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The Current Transcript for February 6, 2018
Host: Anna Maria Tremonti
STORIES FROM THIS EPISODE
Listen to the full episode
LETA JARVIS: Everybody has rights. Even if we have a mental disability, or learning disability, or physical, or otherwise. We got a right to live.
ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: There are thousands of people in this country who are institutionalized, forced to live from young adults onward, under systems that control their lives from when they eat, what they eat, and when they get fresh air. They have intellectual disabilities and they are poor and they can't get housing, even group housing, even though they are desperate to be part of a community. It is the case of three such people that is now before a human rights tribunal in Nova Scotia. Three people whose histories include years or decades in locked institutions, even though says their lawyer they never needed to be there. In about an hour, a fight with implications for people across this country. Also today, bearing witness.
OMAR MOHAMMED: When ISIS came to Mosul, at that moment I realized that, if I don't write the history of Mosul in this very critical time, I know that we will lose Mosul forever.
AMT: He called himself the Mosul Eye and in the midst of ISIS control he travelled the neighbourhoods of his Iraqi city. Sneaking into hospitals, picking up taxi fares, walking the streets, forcing himself to watch endless scenes of brutality, and then sneaking home to post the stories and descriptions so the world would know. He's out of there now, but still a target for the truths he shared. In half an hour, Omar Mohammed tells us why he refused to look away. But first, a plummet from a summit.
VOICE 1: That is the bell at the New York Stock Exchange there as the market comes to a close, plunging at latest count more than 1,100 points.
[Sound: Bell rings throughout]
AMT: I’m Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current.
Back To Top »
A crash or a correction? What stock market turbulence means for your money
Guests: Diane Francis, Michael Greenberger, Diane McCurdy
DONALD TRUMP: The stock market has smashed one market after another, gaining $8 trillion and more in value in just this short period of time.
AMT: U.S. President Donald Trump in his State of Union address just a week ago, taking credit for tremendous stock market growth on his watch. The Dow Jones Industrial Average had grown 40 percent since he took office. Then came yesterday.
VOICE 1: We're listening to the closing bell, as it happens. The losses are increasing at the close.
VOICE 2: We're looking live at something that in history and in point terms we have never seen. The Dow Jones industrial average falling more point-wise than it ever has in history. The only consolation I can make here is for a while it was worse.
AMT: Here are a couple numbers for you to consider. Yesterday's 1,175 point drop was the largest in the Dow's 121-year history. And it was proceeded by a 665 point sell-off last Friday. That's a seven per cent drop in two days. In Canada, the TSX is down almost six per cent since the beginning of last year. Today, Japan’s Nikkei index dropped, as did Hong Kong’s Hang Seng. Stock indexes in Europe the selling persisted today, although at a more moderate pace. For some insight into the market drop, and how deep this might go, I'm joined by Diane Francis. She's a long-time financial columnist with Postmedia and an editor-at-large with the National Post. She's with me in our Toronto studio. Hi.
DIANE FRANCIS: Good morning.
AMT: So what was your reaction to that sell-off yesterday?
DIANE FRANCIS: Well you don't panic. I think one of the things that's really important. And you know I am a veteran so I've been through many, many of these cycles. And it's one thing for people that haven't been through many cycles to say this is the worst in history and so on. But they're not really looking at it fairly. And it's not true. So it's not a panic situation, but it's a correction. It's a major correction. Just to give you an idea, the Dow Jones sure it dropped, but in percentage terms it's just about back to where it was at the beginning of 2017. 2017 it set 40 records throughout the year. It kept going up, up, and up on the basis of you know tax cuts would make all these companies benefit, which is true. And then it got ahead of itself. And so the tax cuts now people have realized are going to cause inflation, which is a problem. And the tax cuts are going to cause huge budget deficits and debt, which is a problem. And the dollar in the U.S. is being talked down. So what we have is a correction from all of those excesses. And in actual fact, I think it's more realistic. And the other big factor is that it's gone up so much in the last year in a bit that people are taking profits. I for one have sold a lot of stock to buy something else and get out of the market having made money. So anybody who bought a stock.
AMT: You sold high [laughs].
DIANE FRANCIS: I sold high because it was silly. It was too high.
AMT: So for those of us who don't eat and breathe the markets, in layman's terms what does it really mean when the Dow and the TSX drop?
DIANE FRANCIS: Well it means a lot of things. It means that companies are when they go to issue more stock to raise capital to create more goods and products and jobs will have marked down price at which to sell that stuff. But the companies are pretty cash rich and they certainly have tax cuts that will help bolster them. It's also going to be important to see as these drops happen that this is probably a sign that we have a little bit of inflation and interest rate hikes and that will make them go down a little bit more. So is a little bit of negativity. But you've got to understand that this has been a crazy rocket ship ride in 2017. And it’s not because of Trump.
AMT: I was just going to say, he took credit for the stock market, we've heard that...
DIANE FRANCIS: Yes, and he's not taking credit. He's not taking the blame now.
AMT: OK. So what do you think is behind the sell-off?
DIANE FRANCIS: I think behind the sell-off is a lot of people who said, 'wow I've made a lot of money in the last year. I got something else to do with it. I'm going to buy a little summer home, or 'I’m going to take a big holiday, or I'm going to just put it aside in cash because I don't trust this'. So I think there's a lot of profit taking at the top. And so if you are new into the market; say if you came in November and bought stocks you're wiped out because it's back to January. But if you bought in 2016, 2015, and 2014 you're OK. You're more than OK.
AMT: We have to remember to the stock market is not the same as the U.S. economy.
DIANE FRANCIS: No, it is not. No, it is not. But it's like the cardiogram. Think of it as the cardiogram. The economy has the body. This is the heart. This is the cardiogram. And this is an indicator of health or illness. And so it's not saying that it's an illness situation, but it's just correcting the fact and saying, 'you're not going to get a heart attack if you keep going like this'.
AMT: President Trump has been touting his recent tax cuts. How much of an effect have they had?
DIANE FRANCIS: A big effect. I mean this has made the market go crazy. And Congress—the anticipation drove the market in 2017. Just grow it up and up and up. And when it actually happened then the markets were so high that people took their profits and started to sell-off. And then it started to tumble. And then that gets a bit of—not a panic. But more people saying, 'well maybe I better cash in too'. And that sort of thing happens.
AMT: How much did deregulation by Trump play into this?
DIANE FRANCIS: Deregulation is like a tax cut. It's the same as a tax cut. If you're an oil company and suddenly you don't have to spend a lot of money holding land because you're tied up in red tape or you can start to drill right away and create jobs and produce oil immediately because you know where it is, but you don't have to go through the delay and the red tape. It translates to your bottom line immediately.
AMT: So you have said actually the deregulation of his environmental rules was bad for those pushing for environmental rules, but it was good for the oil and gas industry in the states.
DIANE FRANCIS: It was the quickest job creator that Trump could do. And that's why he went after that first. That also in the fact these he's a climate change denier and he's got a bunch of oil guys on his cabinet. But you know while I think it's concerning in the long run, he knew that the oil industry can create jobs very quickly. They just go out and drill. And they hire a bunch of people to do the drilling. They've got the land and they know where it is or should be, and they get started right away. Whereas a car manufacturer takes a long lead time to retool, to research, to design, and so the job creation aspect is delayed. But not with the oil and gas. So suddenly he was able to "goose'—if I can use that verb—"goose" his job figures very quickly by taking the wraps off the regulations.
AMT: There's some analysis that says that there were higher than expected job growth numbers just last Friday and this actually also caused the part of the tumble. That it was such good news on one front that this was a correction.
DIANE FRANCIS: That's an excellent point because what that means to market watchers and bond holders is wages are going to have to go up because there's a shortage of workers. And that's good for workers, but that creates inflation.
AMT: So what are you watching for in the coming days? What do you think is going to happen?
DIANE FRANCIS: I think it'll keep going down a bit. I think it'll keep going down a bit. I don't know. I don't call the market. I am not a market expert. I am a little investor. And I am an observer. I just think that the hysteria and the headlines and the commentators who don't understand that this is not the biggest drop in history in percentage terms ever by a long stretch is overblown and they should just tamp down. So I think it will calm down. But I think it still has a ways to go.
AMT: Diane Francis, thanks for coming in.
DIANE FRANCIS: Thank you.
AMT: Diane Francis is a long-time financial columnist with Postmedia, and an editor-at-large with the National Post. She was in our Toronto studio. Michael Greenberger has a slightly more pessimistic outlook on the future of stock markets. He was a derivative regulator in the 1990s who now teaches financial markets at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. He’s in Washington, DC. Hello, Michael Greenberger.
MICHAEL GREENBERGER: Hello. Good morning.
AMT: So is this a correction?
MICHAEL GREENBERGER: Well, all I can say after hearing the prior analysis from her lips [unintelligible], I think what has been overlooked is that there are a lot of fundamental red flags and flaws in the economy. I'm not saying it will trigger a deeper decline. But there are fundamental basis for a deeper decline. For example, the wonderful jobs report that came out. The argument is well now people are worried about inflation. When people looked at it, the percentages of wage increases went up because they declined the number of hours that they deemed to be a work week. By the amount they declined—the number of hours—the wage increase went up. I think in fact what is being overlooked is there has been an enormous amount of consumer spending in this euphoria that has gone through 2017, now tamped down in 2018. And the euphoria led people to buy, buy, buy, and then buy, buy, buying. They've been running up consumer debt. For one thing, there are record defaults in a multi-trillion dollar auto loan market. And people who watch for fundamentals in the market have noted that. In the United States there are widespread defaults in the student loan market. Now those markets have been financialized the exact same way the mortgage markets were financialized in the run up to the 2008 meltdown.
AMT: What does that mean? What does that mean?
MICHAEL GREENBERGER: It means that people are placing bets on whether those consumer debts will be paid off. If you read Michael Lewis's book The Big Short or saw the movie you will know that in 2006 and 2007 people were placing bets on the fact that people wouldn't pay their mortgages. They didn't own the mortgages. But like a casino they bet that the market would go down. So when a home failed in the United States it just wasn't default on that loan. The default was magnified nine times because big investors had made a decision to create what Michael was called "The Big Short" and to bet that the mortgages wouldn't be paid. So the aggravation of the defaults was magnified several times. That same financial structure has been built around auto loans, student loans, and the big United States banks have figured out methods to evade the regulation of Dodd-Frank and are trading [unintelligible] subsidiaries. So even the mortgage market could come back to bite. I'm not saying that this is going to happen. But I think those who have watched consumer debt and the defaults on consumer debt are thinking in terms of this could be a repeat of the 2007 and 2008 cycle.
AMT: You said multi-trillion. How much money is tied up in auto and student loan markets?
MICHAEL GREENBERGER: $5 trillion.
AMT: $5 trillion.
MICHAEL GREENBERGER: $5 trillion.
AMT: How much was tied up in the original subprime mortgage markets?
MICHAEL GREENBERGER: Well the mortgage subprime market was part of the mortgage downturn. When it went down it affected the prime mortgage market as well. There were $9 trillion involved. And so those who want to be optimistic say, 'well the risk here is half of what it was in the mortgage market'. But if you have defaults in $5 trillion markets and all these bets start being collected and people don't have the capital to pay the bets, which was where are the U.S. banks were in 2007 and 2008 that can trigger the kind of systemic break that we saw then. And hey, in 2007 we could have heard the same thing. 'Wow the markets going up. People are buying houses. There's no end to the increase in real estate prices. Everything's great'. I've been through several market meltdowns, both as a regulator and as an academic observer, and euphoria is usually the first signal that there's going to be a problem.
AMT: Can I can though? Can I ask you though? With the original subprime mortgage market and then the wider one, you could see it coming, there was money coming, it was going to get bigger. You could see that coming.
MICHAEL GREENBERGER: I will tell you something. On September 15th Lehman Brothers failed. The United States regulators said, 'oh we're not going to bail out Lehman Brothers. It's their own fault'. By September 16th the world collapsed financially. And by September 17th they were recommending TARP and then ultimately quantitative easing. And $13 or $14 trillion were thrown into the financial system worldwide to avoid the second great depression.
AMT: So what do you see happening? What are you watching for now then?
MICHAEL GREENBERGER: I hope that your prior commentator is right and this is just a correction. Maybe even just the bare market. But if the prices, as you said, overnight the Japanese stock market was down six percent, and Europe opened up down 3.5 percent. Now this is not necessarily going to follow through, but the overnight U.S. futures in the stock market were signalling a 1,200 point drop. I'm not saying this is going to happen. I can't predict the future either. But the belief that we are in a financial euphoria state and all will be well is not necessarily true. And the final point is that the financial regulators we had in place in 2007 and 2008—Bernanke and Paulson at the Treasury—they were able to cobble together a rescue. I am not confident that Donald Trump's financial regulators are capable of doing the same thing.
AMT: We have to leave it there. Michael Greenberger, on that not so happy note, thank you.
MICHAEL GREENBERGER: You're welcome.
AMT: Michael Greenberger is a former derivative regulator who now teaches financial markets at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. We reached him in Washington. DC. Well if you have money in the market, you may be wondering what all this volatility means for you. My next guest has some ideas about that. Diane McCurdy is the president of McCurdy Financial Planning. We've reached her in Vancouver. Hello.
DIANE MCCURDY: Good morning.
AMT: How do you follow that line? [Laughs].
DIANE MCCURDY: Wow [laughs]. You know what he's saying is true. But he's very, very pessimistic. And I think he's looking at the worst case scenario which is what it sounds like to me. I think if you at and what I've been watching for about a year and a half now is a lot of the investing financial institutions like Fidelity and other large, large mutual fund companies and other people putting a lot of money on the sidelines, this was not a surprise. The surprise is when does it come. The markets have going up and up for so long. And as we know traditionally markets don't always go up. There has to be a correction. If it gets to be too high and it trades above the value—and that's also what's been happening. The stock has traded above the value of what the companies are worth. So when that happens, at some point, people want to pay what its worth. And you'll never know what triggers. Diane Francis and Michael Greenberger spoke about what triggered it. But the fact is something always triggers it. And it's been a long run. It's been since 2008. And that's really unusual. So what the individual should always be doing, is they should be looking at their portfolio back to your risk level. And when you look at your portfolio, somebody says it drops 10 percent. What does that mean in dollars and cents to you if it drops 10 percent? It's very different than just thinking 10 or 15. So go to the levels where you're comfortable. And for people that are buying regularly and monthly, it doesn't matter. This is an opportunity. You're buying cheaper. But the reason you go to your risk level so that you don't panic when you hear all the horrible news that's out there. It's not beautiful news when you turn on the radio this morning. But the fact is that if you're at the level that you should be. If you went to high, and you got carried away with all this euphoria, then you have to hang on. Don't panic; don't sell, if you've got quality investments. I mean if you bought [unintelligible] things, they're the first things to get hit. The fact is got blue chips, they'll return.
AMT: You know the RRSP deadline is approaching. What advice do you have for people who are looking at that right now? The smaller investor, who has to do something about that?
DIANE MCCURDY: Well you know the interest rates aren't so bad. You could look at buying a one-year guaranteed investment certificate—a term deposit for one-year—and sit on the sidelines. Especially if you feel that you've got too much in the market. So it would help bring your overall down a bit. But I think the most important thing is to look at yourself. Don't look at what other people were doing. You know when you go to those parties and everybody is talking about how much money they're making and people want to just jump in. You always have to re-balance your portfolio. So when you're going to re-balance now is when the market goes back up. Do not sell now because you're going to get hurt. And you'll be the part where all those people that are sitting on the sidelines wanting to buy money—to buy the stock now—they're going to sit in and they're going to buy it cheaply because you sold it. So be really careful. Talk to your adviser and look at your own portfolio and get some good advice. Don't do the emotional thing.
AMT: So you're saying take a deep breath and take a long view.
DIANE MCCURDY: Right. Maybe like three deep breaths.
AMT: [Laughs]. OK and anyone who is a little panicked right now and thry feel a little sick to their stomach, what should they do?
DIANE MCCURDY: That's what I'm saying. Maybe talk to their adviser so they have somebody that can look at their personal situation and say, 'OK. This is what we've done. Why we've done'. Otherwise hang in and revisit it because the markets do correct. They do. I mean 2008 was the worst in history. I don't think this is what this is. I think that everybody was expecting this correction. By the way when you talk about a correction, a real correction is at least 20 percent down. So it's not like five or seven.
DIANE MCCURDY: But they do come back. And the problem is if you get out, when the markets do bounce, they bounce very quickly. That's what happened in 2008 and 2009. People that got out… So if you had a $1,000 and it went to $500, it dropped 50 percent at that time. But it jumped up to 50 percent very quickly.
AMT: OK, so Diane we have to leave it there. We're out of time. But thank you. We hear what you're saying. Thank you.
DIANE MCCURDY: OK, alright [laughs].
AMT: OK, bye bye.
DIANE MCCURDY: Bye now.
AMT: That’s Diane McCurdy, president of McCurdy Financial Planning in Vancouver. Stay with us. The news is next. And then we're talking Iraq and the man who went undercover essentially to document what ISIS was doing in the city of Mosul. This is The Current.
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ISIS on your doorstep: Meet Mosul Eye, the man who defied the terrorists to save his city
Guest: Omar Mohammed
AMT: Hello, I'm Anna Maria Tremonti and you're listening to The Current.
AMT: Still to come.
LETA JARVIS: I grabbed some of the pills out of the office, and I wanted to get rid of my life, because I felt that I did not belong in places like that.
AMT: Her name is Leta. And she survived life in four Nova Scotia institutions for people with disabilities. According to a human rights challenge under way in the province, people such as Leta have had their rights violated by being made to live in these institutions. That story in half an hour. But first, an inside eye.
VOICE 1: On mass exodus.
[Sound: Vehicle horn]
VOICE 1: Around half a million people have fled Iraq's second largest city Mosul, according to the United Nations, as it fell into the hands of an al Qaeda offshoot.
[Sound: non-English speaking language]
VOICE 1: All the people have fled, this man said. They have left their homes and that people are lying dead in the streets.
AMT: The fall of Mosul, in the summer of 2014, not everyone had fled from Iraq's second largest city after it was captured by ISIS. A kind of life continued there. And within a week or so, the world was given a mysterious window into that life. An anonymous blogger emerged online. Calling himself Mosul Eye, he promised at the outset to "trust no one and document everything." And for a year and a half, he did just that. Risking his life, Mosul Eye bore witness to horrific ISIS atrocities inside the fallen city. And the world paid attention. His social media following grew to well over 300,000. Finally, on December 15, 2015, fearing for his life, Mosul Eye fled with his hard drive and notebook that he was taking notes on carefully hidden away. His identity remained a mystery, however, until just two months ago, when he decided to reveal it. We've reached Omar Mohammed—Mosul Eye—at an undisclosed location. And just a warning, that some of what he describes may be disturbing to some listeners. Omar Mohammed, hello.
OMAR MOHAMMED: Hello Anna.
AMT: Let's start at the beginning. What do you remember about the day that ISIS or Daesh entered Mosul?
OMAR MOHAMMED: I still remember the first night of that attack. When they came with their [unintelligible] with their black uniform and the black flag—the flag of blood. This was the only moment that I will never forget because from that moment everything was changed. I also remember the face of my mother. How she was so afraid. But at the same time she was pretending to be strong enough to encourage me and my brothers and sisters to not be scared. It was the only time I saw my mother in such a situation. This I will never forget in my whole life.
AMT: Omar, when they came in, your neighbourhood was one of the first neighbourhoods they took. Am I right?
OMAR MOHAMMED: Yes. They came through my neighbourhood. They launched the offensive to occupy the city from that neighbourhood. They were also hiding in that neighbourhood two days before the attack.
AMT: Tell us how you saw the city begin to change under their control?
OMAR MOHAMMED: Simply they have changed and they replaced everything. The third day of the attack they were still fighting. But they issued what they called it "the constitution of the city" saying that 'from this moment we are going to rule Mosul by the law of God or the Sharia law. You have experienced the secularism. You have experienced all different kind of freedoms. Now is the time to be governed by the caliphate—by the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant’. We started to use their own vocabularies. They brought a dictionary with them. Police station they called it "hispa" which is the Arabic term of the Islamic police. For the Central Bank, they called it "the house money," which is bayt al-mal in Arabic. These are terms belongs to the medieval ages. They also deported the Christians from the city. They enslaved the Yazidis and they killed even the Sunnis who were considered against the word of God. The word of ISIS. And they re-organized the social classes.
AMT: How did they do that?
OMAR MOHAMMED: The first of the class or the high class was what they called them the supporters or the local members of ISIS. They benefited from ISIS and its system. The second class was the immigrants or they called them Mujahideen, they are the foreign fighters. The lowest class was commoners or the public. I and my family were from that class. We were just numbers. ISIS was ruling us. We were always considered not good people. We are against the Islamic State. We don't want to join the Islamic State. We don't support the Islamic State. So we were just numbers living in the city always suspected by ISIS. Their eye's always on these people because that will be a spy within them. There will be policemen, former policemen. ISIS destroyed the social structure of the city.
AMT: And imposed their own.
OMAR MOHAMMED: Yeah.
AMT: Can I ask you… so you would you have neighbours who would have joined ISIS then and you would not have. Like they would know who's who.
OMAR MOHAMMED: It wasn't only my neighbours. This is what really bothers me and I always think about this. One of my students joined ISIS. He was really a smart guy. He always wanted to finish his studies. But I don't know what happened to him. Why did he join ISIS? I remember I saw him once in the street and he was wearing the uniform of ISIS with his gun, all I wanted at that moment just to take him out of this. But I couldn't. There were also 14-year-olds and 15-year-olds. I mean they are kids. They also joined ISIS. This was really horrible
AMT: Yeah. Omar—one of your students. You were a teacher. What grades were you teaching? What were you teaching?
OMAR MOHAMMED: I was teaching at the university. Yeah. The college of history—the history department. I was teaching history of ancient civilizations. I had about 40 students recently, they sent me a video saying that 'we still want you to come back and teach us'. Unfortunately I will not be able to do this. We've talked about that student. I hope I could have done something to help him, but it was impossible. He would have killed me if I'd tried to convince him that he's walking in the wrong path.
AMT: He wouldn't have been the only student. ISIS wanted to change the education system as well, did it not? It actually gave orders on that front as well, did it not?
OMAR MOHAMMED: From the very beginning, one of the things that ISIS focused on was the university. I remember that I attended the meeting at the university where they appointed a new dean to the University of Mosul. During their meeting, he was ordering professors to change the education system. He was looking for an education that graduate fighters, not students. He said this clearly. He said, “we don't want unhealthy students and stupid students. We want students who know about their religion, and once they graduate they will join the fight to protect that word of God.” That's what he said at that moment.
AMT: How did you get away from that school then?
OMAR MOHAMMED: They closed the university and they cancelled the education. Also because of the airstrikes in the beginning of 2015, they used the university campus as a military camp.
AMT: So you end up without a job. At what point did you realize that you wanted to document what was happening around you, what they were doing to people?
OMAR MOHAMMED: When ISIS came to Mosul, ISIS didn't only have weapons with them. They had their version of the history, their dictionary of the vocabularies and the language, and they brought their system. How they are going rule this city to change its history. At that moment I realized that if I don't write the history of Mosul in this very critical time I know that we will lose Mosul forever because it's a conflict of historical narratives. If ISIS is only the one who is writing the history now, there will be someone after many years will start writing or talking about ISIS: 'they were ruling the city peacefully. But then the international powers came and attacked the Islamic State'. This is how they work with the history. One side of the truth.
AMT: So you decided to start documenting what was happening. Can you tell me about how you would do that?
OMAR MOHAMMED: In different ways. Every day I go out in the morning—sometimes I take my mother with me because we go to the old city because she loves the old city. She was born there. When I go out I only observe. I look at what's happening in the street, who is doing this, and who is in the checkpoint. I also talk to other people in the street. Sometimes I go to the hospital because I had a friend of mine who was a doctor working in the hospital. I remember that I pretended to be a doctor. He was a bit tired and I asked him to take his uniform. Then I walked around the rooms inside the hospital and talked to the people who was killed, who was injured, and who did this. Sometimes also I pretend like I am a taxi driver because I wanted to see everything myself. I wanted also to live it and to feel it because I am writing the history of this city in this time. I didn't only want to rely on the others to get what they say, what I hear. No, I want to see it myself. When I go back home, I start writing down all the things I have witnessed. Then I publish part of this on the blog. But I keep the other part a secret.
AMT: So in other words you were observing what was happening around you and you just looked like another citizen.
OMAR MOHAMMED: Yeah.
AMT: And in the process of doing that you saw some terrible things.
OMAR MOHAMMED: I witnessed women being stoned to death. I witnessed people where their hands were cut. I witnessed people who were beheaded. I witnessed people who were thrown down from high buildings. All I remember about what happened in that city, it's like the city was a huge grave with dozens of headless people. One of the events happened in the city was two women. They were accused of [unintelligible] by ISIS and they were stoned to death. According to ISIS law, if she didn't die after being stoned, she will be free. They were stoning her. The first one died, but the other one didn't. Then they should have let her go. But they didn't. One of the ISIS fighter's said "Let's play a game." He told her, "Run away. If you make it, you are free." She was dying. She was bleeding from every single part of her body. She was looking at them, but running out trying to make it to safety. But she was running in the same circle, she didn't realize this. Then she fell down and he shot her in her head. This is what I saw in Mosul, Anna. This is what the people of Mosul saw. And this is what the children of Mosul lived.
AMT: The children saw this too.
OMAR MOHAMMED: Yeah. This was this was a normal day in Mosul
AMT: They would hurt children as well, wouldn't they
OMAR MOHAMMED: They recruited children. One of the orphans who was kidnapped by ISIS from Sinjar—because I also visited that orphanage house in Mosul, secretly. I had a friend working there. I believe he was [unintelligible] child. After a few months I saw a video released by ISIS. There was a child executing a man. Then I realized that this child is the one who was kidnapped by ISIS. They brainwashed him and they used him as a killing machine. This is how ISIS dealt with children. ISIS was teaching the children how to kill, how to behead, and how to hit.
AMT: Omar, what did it do to you to see that kind of cruelty, to witness that?
OMAR MOHAMMED: I see this in my dreams every night. Every night I dream of how the people lived this and how I during that time couldn't tell anyone. I wanted to tell my feelings and to express my feelings to someone just to feel like I want to be normal again. But I couldn't. I even couldn't tell my mother. I wish I could have told someone at that time. At least I would feel rested. I would feel revealed. But thinking about this every night, thinking that this was my friend who was killed. This was from my neighbourhood, he's also killed. When I talk to the people from Mosul now—everyone I talked to him. He say, 'oh did you know that this guy was killed by ISIS. This guy was killed during the airstrikes. We have lost lots of people. Not to mention the destruction of the city.
AMT: Can I ask you… So you would see these things and then you would write about them. You would go back and you would put that out there for people to know what was going on.
OMAR MOHAMMED: This was the most hard part of the whole story. If I just witnessed this, I could at least convince myself to forget. But I had to write it down, which means I will witness it twice—have it in my mind. And also to publish it online because I thought that it's important because it's happening now and it's important to tell the people everywhere what's happening in the city.
AMT: Did you take pictures at times as well?
OMAR MOHAMMED: Yeah, some pictures and videos.
AMT: How did you do that without anyone noticing?
OMAR MOHAMMED: It was risky. One of my craziest moments. They’re called "public car for transportation." I was sitting inside this car with my mobile. I thought I have to record this. This is a unique moment because they were in the street. So I started recording. But then when we reached a place where many ISIS fighters were, they arrested someone there. So I stopped recording. I thought I don't know what I will do. Then I left the car. I told myself, 'OK let me not go back home now because it's not wise to do this. Let me check if there was someone watching me or someone found out what I was doing'. But fortunately nothing happened and I went back. And the second day I think I remember I published the video. And they said that the coalition destroyed the public library. And I saw in the media saying the library was destroyed. I was surprised. I just saw the building. Nothing happened. So in order to tell the people that the library is safe, I went there and I recorded the video. I also published this. If ISIS just found the records with me—not for Mosul Eye—but just to find the mobile phone with me, they would have killed me.
AMT: They must have been looking for you. They knew you were out there, right?
OMAR MOHAMMED: Yeah. But also they were confused, I would say. Because if you go back to the earliest paused and the blogs of Mosul Eye, you'll see that sometimes I pretended to be a woman, like to write in a woman style or to write about things only women could have witnessed. Sometimes they thought I am Christian because during Easter in 2015, I went to the Church of Mosul to celebrate the Easter on behalf of the Christians. I wanted to give them a message that even if you are not here in the city, but still I can celebrate on your behalf. So I took Bible and candles and lighted the candles inside the church. Even people from my city they thought that I am Christian. So this was confusing for them. And I like this actually.
AMT: That was actually very clever. I don't know how you would go through this time in knowing the danger in what they could do. I know you said you listened to a specific piece of music and we have it here. I am going to play a little bit and have you tell me a little bit about it.
AMT: That is from the soundtrack of Schindler's List by composer Itzhak Perlman. What does that music mean to you?
OMAR MOHAMMED: This music. This piece music is what kept me alive and gave me the strength to continue my message. Every night I put this music on and start listening. When I listen to this music I feel like I was given a new life. It takes the fear out of me. It tells me that you are in danger, yes, but still you are as strong as your dreams.
AMT: And Omar why that piece of music? That music is from a movie about the persecution of the Jews—about the Holocaust. Why that music?
OMAR MOHAMMED: Because what happened in Mosul is also Holocaust. During the Holocaust of the Jews in Germany, people were burned. In Mosul people also were burned. The ideology that ISIS used is no less [unintelligible] than the Nazis. So I believe that when Itzhak Perlman was playing that music, he was also playing this music for Mosul.
AMT: And as you listened to that music, were you listening with headphones? Were you playing that music in the room?
OMAR MOHAMMED: I was listening loudly to the music.
AMT: Because that would have been illegal as well, wouldn't it have been? You are taking a risk just to listen to it.
OMAR MOHAMMED: I wanted to take my freedom moment. So I didn't care. This is my moment. This is the moment I listen to the music I love. To live the way I love. So I didn’t care about ISIS even if they came to kill me as they say they would find thousands of methods to kill me. But I won.
AMT: Were they threatening you online?
OMAR MOHAMMED: Many times. One of the threats they sent to me after they executed the Jordanian pilot—he was burned alive—they mentioned in the threat they say that, 'you would be killed like the Jordanian pilot. But we will not give you this. We will kill thousands of times but you will not die. We will bring you back to life and we would kill you again.
AMT: And yet you kept going.
OMAR MOHAMMED: Yeah.
AMT: Where did you find that courage?
OMAR MOHAMMED: My passion to my city. My love to my city. And my obligation as a historian.
AMT: What happened to make you realize that you did have to leave, that you had to get out?
OMAR MOHAMMED: They were so close to finding me. I realized that now it's not only about me. I have a family in the city. So ISIS wouldn't only kill me. They would also kill my family. I realized that it's time to leave and to protect my family. I couldn't take my family with me. It was impossible. At least if they want to kill me, let them kill me out of the city. Not in front of my mother's eyes. So I decided to leave. It was a reaction to protect my family.
AMT: And how did you get out?
OMAR MOHAMMED: With a smuggler. He took me through Syrian borders to Turkey. I paid $1,000 because he only deals with dollars. He said "I don't accept Iraqi dinners.” That's funny. Then I made it to Turkey. I would really like to mention something I never mentioned before. I applied with the Scholars At Risk organization. And thanks to Scholars At Risk for helping me to get the scholarship. And I am now doing my PhD on the history of Mosul in the 19th century. I made it to safety and I am enjoying the freedom now.
AMT: I want to go back to how you get out. When you got out you would have had your hard drive and your notebooks with you. If they had found them—did you hide them? What did you do?
OMAR MOHAMMED: In the car I found a place beneath my feet to hide them. It was a small bag I took with me a book, my stamp—my personal stamp—and the hard drive and some papers. On the whole way from Mosul to the border, every moment I say, ‘OK Omar this is the end. Just think about what do you want to write. I wanted to write something'. All I thought about was I wanted to write a piece of paper to write my last words. I didn't know how this will reach my family, but in any moment they could have found everything and everything will be done. ISIS will find who is Mosul Eye and Mosul Eye will be executive publicly. In the threat they mentioned that they will kill me, but they will walk me around the whole city so the people would see what happens to anyone who works against the Islamic State.
AMT: Yeah. They would have made an example of you.
OMAR MOHAMMED: Yeah.
AMT: Yeah. But you got out and they didn't find you. Now you have even revealed your identity. Why did you think that was OK now to say who you are?
OMAR MOHAMMED: There were many reasons. But the most important reason was because I lost my brother who was killed during the battle to retake Mosul. There was a bomb on his house. Because of this and because of my mother, my mother felt like she is so tired, she can't continue her life. I wanted to give her another reason to continue her life and to keep going in this life. To make her proud of me because my simply my mother didn't know what my activities until I revealed my identity. This was the first and the main reason. But the second was Mosul Eye as a news outlet is done. Now Mosul Eye working to revive the city and the culture of the city and the identity, to gain back the normal life of Mosul. And to give an example to the people inside Mosul that, 'yes one individual could do all of this against the extremist group like ISIS. That you need to believe in yourself and your individuality. You can do anything good if you just believe in it’.
AMT: And how did your mother react then when she realized you were Mosul Eye?
OMAR MOHAMMED: My mother said to me that "I always thought there was something happening with you boy." Then she said "I'm proud of you. And I want you to be safe and to continue your life.” She was always suspecting.
AMT: She was huh?
OMAR MOHAMMED: Yeah.
AMT: That's interesting. But she never said anything to you?
OMAR MOHAMMED: No.
AMT: You know I have to tell you I mean you just talked about you wanted to give a message that what one person can do. I am so struck by the stories we are hearing of the young men and women and maybe the older ones too, but the people in Syria and Iraq who have risked so much living under that kind of cruelty because they know it's not right and they want the world to know and they want to help individuals one at a time to escape. You teach us all something with that courage.
OMAR MOHAMMED: When we care about the future we will get this courage. In Mosul, in my city, I was born in a city during the war between Iraq and Iran. And I've grown up during the Gulf War in the 90s. Then when I just became an adult—17-years-old—the Americans arrived in 2003. When I became a teacher in university ISIS came and occupied the city. So I realized that if the last generation worked hard to protect the future, we wouldn't have ISIS. Sometimes we risk our lives. Yes I risked my life. I risked my family's life. But it's worth doing. It's the future—the next generation. And it's the history. History is not only about the past. History is about future. We are humans. We can do even more about this if we just believe that we can do it.
AMT: Omar Mohammed it's really important to hear your voice and your thoughts. Thank you for speaking with me today and thank you for your courage and for doing all you did so that we could understand what was happening in your city.
OMAR MOHAMMED: Thank you so much. Omar Mohammed. Also known as Mosul Eye.
AMT: This is The Current on CBC Radio One and Sirius XM. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti
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People with disabilities should live in the community, not institutions, says human rights lawyer
Guests: Vince Calderhead, Krista Carr
JACKIE MCCABE-SIELAKIUS: When we'd walk down the hall with her, to go to her room, she didn't feel safe. They all had locked doors. So when she went down to her room, she ushered us into the room, and made sure the doors were locked behind her, and closed because she lived in fear.
AMT: That's Jackie McCabe-Sielakius, describing what life was like for her aunt—a woman with disabilities—living inside a Nova Scotia institution. Her aunt, Sheila Livingstone, spent many years living at a facility called Emerald Hall, in Dartmouth. It was a locked psychiatric facility—meaning patients couldn't come and go. And part of the Nova Scotia Hospital. And it was the only housing option for her at the time.
JACKIE MCCABE-SIELAKIUS: She'd be sitting in a chair. Some of the residents there were quite abusive, and they would come over and punch her, hit her. She's been bruised, cut. Just her whole demeanor, she wasn't happy and she wasn't safe.
AMT: Sheila Livingstone died while in that institution in 2016, but not before she became part of a human rights challenge in Nova Scotia. It argues that people with disabilities have a right to government-supported housing in the community, rather than in institutions like Emerald Hall. Vince Calderhead is the lawyer for Livingstone's family, and two other complainants. He's a human rights lawyer with Pink Larkin in Halifax. That's where we reached him. Hello.
VINCE CALDERHEAD: Good morning.
AMT: Can you tell me about the people you're representing in this case? What is life like for them?
VINCE CALDERHEAD: Yeah. Well you can imagine living in not just an institution, but imagine a locked psychiatric ward. An acute care unit where people are—a real range of people. Some people are very ill and agitated and the place is noisy and to some extent chaotic. So that's that environment. But imagine also being told when you will eat, what you will eat, and when you will be going to bed, when you'll be having nap time—that kind of thing. I mean to call that institutionalization is a bit of a euphemism obviously. I mean in a way it's kind of a brutalization that year after year. So that on the one hand on the other hand you completely miss out of the benefits of living in a community.
AMT: And the clients that you are representing, they have intellectual disabilities, am I right? What does that mean?
VINCE CALDERHEAD: Yeah. Intellectual disabilities and actually in the Emerald Hall Unit it's designed as well for people with dual diagnosis. So an intellectual disability, but also mental illness. So obviously it's more complicated still. But it's a very difficult situation. The upshot though is they had been medically discharged years ago and the hospital was very keen to have them out. And that's why we've filed this case—filed the human rights complaint—because the government knew full well they were ready to go, and simply failed to make sure that there were enough community-based options available for people to live in the community in supported ways. So the support and services that were required simply weren't provided and as a result they were stuck.
AMT: So they didn't have to be there at all? There was no reason to be in there.
VINCE CALDERHEAD: No. No medical or legal reason. I mean even in Sheila Livingstone case, it was 2011, the government itself was saying, 'we'll accept her into our program that provides support and services for people who live in the community. But there aren't any places. So you're on a waiting list and in the meantime you'll wait in this acute care ward.
AMT: In the meantime you're locked out.
VINCE CALDERHEAD: Completely.
AMT: So what's the argument you're making before the Nova Scotia Human Rights Board of Inquiry?
VINCE CALDERHEAD: Essentially that when government provides social assistance programs—in other words provide the basics for people to live in the community—it needs to do so in a way that takes into account differences for people with disabilities. Yes it does have a program like that. But it's so dramatically under capacity—in terms of the capacity—that it has to meet the need. There are currently 1,500 people waiting and waitlists and many are in institutions around the province. Many are in inappropriate facilities and they are very keen to live in communities like you and I. But in the meantime they wait. So what we're saying is that in this provision for social assistance and social services to low income people—clearly all of our clients are in a low-income situation—the government has failed to do an adequate job of accommodating people with disabilities. It's dramatically inferior. So the likes of being stuck on Emerald Hall for years and years and years. One client has been there 16 or 17 years waiting needlessly. Well then that's discrimination against people with disabilities. It's very stark.
AMT: We know from the news that a lawyer for the Nova Scotia government told that board of inquiry yesterday that no one has an unfettered right to live in government assisted housing of their own choosing.
VINCE CALDERHEAD: Yeah, that may or may not be the case. But that's not the issue in this hearing. The issue is about the non-discriminatory provision of social assistance for everyone whether you're disabled or not. And the program that the government has to provide support and services to live in the community is so manifestly inadequate. For example, you wouldn't apply and be found eligible for social assistance and then be told you're on a waitlist not just for a week or two weeks, but for 10 or 15 years. That would not happen. And yet the government seems to feel that's completely acceptable. So this human rights complaint isn't about seeking a right to housing. It's about the right to equality in the provision of social services.
AMT: And we did request an interview with the Nova Scotia government and they sent a statement that the Department of Community Services cannot speak to this specific complaint. But that they are "well underway to transform its programs with a focus on community-based supports including a plan for more community-based small option housing." It goes on to say, it's going to take time to understand the complexities of moving participants safely into the community. How do you respond to that?
VINCE CALDERHEAD: Yeah. People who follow this issue, involved in it, and probably many people listening to this interview have family members or know people who have been waiting for years, sometimes decades to receive a call from the government. The reality is that since the mid-1990s the government of Nova Scotia has been saying we have to plan and organize and get into shape our deinstitutionalization program and to ensure that there is enough community-based supportive of services for people with disabilities. So the long and the short of it Anna Maria is that it's literally decades. Probably three decades that we're now waiting
AMT: How long do you expect this tribunal hearing to last? When do you expect an answer?
VINCE CALDERHEAD: The hearings are scheduled to run for a month. Starting next week the board of inquiry will begin to hear evidence and they'll run more or less for a month. And we also have a hearing in June. And if the board finds that on the face of it discriminatory then there'll be another phase to hear what possible defenses that the province might have. So it could be many months yet until we have a decision.
AMT: OK, well we'll be watching to see how that goes. Thank you for your time this morning.
VINCE CALDERHEAD: Great. And I appreciate your interest.
AMT: That is Vince Calderhead. He is a human rights lawyer at Pink Larkin in Halifax. The only lawyer in private practice in the country working full-time for those who live in poverty. People with disabilities in Nova Scotia have spent years advocating for more community living and fewer people in institutions. Together with the Nova Scotia Association for Community Living, an organization called People First Nova Scotia put together a documentary on the subject, back in 2014. It featured personal testimonials, including this account from a woman named Leta Jarvis who lived in four different institutions, including a rehabilitation centre and a hospital.
LETA JARVIS: Most of us got picked on, and we got called names, and "stupid."
VOICE 1: Who called you names?
LETA JARVIS: Staff. They had me on all kinds of pills and that. And I grabbed some of the pills out of the office, and I wanted to get rid of my life, because I felt that I did not belong in places like that. They rushed me to the hospital and pumped my stomach out.
VOICE 2: And was that the only time you tried to commit suicide?
LETA JARVIS: I did it more than once.
AMT: Advocates say this is not just an issue in Nova Scotia, it is Canada-wide. Krista Carr is the executive vice president of the Canadian Association for Community Living. She's in our Fredericton studio. Hello.
KRISTA CARR: Good morning Anna Maria.
AMT: Canada-wide, what are the numbers like?
KRISTA CARR: Well the stats are pretty staggering. It doesn't paint a very good picture of the situation for people of an intellectual disability. Right now there are about 30,000 adults with an intellectual disability that are currently living in congregate residential facilities, group homes, and those types of things just purely on the basis of their diagnostic label. Significant percentage of those people do not want to be living in those situations, but have not been given a choice to do so. There is another estimated 10,000 adults with an intellectual disability under the age of 65 living in nursing homes, hospitals, psychiatric facilities, long-term care facilities, institutions, simply because they cannot get the support they need or they haven't been afforded the opportunity to have support to live in the community. There is 13,000-ish individuals still living in the family home. Many with families who are ageing and beyond their capacity to continue to provide support to their sons and daughters. But they aren't unable to leave those situations because there is no option for them to live in the community like others get to do. People with an intellectual disability are very overrepresented in the homeless population in this country. It's just not a pretty picture at all.
AMT: And obviously there would be a range of issues with intellectual disabilities. But from what I understand they could be out in the community living productive lives if we had a different system.
KRISTA CARR: Oh, absolutely. You know obviously people's needs for support range from people needing a little bit of support to people needing a lot of support. But our system really—it doesn't always matter the level of support. If you require support from government to live in the community for your daily living, you are put in the system where the government dictates how those services will be provided and where you will live and with whom you will live. Many people are forced to leave their communities, their families, and go where there's a bed. I mean we know the harm that institutions cause. We've recognized that around residential schools for our Indigenous population. We are still trying to do reparation for the damage that was done to that population. But for people with disabilities it's still an accepted practice.
AMT: So where's the disconnect? The provincial governments have jurisdiction over this. Why does this persist in so many parts of the country?
KRISTA CARR: There are a couple of things. One is the way we view people with disabilities and people with an intellectual disability, I think in particular, as objects of pity, needing custodial care and support. And that if we provide that custodial care and support regardless of how we provide it, we're doing our job. Rather than looking at people with disabilities as having contributions to make and gifts and talents and being human beings and full citizens like everyone else who want the same opportunities that everyone else wants in terms of having an opportunity to live where they want to live in community, with whom they want to live, make choices about their lives, contribute, be employed, and you know do all the things that everyone else wants to do. We seem to see people with disabilities as not being full citizens. Not being the same as others. I think the other piece is we haven't evolved from our history. So years and years and years ago, you know parent had a child born with an intellectual disability, they were told by the medical professionals to put that child in an institution because that's where they would get the supports and services that their family couldn't possibly provide or couldn't be provided anywhere else. And families who decided to go against that could get no supports and services for their son or daughter. And so many families felt they had no choice. Felt they were doing the best thing they could do and made those decisions. And many families fought to have those same institutions closed later on and have their families returned or their family member returned to community. But at the same time we haven't evolved as much in our history as we would like to. I mean we have made progress in closing hugely large residential institutions with hundreds and hundreds of people—although there are some that remain open across the country including in Nova Scotia. But we are still forcing the institutionalization of people of an intellectual disability in all kinds of other places: psychiatric hospitals, nursing homes, congregate care facilities.
AMT: This Nova Scotia case, are the implications far reaching across the country then?
KRISTA CARR: Absolutely. The Nova Scotia case is challenging the forced institutionalization of people of an intellectual disability simply on the basis that they require support social assistance or support and services from government. They are not treated in the same way even as others that require support from government. And you know the implications of this case could be far reaching and we’re watching it very closely. What's sad about it is that we had to get to this point. That people with disabilities have to use the court systems and that type of thing to have their rights respected and recognised. When you think about it, Canada was one of the first signatories to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007 and ratified the convention in 2010 and that convention clearly states in Article 19 that people with disabilities have a right to live in the community with the support they need. Well we're 11 years past the signing of that convention and we haven't made anywhere near the progress we need in recognising people with a disability do have a right to get support to live in the community like others.
AMT: OK. Well Krista Carr, thanks for giving us a bigger picture on all of this.
KRISTA CARR: Thank you.
AMT: That’s Krista Carr, executive vice president of the Canadian Association for Community Living. She joined us from our studio in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Let us know what you think of that story and what they're up against in this hearing and anything else you've heard on The Current today. You can tweet us @TheCurrentCBC. Find us on Facebook or go to our website cbc.ca/thecurrent and click on the Contact link. That's our program for today. Stay with Radio One for Q. Tom Power is joined by award winning Canadian actor Nicholas Campbell. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. Thanks for listening to The Current.
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