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Joanne McGarry

Joanne McGarry

Joanne McGarry is the former Executive Director of the Catholic Civil Rights League of Canada.

 

When an Ottawa radio station hosted a “win a baby” contest last month, pledging to pay for fertility treatments for whoever wrote the best pitch about why they deserved the treatments, station officials claimed they wanted a catchy promotion that would shine a light on the cost of in-vitro fertilization (IVF), which OHIP does not cover. In the end, five couples won $35,000 each for a series of treatments. Hundreds of entries were received, with tens of thousands reportedly voting online for their preferred candidate.

It is true that Quebec covers IVF treatments while Ontario does not, but the reality is there are a great many things that OHIP does not cover. Most of them (prescription drugs, dental care, a lot of eye care and eye glasses, to name just a few) are used by a great many more people than use IVF. This is not to comment about what public health insurance should or should not cover, only to point out that there are many exclusions under OHIP that can cause hardship. The likelier reason for the contest is the opportunity for headline-grabbing publicity, particularly through those catchy ads with a cute baby and the disclaimer “may not be exactly as shown.”

In a recent episode of the Canadian TV series Rookie Blue, a priest is tackled by a pair of police officers who show little patience with his explanation: A penitent had threatened to do something stupid, hence the priest, baseball bat in hand, chased him up the street. In the ensuing dialogue, one officer notes, “He’s a priest. He can’t be lying.” The other counters, “Pff, priests lie. Ever see that wafer that they call bread?”

The snide reference to the Eucharist offended many Catholic viewers, some of whom forwarded complaints to me as well as to Global Television, the originating network. In my own message to the network, I pointed out there must be countless, less offensive ways to convey a character’s skepticism about clergy and organized religion. The scene and its dialogue were unfortunate, given that the rest of the episode contained little if anything that would be regarded as offensive. (I had never watched the show before. When I saw the title in listings I had simply assumed it was yet another American crime offering.)

A few months ago, my colleague Fr. Raymond de Souza began a column about fashion trends in wedding dresses by recalling the old adage “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Perhaps a similar caution is in order in this case.

My formal training in math ended sometime in the ninth grade, and my investment experience could be printed on the back of a business card. Nevertheless, the peaks and valleys in global markets in the past few years have made more than one person wonder if the media have played any role in how fast stock values have changed and how quickly people reacted, possibly setting up a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In early August both the Dow Jones and the TSX dropped more than 500 points in a single day, wiping out almost all the much-awaited gains of 2011. The media response would have been difficult to ignore for anyone near a television or computer screen at the time; all the news networks and cable stations filled instantly with talking heads, many of them belonging to the same analysts who had tried to explain the even-worse disaster of 2008. Since there was no quick fix then, it’s unlikely there will be one now, but people continue to look for one, or at least look for a simple explanation for why this is happening.

February 9, 2011

Hateful taste in art

On Jan. 29, a small private art gallery in Toronto issued a press release publicizing an upcoming show that includes a portrait of Pope Benedict riddled with bullet-like holes and a representation of U.S. President Barak Obama crucified on a cross. As its own headline put it, “Pope shot, Obama crucified…”

The release commented casually about the sex abuse scandal in the Church, even though it’s not clear that the exhibit itself does. Most media outlets paid little attention to the release. Those that did handed the gallery publicity it could only dream about. After all, attacking the Church may generate a few angry letters and phone calls but it won’t harm your reputation in media and arts circles.
At the nursery school my children attended, parents were assigned duty days to maintain the required adult-to-child ratio. If you were assigned to group time or snack time you had to be prepared for any and all sorts of conversation.

One morning, I listened along with four pre-schoolers as a little boy told how his family had gone out to buy a Christmas tree on the weekend. It was no ordinary trip to the Boy Scout lot or the garden centre, but a drive to the country where the perfect tree was selected. Dad chopped it down, they brought it home, set it up and put a star on it.
The world of advocacy can be a depressing place much of the time. That is why this time of year is so enjoyable.

Despite the gravity of the issues we read and write about throughout the year, the Christmas season brings out powerful media messages and, perhaps more to the point, brings crowds into the streets and malls focused on the act and spirit of giving.
Three recent incidents provide insight — and perhaps a warning as well — about how Canadians interpret the right to freedom of speech, especially when it comes to unpopular topics. Like any legal and constitutional principle, some interpretation is involved. The old saw about not yelling “fire!” in a crowded theatre applies here because constitutional principles must be balanced against factors such as public safety and the impact on others, among other things.
In late September, Justice Susan Himel of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice struck down the last direct prohibitions in the Criminal Code against prostitution. If upheld (the federal government is currently applying to appeal it), the decision will make it legal to operate a common bawdy house, communicate in public for the purpose of prostitution and live off the avails of prostitution.
September 22, 2010

The predictable protests

Papal tours too often become occasions for anti-Catholic and other anti-religious forces to find a friendly microphone. Before the visit to Britain even began there were indications that a hostile reception might await Pope Benedict. There was even half-serious talk of arresting him for “complicity” in the sex abuse scandal.
Summer is well known as a time when the news is filled with research surveys and other off-beat items that probably wouldn’t have made the papers if legislatures had been sitting and business leaders weren’t on vacation.

So it’s difficult to say if the latest study on abortion attitudes and public knowledge of the law would have been newsworthy in a busier season. It’s the sort of research more likely to come up in Life Canada’s annual opinion poll or in response to a news event related to abortion. Nevertheless, the findings are interesting, not so much because of the range of opinions on what should be permissible under the law or what government health plans should pay for, but for what the respondents did not know.