okay, but take me back to ancient times. Were people then reluctant to embrace an animal's intelligence and why?
STEPHEN NEWMEYER: Absolutely, they were. Well, the Stoics believed that human beings had a kinship with god. They said, for example, only human beings can walk upright and the reason for that is because the gods want them alone to contemplate heaven. Everything else walks on fours and looks down because it's earthbound. So there was always a desire to distinguish human beings from other animals. Even Aristotle, who believed in a theory called continuity, [indecipherable] in Greek, that argues that to move from one species to another is so gradual that you sometimes can't see it happening. But there was a kind of animal glass ceiling when it comes to reason. And animals don't penetrate there. Because they would be too much like human beings and the Greeks were extremely anthropocentric and were not at all interested in giving that up.
PC: And so when did things change? When did attitudes about animal intelligence begin to shift?
STEPHEN NEWMEYER: Well, actually they didn't in antiquity at all. In fact, they got worse because Stoicism and Aristotelianism were adopted by the church and some of the attitudes became Christian attitudes. It's been very hard for Christians to adopt the idea that there is a continuity or that we owe animals anything. And I would say it's just in the late 19th, after evolution, perhaps, that scientists have been willing to take another look at this and to think of ourselves as as part of the totality of creation and not just as the top of it.
PC: So, modern science was the catalyst.
STEPHEN NEWMEYER: Yes, indeed. It certainly isn't from antiquity. However, there are people like Plutarch, who for some reason had very different attitudes. He wrote three treatises that were devoted specifically to animals. One of them is quite interesting. It's a take off on a the little parody on the scene in the Odyssey, where Odysseus goes to visit the witch Circe, who has converted his men into pigs. And he said, I'd like you to convert them back. And she said, well, you’d better ask them if they'd like that. And he said, well, that's ridiculous. So he asks one of the pigs whose name is Gryllus, which means oinker in Greek. And he says, absolutely not. Having been both, I know it's better to be an animal, because we have all the virtues of the animal kingdom and none of the vices.
PC: Let me ask you a more practical question, which is this, in ancient times did people not want to ascribe things like intelligence or emotion to animals because they were eating them?
STEPHEN NEWMEYER: Yes. I believe that's actually quite at the core of it and they—
PC: Not that we’re not eating them anymore.
STEPHEN NEWMEYER: Well, the Pythagoreans fairly early on, say the sixth century BCE, they were vegetarians because of their theory in transmigration of souls, the idea that a person’s soul could go into another being, so that if you ate a bowl of chili, you might wipe out a whole village, so to speak. So you had to abstain from eating meat, but that theory was not all that popular in antiquity. In fact, at times it was considered to be anti-religious. But, again, it would be a kind of surrender of the uniqueness of human beings if we restrain from eating them because human beings have the right to dominate and use the rest of nature. In fact, Chrysippus, one of the early Greek philosophers said that the gods gave the pig a soul that was like salt that preserved it long enough so people could eat it. That's the only purpose in life.
PC: Stephen Newmeyer, we’ll have to leave it there. Thank you for giving us some ancient insight into our look at animal behaviour. Thank you.
STEPHEN NEWMEYER: Thank you for having me.
PC: Stephen Newmeyer is a Professor of Classics at Duquesne University. He was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Well, that is The Current for this Friday. Well, this week the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention finally confirmed that the Zika virus causes microcephaly and other birth defects. With that in mind, do turn in Monday to our show for a special report from the CBC’s Dr. Brian Goldman, who is just back from ground zero of the Aika outbreak. He's back from Brazil and he will have a documentary about how the growing cases of microcephaly are affecting mothers in the city of Campina Grande. There he met neurosurgeon Dr. Alba Batista, who is the director of a hospital called Pedro where they're caring for more than 40 babies with microcephaly. We're going to leave you today with a short excerpt from Brian’s documentary which you can hear in its entirety come Monday. I'm Piya Chattopadhyay. Thank you for lending us your ear here on the Friday edition of The Current.
Translator: Okay, your baby could have difficulty walking. Your baby could have difficulty writing. Your baby could have difficulty learning to read. It could not evolving in learning due to the intellectual difficulty, due to the injury caused the by the virus in these areas. Your baby could walk, but maybe with an altered coordination and could more easily fall and get hurt. Your baby could need to take medications to prevent seizures for the rest of his life.
Back To Top »
CBC would like to acknowledge the support of the Broadcasting Accessibility Fund.