Monday March 13, 2017

March 13, 2017 full episode transcript

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The Current Transcript for March 13, 2017

Host: Anna Maria Tremonti

STORIES FROM THIS EPISODE

Listen to the full episode

Prologue

[Music: Theme]

SOUNDCLIP

One of the largest balance sheets in the energy industry in the world is giving a non-confidence vote to the policies in Alberta. They're going to take that capital, take it out of Canada, redeploy it somewhere else where the government cares about energy.

ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: Royal Dutch Shell surprised the oil patch, the investor community, the politicians and those aspiring to politics last week when it walked away from Alberta's oil sands, selling its assets to a Canadian powerhouse, CNRL. Critics see this as ominous, blaming federal and provincial policies. Others see a shrewd long game on the part of the buyer and simple business realities motivating the seller. In a moment, the shifting landscape in the oil sands. Also today, uncomfortable truths and questionable motives.

SOUNDCLIP

Recently there has been a series of articles about you and your maternal grandparents making accusations that he was a Nazi collaborator in pro-Russian websites.

AMT: And Ottawa reporter says the day after Chrystia Freeland was sworn in as minister of foreign affairs, he was shopped a story about her grandfather's World War II connection to the Nazis—a story that is not untrue, but curious given that her grandfather has been dead for decades. So was this journalism in the public interest or a smear by a Russian government already under suspicion of meddling? Our Eye on the Media looks at that in half an hour. And before modern medicine, there were potions.

SOUNDCLIP

Every body part that you can imagine from skulls to fat, everything was ground up, boiled, fried, made into a potion and consumed to treat just about anything that you can think of.

AMT: There was a time when European aristocrats were happy to try all sorts of medicinal compounds made of human body parts, which means the very people who conquered other societies and smeared them as cannibals were actually practicing cannibalism. From insects to fish, swallowing your friends is a more common thing in nature than you may want to know. We won't gross you out but we will leave you fascinated in an hour. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current.

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Gauging concern: foreign energy companies turn away from oilsands

Guests: Deborah Yedlin, Rafi Tahmazian, Martha Hall Findlay

SOUNDCLIP

In the 21st century, Canadians will not accept that we have to choose between a healthy planet and a strong economy. People want both and they can have both.

AMT: Well, that is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the big oil city of Houston, Texas last week. He was there to accept an award for his position of balancing energy and the environment. But even as he spoke at that energy conference, the sands were shifting in Canada's energy sector.

SOUNDCLIP

They also came to the conclusion that oil sands didn't fit in that strategy. It's a high quality asset, but it was probably better run by somebody else.

AMT: Well, that is Royal Dutch Shell CEO Ben van Beurden. Last week his company announced a massive sell-off of most of its stake in the Alberta oil sands. It's a nearly $13-billion deal and it sees a Canadian company, Canadian Natural Resources Limited—CNRL—take over Shell's majority stake in the Athabasca oil sands project. With crude prices low and oil sands production expensive, Shell is not the only foreign company to pull up its stakes lately. Earlier this year, Norway's Statoil closed a deal to sell off its Canadian assets. Gor her thoughts on what this trend means for the energy sector, I am joined by Deborah Yedlin. She is a business columnist with the Calgary Herald. She's in our Calgary studio. Hello.

DEBORAH YEDLIN: Good morning.

AMT: You were at an oil industry conference last week when this news broke. What was the reaction?

DEBORAH YEDLIN: Shock and surprise. It was not what anybody was really expecting, definitely not to hear it.

AMT: So they didn't see it coming.

DEBORAH YEDLIN: Nobody saw it coming, no. I mean there had been rumours floating around Calgary that perhaps Shell was doing something. You kept hearing anecdotes that people were very, very busy. And so when you start hearing things like that, you think okay, something's going on, never really sure what. And then the news broke that they were selling out to Canadian Natural Resources, or CNQ as a lot of people call it.

AMT: Why is Shell making the move now?

DEBORAH YEDLIN: Well, really what it is is Shell is hygrating its portfolio and it has been in that process for a while. They bought British Gas, BG, and they've had to sell $30 billion in assets, and so they've been working to do that to reduce their debt. And this is part of that process. They've also made it very clear that they are interested in becoming a very big player in the natural gas world. And this is just one more step in terms of freeing up capital to be able to do that. What we see, Anna Maria, is that you know companies’ capital goes to where it can get the best return and Shell is looking at the oil sands relative to the opportunities that it has and saying I think we can make these dollars generate a better return for our shareholders somewhere else. And so that's really what they're doing.

AMT: Natural gas world, do they have plans in Canada on that front?

DEBORAH YEDLIN: Well, they do and in fact I had the opportunity to ask Van Beurden that question after he'd finished speaking and they have LNG Canada off the coast of British Columbia, which was put on ice and now when we asked him on Thursday what the plans were, he said that it would be looked at and it wasn't in a position to be sanctioned for development but in several quarters. You know he basically alluded to the fact that that would be something on the agenda.

AMT: Okay. Something to watch. Now Deborah, how important a player has Shell been in the oil sands?

DEBORAH YEDLIN: So Shell had been the second company—after the Syncrude mine was operational, it was the next company to open a mine and it developed a particular treatment, this paraffinic froth treatment that eliminated the need for a coker. So it eliminated a step and it created a process where you could produce a cleaner barrel so to speak, out of the oil sands extraction process and now that technology really has been leveraged by Imperial Oil in their Kearl facility. So Shell's always been very focused on R&D and of course, they were very, very much a force in the context of shaping the carbon policy in Alberta that we saw the Notley government put forward.

AMT: So they were supporters of what Notley has brought forward.

DEBORAH YEDLIN: Well, yes and it's very interesting because if you look at what the general sense is, North America versus Europe, Europe's been ahead of the curve on the carbon pricing agenda. And so this was something that was evident in terms of how Shell was involved in the carbon pricing policy in Alberta. And so this is something that they were very, very intent on having and I would say that the irony is that they pushed for the carbon pricing policy and now they're leaving. And that's what a lot of people were saying. It’s like well, how is it that they were so, so committed to having this happen, it's happened. This can't be a reason why they're leaving because they have been so vocal about it. And again, he talked about it again on Thursday during his remarks, Van Beurden.

AMT: And what about the company that is investing—Canadian Natural Resources Limited? So it’s CN—

DEBORAH YEDLIN: CNRL but CNQ is the ticker and a lot of people just call it CNQ.

AMT: How important is it as this is a Canadian company?

DEBORAH YEDLIN: I think it's terrific that it's a Canadian company actually because I think some people, some of your listeners may remember that Dick Haskayne, our legendary business person in Calgary for whom the Haskayne School of Business is named at the University of Calgary, wrote a book called Northern Tigers. And in that book he lamented the fact that there weren't enough companies that were growing to size and too many sold out. And so here we have a company that has reached the million barrel a day production mark, which is a huge threshold for a Canadian company and the assets are staying in Canadian hands and Canadian operations and Canadian Natural has known to be a very efficient, low cost operator in how they approach doing deals and adding value. Basically the analysts were saying that it was about a $20-billion investment that Shell had made over the years in these assets and Canadian Natural is buying them for about $12.6 billion. So it's a heck of a deal.

AMT: So the CEO, Mr. Edwards is seen as someone who actually is pretty canny. So that gives what, a vote of confidence?

DEBORAH YEDLIN: Absolutely. I mean Murray is a legend in terms of how he sees value and how he builds for the long term and I think that's the biggest thing. Canadian Natural has been so good at looking out on the horizon and building and adding assets for the long term. It's also the largest natural gas producer in the province. Not a lot of people know that. And they’re very, very cost focused. And that has resulted in their ability to add value and make strategic acquisitions at times when the market is letting them do that at a good price.

AMT: How do you see the industry in Alberta changing over the next year then?

DEBORAH YEDLIN: Well, it's interesting because there’s been a shift, Anna Maria, to sort of this long term versus short term cycle mentality and there's a lot of investments and a lot of people looking sort of shorter term versus longer term. This is obviously a longer term investment. We will see more consolidation, I think, within the oil sands space itself. Obviously you know you mentioned Statoil off the top. Everybody's waiting for Total to announce that it's also going to be leaving the oil sands and we'll see that it's very likely that there’ll be further consolidation within the oil sands.

AMT: Total, of course, is French owned.

DEBORAH YEDLIN: Right. And they were also [unintelligible] last week and they were talking about carbon pricing and how important it is.

AMT: A lot of people think this is political.

DEBORAH YEDLIN: It's not political. This is about capital going to where it can get the best return and companies are doing that. And of course, in the case of Statoil and Total, people have pointed out that actually their expertise really is offshore. That's really where they want to be. This is not the sort of asset they like to operate. And if other companies can do that more efficiently, that's what's going to happen because that's the way the world works.

AMT: Deborah Yedlin, thank you.

DEBORAH YEDLIN: Thank you.

AMT: Deborah Yedlin, business columnist with the Calgary Herald. She's in our Calgary studio. Canada's Environment Minister Catherine McKenna responded to Shell's divestment from the oilsands last week. Here she is speaking to reporters Thursday.

SOUNDCLIP

So let's be absolutely clear that Shell was supportive of carbon pricing, that this was a business decision by Shell and that company is going to make decisions. You know a Canadian company is a purchaser and Shell’s still going to remain here.

AMT: Well, others say Shell's actions speak louder than words and that the company’s turning away from Canada spells trouble for the economy. Rafi Tahmazian is the director and senior portfolio manager at the investment management firm, Canoe Financial. He’s in Calgary. Hello.

RAFI TAHMAZIAN: How are you?

AMT: I'm well. I'm wondering what you're thinking. We just heard that clip from the environment minister. Why do you believe Royal Dutch Shell divested their assets in the oilsands?

RAFI TAHMAZIAN: You know like I'm not necessarily convinced that it is political either, directly, but it's a situation where they've made statements about globally changing direction to focus on projects that involve growth and they've talked about petrochemicals, et cetera. And yet they say in the same breath that the Alberta oilsands was no longer fitting into that model. And so to not be able to see it as a growth model means there are certain restrictions outside of even just conventional growth through science and technology. And I put that square on the government and the message they send globally.

AMT: So from where you stand, what do foreign energy producers think of Canada right now as a place to invest?

RAFI TAHMAZIAN: Yeah. I mean I think there's probably been a bit of a slap in the face because for decades we've been introducing and saying you know let's bring foreign investment in. In the last 18 months, we've seen a provincial government here and a federal government that have been you know seen as against the oil patch. And as a result, it caused this concern.

AMT: At the same time, how much could the price of oil be part of this decision then?

RAFI TAHMAZIAN: Oh yeah. Because the economics of the oilsands is much more challenging just because it's a lower netback product. So it plays a role there and the ability to drive cost down, per Deb’s comments, is critical. And that's why CNRL was able to benefit from that. They are experts at that.

AMT: And do you think it's a good deal for CNRL and is it a good deal for Canada that CNRL has bought this?

RAFI TAHMAZIAN: Yeah. I mean again, Deb focused on the benefits for Canada, that is stays within Canada and I think that's important. It's a good deal for CNRL. Everybody gave him accolades for buying it so cheap. But then you can turn that around and look at it like there are no other buyers. And the international community is not available to purchase because they are concerned around the messages that Canada is sending about the oil and gas industry. And so they had to really, I believe both Marathon and Shell had to take right down to sell this. This was not a very good investment for them at the end of the day is how you could look at that. You know we got a great deal for CNRL, but someone was willing to get rid of it cheap and it's because there were no other buyers really. And when there's no buyers, you know you either can hang onto it because it's too cheap to get rid of, you can't sell it for anything or you're forced to get rid of it and begrudgingly do it for a low price. That's not sending a very strong message about the future growth of that industry in Canada.

AMT: What do you think the federal and provincial governments should have done? Do you think they should have tried to get it to stay?

RAFI TAHMAZIAN: [chuckles] Oh, that's a tough question. I don't think they could have done anything obviously after the fact, but you're basically saying to me, you know what could we be doing better? And I think being able to communicate that. One of the biggest issues has to be an acceptance that the economy is important along with the environment and Trudeau has stated many times that you can no longer be just economics and not the environment. But we've maybe switched it too far the other way and we see it in the budgets—both provincial and federal government budgets—in the last two years. They speak about curtailing production and CO2 emissions and how it's been punitive on the oil patch. But when it comes to their budgets and making their budgets, it's very important how the revenue that that industry generates to achieve their numbers. And so they need to recognize that and maybe be a little more specific about the transition and the impacts it's going to have on our economy and that maybe even just making Canadians more aware of the implications of our actions, not necessarily that we need to change them because then Canadians can act accordingly.

AMT: Okay. Well, Rafi Tahmazian, thank you for your thoughts on this.

RAFI TAHMAZIAN: Take care. I appreciate it.

AMT: That is Rafi Tahmazian, director and senior portfolio manager at Canoe Financial. He joined us from Calgary. Martha Hall Findlay has been listening in. She's the president and CEO of the Western- based think tank, the Canada West Foundation and she's in our Calgary studio. Hello.

MARTHA HALL FINDLAY: Good morning, Anna Maria.

AMT: What do you think of this sale?

MARTHA HALL FINDLAY: Well, I have to say one, I think it's a very positive thing that it's CNRL that was the acquirer. I mean the fact that this was relatively a surprise as we heard Deb say, does not suggest that there were no other buyers. It actually suggests that there was a strategic deal that was reached and I can't stress enough: you can't divest. I mean the story is about Shell divesting. You can't divest if there isn't somebody who is interested in investing. And I think a very good sign that CNRL was able to and willing to do this.

AMT: At the same time, a big international player has walked away from the oilsands. Another one is expected to, one did earlier. What about what our last guest is saying about communicating a different message about what's going on there?

MARTHA HALL FINDLAY: The decisions are business decisions for sure, but I don't see there any relation to the political climate frankly. I mean these are companies that worldwide, as Deb said—you know you have Shell, you have Total, you have other companies—worldwide are advocating for a carbon price. Canada is actually well behind. I mean these European-based companies have been advocating and European governments for an awful lot longer. You also see that there are differences in the business proposition. So you have Shell. So one, this was not related to the political carbon pricing. This had much more to do with the fact that Shell had made a couple of big acquisitions recently and they had a $30-billion debt reduction that they had to deal with. And you know as we've heard, they have a business model that's more focused for example on natural gas, as opposed to the longer term oilsands play. So no, even if you look at the details of the deal, part of the sale, part of the acquisition was Shell actually taking back four billion dollars worth of shares of CNRL. So that's not exactly a full exit of the oilsands.

AMT: So are you suggesting that global energy companies are resigned to carbon taxes? They're not fighting them anymore?

MARTHA HALL FINDLAY: Well, we have significant oil companies here in Canada that have not only been not protesting against them, they've been advocating them because they've recognized one, that this is an environmental imperative and two, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. And two, that it also makes good business sense in the long term. So you have Suncor here. You have Steve Williams as the CEO. You have Brian Ferguson who is the CEO of Cenovus. You have Lorraine Mitchelmore who was actually the Canadian president of Shell. They were all on the stage with Premier Notley in supporting those moves. And so I think we keep getting these messages that somehow oil companies are not in support of this. There's no question it was not too long ago that there was hesitation, but that time has passed. The leading energy companies—and I mean oil and gas companies—are in fact saying this is the way we have to go.

AMT: Canadian companies now control about 52 percent of total oilsands production. What do you think of that?

MARTHA HALL FINDLAY: Well, first off, the resources is in Canada so that doesn't move. The identity of the shareholder is less important than perhaps some might think, except for the fact that as Deb mentioned, Northern Tigers and other work that has been done focusing on the benefits of Canadian headquartered companies, there are some. No question. And so yes, I think it's strong that we have Canadian investment. I also want to just add because it was one comment that your prior guest was mentioning about the concern about foreign investment. Foreign investors want certainty, so it's all business for sure. But foreign investors want certainty. And the real worry that many of us have now is that as Canada has although a laggard behind many other parts of the world, is finally moving toward carbon pricing. We've seen certainly British Columbia and Alberta at the federal government level. Will it be perfect? No. We have to manage how we do it. But when we see that we're actually finally moving in that direction, the worst possible thing from a foreign investment perspective would be to have those things reversed. And so we are hearing some politicians both on the national and provincial stages saying we get into power, we’re going to reverse this carbon pricing. I can tell you from a foreign investment perspective: that would be the worst possible thing because it would just blow the certainty out of the water. We have been hearing for years. Some of these things may not be perfect but at least we know what to expect and we can plan. So that's a very important factor here.

AMT: Okay. Well, Martha Hall Findlay, thank you for your perspective.

MARTHA HALL FINDLAY: Thank you.

AMT: Martha Hall Findlay, president and CEO of the Canada West Foundation. She joined us from our Calgary studio. Let us know what you think. You can tweet us. We are @TheCurrentCBC. Find us on Facebook or go to our website, www.cbc.ca/thecurrent. And stay with us. The news is next and then is Canada experiencing some Russian-backed information interference? We'll probe into stories about a cabinet minister’s family history of Nazi collaboration in our next half hour. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current.

[Music: Sting]

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Chrystia Freeland a target of Russian intelligence operation, says expert

Guests: Mark Hosenball, Michel Juneau-Katsuya, David Pugliese

AMT: Hello. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti and you're listening to The Current.

[Music: Theme]

AMT: Still to come, it's a dog eat dog world and a spider eats spider world and a person eat person world. Zoologist Bill Schutt says the practice of cannibalism is much more prevalent across the animal kingdom than you may suspect. In half an hour we'll take a bite out of one of the ultimate taboos. But first, revelation or propaganda—the curious case of a cabinet minister’s family history becoming news.

SOUNDCLIP

I think that it is also public knowledge that there have been efforts—as US intelligence forces have said—by Russia to destabilize the US political system. I think the Canadians and indeed other Western countries should be prepared for similar efforts to be directed at us. I am confident in our country's democracy and I'm confident that we can stand up to and see through those efforts.

AMT: That is Chrystia Freeland, Canada's foreign affairs minister responding to a reporter's question last week about an unusual situation. The minister's grandfather and his wartime activities have been the subject of a string of stories allegedly emerging from Russia. The stories report that Chrystia Freeland’s grandfather had edited a pro-Nazi newspaper in Poland, then in Vienna during the Second World War. As you could hear in her remarks, Ms. Freeland believes the story's appearance may be part of a Russian smear campaign, even though the basic facts have not been disputed. The timing and the question of what to make of it are up for debate. As part of our occasional series Eye on the Media, we're starting our discussion today with Mark Hosenball. He's an investigative reporter with Reuters who has looked into what is behind those stories and he joins us from Washington, DC. Hello.

MARK HOSENBALL: Hello. How are you doing?

AMT: I'm curious to know what you know. You spoke to some of your contacts in US intelligence about these stories coming out of Russia about Chrystia Freeland's grandfather.

MARK HOSENBALL: Basically the Americans believe anyway, and it’s I guess a sort of analytical belief more than having spied on Russia, although maybe they spied on Russia about this stuff as well, that this is part of a campaign by Russia, a propaganda campaign by Russia to embarrass, discredit, possibly try and intimidate Chrystia Freeland. And I must say, Chrystia Freeland worked at Reuters for a while when I worked there so I do actually know her. We're not super big friends or anything, but I should disclose that. And I certainly always got on with her and she certainly never tried to push the kind of fascist propaganda or anti-Russian propaganda on me or writers that I know of. This sort of struck me as a pretty malicious effort to just intimidate her. You can’t choose your grandparents, in so far as I know and by the same token as I understand it, this is the sort of thing that the Russians have been doing in other countries, both in Europe and you know in the United States as well. As you know, the US intelligence agencies came out with a fairly extensive report, I think it was in January, alleging that Russia had deliberately hacked e-mails embarrassing Hillary Clinton and put them out in a way via WikiLeaks, in a way literally intended to help Donald Trump with the US presidential election. So this is a pretty nasty but calculated campaign by the Russians to exert their influence in western and democratic countries in apparently sinister ways.

AMT: The information about her grandfather is true. He was an editor of this publication controlled by the Nazis during the war. What's wrong with that information being distributed to the public?

MARK HOSENBALL: I guess it's nothing wrong with it. It's just the way it was done was kind of sleazy and nasty. I mean I did read those articles in, I think something called Consortium News and in a website run by a journalist or a writer, I guess I would say, who’s lived for a long time in Russia and allegedly has some suspicious connections there. I must say also, the website Vice said that they were literally in touch with the Russian embassy in Canada, was trying to peddle them this stuff

AMT: Well, in fact, I have a clip just related to that. This is Justin Ling, who is the Canadian features editor with Vice News and he's talking about an interesting exchange he had with the Russian embassy in Ottawa. Listen to him.

SOUNDCLIP

So on January 11th, just the day after Chrystia Freeland was appointed foreign affairs minister, I happened to be talking to someone at the embassy, someone I've spoken with consistently, just about Freeland and what the Russian opinion of her is. Obviously the Russians were not too happy to see her in that post. You know she's someone who's actually banned from visiting Russia. She is a vocal advocate for the Ukrainian cause. And it was in that conversation that my contact started providing you know all of this research, all this background about Chrystia Freeland’s grandfather Michael Chomiak, and basically saying that the evidence they were providing proves that he was not just a sympathizer of collaborationists but that he actively worked with the Nazis in his role as editor-in-chief of this newspaper. I told them I wasn't interested. I didn’t think this was an important story to tell. This man's been dead for more than a decade and I declined to publish it. It wasn't until I saw it cropping up elsewhere that we decided to go ahead and publish a story on this.

AMT: Mark Hosenball, what do you make of the timing of this?

MARK HOSENBALL: Well, it sounds highly suspicious. I mean if they put this out literally a day or two after she became prime minister of Canada, that certainly looks like it was timed deliberately to get at her and to presumably intimidate and discredit her. I mean she has been, as the gentleman from Vice said, outspoken, I believe for a number of years, in promoting the interests of Ukraine and criticizing Russian efforts to interfere there. One of the articles in the Consortium News website, as I recall, actually was written by a writer, a journalist based in Crimea which of course has been invaded and taken over and now is dominated by Russia which used to be part of Ukraine. So you know all this to my mind is highly suspicious, certainly highly suspicious, and part of a continuing and wider spread Russian campaign, according to US and some European agencies that are following this stuff.

AMT: It's interesting because her position on Ukraine and Russia and the government of Canada's position under the Liberal government is very similar to what was going on under the Harper government.

MARK HOSENBALL: I believe that's correct but it's also similar to the Obama administration's attitude on this stuff although as we know, the attitude of the new Trump administration and of Donald Trump himself has been apparently more friendly to Russia, although they haven't gone quite as far and ingratiated themselves with Russia in terms of actual policy moves as people thought that they would at this point.

AMT: And Chrystia Freeland of course used to be based in Moscow as a bureau chief as a journalist and speaks the language. She knows a lot about that part of the world. Not only her Ukrainian heritage. We contacted the Russian embassy in Ottawa for its perspective. They sent us a statement that said in part, “We cannot deny or confirm particular news stories. Nazism and its hateful ideology, Nazi collaborators and followers should be unequivocally condemned. This is to be spoken out openly and unambiguously.” What do you make of that Russian statement?

MARK HOSENBALL: Well, that seems to be an apologetic statement saying, “Yeah, we did it.”

AMT: Yeah, interesting. So what do you think they were hoping to do with this? How did they think it would hurt her?

MARK HOSENBALL: Well, they want to discredit her and have people out there saying she's a Nazi, she's a Nazi, which I have no reason to believe whatsoever she is. And presumably they want to at least try and intimidate her and make her back off or shut up about her views on Ukraine which I would be surprised if she did.

AMT: Okay. Well, Mark Hosenball, thank you for your perspective on this.

MARK HOSENBALL: Thank you.

AMT: That is Mark Hosenball. He's an investigative reporter with Reuters. We reached him in Washington, DC. Well, I have two guests with valuable perspectives on this story standing by. Michel Juneau-Katsuya is a former senior manager and senior intelligence officer with CSIS. His work included counterintelligence cases involving the former Soviet Union. He's now CEO of North Gate, an intelligence security company. He's in our Ottawa studio. David Pugliese covers military affairs for the Ottawa Citizen newspaper. He's done his own work on this story reporting on Michael Chomiak, Ms. Freeland’s maternal grandfather. And David Pugliese joins us from Victoria, BC. Hello to both of you.

BOTH VOICES: Good morning.

AMT: Michel Juneau-Katsuya, let’s start with you. What do you make of the assertion by Vice News that the Russian embassy in Ottawa was pushing the story of Ms. Freeland's grandfather before it appeared on those Russian sites?

MICHEL JUNEAU-KATSUYA: Unfortunately not surprised. This is a very, very old strategy that's been employed by previous intelligence, Russian intelligence services—the KGB and the GRU. In the year of the Cold War, the work was a little bit more difficult because you didn't have the support of the social media. You didn't have the support of the media at large like you have now today. I think the evidence that were presented back with the American election and what we've seen going on more and more is the announcement of a difficult era that is about to start or has started for the people who wants to be informed and the people who are trying to sort of form an opinion based on the information. So the work of journalism through journalism is under siege with something of that nature because this is pure propaganda technique. It's another form of invasion, if you want. It's a very strong word here but it's what they try to do. They try to manipulate the opinion of the people by floating as much negative information or bad information or information that is given a spin that is irrelevant, yet at the same time picked up by some people and twisted into the discourses of daily life.

AMT: David Pugliese, you did your own reporting on this.

DAVID PUGLIESE: Yeah. Let's back up a little bit. First of all, you know because there’s a lot of talk here about intimidation, nefarious motives and such. This story first appeared in the January-February issue of a Polish news history magazine and that same issue has articles about Japanese Samurai during World War II, you know that type of thing, as well as Polish news. So it was in there. From there it migrated to these other news sites which may be described as pro-Putin, pro-Russia. But the main thing that happened here is when Ms. Freeland was asked about it, she instead of saying yes, you're right which probably would have ended it right there, she started talking about Russian disinformation campaigns. Then later, her office denied that her grandfather was a Nazi collaborator which he was. So that's why we're at this situation right now. If they had just said you know he was a Nazi collaborator, Ms. Freeland has nothing to do with that, it probably would have ended right then and there.

AMT: And what do you make, David Pugliese, of the Vice News situation where somebody from the Russian embassy approached the reporter and said you should do this, like shopped it to him.

DAVID PUGLIESE: Well, were they shopping it because it appeared in the Polish magazine? You know people are shopping stories to journalists all the time. First of all, I don't see the aspect of her grandfather being a Nazi collaborator as being big news. You know if they hadn't denied it, again we wouldn't be talking about it. If she had accepted it and said yes, that's the case, then it wouldn't have gone anywhere. And it really hasn’t. It hasn't gone into the House of Commons. It hasn't become an issue. So all this discussion about trying to intimidate her and such, I don't really buy that.

MICHEL JUNEAU-KATSUYA: We’ve got to be very careful here. I have a lot of respect for David, he knows that and I like his work. But I think that in general here, we've got to be a little bit more careful. In the field of intelligence, a tonne of feather is as heavy as a tonne of brick. It’s just that you need more feather. The concept of propaganda and the concept of a smear campaign has been used and deployed from the beginning of Soviet Union. That was sort of one way that Lenin and his gang tried to sort of rally people by sort of disenfranchising and sending campaign against the opponents in general. And that's a challenge. I'm not saying that David is wrong in terms, like that's true. There has been mistake the way that this has been handled. I think people are concerned when such a big news is coming out. And I think it was mishandled. I totally agree. But I think there is here a warning that needs to be sent to everybody about how propaganda works, how important it is now at this time two to be very, very, very much on alert. We got in the news over the weekend and then last week or so, how the president of a country is coming out with allegation and still not capable to present any evidence. But still going on for days and days and days and that is this lack of riggers and that lack of integrity that is at stake here. And in a maybe different perspective but just an extremely worrisome information that came out is a survey that was done for CBC/Radio-Canada about the attitude towards the Muslim and how much in the province of Quebec and particularly in the region of Quebec City, the trash media have been capable to influence the area. Now we've got a very, very sort of strong percentage of people being anti-Muslim literally.

AMT: David Pugliese, do you connect the dots that Michel Juneau-Katsuya does?

DAVID PUGLIESE: I think he is connecting the dots where in some cases there might not be dots to connect. I'm not saying what he's talking about with Muslims and trash radio in Quebec is not an issue. But I'll give you an example because I've been on the other side of the disinformation war so to speak, in the sense that in 2014, 2015 I was reporting on the Azov battalion for the Ottawa Citizen. Azov battalion is a group of far-right extremists if you will, that are fighting in Ukraine. I put the links together about the Nazi supporters. I mean it wasn't hard. They're quite vocal about their support for neo-Nazi causes and anti-Semitic language from their commanders, that type of thing. And the pushback that I got was well, you're on Putin's payroll. You're a Russian sympathizer. But obviously you know you had German TV going into the field with this unit and they're wearing swastikas on their helmets. In 2015, the US House of Representatives passed amendments blocking any training for this Ukrainian unit because of its neo-Nazi background. So you know just because the information is embarrassing to a government or a government policy doesn't mean it is disinformation.

MICHEL JUNEAU-KATSUYA: Oh, I totally agree with this. I absolutely totally agree with this. For example, the Chinese have been excellent at re-assessing history and using history to sort of promote a certain form of nationalism. No, no. I totally agree with David on that perspective. Some information will have roots into the truth, will have roots into fact. It's when it comes out, how it comes out and why it comes out that needs to be assessed. And one of the smoking gun is definitely when you have an embassy representative, diplomats who are basically doing something that is out of their duty and should be condemned to a certain extent for trying to influence the media in a certain direction, I'm questioning the value of having such information coming out to a certain extent at this point, two generations later.

AMT: Okay. Well, I have a clip that speaks to some of this as well. This is a Piotr Dutkiewicz, a professor of political science at Carleton University. Listen to him.

SOUNDCLIP

To me it's highly inappropriate by someone to attack her family. It's truly wrong. At the same time. the response to this allegation is that behind this, is a Russian full scale attack on our democracy, without providing any evidence in fact. And for me it is equally inappropriate. The statement by our government suggests that we are manipulated by a foreign power and this chokes debates, as potential critics will be afraid that those will be labelled as Russian accomplices in attacking our core values. Also, the response in creating the politics of fear, that we are under attack by the foreign power. This is fiction. No one provided any proof of Russian wrongdoing in Canada.

AMT: What do you think of what he's saying, David Pugliese?

DAVID PUGLIESE: I mean I agree. I think this is in part a journalism story, a Canadian journalism story because there's been some pushback now that your Reuters guest mentioned Consortium News right, like it's some kind of evil Russian organization. Well, Consortium News is owned and edited by Robert Parry. So he won a George Polk Award for his work on the Iran-Contra affair. And in 2015, he was awarded the IF Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence by Harvard. So you know he's hardly—well, I don't know. I mean he doesn't come across as some kind of Russian dupe and now he's pushing back against these Canadian—it’s mainly in columns that we're supporting Ms. Freeland—he's pushing back against these columnists because he said he edited and fact checked the story.

AMT: I guess David, one of the questions Michel raises is is their public value in doing a story on a grandparent long dead?

DAVID PUGLIESE: Well, I think there is some value but don't forget: she was just asked the question, right? The story became once her office denied he ever was a collaborator, then that becomes the story. I mean she made the story in the sense that that she came back with oh, this is Russians or suggesting it’s Russian disinformation. So in some respects, she created the story just from simply being asked a question. And secondly, the story didn't get a lot of play. It was in the Globe and Mail newspaper, but.

AMT: It was in the National Post. It was in Ottawa Citizen.

DAVID PUGLIESE: Well, later on, right?

AMT: Yeah.

DAVID PUGLIESE: Once the denial and then the Globe and Mail found out that she had known for 20 years that he was a Nazi collaborator. So fuelling this is more that she wasn't, you know some people would say that they lied about it, right?

AMT: Forthcoming. Yeah. Let me just, in the little bit of time we have left, maybe just David, what kind of decision making goes into how you go after story like that then, knowing that there is some obligation to follow up journalistically? At the same time, you're looking at something about someone's grandfather. There clearly is that kind of unspoken thing. You heard the Russian embassy officials say you know well, this is a bad thing.

DAVID PUGLIESE: I think a Nazi background in any politician's life, I mean is it a story? I mean you know I guess one of our columnists argued that it was a story. When I wrote about this, it was more on this disinformation campaign. Right. So to me again, if she hadn’t brought into the disinformation, then would it have been a story? And obviously Vice News didn't think it was a story because they didn't do anything on it and other journalists never picked up on this Polish magazine, so.

AMT: Michel Juneau-Katsuya, what do you think?

MICHEL JUNEAU-KATSUYA: I think we've got to be very careful here. It reminds me the Arab proverb, when the wise men point at the moon, the fool look at the fingers only. And what we got to be very careful here is only to take one single incident and extrapolate or made a final judgment on a campaign that seems to be much bigger. The jury's still out. The jury is still out to try to demonstrate that there is definitely more evidence, that there is an orchestrated campaign that is taking place and there is some tangible evidence like the Sputnik news and other form of media that just appeared during the American election campaign and started to push tons and tons and tons of fake news, of half news or disinformation literally for what purpose? For what reason? Somewhere somehow, I think we've got to look at the big pictures. This single incident, yep, it was mishandled by the staff and it will probably be mishandled again with other stories because the staff in general has lacked maybe experience in that field.

AMT: Okay. Michel, we're going to have to stop it there because we're out of time. But I think both of you have given us a lot to think about. Thank you for your time, both of you.

DAVID PUGLIESE: Thank you.

MICHEL JUNEAU-KATSUYA: Many thanks. See you, David.

AMT: Michel Juneau-Katsuya, former intelligence officer with CSIS and David Pugliese with the Ottawa Citizen. Let us know what you think. You can tweet us. We're @TheCurrentCBC. Go to our website, www.cbc.ca/thecurrent and weigh in on this one. Stay with us. This is The Current.

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Cannibalism more natural than it seems, says zoologist

Guests: Bill Schutt

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

SOUNDCLIP

VOICE 1: What’s out there in the snow is just meat, Antonio. Food.

VOICE 2: I won't do it. I'd rather die. I do believe in God and I fear to have him judge me if I do a thing like that.

VOICE 1: Well, he put us here.

VOICE 2: Maybe he did as a test to see what we do. To see if we’d remain civilized.

VOICE 1: I don’t think God cares whether we’re civilized.

VOICE 2: Well, how the hell do you know?

VOICE 3: Let Tintin speak. He never says anything.

VOICE 2: I’ve always thought God wants us to follow our hearts, use our reason, struggle to live.

VOICE 1: At any price?

VOICE 2: No. We shouldn't murder innocents to live.

VOICE 1: What about our innocence? What’s going to become of our innocence if we survive as cannibals?

AMT: Well, that's a scene from the 1993 movie, Alive, and the debate over whether to resort to cannibalism was not hypothetical. It's based on the true story of the survivors of a 1972 jet crash in the Andes Mountains and the survivors who had to decide whether to eat the flesh of the passengers who had perished before them or to die of starvation. Listening to their dialogue, it's impossible not to imagine what you might ultimately do in that situation. Cannibalism remains one of the ultimate taboos in our world, but zoologist Bill Schutt believes it's a topic worth examination. He has a new book out. It's called Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History and Bill Schutt is in South Hampton, New York. Hello.

BILL SCHUTT: Hi. Great to be on your show. Thank you for having me.

AMT: As you listen to that, what do you think of that dilemma?

BILL SCHUTT: Yeah. These are people who were put in a position of extreme starvation and the only way that they were going to survive was going to be to consume their dead. And it's happened throughout history.

AMT: Before we go much further, give me your definition of cannibalism.

BILL SCHUTT: Well, I'm a zoologist, so I also spent a lot of time looking at cannibalism across the animal kingdom. So I would define cannibalism as any time you consume part or an entire body of an individual that is the same species as you are.

AMT: Where does the word come from?

BILL SCHUTT: The word comes from around the time of Christopher Columbus and when he came to the new world he met a friendly group of Indigenous folks called the Arawaks and they had a name for the nasty supposedly murderous cannibalistic group that lived on some other islands and they were called the Caribs. And we think that cannibalism came from a mistranslation of Carib. There's also a hypothesis that it came from the Latin for dog, Canis because some of the Indigenous people were depicted as looking like dogs, having dog-like faces. I kind of like that hypothesis.

AMT: Hmm. So when it comes to cannibalism in the insect world, the black widow spider comes to mind. Does she deserve the title as the most voracious cannibal in the arachnid world?

BILL SCHUTT: Yeah, I think not. I think when you think about cannibalism in the animal world, you probably think about black widows and praying mantises and the research that I did, the work that I did, I sort of uncovered that. That work, the initial work on black widows was done on spiders that were kept in captive conditions. And so that's not to say that black widow spiders don't consume their mates, which happen to be much smaller males, but it probably happens less often than you would think. And it's probably the same thing with praying mantises, although cannibalism does occur for natural reasons, serves a natural function in both of those species and many other spiders and insects as well.

AMT: Well, which spider is actually the queen of the cannibals?

BILL SCHUTT: Oh, I would say the Australian redback has got to be my favorite example. So this is a cousin of the black widow spider and this is another example where the male is about the size of a throw pillow compared to the female. If you wanted to envision them having relations, that's kind of the picture. So the idea here is that the male is probably not going to encounter many females in his life and when he does, he wants to mate with her and pass on his genes to the next generation. So after mating with the female, who as I said much larger than he is, so they meet face to face and then he does this somersault that presents his abdomen right next to her mouth and she responds by starting to eat his abdomen. He crawls off after a bit, tries to put himself back together and then crawls back into the web again and mates with her a second time, after which she wraps him up and consumes him. And we think looking at this from a research perspective that what's going on here is that as I mentioned, the male is probably never going to see another female again. So why not give her a good meal to fatten her up? And studies have actually shown that that females who do consume their mates will not mate with other males and will produce more eggs and more offspring and will actually be healthier than females who don't consume their mates. So there are evolutionary reasons for this to take place.

AMT: Fascinating. Where else in the animal world do you find cannibalism?

BILL SCHUTT: Across the entire animal kingdom. I think that was pretty much the biggest surprise that I experienced in writing this book, is that just about every group of creatures that you can name, cannibalism takes place. Some much more commonly than others. As you mentioned, insects, arachnids, spiders and scorpions, snails. But when you get into the vertebrates, the backboned creatures, the egg laying fish probably more times than not, they're cannibals. So for example if you're a codfish and you’re laying a million eggs, then you're not looking at these eggs as individuals. You're looking at them as a food resource and some of them are going to be consumed. Among reptiles and amphibians. Much more cannibalism in things like toads that also lay a tremendous amount of eggs and frogs, some salamanders. When you get into reptiles, you're getting cannibalism in alligators. It occurs in birds. In birds it's actually the original definition of lifeboat strategy where eggs are laid on different days. So you have an older hatchling and then you have a younger hatchling. And if there's enough food, then all well and good but if there's not enough food to feed both of them, then the larger hatchling will sometimes kill the smaller one and consume him. When you get into mammals, it's less common. When you get into primates, even more rare.

AMT: How much of our revulsion to cannibalism do you think is cultural?

BILL SCHUTT: I think it's all cultural, to tell you the truth. You know in Western culture, you can trace this taboo and I found that really interesting. You can trace it all the way back to the ancient Greeks and Homer and writing about Odysseus and the Cyclops, Polyphemus. And from there to the Romans and then on and on, to the Brothers Grimm writing about it in fairy tales. And Daniel Defoe, looking at his story of Robinson Crusoe. William Shakespeare. Titus Andronicus. The worst thing that you can do is to cannibalize someone. That's the worst type of vengeance. So there's been this snowball effect for over 2,000 years. And then when anthropologists started to go and find these groups, you know it just carried on and they expected to find cannibals and they came back and reported that they did. And you know now we take a look at that and we’re much more precise. Before we characterize a group as being a cannibal, you've got to present more evidence than just well, we found some bones that have cut marks on them. That used to be the measurement that one would use to declare somebody a cannibal. But we now know that this type of phenomenon occurs for reasons that may have to do with funeral practices, that has nothing to do with consuming the dead.

AMT: You do look at transubstantiation in the Catholic Church—the belief that the host in essence becomes the body of Christ. Why did you include that in your book?

BILL SCHUTT: Well, mainly because for nearly 400 years, starting in the 13th century, once Pope Innocent the Third proclaimed that the host was the actual body of Jesus Christ that was being consumed, then it was used as an excuse to persecute other groups who were different. And in this instance, this happened to be the Jews and they were persecuted for crimes against the host. So it was reported that that the host was bleeding, who's doing the abusing of the host? It must be the Jews. And so they were collected up, tortured and killed for a long, long time throughout Europe. And so that's really the reason that I put it in there. I made the mistake of saying that to my relatives on a more personal level who are Roman Catholics. You know it's more of a nod nod, wink wink approach. Do you really believe that this host is the actual body of Jesus Christ? And I think that they are good Roman Catholics I believe, but in their mind it's more symbolic.

AMT: I mean it is true in the Catholic doctrine. It's the body and blood of Christ. The wine is supposed to be the blood. Yeah.

BILL SCHUTT: Absolutely.

AMT: Let's come back to some of the other stuff that you've looked at. Survival cannibalism beyond the movies. When does survival cannibalism happen?

BILL SCHUTT: Well, survival cannibalism happens when you are in the most extreme situation. So for example, the unfortunate rugby team in the Andes, the Donner Party. There's nothing to eat. You've already gone through your pets, your livestock. You've eaten your belts and your shoes. There’s no game to collect. The conditions are horrible. You are now starving. Your body is changing. You're not active at all. And there comes a point in that that has been analyzed by researchers, where you are going to do one of two things. You're either going to eat the dead or you are going to die. And people have to make that choice. And so unfortunately, this has probably happened hundreds of times in famines across places like Russia, China. More recently, I believe North Korea. So this is in a sense certainly a horrible, horrible thing, but it is a natural response to the most extreme of circumstances.

AMT: So that is survival cannibalism. You also look at medicinal cannibalism. What is that?

BILL SCHUTT: Medicinal cannibalism is where you would take a body part, let's say skull and grind it up for its supposedly medicinal purposes. And this was the biggest surprise that I ran into in this book. In the animal kingdom, it was just how the scope of cannibalism in the animal kingdom blew me away. And with medicinal cannibalism, it was how common medicinal cannibalism was in Europe for hundreds of years, starting in the Middle Ages through the Renaissance and right up until the beginning of the 20th century. And especially given this western taboo, I was surprised that that every body part that you can imagine, from skulls to fat to two people lining up at executions to gather blood to treat their epilepsy, everything except probably the gallbladder was ground up, boiled, fried, made into a potion and consumed to treat just about anything that you can think of. They were eating mummies. This was a mistranslation. In the sixth century, the Arabs took over Egypt and there was an Arabian word for this tarry substance, bitumen, and they used it to bind wounds. And the Europeans came over and they saw that mumeo had a medicinal value and they thought that they were talking about mummies. So they started shipping mummies back to Europe but not to put them into museums—to grind them up for their supposed medicinal value.

AMT: Even today, some in the West advocate eating one body part for its therapeutic benefits—the placenta. What's the thinking there?

BILL SCHUTT: Well, consuming placenta, this is being done by a small number of people and it's a form of alternative medicine. And the idea is that by consuming your own placenta after you give birth, that this would smooth out you know the baby blues, the ups and downs, the hormonal ups and downs that take place after you give birth. So midwives or doulas collect the placenta and then prepare it in any number of ways, from powdering it and then putting in capsules to concocting all sorts of—you can make a smoothie out of it, you can have it prepared as I found out, in just about any way that you can dream up with regard to cooking it.

AMT: You actually did eat part of the placenta of someone in Texas. How did that come about?

BILL SCHUTT: Yeah. My semester had started. I teach at LIU Post and so I didn't think I was going to be doing any more traveling and I started to try to do some research on these people who consume their placentas and who prepare it. And I got in touch with a really nice woman down in Texas and I explained the situation. I figured that maybe we'd Skype or it’d be on e-mail and she said well, that's too bad because I just had a baby and you could come down here. My husband's a chef. You could come down and eat my placenta if you wanted. And I went what? So you know I started to think to myself, if I'm writing a book about cannibalism and it's 10 years down the road and I actually had a chance to go do this and I didn't do it, I kind of have a feeling I would have regretted it. So 10 minutes after I got off the phone with her, I had tickets to fly down to Dallas. Went down there and it was incredibly interesting. And first we sat and talked about what she did and what these people believe. And she was very smart and knows that most of any type of medicinal benefit is probably the placebo effect. But she's convinced herself that she felt wherever it came from, she had a real benefit and she had 10 kids and for the first seven of them, she was miserable and depressed after she gave birth. And someone turned her on to consuming her own placenta, she did it and she said she felt great. When she'd start to feel bad, she'd pop another placenta pill. So these people feel really strongly about what they're doing. So her husband was a chef. He asked me do you want it on a taco or you know we can make placenta ossobuco style? So I said okay, I'm half-Italian. Let's go with placenta Italiano. So he went out and got a bunch of nice veggies and he tells me well, these are our organic vegetables, Bill. And I said well, thank God for that because you know I’d never want to eat placenta if it wasn't organic veggies. And before that, I'd gone into a liquor store and found the most Texas looking person I could find them and asked her. I said I’ve got to match a wine with dinner tonight. I hope you can help me. And she was like oh sure. I said well, I'm having placenta. And she literally ran away from me. So I grabbed the good bottle of Italian red and made my way over to their house.

AMT: What did it taste like?

BILL SCHUTT: Let's see. I'm keeping some secrets from my readers. I will say that it had the consistency of veal. But you often hear that it tastes like pork and I did not find that to be the case. It was delicious though. I cleaned my plate.

AMT: But to be clear, a lot of people take a placenta pill. They don't actually cook it up.

BILL SCHUTT: Right. And I don't see how that could possibly work because if you're cooking the placenta, if you're looking to replace hormones, then you've denatured those hormones.

AMT: Does eating the placenta have any kind of a benefit for the person doing the eating?

BILL SCHUTT: I would say not except the placebo effect.

AMT: We don't limit this to the placenta. But more generally, are there diseases associated with cannibalism?

BILL SCHUTT: Absolutely. And this is the real problem. If we're dealing in the future with famine-related cannibalism, large numbers of people, then the medical community is going to have to be aware—and I think that they are—that there are cannibalism-related diseases, most notably what became known as kuru and the media called it the laughing disease, the laughing death. And this was first characterized by anthropologists in New Guinea in the 1950s and early 1960s. And it took a long time for them to figure out how this disease was transmitted. They thought at first it was stress from the arrival of the Westerners. They thought it might have been poisoned wells. But it is actually caused by either a prion, which is a self-replicating protein that may or may not exist, or a virus. And I think the jury is still out. And that that makes it interesting to me. Most scientists believe that there are these self-replicating proteins that literally will destroy the nervous system. It's a 100 per cent lethal, no matter if it's viral or a prion disease and it cannot be treated and it is it is a horrible degenerative disease and it is

completely and totally related to cannibalistic behaviour, from eating an infected person. If you’re eating somebody who's not infected, you're clear. But this is a problem.

AMT: The issue of prions comes up in the research around mad cow disease, does it not?

BILL SCHUTT: Yeah.

AMT: And the food that cattle are being fed, right?

BILL SCHUTT: Yeah. It’s really the same thing and the idea that cattle at a certain point, their nutritional supplements started to include bodies of cattle that were called downer cattle and these cattle were sick. And instead of destroying them and losing the money, you could turn them into a profit by making them into a protein supplement and that is where mad cow disease started in England in the 1980s. And it is transmissible from species to species, so you know a number of people came down with this horrible disease and the jury is still out because with kuru, some of the native New Guineans didn't come down with kuru for over 50 years. So there is still a fear that something like this may happen in England. It’s one of the reasons that they banned English beef.

AMT: I have another movie clip. This is from one of the most disturbing movies involving cannibalism. What we're going to hear is Charlton Heston from the 1973 movie, Soylent Green.

SOUNDCLIP

VOICE 1: They're making our food out of people. Next thing, they’ll be breeding us like cattle for food. You’ve got to tell them. You’ve got to tell them.

VOICE 2: I promise, Tiger. I promise. I’ll tell the Exchange.

VOICE 1: You tell everybody. Listen to me, Hatcher. You’ve got to tell them. Soylent Green is people.

AMT: What's that cautionary message in Soylent Green, Bill Schutt?

BILL SCHUTT: [Chuckles] Don't trash the oceans because I guess they were trying to foist this idea that they were using algae and that the oceans were so dead that they could not support the algae that was supposedly being used to make this biscuit Soylent Green. They had a system where once you got to be a certain age, you went to a euthanasia centre and had yourself killed. What Charlton Heston's character finds out is that the bodies of the people who have gone to these euthanasia clinics are being used to make Soylent Green. That the oceans are so dead that they can't support the algae.

AMT: Do you think we might one day see widespread cannibalism?

BILL SCHUTT: Yeah. You know I hate to say to inject this whole idea of sensationalism because that's certainly a sensationalized concept, but it wouldn't be science fiction because it's happened throughout history many, many times in places where famines occur and I see no reason why that it might not happen again. And as I mentioned before, if it does happen, the medical community is going to have to be much more aware of it beyond the gory details that you'll see on CNN. But the ramifications of that might even be more nightmarish because of diseases like kuru, these spongiform encephalopathies that will destroy the nervous system.

AMT: So what can we learn from having a better understanding of cannibalism?

BILL SCHUTT: Oh, what a great question. First of all, that it is completely natural behaviour in probably thousands of species, for reasons like parental care, as a lifeboat strategy as I mentioned, as a hedge against unpredictable environmental conditions, as a reproductive strategy. I believe that people shouldn't have this knee jerk reaction where you're either thinking of the guys up stranded in the Andes or you're thinking of Jeffrey Dahmer. There's a lot more to it than that. Among humans there's ritual cannibalism, alternatives to burying people that we believe, that we think are savage, because for the last 2,000 years we've been getting this line that cannibalism is the worst thing that you can do. And there’s medicinal cannibalism and there had been culinary cannibalism in places. And of course, there’s criminal cannibalism and survival cannibalism. It’s not cut and dry. It's not black and white. To me it's a much more interesting topic.

AMT: It's a fascinating look at the history of many people as opposed to yes, what some people tried to smear certain cultures with, huh?

BILL SCHUTT: Absolutely.

AMT: Bill Schutt, thanks for your work. So fascinating.

BILL SCHUTT: Well, thank you very much for having me on. I really enjoyed myself.

AMT: That is Bill Schutt, a zoologist and the author of Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History. We reached him in South Hampton, New York. Let us know what you think of what he's saying. We are @TheCurrentCBC on Twitter. Go to our website www.cbc.ca/thecurrent and click on the contact link. That's our program for today. Stay with Radio One for q. Tom Power is speaking with author Irvine Welsh. His novel Trainspotting was the basis of the original 1990s movie. Now his novel Porno is a major influence on the soon to be released sequel to Trainspotting, T2. I'm going to leave you with a word about what we have coming up tomorrow. As part of our project, The Disruptors, we have been asking you to share your own personal moments of disruption. And we got a letter that started this way: “Meeting the man who murdered my dad disrupted my family life.” So you can join us tomorrow to hear the woman who wrote that letter, Margot Van Sluytman and the man who murdered her father, Glen Flett. The two of them speaking together. We're going to leave you today with a little bit of what to expect. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. Thank you for listening to The Current.

SOUNDCLIP

MARGOT VAN SLUYTMAN: I was in the basement of our house. My mom did home daycare and there was a knock on the play room door. And I opened the door and there were two very tall people standing there, a man and a woman. And I asked them what they were doing there and they said we have some bad news. And so I said was my dad in a car accident? And they said no, he was killed in a robbery today. And that was the beginning of a very painful time. That's an understatement. But yeah, it was brutal. Part of the reason I cry is the paradox of being very good friends with Glen, who I respect and love very deeply and I loved my father very deeply. And the paradox of that is what makes me cry, to be honest with you. It's so huge. But it's true.

AMT: Glen, what do you remember of that day?

GLEN FLETT: Well, I remember everything about that day. It was a day in spring, kind of sunny and we went there at about two o'clock in the afternoon. The robbery took place. We hadn't planned on anything like that happening. We thought we had it all covered. We thought everything was going to go as according to plan but it didn't. We left. We got away. I still have a hard time forgetting the actual moment. It's there all the time.

[Music: Ending theme]

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