Note: Transcripts may contain errors. If you wish to re-use all, or part of, a transcript, please contact CBC for permission. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print. Copyright © CBC 2016
The Current Transcript for March 16, 2016
Host: Anna Maria Tremonti
STORIES FROM THIS EPISODE
Listen to the full episode
You know, there are four Canadian kids in a war zone where there's carpet bombing. A month ago there was bombs that fell five kilometres from their heads.
ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: Those four kids are her daughters and sons taken to Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq by their father who had told the BC courts he was taking them on a European vacation. She has known precisely where they are at times over the last several months, but she cannot get to them, cannot contact them, cannot get them out of there. Her pleas to the Canadian government, she says, have changed nothing. In a moment we'll hear from Allison Azer. Also today, she should have turned 15 last month. Instead, her birthday was the day Finola Muswaggon’s family buried her.
We don't know why. We’ll never know why, because she didn't tell her friends.
AMT: Her suicide is part of the troubling statistics that have First Nations leaders demanding help for what they say is a suicide epidemic. We will hear their ideas on how to confront this in an hour. And Donald Trump's steady stream of offensive oratory gets a lot of attention from pundits, puzzled again, after last night at his success. So what are they missing?
DONALD TRUMP: You know, fair trade is good if you have smart people negotiating. And I would have the best. Because every trade deal we make stinks. It stinks.
AMT: In half an hour, we focus on Trump’s trade talk,how it is attracting American blue collar workers on both ends of the political spectrum. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current.
Back To Top »
Canadian mom Alison Azer fears abducted kids in Iraq with their dad
Guests: Alison Azer
AMT: We are starting today with a story that is a horror for any parent to imagine. Alison Azer has not seen her four children in seven months. She believes she knows where they are, but it is a dangerous war zone in northern Iraq. They are believed to be there with their father Dr. Saren Azer. He was once known as a respected physician and humanitarian in Canada after he emigrated here from Iran more than two decades ago. From then until now, he has been a passionate advocate for the cause of his fellow Kurds. But now he stands accused of abducting their children after taking them on a trip to Europe last summer and failing to return. Alison Azer is working hard for their return, though, meeting with Kurdish authorities in Washington, DC this week. And that's where we have reached her. Hello.
ALISON AZER: Hello.
AMT: Alison, tell me about your children.
ALISON AZER: I've got four incredible kids. I've got-- The older two are girls. Sharvahn, she’s 11 and a half and Rojevahn, she’ll be 10 in June. Dersim and Mietan are my sons. Dersim is seven and a half. Last time I saw him he was just six with a real wiggly front tooth. And my little guy, Mietan, he'll turn four on June 1st. I mean, I've missed a real big chunk of that boy's life.
AMT: Tell me about the last time you saw them.
ALISON AZER: We were driving to the handover to the nanny and kids were pretty upset. My nine-year-old in particular, she had spent much of the night before crying, just telling me how uncomfortable she felt about the trip and how worried she was that her dad might take her somewhere, that she just would never see me again. So, you know, I tried to inject a bit of levity and I passed the cellphone around and asked the kids to each leave me a message and tell me a joke, which they did, and I have listened to those messages over and over and over again.
AMT: Hmm. What was your life like in the lead up to that trip to the handover?
ALISON AZER: You know, I would say the real dark part of this, and it's all relative shades of darkness, happened about a year ago. March 8th last year, I was served with the application to show up in court to hear Saren’s request to take the children out of the country. The court approved this expedited application without informing my legal counsel or informing me, giving us very little time to proceed.
AMT: Now, this was a trip in March. This was going to be a March Break trip last year.
ALISON AZER: Yeah. They ended up going in April and, you know, like anybody with a long game he played it perfectly clean. The kids were to call me every 48 hours; they called me every 47 hours. You know, they had ice cream twice a day and had a real good time. And then he came back and real shortly thereafter he set out his demands for summer holidays, which included a broader scope and stipulated that he would not be taking the nanny.
AMT: So let's back up here. Because this-- So this April trip that lasted a week?
ALISON AZER: It was about ten days.
AMT: Okay. That is significant because you were divorced and in the custody, you had control of passports.
ALISON AZER: I had control of the passports.
AMT: Why is that?
ALISON AZER: Because if there had been one thing that I could not compromise at all was international travel. I had seen intimately the red flags, the risk factors that were present for parental abduction.
AMT: Why? What had your ex-husband told you?
ALISON AZER: You know, very bluntly. It wasn't a nuance. It was very bluntly that he would not accept the children being raised in the West and that he would not accept as co-parenting.
MT: Now, if we go back to the summer of 2013, in fact, there was a file on him from the RCMP because of that, was there not?
ALISON AZER: The RCMP opened a file. In an interview with an RCMP officer, I was present, Saren was very explicit in his intentions of planning on taking the children back, which prompted that officer to open a file labeled ‘possible parental abduction.’
AMT: So, he took them on that trip and came back and you say that he applied for a summer trip. What was the summer trip supposed to be?
ALISON AZER: It was supposed to be France, Germany, and Greece, which didn't make a lot of sense to me. And because he had done what he said he would do in the first trip I had very little grounds to counter his summer request. The best I could do was insist that the nanny attend the trip.
AMT: Okay. So, as you're driving the kids to the handover your then nine-year-old, now ten, Rojevahn—
ALISON AZER: Yes.
AMT : --raises the concerns that you told us about. They go to Europe. Do they stay in contact with you at first?
ALISON AZER: Their first phone call was delayed by 12 hours. I got real worried and called my lawyer, who called Saren’s lawyer, who then started frantically trying to reach her client. And so within about ten hours, I did hear from the children.
AMT: And what were those conversations like?
ALISON AZER: They were so beautiful. You know, with Sharvahn, I was in the midst of renovating her bedroom, so she wanted to talk about where I was going to put her new dresser and how I was going to hang the mirror. With Rojevahn, whe was upset again. She told me that she had cried for six hours the night before. And I said to her, what is it? What's bothering you? And she said, Mommy, something doesn't feel right. Now, that was the 11th of August and we know now that Saren had somebody buy tickets for them to travel from Dusseldorf via Istanbul into Sulaymaniyah on the10th.
AMT: Sulaymaniyah in Northern Iraq.
ALISON AZER: Exactly.
AMT: In the Kurdish-held areas of Northern Iraq.
ALISON AZER: That's right. Sulaymaniyah, Northern Iraq. So, my little girl Rojevahn was picking up on something that was really real. I finished the conversation with Dersim. He was going to turn seven on the22nd of August and I was not going to see him until, I think, the 23rd and I had a big birthday party planned for him the following Saturday. So he wanted to talk about his birthday cake. And how big was the bouncy castle that I had booked. And he never got to celebrate that birthday party. [voice shakes] I had to call up every mom. I forgot one, actually. But I had to call the other moms and tell them, please, don't bring your kids to the door next Saturday. Dersim’s not coming home.
AMT: What has the RCMP now told you about their understanding of the timeline?
ALISON AZER: They've confirmed that up until a year in advance Saren was sending large sums of money from Canadian bank accounts to one of his brothers in Iran.
AMT: They have confirmed as well that he did fly to Sulaymaniyah Airport in Northern Iraq?
ALISON AZER: Yes. So you know within hours of landing in Sulaymaniyah, Saren had them in an area of northeastern Iraq called Qandil, Qandil Mountains, which is an area governed by PKK, which—
AMT: The Kurdish Workers Party, Kurdish separatist party, essentially.
ALISON AZER: Right.
AMT: Do you have any official confirmation that the children are there?
ALISON AZER: Yes. You know, we had we had virtual GPS coordinates, I had photographs. I had people who had some pretty intimate details about my children. I provided that information to Kurdish officials Sulaymaniyah, one of whom, a very senior member of the PUK party, took a convoy into Qandil in late November and met with Saren exactly where I said he would be.
AMT: And what was the result of that meeting?
ALISON AZER: Well, I never got my kids out.
AMT: What did they say was talked about?
ALISON AZER: Saren spent a lot of time defending his position and was really, I think, trying to cultivate some sympathy for this poor man who had married a Western woman.
AMT: The area where they are, you must've heard on the news that Turkey sent fighter jets into that area Monday and bombed Kurdish rebel positions. Did you hear about that?
ALISON AZER: Sure, sure. Well, I mean, that’s—
AMT: What did you think?
ALISON AZER: That's absolutely terrifying. You know, there are four Canadian kids in a war zone where there's carpet bombing. It’s not going to end any time soon. I have been telling the Canadian government for months that the spring offensive will be one of the worst in years. And that I don't think many Canadians would tolerate four little Canadian kids coming out of a war zone in body bags from the place that the Canadian government knew for months that they were being held captive.
AMT: When you tell Canadian officials that what do they say to you?
ALISON AZER: They tend to get real quiet.
AMT: Well, I've got a clip here that I want to run for you. This is Omar Alghabra Omar, the Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs. He said this in the House of Commons last month.
I want to assure the House that our officials are working closely with government authorities here and abroad, including law enforcement agencies. And I want to take a moment to recognize Ms. Azer’s strength and commitment and I want to assure her and this House that we are very committed to the return of her children safely at home.
AMT: What do you think of that?
ALISON AZER: You know, I was told over and over that the Canadian government will do what it can. It's not enough. They have to do whatever it takes.
AMT: Well, we did ask to speak to an official in the Department of Global Affairs and we received a statement that basically reiterates what you just heard there. The RCMP told us this is a priority investigation. What do you know about that investigation?
ALISON AZER: I know that it's being led from a detachment of a community of about 50,000 people on Vancouver Island. They’re in over their heads. They don't know the region. I know for a fact that they have sent no investigator in on this file.
AMT: Now, you have gone to Iraq twice to try to find your children. What happened on those trips?
ALISON AZER: The first time I went was September, just on the heels of coming to Washington and hearing from the Kurdish government that my children were, as I suspected, in Northern Iraq. So I went to the capital Erbil. I met with the Minister of the Interior and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. I was assured that the KRG would follow the rule of law, that held their friendship with Canada in extremely high regard. I was there for about ten days at that time and took to heart what they had assured me and returned to Canada. And then radio silence. No one would return my calls. I couldn't get anywhere. By about the third week of October I just couldn't stay in Canada. I couldn't stay in Canada when I knew I had four kids in a war zone and if nobody was going to make this a priority, I was going to make it a priority. And so that second trip - and I was there for almost three months –was. I don’t know, a bit of a citizen action, pounding the pavement, putting up posters, talking to anybody who would talk to me. I found my kids. I hired a fixer. And we drove through seven checkpoints. We went right into the village where Saren had been holding the kids captive.
AMT: What did you see? What did you find?
ALISON AZER: I didn't see my kids. The elders who were outside when we drove in recognized me. The one that came forward lived in the village, you know, was married, had five kids, and he was working with the PKK. He didn't look very happy to see me at all. He did invite us into his home. And I met all of his five children, including this little guy who—
AMT: Would have been the edge of your own little guy.
ALISON AZER: He was Dersim to me. And he came and sat by me. And I had some English kids’ books with me. He let me put my arm around him, stroke his hair, kiss his cheeks. And we you know look through this book together and I told him at the end it was for him it was a gift. And he was just delighted. And he said that he couldn't wait to see Dersim again, so that he could show him the book that his mommy brought for them to read.
AMT: So, these people were in touch, even their children, with your children.
ALISON AZER: Absolutely. Probably just a kilometre away from them at most and I never got to see them.
AMT: So, obviously, if they knew you were there, they made sure that you didn't see them.
ALISON AZER: Yeah. By that point, I would learn later that Saren, they moved him into more of a compound higher up the mountain.
AMT: With the children?
ALISON AZER: Correct.
AMT: Do you know anything now about how they're doing?
ALISON AZER: I don't. My sources, they can't get a current location on them.
AMT: Do you think the system has failed your children?
ALISON AZER: Over and over and over again. I spent three years and 300,000 dollars locked in litigation to try and keep my kids in this country and I failed, because the system would not back me. And so when I was taken into court over and over again, I just look like the ex-wife with a real axe to grind. And that really hurt, [voice catches] because all I was trying to do was to keep four kids safe. And I was alone.
AMT: What do you tell yourself every day then? How do you get through your days?
ALISON AZER: You know, I wake up every morning just like I did this morning. And there's this grace. There's this grace of three to five seconds where I think I still have a life that I got to get up and get the kids ready and off to school. And it’s so beautiful. And then I realize not only to I not have that life, I don't have a life. I don't have a life without my kids. I don't have a home without my kids. [voice shakes] And all I want to do is fall back asleep. So I make a deal with myself. I say, Alison, just one more day. Have courage for one more day. You don't know. Maybe today’s the day. Maybe today's the day that you get the call that the government was able to get the kids out, that the government did what it took to get the kids out. Maybe today’s the day. That's how I get through my day.
AMT: Alison, I appreciate you sharing your story with us. I don't know what to say.
ALISON AZER: Thanks, Anna Maria. Thanks for letting me tell my story. It matters to me that Canadians know. It matters to me that Canadians know that these are their kids too.
AMT: Okay. Thank you.
ALISON AZER: Thanks, Anna Maria.
AMT: Alison Azer is in Washington, DC to meet with Kurdish authorities. That's where we reached her. As I mentioned Global Affairs Canada declined our request for an interview as did the RCMP. They both sent statements saying the case is a priority and they are working with international partners to bring the children home safely.
AMT: Well, just a reminder, if you're joining us partway through, you can always download a podcast and listen to us when you feel like it or listen to us online, cbc.ca/thecurrent. If you have any thoughts on what you're hearing today, if you want to weigh in on the story of Alison Azer and what she just outlined, you cannot tweet us we are @thecurrentCBC. Find us on Facebook or email us by going on line, cbc.ca/thecurrent, and click on the Contact link. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current on CBC Radio One, Sirius XM, and online on cbc.ca/thecurrent.
Back To Top »
It's not bigotry but bad trade deals driving Trump voters, says author Thomas Frank
Guest: Thomas Frank
ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: Hello I'm Anna Maria Tremonti and you're listening to The Current. Still to come, searching for solutions to an epidemic of suicide in First Nations communities, Cross Lake Manitoba has seen six suicides since last December, while many more have attempted to take their own lives. We will hear from those close to it half an hour from now. But first, the real Trump card.
Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome the next President of the United States, Mr. Donald J. Trump.
[cheering and whistling]
AMT: The sound of victory last night as Republican front runner Donald Trump took the stage in Florida. Florida is the coveted prize. It was the coveted prize of the night and he took all of its 99 delegates and won Illinois and North Carolina. Barring some unforeseen event, Donald J. Trump will be the Republican standard bearer in the presidential election. It is a phenomenon that analysts of every political persuasion are trying to explain and pundits everywhere are quick to cite Mr. Trump's apparent appeal to bigotry and racism as he stirs up his supporters. But Thomas Frank has some thoughts on the spectacular rise of Donald Trump which may just surprise you. Thomas Frank is a well-known journalist whose book, What's the Matter with Kansas has become something of a political classic. His new book, Listen Liberal or Whatever Happened to the Party of the People was released yesterday. Thomas Frank is in New York City, hello.
THOMAS FRANK: Hey, how are you today.
AMT: Well, I'm curious to know what you're thinking. So first of all, what do you think of last night's results? What do you think they mean for the Republicans?
THOMAS FRANK: Well, it certainly looks like the end of the Republican Party that I grew up with. You know Donald Trump is a very different figure than every other Republican that's come along. I used to be a conservative myself when I was younger and a lot of it came out of a kind of cultural conservatism. Were very uncomfortable with it, with modernity, well that's all gone now. To hell with that, you know what I'm saying. Donald Trump is, this guy is the complete opposite of that and then you look at the conservative--the love of markets and free trade and things like that and that's out the window as well so it's. It certainly is an enormous change for the Republican Party and they are—the leadership of the party, they don't know what to do about this guy.
AMT: I want to keep on with them in a moment but let's just look at the Democrats as well. What would you think of the Democratic results last night?
THOMAS FRANK: It looks like it's going to be Hillary for sure. But we sort of knew that all along. She had such an enormous advantage going into the race that it would have been very hard for anyone to challenge her. She has—they have this super-delegate system with the Democrats and she's had that wrapped up since the beginning.
AMT: So, if you have Hillary on one side and Trump on the other let's get to what you've been looking at and discovering the more you talk to people. First of all, Donald Trump appears to have made great inroads with blue collar workers, what's the appeal?
THOMAS FRANK: Yeah that's the story of the year and it's also the story of the last few decades. I mean this is a phenomenon that's been building and building since the 1970’s with white working class people increasingly voting for Republicans. And what makes that story interesting and what I wrote about ten years ago in What's the Matter with Kansas was that all of this loyalty to the Republican Party and the Republican Party would do very little for these voters and didn't serve them in really in anyway. And now finally they seem to be demanding a candidate of their own choosing who's not like traditional Republicans at all. How does Donald Trump appeal to them? Well the interesting thing is when you know if you read mainstream coverage of Donald Trump it's all focused on the bigotry and the intolerance because that’s clearly the most spectacular part of his story and the most offensive part of his story. But there is another element as well that you don't hear about if you just read the newspapers and watch the TV coverage, which is Donald Trump talks about trade and he talks about it all the time. It's by far his most—what would you say, the subject he spends the lion's share of his time on. And in particular the trade deals that the U.S. has signed since the1990’s that have really industrialized the heartland of this country. These trade deals are extremely unpopular with working class voters. And they can also--it's something that you can easily blame on the Democrats although of course The Republicans can be blamed as well but this is something that has--this is a weapon you can use against the Democratic Party because it was Bill Clinton that got NAFTA signed and it's the current president Barack Obama who's trying to get something called the Trans-Pacific Partnership through Congress. Do you know about this?
AMT: Oh, yes, because it's a controversy here in Canada. In fact, Hillary Clinton was part of the negotiating on the TPP was she not?
THOMAS FRANK: She certainly was, and now she's running away from it as fast as she can. That's exactly right. But to go back to NAFTA for a second, NAFTA is fascinating because it sort of represents everything that's wrong with our politics here in America. It's unpopular in all three countries.
AMT: Mexico, US, and Canada.
THOMAS FRANK: Right. It was deeply unpopular--I don't know how it stands in Canada now, but when it was signed it was deeply unpopular there and in America as well. And yet, the elites in our country--like if you open up the New York Times or something like that, the elites in our country on both left and right, or what passes for a left in America I should say. The elites in our country are universally in favor of it. You know there's nothing wrong--you know trade is this kind of, they use the word no brainer when they talk about it. Trade is so obviously good, how could anyone even question it? And it's been--it's fascinating because NAFTA has been really bad, both for working class Americans and for working class Mexicans. It's actually a really interesting thing. It's not like one country has done better than another country, it's one class in both countries has done better than another class.
AMT: Well and in fact let's pick up on this because last night in Florida, Donald Trump was talking trade. In fact less than three minutes into his speech, he goes to that subject. Listen to him.
We will someday in the not too distant future, if I win, otherwise it's not going to happen. I have to be honest with you. But Apple and all of these great companies will be making their product in the United States, not in China, Vietnam. And we're not going to be losing our companies. You know our companies are leaving our country and frankly I'm disgusted with it and I'm tired of seeing it and there's no reason for it. It's just gross incompetence at the highest level. We should not allow it to happen. Everybody agrees that the money should be here. And the politicians for three years haven't been able to make a deal.
AMT: Okay, well, Thomas Frank, what do you think?
THOMAS FRANK: Well, you know, that's--yeah that’s what he always says and I'll tell you something, you know he's right about that in a lot of ways. Look, there's a lot about Donald Trump that I really object to, there's no way I can vote for a candidate that says the kind of things he says about Muslims and Mexicans and things like that. But when he talks about the trade deals, it is unconscionable that this stuff is allowed to go on. I mean the trade deals that we have signed with these countries are specifically set up so that American corporations can move production to those countries and then import what they make back into the United States. That's what these treaties are for, that's what they're all about.
AMT: And the fall out of that, of course is jobs. I think you have written about and I was on--I was looking last night, there's a clip on YouTube of a Carrier air conditioning plant in Illinois where the CEO is announcing that the plant is closing and it will be moving business to Mexico.
THOMAS FRANK: Right.
AMT: It's been viewed something like 3,000,000 times.
THOMAS FRANK: Yeah and it's kind of a--and your listeners should go in and check that out if they want to understand what motivates American workers to support this guy, this boasting loud mouth Donald Trump. It's a really kind of awful video. It really makes your heart sink, so these guys are all gathered in a room and some executive of some kind comes out on stage and speaking that kind of, sort of classic human relations kind of patois, you know what I'm talking about, and he tells them--he shares with them the information that they’re all going to lose their jobs. It's absolutely horrifying and some of them scream at him, but he says we're moving the factory to Monterey, Mexico. So this is something that happens you know.
AMT: You also make the point that this is kind of passing a lot of people in the mainstream media right by. And I have another clip that I want you to hear. This is Donald Trump’s appearance on 60 Minutes last September, listen to this...
DONALD TRUMP: Let's say Ford moves to Mexico, if they want to sell that car in the United States, they pay a tax. Here's what's going to happen, they're not going to build their plant there. They’re going to build in the United States.
SCOTT PELLEY: But there is a North American Free Trade Agreement.
DONALD TRUMP: And there shouldn't be. It's a disaster!
SCOTT PELLEY: But it is there and if you’re president, you're going to have a live with.
DONALD TRUMP: Excuse me. We will either renegotiate it or we will break it because you know that every agreement has an end.
SCOTT PELLEY: You can't just break the law.
DONALD TRUMP: Excuse me. Every agreement has an end. Every agreement has to be fair. Every agreement has a defraud clause. We’re being defrauded by all these countries.
SCOTT PELLEY: It's called free trade and it is a plank of the Republican platform.
DONALD TRUMP: We need fair trade, not free trade. We need fair trade. It's got to be fair.
AMT: Well that is Donald Trump with Scott Pelley of CBS News on 60 Minutes. Thomas Frank, talk to me about that that exchange?
THOMAS FRANK: So when Trump’s--I mean by the way, President Obama said this in 2008 when he was running for office, said the same thing, that we would renegotiate NAFTA because it's not good for American workers. This is a position that is traditionally associated with the American, with the Left in America. When Donald Trump talks about fair trade, that is a saying that American labor unions often use in their opposition to these treaties. So that's you know--what's funny is the, I think the announcer, the way he the holds NAFTA to be this kind of sacred thing, that you can't you can’t ever get out of this, you can never violate this, that sort of thing. Politicians have been promising for a long time to get out of it. But all of a sudden now that you've got a guy that seems--well it's hard to say that Donald Trump means it when he says he's going to do these things because he you know--this guy, you get the sense that he would say anything. But there is this feeling among the American, a commentary class, the people who write the op-eds and conduct the talk shows and everything like that, that what they call free trade, that's their word for it, this is free trade. That is this this kind of sacred thing and it's so obviously good and correct, and it's just a class issue. They think that because it's good for people like them--and they don't go to places like Indiana and see what's happened.
AMT: I see another quote from Donald Trump from last night where he actually says there is great anger, believe me, there is great anger. So he's sort of proudly the candidate of the angry and disaffected, which brings us back to this idea that you're making the point that everyone focuses on bigotry and racism and they don't look at the underlying issue of the real economic anger.
THOMAS FRANK: Well I hate to say it but yeah, that's exactly right. He is a candidate of this wave of outrage that's out there has been building. Look, the Great Recession, what we call the Great Recession in the aftermath of the financial crisis, technically ended in 2009. But a majority of Americans say it's still going on because it is for them, right? They have never recovered, their towns have never recovered and they understand that something changed during this latest recession and their way of life is never coming back and they are angry about it. I think they have a perfect right to be angry about it. I'm really sorry that their anger is being channeled behind a charlatan like Donald Trump but that is the source, that's where this, all of this is coming from. You know why it upsets me so much because this is the province of the political left. It's the Democrats that are supposed to speak for the working class people and you know average Americans and people who have been hard done by economic downturns. That's what the Democratic Party exists for and they just can't switch it on anymore. They can't talk to those people anymore. Barack Obama by the way, did a fairly good job of that in 2008. Remember the candidate of hope and enormous crowds that would come out to see him. People really placed enormous faith in him doing something about the situation that we were in and here we are eight years later, for a lot of people nothing has improved.
AMT: Why do you think that is? Why do you think if Obama said he would do that, that he hasn't done that in eight years?
THOMAS FRANK: Well that's what Listen Liberal is about. This book that I put out which was just published yesterday and it's about the failure of the Democratic Party to do anything for its traditional constituency in the working class. They don't really care about the problems of the working class. The reason for that is because the Democrats, some time ago, decided they didn't want to be a party of the working class any more, they wanted to be a party of the professional class, of the sort of enlightened post-industrial knowledge workers. And so for them, Wall Street is, and industry like Wall Street is--if you want to fix America, Wall Street is going to have to come down several notches, right? The Democrats were not willing to do that because Wall Street is for them this paradigmatic industry of the post industrial economy and it's filled with these enlightened and creative professionals, and this kind of thing. This is the same thing with Silicon Valley. They don't enforce our antitrust laws here in America anymore as far as it concerns Silicon Valley. They're basically exempt. The same thing with big pharma, the pharmaceutical manufacturers, these are people you know that they treat extremely well, extremely well, even though big pharma basically is preying on Middle America. Thousand dollar-a-pill drugs and do you know about the American medical bills?
AMT: Well, yeah, and in fact Donald Trump has said he'll be renegotiating with big pharma as well. But let me ask you though, he's made a lot about the fact that he's very wealthy, he funds his own candidacy. So what's the appeal to someone who is suspicious of power elites and the wealthy?
THOMAS FRANK: That's the million dollar question. Mitt Romney was also very wealthy man, right? The Republican candidate in 2012, and it was very easy to lampoon Mitt Romney is this kind of a caricature of a rich moneybags, robber baron. And the Democrats did it very well they ran a series of commercials making fun of him in this, well my God it was devastating. And you know, Donald Trump, who is even more of a grotesque caricature, you know everything is marble and gold and he has these towers and these buildings, and the way he dresses and he's at his country club, that he owns, his country club that he owns in Florida. This is the man who is the leader of the working class rebellion? It's so counterintuitive. There's only one way in which it makes sense and that's what you mentioned because he’s self-funding his own campaign. So we had two insurgent campaigns here in America this year round. We had his and we had Bernie Sanders and they had one thing in common, that back story here is that in America now, politics is really a game for billionaires. You know because of the amount of money that is required to run for office in United States and only rich people have enough money to donate and make it possible. So every political candidate has to cater to the rich in some way or another. Well, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have both found a way around that.
AMT: If you look at Trump as well, everything that sort of the established other wealthy people and other powerful people say about Trump to kind of say he's different or to isolate him, just actually sparks more support. So he's not seen necessarily, even though he is wealthy, he seen as one of them. He's seen as a guy coming from the outside does he not?
THOMAS FRANK: It's culturally and historically crazy, but you can understand why that is because he's so different from every other candidate who's on the stage with him. You know he's so, in the way he presented himself, in the way he talks. He has nothing in common with your standard issue American politician of the year 2016.
AMT: Now, you make the point though that it really does have to do with the way he sees trade and the promises he makes on trade. But at the same time is the popularity of Trump about the details of trade agreements? Or is it because of the other narrative that's flowing underneath that which is, those foreigners have your jobs, which gets back to the bigotry issue.
THOMAS FRANK: Well, it's very possible. There's always been a mixture of xenophobia in with people's opposition to trade deals. But I say in this case, in the in the current case that we're in, people have a right to oppose trade deals. And one of the things that Donald Trump does by the way, I watched a number of his speeches and he has a number of sort of routines that he does in his speeches, and one of the most popular ones is where he imagines and he asks the audience to imagine him phoning the CEO of this Carrier company, you know the air conditioner manufacturer that you referred to earlier. Phoning the CEO of this company and threatening him with really steep tariffs on his air conditioning units if he was to bring them back into the United States. And the audience, they all love this, right? They love this. It's silly and it's kind of childish, but this is very popular.
AMT: Well, it speaks to accountability, doesn't it?
THOMAS FRANK: Yeah, sort of, but it's all it's also--he's understanding this stuff on a really--you know he's making it seem very personal. He's explaining it in a way that's very personal. It's not how anything actually gets done in the real world, but there's an emotional power to it. And by the way there's a very interesting survey of Trump voters done by the AFLCIO, you know the American labor organization--they have a political auxiliary that went around to white working class neighborhoods in Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Two big former industrial cities and they interviewed all of these people who are Trump voters or likely Trump voters and far and away the thing that they like the most about Donald Trump is the way he talks, that's always what they say it is the way that he talks. In the actual issues that they say are important to them, always, always, always, the number one issue is jobs and the economy, and immigrants which is another one of Trump's calling card issues. He wants to build a wall along the Mexican border. He'll probably build it on the Canadian border too just for fun or just for practice or something, but the--he wants to build this wall and in this AFLCIO survey, immigration is a distant third in the issues that these voters care about is. Jobs and the economy is always the first thing. I mean these people are really hurting.
AMT: We're almost at a time so just really briefly I want to get another point from you because we see part of this is the Republican Party imploding around his candidacy but you know you ask in the title of your book, whatever happened to the party the people? The Democratic Party as it goes through this with--again that working class vote that is coming from all areas going in to Trump. Will the Democrats be doing that kind of searching and rebuilding and struggling the way the Republicans have been for the last several years, after the selection do you think?
THOMAS FRANK: No, absolutely not because Hillary Clinton is the opposite of that sort of candidate. Hillary Clinton is the candidate of the Democratic establishment. She's a Clinton. She served in Barack Obama's cabinet. I thought Barack Obama was that candidate in 2008, that's actually why I supported him in 2008. I thought he was going to shake things up and bring in all sorts of new people into the Democratic Party and instead he went right back to a bunch of veterans of the Clinton administration. Of course if Hillary Clinton wins, it's going to be everybody just stays on for four more years. That's all that's going to happen. The Democrats are really averse to self-examination. Part of their appeal is that they think of themselves as being extremely virtuous people. Extremely righteous people, they're very good people, that's what being a liberal in this country is all about. It's not about self-examination it's about pointing your finger at someone else and finding that there's something wrong with them.
AMT: Interesting because Bill Clinton has actually, apparently reportedly told Hillary Clinton's campaign people that they're in denial about Trump. Thomas Frank we have to leave it there. Thanks for your insights.
THOMAS FRANK: Yeah, sure thing.
AMT: That is Thomas Frank. His new book is Listen Liberal or Whatever Happened to the Party of the People was just released yesterday. Thomas Frank joined us from New York City. Let us know what you think. You can tweet us we're @thecurrentcbc, find us on Facebook or go to our website cbc.ca/thecurrent and click on the contact link.
Back To Top »
As suicides rise in indigenous communities, calls for a national strategy grow
Guests: Sheila North Wilson, Jonathan Solomon, Cindy Blackstock, Dawn Lavell-Harvard
ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: Hello, I'm Anna Maria Tremonti, and this is The Current.
There's so many unanswered questions on what was really affecting the young people and the young mother we've lost because they took the answers with them. We can only base it on our own thoughts of what must have been hurting them.
AMT: That is Shirley Robinson, the acting chief of Pimicikamak Cree Nation, also known as Cross Lake, in northern Manitoba. Her community is in the midst of a suicide crisis, and it's not alone.
VOICE 1: In Pimicikamak, six people have died by suicide in the last three months; that, from a population of fewer than 6,000. Currently, 170 students are on suicide-watch at Pimicikamak's high school.
VOICE 2: Canada-wide, in some First Nations communities, young men are 10 times more likely to die by suicide and young women 20 times more likely, than their non-First Nations counterparts.
VOICE 1: In some First Nations, the suicide rate for children under 15 is more than 50 times the national average.
AMT: The crisis has renewed calls for a national strategy to save lives. Assembly of First Nations Grand Chief Perry Bellegarde says the federal government should use its upcoming budget to bring in a plan.
It's epidemic. Once people start seeing that people are going to say, this is crazy, this is ludicrous, this has to be dealt with, this is health, this is life and death situations. This is a crisis. If that was happening in any other major city there'd be huge interventions. Huge amount of both physical and mental human resources put to deal with this issue. And again it's a travesty that it's taken this crisis to elevate this awareness to the highest levels but we've got to deal with it sooner, than later and provide that hope that's needed and start creating a better future for these young men and women. They should not have to turn to suicide as an option.
AMT: One person who is trying to deal with this now is Sheila North Wilson, the Grand Chief of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, which represents 30 Manitoba First Nations. Shelia North Wilson is in Winnipeg, hello.
SHEILA NORTH WILSON: Good morning, Anna Maria.
AMT: You've been in meetings in the community; tell us a little bit about that.
SHEILA NORTH WILSON: It was a pretty intense and frank discussion yesterday in Pimicikamak. There was about fifty people around the table and more in the peripheral, I guess. And half of them were the leadership of the community, including the crisis team that's been dealing with this rash of suicides. And volunteer elders who have been in the schools, talking with youth, and consoling and comforting them on their own time. So they were there talking about their frustrations, and some of the realities that they're facing. And on the other side of, basically, the table was officials and technicians and bureaucrats from both federal and provincial governments, as well as agencies, that were there to offer, I guess, a listening ear, but also offering what they may be able to do with the program that they administer. So there were some frank discussions, there were some tears by the leadership, and even some of the bureaucrats were sometimes in tears, talking about the situation. So it was a pretty intense and I think very much needed discussion.
AMT: Mhm. And so, you had some government people there. What kind of support is the community asking for?
SHEILA NORTH WILSON: They have specific questions that, they had a list that they were working from. The main one that I know, that was each school needs a mental health therapist professional, and I think they asked for at least six. And over one million dollars, actually, 1.7 million dollars, for post-secondary education. And that, of course, speaks to the greater need for all of Canada on First Nations education. But their particular need, if they were to send all of the post-secondary applicants, would be at the tune of 1.7 million. And they asked for program enhancements throughout, recreational facilities for the youth, a hospital, personal care home, increased programming at their Whiskey Jack Treatment Centre. And of course, all of that speaks to the greater need by all of our First Nations in the M.K.O territory, and I would venture to say all of, most of the First Nations in Canada.
AMT: So Shelia, help us understand a little more. We just heard that more than 100 high school students, close to 170, are on a suicide watch list. What can you tell us about that? What is going on?
SHEILA NORTH WILSON: Well, yeah. The community very much still in shock, and still feeling traumatized by all of this. And, in fact, while we were all sitting there all day yesterday, there were three attempts of suicide in the community. Which, you know, every time there was a plane, or... at one point, the R.C.M.P. officer that was there had to leave, and then people realized later that that's what he was leaving for, is to tend to a potential suicide attempt. And so the community is very much tense and very emotional, I would say, and definitely long overdue for answers in their community on the despair that they're seeing. Not only that, in St. Theresa Point, which is another community in our in our territory of the 30, they had to bury an 18-year-old because of suicide, and there has been attempts in other communities. And yesterday and today, I'm hearing that there are a couple of murders, a homicide, potential homicides, in two of our other communities. And this speaks to the overall despair that our communities are facing, but also mix that with, you know, sometimes addictions and mental health issues in our community that haven't been addressed.
AMT: So what are the young people telling you?
SHEILA NORTH WILSON: The young people are saying that they need recreational facilities where they can explore their talents that many of them have. There is a beautiful hockey rink there that's really utilized to the fullest, it's always it's always being used. And then they have a skate park in the summertime that some kids are interested in doing, and they have playgrounds for little kids. But they're saying that they need a recreational facility where they can go and do programming around arts and exploring some of the talents that they have, and a place to meet and congregate.
AMT: So, because they've got nowhere to go, nothing to do, and the interests they have, they've got nowhere to explore them.
SHEILA NORTH WILSON: Yeah, other than the school, and that has limitations on that, but yeah.
AMT: And so why, that leads to feelings of what?
SHEILA NORTH WILSON: Well, all this, of course, when you mix it all in with the typical teenage, I guess, issues that we all go through, in terms of like, exploring who we are, and our self-esteem issues. And then mix that with lack of opportunities and lack of resources to start to really get your footing on the ground on what you want to do with your future. It becomes very difficult when you mix that all together. And I think this also has to do with lack of opportunity for our young people to explore their cultural pride and restoring some of that. And a lot of that has to do with what happened with the parental system, that was interrupted by the whole residential school system, and on down the line, and how there was a disconnect between our young people and our elders for many years in a lot of places. And we're seeing some of that, we need to find a way for youth to have an outlet, to be able to explore who they are, and find out what their culture is all about. But also make connections with the elders in the community, because elders have so much to offer. When I was a York Landing last week, another First Nation, there was about 30 elders there, and they were talking about the time that they were relocated from their traditional territory to another place that couldn't sustain their livelihood. And they had a really, really difficult time. They literally were going through starvation, and-- but they survived. So our young people need to know how resilient and how strong our people are, despite all the challenges that we have, and I think that that was one of the things that they were asking for, is finding a way to connect with their culture and their heritage.
AMT: Okay. Well, Sheila North Wilson, thanks for speaking with me and giving us a little more insight into how you're trying to go forward on this.
SHEILA NORTH WILSON: Thank you very much, Anna Maria. And just let me add one last thing. A lot of this has to do with, you know, the treaty relationship that we were supposed to be basing this country on, hasn't been lived up to. and if the Trudeau government and the ministers are truly after a nation-to-nation government in relationship with the most important people, the relationship that they keep talking about, I think, we're going to have to see real investment and real changes when the budget is handed down next week.
AMT: Okay, well, we’ll bring this up with our next guests. Thank you.
SHEILA NORTH WILSON: Thank you.
AMT: That is Sheila North Wilson. She’s the Grand Chief of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak. And we reached her in Winnipeg today. Sadly, many First Nations communities across Canada can relate to what she’s talking about. My next guests all want to see more done to prevent suicide. Jonathan Solomon is Grand Chief of the Mushkegowuk First Nations, which include eight Cree First Nations in the James Bay region. And we have reached him at his home in Kashechewan, Ontario. Dawn Lavell-Harvard is the executive director of First Nations Child & Family Caring Society. She is in Calgary today. And Dawn Lavell-Harvard is the President of the Native Women's Association of Canada and she is in New York City. Hello, everyone.
ALL: [mixed greetings]
AMT: Grand Chief Jonathan Solomon, let's start with you. As you listen to what's happening in Cross Lake, how closely does that hit home for you?
JONATHAN SOLOMON: It just brings back memories of what we went through in our region when suicides were taking our of communities by hostage, it seems, a few years ago. And to this day, we still continue to have that issue, you know, of suicides in our area. This past weekend, we laid, the community of Fort Albany laid a young woman to rest because of suicide.
AMT: Dawn Lavell-Harvard, talk to us a little bit about how prevalent suicide is among Indigenous use across Canada.
DAWN LAVELL-HARVARD: Well, this is a great concern, not only in our First Nations, but for Indigenous youth, as he said, across Canada. That in some territories, the suicide rates are eight times as high as the non-Aboriginal population. And unfortunately, that's something that can only be expected when you have communities, when we have First Nations living in third world conditions. Communities where they don't have basic human rights of clean water and the right to a life without violence. That this kind of despair that leads to suicide is an outcome that should be expected when people have no hope in those kind of circumstances. We need to see substantive change immediately if we hope to stem the tide.
AMT: Cindy Blackstock, you’ve spent a lot of time looking at the disparity. Why is this happening?
CINDY BLACKSTOCK: Well, what your listeners may not know is that First Nations Children's Services are underfunded across every area of their experience, and the reason for that is that provincial and territorial laws apply on reserve, but the federal government funds it. And going back to Confederation, they underfund those services by about 30 per cent. And what that means, Anna Maria, is that First Nation's children are really discriminated against by the federal government. And as one non-Aboriginal girl told me, she said, discrimination is when the government doesn't think you're worth the money. And the real tragedy for me is when I see these kids who are going to crummy schools, and not getting the quality of culturally-based education they deserve, and then not getting the family services, and then not getting clean water to drink. They start to feel like they're not worth the money, and that's where we see this symptom of these tragic suicides emerging from, is that when you're racially discriminated against, and you're underfunded across all areas of experience, you start to feel like you're not worth the money and you don't have the resources to be able to parcel that out and deal with it.
AMT: So Cindy, are you saying to me that you can make a direct link to federal funding and suicides? That that's how they actually articulate it? Or is it something else here?
CINDY BLACKSTOCK: I would say that what we have is when you create conditions where children are receiving less services, and therefore have less hope and less control over their life experience, that that leads to a situation where suicides are more likely.
AMT: So Jonathan Solomon, what has your community done in response to so many suicides?
JONATHAN SOLOMON: Our region took upon themselves to have an inquiry of their own, because the governments, both levels of governments at that time, refused to be part of this process. And what our chiefs did back then, is they pulled their money together to begin to have a process where they identified commissioners to travel to communities to hear from the young people, and also to families, in regards to why this was happening. And it took two years to have that process. And the report that they did was out in January of this year, in Thunder Bay, in the midst of the chiefs’ meeting. in. And it was a very powerful day, powerful and very emotional day, when young people gathered around me at the chief’s meeting, when we launched his report that we did in regards of suicide. And this report is very important to us, that we need to start looking at implementing the stories and also the issues that came out of our process.
AMT: Okay, so tell me a little bit more. First of all, the underlying causes you found, are they parallel to what Cindy and Don are talking about, then?
JONATHAN SOLOMON: Yes, they are parallel, but are there is also very sad issues in regards to bullying, even cyber bullying. Broken homes, broken relationships, family violence. All these things that people were talking about, were sharing their stories, and also the issue around, going back to identity. You know, they want to be able to have programs where they can learn to be back out on the land, how to survive off the land, and also learning about the many things in the land. Like trance, medicine, you know, and animals. This is the type of life that, they want to be able to live that life that gives them the peace, the freedom, to enjoy life.
AMT: Is there a difference between why older people are dying by suicide compared to younger people? Because it's not solely the youth who are adding to these statistics.
JONATHAN SOLOMON: Yes, that’s true. You know, we’re beginning to see even older folks take their own lives. And that's a very sad situation. No parent should be laying their kids to rest because of suicide. You know, and as the Grand Chief, it hurts me, it saddens me that my future is dying right in front of me. And it's something that dear to my heart, that needs to be addressed. The national chief, there has to be a national strategy, and we must be part of that process if there is going to be one. Because there has been various studies, the Royal People's Commission way back in the ‘90s. And in our area, there's been various studies, like there's the Horizon, that was done by Nishnawbe Aski Nation study, and there’s the Pikangikum inquest, where the coroner looked at this very serious issue in regards to suicides in that community. And also our process, like, study after study. I think there needs to be more tangible results discussed, how do we begin to address to what these things that are hurting our people?
AMT: And you know, we're talking about process, but I'm guessing, I'm pretty sure that each of you, this goes beyond a process right to your hearts. I'm wondering if you're all as First Nations descendants, I'm wondering if you've been affected personally by someone close to you, by suicide. Cindy?
CINDY BLACKSTOCK: Not in my family, but certainly with friends, and many stories about suicide. And it's really, really tragic when the leading cause of death of young people is really them taking their own lives. And we have good research that says how that can stop. There was a good study by two psychologists, Chandler and Lalonde in 1998 about suicides in B.C., which is where my First Nation is located. And what they found is that 90 per cent of the suicides were happening in 10 percent of the First Nations. There were some First Nations for which the suicide rate was lower than the non-Aboriginal community, but the difference between the First Nations that were having high suicide rates and the lower side suicide rates, is a higher the degree of self-determination, as expressed by having more First Nation services, and more people who are adults who are able to make control and do decisions that affect their community, the lower the suicide rate. And so we need to really grab onto those good studies, and really generalize those across the country, and make sure that these children have the services they need. Because we’re losing a generation of kids.
AMT: Dawn Lavell-Harvard, the national chief, Perry Bellegarde, has called for a national suicide strategy for Indigenous people. What do you want to see in that strategy?
DAWN LAVELL-HARVARD: Well, absolutely. We need a national suicide strategy to be part of a larger mental health strategy. I mean, we need to recognise that suicide is the symptom of a larger problem: it's a symptom of the distress that's coming from the high levels of violence that absolutely need to be addressed. Children and women living in families where the crisis of domestic violence is causing this additional despair, and then, unfortunately, we have the situation where the suicides themselves almost become contagious. Because when young person in a close, tight knit community takes their lives, it only increases the despair felt by the remaining members of the community. And when you asked if we were touched personally; when you're from a First Nations community, when we have large extended family in close tight knit communities, you can't help but have felt this personally when it's in your community. And that's why it trickles so far, and the ripples go out to many, many families across the entire community, because they're so connected. So we really need to see concrete, in the community, services that are culture-based, are appropriate and sensitive to our communities, to our traditions, to supporting our identities, our way of life. Really getting back to what Cindy was talking about, that re-instilling our sense of who we are, and that sense of resilience that as a peoples, we have survived this colonial attack for hundreds of years now, and we will continue to survive. But we need to have concrete interventions in our communities now, so that this young generation can stay alive long enough to see that there is hope, that that we will continue to survive.
AMT: Okay, so you want concrete interventions now, so what would that look like, Dawn?
DAWN LAVELL-HARVARD: We have to have communities with proper health services, where, and for example, we've had children coming forward, we've had youth come forward expressing suicidal thoughts. Parents and community members calling mental health services, only to be told you can have an appointment next Thursday of next week. When somebody is on suicide watch, and they're generally in crisis, they need services now. We can't afford to say, can you just hold on until next week, that’s absolutely appalling, and just such a disregard of life. So we need to have immediate services for all of our communities when somebody is in crisis. That’s fundamental.
DAWN LAVELL-HARVARD: And that’s the counselors, the medical professionals, the mental health counselors, and as well as the prevention. Starting to get in there ahead of time to have some mental health support, some supports, long before we hit that crisis point.
AMT: Mmm. Cindy Blackstock, whose responsibility is it to bring in and oversee a national strategy?
CINDY BLACKSTOCK: Well, I think it really is both the Assembly of First Nations with the leadership of the chiefs, and also the federal government, and the provinces and territories. And we will need the provinces involved, because for example in Ontario, Anna Maria, one of the things we discovered in the recent child welfare tribunal is that the funding arrangement for child welfare in Ontario is signed with the federal government, and it includes a schedule that references the Child Welfare Act. Well, the one that's being funded in Ontario is still dated 1978, and the reason that that's important for this topic, is that after that point in time, there were amendments to the Child Welfare Act to bring in provisions for mental health services for children in care and families in crisis. But those kids in Ontario aren't receiving those services because the act has never been updated. So you have kids in Ontario receiving 1978 services. whereas everybody else is receiving 2016 services.
AMT: So you're telling me it's the bureaucrats and the politicians have to get together at every level if this is going to work?
CINDY BLACKSTOCK: And the community members. We have to own, we have, to as individuals within the community, we have to do everything in our power to make sure that we're embracing what hurts and addressing these family crises. So it'll take everyone involved, but the leadership needs to come from the chiefs and also from the federal government.
AMT: Okay, well, we have to leave it there, but thank you all for weighing in on this issue today.
CINDY BLACKSTOCK: Thank you very much.
JONATHAN SOLOMON: Thank you very much.
DAWN LAVELL-HARVARD: Thank you.
AMT: I've been speaking with Jonathan Solomon, he is Grand Chief of the Mushkegowuk First Nations. Cindy Blackstock is the executive director of First Nations Child & Family Caring Society. And Dawn Lavell-Harvard is the President of the Native Women's Association of Canada. We want to hear from you on this: what more do you think should be done to prevent suicide in Indigenous communities? Tweet us @thecurrentcbc. Find us on Facebook, or write us an email from our website, cbc.ca/thecurrent and click on the Contact link. That's our program for today. Now, earlier I was speaking to Thomas Frank, a political analyst. He’s arguing that Donald Trump's success in the run for The White House is attributable in large part to the billionaire Republican candidate's message about trade. And he was talking about that YouTube video that's been shared a great deal among Trump supporters from earlier this year. It's a recording from the factory floor of an air conditioner-manufacturing plant, a carrier plant, in Indianapolis, Indiana, and it's where you have the CEO telling everyone that their factory will be moving to Mexico, and that their jobs will be going. It’s been viewed 3.5 million times. We were talking about it earlier, and we’re going to leave you with a clip from that video. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. Thank you for listening to The Current.
VOICE 1: ..The best way to stay competitive and protect the business for long-term is to move production from our facility in Indianapolis to Monterrey, Mexico.
[crowd unrest, booing]
VOICE 2: [shouting] That’s why you brought all those [unintelligible] here!
VOICE 1: Listen, I’ve got information that’s important to share as a part of your transition, if we can go ahead. If you don’t want to hear it, other people do, so let’s quiet down, thank you very much. Relocating our operations to Monterrey will allow us to maintain high levels of product quality…
VOICE 1: ..at competitive prices, and continue to serve…
VOICE 1: ..the extremely price-sensitive marketplace. Throughout the transition, we must remain committed to manufacturing the same, high-quality product…[fades]
Back To Top »
CBC would like to acknowledge the support of the Broadcasting Accessibility Fund.