Monday March 20, 2017

March 20, 2017 full episode transcript

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The Current Transcript for March 20, 2017

Host: Anna Maria Tremonti

STORIES FROM THIS EPISODE

Listen to the full episode

Prologue

[Music: Theme]

SOUNDCLIP

CROWD: Your message is hatred, we will not tolerate it. Your message is hatred, we will not tolerate it.

ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: Students shouting down a controversial right wing speaker on a US campus. In this case it got ugly, the professor who invited him to promote discussion suffered whiplash and a concussion when the students turned violent. Incidents of outrage over speakers have played out on campuses across North America at a time of increasingly polarized politics, fabricated news, questionable facts. But according to a man who studies how we seek the truth, the flaws in thinking that we are each most blind about are our own flaws. Hear what he has to say in an hour. Also today, their dog was constantly whimpering, inconsolable. No veterinarian could offer a diagnosis to treat him, until they tried medicating with marijuana.

SOUNDCLIP

Having been involved in cannabis culture for a long time and having seen other dogs dosed, I kind of know what the effects are. So I don't feel like I'm putting him in danger.

AMT: Using cannabis for canines in half an hour. And to be lost at sea is a danger facing far too many commercial fishermen in Canada.

SOUNDCLIP

Very easily, there's no warning to these things most time. You get the weather, but like I was telling you before the weather’s so unpredictable. What they're forecasting we wind up getting double.

AMT: We're starting with a clash between fishermen and Transport Canada over the need to be safer at sea. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti, this is The Current.

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Fishermen and Transport Canada clash over timing of new safety regulations

Guests: Della Sears, Ian MacPherson, Stewart Franck

SOUNDCLIP

At this time we're full on in the search and rescue phase, with the hopes of finding the two missing people alive.

AMT: That is the sound of authorities responding to a fishing accident last year, when a boat overturned near St. John's with four men inside. It can be dangerous to be a fisherman. Water is unforgiving in the face of an accident, mechanical failure, storm. In Canada there has been an average of 13 commercial fishing related fatalities annually over the past decade according to Transport Canada. And it is something the government is trying to address with new fishing safety regulations which were announced in July of last year. Transport Canada says the new regulations are meant to reduce fatalities, injuries, and loss or damage to vessels in the commercial fishing industry. The industry was given a one year period to get up to date with the new requirements. But last Thursday fishermen from the Atlantic provinces walked out of a meeting with Transport Canada, citing their frustration with the way the safety regulations are being implemented. We're going to hear more about that coming up. But first I’m joined by Della Sears. She lost her son Katlin Nickerson in a fishing accident off the coast of Nova Scotia four years ago. It was an incident that claimed a total of five lives, all of the fishermen on board. And we've reached Della Sears in Cape Sable Island, Nova Scotia. Hello.

DELLA SEARS: Hi.

AMT: Can you tell us what happened to Katlin?

DELLA SEARS: Katlin was fishing for halibut four years ago and he got caught in a horrible storm and everyone was lost.

AMT: He was the captain of the ship huh?

DELLA SEARS: Yes, yes he was.

AMT: And there were there were five young men, all from the same place huh? All from your community.

DELLA SEARS: Yes, yes. They all grew up in Woods Harbour, most of them, except for Billy Jack. And yeah, they were all just young men.

AMT: And how has your community coped with that loss?

DELLA SEARS: Oh, I guess we've just all had to learn how to cope with it. Katlin, for myself, I speak for myself, I think of him every day. I know that most everyone in the community thinks about them every day. We've just had to learn how to cope with it. We've lost others too to the ocean in the last year that people knew. It's just hard. I don't know how the young men cope with it because they have to go on the water every day and I just don't know how they do it.

AMT: Well, and we see the statistics eh from Transport Canada, an average of 13 commercial fishing related fatalities every year over the last ten years, most of them in Atlantic Canada.

DELLA SEARS: Yes.

AMT: It's one of the most dangerous jobs in the country.

DELLA SEARS: Yes it is. It is.

AMT: You were pushing for fisherman to wear some kind of personal tracking device or flotation device?

DELLA SEARS: Yes, it was an idea. A month before Katlin was lost, he had lost a friend overboard and it was a beautiful night and they just couldn't find him. And he was lost and he was never found. And I remember talking with Katlin and he was telling me, you know, he said mama there's got to be something that we can do to find people. And actually it was him that he had said, you know, there must be something they can wear to find them. And then it was a month later and it was me and we couldn't find them. And that was something that was just an idea. I have no idea how to go about it or I was just, you know, if they could wear something that was small, something that wouldn't affect their work. And if something happened and they were lost over, they could, because with what happened to his friend, they didn't know when he went over or where he would be. There was nowhere to start, to look. And I just, if there was something that could help the search, and quickly maybe they could be saved. I’ve dealt with not having a body as far as closure. I guess we never really had anyone that has lost and went over to the ocean and never found them, they had never had closure. This would be a way, maybe it would help, maybe it wouldn't. I can't speak for that because I'm never going to have that. So--

AMT: Yeah.

DELLA SEARS: Maybe it would help with the grieving process, maybe it wouldn’t. But maybe it would save a life.

AMT: Well, because again, those five were never found eh? Katlin and colleagues.

DELLA SEARS: No no.

AMT: And so it would be, like, that's really the talk, some kind of device that could track but also some kind of survival suits so that maybe you stay afloat long enough so they can find you with that tracking device.

DELLA SEARS: Well that. I mean, I know that they can't wear survival suits all the time when they're working, the survival suits are bulky. And but I mean, yes, the a PFD, I know that they've designed things now that are smaller and easier for fishermen to work in. So other than what they what they had before. I mean, it was too hard for them to try to work, what they had to work with. But I know things have been developed now that are easier for them to wear and work.

AMT: Yeah, but the Miss Ally, the ship they were on hit a wall of water. There was nothing they could do. There was nothing they could do.

DELLA SEARS: No, there was nothing that, no. And I heard a little clip with Sandy saying about the weather, and it's so unpredictable and it was. I know, I talked to Katlin that day and I was reading him the main weather and he was telling me that he already had that weather. So yes, the weather is very unpredictable. And I was told in May because we didn't know what exactly had happened but I spoke with the joint rescue department in Halifax, and they had said that a huge wave had hit the boat and that's what caused it to capsize.

AMT: Della, you live in Cape Sable Island, you live right by the sea, you see it every day.

DELLA SEARS: Yes, every day.

AMT: That must be so hard.

DELLA SEARS: It is, it’s hard to look at the water. Of course, you get all kinds of thoughts. But I've had to learn and choose in the last two years to live positively. I find that sometimes we put so much into things that we can't change. And instead of putting things into things that we can. That’s how I chose to live my life and live positively for him and do not become bitter.

AMT: Well Della, I appreciate you talking to us today. And we're going to talk about more about the safety issues that are in discussion now. So thank you for your time and I'm sorry for your loss.

DELLA SEARS: Thank you.

AMT: Della Sears, her son Katlin Nickerson was the captain of the Miss Ally he and four others went missing after it capsized. Their bodies have never been found. She's in Cape Sable Island, Nova Scotia. New regulations proposed by Transport Canada are set to be enforced starting July 13th. And my next guest is the Executive Director of the Prince Edward Island Fishermen's Association. He's joining us from Charlottetown. Ian Macpherson is with us. Hello Mr. Macpherson.

IAN MACPHERSON: Good morning Anna Maria.

AMT: So these safety regulations, we just talked to, what Della Sears is talking about, I guess a wall of water you can't actually do much about. But I guess it's about the safety equipment on board or finding people after. What changes are expected with these safety regulations that are supposed to come in effect and be enforced in July?

IAN MACPHERSON: Well certainly, first and foremost I want to say that safety is a top priority for our fleets. And, you know, any loss of life is tragic but there is certainly different parts of this legislation that's coming in, it's not just about safety equipment, it's about stability testing, it's about some operating procedures, there's a lot of moving parts to it. And so we’re actually focused on the process and how the process is rolled out. So that's what caused some of the frustration from the meeting last week.

AMT: So what are the concerns about the way Transport Canada is rolling out the regulations?

IAN MACPHERSON: Well, a couple of things. We've been in significant discussion with Transport Canada over the last few years. Unfortunately, several of the national meetings that are good forum for a lot of this discussion didn't take place. The last one was a year ago in the spring, and we won't have another one until this December. So that's that's been a little frustrating, but irrespective there's been dialogue between the two parties. And in December we sat down with Transport Canada and asked could we look at certain parts of this legislation and stage it over a few years versus having it all come in at once on July 13th of this year?

AMT: And why is that? Why do you have to phase it in?

IAN MACPHERSON: Well, in terms of how it's going to be rolled out and enforced, there needs to be a lot of education around this. To our knowledge none of the Transport Canada people have even received basic training on how this is going to be rolled out, enforced yet. There has been some presentations, some power points to some fishing groups in the last month or so, but we just feel that if it's not rolled out properly there won't be the uptake that everyone would like to see. And we want to work together here, but there has been certainly a sense of frustration on the whole issue.

AMT: But uptake meaning what? Because isn't part of it wearing special suits? I mean, if it's going to save a life, what's the problem with the uptake?

IAN MACPHERSON: Well, as I said earlier, it's not just about the safety equipment. Those are the types of things we wanted to talk about. It just wasn't about safety equipment. It was about these other parts, this vessel stability is extremely complex and involves naval architecture and all kinds of things, and that is a separate cost piece that could cost fleets a lot of money. So we just wanted to sit down and see if we could work out. This is something industry approached Transport Canada by about, and there seemed to be some interest in it but it doesn't look like a stage process is going to go forward.

AMT: Retailers are already selling equipment to fishermen to try to meet new safety requirements. I've got a clip here of Doug Thomas, Director of FitzWright Survival in Dartmouth. They supply marine safety gear across Canada, listen to him.

SOUNDCLIP

It's a fairly lengthy period of time. We've been preparing this industry for this and we're quite confident with a staged in flow of product into the market, that we can meet delivery for the different seasons that are coming up. So that by the time they're ready to sail that industry should be able to fulfill.

AMT: OK, so he's talking about some of the safety equipment that fishermen would have. Are people still, sounds like people, some people are gearing up?

IAN MACPHERSON: Yes. And certainly we encourage that. And what we're doing is we’re to our members, we're disseminating information as it comes in. There was a, it’s called a ship safety bulletin, that came out a few weeks ago. And that's basically a directive from Transport Canada that this will be coming up, so we're, you know, posting all that information, putting it on our website. From our organization, we've contacted suppliers and are lining up options for our members. So as I said earlier, it's about the process, we're frustrated with the process. But on the other hand, we are preparing and will be prepared if July 13th is a hard date.

AMT: Now, Transport Canada sent us a statement saying it has given the industry more than enough time to comply with regulations, that it's held numerous consultations. It’s offering a period of what it calls soft enforcement. But the soft enforcement is one of your problems with them, is it not?

IAN MACPHERSON: Well, yeah, interesting [unintelligible], I think that's kind of the crux of it. What does soft enforcement mean? Is there going to be a variation between one area of the province and the other or between provinces? Those types of things. So we want to just really have a consistent approach. We want to have everyone receiving the same educational message. There's not many tools out there to help educate the fishing communities. So these are all things that we could work together on and develop very effectively. But we just feel in this prescribed period of time it's just too tight.

AMT: And we said that this is one of the most dangerous occupations in the country. How much would new safety regulations save fishermen at sea, given that sometimes they lose their lives in horrendous storms? Are there definitely you believe that there are ways to move forward and save people in a very tough business?

IAN MACPHERSON: Well, certainly we will always be looking at those avenues and I mean, there are a variety of causes that happen out there and this is, when I talk about the vessel stability testing, it gets into a very complex issue. But sometimes unfortunately some of the accidents have been caused by ships being overloaded versus not being safe and stable. So those are separate issues but those are the types of things that need to be addressed through training and dialogue and that will be an ongoing program continuously. It's important to remember too that there's a lot of requirements from Transport Canada perspective for any of the crew, not just the captain, or any of the crew on the boats, and so they're not inexperienced people that are out there but we always want to look for ways to reduce any injuries or deaths for sure.

AMT: OK well, Mr. MacPherson, thanks for your time today.

IAN MACPHERSON: Great, thanks very much Anna Maria.

AMT: That is Ian MacPherson, he's the Executive Director of the Prince Edward Island Fishermen's Association. And he joined us from Charlottetown. For more on safety in the fishing industry, I'm joined by Stewart Franck. He's the Executive Director of the Fisheries Safety Association of Nova Scotia. He is in Lunenburg County. Hello.

STEWART FRANCK: Good morning Anna Maria.

AMT: Well, we just heard our last guest talking about some of the timelines in these regulations that just aren't good enough. And he specifically talked about vessel stability, it sounds like there's a lot of work to do on some ships or, like, on regulating. How do you respond to that? How do you see that?

STEWART FRANCK: There is a lot of work to do to get in compliance with all the requirements of the regulation. With respect to the timelines, you know, it's always you set a timeline, it always comes up on you rather quick. There has been, you know, a fair amount of dialogue on this as Mr. MacPherson mentioned. But, you know, that was amongst a relatively few industry representatives and, you know, at the Canadian Marine Advisory Council and other meetings. And, you know, getting out to all the industry I think is going to take a lot more time, I think we need a lot more resources and communication to get there.

AMT: Mhm. Can you just run down for us like just a quick list of some of the top safety things that would change under these regulations?

STEWART FRANCK: Well, the changes to the safety equipment would be more risk based. Well, as far as the lifesaving equipment, it would be more risk based. So it would be according to the tenth voyage, really relatively how far off shore you're fishing. And so the farther off shore, the more elaborate safety equipment or lifesaving equipment would be required. Also the safety equipment on board such as, you know, flares and fire extinguishers and PFDs and that sort of thing would be by vessel length. So there are some changes there. Whereas before it was, you know, by tonnage. So, you know, a longer vessel will require more safety equipment. I think that's a very good thing and there are, you know, they're very rare to find but you can go through the regulation and find that there are charts or lists for various vessel lengths and type of voyages to show you what equipment, but that, you know, that equipment, well sorry, that information is very difficult to find and get your hands on.

AMT: So it's there but you really have to scour the regulations for it you’re telling me?

STEWART FRANCK: I think the communication aspect has been very inconsistent. I would probably give, you know, Transport Canada a poor grade on that. You know, we've been trying to get them out to a lot of meetings and conferences to exhibit and meet with industry, liaise with industry. There’ve been a lot of missed opportunities to get out to, you know, major exhibitions featuring thousands of fishers that they just didn't show up at. And those would have been great opportunities to get this information in the hands of the people that need it.

AMT: So you belong to these associations too, you’re one of the liaison people. So the fishermen are not opposed to safety obviously on the water, because they're the ones who are risking their lives every day?

STEWART FRANCK: They are not opposed to safety at all, in fact there are thousands of safe fishing operations conducted every day by safe people that want to come home. Every trip, this is going to be a change. The large, you know, further to your previous question about what the major changes are this, you know, safety equipment, lifesaving equipment, but also safety procedures, written health and safety procedures, emergency procedures for the crew and documentation that the crew have been trained on on these programs. This is kind of a relatively new concept in the fishing industry. Most other industries have had these procedures in place for years, safe working procedures and whatnot. And not to say that the fishing industry isn't doing it, they're doing a lot of these safety procedures but they're not necessary documenting it or don’t have the written procedures in place.

AMT: Right. And you're making the point you need more communication because they are often off at sea. So you need to when they're back, you need to be able to communicate with them so that they know what's going on.

STEWART FRANCK: Exactly. And also, you know, this is a rural industry, putting a web link on a Transport Canada website doesn't cut it in my view. You need to get out. Most of our work is done best, you know, one crew, one small community at a time.

AMT: OK. Stewart, that's, we're going to have to leave it there because we're out of time, but I hear what you're saying. Thank you very much for your time.

STEWART FRANCK: Thank you.

AMT: Stewart Franck, Executive Director of the Fisheries Safety Association of Nova Scotia. He's in Lunenburg County. We did request an interview with Transport Canada. No one was available. Stay with us. Coming up next, medical marijuana for man's best friend. Adventures with pooches and pot. This is The Current.

Back To Top »

'We have our dog back': B.C. woman treats pet with medical marijuana

Guests: Rebecca Hass

ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: Hello, I'm Anna Maria Tremonti and you're listening to The Current.

[Music: Theme]

AMT: Still to come, the conservative American social scientist Charles Murray has plenty of controversial things to say, but when he showed up at a Vermont campus to speak this month, the real controversy was that he could not speak at all. The scholar was shouted down and silenced by angry students. We've got some civil discourse on the need for civil discourse in about half an hour from now. But first, medical marijuana for man's best friend.

SOUNDCLIP

[Sound: dog yelping]

AMT: That is Hudson.

VOICE 1: Hey hey hey hey. I’ve given you your treatment puppy, you have your bone, you’re OK.

[Sound: dog whimpering]

VOICE 2: Hi Hudson, how are you? Yeah, don’t lick my pants.

VOICE 1: [laughs] He feels better if he’s licking your pants.

VOICE 2: I’d rather he didn’t lick my pants. Papa, papa, shhh.

[Sound: dog barking]

AMT: Well, that is Hudson and his owner Rebecca Hass and her daughter trying to comfort Hudson. Soothing words and cuddles, even letting him lick their pants doesn't help much. Neither does anything the veterinarian had to offer. So Rebecca Hass went searching for something else, and that search has led her to some surprising places, specifically into the world of marijuana dispensaries and the gray area of dog meds. Rebecca Hass is here to tell us about it. She's a freelance writer and documentary producer who lives in Victoria, BC. She's joining us from Vancouver. Hi Rebecca.

REBECCA HASS: Good morning.

AMT: It's hard for me to listen to even a few seconds. Does Hudson do that a lot?

REBECCA HASS: He does it a lot. It's hard for me to hear it again actually. He does it every day. What started being sort of ten to 20 minutes in the morning in the afternoon is now often for hours and it's just been getting worse and worse over the last year. I find it heartbreaking. And quite honestly, it's as you might notice, it's unbearable to listen to it.

AMT: And do you know why he's doing that?

REBECCA HASS: Well that's been a really curious journey for us. We started out talking to a vet to try and rule out something physical, because he doesn't limp or yelp when he's getting off furniture or up and down stairs. So we didn't think it was pain. He still goes for walks. I mean, the first question always with a dog is is he eating well? And he sure does still love his food, which made us think it's anxiety. Which we thought might be caused by dementia, which in dogs is called a cognitive dysfunction, rather like people in dementia wards. So when we talk to a vet, they supported that idea, especially since his yipping at that point was really getting worse after 4:00, sort of the witching hour apparently in wards as well. His mornings not so bad, but by supper we really couldn't bear to be in the same room with him.

AMT: How old is Hudson?

REBECCA HASS: He's 14. So he's a senior citizen.

AMT: Yeah.

REBECCA HASS: He's a Portuguese water dog and he's on the big side. So he looks a little bit like a poodle. He's 85 pounds, he's very gray. And the life expectancy for this breed is 12 to 14 years, so he's absolutely on the upper end. And interesting to us, we entered his age into the Purina dog age finder online and he comes up as 96 in human years.

AMT: 96. Well what makes you think Hudson has dementia?

REBECCA HASS: Well, he's always been sort of an extra needy dog, so the anxiety thing kind of clicked with us because he's always been extra sort of sucky, I would say, as a dog. But as he's grown older, it's become more pronounced. So if we're in the kitchen and I hug one of my kids, he immediately like gets in between us and sticks his head in. He's always standing on my feet. It's like he can't get close enough. And now sometimes in the house, you know, he'll get up and wander away and he'll just start to bark in another room while he’s staring at a wall. We call it non-sequitur barking.

AMT: Hm.

REBECCA HASS: And you'll go in to see what's up and there's kind of nothing. So I think it's partially he doesn't want to be alone and he can't seem to sense where we are. He doesn't seem to notice anything in the room. It's a really strange behaviour pattern. You know, in terms of the anxiety, we've had separation issues that have accelerated to the point that we can't go away anymore. We used to kennel him if we were going to go away for a weekend. But he yips, as you heard, he yipped just like that at the kennel and they said you can't really bring him here anymore. So I had a friend come and stay in the house with him, but the same thing if we're not there. So I think we're pretty much, we're married to Hudson now to the bitter end.

AMT: What does your vet suggest for treatment then or to at least comfort Hudson?

REBECCA HASS: Yeah, this has been, this is like throwing darts at a board and never finding the centre. We started out really looking at the sort of joint pain, typical senior dog issues right? Maybe arthritis, so we did pretty expensive shots weekly. Those didn't really make any difference. We tried a calming treat it was called, which were also pretty expensive and didn't seem to make any kind of consistent difference. So at that point we left that veterinarian, we went to someone else and had a conversation. They were pretty much plugged into it's a cognitive disorder but there's no real treatment for that for dogs, it's sort of that's how that is and you just live with it. But we really were not able to endure it. And I just couldn't ignore this dog that I can't seem to comfort.

AMT: That can't be easy for you then.

REBECCA HASS: It's not. I feel so bad. I feel like I failed my dog. When we had company over recently, he yipped so much during the visit, and we are getting pretty good at tuning out after 7:00, that yipping. We actually had a friend say have you thought about putting him down? I was like oh, no he's fine. He really is still fine. He just is distressed sometimes.

AMT: Mm. You know, I was wondering, I was just going to ask you that. He does sound like he's suffering.

REBECCA HASS: Yeah, I know. And yet to see him, there is no real pain or discomfort. He really seems to be, as you hear, I was trying to sort of comfort him, he doesn't seem to have any issue that we can identify, it's sort of like the more we give him attention, also the more it accelerates the barking response. You know, and at the end of the day, he's like a member of our family. We got that dog when our children were both under five and he's been growing up with them. They're teenagers now. If I thought he was suffering physically it would be different, but I really feel it's mental. And I really wanted to find something that would help him.

AMT: So take us to the beginning of your search.

REBECCA HASS: Well I happened to read an article in The New York Times, and it was about hemp and treating dogs. And I thought that was worth something, maybe I should look into. So there's a whole online community of people who were sharing their experiences about this, obviously especially in BC, California, quite a few in Oregon, Washington state. And so I encouraged my husband to stop in at a local dispensary on his way home from work. And sure enough, in the dispensary sitting out in plain view are dog cookies. But he wasn't allowed to buy them. So he said do I need to get a prescription from our vet? But the answer is no.

AMT: Really. So alongside the medical marijuana for people, there are products for the dogs. You can't, they're not for general sale how are you supposed to get them?

REBECCA HASS: Well, this is interesting. So first of all, marijuana is extremely dangerous for pets. So it's not about sharing the marijuana that a human would buy for an animal because it's actually lethal for them. But there is this whole industry of companies that are making various hemp products that are specifically for your pet, exactly as my husband saw in that store. And they're called hemp enriched treatments. I think it's sort of like maybe vitamin supplements, it might be the same idea for a human. But you can't buy it without a human prescription. So my husband had to make an appointment to go see our doctor, which is an odd thing to explain and say I need a prescription for marijuana, it's not for me it's for my dog. [laughs]

AMT: [laughs] And the doctor says yeah sure.

REBECCA HASS: Well, there was a certain amount of eye rolling but of course, for a human prescription there's a long list of things you can have. And so my husband has a condition that you could certainly treat with marijuana and he didn't get a prescription, what he ends up getting is a note that says yes, he suffers from this condition. You take the note to the dispensary and voila, you can buy whatever you want, including things for your dog, which is what we wanted.

AMT: OK. So you found the work around, but how did that work for Hudson?

REBECCA HASS: Well, we started out with the dog biscuits. They're really kind of tiny little things and it didn't seem to make any more difference than those other common treats we had bought from the vet. So then we went to an oil, that was something else they sold, comes in a seafood flavour and it's labeled as a pet tincture for pain and anxiety.

SOUNDCLIP

[Sound: dog panting]

REBECCA HASS: OK. So we shake it up, he said we have to shake it till our arm gets tired.

[Sound: dog yelping]

VOICE 1: Hudson.

REBECCA HASS: Oh that’s quite a smell. [chuckles] He gets two drops.

[Sound: dog yelping]

VOICE 1: OK.

REBECCA HASS: Once a day for five days and we see how he does. Are you puppy? So one, two. Oh jeez.

VOICE 1: Hudson is very excited.

REBECCA HASS: There you go Hudson.

[Sound: chewing]

REBECCA HASS: Boy he really devoured that biscuit. [laughs]

AMT: Mm. That was to help him wash it down I guess huh?

REBECCA HASS: Yes.

AMT: Did it help?

REBECCA HASS: No. We saw absolutely no change after all that work to get to the actual prescription sort of note and pick it up. No. The real problem I found with that product is, having then followed a lot of online conversation, is that there's really nothing on that label that tells me what's in it. How much an active component? And there’s no regulation really in this industry. And I had no expert to help me out.

AMT: Hm. So that one didn't help but you didn't stop.

REBECCA HASS: No, because I really still needed help. The dog is still whining and I know if vets aren't prescribing it then surely, as I'm seeing people are using it. I reached out into my Facebook community to see if a friend or a friend of a friend might be using products from a dispensary for their dog. And that's how I met Vicki Reesor and she doesn't live too far from me. So I paid her a visit.

SOUNDCLIP

[Sound: door knock and opening]

VICKI REESOR: Hi.

REBECCA HASS: Hi. [chuckles]

[Sound: footsteps]

REBECCA HASS: Oh my goodness, listen to that tail. Hi, you must be Molson, hi.

VICKI REESOR: [laughs]

REBECCA HASS: Oh I love dog licks. [chuckles] Did you bring me your toy? Did you bring me your toy?

REBECCA HASS: So Vicki has a 70 pound pit bull, really lovely dog named Molson.

SOUNDCLIP

REBECCA HASS: Should we sit at the table?

VICKI REESOR: Yes. Here, why don’t you have this chair?

REBECCA HASS: So we sit in the kitchen and I asked Vicki how she got started treating her dog with cannabis.

SOUNDCLIP

VICKI REESOR: I have a dispensary card for my own use and I've had the products in my house. And when he was obviously in pain I decided to experiment. The first couple of doses I gave him were on occasions when it was an evening, he was appearing distressed, shaking actually, which I didn't really know was a sign of pain. I would ask him what's wrong? Why are you shivering? And it's not obviously cold so I thought maybe he was just cold, because he's a thin coated dog. But then one of my friends pointed out that shaking can be a sign of pain. And she had seen it in one of her own dogs when he was obviously in pain because he was injured. So that's when I decided to try dosing him with cannabis oil.

AMT: So she did her own home diagnosis and experimentation as well?

REBECCA HASS: Yes. I think many of us are at a complete loss, especially when the veterinarian can't help. And if you start researching online, there's so much information about hemp products that treat dogs. A lot of different testimonials and opinions on what to use and how much. So it becomes a little bit of a game of guessing. And there's a lot of articles about accidental overdoses, when a dog gets into the human stash. So there's a lot of trial and error. Here's Vicki again, speaking to that.

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VICKI REESOR: We're kind of in a vacuum and I don't really mind that, I'm kind of a bit of a maverick sometimes. And I feel like I kind of know what I'm doing. I'm very responsive to him and having been involved in cannabis culture for a long time and having seen other dogs dosed, I kind of know what the effects are. So I don't feel like I'm putting him in danger by experimenting with low doses. What I've been doing is putting this oil that I have, which is a known strength, into almond butter and then I just make the almond butter into little balls, and I know how much is in each one. And then when I think he needs one, I squish it onto a dog cookie and give it to him. When I give it to him I'm relieved that I've done something.

REBECCA HASS: And have there been any downsides to it?

VR: Just one time I gave him too much. I felt bad then. I knew he would get over it. But I felt bad for him because he twitched every time I tried to touch him. So I just left him alone for two or three hours. He was fine.

AMT: It is risky when you experiment like that though.

REBECCA HASS: Mhm.

AMT: When you're trying to help your pet feel better, it's got to be terrible to think making the pet worse?

REBECCA HASS: An absolutely horrible thing. But overall, Vicki says the dose that she's using now is helping. And she just gives it to him when she feels he's in pain. So with that information, I was really still keen on trying to see if what Vicki had done with some success was something I could do to help my dog. So I went to a dispensary in Victoria, the Gorge Medijuana dispensary, and I talked to the man at the counter Cole Nairn. I told them I wanted to get some oil for my dog, and he told me that he's seeing a growing demand for products for pets. And that many people don't have the marijuana card or a doctor's note to purchase.

SOUNDCLIP

For people who are coming in and they don't have the ability to get a membership, they're kind of left in a bit of a bind. And so I know it's one of those sort of weird small kind of untapped customer groups in a sense, because it's very circumstantial. People just come in, whether their customers, existing or not, and they come in and they say, you know, this is my situation, this is my dog and, you know, what can I do? I've had people from different pet service providers in the city call in and say, you know, we have clients here that have senior dogs that are asking about this treatment and we don't know what to tell them because, you know, it's like good luck. You know, coming into a dispensary with your pet and trying to I don't even know how he would do that. You know, I don't even, it’s one of those things especially with how the industry is too, you know. In a perfect world, like, you should be able to just, you know, walk into the local market or at any kind of like homeopathic care provider, you should be able to walk into a store like that and just buy it. But I don't know why. I think we all I guess know why, but I don’t know when that’s going to change unfortunately.

REBECCA HASS: I took advantage of the way things are currently and I was able to show him my photo ID, which gives me three months before I have to provide a doctor's note and I could purchase what I needed. So I bought a 30 millimetre bottle of CBD oil. So it's not pot, but it has one of the active compounds in that. It's a human grade, it’s exactly what humans would be using. And then I went home and started figuring out how to dose my dog using an online site.

AMT: You did all that without a vet?

REBECCA HASS: I did.

AMT: And what are veterinarians say about that?

REBECCA HASS: The official position of the Canadian Veterinary Association is that they do not endorse this. I talked to Shane Renwick, he's the associations manager of national issues and animal welfare. And he says there's lots of interest, this is intriguing to them and there does seem to be potential. But currently, there are no clinical trials that they can refer to. He said companies have been in touch about making these products for dogs and cats but the responsibility totally falls upon the company to do the clinical trials and then they have to navigate the waters at Health Canada. So until a company wants to jump through those hoops, nothing's going to change in terms of cannabis treatment for pets. And ultimately, Shane Renwick says, the number one priority is animal welfare. And currently there just isn't any science to back up that these treatments are effective or safe.

AMT: So Rebecca, doesn't the lack of any scientific evidence make you think twice about experimenting on Hudson?

REBECCA HASS: No, it didn't. And I think partly because I felt that he was so in need and because it was worth the gamble to me to help him feel better. It is tricky. The medications I was seeing or the hemp products online, there's a lot of claims. It's really hard to tell exactly what it's for and even if anxiety would fall under that umbrella. But, you know, it kind of reminds me of the debate we have over medical marijuana for humans right? There's still maybe not enough evidence for some doctors, there's not enough clinical study, but there are still people prescribing it, there are government licensed producers and we have dispensaries by the hundreds. I can hardly walk ten feet in my neighbourhood and not come across another one.

AMT: Well given that, are any vets more open to this?

REBECCA HASS: Well I found Katherine Kramer, and she's an Integrative Veterinarian with the Animal Wellness Hospital in Vancouver. She's a vet but she also does animal acupuncture and alternative treatments. She's been looking into cannabis treatments for companion animals for several years. And so I took quite a bit of comfort in hearing that this idea isn't totally fringe. Here's what she told me.

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Over the last, I would say, four or five years, the interest has grown exponentially. When I first got involved in using this, I would maybe have a case every month or so. And now I have multiple cases daily and I'm fielding calls from vets and pet owners across North America. A lot of my patients and pet owners are coming to me because conventional medicine has not been able to help them or they're still struggling with some pretty dramatic health issues. So most of the cases that I recommend CBD for are inflammation, any types of chronic pain, it's very helpful in seizure disorders and epilepsy. And the big thing too is as an adjunct to chemotherapy, any pet with cancer will definitely benefit from CBD.

AMT: She mentions CBD again. Why is that compound safe but marijuana not?

REBECCA HASS: That's part of the danger of being unguided as I was. You know, we put our pets at real risk if we use these products without some knowledge. And I think that's because we just tend to Disneyfy our animals and we tend to think that whatever's helping us is going to be good for them. But actually it can be quite deadly if we use it improperly, because there's a big difference between pot and CBD. And CBD is one of the compounds in the pot, I’ll let Katherine Kramer explain that.

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Marijuana is toxic to dogs and cats and can be very very harmful. Fortunately in hemp, which is very rich in a chemical called cannabidiol or CBD for short. And with CBD, you get the benefits of cannabis without the psychotropic effects that we see in marijuana because of the THC. So the great thing about that is we get all the health benefits with very few side effects.

REBECCA HASS: And again, these possible health benefits are not proven scientifically. But Katherine Kramer says she's seen CBD help people's pets many times over during the years.

AMT: But without the science and without any regulation or guidelines, approved guidelines, what does she do?

REBECCA HASS: Well, it puts her in a really tough position.

SOUNDCLIP

According to my college, I am not allowed to prescribe or recommended it. However, that being said, a lot of pet owners are going to use it whether they tell me about it or not. And I would much rather they tell me and I can at least guide them on a safe place to obtain it and how to use it. Right now I feel like we're in a Catch 22, where vets are saying well we don't know much about it because there's not enough research and there's not enough research because Health Canada and the USDA and the FDA in the States won't let us do research. So I think it's a real gray area and it's a little bit difficult to know how to proceed. But I think that if vets are leading the charge because they're being annoyed and harassed by pet owners wanting this, I think eventually, hopefully within the next few years, it's not going to be such an issue. But there definitely needs to be some companion animal research and some protocols and some guidance. But the vets that I talk to are very interested in it. And usually, you know, it only takes the first couple of cases to see, in some cases, an absolute miraculous response that they're convinced.

AMT: OK. Rebecca, she talks about harassing pet owners, I guess that might be you.

REBECCA HASS: [laughs] Yeah, I think I might be part of that charge.

AMT: Yeah yeah. OK, so veterinarian Katherine Kramer in Vancouver, really interesting what she says there. But let's get back to Hudson. You said you've been trying CBD with Hudson. Are you seeing any of what she calls miraculous responses?

REBECCA HASS: Well, it was very trial and error when I started. And at first, it would help a little bit and I could tell because I could comfort him, which before just used to make him more agitated. So I knew he was getting better. And then we sort of accidentally overdosed him. One night my husband was doing it and I wasn't home and we had vomiting for the evening. But then we took Dr. Kramer’s advice and I actually went to a vet, who even though they're not prescribing, was willing to talk about dosage amounts. And it has transformed our life with our dog. So I'm a miracle story. We don't have, it was leading to yelling quite honestly, right? When the dog was whining all the time, people would just get angry. But now we don't have to do that. You can pet him, he just relaxes on his little bed, he's a little more mobile, which is sort of an accidental benefit I wasn't looking for. He plays even a little bit again and when he sleeps now, he really sleeps. He's not licking his front paw obsessively, he's not liking the pillow or our pants. He's calm, he's settled. He's still getting around. So he's absolutely a miracle success story. I know it doesn't work for everyone but it has really changed our life with our dog. We feel like we have our dog back and we feel like he's at peace, and that's what we really wanted.

AMT: It’s so fascinating huh? So from what we heard at the beginning to now he's OK. But it's a real quandary isn't it? When you have a pet you are desperate to help.

REBECCA HASS: Yeah, it was scary to venture into this because it was such a gray zone. And I felt pretty lonely often on the journey. An animal is such a helpless thing, I think it reminds me of when my children were babies and they'd be crying and you just wanted to help them desperately and you wish they could say to you what they needed but they can't. And at a basic human level, when we see things suffering we are called to do something. I think the other thing that was really painful is actually having friends judge us, that we somehow were not looking after our dog or that we were cruel and unfeeling because of those yipping noises he was making, which was also really painful. And the last thing, and many pet owners will identify with this, is the cost. So as your pet ages they become more and more expensive. And I don't like to bring money into it but it becomes financially a burden. And here I am now with a dog that I can actually ease his suffering as he gets older. And this is a really affordable solution.

AMT: Wow. Rebecca, thank you for bringing us the story.

REBECCA HASS: My pleasure.

AMT: Rebecca Hass, writer and freelancer. She lives in Victoria, BC with Hudson the dog and the rest of the family. Visit our website to see some pictures of Hudson and Molson. Tell us what you think, would you treat your pet with cannabis? Have you done this? Let us know. Do you think it's a good idea? Click on the contact link on our website cbc.ca/thecurrent. Find us on Facebook or on Twitter @TheCurrentCBC. And stay with us. Coming up next, student activists score a victory in silencing a speaker whose views they abhor, but at what cost? We're talking about that in about 90 seconds. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti, this is The Current.

[Music: Extro]

ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: Hello, I'm Anna Maria Tremonti and this is The Current. We want to share some of your responses to a story we brought you last week about Canada's so-called empire or home children, actually British Empire children. For decades, children as young as four were shipped from Britain to countries throughout the Commonwealth to work as indentured labourers and they did that with the agreement of those Commonwealth countries, including Canada. Canada took in more than 100,000 of them including Roddy Mackay. He was forced from his family and shipped to a farm school on Vancouver Island. He was seven years old at the time and he was abused there.

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There was always assignments of work, whether it be filling potholes on the road or, you know, whatever, working on the farm, working, summer time working in the fields. It wasn't going the work that leaves me with a bitterness that’s in my throat. It was the necessary punishment. You know, there's no other word for it but abuse.

AMT: Roddy Mackay would like a formal apology from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for what he and others suffered as the so-called Empire Children. After that conversation, we heard from many of you. Marvin Eng tweeted to us, “as a young boy I was terrified by my grandfather for reasons I did not understand. Years after his death, I learned about his experiences as a “homeboy” and a veteran of World War I. Both terrifying in profound ways.” Steven Turnbull in Vancouver writes, “there was a more sinister purpose to these child immigration programs, to keep colonies like Canada and Australia white. And the abuse these children endured often continued after they left the schools. The school will get them a job, the boys as farm labourers, the girls as domestic servants. There was very little follow up from the school. Many of them worked excessive hours and were underpaid. Some like my father, simply walked away and went to seek better work in Vancouver.” That comes from Steve Turnbull in Vancouver. And then finally, Marion Vermeersh of Norfolk County, Ontario says her father and uncle were part of that same program. She writes, “an apology is the very least the Canadian government can do, especially to the unknown numbers who were treated as no more than slaves. And just as the history of Residential schools was hushed up, so was the history of the Home Children. It is time this subject is taught, and thoroughly, in all school systems in Canada.” And just to clarify, parliament did vote to apologize but there has not been an apology, official apology from the prime minister. You can always contact us about anything you hear on the show. Send us an email by going to our website cbc.ca/thecurrent and click on the contact link. We are on Facebook. We are also on Twitter @TheCurrentCBC.

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Why a campus protest has the right and left calling for more civilized discourse

Guests: Jay Parini, Hugo Mercier

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CROWD: Your message is hatred, we cannot tolerate it. Your message is hatred, we cannot tolerate it. Your message is hatred, we cannot tolerate it.

ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: That is the sound of angry student protesters at Middlebury College in Vermont. Earlier this month, it was March 2nd actually, their ire was directed at the conservative author and social scientist Charles Murray, who had been invited to speak at the school. Now, you may know that name. Charles Murray wrote a controversial 1994 book called The Bell Curve. It offered up his race based theories of human intelligence. It is the kind of work that has led to his being labeled a white nationalist. But Mr. Murray remains a frequent guest speaker on US college campuses and he is quite used to facing protesters before and after he speaks. What happened at Middlebury started out the usual way. Here are some student voices from the event.

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STUDENT 1: I personally felt as if my community was sending me the message that I did not belong. Like, as a woman and as a person of colour.

STUDENT 2: He's got a message that is not something that I think is tolerant, amounts to hate speech. And I feel particularly strongly that the college should not be endorsing it.

CROWD: Charles Murray go away, racist, sexist, anti-gay. Charles Murray go away, racist, sexist, anti-gay.

AMT: Well what followed was something different than usual. When Mr. Murray began to speak, the protesters did not quiet down they did not cede the floor, they continued to drown him out. When it became apparent his voice would not be heard inside the auditorium, organizers moved him to a separate room where the moderated discussion could continue and be shown live on live stream. Protesters found a way to disrupt that as well, they pulled the fire alarms. That forced the visiting scholar to get up and leave. When he did, he was met by an angry mob of students who got physical. The Middlebury professor accompanying Mr. Murray was injured and taken to hospital. She had whiplash and a concussion. To conservative commentators, that episode is an example of what is described as the intolerant left, in quotation marks, and campest politics gone crazy. It has raised concerns on the political left as well, about the erosion of civil discourse. Jay Parini is a scholar at Middlebury College. He is a poet, a novelist, a professor of English. We have reached him in Middlebury, Vermont. Hello.

JAY PARINI: Hello there Anna Maria.

AMT: What did you think when you saw those protests take place?

JAY PARINI: Well, I was standing in a room next door where there was a video feed, and I was frankly horrified. I'm coming at this from a left liberal viewpoint and I didn't approve of any of the arguments that Murray was going to put forward. But I'm a passionate believer in free speech as the basis of not only all society but especially within a college or university community. This is where we start. And if we don't have free speech we have nothing, we lose everything. And so when the students wouldn't let him speak. I mean, he had been planning to speak for half an hour and in there had been scheduled as much as three hours of debate moderated by my colleague Allison Stanger. And they refused to let him speak, they shout him down. Then they moved into that room as you said next door. Then the students pulled fire alarms and on and on. I thought this was mob behaviour run amok and it played right into the hands of the Trump people who want to condemn political correctness, it played right into the hands of everybody on the right who screams PC PC PC, and I was fairly disgusted by it. But in the wake of this, I've actually become very hopeful because I've seen a strong gathering of voices in support of free speech and saying look, our students are strong enough to withstand any kind of argument. They have to be encouraged and taught to debate. That is the basis of any civil society.

AMT: Right. OK. Can we just clarify? What was the debate going to be? What was he arguing?

JAY PARINI: Oh he was going to, I'm not even sure what he was going to talk about because we never heard. But I think he was certainly not talking about The Bell Curve. He was going to be talking about is his new book Losing Ground, which has to do with the place of the white middle class in society at the moment. And certainly, Murray was, you know, not the exactly right target for the kind of student hysteria here. I mean, he was an anti-Trump Republican. He has been very strongly pro-gay. So really, it was kind of a crazy choice of someone to shout down and to be labeling this as hate speech was, you know, quite out of any legal bounds. I mean, hate speech is very narrowly defined by the US Supreme Court in a series of decisions and this is not hate speech.

AMT: Well, let's talk about free speech. Some people would say the student protesters had a right to their free speech to chant at him the way they did.

JAY PARINI: Well, you know, sure the students have a right to their own free speech but not when it actually supersedes somebody else's right to free speech. I mean, if somebody wants to speak in public and you shout them down and don't let them speak. I mean, that's bullying behaviour. And I think it's particularly important not for students in a college like Middlebury to behave in this illiberal way in the context of a White House where we have a bully and a racist, you know, in the White House, it's crazy. Plays right into their hands.

AMT: Well, this gets right to the crux of the whole debate about what free speech really is. So maybe speak to me a little bit more about how you see that the concept of free speech being twisted right now.

JAY PARINI: Well, I see free speech as one of our basic Enlightenment ideal. I mean, the US Constitution was put forward by a group of men, all men, who were essentially trained in the values and ideas of the European Enlightenment. And certainly there was a profound belief, it's our first amendment, not our second third fourth, that free speech is always something that's protected by the US government. I mean, when Martin Luther King on November 4th, 1967 in Memphis, April 4th, 1967 in Memphis, the courts in Memphis took out an injunction to shut him down in four days, he was meant to speak. He gave a profound speech and he said people have to understand that free speech is the basis of every American freedom. This is where all human dignity begins. And it's a very slippery slope. Pretty soon we'll be in Russia, we’ll be in China. In America, free speech is absolutely protected and I have the right to make my speech in four days.

AMT: So in other words, anything--

JAY PARINI: Those were, by the way, his last public words. He was gunned down the next day.

AMT: Yeah. So in other words, anything that might be deemed offensive that can be manipulated as well. And you can't use that argument that you're offending me, ergo you should not speak.

JAY PARINI: Right. Isn't every opinion offensive to someone? I mean, I think it's rare in any, certainly an academic community especially is a place where many ideas are debated, left right centre, and there's a zillion little on that spectrum opinions. And so we have to allow every kind of voice. Those that are horrific to us perhaps, even to be given a little bit of room to express themselves and then people debate. We bring reason, argument and facts. I mean, I think now is a crucial moment for all Americans, especially those who work in universities, those who study in universities to understand what is a fact and how do we apply rationality to these facts and come up with reasonable opinions? We’re missing that right now in the culture.

AMT: At the same time, isn't protest also a healthy sign of society? Have you not had been in protests in the past in your youth?

JAY PARINI: [chuckles] You know, when I was a student at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania in the late sixties, a speaker was coming to campus to talk about the yellow peril and the Vietnam War. I was strongly involved in a protest but we were advised by our faculty adviser, before we went in there make sure he gets to say his piece and then bring lots of arguments with you and stand there and don't let him get out of that room until you've had a chance to air your views. And he said if you really can't stand what he's saying turn your backs on him while he's talking. And that's what we did. If the Middlebury students had simply found Charles Murray objectionable and quietly turned their backs on him or silently walked out of the room one by one and therefore drained the experience of its oxygen it would have been an immensely powerful targeted and useful protest. Shouting people down is never a plausible response at a college or university.

AMT: OK. I have in my notes that you actually threw blood at the Pentagon once, is that true?

JAY PARINI: You know, yes, I was in a march on the Pentagon in 1967 in the fall. And I was with a group that through it, it was sheep's blood by the way.

AMT: I was going to ask.

JAY PARINI: I threw a bucket of sheep’s blood at the Pentagon. It wasn't real human blood but it was a symbolic gesture and I wasn't shutting down anybody's free speech. In fact, the Pentagon had plenty of spokesman who denounced that.

AMT: So how do you see protests change from when you were protesting on campuses? What's the difference today?

JAY PARINI: I think, I mean, I really do find the students today less thoughtful in their approach to protests. They haven't been schooled in it. During the Vietnam War, we had a long time to try to figure this out and to deal with a situation, which was a genocidal war by our own country on a far distant people. I thought that was a terrible travesty. During the Iraq invasion, I thought America did a terrible thing in invading Iraq in 2003 and, you know, killing over 100,000 civilians, sending a million people homeless. This was insane. And I protested that, our students protested that, carrying signs in the streets, going down to Washington. I marched on Washington myself. I marched, I happened to be in London, I marched all through the streets of London to Hyde Park and listened to speeches. This is an appropriate way and an effective way of protesting. But if someone comes to a university setting and is giving a speech, you either listen to the speech or you turn your back on it or stand outside with a placard, but you don't shout them down because pretty soon it's a very slippery slope, they will be shouting you down. And I'm very worried that in the age of Trump, we're looking at a repressive period to come. Like the McCarthy era, where people of colour, people on the margins of society gays, lesbians, transgenders, these kinds of people, people even who want to protest global warming will be shut down and not allowed to say their piece. And so I'm very worried. I think students have to be particularly careful about how they approach protest, how it's effective and how to make it work.

AMT: And what would you say to those students who say they are worried about the same thing you are and they feel that those who would repress them will be encouraged by the very person who had been brought there to speak.

JAY PARINI: I would say that you've been played. They've made a game with you. I think people on the right here at Middlebury College saw an opportunity to create a fuss and to make students look like PC snowflakes who can't stand any argument. I say to my students you are smart, you are gifted intellectually, you are lucky to be at a place like Middlebury College, a wonderful elite institution where you have access to facts. You have been trained in reason and rationality. You know how to think. So prove yourself, stand on your feet and think, because pretty soon you're going to be out in the world where, believe me, you're going to have to use every resource that's available to you to make your case.

AMT: OK. Well, Professor Parini, thank you for your thoughts today.

JAY PARINI: Thank you.

AMT: That is Jay Parini, he's a poet and a novelist and also an English professor at Middlebury College. And he joined us from Middlebury, Vermont. Of course, free speech controversies are swirling on Canadian campuses as well. Friday, protesters at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario disrupted an appearance by University of Toronto Professor Jordan Peterson. The psychology professor has sparked debate over his refusal to use gender neutral pronouns such as ze or zir instead of he or her. To Professor Peterson and his supporters, it's a principled stance. To his critics, it is tantamount to hate. Saturday, Mr. Peterson also gave a speech at Western University in London, Ontario which was well attended and there were no protesters.

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JORDAN PETERSON: Well, it's a lot more peaceful that's for sure. I mean, there was a lot of protest yesterday and it looks like I'll be able to speak, so that's a good thing. I'm not surprised by this, but I wasn't particularly surprised yesterday. I mean, these things can go anyway.

AMT: University of Toronto Professor Jordan Peterson, speaking Saturday before a talk at Western University. To some campus debates such as these speak to a growing ideological polarization in many parts of the world today. Hugo Mercier is a cognitive scientist who has pondered this very problem. He's co-author of The Enigma of Reason: A New Theory of Human Understanding. And Hugo Mercier is joining us from Laboule, France today. Hello.

HUGO MERCIER: Hi. Thank you for having me.

AMT: Why is it so hard for people to change their own opinions?

HUGO MERCIER: Well, I think it's not as necessarily as hard as people think it is. When you look at the experimental data, it suggests that actually when you give people good arguments they do change their minds somewhat. So they don't necessarily go all the way towards the person who is making the argument but they do move in the right direction. So sometimes these changes are, you know, small enough that they might be hard to perceive. But over the long run, people do change their minds more than we think I think.

AMT: But you've looked at something called confirmation bias. What is that?

HUGO MERCIER: It's a tendency that we have that everybody has to when they ponder a problem or when they want to make a decision, to mostly find arguments that will support whatever they think is the best option in the first place. So, you know, if you're thinking about who you might vote for and you already have a preference for one of the candidates, you're likely to mostly find arguments and reasons supporting that candidate and going against the other candidates. But our theory suggests that the confirmation bias is mostly a problem when we gather reasons, when we produce reasons. By contrast, when we are actually exposed to other people's arguments, there we should be related with the object, we should be able to evaluate other people's arguments and recognize good arguments.

AMT: So in other words, when we seek the truth we're seeking a truth we want to seek? If we’re researching you’re saying, yeah.

HUGO MERCIER: Yeah. When you're on your own or when you are with likeminded people who agree with you, then you will be heavily biased. So it's only by exposing yourself to disagreement, people who hold different views, that you might counteract these biases.

AMT: OK. Well, talk to me a little bit more about some of what you've worked on. You've looked even at how we evolved into a species that reasons.

HUGO MERCIER: Yeah, exactly. So our theory is an evolutionary one. So what we we’re saying is that our ancestors had to communicate a lot, so that we're unique among primates in the extent to which we cooperate with each other. And to cooperate effectively you need to communicate. And so when you communicate, obviously sometimes you disagree with the people you're talking with. And if you cannot exchange reasons with them, you have to rely on trust entirely to decide whether you should change your mind or not. And trust, you know, it's kind of fickle, it's hard to build, it can be easily destroyed. It's not very effective. I mean, imagine if you had to, you know, to talk to anybody without being able to give them reasons for what you believe, it would be really hard to change anybody's minds. And so we think that's one of the reasons why in a way we evolve this capacity to find arguments and to evaluate other people's arguments so that we can communicate better, so that we can decide on who is right when two people disagree.

AMT: So reason doesn't necessarily help us find the truth?

HUGO MERCIER: It helps us decide who is right. So if the two of us disagree about a matter of fact, in theory, according to us anyway, and according to quite a bit of data as matter of fact, if we talk to each other than whoever has the best answer is more likely to win the conversation, is more to convince the other person.

AMT: Tell us about the experiment you did that demonstrates the gap between what we know and what we think we know. The math problem experiment.

HUGO MERCIER: So we did this experiment in which, so you take a large classroom, for instance about 30, 40, you know, even maybe up to 100 people, and you give them one of these reasoning problems, which are kind of tricky in that there is a very intuitive compelling answer that happens to be wrong. And so most people give this intuitive compelling answer and they're very confident that this is right. But a few people manage to get the right answer, you know, maybe they've just done more math or they knew it better from that day. So they get at the right answer and what we see is if you let people reason on their own for a few minutes, what you'll see is that the people who get it wrong from the start will just become more confident that the the wrong answer is correct because they keep finding reasons, you know, with this confirmation bias we are discussing earlier. So you have a lot of people who are very very sure that their wrong answer is correct. And then if you just let people talk with each other, what you can see is you can see the right answer diffuse through the group. So, you know, if someone has the right answer, she'll be able to convince the neighbours, her neighbours that the answer is right and then the neighbours will be able to convince their neighbours that the answer is right, until in about ten or 15 minutes the whole group agrees. So it's something that's very easy to do if you are a teacher and you have a classroom, it works all the time. As long as at least one student is able to figure it out, then she will be able to, you know, spread the word so to speak and to get the whole group to converge on the right answer.

AMT: And they're converting, so they're finally understanding what is right and what is wrong?

HUGO MERCIER: Yeah and the beauty of it is that in these cases, they're not swayed by, you know, by confidence or by kind of blister or by, you know, just being yielding to the majority. They really understand what's going on, because when someone has been convinced then they've understood the argument and they can convince someone else in turn.

AMT: OK. And so but if we have a bias and it serves a purpose and we can convince someone and win an argument, how does that work if we’re in polarized politics where people are very entrenched and they really believe that they are right?

HUGO MERCIER: Well, I guess you have to maybe look at that kind of progressively. So instead of maybe trying to pit people from the two extremes, oftentimes, you know, when you see debates on TV or look at debates in the newspapers, you find people who are very extreme. So they're part of this kind of small group of very informed people who have very strong opinions about politics. And obviously it's rather unlikely that these two extremes are going to be able to meet somewhere. But if you take people who are, which is the case of most people, not so far off each other, you know, they might disagree on some things but they don't have very extreme views. Then when these kind of people discuss, it's likely that their views are going to become closer to each other and that they will better understand why the other person believes whatever she believes. And they’ll also better understand why they believe what they believe. So people in the tradition of deliberative democracy have done a lot of experiments in which they just take citizens and they have them talk with each other about various political issues, and what they found consistently is that first of all, you have some kind of homogenization of the beliefs people have. So there's people kind of going towards the middle way. But mostly people understand much better the issue at play, even if they don't change their mind all together. They understand much better what's going on.

AMT: And but this also means there's interaction, like, you're not looking at a screen and shouting at the TV at a debate. Like, you're actually interacting with someone and having a discussion that goes back and forth.

HUGO MERCIER: That is a very good point.

AMT: That’s key, isn’t it?

HUGO MERCIER: Exactly. That is a very good point. So I think what is often misleading is that we are indeed exposed to a lot of contrary opinions, you know, when you watch TV, when you read the newspaper, and, you know, when we typically when we're challenged by an argument, it's rare that the argument convinces us all together, you know, we might recognize its strength but it doesn't convince us all the way. And then we just start generating, you know, automatically our reflex is to generate counter-arguments as we would in a conversation. Except that the person on the other side is not there to address his counter-arguments. So even if she might have, you know, if she had been there, she can't. And so in the end you might end up being even more sure that you're right just because you didn't have an actual conversation, you were just exposed to a single argument instead of having this back and forth that you might have with an actual person.

AMT: OK. So the technology we have today actually gets in our way in many ways because we we’re not talking to each other.

HUGO MERCIER: Yeah, in a way--

AMT: We’re talking at each other.

HUGO MERCIER: Yeah, in a way it might still be better to, you know, to have the newspaper than to have nothing at all.

AMT: Mhm.

HUGO MERCIER: You might still be exposed to some contrary opinions which is, you know, might be better than nothing. But yeah, I mean, the ideal is to have an interaction the way you do, I mean, the ideal is really a face to face setting, which is obviously harder to do in some cases.

AMT: Right. But we have to somehow work our way toward talking to each other is what you're saying?

HUGO MERCIER: Yeah.

AMT: Fascinating. OK well, Hugo Mercier, thank you for your time today.

HUGO MERCIER: Well thank you for having me.

AMT: That is Hugo Murcier, he's a cognitive scientist and he's the co-author of The Enigma of Reason: A New Theory of Human Understanding. He joined us from Laboule, France. Let us know what you think. You can tweet us we are @TheCurrentCBC, find us on Facebook or go to our website cbc.ca/thecurrent and click on the contact link. That is today's edition of The Current. You can always take The Current with you. Remember to go, the CBC Radio app is free from the App Store or Google Play. Now, we had a discussion about medicinal marijuana for dogs today. So we're going to give a nod to a burgeoning industry of supplying wine for cats. Last month, The New York Times reported that not one but two US startup companies were doing a brisk trade in marketing wine for cats. The beverages are actually non-alcoholic, they contain catnip water and flavourings. It turns out pet owners are excited to buy little miniature bottles so that their feline friends can join in on happy hour. Apollo Peak is the name of one major cat wine company. Its offerings include Catbernet and Pino Meow. I'm not making this up but I am reading it. They have enlisted the help of a rapper known as iAmMosho to market their wares. And so we are going to leave you today with that little bit of anthropomorphic delusion. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti, thank you for listening to The Current.

[Music: iAmMosho]

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