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We saw a light by the border between USA and Canada, so we have to sneak. I’m happy I’m here, not to go back to lose my life.
LAURA LYNCH: This Ghanian asylum seeker risked his life trudging through snowy farmer's fields in freezing Manitoba whether. In fact, he ended up losing fingers and a toe to frostbite. But he got what he wanted, a chance to escape from the United States where he now feels threatened, and a chance to start over in Canada. Now some refugee advocates are urging Canada to suspend an agreement with the US that acts to keep some refugee claimants out because they don't believe America is a safe country for those seeking sanctuary. And later..
It took the chaos and the mania away from having to go in to score in the Downtown Eastside, which is a notorious open-air drug area.
LL: As the deadly drug fentanyl claims more and more lives, one clinic in Vancouver says it's saving addicts and giving them a chance to live better lives. The Crosstown Clinic is a North American first, supplying people like Liane Gladue with prescription heroin. We're looking at whether this is what's needed to battle Canada's opioid addiction crisis. And then, because it's Friday we think it's time to lighten up.
MELISSA MCCARTHY: That’s enough for the day, spicy’s gonna go bye bye right now, I need a big boy nap.
[Sound: crowd laughter]
MELISSA MCCARTHY: And I will be woken up exactly one minute before tomorrow’s press concert. Live from New York it’s Saturday night.
LL: Hang on, it's not Saturday night yet but tomorrow night Saturday Night Live will almost certainly be taking more pokes at US President Donald Trump or at his press secretary Sean Spicer played here by Melissa McCarthy. It's all said to be getting under the skin of the president. Hence our question, is humour being weaponized by those who oppose Trump? Well, live from Toronto it's Friday morning. I'm Laura Lynch and this is The Current.
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Repeal Safe Third Country Agreement with U.S., say immigration lawyers
Guests: Basir Khan, Deborah Anker, Julie Taub
LAURA LYNCH: On the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York it is famously written, “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” But since the election last fall of a president who vows to build a wall, there’s been a growing unease among asylum seekers in the US. That was only heightened by President Donald Trump's Executive Order to temporarily ban refugees and block travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Last night, an appeals court upheld the suspension of that ban but that just means it's likely soon headed to the US Supreme Court. And the situation for asylum seekers inside the US remains as uncertain as ever. In recent weeks, some have started crossing a different border, walking into Canada. They include this 29-year-old gay man from Ghana, who walked through frozen fields along the Minnesota-Manitoba border to avoid detection. By the time he arrived in Canada, he was suffering severe frostbite, requiring hospitalization while his refugee claim was filed. He spoke with CBC Winnipeg in January.
REPORTER: What have doctors told you?
ASYLUM SEEKER: He told me I would lose my fingers or arms. They have to do some surgery on it and that’s the only way they can save me. And also they told me they have to cut some of my toe. So that makes me frustrated and I’m thinking about it and I don’t know what to do right now. And I was crying. I didn’t expect anything like this before. And I’ve never experienced anything like this before. So all I think about when I was crying is my family. Like, when I lose my toe what am I going to do? What work am I going to do?
LL: We are not naming this asylum seeker to protect his identity. And it's that agreement that we're focusing on today, as a growing number of critics say Canada should consider abandoning the Third Safe Country Agreement with the United States. Bashir Khan is a Manitoba immigration lawyer. He's representing several asylum seekers who have walked across the border into Canada. And he is with us from Winnipeg. Hello.
BASHIR KHAN: Hello, good morning.
LL: I understand that you're representing this man who suffered frostbite trying to get into Canada. How is he doing now?
BASHIR KHAN: Well, actually there’s two of them who've suffered the same fate. One has lost nine digits and the other one is lost both hands completely. And they are both recovering across the street from the main hospital right now.
LL: And how are they doing mentally and emotionally?
BASHIR KHAN: Emotionally and mentally, one of them is not doing so well. And he cries quite a bit and is really quite disturbed by what has happened to him. He’s still in disbelief, that he looks at his hands and they're not there.
LL: What led these two men to make this track and eventually end up in hospital?
BASHIR KHAN: Well, I think it's the desperation. Basically, they are going to be deported from the United States back to their home country in Africa. And they have a fate that is pretty bad, a very bad fate waiting for them. And they feel they didn't get the asylum protection they were seeking from the United States, so then they make the last chance, last attempt trek to Canada to see if they would get a chance to stay here and find safety.
LL: Now, can we be clear here, were they denied asylum in the United States?
BASHIR KHAN: We can be more clear than that, they were actually detained in a United States immigration detention center for several months. They were not given a lawyer there, there legal aid available. They had to fill out the forms themselves with their limited English. And the judge of the United States immigration court and the court was held right inside the detention center, denied their asylum claims. That's what happened with them.
LL: So they were waiting to be deported?
BASHIR KHAN: They were waiting to be deported by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement of the Department of Homeland Security.
LL: How many clients do you have who have recently made this trek into Canada?
BASHIR KHAN: As of today, 17.
LL: And that is since when?
BASHIR KHAN: I would say between the third week of November and now I've had 17 assigned to me.
LL: Now, if they actually go to a formal land border crossing and ask a Canadian border guard for asylum, they won't usually get it because of the Safe Third Country Agreement. Tell us what that is and how it applies to refugees coming into Canada from the United States?
BASHIR KHAN: OK. So the Safe Third Country Agreement says, and there’s an exception to it, and the exception is if you have a blood relation, a blood relative in Canada, then you can come to a port of entry, [clears throat] excuse me, then you can come to a port of entry and you can enter Canada. But if you do not have a blood relative living here, like all of these men actually didn’t. Then if you come to the border of entry, you will be sent back to the United States. You will be deflected back to the United States and you will not be able to make a refugee claim here, and the United States will be forced to take you back. But of course, they will be more alerted, aha so you trying to sneak away, so I think we'll just arrest you now until we deport you. That's what would happen.
LL: But that is all based on the agreement between the two countries and the recognition that in fact, the United States is a safe country to return them to.
BASHIR KHAN: Yes, there is that agreement. But it only applies to a port of entry and that's why in order for them to get into Canada, they have to go around the port of entry hence a farmer's field near Emerson, Manitoba.
LL: What, you don't consider the United States to be a safe country?
BASHIR KHAN: No, but I think that the Safe Third Country Agreement is something that is not clearly mentioned in the Refugee Convention. There are some people who say it is implied. I mean, look, to look at the Safe Third Country Agreement, you've got to see what the two sides of the coin are. The Canadian government wants it so Canada is not swelled up, basically, at its borders with refugee claimants trying to get into Canada.
LL: Isn't that legitimate? Shouldn't Canada be able to control its borders?
BASHIR KHAN: Well it is a public policy perspective. And yes, and that's why I want to be fair too. But on the other hand, what I'm saying is the Refugee Convention does not clearly speak of a Safe Third Country in a very clear fashion. Therefore, you should be able to enter Canada and make a refugee claim because let's go back to what the situation was. Up until December 28, 2004 anyone would come to the Canada-US border and make a refugee claim and they will be granted entry. It's only from December 29, 2004, have we got this strange rule put in place.
LL: We are going to have to leave it there. Bashir Khan, thank you very much for your time.
BASHIR KHAN: Thank you.
LL: Bye Bye.
BASHIR KHAN: Bye bye.
LL: Bashir Khan is an immigration lawyer in Winnipeg. For more now on just what's driving so many asylum seekers in the United States to take such risky new journeys into Canada, I'm joined now by Deborah Anker. She is a Professor and Director of Harvard University's Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program. And she is in Boston, Massachusetts. Hello.
DEBORAH ANKER: Hello.
LL: Now you issued this report that assessed the impact of President Donald Trump's Executive Orders on immigration. What was your conclusion?
DEBORAH ANKER: Our conclusion is with the, especially with the new executive orders. The United States is not a safe country of asylum, and that is for several reasons. The new executive orders provides for mass detention of refugees and other immigrants seeking asylum on a mere suspicion of violating the immigration laws. And refugees and immigrants, I should note as well, are subject to arrest now by any state or local official not just trained immigration officers. So anybody can be picked up and sent to any detention centres, even a remote detention centre, away from her family, away from their lawyers and a place where they would have access to asylum. The other major aspect of this program that is deeply problematic is that it provides for expedited removal of anybody who's arrested in such a manner, expedited removal throughout the United States. Before, expedited removal was applied within the area of the border, our southern border with Mexico. Now it is throughout the United States.
LL: [interposing] Now, I just wonder can you clear up a little confusion here because we know of this Executive Order that has now been suspended by the courts. And if that's the case, then then is there a problem for refugees and asylum seekers right now?
DEBORAH ANKER: Yes, the executive orders that I'm talking about have not been suspended. There have now been several executive orders related to immigration, but the first three that President Trump issued involved the Muslim ban, which is the one that's been suspended by the courts. But also these border and interior enforcement orders, which provided this mass deportation and expedited removal throughout the country. So those have not been suspended.
LL: You sent a letter about the results of your report to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and to our Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, why did you do that?
DEBORAH ANKER: Because I think it's really critical that Canada either suspend the agreement or abandon it altogether at this point. Refugees are in tremendous risk. And we sent the letter as soon as we were able to evaluate what the effect of these new executive orders, again, the border and interior enforcement executive orders would have on refugees.
LL: What do you think the Canadian government should do?
DEBORAH ANKER: I think under the terms of the Safe Third Country Agreement, the Canadian government can either suspend for a period of time to investigate and evaluate the effect of the Safe Third Country Agreement or abandon it altogether. But the fundamental premise of the state or country is that the United States is a safe country in which to apply for asylum. And it is clearly not.
LL: Now, this week Ahmed Hussen, the Canadian Minister for Immigration and Refugees made a statement on Canada's Safe Third Country Agreement in the House of Commons. Let's listen to what he said.
AHMED HUSSEN: The US Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States and Canada provides an orderly system of managing asylum claims. The US Executive Order has no bearing on the US Safe Third Country Agreement with Canada. We are proud of our tradition of offering protection. Every eligible asylum seeker has access to a fair hearing in front of the Immigration and Refugee Board, and each case is assessed based on its merits.
LL: Now, he says he has no plans to change the agreement with the US and that it's helpful in managing refugee flows and managing our borders. What do you think about that view?
DEBORAH ANKER: Well with all due respect, the process now is not at all orderly. Indeed the opposite. And I think that the report of refugees earlier certainly supports that. More refugees are crossing the Canadian border from the US without presenting at a border crossing in order to avoid the effects of the agreement and they’re being turned back to the United States. Indeed, before the agreement, Canada had an orderly process receiving refugees who presented at the border, now it is not. The minister is the right, Canada had been indeed the world’s leader on refugee protection and human rights generally. You know, in 1993 for example, it issued ground breaking gender asylum guidelines that had an effect on the UN. Canada’s willingness to take refugees applying at it’s border for asylum from Central America during the civil wars of the eighties and early nineties led the United States to change course and stop discriminating, as the court found it did, a US court found it did against Central American refugees. The Safe Third Country Agreement sends asylum seekers away from the border to the US, and sends a message that Canada will no longer plays this role. And however unintentionally, the US could do what it pleases without Canadian example and leadership.
LL: We will have to leave it there. Thank you very much for your time.
DEBORAH ANKER: You're very welcome.
LL: Deborah Anker is a Professor and Director of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program. She was in Boston, Massachusetts. Well, when it comes to so-called irregular arrival, not everyone thinks that the way forward involves repealing the Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement. Yesterday, the federal Conservative party’s Manitoba caucus released a statement calling on the federal government to respect the agreement. For more on this, I'm joined by Julie Taub, she is an immigration and refugee lawyer, and a former member of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. She is in Ottawa. Hello.
JULIE TAUB: Good morning.
LL: Now, we've been hearing the case against the Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement. What's the case for it?
JULIE TAUB: Well, the Safe Third Country Agreement basically states that a genuine refugee will make a refugee claim in the first safe country they arrive in. To date, United States is the only country with that designation. And it is basically in place to stop what is called asylum shopping. Now, this is not the first time that the US refugee admissions have been stopped. They were stopped in 2001 after the September 11th terrorist attack. They were suspended for three months, so it's not unprecedented. What is unprecedented is that there is no major terrorist occurrence that happened in the United States to provoke President Trump's ban, that is unprecedented.
LL: But just to go back to the agreement. What does Canada get out of it?
JULIE TAUB: Well, currently there are approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. Without this Safe Third Country Agreement in place, potentially several million of these illegal immigrants could come to the Canadian border legally and make a refugee claim. They would have to be admitted, eventually most of the claims would be refused. Now I'll just give you an example--
LL: But that is that realistic really to think that millions of people are going to try to cross into Canada?
JULIE TAUB: Potentially they could once the information is out. I'll just give you an example. Over the last couple of weeks, I've had dozens of calls from the states asking about refugee claims. Not a single call was from potential refugees from the seven banned countries. They were from South Americans, Mexicans, from Pakistan and Bangladesh, all who have been living without documents in the United States for several years.
LL: And what was your advice to them?
JULIE TAUB: Well, none of them had made refugee claims in the States, and all of a sudden they decided they want to make a refugee claim to Canada. The advice I gave them, that I sent them by email are the options for immigration to Canada.
LL: For legal immigration to Canada.
JULIE TAUB: Yes, for legal immigration. I discussed all the options with them. I took about five, ten minutes per call, and I explained to them that while they cannot make a claim here and what they could do.
LL: How equipped are local authorities to handle an influx of asylum seekers?
JULIE TAUB: They are not. As it is, CBSA is underfunded, undertrained, they don't have enough personnel. Their equipment is about five years outdated. Technologically CBSA is five years behind. They need more money, they need more training, they need more personnel. They can't even handle what's going on currently. Should the Safe Third Country Agreement be repealed or suspended, Canada border services would be overwhelmed.
LL: How do you respond to critics who say that the US is no longer a safe country for asylum seekers and refugees?
JULIE TAUB: Well, the United States is not a dictatorship that I have noticed. The definition of refugees has not changed, the law, underlying law for receiving refugees has not changed. They received 85,000 refugees under the Obama administration's last year. That was their quota, that's what they wanted to accept and they did. And this was under President Obama.
LL: Right. But we're under President Trump now and you heard Deborah Anker saying that there are increased detentions happening in the United States, that these executive orders seem to have changed the game.
JULIE TAUB: I believe that these executive orders will fall one after the other. The first one that has been stayed is the seven countries, and I'm sure the others will follow suit because they cannot be maintained. They are not legal.
LL: Well, in the meantime there's still an awful lot of uncertainty for people who are trying to seek asylum in the United States.
JULIE TAUB: Yes there is at the moment.
LL: What could be the political fallout if Canada repeals or temporarily suspends the agreement with the United States?
JULIE TAUB: Well the political fallout, I've already talked about the practical fallout of potentially a million or so undocumented [clears throat] excuse me, undocumented migrants coming to Canada to make refugee claims. But politically, President Trump has stated he wants to renegotiate NAFTA. And I don't believe the government, I don't believe Trudeau's government is in a position to provoke President Trump by repealing the Safe Third Country Agreement right now. Because we have a lot to lose if President Trump decides to repeal NAFTA.
LL: Miss. Taub, thank you very much for your time.
JULIE TAUB: Thank you.
LL: Julie Talb is an immigration and refugee lawyer, and a former member of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. She was in Ottawa today. Now, The Current requested an interview with the Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, but we did not receive a response. Well, coming up the CBC News is next. Then, big city mayors from across the country are gathering in search of a solution to Canada's opioid crisis. But some say a solution already exists in a controversial program in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. I'm Laura Lynch and you are listening to The Current.
[Music: Extro]Back To Top »
Can supervised injection sites help tackle the opioid crisis?
Guests: Dr. Scott MacDonald, Dr. Gabor Maté
LAURA LYNCH: Hello, I'm Laura Lynch and you're listening to The Current.
LL: Still to come, fighting back with punch lines. How humour has become a weapon of choice for Americans opposed to Donald Trump's presidency. And why tomorrow night’s Alec Baldwin hosted Saturday Night Live will feel like an act of resistance for millions of watchers. That story in a half hour. But first, fighting fire with fire.
LL: As the opioid overdose crisis continues to grip the country, mayors of 12 major Canadian cities formed a task force last week. They're working on a plan to quell the crisis with Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson taking the lead. But as politicians search for answers, some advocates say a solution is already out there and being used. They're referring to a program in Vancouver ground zero of the opioid crisis, where more than 200 people died last year, including nine in one day last December. The program is at the Crosstown Clinic, and advocates say it isn't being taken seriously enough, though it is seriously controversial. 150 addicts visit the clinic most every day, up to three times a day, seven days a week. Once they're there, they inject legal heroin under the supervision of medical staff. Here are two of them.
LIANNE GLADUE: I'm Liane Gladue, 49-years-old, I live in the Downtown Eastside. I'm an opiate user, used to be illicit drug user and addicted to street heroin, until I proceeded to get into the program. And that changed my life.
JOHN PINKNEY: My name is John Pinkney, I have been in SALOME program for roughly four years. My wife and I first started this because we wanted something different, to get away from buying heroin on the street and all the pitfalls that go with it.
LIANNE GLADUE: What it did for me was it took the chaos and the mania away from having to go and score in the Downtown Eastside, which is a notorious open-air drug area. You can become addicted, it's not always just the street drug dealer that's going psst psst, hey, you know, you want to try? The first one is free. I didn't get addicted that way. I got addicted in a medical setting. I learned very quickly after I became addicted, how to support my habit by getting doctors to prescribe me by lying and like most addicts do. But no, I never tried the actual street heroin, I became addicted to morphine. And until the script got caught, within six weeks of being in a small town in BC, I ended up down here, down to the Downtown Eastside, selling crack to support my heroin habit, because it was much easier to get heroin than getting morphine.
JOHN PINKNEY: The program has really been instrumental in keeping me out of jail. I've spent a lot of time in jail because of substance abuse issues. It started when I was a teenager coming off of Ritalin, and that just sort of carried over into my teens, in my twenties, abusing substances and going out and getting the money to do that. I ended up in jail. As the years went on, I’d get out on parole and the same thing would happen again. And this was a repeat. Finally, when I got out in 2004, I got together with my wife at that time, I made a commitment to her that I was going to stay out of jail. And I started doing things like binning and that. Then along came this program. It was just a huge life change. I was able to go back to school. I actually took mental health and addictions worker. And it was just a whole new lifestyle and it was really refreshing. There's no longer going out at night and having to risk my freedom in pursuit of money to get my next fix. I didn't have to go out and sell drugs and stuff like that. I didn't have to get involved in just the whole situation because I found that even the cocaine situation is violent and stuff like that. I wanted to get away from all of that and this gave huge opportunity to do that.
LIANNE GLADUE: My life now is completely average and normal, and I hate the word normal. It is very similar to what it was when I wasn't using drugs, before I started using drugs. My children are back in my life. They didn't know anything about my drug use until they were in their late teens and now I'm the old mom that I used to be. I'm still with my partner and I have a great marriage. And it's just, it's so nice and calm. The mania that when you go from being a suburban mom to all of a sudden you’re a junkie downtown. My self-respect and dignity was further in the gutter than anybody could put me, because I knew what I was doing to myself, right? And now, I I also didn't have to deal with the fentanyl or the carfentanil, that wasn't an issue for me down here. I know that if it was and if I didn't have this program, I would more than likely be dead. My husband would more than likely be in jail or dead.
JOHN PINKNEY: I don't know what my life would be like without this program. I don't know whether I'd be alive. I don't know whether I’d be out of jail. But I’ll say for today I'm really happy that I was given a second chance.
LAURA LYNCH: Dr. Scott MacDonald knows John Pinkney and Lianne Gladue well. He is the lead physician at the Crosstown Clinic in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. And he is with us from Vancouver. Hello.
SCOTT MACDONALD: Hello.
LL: What is that like for you to hear them talk about how this clinic has changed their lives?
SCOTT MACDONALD: Well, it's very gratifying and I'm so thankful to them for being able to speak so frankly. I mean, they've had challenges and despite that they are such strong people. I'm happy to hear their stories.
LL: Tell me about the clinic and how it works. We provide injectable treatment options, either diacetylmorphine or prescription heroin or hydromorphone, also known as Dilaudid, it is a similar molecule to the heroin molecule. And people come into our clinic, they see a nurse, nurse makes sure that they are safe to receive their dose. They self-administer the dose where they're watched by the medical team for about 12 minutes after their treatment and they can come in and repeat that up to three times a day.
LL: How does a substance user qualify to be a part of the program?
SCOTT MACDONALD: So this is a treatment for a small number of people. Those who have severe opiate use disorder, injection opioid use, that have not responded to methadone or suboxone. They continue to use illicit opioids despite attempts at the standard treatments. And this is a very effective tool to get that hard to reach small number but a significant number of folks that need an intensified treatment like this.
LL: But let's be clear, this is quite different from a safe injection site.
SCOTT MACDONALD: Yes. At a supervised injection site or safe injection site, people purchase their drugs and take them in and they're observed using them so it could be safe. We are actually providing a pharmaceutical, sterile, predictable compound and we view that as a treatment. And we have far fewer adverse events than at supervised injection sites because people know exactly what they're getting. It's their strength, it's their dose, and it's supervised.
LL: And it’s obviously not going to be tainted with fentanyl.
SCOTT MACDONALD: Absolutely not.
LL: Now, this started out as a research study but how are you measuring success?
SCOTT MACDONALD: We measure success in a number of ways. Decreasing crime, physical and mental health improves. We find people start getting housing, we have a number of people who've attended school. And Mr. Pinkney talked about his success in that area. We have some folks who are now working full time, and I've been very gratified to see some employers in Vancouver adjust their work schedules so that folks can attend our clinic and get their treatments.
LL: And this must cost an awful lot of money?
SCOTT MACDONALD: This is a cost effective treatment approach. When it's provided to that group that isn't responding to the standard treatments, not only is this more effective, it is also more cost effective. The costs to society of one person using illicit opioids is at least 48,000 dollars a year, and that's a conservative estimate. We can deliver our treatment at about 25,000 dollars per individual. And that is in line with the treatment for daily dispensed methadone and suboxone.
LL: How do you get to that 48,000 number?
SCOTT MACDONALD: It's mostly in the criminal justice costs, emergency services costs, policing, incarceration. That's the bulk of the costs.
LL: Are there people that this doesn't work for?
SCOTT MACDONALD: In our study, NAOMI and SALOME, we were able to retain over 80 per cent of our folks. So this will work for almost everybody who is using illicit opioids. This is a very effective treatment at attracting that hard to reach group into care.
LL: This is the only clinic of its kind in North America. And despite calls for an expansion of it, politicians seem to be reluctant. Here's BC’s Health Minister Terry Lake defending why he is not expanding the program.
TERRY LAKE: My goal as health minister is to make sure we get to the right place, and that means building up the case, building up the evidence and getting to where we need, where I think we need to be. But bringing people along with these ideas. Because if you don't bring people along, you lose people and then you take a step back. I don't want to take a step back.
LL: What do you think he's saying there? The public's not with you, even though you think you have the evidence you need?
SCOTT MACDONALD: Well we have a huge pile of evidence. There's eight randomized controlled studies supporting diacetylmorphine heroin assisted treatment, including a Cochrane database review, which is the world standard in reviewing medical evidence. All unanimous in evidence showing the benefit of this. And now we have two additional studies, NAOMI with evidence for hydromorphone and the recently published SALOME.
LL: So then what do you think the reluctance is?
SCOTT MACDONALD: Well, we as a society need to make a decision to fund this. It needs to be supervised, somebody needs to pay for the nurses to administer the treatment and supervise. But that's possible. I think we as a society can take that on. And it's possible to provide better care to some of the most vulnerable in our communities.
LL: The minister seems to be suggesting the public isn't there yet, how much public resistance do you see to the idea?
SCOTT MACDONALD: Well, I'm here in Vancouver and I see huge public support. A number of police departments have been through. We've had emergency responders through, you know, officials from cities across the North America coming to see our clinic. So I think people are starting to get it.
LL: But the minister is still resisting. So is this a political decision?
SCOTT MACDONALD: The bulk of the reduction in costs is in the criminal justice system and the investment in the treatment is in the health system. So I think a decision needs to be made at policy maker level. And I hope that they'll be able to see that this is the way that we need to go. I mean, it saves lives and saves dollars and we've got evidence to show that.
LL: What about those who believe that drug addicts should just figure out how to stop? Especially in the midst of what is this deadly overdose crisis.
SCOTT MACDONALD: Well I think we all wish that people could or would stop using illicit opioids, but this is a chronic relapsing disease. And there's a small but significant number of folks that are not going to be recruited into care unless it is an intensive, injectable option like this. If we're going to stop this epidemic, this needs to be part of the approach.
LL: But doesn’t providing heroin ignore the root causes of why someone is an addict in the first place?
SCOTT MACDONALD: Well, we need to meet people where they are at this moment. When we first encounter them, they are totally occupying their lives in trying to obtain their next fix. They're engaged in the illicit heroin lifestyle. And if we can get them into care and remove that pressure, then they regain health. As Lianne said, she's no longer in the chaos that had her stuck. And now she's reconnected with family. I really see the resilience and the potential in folks. And when we provide this treatment, the transformations can be remarkable.
LL: But they're still addicts.
SCOTT MACDONALD: This is a chronic relapsing disease. And I don't even use that word. These are people with a severe opiate use disorder and they are entitled to care and deserve care and effective care, just like anybody else with a chronic disease. Whether that's high blood pressure or diabetes.
LL: But there's something important here, because we are talking about this in the context of the crisis that's happening right now in the Downtown Eastside. Is expanding this program an answer to that crisis?
SCOTT MACDONALD: Yes it is, because the people that are most affected are the ones that are forced to use illicit opioids and access the illicit stream of opioids every day. We need to address that population and we can. We have the evidence now to show how to do it.
LL: Do you have any idea how many more people would be involved in the program if you could offer it to them?
SCOTT MACDONALD: Well, we're treating about 150 each day now, we identified in our SALOME intake process 500 in Vancouver. So ideally, we should be treating 350 more in Vancouver. It's not more than ten per cent and probably in the range of five to ten per cent of all people that require an opioid substitution treatment would require an intensified injectable option. So in British Columbia, that might be a thousand or so.
LL: Dr. MacDonald, thank you.
SCOTT MACDONALD: Thank you.
LL: Dr Scott MacDonald is the lead physician at Vancouver's Crosstown Clinic, where 150 people daily receive prescription heroin. Now, my next guest spent a dozen years working with addicts in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. That experience shaped Dr. Gabor Maté’s future research and views on what it takes to treat addictions. His latest book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction, argues that trauma is the root cause of addictions and that it has to be part of the solution. Dr. Maté is with us from Vancouver. Hello.
GABOR MATE: Good morning.
LL: Dr. Maté, what do you think? Should we be expanding the program to provide prescription heroin to addicts?
GABOR MATE: It's a question of whether we wish to be humanitarian, compassionate, and scientific about it or whether we wish to be ruled by prejudice. As you just heard Dr. Scott MacDonald articulate so clearly, the evidence is overwhelmingly positive. There's no negative evidence whatsoever. So the question really is to the people who oppose this measure as to why they would. There's no controversy about the value of it.
LL: Is it the answer?
GABOR MATE: It is not the answer to the opioid crisis, it is the answer to the suffering of people who otherwise would be in jail, or in the streets, or much sicker than they are. But it's a small part of dealing with the opioid crisis as a whole. That's a much larger question.
LL: So if this isn't the answer to the crisis itself then what is?
GABOR MATE: Well, first of all let me say it's an essential part of the answer. So nothing I say is meant to diminish the value of the clinic or with similar measures. But the larger issue of opiate addiction has to do with the very reasons why people get addicted in the first place, and not just to opiates by the way but to anything. And I want to say something here as well, that we have a much larger addiction crisis than opioids in this country that kills many many more people. It's called cigarettes. And nobody is arguing that cigarettes should be illegal or that people shouldn't be able to have them. So if you put addiction in a larger context, we have to realize that this society engenders many addictive behaviors and that the opiate crisis is only a part of that. But at the source of all addictions, in my view and in the view of overwhelming scientific evidence, is the emotional pain that people are trying to escape from, and that pain is always rooted in trauma. So the larger question of addiction, including opiate addiction has to do with how people are traumatized in this society.
LL: Can you explain that connection between trauma and addiction?
GABOR MATE: Yes. All addictions, whether they are to behaviours, eating, shopping, internet, opioids, cigarettes, alcohol, whatever they are, have the function of people escaping discomfort with themselves with emotional pain. The question is not why the addiction but why the pain? And if you look at people's sources of pain, it relates back to childhood experiences. We have a case example of that in our First Nations population. 30 per cent of the people in our jails are First Nations origin, they make up 4 per cent of the Canadian population. This is the most traumatized segment of the Canadian population for historical reasons. I trust I don't have to explain to your audience what the Residential schools and the destruction of their ways of life, that's the most addicted population. Trauma inculcates pain in a person. Trauma makes a person ashamed of themselves, because children who don't receive the support they need will automatically think there's something wrong with them. And trauma also shapes the brain in ways that make the brain circuits more susceptible to addictive substances and behaviours.
LL: But you listed a number of different kinds of addictive behaviours there. And some of them like shopping or some people might even be addicted to physical exercise are obviously much less harmful than an addiction to opioids. What is it that drives people toward those more harmful addictions?
GABOR MATE: Like cigarette smoking for example?
LL: And opioids yes.
GABOR MATE: Yes. What drives people towards the more serious addictions is the degree of pain that they have and the degree to which their brain physiology was affected by early experience.
LL: Now, this trauma, if we compare where society is now to the past, we're more affluent, more educated, more healthy, so how is it that we have so many citizens turning to drugs to numb themselves?
GABOR MATE: It's true what you say that we live in a wealthier and healthier society. But at the same time, we live in a society where a lot of children still suffer disconnection and the stress of their parents and quite a few children are still experiencing abuse. Abuse is not the only source of addiction but certainly in the Downtown Eastside, where I worked for 12 years, every single one of my patients had been abused as a child. Every single one of them.
LL: It's interesting that you say that, because it almost makes it sound like a class distinction, but I know that I can walk down to the Downtown Eastside and find young people who come from affluent families or well-to-do families and are addicted as well.
GABOR MATE: Affluence does not protect children from emotional pain. And, look, I travel around North America and internationally speak on addictions all over the place and sometimes hundreds or thousands of people a week. And I've never talked to anybody for more than five minutes who had been addicted, it doesn't matter what class they come from, where there wasn’t some significant source of emotional pain in their childhoods.
LL: So how do you create programs to treat addicts that address that root issue of trauma?
GABOR MATE: Well, the first problem is that physicians don't even hear the word trauma in four years of their education. The average medical student does not hear a single lecture on trauma, nor does the average law student, nor does the average teacher. So that we have to become a much more trauma informed society, where the people that deal with children and deal with the impact of childhood experience are actually educated as to how trauma works, how it affects the body, how it affects the brain and how it affects people's psychology. They all need to be educated in this and it's a huge hiatus, it’s a huge gap in the education of caregivers.
LL: OK. Caregivers but also parents. Is there a need for parents to actually take responsibility?
GABOR MATE: There's a need for parents to be supported in being emotionally present for their children and if possible physically present. There's a need for parents to understand how trauma is multi-generational. As a parent, I passed on my trauma to my children, I can tell you that and they didn't mean to. So parents need to be educated about how trauma is multi-generational. How it's not anybody's fault, but that it is passed on multi-generationally to the next generation, until we somehow provide conditions for really good, really healthy, really connected parenting. And given that children spend much of their time away from their parents in our society, that needs to include the daycares, it needs to include the elementary schools and the high schools.
LL: Given everything you're saying, how hopeful are you that there will be any kind of success at tackling drug addiction anytime soon in Canada?
GABOR MATE: I have no hope whatsoever that they will have any success in tackling drug addiction anytime soon. However, I am gratified to see that this trauma conversation is happening much more broadly now. Many more people are engaged in it. Trauma informed practices are being investigated or looked at by many many people, much more than I would say ten, 15 years ago. So the trend on the whole is positive but it's a positive in a very slow sense. And the major institutions have yet to embrace it.
LL: Dr. Maté, thank you.
GABOR MATE: My pleasure. Thank you.
LL: Dr. Gabor Maté is a retired physician and Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Criminology at Simon Fraser University. He is also the author of In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction. And he was in Vancouver. So what do you think? Or should we be concentrating more on the reasons why people get addicted in the first place? You can tweet us we’re @TheCurrentCBC, or me @LauraLynchCBC, or find us on Facebook and send a message there. Our website is cbc.ca/thecurrent and click on the contact us button to send an email to the show.
LL: Coming up in our next half hour, the Trump administration has labeled the media as the opposition party but maybe the truest opposition is the comedian. Weaponizing humour in the age of Trump. I'm Laura Lynch and you're listening to The Current.
[Music: Extro]Back To Top »
How liberals are using humour as a weapon against Trump
Guests: Dwayne Booth, Amanda Barker, Gene Healy
LAURA LYNCH: Hello, I'm Laura Lynch and this is The Current.
[Sound: crowd laughing]
[Sound: phone ringing]
BECK BENNETT: Hello, Prime Minister Turnbull.
ALEC BALDWIN: Yes, hello. It's the Donald.
BECK BENNETT: President Trump, how are you? I hear there's been a lot of blowback over your Muslim ban.
ALEC BALDWIN: No, there wasn't. Everyone loves it.
[Sound: crowd laughing]
ALEC BALDWIN: We had to do it because of that huge massacre of Bowling Green.
[Sound: crowd laughing]
BECK BENNETT: I never heard of that one.
ALEC BALDWIN: Yeah, it was horrible. So many people died, but actually they're the lucky ones because they don't have to see how bad The Apprentice has gotten.
[Sound: crowd laughter]
BECK BENNETT: Well, Mr. Trump, thank you for still accepting our refugees.
ALEC BALDWIN: Oh me say what?
[Sound: crowd laughter]
BECK BENNETT: President Obama said America would accept 1,200 refugees. Your country's compassion will not be forgotten.
ALEC BALDWIN: No no no, no refugees. America first. Australia sucks. Your reef is failing. Prepare to go to war.
[Sound: hangs up phone to a dead line]
BECK BENNETT: Wait, wait, wait.
[Sound: crowd laughing]
LL: Well, that is Alec Baldwin’s by now quite familiar impression of President Donald Trump from last week's episode of Saturday Night Live. And you can pretty much expect more of that this Saturday night when Alec Baldwin returns to host SNL. In terms of ratings, the Trump administration has been very good for the show. It's having its most watched season in 20 years. And when millions of Americans tune in again tomorrow night for an expected presidential skewering, their laughs won't be merely cathartic, for many laughing will feel like a form of resistance. Because with Republicans in control of the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives, humour is quickly becoming a way for liberal Americans to fight back. For a look at the weaponization of humour in the age of Trump, I am joined by three guests. Amanda Barker is a comedian and comedy writer. She is currently starring in a production of Moose on the Loose in Sudbury, Ontario. She's in our Sudbury studio. Dwayne Booth is a political cartoonist and satirist, better known to his fans as Mr. Fish. He is in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. And Gene Healy is the Vice President of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. He is the author of The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power. And he is in Washington DC. Hello to all of you.
DWAYNE BOOTH: Hello.
GENE HEALY: Hi.
AMANDA BARKER: Hi, good morning.
LL: Now, I want to ask all of you the same question right off the top. Amanda, you can get to it first. What do you think of how Saturday Night Live has been depicting the president?
AMANDA BARKER: Well, I think it's been fantastic. In fact, I think they have really taken a cue from the Trump administration and that they are doubling down. You don't like it Trump? Let's give you more. And that's actually been a tactic that Trump has used since the beginning of his campaign, and it's obviously been very effective for him and it's very effective [chuckles] for SNL as well.
LL: Yeah, we've also seen that in the exchange of tweets between the president and between his imitator [chuckles] Alec Baldwin, he said I'm not going to stop. Dwayne Booth, what do you think of how Saturday Night Live has been portraying President Trump?
DWAYNE BOOTH: I think it's funny, I guess that I guess the larger question is so what? Now what? How is that political action? How does that inspire political change? Which I guess we're going to get into. You know, the history of satire and if it ever was an effective tool in making effective change.
LL: Yeah, we will get into that. But first, Gene Healy, what do you think of Alec Baldwin's portrayal?
GENE HEALY: Well, I probably like it better than Donald Trump does, judging by his tweets.
GENE HEALY: Trump has managed to make Saturday Night Live relevant again, which is quite a feat. But it is absolutely surreal to see the president-elect and then president of the United States taking to social media to complain about a comedian's portrayal of him. It's almost as if he thought one of the perks of the presidency is that nobody gets to make fun of you, which I don't understand how a sentient human being alive in the 21st century could have gotten that impression.
AMANDA BARKER: [laughs]
LL: Dwayne Booth, what do you think? Is there any danger to presenting the president as a buffoon?
DWAYNE BOOTH: I guess it depends on who you're going to ask. I think that the large danger for for what I do and what satirists have traditionally done, is that it's communicating with Trump on Trump's level. It's a kind of mockery that turns the political conversation into parody and farce. And the question that that always brings up with me is what does that have to do with a strategy on how to really combat it? You know, because if you vilify somebody, OK, we're talking about Trump, and you turn him into a figure of fun, then you have no concept, or at least you squander the opportunity, to talk about how power manifests itself in a society and what to do about it. You know, I mean, if you look at just for example, the civil rights movement. If the calling out the injustices of Jim Crow laws, if you had skits lampooning that and only that, you know, you don't have bus boycotts, you don't have lunch counter-protests, you don't have anything that really attacks power and inspires people to get into the streets. Because really when it comes down to it, the danger of laughter, while it puts the subject of of politics safely into people's mouths, gives them an opportunity to talk about it, understand it in a simplistic way, it also rewards them with the physiological joy of laughter. And mirth cripple's rage. And you need some measure of rage to actually do something about effecting political change and sometimes it can just actually prevent you from engaging.
LL: OK. Interesting point. Amanda Barker, what do you think of that?
AMANDA BARKER: Well, yeah, no, I actually don't agree with that. I mean, I think that it is all part of the change. For starters, I don't think that anyone has made a mockery of Trump. I think he's done a great job of that himself. But beyond that, you know, looking at SNL, since we're talking about SNL and other types of shows like that, like Samantha Bee, if you look at the history of SNL in its first year, you had Garrett Morris singing I'm going to get me a shotgun and kill all the whiteys I see. I think we should not negate the power of words like that in terms of change. And, you know, you can't have comedy without truth, that's just a basic understanding. You need the truth for comedy, comedy only works with the truth. So you have to use the truth that you have and Trump, whether you like it or not, is the truth that we have right now to work with.
LL: So laughter doesn't mute rage.
AMANDA BARKER: I think in fact it inspires change.
LL: Gene Healy, you wrote an article for The Daily Beast titled Trump May Well Try to Clamp Down on Anti-Trump Humor. Can he do that?
GENE HEALY: I don't think so. That’s actually, you know, the title wasn't mine. That’s not the [unintelligible] I really worry about too much. The piece goes through a history of making fun, sort of a short history of making fun of the president in the modern era. And how what was a culture of deference in the fifties and sixties after Vietnam and Watergate, became this sort of unbridled, irreverent, disrespectful comedy that we all know and love, and in terms of the portrayal of the president. And, you know, I think that's a very healthy thing for a society. When in the New Frontier era, in the Kennedy era when people, comedians felt that they had to tread lightly and contribute to this aura of reverence around the presidency. I think that was unfortunate. I also don’t think, like, getting out of my line here because I'm not a comedian, I don't think it's a comics job to necessarily instill rage or, you know, wonder about the effect of a Saturday Night Live skit on the future of political protest in America. I think their job is to be funny and to send up the pretensions of people in power. And I think that's a healthy thing to do. And, you know, hopefully if done well it's funny.
LL: Dwayne Booth, how do you respond to that?
DWAYNE BOOTH: Well, I don't want to be the guy who's assumed to be just slamming SNL.
AMANDA BARKER: [laughs]
DWAYNE BOOTH: Because, you know, to both, you know, Amanda and Gene's points, I do understand the appeal. And I do appreciate the therapeutic joy that you get from, if you despise somebody, you get to have all the reasons why you despise them demonstrated, you know, by a comedic situation. But all I'm saying is that just understand that that's what it is. And it does get you at least on the road to maybe effecting political change. And that's, I agree that that may not be the job of a comedian but if we're talking about a situation where people are genuinely afraid, genuinely worried in this country about what the next four years are going to be and potentially eight, God forbid, you do want to have something on the other end of having your disdain acknowledged, and where do you apply it? You know, because nothing will change if all you're going to do is figure out how to laugh about something.
LL: There is one difference with this president, and Gene Healy, I read your article about the evolution of humour and presidents and people taking pokes at them. And in the past, President Kennedy didn't really like people doing even an impression of him, and then all the way up to Ford who just took his lumps and thought that well, that's part of me trying to seem cool. And then we've got this president who seems to respond to every little poke and tease. And Dwayne I'm wondering, should comedians feel worried about how Donald Trump reacts?
DWAYNE BOOTH: No.
GENE HEALY: I would say I hope not. But you always like to think that the man with the drone fleet and a kill list has a sense of humour.
GENE HEALY: Which this one apparently doesn't. But I'm less worried about the ability of the president to shut down comedy or harsh portrayals of themselves legally. I think, you know, Trump said a bunch of things on the campaign trail about the libel law. Well, good luck with that. The judges he appoints, there's not a lot of sympathy for that on the right or the left among the legal community. I think it's difficult for him to do anything overt to try to punish, you know, prominent comedians who make fun of him. It just may, you know, send him into a frenzy because he seems so incredibly thin skinned. I mean, one of the funny things is it seems like one of the first things you learn in middle school is not to show people that that they're getting under your skin. You know, if there’s a nickname you didn't like when you were in grammar school and you get wound up about that nickname, you're going to be wearing that nickname for the rest of your life.
GENE HEALY: This seems to be a life lesson that Donald Trump never absorbed.
LL: Dwayne, I heard you utter an emphatic no.
DWAYNE BOOTH: [laughs] Yes. Why did I do that?
AMANDA BARKER: [laughs]
LL: I know it’s early. You said no, comedians should not feel worried about hurting Donald Trump's feelings.
DWAYNE BOOTH: No, it's actually easy. I mean, if you have somebody who you just say the most basic thing against their self, their egomania, you know, and you get that reaction, there's a there's a joy. But again, that's the question. There's a great quote, I used to hang out with Mort Sahl, do you guys know who Mort Sahl was?
LL: Oh yeah. Yeah, the old time satirist. Very biting.
AMANDA BARKER: Mmhmm.
DWAYNE BOOTH: Yeah, yeah, and he’s still doing it. I mean, he's 89, he's a little bit slower speaking but he's definitely still razor sharp. And I was talking to him once about this very subject and he told me, this is the quote that he said to me, he said talking about America and how the right versus the left deals with power. He says, “it's almost as if there was a summit meeting and America was divided and the fascists got banking and world power and the liberals settled for music and movies and then they tried to pretend that music and movies had real political power.”
LL: Interesting. Amanda, I want you to jump in here.
AMANDA BARKER: [laughs] Yes. So much here. I mean, OK, well, it's no secret that a lot of people who are in comedy may have left leaning, not all. But so I do think that there is something to be said. We've sort of been dancing around this idea of the joy, I think Dwayne was mentioning, the joy that comes from comedy. In the words of Thomas Gray, he spoke about laughing wild amidst severest woe. And I think that is really what we're dealing with right now. We're laughing wild because we have to. If you if you don't laugh you'll cry. So those are two emotions. I mean, the opposite of love isn't hate, it's apathy. And I think one of the best things that's happening right now and I would say in comedy, and I would argue in the media and in politics as well, is that nobody is apathetic right now. We all have a lot to say and that ultimately even though you don't agree with what's happening in the world, I think it's a good thing that we're not apathetic. That would be the true crime and the true test for comedy. I think comedians are empowered. [chuckles] You know, should Trump be able to make fun of them, do they feel negated? No, they feel empowered. Are you kidding? Alec Baldwin is hosting this weekend. You know, I don't think he'd be doing that if he wasn't, you know, Donald Trump.
LL: Well, speaking of empowered, I want to play a clip now from last week’s Saturday Night Live. This is Melissa McCarthy as White House Spokesperson Sean Spicer.
MELISSA MCCARTHY: OK, we'll do a couple questions. Go, Glenn Thrush, New York Times. Boo. Go ahead.
[Sound: crowd laughing]
REPORTER: Yeah, I wanted to ask about the travel ban on Muslims.
MELISSA MCCARTHY: Yeah, it’s not a ban.
REPORTER: I'm sorry?
MELISSA MCCARTHY: It's not a ban. The travel ban is not a ban, which makes it not a ban.
REPORTER: But you just called it a ban.
MELISSA MCCARTHY: Because I'm using your words. You said ban. You said ban now I’m saying it back to you.
REPORTER: The president tweeted and I quote, “if the ban were announced with a one week notice.”
MELISSA MCCARTHY: Yeah, exactly. You just said that. He's quoting you, it's your words.
[Sound: crowd laughing]
MELISSA MCCARTHY: He's using your words, when you use the words and he uses them back. It's circular using of the word and that's from you.
[Sound: crowd laughing]
LL: OK. Amanda Barker, I want to come back to you.
AMANDA BARKER: Sure.
LL: There's been reporting that Melissa McCarthy's portrayal was particularly grating to the administration because he was being portrayed by a woman. And I wonder what you think of that?
AMANDA BARKER: Well, you know, it's interesting. I had heard that as well and of course my first instinct is to kind of obviously get very angry and want to, you know, fight back with comedy or whatever tools I have. When I looked into it, most of the things that I found said sources close to the president say, and I do think in comedy and otherwise we need to be really careful with that, because this isn't In Touch magazine, this isn't Jennifer Love Hewitt’s baby bump [laughs] this is Trump. So if it's not, I mean, Trump gives us plenty, believe me, with tweets and all the things he said in the last 22. I repeat, it's been 22 days people.
MANY VOICES: [laughing]
AMANDA BARKER: So I think we need to be careful just where we're getting that information from, because as of right now, I can only find it in, you know, New York Mag, and I've not found a direct quote, just a source or a rumour. So that's something that Trump obviously lambastes all of us for, so I'm trying to be super careful of that.
LL: I'm curious just one more thing with you Amanda.
AMANDA BARKER: Mm.
LL: When you're trying to develop humour around a politician, is there a line that you draw for yourself or how do you lampoon them?
AMANDA BARKER: Not at all. I think, you know, honestly Patton Oswalt put it great. He said that off limits is not a permanent address. And I think that's a great thing to remember. We're walking the line, it's our job to walk that line. And do we cross it? Yes. And that line is different for everyone. So it's a matter of where you put the envelope and what the context is in. I think ultimately it is your responsibility to be smart, to play to the intelligence of the crowd and that's something that we try to do. We don't always succeed. [chuckles] But we try.
LL: Gene Healy, do you think there should be a line?
GENE HEALY: You know, it's not really for me to say. I think that when that line got moved, you know, after Vietnam and Watergate, I think it was a healthy thing for society to see the presidency, the American presidency, which has accumulated such vast powers, for people to see it taken down a peg. I think it does have impacts down the line. You know, I don't know how many people remembers the [unintelligible] period after the September 11th attacks, where people, there were a number of think pieces in the wake of 9/11 about the end of the Age of Irony. People would be serious and earnest now. There is actually the South Park creators Trey and Stone had a brief lived show called That's My Bush making fun of the first family, George W. Bush and Laura Bush. That show got canceled after 9/11 and there was this thankfully brief period where, you know, people tread lightly around great symbols of national power like the presidency. And thankfully, the Age of Irony didn't disappear and people got back in fairly short order to making fun of the president. And I think that was healthy. Now did it end the Iraq war? No. Neither did hundreds of thousands of people in the street protesting. But I don't think it's a good cultural atmosphere when you cannot, you know, put the presidency in its place and, you know, essentially make fun of the very human failings that all of these people that we trust with so much power have.
LL: Dwayne, do you expect this kind of comedy and satire to flourish over the next few years?
DWAYNE BOOTH: I do. I mean, I expect for it to flourish but again, I keep getting back to the question of just like essentially so what? Just in the sense that if we just look briefly of the history of satire that was used to lampoon somebody in power and what that used to mean, say you talk about Thomas Nast in Harper's doing his cartoons about Boss Tweed, which was considered to be responsible for his downfall. You even go back to Daumier lampooning the king. OK. This was all pre-internet, this was all pre virtual reality. And the difference is that people used to get their news in the town square. They were already congregated somewhere. It was already, it was a mob essentially. So that was dangerous. If you could incite a mob that was in a physical space than it was dangerous to power. The difference now is that the mobs are now virtual. You know, it's a demographic the corporations market too. And so what you have now, you may have a population that is radicalized by the current political situation, but we're talking about a population that is made up of isolated human beings looking at a screen and many of them are in their underpants.
LL: Making it that much harder to bring people together.
DWAYNE BOOTH: Right. But in a real way, I mean, you can feel like you're part of a large group. But again, you're radicalized in your living room and power’s fine with that. That's not a threat.
LL: And so in that context, if we do get to the year 2020 and we still have a President Donald Trump in power, are people still going to be laughing?
DWAYNE BOOTH: Yes, because it's the only thing that you can do. And that's my worry. And it's true because if you look at Trump really, if you take one step backwards, and he's like Lionel Barrymore in It's a Wonderful Life. And he was like that during the campaign. You know, he is talking about building a 2,000 mile wall. Where in history has a wall been celebrated that's been, you know, constructed to keep people out? So he doesn't even have the wherewithal to know that he is a caricature and that's not going to change.
LL: Amanda, do you think people will still be laughing at a president Donald Trump in 2020?
AMANDA BARKER: God I hope so. I mean, I think humor should be the 28th Amendment to the Constitution. [chuckles] I really do.
AMANDA BARKER: I think that's the biggest problem here is this lack of humility, lack of humour. You know, Americans are taught to fight and to challenge and to be individuals and to go after the dream and go after being famous and infamous has become, this is the danger here right? Infamous has become famous. And I mean, Trump, you know, is a reality star in the Oval Office. What have we done? You know, it's terrifying. I mean, to be honest, the only real issue for comedians is that we just can't keep up. A joke about the P word is completely antiquated. [laughs] And at this point you can’t, you know, we're on to Steve Bannon this week and God knows next week. It's daily.
LL: Gene Healy, the non-comedian on our panel, last word to you. Are you still going to be laughing if President Donald Trump is still in office in 2020?
GENE HEALY: Oh, absolutely. I don't think that's going to change. I do think as Amanda suggests, one of the problems though is there's this from the phrase life imitates the onion aspect to it, where you wouldn't really, if this were, you know, a near future comic dystopia in a novel, the character the president would be too ham fisted. It would be too unsubtle for satire. But it's the reality we're living with.
LL: OK. I'm going to have to interrupt you. My apologies. Thank you very much to all three of you though.
AMANDA BARKER: [chuckles] Thank you so much.
GENE HEALY: Thank you.
DWAYNE BOOTH: Thank you.
AMANDA BARKER: Cheers.
LL: Bye bye.
GENE HEALY: Bye.
LL: Amanda Barker is a comedian and comedy writer, she is currently starring in a production of Moose on the Loose in Sudbury. Dwayne Booth is a political cartoonist and satirist. He was in Philadelphia. And Gene Healy is the Vice President of the Cato Institute, which is a libertarian think tank. He's the author of The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power. And he was in Washington DC. Well, it is Friday and that means it is time to thank the hardworking people behind the scenes here at The Current.
[Music: Checking in]
JOHN CHIPMAN: Hi, I'm John Chipman one of the producers here at The Current. This week the show is produced by Idella Sturino, Howard Goldenthal, Ines Calabrese, Lara O'Brien, Shannon Higgins, Ashley Mak, Sam Colbert, Sujata Barry, Liz Hoath, Karin Marley, Samira Mohyeddin, Kristin Nelson, Pacinte Mattar and Willow Smith. Special thanks this week to our network producers Susan McKenzie in Montreal, Michael O’Halloran in Calgary. Suzanne Dufresne in Winnipeg and Anne Penmen in Vancouver. The Current’s writer is Peter Mitton. Our web producers are Lisa Ayuso and Sarah Claydon. Transcriptions are provided by Eunice Kim and Rignam Wangkhang. Our technical producers are Gary Francis and Jennifer Rowley. Our documentary editor is Josh Bloch. Our senior producers are Richard Goddard in Toronto and Cathy Simon in Vancouver. And the executive producer of The Current is Kathleen Goldhar.
[Music: Checking in]
LL: That is our program for today. And remember, you can always take The Current with you to go on the CBC Radio app. It is free from the App Store or Google Play. Finally today, after our discussion of humour in the age of Trump and a president who may be better served by laughing than crying foul. Here is some music from The Guess Who. This is laughing. I'm Laura Lynch, thank you for listening to my sometimes croaky voice on The Current.
[Music: The Guess Who]
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