Listen to the full episode
[Sound: man struggling on treadmill]
VOICE 1: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.
DAVE SEGLINS: Pounding out a run on the treadmill can feel like torture and that's exactly how it was meant to feel. The history of its precursor, the tread wheel, began 200 years ago in prisons. Its goal was punishing pointless work for convicted criminals. Now it’s a go to staple in modern day gyms. We'll hear how the treadmill has disrupted how we exercise in an hour. Also today, when a Soviet spy fell in love with a Canadian woman and came clean to the RCMP, they turned him into a double agent code named Gideon. But Gideon was sold out by another Mountie for money.
VOICE 1: But you knew about him and you told the Soviets.
JAMES MORRISON: Yes.
VOICE 1: That this guy was playing both sides.
JAMES MORRISON: That’s right, yes.
VOICE 1: Do you ever think about what happened to Gideon?
JAMES MORRISON: Well, when you engage in espionage, you have to expect whatever the consequences are.
DS: The real life Canadian Cold War story of KGB agent Yevgeni Brik in half an hour. But first, a registered nurse in Saskatchewan speaks up on Facebook about the care her grandfather received and is disciplined by her association.
She was commenting on a personal issue in a personal way. I don't believe that the SRNA or anyone else has the right to discipline her on a personal comment.
DS: What happens when health care professionals are punished for speaking out about health care? We're asking, first up. I'm Dave Seglins in for Anna Maria Tremonti and this is The Current.
[Music: Theme]Back To Top »
Saskatchewan nurse fights $26K fine for criticizing grandfather's care on Facebook
Guests: Marcus Davies, Natalie Stake-Doucet, Steven Lewis
DAVE SEGLINS: Back in 2015, registered nurse Carolyn Strom was unhappy with the palliative care her grandfather was getting at St. Joseph's Integrated Health Centre in Macklin, Saskatchewan. And so like a lot of people do when they're unhappy with something, she took to social media to complain.
I challenge the people involved in decision making with that facility to please get all your staff a refresher on this topic and more. To those who made the last years the less than desirable, please do better next time. And a caution to anyone that has loved ones at the facility mentioned above. Keep an eye on things and report anything you do not like. That's the only way to get some things to change. The fact that I have to ask people who work in health care to take a step back and be more compassionate saddens me more than you know. As an RN and avid healthcare advocate myself I just have to speak up. Whatever the reasons excuses people give for not giving quality care, I do not care, it just needs to be fixed and now.
DS: Well that Facebook post voiced by one of our producers is at the centre of a controversy that's erupted over freedom of speech and the power of regulatory boards in Canada. This month, Carolyn Strom was fined 26,000 dollars for posting that comment. She had been found guilty of professional misconduct by the discipline committee of the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association last fall. Marcus Davies is a lawyer representing Carolyn Strom. And he is in our Saskatoon studio. Hello.
MARCUS DAVIES: Good morning.
DS: Tell us more about what happened. What exactly did Carolyn Strom do?
MARCUS DAVIES: What Carolyn Strom did was I think do what any reasonable grieving granddaughter would have done in that situation. She was having a discussion on her Facebook page with family and friends about a very important issue, certainly really important to her at that point in her life, which was palliative care and end of life care for seniors. And she started a discussion on her Facebook page about that topic in general and then made it more specific in exchanges with the people that she was talking to. And you heard the comments just now, that she had made the mistake of typing into this discussion I guess.
DS: So presumably that's all public. How did it get issued or how did this issue get flagged to the Registered Nurses Association in Saskatchewan?
MARCUS DAVIES: An employee of the nursing home was a Facebook friend of Carolyn's and took a copy into work, where the director of the facility photocopied it and circulated it amongst staff and encouraged the nurses among the staff to file a complaint.
DS: But did you have to be a friend of Carolyn’s to be able to read it or was it public, anybody on the internet could read it?
MARCUS DAVIES: It was a private conversation until she tweeted a copy or a link to the discussion to the Minister of Health, at which point the door got blown open. And I guess by involving the Minister of Health it does anyway, so it became a public conversation. And then certainly since then has become a very public conversation.
DS: So why was she found guilty of professional misconduct?
MARCUS DAVIES: Well I'm afraid you're asking the wrong person that question, I certainly cannot explain that at all. It actually quite confuses me how this can be considered a reasonable limitation in a free and democratic society. But hurt feelings apparently are not covered by freedom of speech or section 2 (b) of the Charter.
DS: OK. Well, let me imagine, as a registered nurse is she compelled to stand and observe some sort of code of conduct?
MARCUS DAVIES: Well, yes she absolutely is. The Canadian Nurse’s Association has a code of ethics. And we certainly don't deny that the RNA, or the SRNA in this case, has the authority to enforce that. The question is where does it say that a grieving granddaughter who is on mat leave and is six months away from work or practice on either side cannot speak about the care received by her grandfather in a health facility? And we don't see that anywhere in the code but they certainly have the authority to enforce their code of ethics. We just don't see how this does that.
DS: So is the finding of professional misconduct against her essentially that she violated the code of conduct?
MARCUS DAVIES: That's right. They're claiming that she should have followed proper channels. Now, that would imply that she was at work and that she wasn't a grieving granddaughter, for whom I'm not sure what the proper channels are. So I suspect the Minister of Health would be one anyway.
DS: Do you accept that it was perhaps a bad idea to be tweeting this criticism to the Minister of Health?
MARCUS DAVIES: Well I think that that's the person probably more than any that needs to know this stuff. And certainly, I mean, the Minister of Health in this province has for the last half dozen years or so had a tour of long term care facilities with health region CEOs annually because the situation has become so serious and the public discussion of this issue had become so informed, that it was necessary to start calming the public down by doing these sort of inspections by the CEOs.
DS: Tell us about the penalty, 26,000 dollars. What does the association want from your client? Why so much?
MARCUS DAVIES: I really can't understand that that seems so incredibly disproportionate to the offense. It's 700 dollars a month over three years. They've asked her to pay it within three years. So it's a significant financial penalty over a long period of time. They take all your disposable income and throw it to the SRNA. It's not proportionate if you look at some of the other decisions that they have rendered in the last four or five years. This is completely out of line. I mean, some people with some more serious or more what we would consider egregious offenses are facing lower financial penalties than this one.
DS: Now, we did request an interview with the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association. They declined the interview but sent us a statement which reads in part quote, “member driven processes like this one are critical to upholding the privilege of professional lead regulation and ensuring fairness to the complainants and members involved,” end quote. Do you? Let me ask you this, what's going to happen next in this picture?
MARCUS DAVIES: Well, we have the Registered Nurses Act gives us the choice between appealing to the SRNA counsel or judge of the Court of Queen's Bench here, and we'll be going before a judge of the Court of Queen's Bench, we have another 20 or so days to file the appeal and we’ll certainly be doing that.
DS: Now, your client was grieving her grandfather when she posted these comments. How is Carolyn feeling about being at the centre of this fight?
MARCUS DAVIES: Well, people forget that sometimes that these legal battles involve human beings and this has had a real toll on Carolyn and her family. It's been quite exhausting. It's been two years now. It's been quite draining, you know. And at the same time, the last couple of weeks have been quite enervating because of the support that she's received from nurses across Canada and others.
DS: Well we're going to hear more about that in just a moment. Marcus Davies, thank you.
MARCUS DAVIES: Thank you.
DS: That's Marcus Davies, a lawyer representing Carolyn Strom. We reached him in Saskatoon. Now, The Current also requested an interview with a spokesperson from St. Joseph's Integrated Health Centre. The centre's executive director declined, writing quote, “this is a concern between a regulatory body and one of their members and should be left to them,” end quote. Well this case is catching the attention of health care professionals across the country. Natalie Stake-Doucet is a registered nurse who started a GoFundMe campaign to help pay Carolyn Strom's 26,000 dollar fine. She is in our Montreal studio. Hello.
NATALIE STAKE-DOUCET: Hi, good morning.
DS: Natalie, what was your reaction to the fine levied on Carolyn Strom?
NATALIE STAKE-DOUCET: The reaction to the fine was shock really, at the outrageous amount they were asking of her for this so-called offense or professional misconduct as they called it.
DS: So-called offense. What do you mean?
NATALIE STAKE-DOUCET: Well I mean, I think, it's very arguable whether or not what she did was actually an offense against her code of ethics. Codes of ethics or purposefully full of grey zones, because ethics per se aren't a procedure, ethics, a code of ethics is a guide to help you do the right thing. So in certain situations, you could do the same thing and in one situation could be ethical in another situation not so. So there's no, there's nothing in the code of ethics that says you cannot comment on your grandfather's care on Facebook obviously, it's a very sort of precise thing. And aside from the obvious free speech issue, there's also the question of the value that we accord to the nursing voice just in general and health care. We're not heard very often. And I think this is really a missed opportunity for the SRNA, where they could have opened a discussion about quality of end of life care and, you know, usage of social media, and instead of being open and listening to the criticism of a grieving family member who happens to be a nurse, they came out sort of guns blazing.
DS: What impact do you think a decision like this is going to have on other nurses who may feel compelled to speak out about things they witness in the healthcare system?
NATALIE STAKE-DOUCET: This sets a terrible precedent. I mean, already it's very difficult for nurses, and even family members to a degree, to make complaints through the so-called proper channels. I mean, there is some data. I'm a PhD student also at Université de Montréal, so I read a lot of research on a daily basis. But this proper channels are not easy first of all to find. Our healthcare system is notoriously complicated for lay people and even for health care professionals at times. And let's not forget there's a stigma associated to making complaints through the proper channels because these supposed proper channels, once you are able to find them, tend to be very shrouded in secrecy. So you don't really know where your complaint is going, who's addressing it or anything like that.
DS: But do you accept that by writing a Facebook post or tweeting it to a health minister, that's not exactly a conventional channel. That's forcing perhaps a potential political confrontation over an issue that she identified.
NATALIE STAKE-DOUCET: I mean you read the criticism that she posted at the beginning of this show. I mean, it's very mild, it's I think it would have started a great conversation, political or not. I mean, it's I don't know, I'm very worried about what this says about our profession, that we can't even discuss criticism. And it was constructive, I mean, she, you know, it would have been helpful to listen to it instead of try to shut it down right away.
DS: Now you've been raising money through GoFundMe. How much money has your campaign raised so far?
NATALIE STAKE-DOUCET: I think we're up to just over 24,000 now, so it's been amazing.
DS: And what reaction are you getting from other nurses across the country?
NATALIE STAKE-DOUCET: The reaction has been I think similar to the one I had, I mean or any other nursing students, that this is really setting a very chilling precedent for us. That already it's not easy to speak out when you're a nurse, when you're a healthcare professional just in general. But, you know, we do have the capacity to critique and help improve our health care system. So I don't see why that, how it helps anybody that we're not allowed to do so.
DS: Now I understand the GoFundMe website, they temporarily suspended your campaign last week.
NATALIE STAKE-DOUCET: Yes.
DS: After it received a complaint. What happened?
NATALIE STAKE-DOUCET: Honestly, we have no idea. I mean, a complaint obviously is anonymous. So we were just told that our campaign was under review, that it had been flagged. And so I tried to write to GoFundMe, to their customer service and within a couple of hours it was back on line. So it was a temporary setback.
DS: What are you hoping is going to happen in this case?
NATALIE STAKE-DOUCET: I hope the decision is going to be overturned. I hope she wins her appeal because I mean, this is crucial not just for nurses but even for patients and their families. What message are we sending to Canadians,, whether they be health care professionals or family members of people receiving care? I mean, you know, we know, you know, I don't think any health care facility can say our care is 100 per cent perfect 100 per cent of the time. I think there's always room for improvement and when especially your family member’s a health care professional, I think, you know, instead of I mean, my first reflex as a nurse, if I hear a family member or somebody say oh I really don't like that nurse she's doing this or that is not to, you know, go tell them how dare you talk to me, like it's like, you know, my first reflex would be to say, you know, can we talk about this? You know, why did the care I provided not satisfy you? Was there anything I could have done better? I mean, you know, it's an opportunity to make us better nurses, better health care professionals, to improve the way we deliver care. It's not something we should be taking personally and get angry or hurt about. Our ego shouldn't stand in the way of us being better healthcare professionals.
DS: Natalie, thanks for joining us this morning.
NATALIE STAKE-DOUCET: Not a problem. Thank you.
DS: That’s Natalie Stake-Doucet, she's a registered nurse in Montreal and founder of McGill Nurses for Health Policy. She was in our Montreal studio. Well, our next guest worries about the impact this case will have on health care professional’s ability to criticize inadequate care in this country. Steven Lewis is a health policy analyst in Saskatoon, which is where we've reached him. Hello.
STEVEN LEWIS: Good morning.
DS: Steven, in your opinion do you think Carolyn Strom is guilty of professional misconduct as was the finding of the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association?
STEVEN LEWIS: I certainly hope not because if this is the new standard then no health care professional can venture an opinion of any sort without possibly being subject to a complaint and ultimate discipline. There may be grey areas in freedom of speech and what one professional says about a facility or an individual but I don't think this gets anywhere near the grey areas. This is, as was said by Natalie, this is a pretty innocuous statement. Thousands of statements more direct and serious than that are no doubt voiced in the healthcare workplace every day. So I think this is pretty dangerous territory.
DS: But this is not just an opinion expressed in the workplace. This is put up on Facebook, it’s circulated and then tweeted to the province’s health minister.
STEVEN LEWIS: Well indeed. But if you also look at codes of ethics, one of your obligations in a code of ethics is typically to identify substandard care where you see it. We have whistleblowing legislation designed for that purpose as well. Moreover, in this case it sets a new standard in a number of ways. First of all, this isn't her workplace. She wasn't a nurse in her workplace calling out the care there. Again, that is also arguably her right, but the normal channels argument, one would think, would apply more to your own workplace than a facility 350 or 400 kilometres away.
DS: Right. This is her grandfather's facility.
STEVEN LEWIS: This is her grandfather's facility. And secondly, yes Carolyn Strom is a nurse and she did by the by identify herself as an RN in her correspondence, but I think the argument would be does she not have an entitlement to voice an opinion as primarily a family member, not as an RN talking professionally about her fellow RNs? Which raises yet a third point, the word nurse does not appear in her critique. She was talking about substandard care, she went out of her way to say that not all of the care was bad and she thanked those who provided good care. So this fell upon the nurses in that facility, prodded by their director to express their wounded sensibilities, when she didn't name anybody and she didn't even name the nursing profession. So again, we are getting into uncharted waters here and really stretching the boundaries of what might be considered unprofessional.
DS: What does this fine of 26,000 thousand dollars, which we should say 25 of which is to go toward the cost of the hearing. But what does that fine say to you?
STEVEN LEWIS: It says to me that be on guard any health care professional. Because even if you are willing or if you are compelled to pursue what you think is justice before a tribunal, it's not just your professional reputation and the prospect of a reprimand or the pulling of your license but we're going to hit you hard financially too. So it's kind of piling on. In the first instance, there's the personal toll exacted on Carolyn Strom and the humiliation of going through this three day process because somebody's feelings were hurt and then we're going to make it hurt even more by levying what amounts to 700 dollars a month of payments for the next three years to pay off your costs. It seems that disciplinary bodies have pretty untrammeled rights to assess whatever costs they want. One would have thought as a citizen, I certainly did, that that's what your professional fees are for. You levy a fee for all nurses to fund these kinds of processes and the justice system internally, within your professional organization as it were as a regulatory body is funded by a membership due. But apparently only some of it is and you're on the hook. So again, that would be chilling.
DS: We're almost out of time. But why do you think it got to this?
STEVEN LEWIS: Honestly, I have no idea. It seems to me that the SRNA, for whatever reason, somehow wants to make new law here, wants to be a leader in disciplining people for social media. And it seems that I think once these processes get going, you almost catch a virus and it kind of piles on and it feeds on itself. And it's one of those instances, which are not common thankfully in regulation, but where the regulation is sort of run amok. It's gone off the rails. So I don't think there's another explanation for this because it seems illogical in every other aspect.
DS: Well, we'll be watching this case and no doubt the appeal. Steven Lewis, thank you.
STEVEN LEWIS: You're welcome.
DS: That’s Steven Lewis. He is a health policy analyst in Saskatoon. Well the CBC News is next. And then a real life Canadian spy story that would put James Bond movies to shame.
[Music: James Bond theme]
DS: The story of Yevgeni Brik, a KGB agent who became a double agent for the Mounties during the Cold War era. I’m Dave Seglins and you're listening to The Current.Back To Top »
How a spy betrayed the KGB and was double-crossed by an RCMP cop
Guests: Don Mahar
DAVE SEGLINS: Hello, I'm Dave Seglins and you're listening to The Current.
DS: Still to come, in half an hour or if half an hour on the treadmill feels like torture to you, well that's because it was meant to. The history of the treadmill began in prisons, where it was used to punish prisoners with meaningless work. As part of our season long project The Disruptors, we'll hear how the treadmill has disrupted how we exercise. That is in a half an hour. But first, a Canadian spy story that rivals fiction.
VOICE 1: Counterintelligence is the place you want to be right now. We're up against the most sophisticated enemy in the world.
VOICE 2: You're my wife.
VOICE 3: Is that right?
VOICE 4: A super-secret spy is living next door, they look like us, they speak better English than we do.
VOICE 5: They’re not allowed to say a single word in Russian once they get here.
VOICE 6: You make any noise, I will kill you.
VOICE 7: President Reagan is outraged that the KGB thinks it can kidnap someone with impunity on American soil.
VOICE 8: Our war is not so cold anymore Elizabeth.
DS: That is from a trailer for The Americans, a TV series about two KGB spies posing as Americans in suburban Washington DC during the Cold War in the 1980s. Although fiction, the show is based on documented stories of Russian so-called illegals, spying in the United States. But those spies also embedded themselves in Canada, and one KGB officer Yevgeni Brik arrived on Canada's shores in 1951. 40 years later, his life collided with a then senior CSIS counterintelligence officer named Don Mahar. And he recounts the whole story in his new book called Shattered Illusions: KGB Cold War Espionage in Canada. Don Mahar is in our Ottawa studio. Hello.
DON MAHAR: Good morning.
DS: I want to talk about your relationship with Brik, but let's start right at the beginning. Who was Yevgeni Brik? And what do we know about his life before he came to Canada?
DON MAHAR: Yevgeni Brik was born in Novorossiyskon, on the Black Sea coast, not far from Sochi that most people are aware of. His parents were members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. His father was an accountant and his mother was a schoolteacher. His father got a request to move to Moscow from this small town and he did so, brought his family with him later. And a short while later was actually transferred to a company in New York City called Amtorg. The family followed and young Yevgeni Brik’s life changed forever. This young boy grew up on the streets of Brooklyn, New York.
DS: He was an American basically?
DON MAHAR: Well he became like an American. Obviously, he was born in the USSR but he became very much like an American. And as the years rolled on and they were still living in Brooklyn, this young boy learned to speak flawless English but with a very distinct Brooklyn accent.
DS: And so how does he wind up being a member of the KGB sent to Canada?
DON MAHAR: As he got older, the Great Patriotic War, as the Soviets used to call it, World War II broke out. And he was inducted into the army, where he became an operator for the search lights, the search lights that look for the planes going over the cities.
DS: This is back in Russia.
DON MAHAR: This is back in Russia. Yes that's correct, in Moscow. He became a sergeant and soon decided that he was going to follow the line of his parents and he joined the Komsomol, which was the young communist youth.
DON MAHAR: Partway through the war he changed and joined the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. And at that point, the military did two things. They transferred him to an infantry unit and they taught him how to be a signals officer where he operated Russian Morse code. As a spy later on, having flawless English with an American accent and the ability to communicate by Russian Morse code were two primary reasons why he was inducted into the KGB.
DS: And so he gets dispatched to Canada. He arrived in, it’s Halifax I believe, 1951?
DON MAHAR: That's correct.
DS: So what happens next?
DON MAHAR: Well, he arrives in Halifax and as a Canadian citizen carrying Canadian documents, goes through immigration and customs controls and walks to a train station and boards a train for Montreal. There he goes to a boarding house and when he got off the boat in Halifax, in his pocket was a hollowed out coin with a microfilm on it that contained all his meeting schedules and his communication schedules with the KGB both here in Canada. In other words, the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa but also with Moscow, the centre in Moscow.
DS: So he’s got the microfilm of all of his instructions from Moscow and how to set up shop. So how much work does he do for the KGB while in Canada?
DON MAHAR: Well, for the first two years he was in Canada he did no espionage, and that's important to understand. His function was to come and become a Canadian citizen in everything except the actual citizenship itself. He had documentation, false documentation, that he was David Soboloff.
DS: How does he come a double agent?
DON MAHAR: So he fell in love with a married woman from Kingston, Ontario. Her husband was a soldier. He's already married back in Moscow, however he falls in love with this woman and asks her to leave her husband and children and come with him. And she says obviously no, she was not prepared to do that. But she convinced him to come up to Ottawa and turn himself into the RCMP. He had told her exactly who he was, that he was not a Canadian, that he was a Soviet, that he was not a photographer, that he was a Russian spy.
DS: Why did he ever do that? If he's invested so much of his life to be a hidden asset for the KGB in Canada, why does he divulge that?
DON MAHAR: He was a terribly flawed man. He spent a great deal of his time with prostitutes and he was a heavy drinker. The Soviets believed that they had a patriot, a highly trained young man that they could trust. However, their illusions were about to be shattered, and that happened in 1953 when this lady brought him to Ottawa and contacted the RCMP.
DS: So they contact the RCMP, what work does he wind up doing for them?
DON MAHAR: Well he became a double agent in every true sense of the word. First of all, first and foremost, he provided them with everything about his background. He gave them his meeting schedules with the KGB officers, they're called illegal support officers. He provided them with radio transmission numbers from Moscow. He was receiving communications from Moscow and followed a schedule. He provided the RCMP with the codes for breaking that information. And so consequently, he provided them with everything. He told them about his dead drops in Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal.
DS: And dead drops are these locations where they can stash messages or materials or money.
DON MAHAR: That's correct. All of the above. That's correct.
DS: Now, you say before he comes to work for the RCMP and divulge all sorts of things about Russia and KGB operations going on in Canada in the fifties, you say he spent two years here developing his cover story and you're convinced he did no espionage against Canada. How can you be so sure?
DON MAHAR: Well, you never can be sure but from what I read in the archival files of the RCMP from the 1950s, and I read every word of every file, they were convinced that he was being honest and legitimate with them. And of course they have to check and verify and double check. And so they were satisfied. He also provided them with the names of his agents. So there was very little that I could say that would change that story. I believe strongly that he did in fact tell them what he needed to tell them.
DS: And names of agents, including people who were on the cover, diplomats stationed at the Russian Embassy in Ottawa.
DON MAHAR: Yes, he identified all of his illegal support officers. So he's doing this work, we're now in the mid-1950s. Tell us the story of how Yevgeni Brik was eventually betrayed by a Mountie, and who was that Mountie? The RCMP officer was a corporal by the name of James Douglas Finley Morrison. Morrison was a man that distinguished himself during World War II, and a year after the war is over he returns to Canada and goes to Regina, Saskatchewan.
DS: He turns out to be a cad and a bit of a cheater. Tell us about that.
DON MAHAR: A great cheater, as matter of fact. So he's brought back into the RCMP fold, he is asked to move from western Canada to Ottawa and become a member of what it was called the watcher service, which is a surveillance unit. Very very small, it was in its embryo state. And their job was to cover the activities of the various embassies in the city and particularly the Russian embassy, the Soviet Embassy of the day.
DS: So how does that change?
DON MAHAR: It changed when Brik, in another drunken episode in Montreal, telephoned the Montreal newspaper in a highly intoxicated state and told the news editor that he was a Russian spy. And the editor who was approaching deadline thought the guy was a nutcase. I mean, here's this man speaking to him in a heavy Brooklyn accent saying that he's a Russian spy.
DS: And he's drunk.
DON MAHAR: And he's drunk, and he just hung up on him. And what Brik did not know was what the RCMP were covering his telephones and--
DS: They were listening in.
DON MAHAR: They were listening in. That's correct. They didn't always trust. And so they were listening in. Two RCMP officers were sent to his home, he was picked up, driven to Ottawa, where he was interrogated for two to three days.
DS: Keeping in mind he's working for them now, right?
DON MAHAR: That's right. He's working for them. But he, see he believes he's working for this fictitious agency called the Canadian Security Agency. The RCMP made that up and Yevgeni believed that's who he was working for.
DS: So how does James Morrison wind up knowing about all this?
DON MAHAR: James Morrison who was with the watcher service, is called in by the senior officer of the security service of the day, and was asked to take this man, Brik, back to Montreal, to drive him back from Ottawa. And in a complete breach of security the senior officer tells Morrison who Brik really is, tells him that he's a Russian spy, tells him that he's a double agent. Well, Morrison and two others drive him back to Montreal and talk to him about who he truly is. Morrison at this point was in extraordinary debt and he was looking for ways of alleviating this debt. He was borrowing money from his family, from his friends but he just spiralled down and down. Morrison recognized that he might be able to extort money out of the Soviets.
DS: So just to play catch up here. We've got Yevgeni Brik who comes to Canada as a KGB spy. He turns double agent. He's working for the RCMP. Then you've got James Morrison, who's working for the RCMP. He's falling on hard times and wants money. He goes to the Russians and turns Yevgeni Brik in.
DON MAHAR: That's correct.
DS: What happened to Brik?
DON MAHAR: Before Brik had left Russia in 1951, he had been told by the KGB that some time in his four to five year period in Ottawa, excuse me in Canada, that he would be recalled back to Moscow for retraining and for family reunification. So Brik, in the normal course of things, receives a message from Moscow saying come on back, we're going to do this reunification and extra training. He knew he would be going back for 12 to 15 weeks. Now, at this point neither the KGB in Moscow nor the RCMP in Ottawa had any knowledge that Brik was a double agent. It was after this period of his recall that Morrison approached Ostrovsky of the KGB at the embassy in Ottawa, and told them about Brik.
DS: And they know they've got a double agent. He's at home and he I understand gets arrested.
DON MAHAR: That's correct.
DS: Now, ultimately he winds up in prison for many years. And I want to get to that in a moment. But James Morrison wound up getting caught and in fact was charged for his crimes. And at one point in the early 1980s, he was the subject of media stories. And I want to listen in now, because back in 1982 he talked to the CBC's Fifth Estate. They interviewed James Morrison, at that time he was wearing a disguise and they only identified him by his code name Longknife.
DON MAHAR: That's correct.
DS: Have a listen.
REPORTER: Describe to me the significance of what you told the Soviets. How important was that operation?
LONGKNIFE: I really didn't know how important it was because I wasn't involved in the actual handling of the operation.
REPORTER: From what you know about it now?
LONGKNIFE: I don't know much more now than I knew then.
REPORTER: Well, double agents don't come along every day.
LONGKNIFE: No that's true, but then I wasn’t--
REPORTER: Then you would have known that then.
LONGKNIFE: Yes I know but I wasn't dealing with him as a double agent. I wasn't handling him, as if you want to look at it that way.
REPORTER: But you knew about him and you told the Soviets that this guy was playing both sides.
LONGKNIFE: That’s right, yes.
REPORTER: Do you ever think about what happened to Gideon?
LONGKNIFE: Well, when you engage in espionage you have to expect whatever the consequences are. I've thought about it, yes.
DS: So the consequences, and we heard them refer to as Gideon, that was Yevgeni Brik’s code name with the KG or with the RCMP.
DON MAHAR: With the RCMP, that's right.
DS: But when Brik gets caught in Russia and they know he's been betraying them, why wasn't he killed?
DON MAHAR: It's probably the most frequent question that I am asked. If you recall a period of time under Stalin and also a man by the name of Beria. They were killing KGB officers for failed operations around the world. And when the Brik operation failed and another one that was going on in the United States failed, these were the same officers that ran both cases. They were fearful that they themselves were going to be arrested and executed in the same fashion that many many of their colleagues had been.
DS: Now, Yevgeni Brik winds up spending many years in prison, and we don't have time for the entire story here. It's all in your book, which I would encourage people to read. But it's he gets out of prison and manages to contact Canada. This is where you came in to get him out of what was then the crumbling Soviet Union. Tell us that story.
DON MAHAR: That's correct. It was almost 40 years after anybody had ever seen or heard of Brik. And we received a communication from our allies overseas and that was to the effect that an older man had walked into an embassy in Eastern Europe and indicated that he was the former David Sobeloff, the actual Yevgeni Brik and he wanted to get in touch with Canadian intelligence. We could hardly believe our eyes reading this message. I was sent to the archives to dig out these 1950 files and go through and see if we could put together three questions that would only be able to be answered by the true Brik. I did that and the message was sent. The Brits answered back and said that he had answered all three questions flawlessly.
DS: So how did you get him out?
DON MAHAR: Well, I'm not at liberty to say how we did that. That's a something that I have had to promise both CSIS and the British governments that we would not discuss any methodologies as how it was done. But we did have a very small team that put a lot of planning into it, both here in Canada and in London, England. We put the plans together over a number of months and we sprang that operation on 19th and 20th of June of 1992.
DS: And he came to live in Canada for many years before his death. How close were you after he arrived in Canada?
DON MAHAR: I was fairly close to him for a period of time. I'd like to put it in those terms. Yevgeni burned every bridge that he ever crossed and he soon found that he had lost almost all of the people who tried to befriend him, who tried to help him. But in the early period, we were quite close.
DS: And so he survived in Canada until roughly when?
DON MAHAR: Approximately five years ago. He passed away. And during those years in Canada, they were not happy years for him.
DS: Your book Shattered Illusions, is this just a story of Cold War history or do you think there are lessons for today?
DON MAHAR: I think there's a great number of lessons actually. One of the things that I talk about when I give lectures on this is that it would be a mistake to believe that this is ancient history. The KGB right up through to the point where they were disbanded and the current SVR Russian foreign intelligence, they have continued to use deep cover illegals around the world. There have been other cases here in Canada in more contemporary times, also in the United States and it is not a history lesson. It is basically a document that talks about what happened in the past but also gives fair warning that this continues.
DS: So to give us a sense of that, you said you were able to, you know, you began with the RCMP then went on to CSIS, you were able to review many of the files from the fifties and sixties. How many suspected Russian operatives or spies were under surveillance back then?
DON MAHAR: Oh gosh I couldn't even begin to tell you, there was an awful lot. Suring the height of the Cold War, there were KGB officers as well as Russian military intelligence officers which is GRU, certainly in the embassies and consulates all over North America. They were in companies, they were a news media, I'm referring of course to Soviet companies and Soviet news media. There was an awful lot. We--
DS: But let's say in Canada, I mean, are we talking dozens, are we talking hundreds?
DON MAHAR: Certainly we would be looking at the low hundreds.
DON MAHAR: Yes.
DS: And what were they after in Canada?
DON MAHAR: Well, it's it's the old story. Canada has nothing to protect or Canada has nothing to hide. The fact of the matter is we are part of NATO, we were part of NORAD, we have our own cutting edge technologies that they were interested in. They were looking for people who were working in research facilities, scientists. They were looking for political information, economic information. So this is over and above the types of information with respect to the military. And they were looking for people in foreign affairs, any of the agencies or organizations, the RCMP included, that they could recruit and have them act as spies for them.
DS: Now you say potentially hundreds.
DON MAHAR: I'm talking over the years. I don't mean at any one given time.
DS: But even that being the case, why, I'm just surprised. I think many Canadians would find that surprising don't you?
DON MAHAR: Sure they may find that surprising but anybody that's been in the business, anybody that's been in the military, they’d know this to be true.
DS: To what degree do you think there are still Russian agents, even other hostile nation state agents at work conducting espionage in Canada today?
DON MAHAR: You can go to the bank on it.
DS: You're that certain?
DON MAHAR: Absolutely. There's no question about it whatsoever.
DS: And how widespread do you think it is today?
DON MAHAR: I've been away from it now since 2004. So I can't give you an answer for that, but I know for the past number of years that the counterintelligence branch and the RCMP who were working in conjunction with the service for these types of operations, they're overworked.
DS: Don Mahar, congratulations on the book and the telling of this story. And it's very nice to meet you on the radio.
DON MAHAR: It's my pleasure. Thank you very much for having me.
DS: Don Mahar is a retired senior counterintelligence officer with CSIS and the author of Shattered illusions: KGB Cold War Espionage in Canada. He was in our Ottawa studio.
DS: Well, coming up in our next half hour, when the tread wheel was invented more than 200 years ago its purpose was to punish prisoners. Well today it's modern day version is a fixture of gyms all over the world. How the treadmill has disrupted how we stay fit. I'm Dave Seglins and you're listening to The Current.Back To Top »
Hate the gym? History explains why the treadmill can feel like torture
Guests: Vybarr Cregan-Reid, Eric Chaline, Dan Buettner
DAVE SEGLINS: Hello, I'm Dave Seglins and you're listening to The Current.
[Music: The Disruptors theme]
DS: This season on The Current we're looking at disruptors, people, objects, ideas that have changed the world and how we look at it. As many of us indulged in big dinners perhaps some chocolate this past holiday weekend, we're going to jump on the treadmill and hear how the gym has disrupted our approach to exercise. Anna Maria Tremonti first brought you this story earlier this season. And we started at the gym where our producer Karin Marley talked to people sweating it out on the treadmill.
VOICE 1: Just warming up right now. I’m starting with 3.0 and then I go every two minute, up and up until I hit 12.
VOICE 2: Kilometres an hour?
VOICE 1: Yeah. Yes.
VOICE 2: That’s fast.
VOICE 1: It is. I do three times a week. I love it.
VOICE 3: I’m blowing up steam. I was up early. Drove my kid to basketball practice. Made my other kid’s lunch. I tend to be a solo runner mostly, so this works for me. I just lock it and go and I’ll feel so much better during the day having done this.
VOICE 4: I’m working on the couch to 5K program. So trying to work up to running for 30 minutes.
VOICE 2: Is the treadmill your thing or do you run outside normally or?
VOICE 4: Not when it's negative 11. This is where it goes on. Yeah. It does feel awful.
VOICE 2: You don't love it?
VOICE 4: No. No. It’s the other parts I love. Stopping. I love stopping.
AMT: Okay. Can you relate? Treadmill enthusiasts bright and early at the downtown Toronto YMCA. Although enthusiasts may be the wrong word for some of them—perhaps sufferer is more apt. This year the treadmill celebrates its 200th anniversary. It's become a mainstay of the modern gym but the treadmill’s origins are downright torturous. As part of our project The Disruptors, we're looking at how the treadmill and the gym have disrupted how we look at health and fitness and we'll start this exploration with Vybarr Cregan-Reid. He teaches English at the University of Kent. More to the point, he's the author of Footnotes: How Running Makes Us Human. And he joins us from London. Hello.
VYBARR CREGAN-REID: Hello, Anna Maria.
AMT: Well, we just heard that woman there not enjoying her treadmill time. She may be on to something though. What was the original purpose of the treadmill 200 years ago?
VYBARR CREGAN-REID: In the UK in the late 18th century, there was lots of penal reform and it was felt that many of the crimes that were given the death penalty should be given something short of the death penalty. And the idea of hard labour was invented. The idea of hard labour was that it should punish the prisoners’ hearts and souls. It wasn't that they would be given labour to do that was fruitful or restorative. It was thought that something pointless should be done. An inventor called William Cubitt came up with his idea of the treadwheel, which we know today as the treadmill. And it became something that people were sentenced to.
AMT: That explains a lot. What did it look like?
VYBARR CREGAN-REID: Initially it started off as a sort of huge cylinder, like a water wheel that the men—because it was men—would all walk on together, a bit like a giant cylindrical Stairmaster. The wheels beneath them so that they are effectively on a floor is in motion but with small steps on it. By the time that Oscar Wilde was infamously imprisoned in 1895, prisoners then would walk the treadmill for about up to five to six hours a day. It was really serious punishment. And instead of being able to talk to one another, they were put into a sort of separated booths so that they had no sensory stimulation of any kind. It was terrifying.
AMT: So it really was hard physical labour. It was punishment. That is staggering.
VYBARR CREGAN-REID: Yeah, it is.
AMT: And so how does it evolve? Because at some point child labour comes into this.
VYBARR CREGAN-REID: It was a beginning of a movement that was recognizing that people were beginning to become more sedentary. And there was a patent called the gymnastican, which was basically a sort of cross-trainer that could be given to students or men of leisure who weren't getting appropriate amounts of exercise and they would climb inside this machine and then they would work the machine with their feet. But the gymnastican also had a huge wheel with a handle on the side and the patent explains that the reason for this is that [chuckles]—it's not funny—a child could be employed to work the wheel if the gentleman didn't want to have to go you know make the efforts of working the machine himself.
AMT: Wow. As you went through this history, what were you thinking?
VYBARR CREGAN-REID: Well, it was wondrous really. The gymnastican was not a commercial success. Only with electricity does it become workable. But the gymnastican, when you see the picture of it, whenever I show it at a talk or something, everybody in the room just breaks into laughter. It looks so ridiculous. But it's a lovely moment where we can see the beginnings of ourselves really in this history. It’s something that starts with the beginning of the industrial revolution, this recognition that modes of labour are changing so drastically that we now have to find other ways of moving our bodies.
AMT: So it goes from punishment perspiring because you're under punishment to perspiring for pleasure. When does the treadmill take on what we see today in our gyms?
VYBARR CREGAN-REID: The treadmill sort of disappears in the early 20th century and is forgotten about for a generation and then a cardiologist at the University of Washington in the 1950s wants to assess the fitness levels of his heart patients. He puts a treadmill together that looks a lot more like the treadmill that we would know today. And then it's not until the jogging revolution of the sixties and seventies that it becomes a sort of consumer commodity. And now I think the business is worth around $15 billion.
AMT: But this is not the treadmill that you would like to see, the treadmill of the future. What would you like to see?
VYBARR CREGAN-REID: Anything that gets people moving and exercising is great and there are things that people like about the mechanical treadmill now, like the fact that they can just punch in a number like 30 minutes into a treadmill or a speed. They have outsourced their responsibility for their exercise to the machine. But one of the things that's perfect about running is it stimulates us on so many levels that we're not aware of. But once you start stripping away the experience of an outdoor run in a green space and putting it onto a rubber belt in a gym, it might seem like you're doing the same thing, but actually lots of the things that you would have been doing have been lost in the translation. So the things that might create empathy between yourself and other people or yourself and a place, the things that might decrease stress, the things that might make you a better friend or a partner or a spouse or in preview or exam results or even make you less likely to commit a crime, these things are all lost on the treadmill. Our senses get stimulated in so many ways that they have very subtle effects on our psychology that aren’t always very easy to trace.
AMT: So you're saying we're not out in nature.
VYBARR CREGAN-REID: Basically, yeah. We're not out in nature and we're missing out on a great deal by being so. So to get back to your original question of what needs to be on the treadmill, basically the answer is more of nature. So things like treadmills with big screens that will allow us to feel like we're running in natural spaces. We need treadmills that are silent so that we can listen to nature sounds as well.
AMT: And where would the nature sounds come from?
VYBARR CREGAN-REID: Speakers or headphones. God, this is going to be a very complicated machine because it has to release smells as well.
AMT: Oh, okay. But that is your optimum treadmill, one that releases smells and sounds.
VYBARR CREGAN-REID: That would get as close to the outdoor running experience as possible. And the effects on the runner would be almost the same.
AMT: So I have to ask, if that's what it should incorporate, why don't we just run outside?
VYBARR CREGAN-REID: That's a very good question, isn't it? You know I'm obviously a very committed outdoor runner myself and I like this idea of the perfect treadmill that has bits of grass growing out of it. Hopefully it might encourage runners to see a little bit more of what it is that they're losing when they translate the runs from analog to digital.
AMT: What do you think of those people, like some of the people we heard earlier, who just love running on a treadmill?
VYBARR CREGAN-REID: I'd love to maybe sneak a few more of the benefits of outdoor running into their treadmill experience. But you know to hear people speaking so positively about any form of exercise, I think that's just great.
AMT: It's come a long way in 200 years.
VYBARR CREGAN-REID: Indeed, it has. It's got a long way to go as well.
AMT: Okay. Well, Vybarr Cregan-Reid, thank you for your time. Thank you for having me on. Vybarr Cregan-Reid teaches English at the University of Kent. He is the author of Footnotes: How Running Makes Us Human. He's in London, England.
VOICE 1: Do you like the treadmill?
VOICE 2: Don't like it as much but it's nice to see everyone come in and you know the activity in the place. It’s very stationary. I can listen to a podcast. I can zone out. It's great.
AMT: Well, these days it is standard protocol for indoor runners to get into the zone. Ear buds in, screen on, heartbeat measured and eyes straight ahead. But the gym was not always like this. For that matter, the gym wasn't always just about exercise and health. For more on that, I'm joined by Eric Chaline. He is the author of The Temple of Perfection: A History of the Gym and he's also in London, England. Hello.
ERIC CHALINE: Hi.
AMT: What would we have seen if we'd walked into one of the very earliest of gyms back in ancient Greece?
ERIC CHALINE: What you would have seen is something completely different from a modern gym. You would have been in a large open air space set in parklands. Everybody trained naked and then they would be very little actual equipment because what was practiced were the six Olympic sports.
AMT: Everybody trained naked. They were all men.
ERIC CHALINE: They were all men, of course. Yeah.
AMT: And it wasn't solely a place to train for sport. It became more like a school and even military training, did it not?
ERIC CHALINE: The social functions of the classical gym much greater than that of the modern gym, certainly. It was also the only thing that the ancient Greeks had as a primary school or secondary school and even a university. For example, Plato taught at the Academy gym on the outskirts of Athens.
AMT: Let's skip ahead many, many centuries. What do the Napoleonic wars have to do with the emergence of the gym in Prussia?
ERIC CHALINE: The first modern institution devoted to physical exercise re-appears in 1811, in Prussia and it started by a Prussian teacher who wanted to build the German race up after Prussia's defeat by Napoleon, who were considered the major military power in Europe. So his take on exercise was to restore Prussia to its ancient virility which had been taken away by civilization, industrialization. After the mid-century, states started to realize that if they wanted fit soldiers and stronger workers, exercise was a good way of attaining that.
AMT: How does the advent of photography play into the changing image of fitness and then the gym?
ERIC CHALINE: Some of the first people who use it are strong men. One of the most famous at the time is a German called Eugen Sandow and he is the first recognizably modern fitness entrepreneur. He starts a chain of gyms. He has a fitness mail order business for all kinds of home equipment and he uses photography of his own rather extraordinary physique to promote his fitness enterprise. And the middle classes realized that they needed to start to do exercise to regain some kind of health and also attractiveness, I think, was a very important aspect of going to the gym then.
AMT: Right and we start to see more of this issue of the body beautiful, don't we? And as we keep moving forward and you go from Europe to America, where does the idea of the modern fitness club spring up?
ERIC CHALINE: Yes. The modern fitness club appears first in Southern California on and around Muscle Beach, which was quite a famous place in the 1930s and forties, where young people who obviously had good bodies because they went to the beach, would come and show off. They would do weight training. They would do Olympic lifting. They would do acrobatics. To cater to them and that hedonistic lifestyle, gyms started to open in the area. You have the first chains opening up and then gradually spreading nationwide and ultimately worldwide.
AMT: When did the gym start being primarily a boys club?
ERIC CHALINE: With the aerobics revolution, so you’re talking Jane Fonda. No pain, no gain.
AMT: That's right. She would do the videos, right? She had the leotard.
ERIC CHALINE: Well, she started with the book and then it was, the video was the one that really made it. I think it’s still the biggest selling exercise video of all time. For those people who are too young, you can go to YouTube and there she is, in leotards. Splendidly.
AMT: So how much is going to the gym actually about health? What other factors have driven us to the gym over its history?
ERIC CHALINE: Quite honestly, I'd say health was very low down on the scale of the reasons why people would want to go. In ancient Greece, people went because they trained to be warriors and they went because they wanted to be more attractive. The cult of the body beautiful starts with the ancient Greeks.
AMT: Well, you actually point out that there was real erotica there as well, right? There was a lot of same sex.
ERIC CHALINE: Exactly. It was the focus of classical Greek same-sex culture. That's where older men met younger men.
AMT: And you draw the line to gay liberation in modern times to gyms.
ERIC CHALINE: The gym plays a very important part in contemporary gay culture. Lots of gay men are very body conscious and as a result will go to the gym. And in fact, it's influenced straight culture. Younger straight men go to the gym. Maybe they don't realize that they owe their participation to gay men originally.
AMT: But this type of exercise was not always seen as medically healthy. It was actually seen as detrimental, was it not at one point?
ERIC CHALINE: That's right. In the 1930s, people definitely thought that women shouldn't weight train, that they would become over masculine. But they also thought that athletes shouldn't weight train because it would actually damage their bodies. Doctors discouraged weight training.
AMT: And so how is the concept and popularity of the gym affected how we think about health now?
ERIC CHALINE: If your aim is purely to improve your health, you don't have to go to a gym. Going to a gym is reshaping your body in a certain way.
AMT: In fact, you say that in many ways it's become a place of almost worship.
ERIC CHALINE: In a slightly lighthearted way, I suggested that the gym has taken over from the church. People in past generations used to be avid churchgoers and now we’re avid gym goers.
AMT: And we have special clothes. We have special rituals.
ERIC CHALINE: Special clothes. Special food. You know we eat our protein bars and have our protein shakes afterwards. We have all kinds of rituals connected to going to the gym.
AMT: And that's where we get the title too, eh? The Temple of Perfect.
ERIC CHALINE: The Temple of Perfect. Yes.
AMT: Eric Chaline, thank you. Very interesting to follow that history all the way back. Thank you.
ERIC CHALINE: Thank you very much.
AMT: Eric Chaline, Eric Chaline, author of The Temple of Perfection: A History of the Gym. He's in London, England.
VOICE 1: What are you up to now?
VOICE 2: Now it is 12 for two minutes. See, I start to feel it, but a little bit hard is okay.
VOICE 3: When I hold these, it tells me how much my heart rate is going. I have like a history of like heart disease and stuff in my family. I'm just trying to nip it in the bud, I guess a little bit. It seems to me like the bare minimum I guess I could do. Yeah, initially I wasn’t sure if I would make it a regular thing or not. It's one of those things where you just keep going even though you don't want to and it gets better, I guess. I have so many of my friends telling me that running is like maybe one of the worst things you could be doing but it's the only thing I can find myself kind of motivated to do.
VOICE 2: Ooh. Oh yeah. A little bit slow down. Oof. [exhale] It’s good.
AMT: What is it about hearing other people working out if you're not? Some of those YMCA treadmill runners still going, hoping among other things to add years to their lives. But before you feel guilty, those who study people who live to be very old are discovering exercise is not part of the formula.
AMT: This is what you call natural movement.
DAN BUETTNER: Yes. Moving naturally.
AMT: So their daily routines, are they going for long walks?
DAN BUETTNER: Not intentionally. So walking is a form of transportation. So they'll live in places where every time you want to go to a friend's house, it occasions a walk or it's something people look forward to. In Okinawa, we studied these moais, these committed circles of friends and their way of winding down the day was to get together and take a walk and talk about the issues of their lives. And it's a big paradigm shift in the way we heard from our previous guest—treadmills being a punishment. Indeed for these people, walking was something they look forward to so they’d actually do it for 100 years. It was fun. Makes a big difference when it comes to longevity.
AMT: So but you're describing people whose lifestyles are different from those that most of us in urban areas lead. If you're living in an urban area, you're working a sedentary job. Is it possible to have all that natural movement at a level that would keep us healthy?
DAN BUETTNER: You can have an enormous impact with how you design the built environment. If you clean up parks, you make sure there are sidewalks without dangerous cracks in there. There's bike lanes. You can raise the physical activity level of a city by about 30 per cent. You know this also requires that you make driving slightly more inconvenient and walking more convenient and it's amazing how it drives people out from behind the steering wheel onto their feet. So we spend all this money lurching after physical activity when we really should be focusing on shaping our environments so that walking or movement is the default rather than something we race to after we're done sitting in our offices for eight or nine hours a day.
AMT: So beyond city planning and lobbying city hall, can you give us some specific examples of how those of us outside blue zones can get more movement into our lives?
DAN BUETTNER: Well, the first and most powerful would be to move to a walkable neighbourhood.
AMT: So pack up and move, you're saying.
DAN BUETTNER: The average adult moves about 10 times in their lives so you have 10 chances to move. Secondly, I would investigate how to get to work by public transportation. We know that people who just take the bus to work get about 19 minutes of physical activity spread out during the day and their chances of cardiovascular disease drops by a bottle of per cent. Also making sure you have comfortable shoes and a bicycle that works. And the third and most important one is to buy a dog or adopt a dog. We know that dog owners have about half the rate of obesity is non-dog owners and that's probably because the dog needs to get walked every day. So therefore too, the human gets walked as well.
AMT: And are there other ways that we should make life less convenient for ourselves even inside our homes?
DAN BUETTNER: Well, if you live in a multi-storey house, I would argue to put your TV on the top floor. So if you want to get a snack at occasions, at least going up and down those stairs. Every instance when you can have a hand tool instead of an electric tool, move it to hand. Take out garage door openers. All of these things provide dozens of little nudges throughout the day to get us to move and that adds up a lot more than we think.
AMT: So physiologically, how does moving naturally make those blue zone residents live so long?
DAN BUETTNER: They get enough movement in their twenties and thirties and forties and fifties. And actually, when you get into your sixties and above, you want to think about exercise differently. It's not just about you know cardiovascular or lifting weights. It's also about avoiding accidents. The beauty of moving naturally, i.e. walking and gardening, is they’re low impact. You're less likely to fall down and break a hip. Setting up your life so you're nudged into general physical activity every day is a strategy for your entire life from age 10 to 100. So in none of these places were you meeting spry 100 year olds who can stand on their head or waterski. Did they ever say at age 50, well, goddarnit. I'm going to get on that longevity diet or buy a treadmill or call an 800 number and order supplements. They just lived their lives in environments where they were nudged to move all day long. Fruits and vegetables were the cheapest and most accessible foods. Their kitchens were set up so it was easy for them to cook those foods or social networks were such that they reinforce those behaviours.
AMT: So should we stop going to the gym?
DAN BUETTNER: Well, for a tiny slice of people, the gym and the treadmill is a good idea. But the problem is we spend so much effort in marketing messaging, deluding people into thinking if you get on your treadmill or you go to the gym, that's what you need. People who join a gym, the vast majority of them have quit within nine months and almost all of them have quit within two years. So if it's a longevity strategy, does not work.
AMT: So you're telling me maybe we should walk to the gym, touch the front door and walk home. [laughs]
DAN BUETTNER: Yeah. Well, I'd rather see you move to a neighbourhood where there's a cafe that you like. You have neighbours who share your interests. And see, these are periods of movement you're going to do all day long mindlessly. I'm not going to use up your self-control. I think we need to think about our physical activity as a reward, as something enjoyable and something we look forward to doing, not something that we regard as self-flogging.
AMT: Dan Buettner, thanks for your thoughts. Really interesting.
DAN BUETTNER: [Chuckles] I loved it. Thank you.
DS: That was Anna Maria’s look at the gym as a disruptor. It first aired on The Current in February. Now, we want to hear from you on this. Is your relationship with the treadmill more torture or pleasure? You can tweet us, we're @TheCurrentCBC. You can also find us on Facebook or send us an email through the contact link on our website cbc.ca/thecurrent. And there you'll also find more stories from our series The Disruptors. And if you have a personal moment of disruption of your own that you'd like to share, an event that transformed your life, well send us a note, tell us about it. That is our program for today. Now, earlier we heard the true story of a spy in Canada but the mysterious dangerous world of espionage has been a constant source of inspiration to writers, TV producers, Hollywood directors. The Cold War novel The Spy Who Came in from the Cold became famous for depicting Western spying tactics as morally bankrupt. Well, that book was adapted into a classic film in 1965. We're going to leave you with one of its most memorable scenes. I'm Dave Seglins, thanks for listening to The Current.
NAN PERRY: What rules are you playing?
ALEC LEAMUS: There's only one rule, expediency. Mundt gives London what it needs so Fiedler dies and Mundt lives. It was a foul foul operation but it paid off.
NAN PERRY: Who for?
ALEC LEAMUS: What the hell do you think spies are? Moral philosophers measuring everything they do against the word of God or Karl Marx? They're not, they’re just a bunch of seedy, squalid bastards like me. Little men, drunkards, queers, henpecked husbands, civil servants playing cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten little lives. Do you think they sit like monks in a cell balancing right against wrong? Yesterday I would have killed Mundt because I thought an evil and an enemy. But not today. Today is evil and my friend. London needs him. They need him so that the great moronic masses you admire so much can sleep soundly in their flea bitten beds again. They need him for the safety of ordinary crummy people like you and me.
CBC would like to acknowledge the support of the Broadcasting Accessibility Fund.