Activism, Politics

Two years ago, Canadians watched the American presidential race with a kind of horrified fascination as DJT rapidly became the media darling and voice of the seemingly-disenfranchised Conservative (male, heterosexual, white, predominantly-Christian) right. That horrified fascination seemed to suit us so well as we kept repeating among ourselves, sotto voce, over and over, “Thank the stars, that can NEVER happen here.”

Except… it just did.

Last week’s provincial election swept into the Premier’s office a man who a very great many have likened to being DJT’s “mini-me” in terms of projected values, ethics, and “spare the rich” platform meant to propagate further harm on the lower classes, women, minorities and marginalized others. I watched the election results on a live-updating map as the polls closed Thursday night with a sense of foreboding that swept rapidly down the toilet into outright despair. Then I fled the country for three days because I JUST COULD NOT.

The majority of voters did NOT vote for Ford Nation, but as happens in a multi-party system, the split between non-Conservative votes left a track large enough for Ford and the Progressive Conservatives to land a majority provincial government and completely eradicate party status for the outgoing Liberal party. I wanted so much to believe that a dangerously-ignorant egomaniac like Ford would prove to be the best thing to ever happen to the New Democratic Party, but it didn’t work out that way.

And I, like many others of my party, despaired outright. I don’t for a moment believe, as one friend dangerously suggested, that “we get the government we deserve”, because I sure as hell don’t believe I deserve what the Ford Conservatives are about to unleash on this province. Not as a woman, not as a queer/queer-ally, not as a mental health worker, not as someone who has spent significant time in recent years struggling to make enough income to keep my head above the poverty line.

A wiser friend wrote something about the fact that the work that needs to be done now to protect and support our vulnerable communities, to hold this threatening government as accountable as possible, is work that has always needed to be done–is work these marginalized communities have already, always, been doing. We stand to learn a lot by taking our lead from them. They’ve been fighting both openly and with the political equivalents of guerrilla tactics forever. Those of us occupying more privileged positions but with social consciences have an opportunity to do more, do differently… DO BETTER. To said wiser friend, I commented, “Before election: chop wood, carry water; after election: chop wood, carry water.” There is a tremendous amount of work to be done. That may be truer now than ever.

I have a number of friends who deal with anxiety and depression (both within and without these marginalized communities) who say they can’t possibly do more; personal resources like time and energy are too sparse to participate. I get it, I do. There are still things that we can do to change how we interact with the elected officials in our ridings. Personally, I’ve decided to take a page from one of my best friend’s playbooks; Sheryl made sure that local MPPs for years have known her name, challenging or inviting into debate a succession of elected officials as a way of making sure her voice took up at least SOME space in their official functioning. I don’t have a lot of time to attend rallies and protests–though I suspect a goal in the next 4-5 years is going to be increasing my visibility at such events as I can support–, but man, as a professional writer, I can craft a pointed email like nobody’s business.

It’s not exactly an in-your-face approach to engaging political operatives, but especially for people with either depression and anxiety about engagement, or general conflict-aversion, letter-writing is engagement that can be done over longer periods of time (for those worried about word choice), at a distance (not in-yer-face engagement), and still allows us to practice having a voice… even if we don’t have any way of requiring or forcing reciprocal engagement from those receiving our communiques. It still puts us in the conversation, and at least as we’re getting the Resistance Machine organized, is an excellent start.

So, Amy Fee, welcome to office. I have some very strong agenda items I would like to discuss with you. Actually, I want to make sure you start to sigh, or flinch a little, every time your staffers get another letter or email from me, because I take what I do, where I come from, and the people I care about and support, VERY seriously.

I suggest you don’t fuck with them, because I WILL hold YOU accountable as the riding’s elected representative should your party do so.

Activism, Community, Grief, Politics

I went to my first public vigil tonight. So many times lately, as the Kitchener mayor so rightly pointed out, the city square has been used as a gathering place for mourning and sadness. It felt odd to be in the crowd, like I was crashing the funeral of someone I didn’t know (mostly true, in its own way) in some place I had at best dubious right to be. I’m not a Muslim. But I *am* Canadian, and I have been saying for almost two years that we are facing becoming victims of the same waves of hate that are sweeping the states; we’re not so far removed that the free license being granted in America to hatespeech and hatecrime, to the increasingly rapid erosion of human rights (how has it only been NINE DAYS?), isn’t beginning to show its ugly face here. We’re not immune. And as one angry white young man with a military-grade rifle showed last night to a mosque filled with Canadian citizens at prayer, we’re not safe.

Canada hasn’t had a shooting like that since the ?cole Polytechnique massacre in 1989, and while I was shocked, I was too young and too self-absorbed to really connect with what it meant to be singled out for some kind of minority, marginalized quality (in that case, being female) and to be gunned down just for being That One Thing. Even though I was a woman at a predominantly-engineering university myself, the same age as the victims. That one didn’t hit home nearly the same way, to my recollection. The Orlando shooting did, but I couldn’t get to the vigil, given the work schedule; I lit a candle in solidarity with the vigil, though, and sat all night with my queer clients as best I could. Last night it was Muslims, in a mosque that had already been targeted with hatecrime in the past year; tonight I had the convenience of a clear schedule, but beyond that, I felt like I needed to be there in support, for whatever my presence as a nameless face in the crowd might be worth to those who need it.

Tonight showed a strong crowd in the city square, a cultural mishmash as we expect Canadian cities to produce. We’re still so blind in our privilege, so falsely secure. I caught myself turning around at one point when I realized that, while I was responding to flashes going off from the balcony above us, what I was doing was scanning the skyline. I was actively looking for something that wasn’t there, that shouldn’t have been there, but that I was suddenly terrified might be. We’re Canadian. We just plain don’t know how to deal with that. I had a very vivid recollection when I realized I was looking for rooftop shooters; in 1999, when I was living in Rotterdam, I came across posters on the metro station walls one day that made me painfully aware that I was (relatively speaking) driving distance from the ACTIVE WAR ZONE that was Kosovo. Google tells me it’s a 24 hour drive, which is considerably more than I remember it being at the time, but recognizing abruptly that one is on the same continent, even a large-ish continent, as an active conventional war, without the comforting separation of vast oceanic bodies to create a safety buffer?that’s the feeling I had tonight. Proximal terror. It happened in Quebec City. At this point, there’s zero reason to stop it from happening here. Quebec City is only eight hours away by car; I know, I’ve done that drive a few times. That’s a helluva lot closer than Kosovo to Rotterdam.

I kept waiting for someone at the podium to talk about anger; they all spoke to sadness, some spoke to the hate behind the acts, many spoke to love. It wasn’t until Brice Balmer*, speaking for some kind of Interfaith collective in Cambridge IIRC, spoke of anger that I recognized I was waiting for someone to voice, and thereby validate, my own impotent rage. And maybe that’s why none of them did; they know way more about rage right now than I do, and if it seems impotent to them too, then their purpose becomes turning all that energy into something creative and sustaining. The shooter let hate and rage consume him. That is a path of madness and bitter brutality.

That is not my Canada. That isn’t the change I want to be in the world. And confronting my own rage is… well, at least it’s familiar. It’s something I have ample practice working with, for different reasons. Being told by those much closer to this grief that I am that it’s okay to let go of the anger and redirect the energy into love and supporting “diversity not division”, to building bridges instead of walls, to getting to know my community and those vulnerable facets huddled to the outside… that helped, once I was ready to hear them. The rage has its place, but it cannot be the fuel. The energy, yes; the emotion, no.

So once I get my own house in order, metaphorically speaking, I begin the work of reaching out ? no, not “out to”, not this time, but rather, “reaching into” ? my community to see where I can be of service. I have energy to offer, and compassion. I can work with people to help teach them how to separate emotion from energy, intent from action, and where owning the point of their own decisions becomes paramount in understanding why we would ever want to choose hate over love. I’ll do that work on myself first, because I’m a big proponent of “Physician, heal thyself”, then extend it to anyone who wants to have that conversation with me in and out of the counselling room. Where I can take it beyond that remains to be seen.

I can only dream this may be the last time we have to gather in grief this way. There is *so much* work to be done now, but it’s this or sit back and watch the world burn, and tonight I learned that I just can’t do that. I don’t WANT to do that.

As a Canadian, as a woman, as a member of my communities… I want to be better than that.

(*?Brice was also my Addictions professor at the seminary, the catalyst behind the branch of my path that led to my working therapeutically with those who have offended sexually.)

Activism, Politics

Today I’d like to support a colleague in Milton who has more extensive experience supporting Canadian Forces personnel than I do. I grew up, however, in a small town off the corner of CFB Borden, and knew enough military families through classmates to see how little support they had then… and how badly the Canadian government has fatally eroded that support system almost to the point of non-existence.

*THIS* is why both Susan and I support a special rate for first-responders and military personnel. These people assume “absolute liability’ with their jobs by choice. Whether you’re pro-military or not, the outcome of their choices is proving to be more devastating than *anyone* could have reasonably expected, and they need help.


Susan Tarshis is?a private practice psychotherapist living and working in Milton, Ontario, Canada.

Activism, Politics, Polyamory

This morning, I received this email from the Registry of Marriage & Family Therapists in Canada (of which I am a member):

Dear Karen,

Canada’s Election Offers an Opportunity to Educate

Canada’s current federal election provides Marriage and Family Therapists across the country, a unique opportunity to educate and raise the profile of the profession with the candidates. In each constituency, candidates will be asking for opportunities to discuss their positions on a variety of issues they believe to be important in their particular riding. As a member of the Registry of Marriage and Family Therapists in Canada, this is your opportunity to ask the candidates in your riding questions focused on issues of importance to you as a Marriage and Family Therapist.

In order to facilitate this process, we are working on compiling a list of questions and related background information for use with candidates. Please take a couple of minutes to drop us an email at with one or two issues or questions you believe to be important to you as a Marriage and Family Therapist or to your clients. The questions and related background information will be posted on the RMFT website at
My response:

Hi Donna, and thanks for the opportunity to include questions for the candidates!
Because I deal with some vulnerable subcultural groups, one of which is receiving a lot of media attention these days, I do have some questions:

Between the establishment of queer marriage rights and the onset of the media coverage in Bountiful BC, Canadians are being confronted more frequently with the understanding that not all (consenting adult) intimate relationships are between one man and one woman. While there is a slowly-increasing number of therapists who are experienced or trained in dealing with these non-monogamous, non-heteronormative relational structures, government support and resources for mental and medical healthcare seems to be slower in acknowledging that “relationship” and “family” have far broader meanings than they used to. What does the government (federal, provincial, or municipal) see as being the biggest roadblocks to providing adequate ? and equal ? care coverage for extended family households or marriages? How is the government at all levels educating itself around the pervasive existance of these non-traditional but very real family units, without resorting to pathologizing and dismissing them, to the detriment of those constituents who have chosen to live in these unsupported family arrangements?

(Note: Polyamory is, to the poly community, a very different thing than polygamy, particularly religious-based polygamy such as we’re seeing in the media coverage of the FDLS trials in BC. But the public doesn’t often know enough to make the distinction, and we’re finding that lack of informed coverage and cultural differentiation is part of what makes therapy a generally uncomfortable, if not outright hostile, environment to the poly community.)

I very much look forward to reading the participants’ responses, and thanks again for providing the platform to ask the questions.


Karen Grierson