Friday December 08, 2017

December 7, 2017 episode transcruipt

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The Current Transcript for December 07, 2017

Host: Anna Maria Tremonti



[Music: Theme]

RONAN FARROW: There's an incredible uprising of people within his companies, talking for the first time in decades about what they said was a culture of complicity. This is a tipping point where a lot is being exposed right now.

ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: Journalist Ronan Farrow, speaking just after the New Yorker released his investigative report into Harvey Weinstein. Making the point that people around him enabled his behavior. What he identifies as complicity, flourishes in dark corners, and in plain sight among us all. From the stories of #MeToo to the weekend's story of a Muslim woman attacked on a B.C. Skytrain, while a crowd of passengers just stared. To the tough choices of those caught between warring sides. In a moment, we'll hear from a woman who's made her own tough choices. And said we should confront our own complicity to avoid wrongdoing. Also today, a few years ago, the Iranian government used to jam the signals of BBC Persian Service when it didn't like the news.


SPEAKER: [Speaking in a foreign language]

[Sound: The signal breaks up]

AMT: Well now, it's accused of going straight for the journalists. The BBC says 150 of its Persian staff have seen their families back in Iran intimidated, interrogated, and jailed because of their BBC work. In half an hour, we're tracking the fallout. And since our special Filling the Gaps: Dental Care in Canada, we have been inundated with stories of desperation, others with information on where there are other gaps, and even new ideas for change that are already being tried.


SPEAKER: If we included a mouth with the body, we would be using the dollars more wisely. We actually save this system approximately two dollars on every dollar invested.

AMT: We will share the details in an hour. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current.

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Part One: ‘Wilful ignorance cannot be an excuse’: How to navigate complicity

Guest: Chiara Lepora

AMT: The silence breakers — women speaking out about sexual harassment and assault — were honored as Time Magazine's “Person of The Year” yesterday. But it was dictionary-dot-com’s “Word of The Year” that seems to be everywhere right now, even in this Saturday Night Live spoof of Ivanka Trump and her fictitious perfume.


SCARLET JOHANSSON: And a woman like her deserves a fragrance all her own. A scent made just for her. Because she's beautiful, she's powerful, she's complicit. She's a woman who doesn't think about others, and knows what she's doing. Complicit.

AMT: Well, complicit is a word on many people's lips right now. There has been a spike in searches for its meaning online. Because as the #MeToo movement gets people talking about sexual harassment and assault, those conversations are leading to bigger questions about complicity. About who knew what? When? What they should have done about it? We're going to continue that conversation today, and ask how we can all keep an eye out for complicity and wrongdoing in our everyday lives. And we're going to look to an interesting place for some help with that conversation: we're looking to the experiences of humanitarian workers because they're often faced with difficult questions about their own complicity in conflict zones. Chiara Lepora is a doctor in humanitarian medicine, currently working for the International Committee of the Red Cross. She is the co-author with Robert Gordon of “On Complicity and Compromise”, and she joins us from Jerusalem. Hello.


AMT: Let's start with the basic question, what is complicity?

CL: Complicity talks about one person's contribution to the wrongdoing that is perpetrated by someone else. So the first important aspect is that it involves a causal contribution. And the second important aspect is the differentiation between the person who is the principal wrongdoer, and someone else who has a causal role into it. But is not really the person who does the wrong.

AMT: So can you give us an example?

CL: One very easy example is the role, for instance, of somebody who drives the thief who is going to rob the bank. So the thief is the robber. What is the role of the driver?

AMT: And when we look at the work that you do, what questions around complicity do humanitarian workers need to weigh when they're in the field?

CL: Well, unfortunately, humanitarian aid is really one of those fields where the doubt about complicity comes up very, very often, particularly if we're talking about humanitarian work in a war context. There are a lot of different cases where the idea and the effort of trying to provide assistance to a population in need goes at the same time providing some level of support — willing or unwilling — to actors are the perpetrator of the same war that people are suffering from.

AMT: And can you give us an example of what you've had to confront in your own work as a humanitarian doctor?

CL: Well, one of the most tragic example that I happened to confront was, specifically, talking to some soldier in a context in Darfur, where a lot of sexual violence was happening. And there I was trying to inform people about the risk, for instance, of HIV. And it was a sort of entry-point discussion to then discuss about the fact that sexual violence is wrong. But somewhat trying and to use as well their own fear about it. And the discussion went much farther than I expected with one of the soldier at the end of the presentation, asking me should I use a condom to rape? And in a way, that's a tragic question that has no real answer. If I say yes, of course, I'm protecting the victim partially, but at the same time, I'm somewhat agreeing with the idea of rape. If I say no, also, that's the wrong a wrong answer because the real question is something else that cannot be addressed in that moment.

AMT: What did you do?

CL: In that case, I really just said that he should not rape anyone.

AMT: You know it's interesting that I'm talking to you in Jerusalem today because it's a city in a place with very compelling and conflicting narratives. And humanitarian workers must walk a line when they do their work?

CL: Yeah, and often fall from that line as well.

AMT: So where does the rest of us in our day to day lives need to look at whether we are complicit in wrongdoing?

CL: I really think that the idea of complicity is something that is often overlooked, and often misused in our language. Sometimes, it is used as a sort of blanket-condemnation, so we can say you are complicit as if that in-and-of-itself was sufficient reason not to act, which I think is wrong. But sometimes, we just don't think enough about not simply the direct consequences of our action, but also the indirect one. So not the consequence of what I'm doing by myself, but the how is my action going to contribute to the action of someone else? This is very, very important in our society, where everyone is so interlinked that we do have cumulative effect. So for instance, if we think about the situation we know altogether how if everyone starts throwing paper on the street then the street is going to be dirty. And it's going to be much easier for everyone else to throw papers in the street. Whereas if we all refrain from doing that, not only we will have a clean street, but we will also influence others in constructive ways.

AMT: Snd so are other cases where it's good to be complicit? Where complicity is necessary?

CL: So in my book together with Professor Gordon, what we explained is that, again, in the context of certain tragic choices, one needs to think about the overall consequences of one action. And there can be situations where one is complicit, insofar as he or she contributes to the wrongful action of someone else. But if there is an on-balance positive account for which the sort of overall good that comes out of that action is on the positive side then yes, being complicities better than doing nothing.

AMT: I want to look at a specific example that occurred in in Canada just a few days ago. Noor Fadel is 18-years-old. She lives in Richmond, British Columbia. This is her describing something that happened to her on the Skytrain — the commuter train — last weekend.


NOOR FADEL: A man got up and started muttering. He started speaking in Arabic, saying you dirty whore, you slut. This man kept repeating that he was going to kill me and kill all Muslims. He then tried to grab my head and my scarf, and forced my hand onto his crotch. When I backed my head off him, when I was protecting myself with my hands, I had my hands up. I looked at the other passengers on the train, and everyone was just staring. It was just like it's crazy, you know? And for me, I think what hurt me more — what had me more shaken — with the fact that in my head when they were looking I was like Oh no, are they going to take their phone cameras and film this and not do anything? Like they just sat there, and it hurt me so much. So I was so afraid. And at this point, in my head, I was thinking to myself Noor, just cooperate. Do not piss him off. This guy is going to hurt you. I backed up and I tried to say something to him, when he struck me across the face. And when he did this, right at the moment that he struck me, s young gentleman by the name of Jake Taylor, he stood up right away, and stood right in front of me until the Man got off the train. At this point, I was in complete shock to the fact that everyone was watching the man hit me, and no one did anything but one guy. And it wasn’t until I got struck to the face and actually hit someone that someone stood up.

AMT: Chiara Lepora, how should we judge the people saw what was happening to her, and just watched?

CL: Yes, so this is actually one of the cases that we look at in our book. Most people somewhat have the idea that doing nothing cannot be wrong. And so they think if I act, maybe there can be negative consequences. If I just don't do anything then I will not be complicit. I will not take part in anything that does not concern me. We think this is a mistake. A non-action is as morally active as a real action. And in reality, what all the people sitting there and watching something fundamentally wrong happening without intervening can be defined in different ways. There are definitely connivers, so some looking at the situation and, in some sort of way, accepting it. They are condoning the wrong that is being done. But more than anything, they are not taking an active part that is their human duty to take to protect somebody who is in a vulnerable position. So they can be considered as complicit, in so far as doing something different from what they've done, would they have avoided that wrong from happening? Which is exactly the case of this gentleman, Jake Taylor, that, on the contrary, acted.

AMT: I want to give you another example this is from an American radio show called “The Takeaway”. Journalist Suki Kim published a story on the weekend detailing allegations of sexual harassment and bullying against the host of the show, John Hockenberry. The accusations came from producers on the show, mostly racialized women, including Suki Kim. Suki Kim was interviewed earlier this week on the same program by the replacement host, Todd Zwillich, And she called him out. Let's listen to her.


SUKI KIM: I have a question for you, actually, because you have said I've seen your tweet over the weekend that you're very surprised. I just don't understand how you could have not seen if you'd been here for a decade where almost everyone I talked to were aware of an abuse happening? I mean since you're a journalist, and a journalist’s job description is to be perceptive, how could you not have seen? I’m not putting you on the spot. But I guess I am, in a way?

AMT: Now, Todd Zwillich said he had not seen any abuse with his own eyes. He mostly worked in another city, but he had heard about it through workplace chatter. Listen to part of his response.


TODD ZWILLICH: I felt like one of the lucky ones. John never trained his ire on me. And I ask myself now, because I never asked then, why was I spared? And the truth is I don't know why I was spared? Given the other things we do know now thanks to your reporting, it's possible John could have seen me — another white male — as less of a target. Was I privileged in my workplace because the star of the show, even subconsciously, saw me differently than some of my co-workers because if so, that's a problem?

AMT: So many questions coming out of this, but how do we measure the complicity of someone who perhaps should have known what was going on, and may have inadvertently benefited from someone else's wrongdoing?

CL: Yeah, I think that one of the fundamental condition to define someone as complicit is really the notion of the fact that they could and should have known. Like willful ignorance cannot be an excuse. And then, of course, this is a very fine line sort of definition, right? In trying to define what one could and should have known. But there's also something else that I think is important to underline about this case, which is we are not talking about a single event. We're really talking about a recurring pattern of interaction that one person, who is allegedly the abuser, was continuously doing against the other people around. And in those cases in particular, I think it's really important to look at the environment, and how an environment somewhat allowed that to happen. More often than not, there is a level of willful ignorance that we all risk sometimes to fall into because we are not necessarily personally touched by an abuse. And it makes our life easier not to see it, rather than to see it and then decide whether we should do something or not.

AMT: And how is the question of complicity different for someone who is in a powerful position compared to someone who say is assistant, and may have played a role in enabling someone else?

CL: Yeah, it's very, very different. So I think that in ethical terms, we need to use a very different way of judging action, and so for someone to commit their wrong, we then need to go into an evaluation of their intention, and their mental capacity, and the gravity of their action, and the consequences of their action — a whole variety of aspects. For someone who is not necessarily the wrongdoer, but is causally contributing to one wrong or a recurring pattern of wrongs to happen, I think it's very important to somewhat understand that what needs to be looked at more importantly are the real consequences of their action or inaction. Their intention in a way loses importance because it is just secondary to what the wrongdoer himself or herself actually did. So let me explain this better. More often than not, people who are complicit do not necessarily share the aim or the objective of the wrongdoer. Unfortunately, it loses importance because the wrongdoer was not done by then. That was done by someone else. And by their causal contribution, they anyway allowed, enabled, permitted, or contributed to the wrong that is done with intentions that they have nothing to do with.

AMT: So what should we be asking ourselves? You have a little list where people should think about as we kind of navigate our way through situations where we may be seeing something or are aware of something that we need to actually confront ourselves on.

CL: Well yeah, we think, more importantly than not, the first aspect is really to ask ourselves what are the indirect consequences of our actions? So not necessarily whether I am abusing, whether I am harassing, whether I have the intention to abuse? But rather whether my attitude in any way — active or by omission — is also having some direct consequences on other people doing wrongs around me? And if that is the case, then I think it's really, really important to somewhat determine whether there is any way and overarching positive reason to do what I'm doing. And there can be cases where I can foresee that. I’ll give one example, for instance, there's a lot of talk about the issue of reporting. I'm personally a bit skeptical about putting too much focus on the idea of retribution, so the punishment of the ones who are guilty — not that accountability is not important — of course, it is, but here we're really talking about sort of systemic problem where simply punishing toward people is really not going to make a difference.

AMT: Do you think we're at a tipping point when it comes to complicity? Do you think because of what's happening in the world, and we see this in the news that people are becoming more aware of the consequences of not stepping in when they see something wrong?

CL: I do not see, today, people asking themselves the right questions. I do still see a lot of emphasis on shame and punishment of a few individuals. Possibly to the most famous ones, but not really an attitude for which we take collective responsibility of an environment that allowed and nurtured abuse and harassment to become systemic in so many different fields of our lives.

AMT: Chiara Lepora, we have to leave it there. But thank you for your thoughts, and your perspective on this.

CL: Thank you for having me.

AMT: Chiara Lepora is a doctor in humanitarian medicine with the International Committee of the Red Cross. She's the co-author of “On Complicity and Compromise”. We reached her today in Jerusalem. Let us know what you think of what she has to say. You can tweet us we are: @thecurrentcbc. Find us on Facebook. Go to our website: And let us know what you think about the whole concept of complicity and looking at ourselves. The CBC News is next. And then Iran stands accused of cracking down on not just one BBC Persian journalist, but on 150 BBC staffers for its Persian service news service. Going as far as to freeze their bank accounts. Their families accounts as well. We'll hear from one of them. We'll also hear from the deputy director of the BBC World Service in our next half hour. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current on CBC Radio One, Sirius XM, Online on On podcast, and on your radio app.

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Part two: BBC journalists’ families harassed, intimidated by Iranian authorities

Guests: Maryam Afshang, Jamie Angus, Mazair Bahari

AMT: Hello I'm Anna Maria Tramonti. And you're listening to The Current.

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AMT: Still to come: an update on our special Filling the Gaps, our program on dental care in Canada struck a nerve with many of you. In half an hour, we're going to get to some of your letters about struggles with access to expensive dental care. And we will check in with a family in the Nanaimo, B.C. trying to help a Syrian refugee pay off her $10,000 dental bill. But first, freezing out the press.


Sound: The BBC World Service theme

SPEAKER: [Speaking in a foreign language]

AMT: A news bulletin from earlier this week on the BBC's Persian Service. But it's the journalists and staff of BBC Persian who are making the news. They say they and their families have been systematically intimidated by Iranian authorities for years. And now, they are speaking out. The BBC launched its London-based Persian service in 2009. And it covered that year's antigovernment protests in Iran extensively. The relationship has always been tense, but now it has escalated. In July of this year, Iranian authorities filed charges against BBC Persian staff. Alleging they were working as spies for the British government. Iran also went on to freeze the assets of 152 individuals associated with BBC Persian, and their families. Maryam Afshang is a journalist with BBC Persian. And she joins us from London, England. Hello.

MARYAM AFSHANG: Hello. Good morning.

AMT: Can you tell us what kind of troubles you have faced?

MA: I can say since 2009, I've been… or all of my colleagues have been deprived of some basic human rights. For example, in February 2016, my sister was in London for a short visit when my mom called her From Tehran and said our dad was in a coma at hospital. Two hours later, we both were in the Heathrow Airport, and my sister went to Tehran, and I stayed at the airport. You know my father was still alive, and I desperately wanted to see him for one last time. And you know, but I was unable to go home. When my sister arrived in Tehran, I begged her please show me my father in ICU. And she said to me she was not allowed. It's illegal taking a mobile phone there. But I cried and promised him I would be silent. And it was the worst experience I've ever had. I watched my dad in a coma through that smuggled phone. And you know I wanted to hug him and say Dad, I love you. And kiss him and say goodbye. But I couldn't, simply because I'm a BBC journalist.

AMT: Can I just understand, you aren't allowed back in the country? Or if you go to the country, they will you don't know what they'll do?

MA: No. Because you know, for example, that's pretty odd. I mean two days my father was in a coma, and more than 100 times, I wanted to take a ticket and go home. But all of my friends, all of my family asked me please stop and stay in London. Because we are afraid what will happen for us. And you know I have a little boy, and at that time I felt OK, if I go back, what will happen for my son if I was arrested in the airport? Or if I can't go back to my home in London?

AMT: Because of your work with the BBC, they would arrest you?

MA: Yes.

AMT: That must have been so hard?

MA: Yeah, of course, it's really hard because you know since 2009, we are systematically under pressure from Iranian authority. We haven't been able to go to our homeland, and simply because we are BBC journalists. We cannot mourn for the love we have lost. We cannot celebrate any wedding or birthday with our families. For example, when my sister got married, I watched her ceremony by my mobile phone in my bedroom in London. And I think it's not fair.

AMT: Have your assets been frozen by the Iranian government as well?

MA: My assets… I don't have any assets, but my family has assets frozen because I am one of the inheritors, and they are unable to stay at our house. And I can't say another example for one of my colleagues. After they froze our assets, he lost his apartment in Tehran. He owns the flat in a multi-unit building. So he owns part of building’s land as well. And he and other owners were planning to sell the land. But now, he has no control over it, and also, other owners can’t sell the land because of him. You know it's a really complicated situation for us. And for anyone who has any economic relation or family relations with us as well.

AMT: Now what about your family in Iran? What about your mother? Has your mother faced anything from the authorities because of your BBC work?

MA: She was interrogated over four times, and the last time was in 2013, exactly two days before our New Year. She was forced to sit in front of the wall for five hours. And she was interrogated. And they had two conditions: either I should give up my job, or should collaborate with them as a spy.

AMT: They did that to your mother? And how did she how did she react to that? How was that like for her?

MA: Of course, you know my mother is a really, really brave character. But she couldn't tell me this story for four months after she went to Australia to visit my brother. And from Australia who I mean could call me and say exactly what's happened. Because, of course, she was afraid to tell me by I mean telephone, or through I don't know mobile phone.

AMT: Have you ever regretted working for the BBC because of what they're doing to your family?

MA: You know I'm a journalist and I love my job. And, of course, as a journalist, I’m proud to work for the BBC. And I think it's not fair I want to give up my job because they pressure us, you know? But sometimes it's really hard. And because, as I told you, I always feel guilty for all the hardship my family has had in these years because of my job.

AMT: It's an incredible story, Maryam. Thank you for speaking with me today. We'll pick it up with our next guest. Thank you.

MA: Thank you. Thank you so much.

AMT: Thank you very much. Maryam Afshang, she's a journalist with the BBC’s Persian Service. And she joined us from London England. Well earlier this fall, in October, the BBC filed an official complaint about the situation with the United Nations. This is part of the response from David Kay, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression.


DAVID KAY: We urge the government of Iran to stop harassing the employees and the families of employees of the BBC Persian Service, as well as other journalists. And I would say it's a very, very serious concern to us. in part because it's reflective of an overall pattern, but also because it's creating direct harm against individuals who are only trying to do their job, which is protected by international human rights law.

AMT: Well, we're joined now by the deputy director of the BBC World Service Group. Jamie Angus is in London, England. Hello.

JAMIE ANGUS: Hello. Hi there.

AMT: Well, we just heard the story of one of your employees. How many BBC journalists are going through this?

JA: Well, there's a there's a list that's been circulated as part of this legal case in Iran. And there are more than 100 BBC Persian Service staff on that list. So, potentially, the families of more than 100 of our staff are affected by this entirely bogus criminal investigation in Iran. And so the impact on our staff is huge. And I think Maryam you know makes clear to your listeners the extent of the harassment and the upset this has caused more eloquently than anyone else could. And I'm incredibly proud of our Persian Service staff for continuing to make the news on TV, and radio, and online for audiences in Iran in the way that they do in the face of this really quite unacceptable harassment.

AMT: Do any of your Persian BBC Persian Service staff actually work inside Iran? Or are they outside? Are they all in London?

JA: No, that's right. The staff are almost all entirely based in London with a few staff in Washington, for example. But no, they can't operate inside Iran. And, of course, the BBC at the point at which we were setting up the Persian Service TV station, were in discussions with the government of Iran, trying to make it clear to them that the service had no political agenda. It's our mission, as it is around the world, to provide accurate and impartial news to audiences who want to consume them. And there was no reason for them to be to be suspicious or upset about BBC setting up the Persian TV Service. And we were unsuccessful in that. And since the service has launched, there's been a variety of different methods of harassment used. For example, you know families have been harassed just in their run-of the-mill activities inside Iran. People have circulated malicious kind of fake news pages, if you like. Pretending — masquerading — as being BBC Persian output online that's often been specifically attacking named staff members. But this latest episode really takes the harassment to a new level by using the mechanism, if you like, of freezing the assets of the families of our staff. And as we said, entirely bogus national security criminal investigation based in one of Iran's national security courts. And we called very clearly, as have the UN Special Rapporteurs jointly, for this harassment to stop immediately.

AMT: What have female journalists faced in particular?

JA: Well, it's very difficult and upsetting because you know we have seen instances in the past where female journalists working for BBC Persian have had you know highly offensive and you know denigrating content posted about them online. And, obviously, we have no way of knowing directly exactly who's responsible for that. But we certainly see a pattern as part of a wider pattern of harassment against our staff. And there's no reason for any Persian Service staff, let alone our female staff, to have to put up with any kind of harassment. And we just think that that's completely unacceptable. Iran is the signatory to a number of international human rights conventions, all of which enshrined the rights of journalists to go about their business without being harassed, either by state actors or other actors. And you know there's a very small list of countries in the world who indulge in this kind of overt harassment of journalists. You know the people of Iran’s long and wonderful history have no place on that list that. Their government should not be taking them in that direction. And we urge them to reverse that course of action.

AMT: You have reporters around the globe. Have you ever seen this type of situation before anywhere?

JA: We do encounter it from time to time in some countries. And often, it's to do with you know a specific kind of political events. That can be political sensitivities around disputed elections, or it could come in the context of a particular conflict. And you know the BBC journalists have been harassed variously over time in Russia, and times in North Korea. You know this is not acceptable wherever it occurs. But I think it's extremely unusual for it to happen in such a systemic way as it has done recently, and indeed, over a long period in Iran. And for the harassment to be targeted at the families of people working in London. That suggests a kind of sophistication and method behind the harassment that we haven't really seen elsewhere, and we were concerned about. And we're clearly concerned about the impact on our staff.

AMT: Did you know why BBC journalists in particular are being targeted? Are they targeting other media the same way?

JA: We’re not aware of anything on a similar scale. It is true that other foreign media organizations in Iran have been subject to harassment, and others haven't. And it's not entirely clear what the reasons for that are? But it is clear that in this instance, the BBC has been singled out in this particular legal process has been issued specifically against BBC staff. And therefore you know there's a sensitivity by the Iranian government around the BBC Persian TV Service is at the root of it.

AMT: We tried to get a response from the Iranian government through three offices: Iran's embassy in London, the office representing Iran in Washington, and Iran's permanent mission at the United Nations. No one got back to us. Have you had any response from the Iranian government?

JA: Not directly, no. And you know we hope that all governments who support the free activities of the press all around the world, whether that's the Canadian government or the U.K. government will join us in supporting this campaign. You know our journalists came up with this #Journalismisnotacrime. That's something we could all subscribe to. The BBC is apolitical in its dealings. We don't have an agenda. We're simply interested in promoting accurate and impartial international journalism around the world. And you know we expect and welcome governments who support us in that mission.

AMT: Has this caused a chill among your Persian journalists?

JA: Well, I think it's been extremely stressful for them. And that's why I said I'm very proud of the work that they continue to do. You know we're still broadcasting this continuous news channel. You know the BBC Persian news channel into Iran, we have a website also, in Farsi, and we have radio services in the same language going into Iran. And you know we're very proud of that, and that the staff are continuing to hold up under the stress that they are being placed. And, obviously, we're doing everything we can publicly and behind the scenes to support them because we that's our biggest concern actually is the safety and well-being of our staff, of course. There's no reason why they should have to put up with this. And it could be ended tomorrow by the Iranian government. Jamie Angus, thank you for your time. That's Jamie Angus, deputy director of the BBC World Service Group he joined us from London, England.

AMT: My next guest is all too familiar with Iran's crackdown on journalists. He experienced it himself. Maziar Bahari is an Iranian-Canadian journalist. In 2009, he spent 118 days in Iranian prison after being accused of being a foreign agent. He now runs an organization dedicated to promoting press freedom in Iran. It is called Journalism Is Not A Crime. Maziar Bahari joins us from Washington. Hello.

MAZIAR BAHARI: Morning. And thank you so much for doing this. I wish there were more journalists like you covering this issue.

AMT: Well, we hear what's going on with these journalists, Maziar. How typical is this to the way the Iranian government usually operates?

MB: Well, the Iranian government has learned that intimidating people and putting psychological pressure, financial pressure on people is much more effective than physical violence. So whereas in the 1980s and 1990s, they were torturing people, they were shutting down newspapers, imprisoning journalists. Right now, they do with that, of course, but on a lower scale. But they are intimidating journalists you know in different ways. Journalists in Iran, of course, suffer much more than us outside of Iranian borders. But as you see in the case of the Persian Service of BBC journalists, they are not just doing it to the journalists in Iran. They are doing it extraterritorial as well.

AMT: So you're saying it's a strategy of psychological intimidation?

MB: It is, definitely. Because what you have to really understand about this blacklisting is that this is not only affecting the 152 or more Iranian journalist journalists are on that list. It affects their family as well. So if their assets are frozen, if they cannot do any kind of financial transaction, as Maryam said, they can sell their family belongings, their inheritance can be affected, if they own something together with other people that can be affected. And many of these journalists who work for BBC Persia, they are recent immigrants to the U.K. So they have a lot of roots back home in Iran. And they have family relations. And they never knew that they were going to be refugees in the U.K. They thought that they could go back home and operate freely. But because of what's happened in 2009, and because of the new strategy of the Iranian government, it is almost impossible for them to go back home. Of course, they can go back home, but they will be imprisoned like the cases that we have seen of BBC journalists who have been imprisoned. And they wouldn't be allowed to come out.

AMT: So what is Iran trying to achieve here?

MB: Well they just want to block the free flow of information. And they tried their best to do that. They, of course, jammed the signal of satellite television, they try to block the Internet, and they also intimidate journalists. And that's all because they do not want the people of Iran to receive information. Of course, as we talk about it outside in the west, it’s a futile strategy by the Iranian government because we live in the 21st century. But the Iranian government is really a 20th century dictatorship that operates in the 21st century. Yes, in the 20th century, it was possible to imprison journalists, to stop the free flow of information, jam the shortwave radio signals, shut down newspapers. But in the 21st century, it's just not possible. People have filter busters, people have VPNs, people have access to satellite television in different ways. But this is a constant struggle between journalists and citizens of Iran and the Iranian government. And what is very important to know about this case of the BBC Persia that is this is not officially announced by the Iranian government. When the BBC journalists go to a notary public or their families go to a notary public or they want to do a financial transaction, they are told that you are on the blacklist of BBC employees?

AMT: Right. Yeah, they don't even know until they're facing it.

MB: Exactly. But that is the way that the Iranian government has created this face-saving measure that if push comes to shove, if there's an international backlash, if the U.K. government gets its act together and defend its citizens, then they can't just say that no, we never did that. And that was something that the anti-revolutionary elements propagated. And there was no such list, Et cetera.

AMT: Well, let me ask you, Maziar because we don't have a lot of time here. How does this affect other people doing that kind of work? Like do you expect other organizations to be affected by this?

MB: Of course, that is also the trend of the Iranian government that they test the waters first. They start with one individual or one organization. And if they can get away with impunity, then they start harassing other journalists as well. There have been cases of other journalists from other organizations being harassed, not at the scale of BBC employees. But I think if the U.K. government doesn't get its act together and defend its citizens, I'm sure that the Iranian government will intimidate journalists from other channels and other organisations as well. But unfortunately, the U.K. government foreign policy is one by Boris Johnson, who is as ineffective as a foreign minister can be. And that's why are facing this situation that the Iranian government is just doing it with impunity. Not many people within the U.K. government really care, or at least diligently care about this situation. Otherwise, it could have been stopped. Because as the BBC manager said, Iran is a signatory of many bilateral treaties, international treaties. There can be protocol measures that the Iranian government can be penalized because of those treaties that it has signed.

AMT: OK, Maziar, we have to leave it there. Thank you for your thoughts on all of this today.

MB: Thank you so much.

AMT: Maziar Bahari is an Iranian-Canadian journalist, he's the founder of the organization Journalism Is Not A Crime. We reached him in Washington, D.C. Stay with us, in our next half hour, we're going back to the dentist.


[Sound: Ugh, awful!]

AMT: Sorry about that sound. Time for your letters and feedback from our special program Filling the Gaps Dental Care in Canada. The only thing worse than that sound for a lot of people is never being able to hear it because they can't afford it. So we're talking about that, and some news stories as well on that front. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current on CBC Radio One.

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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 2017


Part three: ‘Sometimes I can’t drink or eat’: Syrian refugee living in B.C. face $10K dental bill

Guests: Karen Marley, Willow Smith, Elizabeth Herman, A., Lyn Linton

AMT: Hi, I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current.


SPEAKER: When your teeth are snapping and breaking as a side effect from a medical treatment, I think that should be covered as the medical treatment was because it's the same thing.

SPEAKER TWO: People come here, we're dealing with their you know their tooth aches, but that's just a symptom of the overlying problem. Like this is not just dental or a tooth problem. This is like a socioeconomic problem.

SPEAKER THREE: People need their teeth, you know? It's aesthetics, it’s confidence. It makes you feel good about yourself. It's health because you got to eat.

SPEAKER FOUR: There's about six million people who have avoided visiting the dentist in the last year because of the cost of the care. We should have dental care with part of the universal health care system.

SPEAKER FIVE: I think Canadian dentists would support looking at the areas that need help, and focusing on those to give them the help they need.

SPEAKER SIX: I'm not asking for root canals and the Hollywood teeth here. I'm just please god, can I get these out of my mouth?

AMT: Those are some of the people we met last week in our special edition of The Current, Filling the Gaps Dental Care in Canada. One-third of Canadians do not have dental coverage. We heard stories of people who live in pain because they can't afford the dental care they need. And we debated whether dental care would be better if it were part of our universal healthcare system. And since then we've heard plenty from you. The two lead producers for our special are with me to follow up Karen Marley and Willow Smith. Hello, Karen.

KAREN MARLEY: Hello Anna Maria.

AMT: Hello, Willow.

WILLOW SMITH: Hello, Anna Maria.

AMT: Now Willow, have you been surprised at the response to this program?

WS: We've had a huge response. It's fair to say and outpouring really, but I can't say I'm surprised because in doing the research for this, I talked to so many people who are in near constant pain from their teeth. Whose lives have been up-ended by their inability to access dental care, so while it's been heartbreaking to read many of these stories, I can't say that I'm surprised.

KM: And that's why we wanted to come back to this today — come back to this story — because we did hear so many responses on Twitter, on Facebook, on e-mail. So we wanted to look as well at least one example of something that might be working.

AMT: Well, let's start with the mail first. And we'll get to that example. Cathy Smale of Campbell River, B.C. writes: about 10 years ago, I began to lose teeth. I chose to have dental implants — three of them — in order to prevent further tooth loss. The implants and related treatment for my other teeth cost me over $25,000. I'm still working at paying off that debt.

WS: Yeah, we heard a lot of stories like that. Krystal emailed: I haven't had dental insurance for over a decade. I'm 35; I have no molars left on my lower left side — zero. Over the years, I've had them all pulled because I couldn't afford regular dental care. The pain was excruciating.

AMT: You know others wrote in about having teeth pulled because of the cost of other dental care. And, of course, when we were at that mobile dental bus in Hamilton, Willow, we were there when the dentist had to pull Camilla’s tooth because she couldn't afford a root canal.

WS: Yeah, it was really hard to see and to watch her. She was desperate to save that tooth. She was even considering going to family members to get them to help her to pay for it. But in the end, they just couldn't save her tooth.

KM: But even pulling teeth expensive. Dan Rand from Gatineau, Quebec wrote to us about his mother: She has lost many of her teeth throughout the years. She needs dentures now, but the cost of tooth extraction makes the entire thing cost-prohibitive. The result is that I see my mother avoid social interaction. She's embarrassed when she's speaking. She even hides when she's eating, which makes me sad.

A (The Current has agreed to keep our guest's name anonymous) is someone else who cannot afford dental bills. She is a refugee from Syria. She arrived in Canada about a year ago. She lives in Nanaimo, B.C. with her husband and five kids. The kids range in age from 6 to 17. She is a government-sponsored refugee, who's getting some support from people in the community. Here's her story.


A: My name is A I am from Syria. I came to Canada last year.

ElIZABETH HERMAN: My name is Elizabeth Herman. I met A when she first arrived in Nanaimo. I'm part of a small group of volunteers who have been collecting furniture and household items for the refugee families, so that when they arrive they have a house that's already furnished and ready for them. I knew that many of the families had serious dental challenges, and that it was hard for them to deal with these problems because of the high cost. In A’s situation, we were at a community sort of English exchange speaking group. And A had just come in, and was very upset because on her way there she had lost a piece of her front tooth. And she was in a lot of pain, and she was crying, and we were all just sort of horrified by this.

A: [Speaking in a foreign language]

TRANSLATOR: It affects her daily life. So sometimes her gums are bleeding and it’s very painful. And sometimes even she can’t drink or eat something cold or hot because of the sensitivity of her teeth. This is a problem that makes her life miserable

EH: Then I started asking her with the help of an interpreter what the problem was? And had she seen a dentist. And she basically said she'd seen a dentist and was told that it would cost upwards of $10,000 to fix her tooth. And so she has just been taking painkillers, and dealing with it as best she can.

A: [Speaking in a foreign language]

TRANSLATOR: This amount is very big, and not affordable at the moment. If this promlem is only me and about $15,000, what about the other kids or her husband? Other people in the house twill still have a problem. And they have to also have the money to cover this cost.

EH: I know most of the families who have come here to Nanaimo. And with no exception, they have all told me the same story that they were under the impression that when they arrived in Canada that their dental care would be covered as part of their general health care. What's heartbreaking for me is that they were given the wrong information and you know made a decision based on that is that wrong information and now they're here and they can't go back. And they're facing these exorbitant prices to get their teeth fixed.

A: [Speaking in a foreign language]

TRANSLATOR: I came to Canada to find a good life. I didn't think of how much expensive is Canada, especially in terms of dental care. I left Syria because I want to find another safe place. I left Syria to Turkey, and from Turkey to Canada. And it was a big and horrible journey of being a refugee. But I never expected to have such a problem. The amount of money that they have been asking is very big that she can't even afford or think about it. So I'm just looking for somebody to help. Or somebody to actually think about my problem and how can I get rid of this problem as soon as possible, so I can just live like my life normally.

AMT: That is A, who came to Canada as a Syrian refugee, at her home in Nanaimo, B.C. speaking through a translator. Now, she was joined by Elizabeth Herman, who's helping A out, A and her family. And a funny thing happened after we visited A and Elizabeth in Nanaimo. There is a small development and it has to do with this video.

[Sound: A loud car horn]

AMT: Elizabeth Herman, hello.

EH: Hello.

AMT: What were we hearing there?

EH: A dog leaning on the horn in a parking lot in Nanaimo.

AMT: And it's not a dog just leaning on a horn. The dog is actually sitting in the driver's seat looking kind of like a person.

EH: He is. Yes, it was pretty funny.

AMT: Who took that video?

EH: My husband took it. He dropped her kids off at the pool, and was coming back out to the car and heard this horrible, blaring horn. And as he was walking through the parking lot, he realized that it was a dog sitting in the driver's seat of this car. He just had this look on his face of a determined look like something was going to come up of this.

AMT: So he has this on his phone. And then you guys post it?

EH: Yeah, so he emailed it to me. And I just laughed out loud. And I don't laugh out loud that often, so I thought you know this is pretty funny, I'm going to post it on Facebook. And didn't think about it much after that, until a friend contacted me and said I think your video is going viral.

AMT: How many people were looking at it?

EH: Well, it seemed to be steadily climbing over the week. It got to over 500,000 views, which was just unbelievable to us. We just had no idea.

AMT: And what happened next?

EH: Well, we just were sort of watching this in disbelief, as the number of views climbed. I just thought it was kind of an interesting phenomenon. We started getting messages from licensing and distribution companies in the U.S. asking if they could purchase the rights to distribute the video. We were flabbergasted. We had no idea that these companies existed that you know there was this whole world out there of viral video sales.

AMT: So there's a viral video industry. And you went ahead and sold it. Why did you do that?

EH: Well, you know I think we probably would have just left it. But because this was sort of happening simultaneously with you know our attempts to fundraise for A’s dental care, it just seemed like there was a strange convergence of events. If there was some way to make some money from the video and use it towards A’s dental care, then we should do that.

AMT: So is that what you're doing? The money you're getting from there you're putting toward her dental care?

EH: We are because we had started the Go Fund Me campaign. And so the company that we signed with gave us an advance of $425 U.S. dollars, which is now in the Go Fund Me campaign. And there have been several sales since then. If we do receive all of it, it will be close to about $1,700 Canadian so far.

AMT: That's terrific!

EH: Yeah! You know it's a big help. It's not going to cover everything, but it's certainly a big chunk of the money that we're trying to fundraise for A.

AMT: Have you told A?

EH: Oh yes, it was a little difficult because we didn't have an interpreter. Her son was there, and we used Google Translate, and explained as best we could what was going on. And I showed her the video, and she just laughed out loud. And I just thought this video has a universal appeal. And yeah, she thought it was pretty funny. And she was pretty excited, so she's been waiting a long time. And we want to get her started so that she's not in so much pain.

AMT: A few people have written to us commenting that the government should not pay for any dental care for people who arrived as refugees when there are so many others in Canada who don't have coverage. What's your response to that?

EH: You know I think it's a problem across the country that people don't have coverage. And, to be honest, it was not something I was truly aware of, until I started noticing what was happening with the refugee community. I just feel that in the case of the refugees, you know we have made a decision to bring them into this country, and to resettle them, and to give them the best that we can so that they can be successful here. And that includes you know health care; we provide them with all of their all of their regular medical care. You know we were giving them money to provide them for housing, and food, and you know education, we're teaching them English. And I just think that this is one piece that's missing. And it doesn't really make sense to me why it's missing when we've committed to providing them all these other services. I see how it's affecting these families. And holding them back from learning English, from being able to function normally, and you know integrate into Canadian life.

AMT: Elizabeth, it's good to talk to you. Thank you.

EH: Thank you.

AMT: Well, that was Elizabeth Herman in the Nanaimo, B.C., she is helping new Canadians — people from Syria who came over as government-sponsored refugees — to get dental care — going from viral videos to dental care. She is not the only one now trying to help out. One of the people we heard from in our special Dave Stalk in Winnipeg got help from a charity. And Willow, you had some response for Brandi Jasmine’s story?

WS: Yeah, you might remember her. She's the artist from Welland, Ontario who couldn't afford dental care. And she actually made her own cap.

AMT: Out of plastic, right?

WS: A molding plastic that she was familiar with as an artist. And she actually molded it and fitted upon one of her teeth because it was broken, and it was cutting the inside of her cheek. And it was quite painful. So since we aired the special, a few listeners have written in and they want to help her out, including a dentist who has offered all of her services for free. So people were very moved by hearing these stories.

AMT: We also heard from people like the man we met in Winnipeg, Dave Stalk, got all kinds of dental problems because of complications from cancer treatment. Karen, you got a couple of those comments.

KM: Yeah, these are people who are just having to go through one thing after another. Peter Purchase from Happy Valley Goose Bay, in Labrador wrote: I ended up with serious dental problems after receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatment for cancer. Because there are no dental specialists in this region, I had to fly to Halifax numerous times to be treated by a specialist there. At the end of the day, my travel and dental bills came to approximately $26,000.

AMT: Wow!

KM: And on Facebook, David Shenyay he was saying he's in a similar situation with his son. He wrote: Our little fella is a cancer survivor. However, he will need extensive dental and orthodontic treatment to have normal teeth due to chemotherapy and radiation. We are paying for his treatments so far, but we would be grateful for some help.

AMT: Interesting. There are other health issues that can cause dental problems as well. That sounds really serious when we hear about the cancer treatments.

KM: People also wrote about other gaps in coverage, other than medical issues that cause tooth problems. Sheldon Ketzel, from Victoria, B.C. wrote: I'm a small business owner. I have no extended dental coverage. Along with low income Canadians, we lack access to dental care. Those on income assistance are covered by the government. But working-class, and many of those who are in the middle-class, are sliding through the cracks.

WS: We had a reminder from another listener that access isn't just about money. Sue Anderson from Drayton Valley, Alberta wrote: my disabled sister is in a wheelchair, and cannot access regular dental offices as she requires a lift to transfer her. She had a tooth ache two years ago and had to go on a waitlist to see a dentist at the hospital. That waitlist was almost six months because the dentist only could get use of operating rooms a certain number of days per month. Money wasn't the issue as we couldn't buy services anywhere, due to no accessible offices.

AMT: Such an outpouring of really interesting and really poignant stories that people are sending us. Many people wrote to say that dental care should be publicly covered. Sarah Jane Schmidt from Winnipeg wrote: one could argue that having teeth is more important than an arm or a leg in terms of outcomes. The mouth is the gateway to the rest of the body; so many other health problems result from oral health problems. At the very least, we should have a system of public dental care based on a means test.

KM: Not everyone agrees, of course. Keith Sutcliffe from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia wrote: If dental care is included with medical coverage, it will drive up the cost of our medical care to a point where we can't afford it. My dental and medical plans are part of my employment pay and retirement package, and to cancel my private plan and increase my taxes is certainly not right.

AMT: We also heard from some dental professionals. Willow, what do they have to say?

WS: Yeah, we heard from a lot of dental hygienist, and a few dentists. And Philip Chang, he's a dentist in Vancouver, and he wrote about how dentists are paid: If you choose to treat someone with no coverage or limited government emergency coverage that pays 60 per cent of what is normally covered. Can you imagine if you went to the hospital and the doctor was expected to treat you and be paid 40 per cent less?

KM: So Nicole Brunelle from Midland, Ontario, she's a dental hygienist, and she has another idea she wrote: People need to push the government to bring back — on a much bigger scale — dental therapy. Dental therapists are between a dentist and a dental hygienist. They do all the dental hygiene skills plus they give oral anaesthetics. They drill and fill, and do simple extractions. The government used to have a limited program in Saskatchewan, but canned it a few years ago. Why?

AMT: I didn't know that.

KM: No, I know. Me neither. There's all these ideas that pop up in various parts of the country, and just sort of never seem to go beyond the pilot stage.

AMT: Well, now they're coming up again.

KM: There were other kinds of arguments we heard from others working in healthcare during our program last week. We also heard from Dr. Larry Levin, the president of the Canadian Dental Association, he said that since the system works for most Canadians, it would be better to leave the existing coverage in place for those who have it. And then find a way to fix the system for those who are falling between the cracks.

AMT: And Dr. Paul Allison, the dean of the Faculty of Dentistry at McGill University, actually said he thinks there needs to be a major rethink about how dental care is delivered in this country.


PAUL ALLISON: We need to be thinking about where are we setting up the dental care? Not only in private offices, we need to think about having dental offices with community health centers, with the physicians, with the general health care team. We all agree that oral health and general health is part of one in the same. They shouldn't be separated, so we should be working in the system.

AMT: One community health center in eastern Ontario is trying to do just that: provide dental care to people who cannot access private dental clinics. It's a simple but innovative approach. And the clinic's organizers say they have the numbers to back up the success. Lyn Linton is the executive director of the Gateway Community Health Centre. And she's in Tweed, Ontario. Hello, Lyn.


AMT: Who do you see at this clinic?

LL: Well, we see individuals attending the clinic that are in Ontario Works, or Ontario Disability, or individuals who have very low incomes.

AMT: And why did you start this oral health clinic?

LL: We started the clinic because we saw the need, and we heard the stories from our patients. They were either in pain — excessive pain — or they were looking for dentures because their health was failing. We have children who come in to have their teeth looked at maybe for the first time. And then we have an aging population up to 80 years of age. The people that are in low income are people that normally have attended a dentist, maybe they worked before and had dental plans. And so their teeth aren't all that bad of shape. But what they found out when they retire they don't have enough money to maintain their teeth. And then we have had people that have never seen a dentist throughout their entire lives.

AMT: How much convincing did it take to get the right funding from the government?

LL: We've had definitely a challenge with that. We've had to close our clinic twice because of a lack of funding. So having sufficient funding to sustain that program was our goal. And we have been able to obtain additional funding to sustain us for the last three years.

AMT: Now, you actually tracked the return on investment. What did you find?

LL: That's for sure. And we thought that was a very important piece so that we could speak to and ensuring we had funding. So over the last two years, we’ve prevented 700 individuals from having to use the emergency room at the hospital. And that would have cost the system $400,500. By providing the access for this emergency care within the community clinic setting, we actually saved the system approximately two dollars on every dollar invested, or other words $200,000.

AMT: That's incredible!

LL: It is incredible.

AMT: When you told the officials that, what did they say?

LL: That is a part of the reason why I think we're making headway in getting some sustainable funding. Because it's really about where the money is, and where the money could best be spent in the system. We're all concerned about putting more money into the health care system, but it's about where the money is, and where it could be better managed, or have better outcomes of care for patients.

AMT: So in other words, when people get really desperate for dental care, the only place they can turn to now is like the hospital E.R.?

LL: That's absolutely.

AMT: And if they come to you, you can give them solutions that are more long-term.

LL: Absolutely, especially when we saw that our patients had you know four or more chronic conditions — health conditions — and those conditions were not being managed. After they got their teeth fixed and out of pain, nobody was actually then looking at the other health conditions that were impacting on it.

AMT: What kind of conditions were you seeing?

LL: Well, for example, we had a patient with diabetes, and because of their diabetes — it was out of control. And the reason for that was out of control was they couldn't afford proper food. So that when they get here, we don't only look at their need dental care, but what are the other challenges are these individuals and their families facing? So for somebody with diabetes, if you can get them access to food programs, cooking healthy on a limited budget, education, you prevent them from actually going to the emergency department. And they stay with us because they're developing trust and their relationship with us.

AMT: Right. And, of course, the emergency can't do that, obviously.

LL: Absolutely.

AMT: Right. Well, tell me about some of the other people this clinic has helped?

LL: The good news story — the one that brings smiles to our faces — is when they return to us and can show us what a difference it made. And again, it was about individual who was in extreme pain, but he also required dentures because what was left in his mouth needed to be removed. But when we asked him what he wanted, he really wanted to gain weight, he wanted his smile back, he wanted to have friends again, and he wanted to work. So following his extractions, getting the dentures, six months later he came back to us, and he looked great. I mean he had gained his weight. He was so proud because he had gained employment, and he had regained his confidence. And that meant everything to him.

AMT: It's really instructive to understand how much dental care extends to the rest of the body and the whole experience. You're seeing that every day.

LL: Every day. And it's not only impacting on the health care system, it's impacting on society as a whole.

AMT: Do you think dental care should be included in the public health system?

LL: Absolutely, absolutely and I think that if we included the mouth that the body is how I kind of think of it. Absolutely, we would be using the dollars more wisely. And it would make a tremendous impact, not only on the health system, but on the social service system.

AMT: Well thank you for taking us through what you're doing.

LL: Well, thank you for calling me. I really appreciate that.

AMT: Lyn Linton the executive director of the Gateway Community Health Centre. We reached her at her office in Tweede, Ontario. But that's just one example of a homegrown solution happening in one part of the country. There are other solutions being looked at for providing better dental care in Canada. It's a story we'll be coming back to I guess, he Willow?

WS: Absolutely. We've had, as Karen mentioned before, a number of people write in with their ideas about how the system can be better. And, of course, we're a federation, so a lot of these ideas are happening provincially. But more and more there's a push to scale up some of these ideas, like what we heard from Lyn Linton and the Gateway Community Health Centre. And, of course, we've had this remarkable outpouring from people and their stories, so I'm sure we'll be doing more programming on this.

AMT: If you missed our special last week Filling the Gaps Dental Care in Canada, visit our website to listen, or download the podcast or, catch it on the CBC Radio app.

KM: We do want to keep hearing more of your stories, more of your ideas, more of what's working, and what's not. You can reach us on Facebook, or we're @thecurrentcbc on Twitter.

WS: And, of course, you can email us from our website. That’s:

AMT: OK well, thank you Karen Marley and Willow Smith, our two lead producers on our dental care special.

KM: Thank you, Anna Maria.

WS: Thank you.

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