Slow shopping – what a fantastic concept

Allow me to put in a free plug for Sainsbury’s (a fine chain of grocery stores, which I patronize regularly when in England). What a fantastic idea they just had:

Shopping isn’t necessarily the most relaxing experience. But one UK supermarket will be slowing down the pace for two hours each day to help elderly customers and people with disabilities.

Sainsbury’s in Gosforth, Newcastle upon Tyne, is trialling a new concept called ‘slow shopping’, tailored to accommodate the needs of these two populations.

Slow shopping will be run at the store every Tuesday from 1pm to 3pm. People using the service will be greeted at the store’s entrance, where a Sainsbury’s employee can help them with their shopping.

Chairs will also be placed at the end of aisles to help people who struggle to stand for the duration of their shopping trip. The store’s help desks will also be serving samples of cakes, biscuits and fruit to shoppers.

The idea was spearheaded by local resident Katherine Vero, who found it challenging to go shopping with her mother, who had dementia. After her mother passed away, Vero was inspired to create a slow-shopping service.

“My mum used to love shopping, but as her dementia developed it became increasingly difficult and stressful for us both,” said Vero in a statement.

“But I didn’t want her to stop going out and become isolated. I wondered if there was a way to help us enjoy shopping.”

According to research carried out by Alzheimer’s Society, 850,000 people in the UK are living with dementia and 80 percent of people with the condition say shopping is their favourite activity.

The experience of deputy store manager Scott McMahon of helping his elderly parent while shopping opened him up to the approach by Vero.

“When my father developed cancer, I saw how hard he found shopping, yet he still wanted to go to maintain his independence, so when Katherine approached me about trialling slow shopping, I was keen to help,” he said in a statement.

Sainsbury’s isn’t the only store to adapt to its customers’ needs. Earlier this year, a supermarket in Manchester launched a ‘quiet hour’ for autistic shoppers.

With the slow-shopping trial in full swing, Vero is hoping the service will be rolled out to stores nationwide.

I also regularly visit the main grocery store in Smiths Falls in the summer (part of the Loblaws chain), and they \have a sign near the main entrance reminding customers with special needs that they can always ask for assistance doing their shopping. I’m sure other stores have similar policies, whether they advertise this or not. But having dedicated “quiet” or “slow” shopping hours is a giant step forward.

Well done!

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Normal by death (a novel) – chapter forty-eight

[previous chapter] [start from the beginning]

Once Nathalie had regained a small amount of composure, the crown prosecutor resumed her questioning. “Again I am sorry to bring up those painful memories. But it is important for the jury to understand what happened, how it happened, and why it might have happened.”

“Yes, I understand.”

“Now,” the prosecutor continued, “I want you to think back again to what happened right after you heard the news that your mother had died. Do you remember thinking it was odd, or weird, that she should die like this, so suddenly?”

“Yes. Like I was just telling you, I thought it was very surprising to hear she had died, given how healthy she had looked the last time I’d seen her.”

“Which was when, exactly?”

“It was the Sunday before her death. I had brought the kids over to lunch with her. We did that fairly often – I would bring sandwiches and we’d eat those in her room, with my dad usually joining us. I thought it was easier that way, because the kids had trouble behaving in the common dining room, and I didn’t like the looks I got sometimes from other residents who did not like having little kids around at mealtimes. Also,” Nathalie added with a shy smile, “my kids didn’t really like the food they had in the main dining room, and since they charged us a fair bit of money to eat there with my parents, it was a lot easier and cheaper to pack our own lunches. Plus to the kids it felt like camping in Grandma’s room, which they enjoyed. They would watch television while the grownups talked. It was like a party for them.”

“I see. So the last time you did this, you didn’t notice anything unusual?”

“I’ve been asking myself that question for months now, since my brother was arrested. I mean, I’ve been wondering; were my parents suicidal? Did they want to die? Is it possible that Jeff…”

“That’s your brother, of course, who is sitting right over there?” She pointed at him.

“Yes. I’ve asked myself if somehow what he did was done because my parents had asked him to… how to say this… to help them die.”

“And?”

Nathalie shook her head. “I don’t know. I don’t think so, but would I really know?”

“Ms. Toussignant, did your mother have any close friends?”

“She had friends, yes, I think. Ladies at the nursing home, of course, and at least one old friend who used to work with her when she was at the insurance agency back when Jeff and I were in high school. But that friend is not around anymore; she met someone on a trip to South America at least 10 years ago and now lives there with him and his children. I believe my mom and her kept vaguely in touch via Facebook, but as far as I know they weren’t talking very often.”

“Please think carefully, Ms. Toussignant, do you think there might be someone out there who was as close to, or closer to, your mom than you were? Someone she might have confided in? A priest, maybe?”

Nathalie couldn’t repress a snort. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to laugh. It’s not funny, really, but in a way it is. No, my mother had nothing but contempt for priests. She used to say they were only good for giving other people lessons on how to live, but that they were pretty bad at living themselves. Or something like that. My father was more religious, but I guess he kept it quiet around her.”

“So then would you say you, her daughter, were the person closest to your mother?”

“Probably, yes. Not that we were all that close. I mean, I went to visit her regularly and everything, and we talked on the phone most days when I wasn’t visiting, but,” Nathalie was looking down at the floor, “well, we weren’t very close.”

“Do you want to expand on that?”

“Er, not particularly, no, but I’ll answer your questions as best I can.”

There was a murmur among the jurors, which prompted the prosecutor to proceed, but with caution. For this might be headed in a direction she didn’t quite want to go.

“I appreciate that, thank you. Let me ask this instead: On average, how often would you say you visited your parents?”

“Usually I’d take the kids on Sunday, but I’d also go for short visits during the week, too, when my mom asked.”

“Why would she ask you to come visit her?”

“Well, she was often saying how she liked my company better than that of the other residents. My mother was a proud woman, and she liked to think her conversation was above that of most other people. I know this will sound unpleasant to the other residents who lived with her at that residence, but she often complained to me about how much she didn’t really enjoy their company. She found their conversation not particularly satisfying. She called me to come over so she could have someone to talk to.” Nathalie looked at Marc, who had a pained expression on his face. “I’m sorry if that sounds pretentious.”

“And what about your father, was he there during those visits, too?”

“Oh yes! My father never really left my mother alone for very long. He was her constant companion. But my mother did not always find his conversation sufficient, either. That was no secret; she was quite open about it. I don’t think he minded, either. For the most part he appeared completely happy just to sit there and be near her.”

“I see. Let me ask you something else. Did you, at any point in the first few days after you heard your mother had died, wonder about the possibility that she might have taken her own life?”

Ouch, Marc thought. These questions are tough.

Nathalie took a few seconds to mull the question over. “Not at first, no. At least, I don’t think so. I mean, I don’t remember everything I thought at the time, and in what order…”

“Just give us your best guess, please.”

“OK, my best guess is no, the thought that my mother might have committed suicide by herself or with help did not cross my mind at first. Nobody said anything about finding evidence of drugs that might have been used for that, she had never talked in a way that suggested she might be tired of living, and neither had my father. Again, I was surprised by how suddenly she died, given how healthy she seemed to be, but you never do know, do you. She was 72 years old. It’s not unusual for people that age to die…”

“Yes, that’s very true. So I suppose you did not think about suicide drugs in your father’s case either, correct?”

“Correct. Like I said, in his case it felt like he had just let go, that he had lost his will to live. But that’s not the same as taking drugs to kill yourself. He was older, he was 75, and I don’t think he knew how to go on living without his wife.”

Some jury members had to stifle a tear or two.

“Thank you. I’d like to move on to questions about your brother. Do you need a break or can you continue?”

Nathalie took a deep breath. “I’m fine. Please go ahead.”

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Something to ponder

From Steven Pressfield’s book Do The Work:

A child has no trouble believing the unbelievable, nor does the genius or the madman. It’s only you and I, with our big brains and our tiny hearts, who doubt and overthink and hesitate.

Don’t think. Act.

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Normal by death (a novel) – chapter forty-seven

[previous chapter] [start from the beginning]

Monday morning. The courtroom. Nathalie was wearing simple clothes; a navy knee-length skirt and an off-white knitted sweater. She was also wearing nylons and one-inch heels in tan. A watch on her wrist, simple navy earrings. She was wearing her hair up, in a stylized pony tail. If it weren’t for the big dark circles under her eyes, she’d be looking great.

She was duly sworn in, and ready to go. As ready as she was ever going to be.

The crown prosecutor, a kind-looking woman in her early 40s, began.

“Nathalie Toussignant, you are 45 years old, correct?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“And your brother, Jean-François, is 47 years old.”

“Yes.”

“He is your only sibling.”

“Yes.”

“I’m sorry to have to ask you questions about these events, but please tell the court what your first thought was when you heard that your mother had died.”

“Oh,” Nathalie said, her voice falling to a very low level.

“Take your time.”

Even though Nathalie expected these questions, she found them nearly impossible to answer. And yet there she was, in the witness box, where she had to say something. And that something had to be true…

“Is it OK to say I don’t remember? I don’t mean to not answer your question, but I honestly don’t remember what I thought exactly. I was in shock, I cried, I couldn’t believe it, I was confused, I didn’t understand how she could have died since she seemed to be healthy enough the last time I’d seen her… I remember all these things going through my head but I can’t say which one came first, I’m sorry.”

The crown prosecutor smiled benevolently, both at her and at the jury. “That is quite alright, Ms. Toussignant. I think every member of the jury understands completely. Now about your father, do you remember what you thought when you first heard he had died, too?”

“This is a little easier,” answered Nathalie. “Because I had been fearing such an event. You see, after my mother died, my father went into deep shock. He had to be medicated to sleep, he had to be fed almost by force. We tried to have someone with him at all times and we did our best to cheer him up, but he was so lost without my mother that he just didn’t seem like he cared to go on anymore…”

Nathalie did her best to hold back her tears, but one or two escaped from her eyes anyway. Her heartache was very obvious for anyone to see, and Marc’s own heart felt like it was about to break at the sight of her, so vulnerable yet so brave on the witness stand.

“When you say ‘we tried to have someone with him,’ meaning your father, who do you mean by ‘we’? Do you mean you and your brother?”

Poor Nathalie felt like that was a nasty punch in the stomach. “No. I mean, my partner and I.”

“Thank you. I’m very sorry to cause you pain,” the crown prosecutor said gently, “and I’m sorry to press this point further, but if you could answer the question…”

“Oh! I’m sorry. You wanted to know what I thought first, right?”

“That’s right.”

“Well, again my memory is a little fuzzy and I’m afraid I can’t recall the exact words that went through my mind when I got the phone call from the nursing home. But it was something like sh… oh, sorry, I suppose I shouldn’t say a bad word like that in a court room, I apologize. But yes, I’m afraid it was probably a bad word that first went through my mind, followed by something like, ‘I knew it’ because the truth is, having seen his reaction in the days after my mother’s death, it was fairly clear my father would follow her into the grave unless someone gave him a real big kick in the pants. I tried – to give him a kick in the pants, I mean. I really did try to shock him into wanting to go on without her, for us, for his grandchildren, but…”

She couldn’t control her tears anymore, they flowed freely now.

“Take your time, Ms. Toussignant.”

“It’s just so hard,” she sobbed. “To know that he might have wanted to keep going for his children, for his grandchildren, and that maybe he had given himself that kick in the pants, that he was going to keep on living, but…”

“But what, Ms. Toussignant?”

“Well. You know. If he hadn’t been killed…”

“I understand. Would you like a minute?”

Nathalie nodded, and the crown prosecutor smiled understandingly before pretending to read her notes. This was going very well indeed.

[next chapter]

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Blast from the recent past

Look what I wrote a year ago today:

I am not overly familiar with the art of Amanda Palmer, I confess. But I sure like this:

When you’re a crowdfunding artist, it shouldn’t matter what your choices are — as long as you’re delivering your side of the bargain: the art, the music. It shouldn’t matter whether you’re spending money on guitar picks, rent, printer paper, diapers, college loans, or the special brand of organic absinthe you use to find your late-night muse — as long as art is making it out the other side and making your patrons happy.

We’re artists — not art factories. The money we need to live is often indistinguishable from the money we need to make art.

As a newbie on the crowdfunding scene (here’s my page – please help sponsor me and get me started!), these words – and Palmer’s success on Patreon – give me great hope. My life is mine. I have my kids and I homeschool them. They have always been a huge part of my life. They’ve never been anywhere else; they have not spent a minute in daycare, and not a moment in school. They are phenomenally well educated for little people their age (really). They know their world history, their ancient myths (go Athena!), basic knowledge of all three big monotheistic religions, they know their grammar, read years ahead of what would be their “grade” levels, do old math like little bosses, develop their own particular talents, are super active physically and are getting the hang of reciting poetry in public. I’m only boasting a little bit. Truth is, it’s not that my kids are that well educated, it’s that school children tragically aren’t.

In any case, those kiddies are my life. And yes, they help inspire my work as a writer, a would-be philosopher, and documentary filmmaker. They also help with the actual work. When we traveled to England and the US for our Magna Carta documentary (successfully crowdfunded on Kickstarter; we are getting ready to release it imminently), they came with us and helped with the production. They carried things, helped look for road signs, and stuck their tongues out at Bad King John. My eldest is now training with me to learn how to light a room for an interview, how to set up a camera, make sure the mic is on and recording, that the makeup and hair look fine and the ties are straight. She even has her own (old) camera to practice on. She’s enjoying this mightily, and learning all kinds of useful skills.

I have tried separating my home life from my work life. I had a job working at a TV station, being the on-air talking head weekday mornings. People say I was good at the job (I still get letters from people who say they miss me, and I left more than two years ago). But truth be told, I did not like it one bit. I mean, the job was fine most days, I enjoyed most of the work, and the fans were awesome. But the fact that my work life was separate from my home life was killing me. So I left. And in the two years since I have struggled to find my true inner identity. I’ve also had to figure out how I could continue to work while not being separated from my family.

Like Amanda Palmer (though nowhere near as successful … yet!), I came to the conclusion that asking those who like what I do to help fund my work/life existence was the way to go. I am still very new at this, and here in Canada people aren’t as quick to embrace online patronage as they are in the United States. But it’s coming, I know it. And it will be wonderful.

Being me – truly embracing the person I am, warts and kids and all – is what allows me to create. I don’t want to separate my work from the rest of my life and try to make a living selling one book or arguing with distributors one film at a time. I want the freedom to be who I am and give my content away on my website, on YouTube, wherever people can get free access for it.

I am asking those of you who like what I do to sponsor what I do and help spread the love by taking up a monthly subscription – either on PayPal or Patreon (see the sidebar for the links). I wants lots of people contributing small amounts every month. One dollar, three dollars, six dollars – whatever you can spare. By all means if you have deep pockets and are itching to contribute more, don’t let me stop you. But what I’m really hoping for is a whole bunch of normal people dropping a few bucks each month. Because that’s the best way to keep me independent.

In exchange, I promise I’ll continue being me and produce all kinds of things I hope you’ll enjoy. Deal?

The Patreon page is still (cough) not quite as successful as I would like it to be, but the movie-making thing is working out well. We did release Magna Carta, next month we’ll release True, Strong and Free and later this fall we’ll release our Right to Arms project. I’m also just now putting together a new project with my daughter about our journey to the WKC karate world championships this fall in Dublin (which we’re crowdfunding – the campaign has another couple of days left).

Oh! I’ve also finished writing and editing my first novel, and it’s about 60% published.

I’d say that’s holding up my side of the bargain, yes?

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Normal by death (a novel) – chapter forty-six

[previous chapter] [start from the beginning]

Not too far away from Jeff Toussignant’s smelly undisclosed location, a middle-aged woman had just been hit in the stomach by what Martin Greenberg was saying on television. She had been stroking her cat’s head, sipping her tea, quietly watching the public affairs shows as per usual. She found it helpful in her job as a communications officer for the minister of cultural affairs. Not that she had anywhere else to be, in any case.

Her name was Martina Labrecque, and she was just about to realize that no, hers wasn’t a unique story and that yes, she was right to be angry.

“I mean,” Martin Greenberg was saying, “history is full of examples of parents failing to show the proper love and attention their children deserve. I was just reading a book on Catherine the Great last week, and it starts by telling the story of how her mother, who was but a teenager at the time the little girl who would become a terrifying empress was born, had been terribly disappointed to give birth to a girl and had consequently ignored her baby. History does not remember Catherine for her gentleness, now does it. Saddam Hussein was also famously mistreated at home. Closer to home, the man who shot the Polytechnique female students here in Montreal had been raised by a wife beater who showed him no love. We could go on and on; there are countless famous examples. And there are the legions of less famous ones, too – go visit a jail, any jail, and ask the inmates what kind of childhood they had. In the overwhelming majority of cases, they will say they had a rotten childhood, were abused, unloved, orphaned, etc. I study these issues and I have stacks and stacks of such examples. It’s not to say bad parenting causes children to grow up wicked, for there are also plenty of examples of people who grew up with terrible parents who managed to overcome their past and go on to lead perfectly normal lives. But what I’m saying is, the vast majority of those folks who end up doing awful things as teenagers and adults are the product of either broken homes or terrible, unloving parenting. So yes, in a sense, not loving your children is – perhaps not criminal, but certainly it is a very bad thing to do.”

“But hold on a second,” Jason Martel had been visibly trying to butt in since Saddam Hussein popped into the conversation. “Isn’t it just a way to shift the blame for your actions on to someone else? You can say, ‘Yeah, so I raped someone, but hey, my dad beat me up when I was a kid so, you know, not my fault!’ That’s a rotten way to live your life!”

Martin Greenberg had a smile on his face that he hoped didn’t look overly patronizing. He’d heard that objection thousands of times, from students the same age as this young journalist. Ah, youth. So idealistic. So black-and-white in their own endearing way.

“First of all, we have to make sure we are not making the research say something it didn’t say. Then we afford the same courtesy to the researcher. I would never suggest that a poor upbringing at the hands of abusive or unloving parents was an excuse for bad or criminal behaviour later in life. It isn’t. There’s no excusing crime. Rather the focus of my research is the impact such a bad childhood has on the children as they grow older. Most people don’t wind up behind bars. Most people, even those who grow up with unloving parents, manage somehow to avoid getting in trouble with the law. In fact, in many of those cases, you can’t tell they were unloved by the way they behave. But they’re around you; they’re your colleagues, your professors, the people you train with at the gym. You don’t know the turmoil in their souls because you don’t know them all that well. If you did become close to them you might start noticing a few odd things about them and wonder… where did this anger come from? Why is my friend so sensitive to criticism? Why does he get mad when people tease him, even about innocent things? Why can’t she find a boyfriend, she’s gorgeous and funny and smart but the men never seem to stick around past the first few dates…”

“Really?” that was the anchor chirping in, “can you tell someone had a bad childhood just from the way they can’t find a mate?”

“It sounds far-fetched,” the psychologist smiled some more as he answered, “but you’d be amazed, looking at the research, how often people who eventually come around to realizing they had a terrible childhood also have trouble forming long-term affective relationships with others. And these, again, are people who, on the outside, look like great prospects. And they are – great prospects, I mean. But only on the outside. On the inside, these people are walking around with hearts that are permanently bruised. They don’t know what real love is, what it feels like. So obviously they have trouble with their relationships. They tend to be attracted to partners who aren’t suited to them, often partners who are abusive or non-committal. Partners who are only interested in getting something from the relationship, not giving anything to the other person. And when a good, solid, truly loving partner comes along, our broken-hearted person doesn’t recognize it, and often thinks the loving partner is trying to trick them or else that they are unbearably weak.”

“You’re making it sound like those people are lost, doctor,” the lawyer said.

“That’s exactly what they are, indeed. It’s as though their parents had smashed their internal love compass.”

“This is a fascinating discussion,” the anchor said, “we need to take a quick break now for the news and other important messages but we’ll continue debating these questions when we get back. I can tell Jason is itching to say something, and I promise we’ll get to you first. Please stay with us.”

Martina wasn’t going anywhere. She was nailed to her easy chair, tears streaming down her face.

[next chapter]

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Thanks!!!

The journey is the reward, but making it is cool, too.

The journey is the reward, but making it is cool, too.

Just got the news earlier this morning that our Kickstarter campaign was successful! Thank you so much to all those who contributed! There are still a few days on the clock so if you’d like your name on this book and mini-documentary please go right ahead. Any excess money will go towards the expenses of our trip to Ireland, so it all goes to the same good cause.

In the meantime, we’ll be busy putting together the outline of our book.

Yay!

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Beast mode week the fourth: sore is a four-letter word

In this project you will hear a lot more about challenges and hardship than easy success, pinkie promise.

In this project you will hear a lot more about challenges and hardship than easy success, pinkie promise.

OK. That hurts. Nothing major, fortunately (and woo-hoo, no more adductor pain; a few days of babying it was all it took), but boy am I sore. And stiff all over.

Yes, it’s for a good cause. And yes, it does go away a bit with the proper application of acetaminophen. It would go away even faster if I slept better. But alas. A combination of massive work-related stress, hormones (Q: can one bitch enough about hormones? A: No) and other nonsense like the dog whining to be let out so he could fight Porky in the middle of the night are getting in the way of optimal restorative ZZZs.

And I’m feeling it. I mean, I had to take a few short breathers in the last class yesterday. My shoulders didn’t want to lift those weights no more. I made them do it anyway, but I’m paying for it now (it even hurts to type).

Today is rest day. Well, “rest”. There is still that massive work-related stress thing to battle, plus the usual (homeschooling, cleaning, laundry, cooking, yard work, writing, etc.) during which I will focus on eating well but not too much, swimming gently to loosen up and hoping Porky doesn’t come roaming too close to my bedroom again tonight.

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Sugar, sugar everywhere

If this doesn’t scare you, nothing will…

The American Heart Association now recommends that kids consume no more than six teaspoons (about 100 calories) of added sugar a day—that’s the takeaway from an announcement that the group made yesterday. AHA found that children currently take in an average of 80 grams of sugar every day—about 19 teaspoons, which is more than three times the new recommended limit.

“Associations between added sugars and increased cardiovascular disease risk factors among US children are present at levels far below current consumption levels,” researchers wrote.

Yes, I know. The story talks about both “added sugar” and “sugar consumption”, which isn’t always the same thing. Still, the point remains: Kids on average consume too much sugar. And the danger isn’t in the obvious place. For sure when you give your kids some kind of sweet treat, as you should, you know you’re feeding them sugar. And that’s OK. The problem is when you think you’re giving them something reasonably healthy that turns out to be packed with high-fructose corn syrup. Like many “low-fat” packaged snacks – they add sugar to replace flavour lost when they removed the fats. Really. Look at the labels and see how much sugar there is in the better snacks you buy, and try to stick to normal food instead of the modified, heavily processed kind, no matter how huge the health claims on the box.

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Normal by death (a novel) – chapter forty-five

[previous chapter] [start from the beginning]

The producers had set up two tables. One for the host and one for Jason Martel and two other guests. One was a ponderous-looking professor type in a grey beard, the other an overly made-up lady of a certain age (Jeff was guessing early fifties) wearing a proper business suit and a hairdo that had lots of air and spray in it. Every time she nodded her coif nodded with her. She reminded Paul Smith of Gloria Allred, and not entirely in a good way.

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this week’s edition of All in a Week. Today we have a very special show, featuring CBC reporter Jason Martel, renowned McGill University philosopher Martin Greenberg, and Elizabeth Poitras, of the law firm Langlois, Poitras & Finley. Good morning, all of you.”

“Good morning.”

“Jason, let’s start with you. You are our number one reporter covering the story of Jean-François Toussignant, the man who is on trial at the moment for the first-degree murder of his parents, who died last fall in a Laval nursing home under circumstances that, at the time, raised very little suspicion. It was almost by accident that a Laval police investigator started to look into elderly patients dying in slightly unusual numbers and discovered what is alleged to be an assisted suicide network. Assisted suicide is still illegal in this country at the moment, as we know. But the investigator also uncovered cases where, it is alleged, what was performed was closer to euthanasia on individuals who had not previously indicated a desire to die. Yes, I realize I’m being very careful with my words, here, almost to the point of being obscure. That is because we as a broadcaster have a responsibility to talk about these issues in a way that does nothing to interfere with the trial taking place this week. I see our lawyer Elizabeth nodding in agreement…”

“Oh, absolutely, Jacques. It is crucial that we in no way cause prejudice to the case currently being heard in court. A man’s life is on the line, here, we can’t afford to be careless about this. I only hope your viewers will forgive us for sounding like we’re constantly trying to protect our backsides… It’s not our backsides we’re trying to protect, it’s the integrity of the justice system and the rights of the accused, who must be presumed innocent until proven otherwise.”

“There is also, if I may…”

“Yes, absolutely, Martin, go ahead.”

“Well, too often you will see people in the media use a case like this one to boost their own ratings, and unfortunately this leads to a lot of unnecessary sensationalism. I must commend the CBC on this; so far, this network is behaving in a remarkably restrained manner in this trial, which is one of the reasons I agreed to come on this panel this morning. I object to needless sensationalism not just because it is crass or deleterious to the rights of the accused in the case, but rather because it has a perniciously negative effect on our own collective psyche.”

The host did a good job of conveying just how flummoxed the audience might be. He smiled. “I get the part where you congratulate the CBC for our restraint, but I’m not sure I entirely understood the bit about our collective psyche… What do you mean by that?”

“Can you believe the bullshit these clowns get away with?” Paul Smith agreed.

“I mean,” answered Martin Greenberg, “that when we allow ourselves to enjoy sensationalist stories, stories that are told and retold in a breathless tone that overly emphasizes the sensationalist parts of the matter at hand, when we start thinking that sensationalism is normal, we as members of the media-consuming public become, as a group, negatively affected by it.”

“I think what Martin is saying makes sense,” Elizabeth Poitras cut in, in a clear attempt at rescuing her fellow panelist and making sure their audience didn’t just leave for church or something. “If I understood properly, that is. When we let ourselves believe the sensationalist stories without taking the time to think things through properly, it lowers the level of public discourse, which in turn affects all of us negatively.”

The anchor was looking happier. “I see! Jason,” he said, turning to the youngest member of the panel by a rather wide margin, “you have been covering the trial this week and will continue to do so this coming week. You have also spent time with the accused, Mr. Toussignant, who gave you a wide-ranging, exclusive interview, parts of which were aired on the CBC just before the trial started. It’s on our website if you missed it,” he added, as the URL dutifully appeared on the screen. “You know about the accused, his life, his story, the strategy for his defense, more than anyone around this table – maybe more than just about anyone in this province except for the accused, the rest of his family and his lawyer. What can you tell our viewers about the man, Jean-François Toussignant, that might help them understand his story better.”

Jason shifted a bit in his seat. This was another big moment for him and his career. Better not blow it… “Well, first of all, Jacques, we must make sure our viewers understand that there is a great deal of Mr. Toussignant’s story that we are not telling you about just yet. We want to let him make his case in court first. We absolutely do not want to do anything that might influence the jury, for instance by discussing some of the more, let’s say, sensationalist parts of what I expect will be in his testimony.”

“OK, fair warning,” the anchor allowed. “But you know, the flip side of this admirable restraint we’re showing in not sensationalizing a story like this is that we end up teasing people about what they might hear if only we could tell them, and I’m not sure I like it!”

“Oh, come on, you attention-seeking whore!” Paul Smith nearly threw his cup at the television. “You love nothing more than to tease people!”

Jason smiled. “Well, that’s not my intention either. I’m doing my best to walk a fine line between giving our viewers as much information as we can while protecting the integrity of the justice system and the rights of the accused in this case.”

“And this line can be very fine indeed!” enthused the lawyer on the panel.

“Exactly. And personally I will say that I look forward to this trial being over because I do not find it very easy to walk that line. I find it makes it look like we’re not daring to speak our minds, which in a way is true, but for good reasons. In any case,” Jason added, “this isn’t really about me but about a man on trial and about the larger questions his defense strategy is going to raise this week…”

“Now, about that,” segued the host, “you did a long exclusive interview with Mr. Toussignant, some of which was already aired here on the CBC. Again it’s available on our website if you missed it. We kept some of the interview hidden in the box, so to speak, waiting for Mr. Toussignant’s testimony, but among the parts of the interview we were able to air, what struck you as particularly interesting?”

“Well, now,” Jeff grumbled from his undisclosed location. “Don’t tell me they’re getting to the point!”

“In broad strokes, what Mr. Toussignant is saying is that he was justified to do what he is accused of doing to his parents because, he claims, they mistreated him all his life. In essence, he is arguing that his lifelong mistreatment caused him to seek an end to his suffering almost at any cost, not unlike the kind of defense we see in cases of domestic abuse, for instance, the so-called battered woman syndrome.”

“And this, Elizabeth, is where I’d like you to come in, to clarify this concept of battered woman syndrome, before we move on to the larger issues of what constitutes proper, loving upbringing.”

“Sure. The concept of the battered wife syndrome has been around for a long time, and is not unique to Canada. Essentially it’s the idea that a person who has been the subject of violent, repeated abuse over years may at some point snap and kill her abuser – usually it’s the woman who is abused by a domestic partner – and the killing of the abusive partner is not considered murder because of the abuse. It’s a bit like the normal self-defence idea, but applied specifically to the situation of an abused woman.”

“Right,” the host interrupted. “Normally if I am in a situation where I fear for my life because someone attacked me on the street and my back is to the wall, I’m allowed to use force to defend myself, but only to defend myself, do I understand that properly?”

“Pretty much. In fact, you do have the right to use force to defend yourself, or someone in your care – like, say, your child – or your property. But much less so when it comes to property. And yes, in some cases you are allowed to use deadly force. But each case is different, and each case is judged according to its own merit. The force used has to be reasonable and proportionate to the danger you face. So you can’t kill someone who’s threatening to slap you across the face, for instance. Or you can’t punch someone’s lights out if they are 100 pounds lighter than you and not armed with any kind of weapon – they’re just mouthing off, in other words. But if you are a small woman by herself and some big guy with a knife attacks you, and you have every reason to believe he will use that knife on you and hurt you or kill you, then the courts would generally agree that your situation was such that any use of force on your part, including the deadly kind, is allowed to protect your life.”

“OK, I think we all got that. Now what about the battered woman syndrome? How does that fit into the concept of self-defence?”

“In Canada this question got pretty much settled in 1990, when the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Angélique Lavallée. She had been in an abusive domestic relationship for years. At some point her partner told her something to the effect that if she didn’t kill him he’d kill her, and she had every reason to believe him, as he had hit her several times before. She ended up shooting him dead when his back was turned. And the difficulty, here, was that she was not in a position where her life was in immediate danger. She was the one holding the gun and he was not, at that moment, attacking her or threatening her directly. So she couldn’t claim she’d killed him in self-defence, since he had not been attacking her when she pulled that trigger. That’s where the concept of the battered wife came in, which essentially says that in some cases, some abused women get so desperate to end the abuse that they feel the only way out is to kill their abuser or kill themselves. In the Lavallée case the Court agreed that the battered wife syndrome applied.”

“So how does that work? How does someone claim this as a form of self-defence? And more to the point, how on earth would something like this apply to the case of Jean-François Toussignant, who was not, unless I’m much mistaken, in a domestic relationship with his parents?”

“Hey,” Jeff exclaimed, elbowing his lawyer in the ribs, “that’s exactly what you asked me!”

“Well,” the lawyer on television said, visibly trying to answer the question without squeezing herself into too tight a corner, “That is of course one of the very critical questions that will no doubt come up during Mr. Toussignant’s trial. I do not pretend to know what his lawyer is preparing to argue in this case, but I can tell you that in 1990 the Supreme Court admitted the defence of battered woman syndrome after some pretty clear evidence of abuse over many years, including several trips to the hospital for serious injuries, along with expert testimony showing Lavallée sincerely believed that her partner would kill her that night unless she killed him first. But there is one extra wrinkle thanks to a more recent case out of Nova Scotia, where a woman hired a hit man to kill her husband who, she claimed, had been abusive for years. The husband did not get killed by the hit man because it turns out the hired gun was an undercover cop, and besides the husband always denied the accusations of abuse. But the case of the woman, whose name is Nicole Ryan, made its way through the courts and wound up in the Supreme Court in 2013. I don’t want to tell you every detail of this story, since it’s pretty long and convoluted, but the short version is the highest court overturned an earlier acquittal but refused to make her go through another trial because, they said, she had suffered enough already. So in effect, the Supreme Court allowed her to get away with hiring a hit man to kill someone who, she claimed, had been abusive. Now this case may have a closer relationship to the case of Mr. Toussignant, but we’ll have to see this week when his defence strategy becomes clearer in court.”

Paul Smith was grinning now. “It’s good to know they also have panelists who know something,” he said.

The anchor cut back in. “This is fascinating stuff, thank you Elizabeth. Now after the break, I want to move this discussion to the question of abusive parenting and what kind of debate we may be facing if Mr. Toussignant’s defence is successful. Please don’t go away.”

“Wanna watch more?” Paul asked his client.

“Nah. They’ll just skim the surface again. I would rather review our notes instead.”

[next chapter]

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