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The Current Transcript for December 18, 2017
Host: Anna Maria Tremonti
STORIES FROM THIS EPISODE
Listen to the full episode
Why do all the girls have to buy princesses? Some girl like superheros. Some girl like princesses. Some boy like superheros. Some boy like princesses.
ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: It was just a few years ago that a little girl's rant in a relentlessly pink aisle of a toy store went viral. But you'd have to go back decades to find a real effort to confront the blue and pink divide in the selling of toys to kids. In fact researchers say the gender divide in toys is only getting wider and those doing the tracking blame it on lazy advertisers and marketers who long ago abandoned gender neutral ads and toys. In a moment: How the business of child's play is still stuck in a bygone era. Also today.
What are you trying to tell me?
I don't know what the problem is.
Is Timmy stuck down the well?
AMT: Okay, another YouTube moment where a dog owner tries to show how clever a canine can be. A new study of the neurons in the brains of animals never set out to weigh in on the debate between dog and cat people. But it has exposed the cat brain as having about a third of the intelligence capacity of a dog brain. Sorry cat people. It doesn't end there. Giant cats such as lions, even bears, do not have much capacity either. More on the neuron count and what it means in an hour. Also today we were overwhelmed with reaction as we followed B.C. resident Will Pegg and his doctor and his friends through a process leading to medical assistance and death. In an hour we will revisit some of the issues raised and history then and now.
ANCHOR 1: Is Canada too needy for Justin Trudeau?
ANCHOR 2: No it is not.
ANCHOR 1: Really Miguel? Have you heard Canada lately? 'When are you gonna fix the economy? Where are the electoral reforms?' Ugh! They sound like my boyfriend's wife.
AMT: The Beaverton offers up fake news and fake history for Canadians because it feels like it. Hear more of that in half an hour. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current news.
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Can gender-specific toys affect a child's development? Researchers weigh in
Guests: Lisa Denilla, Rebecca Haines
VOICE 1: New From the Tonka garage: Mod machines. Three sizes, one system. You can build up and customise your heavy duty truck with tons of parts, and drop the motor into any mod machine.
VOICE 1: Let's comb her hair. She is beautiful.
VOICE 2: Angel Face Barbie comes with play make up, so you can make her pretty face even prettier.
[Song] HotWheels leading the way.
VOICE 1: Truck to transform it to do a complete rescue exercise.
[Song] Mega Rig.
VOICE 1: Everything you need to get the job done.
[Song] HotWheels leading the way.
VOICE 1: It's her hair.
VOICE 2: Here's magic curls Barbie.
VOICE 1: Barbie likes it curly. Ken likes it straighter
VOICE 2: Better fix Ken a sandwich.
AMT: Okay I don't know if you heard that at the end 'Better fix can a sandwich'. Well as might as you may think the times may have changed, some of those ads are from three decades ago. A new study released last week at the height of toy buying season shows that when it comes to gender and toys the pink and blue divide is more pronounced than ever. The study by the British group Let Toys Be Toys looked at toy catalogues and found that girls were twice as likely as boys to be shown playing with kitchen sets makeup and dolls. Boys are twice as likely to be playing with construction toys and guns. Our Halifax producer Mary-Catherine McIntosh went to the source last week asking 10 year old Nico Embree, his 8 year old brother Pablo and their 6 year old sister Lucía about their favourite toys.
MARY-CATHERINE MCINTOSH: Who do we have here? What's your name?
MARY-CATHERINE MCINTOSH: I have a game here. Are you ready to play?
MARY-CATHERINE MCINTOSH: Go get me your favorite toy and bring it back. What do you have?
PABLO: The star wars turbo tank.
MARY-CATHERINE MCINTOSH: Okay. What do you have?
LUCIA: A dolly.
MARY-CATHERINE MCINTOSH: And what's her name?
LUCIA: Victoria. I comb her hair and I dress her up.
NICO: I’m holding the Lego Kylo Ren's Tie Fighter Silencer. Tie Silencer.
MARY-CATHERINE MCINTOSH: It looks like a lake of fire ship to me.
NICO: Yeah yeah it kind of is that.
MARY-CATHERINE MCINTOSH: What do you do with it?
NICO: I play with it [sound: Toy machine gun]. And then I get my [unintelligible] sometimes and will like make it chase it and stuff.
MARY-CATHERINE MCINTOSH: And what, does anyone get hurt?
NICO: [Unintelligible] When it blows up [chuckles].
AMT: We have a couple of experts on the gendering of toys for children standing by to help us unpack that toy chest and the kid's favorites. A doll for Lucía, Lego and Star Wars for Nico and Pablo. Lisa Dinella is an associate professor of psychology. Principal investigator at the gender development laboratory at Monmouth University she's in Freehold, New Jersey. Rebecca Haines is a professor of advertising and media studies at Salem State University. She's also the author of The Princess problem guiding our girls through the princess obsessed years. She's in Salem, Massachusetts. Hello.
REBECCA HAINES: Good morning.
LISA DINELLA: Good morning.
AMT: Rebecca Haines you heard that clip the boys got the Star Wars turbo tank and the Lego fighter ship out, the girl had the doll. Does that surprise you in 2017?
REBECCA HAINES: You know I wish that it surprised me but it doesn't because the data is showing clearly that marketers are still segmenting children into highly stereotypical categories by gender.
AMT: Lisa Dinella what were you thinking as you heard that clip?
LISA DINELLA: I was thinking that it didn't surprise me. I wish that it did as well.
AMT: And so Lisa what is some of the most recent research? Tell us about the state of the so-called pink and blue divide when it comes to toys today.
LISA DINELLA: So the research is showing us that the marketing strategies that are being used to label kids toys, as being for girls or for boys, is actually fairly effective. So kids notice the subtle cues that are part of the toys that leads them to the side that a toy is a girl toy or a boy toy and whether it's for them or not for them. And it actually changes their interest in the toy and so that is guiding kids play activity.
AMT: And Rebecca which toy companies stand out in the heavy marketing of toys in a gender specific way?
REBECCA HAINES: Many of the major brands do but I find that Lego and Disney are two that particularly bother me because they have had histories of marketing products to all children, marketing media to all children. And over the years, especially through the 80s and 90s, became increasingly gender segregated.
AMT: How so?
REBECCA HAINES: Well with Lego in the 80s they started this Zack the Lego maniac campaign. That was a very popular television advertisement campaign in which a little boy named Zack was really into Lego's. And this was a real deviation from what we saw in the 70s, right, where Lego's were for everybody and there were advertisements featuring boys and girls with blocks of Lego bricks in which they said things like: "What it is is beautiful" and it didn't really matter what the gender was at that point. Similarly Disney has a long history of producing animated movies that were considered family entertainment. But when they saw in 1989 how strongly girls reacted to the Princess Ariel, in the Little Mermaid, they realized that they had found a lucrative line and they began really heavily segmenting their child to market in a way that they hadn't really previously, creating the Disney Princess brand which frankly then influenced the rest of the children's product and media market.
AMT: Interesting so you had the Princess brand with Disney. Now with Lego, it started to divide the way it would create its blocks to them, instead of for boys and girls it became this for boys and this for girls.
REBECCA HAINES: That's correct. And interestingly at about the same time period the technology Lego was using developed further where they were able to create the minifig characters with more facial features. And as that happened they also became more stereotypical and they also began capturing license brands. So then you started seeing later, like in the 2000s, there were Harry Potter toys, right. And there were Star Wars toys being produced by Lego in which there were hardly any female characters present. So that reinforced the message well these are products for boys' and the characters found in the toy sets are predominantly boys.
AMT: Well you know we actually tried to reach out to Lego for comment but we didn't get an answer. Rebecca, what role does marketing play in influencing children in the toys they think they're supposed to play with?
REBECCA HAINES: Children really are looking around the surrounding world and thinking where do I fit. They're taught at a very young age that gender is really salient and that people care about whether they're a girl or a boy. And the studies that I've read say pretty clearly that they are attracted to the most stereotypical exaggerated depictions that they see of masculinity and femininity. and they become afraid during you know especially with the preschool years of deviating, because they don't really understand how these things work and some of them actually fear that if they're a girl and they play with boy toys they could become a boy or vice versa. So they celebrate their own gender identity and they actually see the marketing so clearly that they're nervous about deviating. So it really can be quite restrictive.
AMT: And Rebecca how have companies become more sophisticated in gender specific marketing?
REBECCA HAINES: Well there's a lot of color coding that's gone on so you'll see toys like these mega blocks or the little pole wagons, that used to be red, being produced in a pink color as well. So what happens is there's this cue, even if it doesn't say girls on it, there's this cue that all the pink things are for girls and everything else is for boys. And what that means is that for families who have kids of both genders, they often feel compelled to buy two of everything, right. So they're selling twice the toys that they would have if everything was just primary colors and there was the occasional bit of pink here and there. It's really doubling their profits in certain audience segments.
AMT: Lisa Dinella what role do retailers play in promoting this gender divide?
LISA DINELLA: Well I think that at this point the retailers have the opportunity to be able to present toys and really gender neutral way in an open way. So they could be presenting toys by category instead of by categorising them as girl aisles or boy aisles. And that would really free up the opportunity for kids to be able to see all of the toys that are available to them and make their choices based on what their interests are, rather than having them pre-categorised as being only for one gender or for the other gender.
AMT: And why don't they do that Lisa?
LISA DINELLA: Well I think that the toys are being categorized in a way that is really creating a target market. So it makes it easier for all of the toys to be crossed marketed if they are put together as a package. And so then when we see kids being stereotypically a girl, and we're assuming all of the characteristics that go along with being a girl, that makes it easier to be able to market to a girl. And the same thing as for for boys.
AMT: Rebecca Haynes we heard some of those old toy ads off the top.How has the marketing of kids toys changed?
REBECCA HAINES: Well what's interesting is that if you go all the way back to the 1950s and before, a period of time when actually a scholar named Elizabeth Sweet has done a lot of studies of Sears toy catalogue to really unpack what was going on. You know there were some gender cues but honestly the marketing was targeting parents primarily as the people making the purchases. What happened is through the 80s and 90s there became a recognition that in addition to being able to reach children, thanks to deregulation by the FCC in the United States and widespread consumer adoption of cable television, they could reach children more directly. And so there now is more speaking to children with the assumption that the viewers of particular programs are gender segregated. And that really is a change. It's not here's a toy that boys and girls might like. It's really become you know quite a differentiated thing.
AMT: So, you say changed in the 80s. What were the 70s like?
REBECCA HAINES: I've had interesting conversations with people such as [unintelligible] who is the author of books on gender and fashion history. It really sounds like the 70s can be considered by many to be a bit of an anomaly, because there was this trend going on among adults for unisex right. People right now are really not interested in unisex and I think that some of the people who are concerned about what gender neutral marketing might be are concerned that maybe it's that weird unisex like there there's no difference between boys and girls. I don't think that's what's going on right now. I think the zeitgeist that some of the marketers, especially smaller companies, are capturing is this desire to just - as Lisa them demolished that a moment ago - to open things up and let children and families shop by category, by interest, rather than saying these are girls aisles and these are boys aisles.
AMT: Alisa Dinella there is a view that the differences in what boys and girls choose to play with are biological. What have your own studies showing?
LISA DINELLA: So we know that there are some small biological differences that map onto kids play patterns. But what we also know is that those biological differences are small and that the social factors, the contributions that we make as a society, as adults, really does have a very large impact in how kids play, what they're interested in playing and the lessons that they learn from all of the toys that they're playing with. We have looked at some of our research and shown that when we make subtle changes to toys, such as changing the color as we mentioned a moment ago, that that actually changes kids interests. So it's not the toy itself. It's the labelling such as making a toy pink or making a toy blue that actually engages a child. They've learned about these categories over time. And so now that they know about these categories that's what's leading them to change their play.
AMT: And how early does that kick in, Lisa?
LISA DINELLA: Well we know that kids are starting to be able to learn about their gender as early as the age of two and from 2 to about age 5 we see them really understanding the concept of their gender and what is associated with their gender. And they're practising this categorisation process. And we know that this is a cognitive development time that's really important. We want kids to learn how to categorise things, that's important for life, but they're using gender as a really salient categorisation. And they're putting everything into these different groupings. And so as they're growing up they're changing their play activities and their play experience is based on what the society around them their parents the media are saying are connected with their gender grouping.
AMT: I just want to pick up on that with another little clip. We heard those three siblings earlier and we have another clip. Our Halifax producer Mary Catherine McIntosh asked those same two boys whether they would play with their sister’s toys. Here's what they had to say.
MARY-CATHERINE MCINTOSH: How would you feel if you brought a doll to school?
PABLO: I think people would make fun of me, kind of, maybe.
NICO: Because it's a girl toy, well, people think that it's stereotypes.
MARY-CATHERINE MCINTOSH: Have you ever looked at a Barbie and said this looks like fun?
MARY-CATHERINE MCINTOSH: Why not. I mean look she has a house she has a car. It's just like seems so much fun.
PABLO: I'd like it because you can build stuff. Like that.
MARY-CATHERINE MCINTOSH: Have you not lately seen a doll that just looked like, put it in a stroller, push it around?
MARY-CATHERINE MCINTOSH: What about you? Do you ever when your brothers aren't looking, do you ever grab their defiant regime?
AMT: Okay. That again is 10 year old Nico Embree and his 8 year old brother Pablo, their 6 year old sister Lucia in Halifax. Lisa Denilla do gender divisions that kids pick up on with toys show up in other views then as they get older?
LISA DINELLA: Absolutely. We know that kids early play experiences are really important because they start kids out on gendered and diverging paths that continue throughout their lifetime. So we actually have done some studies that allow kids to be able to play with toys with some of those gender cues removed, such as the color and whether they know anyone is watching them. And we actually see that kids really do cross those boundaries when we remove the social costs to them to be able to engage with these toys, which is good news because we know that every toy teaches a child a different lesson. Many times they teach them more than one lesson but the lessons that toys teach are cognitive or academic based. For example when a child is playing with blocks or puzzles they're learning math and they're learning spatial abilities. And when they're playing with dolls and they're playing with a pretend tea set the research actually shows that that's allowing kids to learn sequencing of events and it's also letting them practice sharing and nurturing. And so kids are building skill sets as they're playing with their toys and these skill sets build on one another. And so as kids are developing and they're getting better and better at the skills that these toys are teaching it's actually directing them down lifelong paths. Some researchers actually connected the types of activities that kids are engaging in around the age of 10 and when they followed those kids up into young adulthood, in their early 20s, it's connecting to the types of careers that they're engaging in as young adults. So these early play experiences although they are fun and they're enjoyable they really are setting the stage for the types of activities and the types of learning that kids are going to master. And we want all of the kids to be able to have all of these lessons. We want them to be able to learn as much as they can in these early ages so that they have options for the future.
AMT: So I know you're both mothers of young children. I'm just wondering what advice you give to parents who are struggling with this at this time of year. Rebecca Haines.
REBECCA HAINES: You know I think I've had so many helpful conversations with my own boys. I actually have three little boys ages 2 through 9 and the older two - and I have talked quite a bit about how colors are for everyone. Toys are for everyone. It's too bad that there are some people who really think certain colors or certain toys are for specific people. But in our family one of our values is that everyone can play with whatever they want without judgement. So we sort of try to counter that narrative very very clearly and explicitly. And over the years as I've had younger children, my eldest even asked for baby dolls because he saw me with you know babies and he wanted to be like us and my husband is very very involved. He changes diapers, he does all of those great things that you got modern men to do. Right. And so when he asked for a doll for Christmas a couple years ago, we got him one. And he loved it.
AMT: Okay. Well we have to leave it there. Thank you both for talking about this today.
REBECCA HAINES: Our pleasure.
LISA DINELLA: My pleasure.
AMT: That is Lisa Denilla an associate professor of psychology and principal investigator at the gender development laboratory at Monmouth University. She is in Freehold, New Jersey. And Rebecca Haynes professor of advertising and media studies at Salem State University and the author of The Princess Problem guiding our Girls Through the Princess Obsessed Years. She joined us from Salem, Massachusetts. Over to you. How do you deal with the pressure to buy gender specific toys? Are kids hardwired for them? Is this pressure coming from toy makers, TV shows, or their peers? Let us know what you think. Find us on Facebook. Tweet us @TheCurrentCBC. Send us an email from our website cbc.ca/thecurrent. The news is next and when we return we're talking about an alternative view of the history of Canada. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current.
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The Beaverton's scandalous untrue stories of Canadian history
Guests: Luke Field, Alex Huntley
AMT: Hello I'm Anna Maria Tremonti and you're listening to The Current.
AMT: Still to come. The Truth About Cats and dogs. For years the taunt has gone that cats rule dogs drool. But dog lovers, it turns out that science is on your side. I'll speak with a scientist whose work shows, among other things, that canines are cannier, in half an hour. But first: Glorious and/or free.
VOICE 1: The invention of the ketchup chip. A part of our heritage since 1974.
VOICE 2: That's a wrap on the 87th heritage minutes.
VOICE 1: Making Heritage Minutes about our mundane history. A part of our heritage since 1991.
VOICE 1: Showing the Heritage Minutes in history class, part of our heritage since work to rule.
AMT: That meta-moment of Canadian humour comes to us courtesy of the Beaverton. It calls itself North America's trusted source of news. As you may have gathered, the Beaverton is a satirical outlet in the vein of The Onion or The Daily Show. But like This Hour Has 22 Minutes heavy on the Canadiana and this has been a big year for the Beaverton Canada's 150 fiftieth year of Confederation has coincided with a golden age of fake news. And the Beaverton which lives online, as well as TV, is marking the occasion with a book. It is called The Beaverton Presents: Glorious and/or Free: The True History of Canada. And while the history it tells may not be entirely factually correct, as in all satire there are many truths told. So to take us on a fake news retrospective of Canada, I'm joined by authors Luke Field and Alex Huntley. They're with me in Toronto, Hello.
LUKE FIELD: Thank you for having us.
ALEX HUNTLEY: Hi Thanks for having us.
AMT: Alex what makes Canadian history so good for satire?
ALEX HUNTLEY: Oh I think there's a lot of Canadians who are either smug about their Canadian history or don't know it. And I think it was really ripe for the picking. Because when you really think you can go through the course of Canadian history from pre contact to colonisation, right up to present day, it's absurd from the little stories that we cling onto. Like the 'blue nose' as well as the more grander legends from the Great War. For example the 100 anniversary of Vimy Ridge with the seer. So we felt it was really apt to go after Canadian history.
AMT: Luke field I noticed that the Beaverton actually began publishing before the invention of the printing press. Just how old is the Beaverton?
LUKE FIELD: I mean at this point we can't really say. It might outdate all human contact. We certainly had a lot of fun writing about stories that Canadians would know about more modern history, but we thought it was very important to talk about everything before first contact as well as all through the colonisation period as Alex just said. So as a result we had to write some articles that may have been physically impossible to write at the time but they existed. We found them, somehow.
AMT: The truth will out.
LUKE FIELD: Yes exactly.
AMT: So what was the most interesting thing you found in your archives from Canada's prehistoric times?
LUKE FIELD: Ooh I think there is a lot of great discoveries but I think Alex discovered one in particular that I love the vast which is - and I might not get the exact wording, right ALex, forgive but which was Inuit surprise party ruined as they could see them coming 3000 miles away.
ALEX HUNTLEY: Or five. I don't think they had eyes like that but maybe, what was it? Five kilometers away? Yeah. It's... the entire party was ruined. There's no surprises out there.
LUKE FIELD: Yeah well when you're on a flat barren surface it's hard to hide and yell 'surprise' at someone.
ALEX HUNTLEY: Yeah well I also like the pictographs vandal the gang, who just really vandalised that nice cave they had with all these images and so forth. It was really really just... [sighs]
LUKE FIELD: Yes.
LUKE FIELD: And we had a lot of fun with Canadian history, textbooks as a whole have this tendency and anyone who's studying Canadian history knows that. Every chapter on indigenous Canadians before contact has a random picture of an arrowhead. So we started our entire book with a picture of an arrowhead, devoid of any context, for no reason whatsoever. But it's just the rule. You just have to start again in history book that way.
AMT: Arrowheads rule yeah [laughed]. ALEX We knew all about the United States Declaration of Independence but you have a copy of Canada's Declaration of Dependence.
ALEX HUNTLEY: That's correct. Well we found this in our archives and we felt that on July 5th, just sometime after hearing about the U.S. Declaration of Independence, Canadians felt the need to remind Britain that they were on their side and will be forever dependent on handouts and as well as the fact that they're being very polite and not revolting over taxes. And they believed 'taxation without representation' which is a good old Canadian tradition.
AMT: Here here. Eh. Luke, one of the most surprising stories in your archives concerned the British explorer Sir John Franklin and his crew. What new information did you learn - be serious guys - by going back and reading the Franklin expedition?
LUKE FIELD: I mean there is a lot that I do encourage people to do their own research. We don't want to say our book covers everything but one thing we did discover is that as they set out on their voyage discover is that they said it with a particular type of crew member in mind, and that was they evaluated crew members based on how competent but also how delicious looking they were. Because it was very important for when they were stranded that each crew member they were forced to devour was more tasty than the last.
ALEX HUNTLEY: I had to grease them up.
LUKE FIELD: [Laughs] It was deep fried situation.
ALEX HUNTLEY: But I mean that wasn't the intention but just in case that happened.
LUKE FIELD: It was important.
AMT: And the ship itself was found very recently because essentially people finally started listening to the Inuit, who had been telling them for ever where it was.
ALEX HUNTLEY: Yeah I think somebody picked up the 'oh look people who actually live there have been saying this for years, but let's scan the entire Arctic and look everywhere else except for that location.' And sure enough by oral history which is something that we talk about in the first chapter of our book is kind of ignored. Even to this day, a lot of historians don't appreciate the oral traditions of the first people.
AMT: That's the serious side, what you're saying, yes for sure. This year of course was the 15th anniversary of Confederation and the Beaverton archives has a shocking story about Sir John A. McDonald and his role as father of Confederation. What should Canadians know about that?
ALEX HUNTLEY: Well the DNA tests confirm that he's the actual father of Confederation. That is one of the shocking things. There was real competition between George Etienne Cartier and George Brown to a whole bunch of other men but.
LUKE FIELD: There's a real 19th century Maury Povich situation.
ALEX HUNTLEY: It really really was.
LUKE FIELD: When Cartier found out he wasn't the father he did a very nice dance.
ALEX HUNTLEY: Yes. And sure enough sir John A. when he found out took a long long drink on his flasks of gin.
AMT: More than once.
ALEX HUNTLEY: More than once. Yes.
LUKE FIELD: I mean that might have just been an everyday moment for him. But yes it was because of that. Yes.
AMT: So the Beaverton actually had some major scoops in its day including getting its hand on the first draft of In Flanders Fields. And we can see why John McCrae rewrote it. Alex can you recite that first draft of In Flanders Fields for us?
LUKE FIELD: Sure.
ALEX HUNTLEY: I wrote this with.
LUKE FIELD: Discovered this.
ALEX HUNTLEY: We discovered this yes, right. Sorry I discovered this with the help of a contributor, Adrian Albrecht, but we were very shocked, the first draft, here it is. "In Flanders fields where I shot Fritz. On the line I bloomed the bits. That bastard Hun: and in the sky. The blood still quickly spurting fly. Scarce seen amid the brains and bits. He is now dead. I got him where his head rose up. Lit by a flower Boche bloody Boche blasted sky high in Flanders Fields. Take up our quarrel with the foe. To you, their severed hands we throw. Build a pyre. Turn flesh to ash. Fill every lung with noxious gas. We shall not sleep. In Flanders Fields."
LUKE FIELD: That quote is moving that version. It is Quinton Tarantino version.
AMT: Why did the Beaverton decide to publish this first draft?
LUKE FIELD: I mean it's just important that people know what many Canadians at the time were were saying about the enemy in our World War 1 - First World War I should say - propaganda/media including as it turns out our most famous poet John McCrae.
ALEX HUNTLEY: Well according to the actual words it was just a coral, taking up a coral against the foe. I mean it really wasn't that bad, was it?
LUKE FIELD: All right we don't stand by that stand.
ALEX HUNTLEY: No but obviously it was a violent conflict and I think this is the more accurate version of what happened in the Great War.
AMT: There you talk more about the war you got your hands on Winnie the Pooh enlistment records. What did you learn about this great Canadian hero, the bear that most Canadians didn't know?
LUKE FIELD: I mean there's so much I mean you know the fact that the whose last name was Turkienicz and it was a revelation to many of us.
AMT: [Laughs] Say that again the last name.
LUKE FIELD: Turkienicz. That is Winnie the Pooh Winnie. It is Winnie the Pooh Turkienicz. The-Pooh is a one word middle name. And we discovered many other things including about his rank. What was his rank again? He was a sergeant, I believe?
ALEX HUNTLEY: I believe so. Yes
LUKE FIELD: Sergeant as well as that he signed. His signature was just a paw print. So that's an important development .
ALEX HUNTLEY: He also won a Military Cross and was wounded twice. He stormed at German machine gun pit and killed the crew with his bare hands.
AMT: Winnie enlisted, he was asked that the little form he filled out was 'What is your trade in calling.
ALEX HUNTLEY: Being a bear.
AMT: Being a bear.
ALEX HUNTLEY: Very good at that. But Winnie The Pooh served with the Fort Gary Horse in Winnipeg and fought very bravely and I think we as Canadians should be very proud that a bear served for Canada.
AMT: Then comes the Second World War. What does the Beaverton find out about Prime Minister King's decision to enter the war?
LUKE FIELD: Oh well Prime Minister King's decision to enter the war. I mean it was a real dramatic moment when war was declared. Britain had declared war. France had declared war, Poland had declared war. And in Canada it was 'War? Maybe, we're not sure. We're going to sit on that one for a little bit. We're going to think about it for about nine days or so to show that we are an independent country and also so Prime Minister Mackenzie King can have a nice bowl of soup.
ALEX HUNTLEY: Yes and I think King was very much a tactician when he declared. Because, you know, wars are more back then were more like parties. You did not want to show up too early to seem that you are desperate, but not too late. So you know 10 days.
LUKE FIELD: When the Germans serve coffee you know it's time to leave.
ALEX HUNTLEY: Yes exactly.
AMT: And then as the war ends and Canadians are kissing each other with Joy, what's the consequence of that?
LUKE FIELD: I mean not to put a damper on a postwar celebration. It's a joyous moments and obviously it's so wonderful that these soldiers were able to come home safely. We did discover that that moment of Canadians celebrating the day did leave the nation waking up with several cold sores. All across the country there was a bit of an outbreak. And you know we all know the baby boom but it turns out the herpes boom was born that day as well.
ALEX HUNTLEY: Facial herpes.
AMT: That was the Lead.
AMT: Detail detail how can you prove that. That was the lead though. People woke up with blisters.
ALEX HUNTLEY: Yes. Don't kiss strangers is my advice.
AMT: Now let's shoot ahead in 1959, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker shocked the nation by cancelling the Avro Arrow Jack. What did you learn about the real reason for killing that project?
ALEX HUNTLEY: Well Diefenbaker cancelled the projects because it didn't have one of the most advanced technologies in cup holders. The pilot couldn't actually put his coffee anywhere. And this infuriated Diefenbaker really the sole reason why the Arrow project was cancelled. He had a beloved coffee mug Dief the Chief. And he had nowhere to put it. And that baffled him and thought the entire project was useless.
AMT: That has been kept secret for years. It's good that you brought that up.
LUKE FIELD: We are in deep need of Diefenbunker.
ALEX HUNTLEY: Or we also did a little search in Lake Ontario to pull up the fuselage. And surprisingly the fuselage fuselage does reveal a cup holder. So that must have been the new version of the Arrow but it was cancelled anyway.
AMT: You know and you don't solely look at politics. There's the headline 'heavy Canadian accent ruins Mary Pickford debut in talkies'. What's that about, eh?
LUKE FIELD: Well I mean Mary Pickford, for those who may not remember the golden age of cinema, was the star of silent television. But being a good Canadian girl she talked with a bit of a Canadian accent there bud. And when the talkies came about all of a sudden those big dramatic moments that we look for in our films are lessened a little bit by her constantly asking if anyone had a dart.
ALEX HUNTLEY: Mhm. Sorry.
AMT: Ernest Hemingway wrote something for the editors of The Beaverton. I think it says Toronto Daily Star refused to print it.
LUKE FIELD: Yes they were, as everyone knows Ernest Hemingway worked for the Ben Trotter Daily Star now Toronto Star. But he did not get along well with his bosses, or anyone in his life, and he didn't particularly enjoy his experience working in Canada. I think that's fair to say.
ALEX HUNTLEY: I would say so definitely.
LUKE FIELD: So he wrote a - I guess you would call it an editorial or maybe even a little mini Hemingway short story just for us that's never been published before. So it's not in any of the Hemingway collections you can buy, other than this particular book in which he expressed a certain desire or a certain feeling about living in Canada which is somewhat unsayable on air but expresses the need that he is not satisfied with his life and would rather it be anywhere else but here.
AMT: Well it's entitled 'I Hate My Life'. He's talking about the cold in the winter in Melville, Saskatchewan, in very short sentences, very Hemingway-esque and ends with 'By God I need a drink.
ALEX HUNTLEY: Which again might have been an everyday thing for him. But in this case was because of Melville.
AMT: So that was before he fled to the Florida Keys I guess.
LUKE FIELD: Yes, or Paris.
AMT: Now thanks to the musical 'Come from Away' more people than ever know the story of how people of Gander took an American passengers who had to land in New Finland in the hours after the 9/11 attacks. But what part of that story is being forgotten by people?
LUKE FIELD: It's that part of the musical we checked.
ALEX HUNTLEY: Yes. Well they're forgetting that many of those 66 hundred passengers were actually adopted into the community and they couldn't leave. So they have already been cast in several community plays. They've been married with families and gander and they just can't leave because gosh darn it these people are just too friendly.
LUKE FIELD: Yes it's sort of a island prison situation at this point. The friendliest prison guards you've ever met but they are prison guards.
AMT: Kind of like that Steven Leacock short story where the guy goes to leave and then he sits back down and he never goes. Okay. Okay.
LUKE FIELD: With a slightly more ominous twist.
AMT: Now let's talk about our current prime minister. Much of the world has fallen in love with Justin Trudeau. I know the Beaverton has a crack investigative squad. Is there anything the Prime Minister should be worrying about for the next election?
ALEX HUNTLEY: Well he will need to fulfill his promise to photo bomb every Canadian by 2019. And we believe that he's halfway there.
LUKE FIELD: Yes.
ALEX HUNTLEY: I mean that's why Canadians elected this man is to be, or to take a photo that have him...
LUKE FIELD: ...In the background of all our moments.
ALEX HUNTLEY: Yes right in the background. Even if we don't ask him to photo bomb our photos, that's one of his obligations.
LUKE FIELD: If you went to your prom and Justin Trudeau did not run behind you while you were taking a photo, did it really happen?
ALEX HUNTLEY: I don't know. But his photographer was by some coincidence also there. I don't know how he was there.
LUKE FIELD: Pure chance.
ALEX HUNTLEY: Yes, must have been.
AMT: Well maybe there's more than one photographer.
ALEX HUNTLEY: Woo!
AMT: How you investigated that?
LUKE FIELD: It's possible that we're all just introduced photographer. I am starting to suspect that I mean we have to get our investigative reporters on it. They are currently a little busy investigating trying to figure out what Andrew Scheer looks like because no one can figure that out. He's just a blank void that no one really remembers what he looks like. But with Justin Trudeau I do think we need to look into the very significant possibility that we are all owed back payment for being his personal photographer.
ALEX HUNTLEY: And maybe - just thinking out loud here - we could actually have an instagram filter just with Justin Trudeau photo bombing your image. Is that out there?
LUKE FIELD: Is that out there?
ALEX HUNTLEY: Yes. Maybe I can patent this.
LUKE FIELD: I mean it's that plus he has a Dogface?
ALEX HUNTLEY: Yes that too.
LUKE FIELD: Sure. I think [unintelligible] making a million dollars.
AMT: I see. Okay now, this is how the gears turn. I got it okay. I want to ask you serious question to do that kind of fake news you have to have a pretty good grasp of Canadian history because history buffs.
LUKE FIELD: I think so.
ALEX HUNTLEY: Yes.
LUKE FIELD: We met studying history at Queen's University. I think we were competed for the biggest nerd in our class, in every class we had together. And so it was a lifelong passion [unintelligible] Canadian history. And it's just kind of something that even as we've worked on to be written and talking about current events we've always had this in the back of our mind that Canadian history itself is so is so ripe for discussion and for fake news as you say.
ALEX HUNTLEY: Now we would argue over date sometimes. I remember when we were arguing over when was the act of union. And of course you said 1849 and 1841.
LUKE FIELD: No I said it was 1840 and I was right.
ALEX HUNTLEY: Well anyway the point being the point being...
AMT: [Laughs] Rabbit holes. The point being you go down rabbit holes.
ALEX HUNTLEY: Exactly. That's not what the book is about. Just to clarify. But no we we've like I grew up in the Niagara region. You know all around Canadian history.
AMT: Has that always been part of Canada?
ALEX HUNTLEY: Well I mean it's part of Quebec. Well don't get me started as you go down along rabbit hole. But I've always loved it and always wanted to write a book like this that deconstructs so many historical narratives that we're used to, and challenge a lot of the assumptions that we have because we use history for jingoism and saying 'I'm so proud to be Canadian this is what happened in...' Well not exactly. Like Vimy Ridge for example it has just been - I would say I'll call it like poppy washing which is we kind of just think 'oh yeah it was a bad war but we won'. That point of kind of jingoism saying I'm so proud of this moment. But at the end of the day would world war one solve another world war. That that was the consequence of it.
AMT: It's interesting because when we do look at those anniversaries we realise so many young men, so many people who actually had not reached the age of majority. They were children still when they fought in that war. And it was such a deadly war. So in this era of so-called fake news does your own brand of fake news become more important?
LUKE FIELD: I do not think it is more important. I think it becomes more relevant maybe and maybe even more funny, hopefully, funny I should say. Because I think in a world where the news itself is absurd then satirists have to be at the top of their game in order to out absurd the absurd. And I would certainly say anyone who would look back on this past year would probably find a lot of the things that happened quite absurd. So to satirize that it's a little different than just satirising everyday kind of event. So it requires a certain amount of skill and craft to writers and I think that forces us to elevate our game and hopefully that's what we've done on our show and also in this book.
AMT: Is there a growing role for satire because of all of this, because of the times we're in?
LUKE FIELD: I think so.
ALEX HUNTLEY: Yes.
LUKE FIELD: You know a satirist can get away with saying things that - and comedians can you know say things that you can't just say in a regular political debate.
AMT: Or you thought you couldn't say right until Breitbart came along?
LUKE FIELD: Fair enough which is absurdism and comedy of it's own way. But you know it's kind of the shortest distance between where you are and the argument you want to make and convincing people is tell them a joke. Because nothing gets people to agree with you more than if they're laughing with you. So I think satire can be an incredibly effective tool to communicate a message. It can be incredibly effective tool just for the purposes of telling a joke and to really take a step back, as this book hopefully does and look at where we are and where we came from.
AMT: And of course it has these threads of truth in how we question ourselves and how we see ourselves and that kind of thing. And then you actually publish stories from Canada's future. And I have to say I noticed right away that you've got a quote here. 'This will be the last federal election conducted under the First Past the Post voting system from a Prime Minister Trudeau only it's Prime Minister Hadrian Trudeau. The year is 2062.
LUKE FIELD: And I believe him. I think he's going to be the one who does it. I think we're finally going to get rid of this first past the post system in approximately our grandchildren's lifetime.
AMT: You also got another headline that I really liked another bumper harvest for Nunavut 'wheat mangoes, 2062 as well'.
LUKE FIELD: Yes they're going to be the most - I mean they are - We know now that they are going to be the most delicious in the world, Nunavut mangoes.
ALEX HUNTLEY: Arctic also just going to put another trademark or patent out here. Arctic mangoes.
LUKE FIELD: The key is the melting iceberg water that they use.
AMT: Ice mangos no more ice. Thawed mangos.
ALEX HUNTLEY: Yes thawed, yes you're right.
AMT: What's the most important story you have for Canada's future from Canada's future? What's your favourite?
LUKE FIELD: Oh that's a good question.
ALEX HUNTLEY: My favorite would be what's happening in journalism of all journalists are being phased out by an advertorial bot it and just it just spurts out any sponsored news that we need to know about. Especially given the numerous challenges that journalists in this country face and what we've seen with the closing of several newspapers including where I live now in Kingston where they shut down a newspaper. It's just going to be replaced by just a robot that produces information that we just want to hear and ultimately so people can buy stuff. And that's it that's all journalism is going to be.
AMT: You know you could click on YouTube now or you think you're looking for like the actual video of something and you get this little bot voice that tells you with that strange kind of pronunciation - because it's been programmed to speak it out and you know, as someone who makes a living behind a microphone, it's very very frightening.
ALEX HUNTLEY: But surely there will be satirists I'm sure, people who produce fake news in that time. I'm absolutely sure.
LUKE FIELD: Until they invent the satire bot. I love the bumper harvest for Nunavut mangoes but I will add one other one of my fake definitely true stars from Canada's future, which is 'Alberta government worried first Transcontinental water pipeline to U.S. may rupture contaminate oil sands'.
AMT: [Laughs] That was one of my favourites too. We're going to leave it there. I wish you well as you dig up more fake news.
LUKE FIELD: Thank you so much. We will do our best.
ALEX HUNTLEY: Thank you.
AMT: I'm speaking with Luke field and Alex Huntley their new book is The Beaverton Presents: Glorious and or Free: The True history of Canada. All in praise of alternative facts. They are in Toronto. Stay with us. Coming up in our next half hour, this could just be the biggest story of the year. A scientific study claims to solve once and for all whether cats are smarter than dogs. They didn't actually said out to look at that but that's what they did find. The results could have tails wagging everywhere. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current on CBC Radio One, Sirius XM, online on cbc.ca/thecurrent, on podcast and on your radio app.
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Feline lovers beware: Study suggests dogs are smarter than cats
Guest: Susana Herculino-Houzel
AMT: Hello I'm Anna Maria Tremonti and you're listening to The Current. You know we cover a lot of longstanding conflicts here on The Current. Let's hear from adversaries in one of the most entrenched of them all.
VOICE 1: He said hello.
VOICE 1: Hello. Hello.
VOICE 1: Say hello.
AMT: That's right. The sound of cats and dogs attempting to say hello. Or at least their owners trying to get them to say hello. When it comes to cat people and dog people it can be hard to even engage in that level of dialogue. So certain is each that their preferred species is the finest, the smartest of companions. It turns out science has finally spoken on that question. And brace yourself cat people because dogs have this one licked paws down. At least according to one key measure dogs are twice as intelligent as cats. Susana Herculano-Houzel is a neuroscientist and Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at Vanderbilt University. We've reached her in Nashville, Tennessee. Hello.
SUZANA HERCULANA-HOUZEL: Hi Anna Maria. Pleasure to talk to you.
AMT: Good to have you with us. Before we get to your study, how much hate mail are you receiving from the cat people?
SUZANA HERCULANA-HOUZEL: It hasn't been as bad as it could have been. And I think - I'm hoping that people realise that you can always love your pet. Doesn't matter how many neurons it has.
AMT: Well that's a fair answer but let's talk about your study. First of all and you just mentioned neuron's, what were you looking at? What were you doing?
SUZANA HERCULANA-HOUZEL: We have been in the business of studying different brains of different species to learn how many neurons there were made off, in the hope that that tells us something about the cognitive capabilities of different species and of course how human brains compared to them. And that's because the neurons are the basic information processing units of brains. So the more the neurons that a species has in its brain - or especially in a part of the brain like the cerebral cortex that is responsible for cognition, memory, planning, thinking ahead - then the the larger the capabilities that the species should have.
AMT: Okay so and you didn't just look at dogs and cats, which animals were you examining?
AMT: So this was part of a bigger study on carnivorous. So lion, hyena, ferret, and raccoons and in the brown bear. And we were interested in these species because they're a group of mammals that have a very large range in body size and brain size. There are animals that are as small or as large as primates or even larger than primates. And we were interested in comparing how many neurons these animals had in their cortex compared to the species that they prey upon. So our expectation was that lions for instance should have many more neurons in both in the cortex than the species that they chase. And to our surprise that was not at all what we found.
AMT: What's the connection between the number of neurons in the brain and what a carnivore does?
SUZANA HERCULANA-HOUZEL: The more neurons you have the more capable you should be. But you can only have as many neurons as you can afford, as you can feed - literally feed. The food that any animal eats goes into keeping the body. And of course the brain. So if you don't have enough energy you can't have - well maybe not a very large body and or maybe not as many neurons. So that seems to be the case in the bear. It has an enormous body that by itself costs a lot of energy. It has a large brain, so large brains are the result of a large number of neurons. But when we looked at the adult bear, it only had as many neurons as a cat in the cortex which is very very few neurons which suggest that these animals cannot afford to keep both a very large body and a large number of neurons in the brain.
AMT: So does it necessarily tell you how intelligent an animal is by looking at the number of neurons they have?
SUZANA HERCULANA-HOUZEL: We can't really answer that question because measuring intelligence is extremely hard. It's a very frustrating thing that it's so difficult to be able to compare one species to the next. Well even look at school children it's hard enough already to put a number on their testand say you did better or worse than somebody else. So imagine doing that with animals that don't have language, that have different, values different interests. Measuring intelligence is something very complicated which is why we are using what we think should be the next best thing which is how many neurons - how many units you have that process the information that is used. However it is that it is used by the different species.
AMT: So in other words because if you have more neurons you should have the more capability for intelligence.
SUZANA HERCULANA-HOUZEL: Exactly. That's exactly right.
AMT: Okay so that gets us back to the dogs and cats and the different animals. So you said the bear, even though it's really big, has fewer neurons than what?
SUZANA HERCULANA-HOUZEL: The bear only has as many neurons as a cat.
AMT: And so let's just stay with that theme of the idea of the capability that they might have with more neurons, because you looked at racoons. And what did you find?
SUZANA HERCULANA-HOUZEL: So the raccoons were the other big surprise in the study. It turns out that raccoons have fairly small brains about the size of a cat brain, but they have as many neurons as you find in a dog brain which is about twice as the neurons that you have in the cat cortex, which means that at least in terms of cognitive capability dogs and raccoons seem to rank above cats.
AMT: That's so interesting if you live in Toronto because with those little hands feet and the number of neurons that explains how they get into our garbage all the time [Laughs] . They are so clever.
SUZANA HERCULANA-HOUZEL: I know they are so clever that we have to design our objects to be raccoon proof.
AMT: That's right and when we do that they get around them anyway. I speak from experience.
SUZANA HERCULANA-HOUZEL: It's like you have a backyard school for raccoons going on all the time because you're always trying to outsmart them and they just keep coming back at you.
AMT: It explains a lot. So tell me more about the dogs then. What did you see in the dogs that was really notable?
SUZANA HERCULANA-HOUZEL: So it's not that dogs are outliers they are not. The dog brain it's seems fairly typical compared to the other non-primate brains that we have been studying the last decade. I think the striking difference between cats and dogs is that the cat brain is much smaller than a dog brain, even if you're looking at a fairly small dog. And that I think can be explained very simply because we know that the ancestor of dogs was a large carnivore. It was something similar to a modern Wolf. And that's a large animal with a large brain. So the old the artificial selection that we have been doing in the last few thousand years, domesticating dogs, has changed the size of their body but their brains are still fairly large. So it's not surprising that because dogs still have fairly large brains they have fairly large numbers of neurons. But it also goes nicely with the tasks that we have been domesticating, selecting them for in domestication. We have been expecting dogs to do to be able to do things. Whereas cats, they descend from a small bodied ancestor so probably with a small brain as well which already means fewer neurons. And I think it's fair to say that as humans have domesticated cat, we have kept them around in a way to adore them not to make them do stuff for us.
AMT: I'm thinking when you talk about dogs doing things for us I'm thinking of you know the dogs they use, the sniffer dogs, for everything from bombs to drugs to agriculture to seeing eye dogs. So you're saying some of that's because of the amount of neurons in their brains. They can be trained that way.
SUZANA HERCULANA-HOUZEL: Exactly exactly. That's the idea that they have the biological capability simply because they have a fairly large number of neurons in the cortex to begin with, because of their ancestry from both like animals. Which means that all that biological capability can be much more easily cultivated, turned into something trained to or to suit your needs.
AMT: So there have been studies looking at how smart animals are comparing one animal to another. But this study is different.
SUZANA HERCULANA-HOUZEL: Yes because we're not measuring behavior. We were simply looking directly at the numbers of neurons in the cortex and other parts of the brain of different animals.
AMT: So what do your findings tell you about human intelligence?
SUZANA HERCULANA-HOUZEL: We have found that the most striking thing about humans is that we have by far the most neurons in this cerebral cortex, even though our cortex, our brains, they are not the largest ones around. The African elephant for instance has a brain that is three times the size of ours. Its cortex is twice the size of our cortex but we still have three times as many neurons in the cerebral cortex as this large brained elephant. And that's something we've proposed that the simplest distinction between human and any other animal species. And that doesn't mean that it's the only distinction but just the simplest biggest distinction is this sheer absolutely enormous number of neurons that we have in the cerebral cortex. So if they're the units the process information that means that we have the most biological capability of processing all that information.
AMT: And can you give me the numbers like what's the average for humans, dogs, versus cats.
SUZANA HERCULANA-HOUZEL: On average humans have 16 billion neurons in the cortex. An elephant has 5.6, dogs have something around 500 million. So we have 32 times as many neurons in the cerebral cortex as an average dog and cats have half that many. Cats have about 250 million. So I think you can put that into context. We have twice as many neurons as the next in line, which is the gorilla. Gorillas have about eight to nine billion. So we have twice the neurons the gorillas have in the cerebral cortex, and dogs have twice the neurons that cats have in the cerebral cortex.
AMT: How does that fact in the human brain reflect our evolution?
SUZANA HERCULANA-HOUZEL: That has been one of the most distinctive characteristics of human evolution how rapidly our brain gained neurons and became the size that it is today. So you can imagine that becoming capable of having all these neurons in the brain was a major watershed in human evolution. The next thing to wonder is how come we got we got all these neurons and nobody else has. And I think there's again an easy explanation for that and that is cooking and I mean cooking in the in the widest sense of not only using fire but also anything that can pre-process food before you put it in your mouth. That starts with stone tools. So anything that you can use to cut meat, to get it off animals, to pound [unintelligible], turn it into purees that you can eat in your mouth and just ingest more quickly. Any kind of pre-processing that you do to your food should help you get more energy and less time which I think was a tremendous page turner in human evolution.
AMT: Because unlike the lion we don't have to chase everything down so the energy we expand is less. So we can have more energy to put toward our neurons.
SUZANA HERCULANA-HOUZEL: Well our ancestors are still hunted and that is expensive but once you have the meat and also once you have roots and fruits and vegetables of all sorts. So it's eating them raw is a huge effort and it also takes a lot of time because chewing on something that is really hard takes a lot of time. And also once you swallow it you're swallowing chunks. So only part - only the surface of those chunks is really going to be digested and is really going to give you energy. Now if you cook the food you eat first - and by cooking it can also be just slicing in small parts mincing or crushing - if you cook it, now it's much easier to chew to and to swallow. And what you do swallow is probably by now turn into a complete purees. So it does get fully digested and you get 100 percent of the energy out and transfer to your body. So when we eat cooked food, the energy yield is much larger and we also get all that energy in much less time. Which means you have free time to do something much more interesting with the neurons that you now can afford.
AMT: So interesting because in a way we're still evolving. Now we have so many calories and we have less movement.
SUZANA HERCULANA-HOUZEL: Yes. So now we have the opposite problem. We have to figure out how to deal with the problem of not having enough calories but actually the problem of having way too many calories available.
AMT: OK well Suzana Herculano-Houzel. Thank you very much for taking us through all that.
SUZANA HERCULANA-HOUZEL: My pleasure. Great talking to you.
AMT: Susana Herculano Houzel is a neuroscientist. She's also an associate professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt University. We reached her in Nashville, Tennessee. She has the neuron count. But you can still have some opinions. Tell us what animal smarts you have observed in nature, in your home, on your farm. Email us from our Web site cbc.ca/thecurrent. Find us on Facebook. Tweet us @TheCurrenCBC.
AMT: This is The Current on CBC Radio 1, on Sirius XM. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. Last week we told you the story of Will Pegg. 58 years old living with terminal cancer in Victoria B.C. Our documentary One More Moment brought us into his world as he prepares for medically assisted death, with the help of his doctor Stephanie Greene. Will had said that he is living full throttle in his final days.
WILL PEGG: The perception might be that MAID is about dying. But as far as my personal experience of it, it is about living. Rather than me spending my energies worrying about clear torment to come. In my situation it's allowed this year to flower. Stephanie is in the position to accord me mercy which is an incredible gift, in the midst of dire circumstances.
AMT: That is an excerpt from the documentary one more moment. Produced by the current Kristin Nelson. If you missed it you can hear it online cbc.ca/thecurrent. Those of you who did hear it had a lot of reaction and Kristin Nelson is with me from our Ottawa studio to share some of that feedback. Hi Kristin.
KRISTIN NELSON: Hello. How are you?
AMT: I'm okay. And you?
KRISTIN NELSON: I'm good. Yes. Yes. It is wonderful the response that we got in the stories that people shared. So this first letter comes from us from someone who could relate to Will's story. Bev Shumlich writes this on our Facebook page: "With my mother's permission I will share that my father availed himself of medical assisted dying or MAID on December 4th 2017, at their home, after sixty seven years of marriage. Dad passed with his children in the house and his wife with her head on his chest. The doctors that led us through this journey could not have had more compassion and professionalism. No it isn't for everyone, but we are truly grateful to live in a country that gave my father the ability to choose his passing with strength, dignity and peace. Not only did it give dad that control right to the end but it eased the grieving immensely. Mum and Dad were given the chance to say goodbye without the horror of tubes and beeping machines. We children had our time with dad. Mum was spared the constant worrying of when she was going to find Dad dead. There are no regrets. Dad got to say everything he wanted to us and we to him. Much of grief is wrapped up in the 'what ifs' or 'should haves'. We don't have any of that. It was a brave and kind gift that Dad gave to us."
AMT: Barbara Mossop also wrote to us from Gore Bay, Ontario and this is her letter: "My brother in law Glenn was diagnosed with terminal cancer almost three years ago. He had a medically assisted death November 1st in Kelowna, B.C. The night before his death Glenn and his partner Germaine went out to dinner with neighbours, had a wonderful evening. The next morning he was gone. The documentary spoke of the peace the patient felt after having finalised the decision. We absolutely saw this with Glenn. He did some amazing bucket list things over the last two years and after 50 chemotherapy treatments decided in August he could do no more. It was comforting to see that Glenn was able to enjoy life up to the final days and then ended his life with dignity and peace.
KRISTIN NELSON: The next letter comes from a listener who has terminal cancer and who didn't want to be named: "My experience recently making an inquiry about medical assistance in dying was disappointing. Despite being at a large academic institution in Ontario, I felt that my interest in MAID was dismissed and the practitioner focused the conversation on why I should not be interested in this choice. The emphasis was on the fact that palliative care and symptom management is so effective that I should not have the desire to pursue MAID. Having worked in palliative care myself, I often experience palliative care practitioners seen MAID as a failure of palliative care, instead of seeing the two modes of treatment as going hand in hand to ensure that end of life care meets the needs of the patient. In my opinion much more education of physicians and nurses is required to ensure that they can get their own personal feelings out of the way and focus on the wishes of the patient."
AMT: Well after hearing the personal experience of Will Pegg last week, we spoke with a panel of doctors about the challenges they face under this new legislation. Jane Fahey-Walsh wants to point out that it isn't solely doctors doing this work. She's the director of policy with the nurse practitioners Association of Ontario and she writes: "In Ontario fully half of all registered MAID practitioners are nurse practitioners or NPs. In fact NPs who work independently in the community or who work outside regular employment hours, such as providing in-home service, are not compensated for the practice. I know of one NP who has been involved in over 23 cases of MAID provision without any compensation including driving over five kilometres on a personal vehicle. She does this because she is passionate about providing access and the best possible care to patients at the end of life. NPs are just as challenged by liability concerns, provider support and stress described by the physicians in your report.
KRISTIN NELSON: And Julia Orr writes from Kelowna with her own personal experience: "As a nurse I can attest that many people in my profession feel they are being forced to be complicit in the premature death of their patients. The physicians on the program today spoke of 'assisting people in the death process' but that doesn't change the fact that the procedure consists in shutting down still functioning organs with the use of drugs. The disease hasn't stopped the patients beating heart, the doctor has.No matter how we disguise the language, this is an act that all of the major world religions consider to be morally wrong. It is not that a religious healthcare worker simply needs to become more comfortable with the concept, as the doctors on the program seem to believe. The reality is that we live in a pluralistic society that consists of both secular and faith based healthcare institutions. Freedom of conscience and freedom of religion are still human rights that need to be upheld."
AMT: Well we have another view of that and it comes from Alan Wolfe in Winnipeg who sent this: "I totally respect the rights of those who were opposed to the legal rights to MAID. However the right ends when they apply their opinions to those who wish to exercise that legal right. When it comes to pressing their opinion on others that of applicant and professional, I say that person's medical license should be pulled and they have no further right to practice their position."
KRISTIN NELSON: And finally this letter comes from Ken Clark: "As a local pastor in a small town in the south Okanagan area of B.C., I have encountered firsthand the negative backlash that can be associated with any involvement with MAID, whether it be the patient, the family, health care professionals or, in my case, in providing spiritual support. Well I knew this was a controversial matter in the faith community. I was not prepared for the angry responses that came my way from those opposed to my being present, at the request of the patient, those who felt that we as a church should not have held the memorial service in our building or offered burial service at our onsite cemetery, even those who declared me guilty by association, complicit in a murder. For some this is black and white and that what I did being present when made was administered was wrong. For me it is much more messy. So much so that after more than ten years of serving here I now feel I may need to move on to escape the ugliness of this situation. I felt the intensity around this issue. The more it's talked about the greater level of understanding and compassion and that would be a good thing for a country that is divided over this matter.
AMT: So interesting such a range of reactions to what we heard.
KRISTIN NELSON: Yes. Yes that was quite a story there.
AMT: And let's go back to Will Pegg the subject of your documentary. What is life like since you spoke with him for that documentary?
KRISTIN NELSON: Well I checked in with him and after I saw him he actually fractured his femur. And so he's using crutches to get around. He describes his bones as being ever softening and says that the aggressive cancer continues to outmanoeuvre the treatments, though. But him and Louise are living pretty well together in the meantime.
AMT: Now Kristin, the federal government has new proposals to track people who request and receive a medically assisted death. What would that actually entail?
KRISTIN NELSON: These new rules, they were just posted on the Canada Gazette on Friday. If these came to be doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners and pharmacists would be mandated to file reports when a patient asks for medically assisted dying. They would also have to report what happens next. For example if the patient withdraws that request, is deemed ineligible or dies from something else. In the proposal the government says that collecting this data would "help foster public trust and provide transparency and accountability". You get the sense it would give us a clearer idea of how the legislation is working across the country. Up until now it's been voluntary for provinces and territories to report this information. So Ottawa is consulting on this for the next two months and it hopes to have these new regulations in place by the summer. So stay tuned.
AMT: So we would learn a lot more about what is really happening out there beyond numbers.
KRISTIN NELSON: Exactly. Yes.
AMT: Okay, well Kristin thank you.
KRISTIN NELSON: Thank you.
KRISTIN NELSON: Kristin Nelson a producer on The Current. She's based in Ottawa. You can hear her documentary and other coverage of medical assistance in dying on our website cbc.ca/thecurrent. You can also send us an email from that site. Just click on the Contact Us link. On Twitter we are @TheCurrentCBC. You can also search for us on Facebook. We know there is still a lot of opinion out there. We will continue to cover this. So let us know what you're thinking, please. That is our program for today.Stay with radio 1 for Q. Oscar winning director Alexander Payne joins Tom Power today to talk about his new movie Downsizing starring Matt Damon. Remember you can always take The Current with you to go on the CBC Radio app, browse through past episodes of our program, start listening in just a few seconds or listen live to your local CBC station from your smartphone or tablet free from the App Store or Google Play. We began today talking about gendered toys and we'll just leave you with a little bit of music about the magic of toys no matter whether they're pink or blue or not so gendered. This is Nat King Cole with Take me Back to Toyland. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. Thanks for listening to The Current.
[Song: Please Take me Back to Toyland]
Please take me back
Please take me back to Toyland, Toyland
Please, take me back to Toyland
Everyone's happy there
It's more than a girl …
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