{mosimage}John Peter Humphrey is a Canadian to be reckoned with. And much of the world did so on Dec. 10 of this year. The Vatican hosted a day-long meditation and celebration on Humphrey’s most famous writing, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights celebrating its 60th anniversary this month. But any contemplation of the declaration just makes clear that old saying, “ideas have consequences.”

Humphrey, a native of New Brunswick and a Christian, was born in 1905. A lawyer, jurist and legal scholar, in 1946 Humphrey became the first director of the Human Rights Division of the just created United Nations. After consultations with his boss, Eleanor Roosevelt, he drafted the Universal Declaration.

{mosimage}As I write, Gayla Peevey sings “I want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.” Soon the McAvoy family will embark on our annual Christmas tree hunt. I am already psyching myself up. 

When our children were small, finding a Christmas tree was simple. Jennifer and I would bundle one, two and then three little ones in snow suits and pack them into a sled. We would pull the sled six or nine metres into a tree farmer’s field, spot a tree more or less in proportion, cut it down and take about a dozen pictures. With smiling faces we would return home, put the tree in the stand, invite family and friends to add a bit of tinsel and a few ornaments, and we would be happy. 

{mosimage}Faced with a surefire deficit next year, it took considerable courage for the Liberal government in Ontario to stick to its commitment to tackle poverty. The poor are the most voiceless of all of us, and least likely to vote. It would have been easy for Premier Dalton McGuinty to dispense with this promise, as he had with other more contentious promises in the past. Remember “no new taxes”?

On Dec. 4, Deb Matthews, Minister of Children and Youth Services, announced her government’s commitment to lift 90,000 children from poverty by 2013. It involves doubling the Working Income Tax Benefit to $2,000 and increasing the National Child Benefit Supplement to $1,200 per child. There will also be an increase in the Ontario Child Benefit and extra millions to help children leaving foster care and beefing up its Youth Opportunities Strategy to help kids in poorer neighbourhoods get summer jobs and training. (See our story on Page 11.)

{mosimage}How soon they forget. Remember back, way back, to Oct. 14? We had this thing called a federal election. A certain Conservative politician was re-elected as prime minister of Canada. And in his acceptance speech, he promised to work in a spirit of compromise with the opposition parties on behalf of all Canadians in the face of an almost unprecedented economic crisis.

And a certain Liberal leader also promised he, too, would co-operate with the competition to make Parliament work. In fact, so did the leaders of the Bloc Quebecois and the New Democrats.
{mosimage}Many people find visiting someone in a nursing home an uncomfortable experience, at least initially. They don’t know what to expect or what to say and do.

If you are planning to call on a friend or relative in long-term care over the next few weeks, follow these suggestions to help ensure positive interactions.
{mosimage}Sometimes progress has to be measured in baby steps. Sometimes, it’s a bit of a dance, two steps forward, one step back. That’s how Canadians could view the state of free speech in this country. In late November, there was a bit of progress, along with evidence that one of our most cherished freedoms is still under assault.

We’ll get to that, but first a bit of backstory. Despite what you may think — and what our Charter of Rights and Freedoms says explicitly — freedom of speech has been eroded in recent years. Human rights tribunals, unaccountable quasi-judicial bureaucratic bodies charged with ensuring we all live in harmony, have been slowly expanding their turf. From originally being concerned with rooting out discrimination in job markets, housing and other essential parts of life, they have moved into adjudicating between various people who have found ways to offend each other with their words. Their rationale for moving in this area can be found in Sec. 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.
{mosimage}Once more Congo is burning and the world is watching. After five years of civil war (1998-2003) in which more than five million people were killed and another million dislocated, the war-weary people of Congo are facing the prospect of another preventable war.

The Congo conflict is the longest and most devastating conflict in Africa. It is also central to resolving the horrors in Darfur because these conflicts have led to the weaponization of this African sub-region and the surrounding countries extending to Sudan and Chad. The vast and ungoverned territories in this area provide the route for the transportation of all kinds of weapons to the African hot spots in Uganda, Somalia, Congo and Sudan. They are also fertile grounds for very angry and disinherited Africans who are tools for burgeoning terrorist cells and rogue groups and militias.
{mosimage}In the Oct. 18 Register appears a picture of some high school students holding up giant letters spelling out DIVERSITY. Now “diversity” is one of those weasel words, so beloved of multiculturalists, that frequently conceal animus towards religion generally, and hostility to Catholicism in particular. 

The accompanying article, by Sheila Dabu, raised concern about a $2-million Ontario Education Ministry initiative called “Character Development.” There is reason for concern.
{mosimage}Advent is a religious season that sneaks up on us. Its quiet arrival is drowned out by the noisy commercial hype for Christmas, the Santa Claus parades, shopping, seasonal parties and frenzied preparations for travel and visiting.

Yet, as with so many things in life, Advent is the more important occasion, transcending all those other “must do’s” of this time of year. It, too, is a time of preparation, but of the heart.
{mosimage}Along with a clear majority (54 per cent) of American Catholics who voted in the recent U.S. presidential election, I cast my ballot for Democratic candidate Barack Obama. And along with at least some of these Catholic voters, I picked Obama after a time of soul-searching.

I agreed with his liberal, interventionist policies on the economy, his ideas about America’s relationship with its friends and enemies, health care reform, the deplorable war in Iraq and other matters. I disagreed with Republican candidate John McCain’s stands on virtually every issue, from economics to Iraq.
{mosimage}This Dec. 10 marks the 40th anniversary of the death of the celebrated monk-poet Thomas Merton (1915-1968).

By the time of his death, Merton, born in Prades, France, a citizen of the United States and a monk for 27 years in the Trappist Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky, had an international following of enviable proportions, a publication record of staggering range and an influence by no means limited to the Catholic world. Merton was, and remains, a phenomenon, an utterly engaging figure, controversial, iconic, the paradigmatic monk for our century.