The true north strong and free

As I write this column, I am watching the CBC news coverage of Parliament Hill under siege by a gunman (or men).  It’s a little difficult to concentrate on what I was going to write about, which is the WTO decision on COOL, which sided with Canada and Mexico.

At this point, no one knows how many shooters are involved, or why the attack happened. We don’t know whether this is connected to ISIS, to any other known terrorist group, or to something entirely new. For all I know at this very second, this could be related to pipeline activists.

My media career started shortly after the Columbine school shooting. At the time, I was working as the content producer for a morning talk show at a radio station in Winnipeg. It was my job to find people the talk show host could interview the morning after the shooting. I managed to find the aunt of a dead student who was willing to talk, but succeeding at that task made me feel dirty and shallow.

I’ve thought about that many times over the years… whether that interview helped the grieving aunt deal with the loss of her loved one, or whether it helped our listeners better understand the tragedy. In other words, did I ultimately cause more harm or did it actually make things better in some small way? I became a journalist because I wanted to help people. As cheesy as it sounds, I truly wanted to make the world a better place.

That may have been the first time I felt like a leech in my media career, but it wouldn’t be the last. In later years, part of my job as a reporter meant that I had to attend tragedies such as fires where families lost everything they owned, and fatal highway accidents. Each and every time I would cover something like that I would question why I was there, and what purpose my presence served. The only answer I could ever come up with was to try and prevent it from happening again. As a result, I would ensure a large portion of the subsequent article would be educational – the importance of driving to conditions, of having functional smoke detectors, the fire hazards around real Christmas trees, not driving fatigued, always wearing a helmet when riding a quad… the list is as long as the number of tragedies you can imagine. Regular reporting also helps draw attention to problem intersections that have a really high collision rate, and it can help dispel typical small-town rumours that drinking was involved in an accident when it wasn’t.

Still, despite knowing that, nothing will erase the memory of when I was attacked by a woman who had been involved in a highway accident. There were no serious injuries, and I was standing a safe distance from the scene, taking photos of the damaged vehicles. The woman was enraged, and she began pushing me, and she called me names I cannot repeat in print. I felt awful. I cried all the way home. The self-doubt and angst I had experienced all throughout my career were crystallized in that one moment on a snowy night on the TransCanada Highway.

It wasn’t long after that incident I became a firefighter. I’d always wanted to be a firefighter. In fact, when I was a little girl, my parents were worried that if I ever saw a building on fire, I would rush in to try and help. And of course, because of the generation I grew up in, I was told girls simply couldn’t be firefighters. When I joined, it felt like I was giving back, or making up for all the times I stood by the side of a wreck doing nothing but taking photos. Today I do it because I love it. I love helping people, and I love the sense of family that being on the department brings.

That family includes our emergency medical responders, our police, and our military – and you know what? I’ve finally learned it includes journalists too. This family is comprised by everyone who runs toward the danger  – even though every instinct of self-preservation tells us to run away from it. We all do it in different ways, wearing different uniforms and with different tools, but we all do it for the same reason – to help people, and to make the world a better, safer place.

Just now, I have learned the soldier that was shot at the National War Memorial has died. One gunman so far as been shot, and it seems there may be a second suspect unaccounted for. I am monitoring social media and watching the reaction of Canadians as they weigh in with their thoughts and feelings – mostly, they are weighing in with their feelings, and while that’s understandable, it’s not always well-advised.

Between my career in journalism and my role as a firefighter, I have attended quite a few emergency scenes. One of the things we are trained for is not giving in to developing tunnel vision. Firefighters especially are known for sometimes reacting with too much gusto, thanks to adrenaline. (Like kicking down doors when they were unlocked the whole time, for example.) But what I have learned through experience and training is to take a deep breath and get as much information as possible before acting, because consequences can last a lifetime or longer.

In the time it has taken me to write this column, I have seen people call for a total and complete end to immigration in Canada, a call for all Muslims to be put into camps until all terrorists in the country are found and detained, and a call for movement restrictions in Canada’s public places, like Parliament Hill.

Canada’s military has a long and proud history. I have not served, but both of my grandfathers did. Both were the sons of immigrants. They did not fight so that Canada could become a country that reacts out of anger and fear, one that chooses to battle back by curtailing democracy and freedom, or by redefining what it is Canada has always stood for.

Terrorist threats have always existed, in one capacity or another. Everyone remembers the FLQ, yet we did not force all Francophone citizens out of the country, even if they were separatists. At the time of this writing, we have no idea if the shooter(s) are Canadian or foreigners. We don’t know what religion they might subscribe to, or whether their motivation was religious or political in nature. For all we know, these are animal rights activists – but terror is terror.

Rural Canadians – and those in western Canada especially – can be somewhat isolated from a lot of the multiculturalism that is a large part of the Canadian identity. And let’s face it – there aren’t many mosques in our little communities. There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world and more than one million Muslims in Canada. They are not all out to get everyone else – that is very, very clear. Radical ideology is always dangerous. We learned that with Justin Bourque who shot and killed three RCMP members in Moncton last June – and he came from an extremely Christian family.

Over the summer, we saw the threat of terrorist group ISIS rise, highlighted by the gruesome beheadings of two kidnapped journalists. It resulted in a coalition of many countries that are conducting military exercises to combat the group’s advances, and a coalition of many others that are supporting the efforts with equipment and supplies. But here’s the really important part – many individual Muslims, and many predominately Muslim nations have voiced their opposition to ISIS, supported the actions against ISIS, and even have actively participated in missions.

That’s a pretty big deal, and it represents a new era in the global war against terror. As we saw in Germany in World War Two, or in Canada with residential schools, and as Edmund Burke so aptly said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

But sometimes, “nothing” isn’t what we think. Sometimes it means not standing up for the people who need it the most – like the many Muslims living peacefully in Canada who are going to feel maligned and isolated if anti-Muslim sentiment continues to build in this nation.

Most importantly, we can’t win the war on terror only with weapons, and we can’t win it without the support of the global Muslim community. Just like any other abusive, manipulative human being, terrorist leaders – just like religious cult leaders – recruit those who feel left out of life, those who feel they have no place, no future and no family.  The absolute last thing we want to do is to create the kind of climate that encourages this kind of dangerous isolation.

I have confidence that as a nation, we will work together in this challenge and make Canada a stronger country as a result – no matter what the root of the shooting was in Ottawa. But in order to do that, we will have to resist both the fear-based knee jerk reaction, as well as the opposite end of the spectrum that fears taking any action at all. We can be patriotic while still being inclusive. We can defend our nation, but without victimizing another. We can seek justice without being unjust.

Whatever we ultimately decide to do, I know that the Canadian men and woman tasked with the job will make us proud. They always have, and they certainly did on October 22, 2014 at Parliament Hill.

sherimonk@gmaill.com

All aboard Uncle Sam’s crazy train

The other award I won over the weekend at the Canadian Farm Writers’ Federation annual convention in Charlottetown was published in Alberta Beef Magazine in May, 2014. I was awarded Gold in the category of Press Column – The Frank Jacobs Award.

 

All aboard Uncle Sam’s crazy train

Cliven Bundy sounds like a name belonging to the star of some backwoods horror flick, but in fact, the name belongs to a very real man starring in a very scary reality show.

Bundy, a cattle rancher in Nevada, managed to mobilize some of America’s most rabid militia groups after the federal government started seizing his cattle. Many of the extremists screamed his cattle were being rounded up because the government was protecting the desert tortoise, but the truth is much more complex than that. Sadly, extremists don’t usually have much appetite for truth or context.

Bundy had been grazing cattle in areas referred to as Gold Butte and Bunkerville allotment for many years. He did own some deeded land, but relied on lease land for most of his grass, which is administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In 1993, some of the regulations changed, which stopped grazing on Bunkerville, and reduced grazing at Gold Butte. In part, the decision was made because of the desert tortoise, but the sensitive area overall was overgrazed and the forage mismanaged.

Bunker claimed the regulation changes would force him to reduce his herd by 90 per cent, down to 150 head. He stopped paying his grazing fees for Gold Butte, and did not remove his cattle from Bunkerville. His case went to court numerous times, and each and each time he was defeated. He tried to argue he was grandfathered grazing rights, although such a thing doesn’t exist in his case. He asserted that federal lands really aren’t federal, and belong to the state of Nevada. There were appeals and new cases. The result was always the same – Bundy’s cattle were trespassing, and he wasn’t paying fees for the cattle grazing Gold Butte. In 1998 he was ordered to remove all of his cattle from all of the BLM lands and to pay up. He didn’t.

Fast forward to April of 2014 – a full 20 years since Bundy paid for any grazing rights – and an aerial survey shows he’s running about 900 head of cattle. After threatening to for 15 years, the BLM took action, impounding 400 head. And that’s when the proverbial cowpie hit the fan.

Bundy started sending letters with the catchy header, “Range War Emergency Notice and Demand for Protection” to all levels of government and solicited support from various extremist groups. A clever man, he used terms associated with the sovereign citizen movement to spur the militias into action. Much of his support base came from groups that even the Tea Party considers too hardcore… and that’s like the Pope refusing to visit a city because it has too many Catholics.

Along with presumably more balanced protestors, these militias showed up with all manner of guns – handguns, semi-automatics – you name it. In response the BLM sent law enforcement agents to help control the scene.

That’s when it started to get really crazy. Angry “sovereign citizens” threatened to disarm federal bureaucrats, and demanded the cattle be released. Protesting marksmen with sniper rifles got into position, aiming their weapons at law enforcement officers and BLM employees charged with seizing the cattle. Citizen soldiers marched along the highway, at times stopping traffic and approaching private vehicles with their loaded weapons.

By my estimation, this already tips the crazy scales and ventures very far into terror territory, but we’re not done yet. The protestors began planning their war strategy, deciding to place the women on the front line. Yes. On purpose. So they would get shot first. “If they were going to start killing people, I’m sorry, but to show the world how ruthless these people are, the women needed to be the first ones shot,” said former Nevada Sheriff Richard Mack, who supported the protest.

I have absolutely no doubt that had a shot been fired, it would have been by the crazy side first. And I don’t know what’s scarier – that a husband and father would be so captivated by extremist dogma that he would sacrifice his family, or that this husband and father was also a sheriff. After that, the BLM backed down. They released Bundy’s cattle in order to avoid bloodshed.

I can’t say whether the decision made back in 1993 to reduce grazing in the area was fair or right. I do know how sensitive that grass is – I’ve spent a lot of time in America’s Southwest – most of it after I learned about the cattle business and grass management. I also know that our ranching industry is reputed to be light years ahead of the U.S. when it comes to land stewardship, and holistic and rotational grazing. That culture doesn’t seem to be as well established in the U.S., and some of the ground I’ve seen down there certainly supports that theory.

I’ve seen a few people on my Facebook compare the Bundy standoff to the Sage-Grouse emergency protection order (EPO) issued earlier this year, but it isn’t remotely the same. For one thing, the recovery plan and almost every bit of research I have read regarding the Sage-Grouse says that light-to-moderate grazing is good for the species. Admittedly, I’m just now starting to dig into this issue, but it seems to me that the EPO is grandfathering ranching interests, as well as protecting them into the future – provided the order doesn’t change.

Considering that stocking density and methodology on our Sage-Grouse grounds haven’t changed significantly since the species started rapidly declining in the late 80s, ranching doesn’t seem like the smoking gun here. West Nile Virus and industrial development – to my interpretation anyway – seem the two culprits having the most impact. Increased predation – I can see that too. There’s been a predator/prey imbalance in this region for some time. The plains grizzly were killed out, and there are no resident wolf packs. Coyotes do a marvelous job of filling in the footprints of larger predators – and that’s not always a good thing. Pronghorn numbers are down considerably, although I don’t know how that affects the coyotes. There are more cougars traveling through the area, and we certainly know the Cypress Hills is flush with them right now. I don’t know how many may be resident outside of the Hills, but certainly, the coulees and waterways are part of the wildlife corridor the cougars (and other species) will use.

I get that we want to protect the Sage-Grouse – other than the ranchers and other folks lucky enough to live in that shortgrass prairie, no one loves it more than I do. I’d move there in a heartbeat if I could, and I adore all the wildlife that lives on the prairie… but you know what? We should have acted 15 years ago when we started noticing the decline was substantial. Perhaps had we mitigated some of the concerns then, we wouldn’t be faced with what seems an almost ludicrously heavy-handed EPO now. Still, when I read it, ranching appears to be protected and grandfathered throughout the document.

It’s not like I haven’t seen reckless decisions made by our own federal government – dismantling the PFRA a prime example – but Bundy went through the courts. Many times over. And he made absolutely zero effort to pay his grazing fees for the cattle he was permitted to graze. Nada. Zilch. The dude is a deadweight that happens to have a little charisma and the ability to appeal to extremists. He exploited the BLM’s rule changes in the ‘90s as justification to become a criminal. I just can’t see the producers I know in Saskatchewan and Alberta leveraging the Sage-Grouse EPO to shirk their responsibilities.

The BLM says they are still going to go after Bundy administratively – whatever that means. And really, the government had no choice. Righter-wing politicians and media in the U.S. were starting to compare the protests and cattle seizure to Tiananmen Square. That in itself is baffling and upsetting. The BLM was enforcing several court orders, and had delayed doing so for years. They did not prohibit the protests, nor were they the first ones to bring weapons to the party. And let’s not forget there were armed men with sniper rifles aimed at BLM heads. At Tiananmen Square, the citizens were armed with nothing but their voices, and they were shot down like dogs in the street for using them. That is a far cry from what went down at the Bundy Standoff.

Bundy continues to get away with his illegal activity. How nice that through the worst years of the business he was able to hitch a free ride for his cattle on the backs of the other thousands of ranchers who paid their grazing fees.

The Sage-Grouse issue is a worthy one for us as an industry to look at and examine carefully, and there were some disturbing precedent-setting actions taken by the government.  But the Bundy standoff is a completely different animal, and it’s important that we address our own challenges in our own country without that fanatical edge which has become so synonymous with America as of late. Our ranching lobby is powerful, but if we give ourselves over to this militia mentality madness, we’ll lose both our voice and our credibility – and those are the two most valuable industry assets we have.

Sadly, the whole Bundy debacle has caused much of the U.S. and a lot of Canada to view Bundy’s cause as a case of cowboys and government – and the cowboy is getting a black eye on account of it. Bundy and his gun-toting, hat-wearing bandits are the furthest thing from the kind of cowboys I know. Real ranchers don’t line up their families to be shot. They do what’s right – and that means standing up for what’s right without committing a wrong. I have a lot of names for Bundy and his ilk, but “cowboy” isn’t one of them.

sherimonk@gmail.com

Interview with an activist

Over the weekend, I won two awards at the annual Canadian Farm Writers’ Federation convention held this year in Charlottetown, PEI.

In the category of Monthly Press Reporting – The Jack Cram Award, I won Bronze for my work in the Western Hog Journal, of which I am editor. This award was won for an interview conducted with the leader of Mercy For Animals Canada, the organization responsible for several recent undercover video investigations at livestock operations across the nation.

I should note that it was a very pleasant, professional interview. I made no bones about my own position in support of meat consumption, the humane treatment of livestock animals for consumption, and hunting. The dialogue was respectful, and while I obviously do not advocate veganism, I absolutely believe that industry needs to continue to improve on welfare and handling issues. We have improved a great deal, and I believe we will continue to do so.

The following article was published in the fall 2013 edition of the Western Hog Journal.

 

Interview with an activist – a rare glimpse at the other side of the issue

For better or for worse, animal activists will always be part of the agricultural landscape, but can we learn from them?

In December of 2012, video secretly taken at a Manitoba hog operation was released to the media. It was recorded by an undercover investigator working for Mercy For Animals Canada, who posed as a worker at the facility.

While the new code of practice for pigs was already being worked on when video was released, it catapulted the issue of sow stalls onto the public’s radar, and is credited with accelerating retailer’s demands for future group housing.

Stephane Perrais, the director of operations for Mercy For Animals Canada, agreed to grant Western Hog Journal’s Sheri Monk a candid interview about the video, and his take on Canada’s pork industry.

 

The video begins with eerie, unsettling music in the background, and as the camera pans across the sows in stalls, a female voice begins to narrate.

“The footage you are about to see was recorded with a hidden camera by a Mercy For Animals Canada investigator.”

The camera then cuts to a piglet being slammed to the concrete floor by a worker, then to a sow with an eye infection. The voice continues, “It was shot at a Manitoba pig factory farm that supplies pork to WalMart, Superstore, Loblaw, and Metro.”

The video’s title, “Crated Cruelty” is splashed across the screen, and the sows in stalls return.

“Thousands of pregnant pigs are confined to filthy gestation crates so small, they are unable to even turn around or lie down comfortably for their entire lives. Driven mad from stress and boredom, these naturally curious and social animals have noting to do day after day, hour after hour, but to bite the bars of their cages out of desperation.”

It’s only four minutes long, but with seamless edits and high production values, the film is packs a punch – which was exactly what it was designed to do. Less than five months after it was released, the Retail Council of Canada announced that some of its major retailer members were voluntarily phasing out the stalls by 2022. Those retailers included Co-op Atlantic, Canada Safeway, Costco Wholesale Canada, Federated Co-operatives Limited, Loblaw Companies Limited, Metro Inc., Sobeys Inc., and Walmart Canada.

“The aim of our investigation was not just to reveal certain practices which were absolutely egregious animal cruelty, but also to make people understand that a lot of the practices they witnessed in this footage were actually considered standing operating procedures from the industry,” Perrais said.

The announcement of the 2022 retail phase-out came somewhat as a surprise to the hog industry in Canada. After all, the Retail Council of Canada was actively engaged with the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) as one of the stakeholders helping to develop the new pig code of practice. When the draft code was released on June 1 – a little more than a month after the Retail Council made its announcement – it proposed phasing out sow stalls by 2024. Did the undercover video trigger the decision? Perrais is confident it did.

“I think the investigation was a catalyst, and it certainly helped speed up the process,” he said.

As with any visual presentation designed to trigger emotions, it’s just often the context and background that causes a reaction as much as the actual content, and “Crated Cruelty” was no exception. Although plenty of the video was genuinely off-putting, much of the video showed current industry standards – perhaps executed poorly – but the public lack the context to know what current standards are, or why they are employed.

“I know the industry has condemned some of these practices, such as pulling a sow by its ears, or kicking a sow or jumping up and down on a sow after it was killed,” said Perrais. “And I think not only was the public shocked by those images, but also shocked to learn that certain things that we demonstrated such as the castration of piglets without anesthetics, or the thumping of a sick piglet against a concrete wall or floor to kill them – these practices are standard in the industry.”

Retailers fear visceral public reactions, and once such a reaction has begun, it can be very difficult for the meat industry to back away from. Animal husbandry is a complicated business, and it’s not easy to explain to the public why castration without anesthetic is performed, or that animal welfare was one of the reasons sow stalls were introduced in the first place.

“I think that’s what really brought it to the forefront is a lot of people were shocked to realize that not only was there an issue pertaining to the extreme confinement of these animals, but also that all these other practices were the industry standard,” Perrais explained.

 

Retailers were pressured

Perrais says that in Canada, there aren’t a lot of options open to animal rights organizations like there are in some states south of the border. There, he says, voters can have referendums at election time on any issue and through that mechanism, animal rights agendas have been forwarded, such as banning confinement practices.

“Unfortunately, we do not have that ability in the current Canadian system. The biggest agents for change were the grocers themselves because of their purchasing power,” he said.

Before and after the investigation, retailers in Canada were approached by Mercy For Animals Canada and asked to stop supporting confinement practices in the hog industry by publicly stating their opposition to it. Several companies in the U.S. had already taken that step, including McDonald’s in 2012.

“We felt that the Canadians were just a step behind, and that they could also make a similar commitment. They refused and so we kept up the pressure,” said Perrais.

When contacted, Perrais said the retailers would respond by stating their affiliation with the Retail Council of Canada, and the work that was being done to modernize the pig code. Meanwhile, Mercy for Animals kept on them, informing them whenever another big company would come out against the stalls. In Canada, Olymel and Maple Leaf announced their intentions to phase them out, and Perrais feels the campaign gathered even more momentum then.

“We went back to the grocers and said even some of the producers themselves think that systems have to go. I think after a while they did come to the realization that it was not sustainable in the long run to continue hiding behind the Retail Council,” he explained.

 

Will the new code be enough?

When Perrais was interviewed, the draft code hadn’t yet been released, but he was confident it would include a phase-out of the stalls. However, he was adamant that even if the new code does discontinue use of sow stalls, it wouldn’t be enough to protect the animals because at the end of the day, producers are not bound by law to follow it.

“Some of the footage that we documented, if it was done to a cat or a dog, it would be considered animal cruelty. Castrating your pet in the backyard or cutting its tail off without anesthetic or just deciding to thump it against the wall because it was sick, those would be animal cruelty charges if it was a domestic animal. But because they are farm animals and they have absolutely no legal protection whatsoever in Canada, anything can be done to them during the course of their life,” said Perrais. “As long as they are not mandated and not enforced, and there are no penalties attached to it whether they are financial penalties or jail time, no, it’s not really enforceable because then you can basically do what you want.”

While Canada’s codes of practice aren’t enforceable by law, they can be used as the standards used to benchmark appropriate care in cases where provincial entities may be investigating animal neglect.

“There are only two federal laws that pertain to farm animals. One of them is called the Meat Inspection Act and deals with the slaughter process, but it mostly deals with the design and all the issues pertaining to the slaughter process and the other one deals with the transportation of farm animals. The only time the animals are subject to federal law is during their transport to slaughter and during the slaughter process, and both of those laws are extremely weak,” he said.

 

An uncertain future with or without stalls

Even without the added economic burden of having to invest in new group housing infrastructure, pork producers in Canada have been struggling. An industry-wide exodus continues and smaller producers throw in the towel out of desperation and consolidation of the business continues. Many people fear the sow stall phase-out will become the final nail in the coffin for struggling producers – many of which are family farms. But Perrais is not buying that story because he says the pork industry’s infrastructure is aging after an expansion boom in the ‘90s, and current facilities are nearing the end of their lifespan.

“If you look at our footage closely, you’ll notice that a lot of the gestation crates that we filmed were all rusted. There was filth everywhere. The walls, the floor – everything was covered with filth. I can understand that people will hang onto certain systems, but the need to convert to group housing is something that they will have to absorb sometime in the next decade, and we don’t consider these new or unexpected costs,” he said.

Perrais attributes much of today’s economic strife in the business to the economies of scale that have become prevalent throughout agriculture.

“What I would say to the small family farms, and what I would say to you who advocates for them, is that we haven’t started this demise. It was started many years ago when factory farms were started and agricultural groups such as Maple Leaf and Cargill and all these other ones decided to integrate a lot of their operations. We are saying that the practices that they decided to undertake are completely abusive and extremely cruel, and we are focusing on them because 95-99 per cent of the food (from animals) that’s produced in Canada is raised in factory farms.”

He also says the model of constantly trying to decrease pricing at the retail level has changed the landscape.

“They can moan and be grumpy about animal activists, but ultimately, they should really realize that the problem lies with these big, big corporations that have slowly but surely put pressure on price. They are constantly putting pressure on prices, but you also then have to ask the consumer and citizen if they want to live in a civilized and compassionate society, and what price are they willing to pay for it.”

 

Philosophical differences

The bottom line is that Mercy For Animals Canada and other animal activist groups don’t just want an end to sow stalls – they want an end to meat, period. In fact, they advocate for veganism, which is an entirely plant-based diet, free of any animal products, including dairy and eggs. Yet, despite their complete lack of participation in animal husbandry as a consumer, animal rights organizations do influence policy.

According the NFACC, Canada is unique in its development of codes of practice, and the process and the subsequent standards assist in stabilizing livestock production against extremist pressure.

“It almost seems that as we’ve learned more and more about these animals, we’ve decided to confine them more and more. And today I think we’ve come to a point where it’s no longer tenable to have such a position with all the knowledge about the sentience and the awareness these animals have. We cannot just view them like we used to in the 16th or 17th century as robots that are devoid of any emotions, but that they are actually living, breathing and feeling creatures,” he said.

For people like Perrais, the animal rights movement is a life-long struggle against injustice and cruelty. For farmers, it’s viewed as one of the biggest threats to their future, and the future of their communities. What happens in the future will largely depend on the public, and how the public perceives livestock production into the future. The battle for the heart and stomach of consumers won’t be fought in the boardroom, or even in the pages of an industry magazine like this one. It’s a war that’s already hit the streets, and it’s hard to imagine a truce.

“Through the ad campaign that we launched, we’re trying to make people realize that these animals are true living beings that have a whole range of emotions, that they’re as conscious and aware as we are, and just because we can’t communicate with them in a language, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t treat them with utmost respect,” Perrais said.

Many animal activists use the term ‘speciesism’ to describe the inequality of how animals are treated. The term is applied in the same way that racism and sexism are used, and is based upon the notion that every species – not just humans – are entitled to personhood.

It’s difficult to imagine a middle ground where meat producers and vegans could break bread together, but the livestock industry is increasingly concerning itself with animal welfare concerns brought forward by activist groups. In 2011, precedent was set when the United Egg Producers of the U.S. announced they had made a deal with the Humane Society of the United States to seek a federal law requiring larger cages and better conditions for all laying hens in the country. The United Egg Producers were lambasted by other livestock producers for making a deal with the devil, and HSUS was viewed by many activists as traitors for doing the same.

While there haven’t been as many animal rights undercover investigations in Canada as there have been in the U.S., there’s little doubt there will be others in the future.

“Nothing is off limits as far as we’re concerned. Our first investigation just happened to be in a pig breeding facility, but all of the animal production industry is on our radar, absolutely,” Perrais said.

In some ways, the extremism of the animal rights movement has in part insulated livestock production. Very public protests by organizations such as PETA are sometimes so outrageous that the moderate middle is alienated by them. Meat consumers often aren’t sure of the difference between a vegetarian or a vegan, and why some vegetarians will eat some animal products and not others. It’s a question that even perplexes Perrais, and he is an avid vegan.

“If you look back at the history of the words ‘veganism’ and ‘vegetarianism,’ they were one and the same, but over the years I think the word vegetarian sort-of got hijacked by people who were not eating meat, but were eating fish and dairy products,” he explained. “Honestly, I really don’t understand why people would continue to eat fish and dairy and eggs. I think it’s because a lot of the studies that have been done fish are considered as being a completely different type of animal, it’s much more difficult for us to relate to them.”

Like other animal rights groups, Mercy For Animals Canada tries to engage the public with advertising to make them reconsider their choice to eat animals. But given the chance, would they eliminate the choice entirely?

“Making meat illegal? That’s the first time I’ve heard the question. Ultimately, we would like to see meat consumption decline tremendously, but whether making meat illegal is the way forward… I’m not really sure that’s the best avenue,” said Perrais, who emphasized that if people switch to veganism, they’re more likely to stick with it if they are doing it for ethical reasons.

“Making it illegal would be great, but I don’t see that happening, and I don’t know if that ultimately would result in the right effect because it’s almost like Big Brother showing up and telling them what to do. But if you educate the people, then the decision becomes theirs, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Sage-Grouse

Just a quick note to let readers know I am working on the Sage-Grouse issue.

There’s a lot of confusion out there as to the legal differences between the Emergency Protection Order (EPO) and the proposed recovery strategy.

The EPO is law and can be enforced. The recovery strategy is more like a wish-list of suggestions and tools that can be implemented. My understanding is that it is not enforceable, and thus the stocking densities suggested will not be mandated.

I will be conducting a few interviews with the feds in then next couple of weeks to further clarify the difference between the EPO and the recovery strategy. I may be publishing an article about it in Alberta Beef Magazine, but I will definitely be publishing something here.

Also, I was told that someone was stopped for while driving during the no-drive times, but I cannot verify this. I suspect it’s urban legend (well, in this case, rural legend) but if anyone has any definitive knowledge or names, please contact me.

 

Regular updates, I promise!

I’ve been really slack in maintaining my blog here, in part because I really wasn’t sure where my career was taking me.

I still don’t really know, but the clock, as they say, is ticking.

Over at www.monkedmedia.com is where I am doing most of my professional business. Currently, I am writing for more publications than I can easily list from memory, and I seem to have specialized in livestock and meat issues, especially in international trade, emerging markets, producer advocacy, sustainability and consumer relations. I understand that to the vast majority of you, that probably sounds like the most boring job description on the planet. Be assured, it isn’t. I love my work, and I believe strongly in it.

My passion and hobbies have always been outdoors, and I recently took up hunting a couple of years ago too. For about 10 years, my most passionate passion is field herping, which for me means photographing venomous snakes around the world. So far, around the world has been Canada and the U.S., but I hope to change that next year in South Africa. I have been herping in Peru, but I did not see any venomous snakes there. (Though I saw a lot of other amazing things!)

A big part of the reason that I became interested in the cattle industry was the result of my rattlesnake hobby. In 2007, I moved to Maple Creek, Saskatchewan – mostly to be closer to the snakes that I was coming out from Winnipeg a couple of times a year to see. But when I was there, I realized how integral the ranching industry is to protecting what remains of Canada’s native prairie – which is precisely the habitat we need to conserve if we want cool animals like the rattlesnake to survive in Canada.

Now that I have worked from home for a number of years, and now that I finally live out of a town and in the country, I realize that these goals have been achieved. Obviously, I need some new ones, and to that end, I am going to start chronicling some of my adventures and experiences, be they recreational or professional. Last November, I visited China professionally, but I certainly took away much more from the trip on a personal level.

I just recently completed my first assignment for Western Sportsman Magazine, and my intent is to try and better merge my passion with my profession. My hope is that one day a significant portion of my assignments will entail adventure, travel, hunting, the outdoors or if I am really lucky, venomous snakes.

I’ve just returned from a herping adventure in Arizona and California, and my next one is slated for the second week of May. I will be camping next to a prairie rattlesnake hibernaculum (den) to try and observe mating rituals such as courtship and male combat. I will be very low-impact so as not to disturb the animals at the site, but close enough to get some photos with my long lens. At the same time, I am using these four days as a writing retreat to finish up an overdue book project for the Western Stock Growers’ Association.

The most awesome news is that I have my first sponsor! The idea to approach a manufacturer to help me obtain the solar charging equipment I would need to keep my MacBookPro running while I’m out there came from a friend from the Alberta Outdoorsmen Forum and it worked! I was able to receive a sponsorship discount from Voltaic for this awesome solar charging product. I’ll provide a preview of this adventure shortly before I leave, complete with the equipment I am bringing to create a mobile herping/writing office.

I’d love to write more, but I’m currently on deadline for Canadian Cowboy Country Magazine. (Technically, I’m past deadline, but so far my editor hasn’t noticed!)

And don’t forget to find me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter!

How the cookie crumbles

I was at Grasslands National Park, and in Val Marie last week for research for a book I’ve been contracted to write. Technically, it was a work trip, but I love that part of Saskatchewan, and it was a bittersweet treat to return to it.

Bittersweet because every single time I come back to Saskatchewan, it hurts because I miss living there so, so much. But it was especially difficult to return to Val Marie because there is so much uncertainty in the future. I don’t think it’s possible to overstate how losing the PFRA pasture and irrigation projects are going to affect the community.

I was there to research how the park has affected the community, the economic impact of the park, a look at how grazing is being managed inside and outside the park boundaries, and to gain a perspective on the whole issue from a cattle producer’s point of view. I stopped by the RM office to study a map of the area and the park, and I was stunned to see that the PFRA pasture land is an area much larger than Grasslands National Park. It wasn’t until that second that I fully understood the severity of what’s happening to Val Marie, and by extension, the entire Southwest.

Whether intentional or merely the inevitable result of a series of catastrophic policy decisions, the area is being depopulated. Piece by piece, all the pillars of sustainability are being removed. Sure, the federal government may be motivated by their economic ideology, but it’s the people who are going to suffer for it. Even the staunchest libertarians will admit that maybe it wasn’t the government’s place so many decades ago to create the framework and infrastructure for the PFRA projects, but now that’s it’s here, ripping it away from the people who have built generations of lives around it is next to criminal.

When the West was first explored, the Palliser Expedition found that the Palliser Triangle would be difficult to homestead, and would be largely too dry for crop farming. Nonetheless, the federal government pushed people west to settle and break the land, with devastating consequences. In part, this is why the PFRA was established – not to save the land from the people who brutalized it, but to save it from the government who raped it with flawed policy to begin with. Landowners voluntarily gave back deeded land to form some of that pasture, and co-operative communities created a new culture around those community pastures. Having access to grass at the PFRA determined how many head of cattle a rancher could run on his operation. It affected how much lease land he obtained, and how much grass he kept deeded.

Likewise, the irrigation projects meant cattle would have winter feed, and entire operations were built upon access to irrigated land. Those with irrigated land needed less land overall, which freed up land for operations that needed more.
At the time, it was important to the federal government that the rural areas succeed. It was important to keep the land occupied, and sovereign. It was important for food security, and to keep many out of the ranks of poverty. It was important, because it meant progress. When the PFRA was established, it was viewed as an investment not just into Maple Creek, or Consul or Val Marie, but in the prairies, in the rural way of life, for the benefit of the entire nation. It was important in the same way that building roads and bridges are important – it was infrastructure that was a basic necessity for growth, prosperity and progress. It was important because it was the right thing to do.

Now these communities are expected to take over these lands and these irrigation projects so that they are user managed, operated and funded. But there are fewer users than ever – economics have changed – and producers were told in the ‘80s to get big or get out – and the investment into the PFRA seems like a lot to benefit a few.

But that’s a very skewed view of the situation and frankly, a very Kindergarten one at that. Intellectually, it holds no water. The PFRA employs people, and those people have families that attend area schools, and purchase goods and services locally. The pasture land and irrigation has helped provide a stability that in turn makes the entire region stronger. The environmental goods and services the pastures provide are well-documented, and contribute greatly to Canada’s carbon storage capacity. All of these communities help keep our border secure and sovereign and act as a buffer between Canada and the U.S. – these are the communities in which our customs officers live. There is an enormous amount of ranching and farming in the area and these efforts by a handful of people help to sustain our shortline railways, our elevators, and our service communities like Swift Current, Medicine Hat, Shaunavon and Maple Creek. Everybody benefits from the PFRA projects, and to suddenly expect a handful of people to completely finance them is akin to asking the village of Piapot to take over all costs associated with the TransCanada Highway between Maple Creek and Tompkins. It’s utterly reprehensible, and this attack on rural Saskatchewan cannot be tolerated and make no mistake – dismantling the PFRA is precisely what this is – an attack.

The issue is especially barbed for the people who live near Grasslands Park. They are told the PFRA projects are an expensive endeavour which benefits only a few, but they live next door to a near-empty national park. I stayed at the newly-built Frenchman Valley Campground, which was opened in 2012 and came with a $1.5 million price tag. On Canada Day, I was the only one there. In the mid-afternoon heat, a white and green minivan pulled up, and out hopped three Parks Canada employees. Smiling, they came over to me, and wished me a happy Canada Day, handing me a little paper flag and a cookie before they drove away, leaving me alone in the empty campground.

Meanwhile, back in Val Marie, residents are frightened and anxious. Through haying, seeding and harvest, their committees find the time to meet in the evenings to try and figure out some way they can save their PFRAs, but the numbers aren’t adding up. They can’t simply afford to run them on their own, and time is running out. But Prime Minister Harper and Agriculture Gerry Ritz don’t care, because in their heads, taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook to subsidize programs which benefit so few. Obviously, they haven’t had the pleasure of staying at an empty 1.5 million dollar campground.

It’s unfathomable and unforgivable that the communities of the Southwest are going to be sacrificed on the altar of this administration’s warped version of Conservative ideology. But in Mr. Harper’s world, when so few live in such a large federal riding, that’s just how the cookie crumbles.
sherimonk@gmail.com

Prairie girl meets the mountains

I’ve never been known for my grace or co-ordination. In fact, I’m pretty sure that if anyone had to choose between the adjectives of “grace” or “klutz,” I know what they’d choose. Heck, let’s call a spade a spade – I know what I’d choose too.

As a young girl, my mother had dreams for me. I was the only child for nearly 11 years, and back in those days, girls were expected to act like “girls”. Except that I was a klutzy, shy and awkward tomboy, and I didn’t like team sports. Or dresses. Or pink.

So you can imagine my horror when my well-meaning mother signed me up for jazz dancing. Granted, she was probably inspired when she caught me dancing to Michael’s Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ in my bedroom. But what she didn’t know is that I was pretending to be one of the zombies from the music video. I’m not sure how long jazz dance lasted, but I know that I didn’t finish the season. I couldn’t follow the steps, I felt ridiculous and even to this day, my face turns red when I think of myself in that silly hat and that sequined shirt.

Then there was tap dance class, and to this day, I have absolutely no idea why she enroled me in that. I was horrified by the shoes, aghast at the stretchy tights we were supposed to wear and I was utterly inept when it came to the tapping. Or the dancing. Really, I looked like a sausage stuffed inside shoes that moved three times faster than I did. Did you ever see that movie, Little Miss Sunshine? That was me, without the cuteness or confidence.

I had a cousin – the only other girl on my dad’s side of the family – just a month older than I was. The day I was born, it was like I was entered in some kind of twisted competition to see who would be the better daughter, and I kid you not, she was a ballerina. She was graceful and petite whereas at age eight, I had larger feet than my mother’s. By age 13, my father and I could share sneakers.

When we would go to Montreal to visit these relatives, my mother and my aunt would immediately go shopping to buy matching dresses for me and my ballerina cousin. My mother, bless her heart, would buy the same size of dress for me that my cousin wore, and of course, it was always too tight. “Suck in your stomach!” she’d hiss between her clenched teeth trying to pull the protesting fabric over my mid-section. There are pictures of us, side by side, in matching outfits and perfect pigtails and I am scowling uncomfortably while my cousin glows like a pageant star.

I’ve always wondered why my mother never tried me in ballet, but I’m afraid to ask because I fear she did, and it was so traumatic that I’m blocking it out.
Then finally, it was gymnastics and it surprised me more than anyone else, but I actually liked it. There might have been an unforeseen benefit to the countless times I’d walked into walls, fallen downstairs and tripped over my own big feet – I was tough, and I was flexible. Those big feet were sturdy and steady on the balance beam, and my oversized hands were magic on the parallel bars.

I was in gymnastics for a couple years, but I still kept falling down for no apparent reason – and it hurt. Eventually, at age 10, my mother took me to the doctor and we found out I had a condition with both of my knees that required some major surgery. It ended my brief affair with gymnastics, but it also put an end to my knee issues, which accounted for some – but not all – of my random klutziness.

In my adult years, physical activity for me included mostly hiking for rattlesnakes – no team sports, and definitely no ballet or tap dancing. Until very recently.

You can imagine my terror when shortly after we started dating, my very athletic, non-klutzy French boyfriend suggested we go skiing. And he didn’t just mean any kind of skiing – he meant the downhill kind. Like, down a mountain. Keep in mind, I’m from Winnipeg and most of Manitoba is much, much flatter than Saskatchewan. The only hill in Winnipeg was made by sodding over an old garbage dump and that’s where we go sledding – it’s about 100 feet and we call it Suicide Mountain. I’m so unaccustomed to elevation that my ears pop when I go upstairs, and an eight-foot ladder makes me dizzy.

After avoiding it for as long as possible, I finally relented in the name of love and found myself at Fernie Mountain Resort last winter. My sons came with us, and since they had already gone skiing with their school, they fancied themselves experts. As we went up, up, up on the ski lift, I was completely sure I was going to die before I got to the top. When I fell off the chair and my skis made contact with the snow, I really wished I had.

The mountain was gigantic, and I traversed it by repeatedly falling and tumbling. Breathless, soaking wet and sore, humiliated and traumatized, I finally landed at the bottom. I looked up at my boyfriend, hoping for tender sympathy and he said, “Ready to go again?” It seemed like pure insanity. During the second run, I managed to keep my eyes open long enough to see my sons racing by me several times. I cursed their young minds and green bones, but I managed to stay on my feet a little bit better. By the end of the third run, I was exhausted, but I had improved considerably and a small hope was born that I might one day be able to do this.
Meanwhile, the kids loved it… even my oldest, clutzy kid loved it. I decided that as a family, we were going to pursue the skiing thing seriously. And my boyfriend was a patient teacher, and very encouraging – so encouraging, he bought us a ski pass for Christmas. I had been saving, and in January, we bought our own equipment.

It was time to hit the hills again, and I was even more terrified this time. You see, in the year since I had been last, I had started working for Pincher Creek Emergency Services, and a lot of the emergencies we serviced were at our local ski hill. Despite my fear, I found myself falling down the mountain again, but I was still far better than I was the first time. That day, I did four runs and for three days afterward, my calves felt like they were on fire. But we went again the next weekend too, and that time I did eight runs, and for the last four, I didn’t fall down – not even once. By the end of the day, that first mountain seemed much, much smaller, and almost… boring.

Now, I can hardly wait to go back, and I’m so excited to have found a family activity we can all enjoy together. It’s funny – I would never have tried skiing if it wasn’t for my boyfriend. Sometimes, I think the people who love you the most can see things in you that you can’t even see in yourself.

Maybe it’s not too late for those jazz dance classes.

Thank you, please come again!

Saskatchewan – well done! Your birth rate in 2012 was the highest it’s been in 22 years! There were 15,035 births in 2012, up over 14,577 in 2011, breaking the 15,000 mark for the first time in nearly a generation.

The news was sent out by the provincial government last week, along with a list of the most popular baby names. And while reading between the lines of a press release is usually a very boring and futile endeavour, this one was different. You see, for every action, there is a reaction and what goes up, must eventually come down. In other words, there’s a reason why there are more babies being born.

Our more vanilla readers might believe that wetland conservation has increased the number of stork visits to the province. But our more worldly readers might choose instead to believe the most seductive answer – Saskatchewan is having more sex. Of course, in a province with landmarks and towns with names such as Big Beaver, Old Man on His Back, and Climax, it’s really not that surprising.

This explains so many things, to begin with, why people smile and wave in Saskatchewan when they pass one another on rural roads. In Alberta, no one waves. And if they do wave, it’s usually with just one finger. I used to be somewhat hurt, and a little offended. The first year I lived here, I waved enthusiastically to everyone I passed on any secondary highway or gravel road. Eventually, I just sort of gave up, and started to ignore everyone in return. But now that I know what the wave actually means, I’m going to start using BOTH of my hands!

Manitoba’s licence plates say: ‘Friendly Manitoba,’ and there’s no doubt, Manitoba is friendly and friendly is good. But you know what’s even better? Two-handed happy. I think Saskatchewan needs to own this… embrace it. It could be exactly what we need to give our smaller communities a leg up in the battle against dwindling populations.

We have to start with the licence plates. We’ll let Manitoba keep the word ‘friendly’. We’re going to use a different F-word on ours: ‘Fertile Saskatchewan’ and the image on the plate will be of massive mammatus clouds.
The Catholics will love it, and the innocent (or repressed) among us will believe it’s an agricultural reference. The rest of us will know precisely what it means, and tourism will increase 10 per cent in the first year. Sure, most people aren’t going to choose to come to Saskatchewan for their honeymoon, but I’m willing to bet many will come for their SECOND honeymoons.

While our libidos may be impressive, it could mean the cleanliness of our homes is underwhelming. A controversial study released last week revealed that in homes where the husband performs more of the housework, couples tend to have less sex. In homes where the gender roles were more traditional, more sex was reported.

Now, before all you men throw in the dishtowel, hang on to your aprons and listen to the critique of the study. First, the data was from the early 1990s and according to my children, that’s forever ago. Secondly, the correlation between sex and housework division by gender is so random and difficult to account for without taking countless other factors into consideration, that it’s effectively useless. Really, it was a silly study released only to garner headlines, and that it accomplished. So boys, please get back in those chaps and start dusting again – you know you want to.

Gender bias aside, I found some of the coverage of the study somewhat patriarchal. From MSN, there was this: “Past studies have found the opposite – that men who assist with household chores are more likely to be rewarded sexually by their wives.”
Rewarded? Really? Where do we live? In Bedrock, where Mr. and Mrs. Flintstone shared a bedroom, but endured separate, cold-as-rock beds?

I guess MSN wasn’t paying attention, but there was this little societal shift a few decades back called the sexual revolution. That’s about the time men were allowed to start washing dishes, and women were allowed to start changing their own oil. (And yes, that was a euphemism.)

Men aren’t rewarded with sex any more than females are, and that statement infers that women cognizantly use sex as a tool to achieve a specific outcome. That’s insulting. Women have sex because they like having sex, and that’s exactly the way it should be. Perhaps the case could be made that women like it less often than men, but that’s definitely not the case we’re going to make in Saskatchewan for our new billboard campaign:  “Fertile Saskatchewan – Bred Basket of Canada.”

Of course, no one says it better than Climax on the signs they’ve erected as you leave town…

“Thank you. Come again!”

sherimonk@gmail.com
Published in the Gull Lake Advance, February 4, 2013

The missing link

When I started writing this column on December 14, I was going to do something on Christmas… something feel-good and funny to start the holidays off with. And then I checked the news.

At the time when I wrote this, 27 people were suspected dead in the latest American school shooting, and 18 of the victims were reported to be children. They were just six and seven years old, and they were shot multiple times. As it turns out, the death toll climbed to 28, including 20 children, the shooter’s mother, and staff who worked at the school. The shooter was a 20-year-old male who forced his way into the Connecticut elementary school and allegedly more than 100 shots were fired from at least three rifles. He was found dead in the school. The details continue to emerge, and an all-too familiar feeling of reflexive horror has settled into my core.

When I was first working in the radio news business, I had to help cover the Columbine school shooting tragedy. Even seasoned newsroom veterans were stunned, and some were crying. We watched as shocked students surrounded the school, waiting for news of their friends, collapsing in one another’s arms. We saw as panicked parents arrived on the scene, frantically scanning the crowd of students for their children, weeping when they found them, and weeping when they didn’t.
There was no victory that day. There was no joy. There was only some guilt-stricken relief, and devastating tragedy and utter loss.

I was assigned to find the relative of a dead student. robotically, I made the calls that night and eventually, I found a grieving aunt willing to go on the air the next morning. I felt sick, and I never did listen to the interview.
There have been more mass shootings since then – too many to recall one by one by memory.

Think about that for one second… There have been so many mass shootings in the U.S. in the last 15 years that even a news reporter can only remember them as one big blur.
After the nation mourns, the debate will begin again with renewed vigour. We’ll hear about violent video games. We’ll reignite the fear of violent video games. We’ll talk about bullying, broken homes and a lack of religion. The bitter diatribe about gun control will intensify and people will take sides against one another with such resolution that friendships will be lost over it.

I don’t know what’s wrong with America, but I know it’s not as simple as their great media orators would have us believe. Mass shootings are as related to gun control as war is related to camouflage. Our species has always played violent games, and God knows we’ve always excelled at treating one another poorly. But something – I don’t know what it is – but something culturally has changed since Columbine. It’s like a vast emptiness is spreading in America and it’s consuming everything they hold the dearest – their children.

Most of us would hand over our own lives in exchange for the life of a child – even one we never met. Sometimes, even the most average human beings among us are capable of being so cruel to one another. We hurt our spouses, we argue with our siblings, we say things regret and we do things we can’t take back.

But we also love, and we reach out, and we help, and we’re kind. Most of us want to leave the world a better place, and probably, most of us do.

You don’t have to be a mother to imagine what all those little broken, bleeding bodies looked like so still on that school room floor, dying without the warmth of a mother’s arms. You don’t have to be a police officer to feel the rage, the hopelessness and the soul-eating blackness an incident like this creates. You don’t have to be a father to imagine the crippling grief and despair that will only be ended when his own life does.

All you have to be is human. And that’s what seems to be disappearing.
sherimonk@gmail.com

Bottoms up to Movember!

Movember is the new November. The month of the Grey Cup, Remembrance Day, when most of the world stupidly changes their clocks back an hour, and of course, all those big, beautiful, bushy moustaches.

Yes, November is becoming better known as Movember, when men around the world grow their moustaches to generate awareness and money for men’s health issues such as prostate cancer.

I understand that with few exceptions, moustaches have fallen largely out of favour as a fashionable expression of masculinity. And really, this is mostly a good thing, although there is the occasional man who looks delicious with a well-groomed, well-placed healthy ‘stache. Despite this occasional exception, the moustache largely fell out of favour for a reason.

Men aren’t known for being very good at looking after themselves. They avoid doctors like the plague. They typically have a better maintenance schedule for their truck than they do for their health. They are often scared of needles and any lab technician will tell you men faint at the sight of their own blood 10 times more often than women do. Vitamins are scoffed at – unless those vitamins come inside a rare steak and a cold bottle of beer. Dentists are there for crisis management only, chiropractors are quacks, and massage therapy is a city service wives aren’t supposed to find out about.

If any of that sounds familiar, then you will also know that men avoid acknowledging the very real fact that they have a prostate gland. And all of this is relatively humourous until we realize that this testosterone-fueled shame is literally killing the men that we love.

Prostate cancer claims 4,000 lives annually in Canada – over 1,000 lives more than car accidents. One out of every seven men will develop the illness in their lifetime and one out of every 28 men will die from it.

And since we’re in the vicinity, let’s talk a little bit about colon cancer, which 23,000 Canadians are diagnosed with each year. This cancer is very treatable and 90 per cent preventable if detected early, yet 9,000 victims will likely die from it in 2012.
Why all this needless death? Because we are embarrassed that we have an ass. That’s the bottom line here folks, and it would be hilarious if it weren’t so tragic.

So, let’s talk a little biology and anatomy. (I might lose my card in the Proper Women of Canada Club for this, but I don’t think I was a member in good standing anyway.) We ALL poop. Even women. All women. Young, old, sexy, thin, fat, single, married – we all poop.

It’s bizarre, but our society seems to promote the idea that women need to deny the very existence of flatulence and waste elimination.
And yet, we’ve pulled neck muscles straining to see exactly what our behind looks like in a new pair of jeans. We moisturize it, we tan it, we tattoo it, and we sometimes decorate it with lace, leather, and latex. We spend hours working out trying to sculpt a perfect ass, but we steadfastly refuse to admit anything ever comes out of it.

Men are just the opposite. They will talk about poop like it’s a miracle they were single-handedly responsible for creating. Size, colour, length, girth – men are often eager to describe in explicit detail exactly what came out of their ass. But they’d sooner go to war than acknowledge that anything can go INTO it.

The naked truth is that we all have an anus, a rectum, as well as bowels that need to be voided. Men also have a prostate gland and that little gland puts the “sea” in semen – it’s responsible for adding the nutrients and fluid to the sperm. Without the prostate, all those little swimmers would dry up and starve.
You know the joke about men having another brain below the belt? It’s sort-of true. The prostate is a walnut-sized gland wrapped around the urethra, (the tube that carries urine and semen out of the body through the penis) and it has a left and right lobe just like the brain. It’s located just below the bladder and in front of the rectum, and it can start growing cancerous cells.

Men age 40 and over need to start considering this fascinating little gland, and they might want to bring it up with their physician. There are two ways to screen for prostate issues. The first is a simple blood test measuring PSA levels. The second is a digital rectal exam (DRE) where a doctor will insert a gloved and lubricated finger into the rectum to feel the prostate for any abnormalities.
Men: listen-up. This is not a big deal. If you can brag about the size of your massive post-Thanksgiving poop, you can handle this, I promise.

Colon cancer can be screened for too, and the women aren’t going to like this part. (Men, you might love it!) You have to take a very small sample of the poop you pretend you don’t have. This test will screen for blood in your feces, which can be an early warning sign of cancer. Your doctor will send you home with a little kit and it’s easy. Better yet, it’s easily hidden – only your doctor will know your secret.

Many lives could be saved by early detection and treatment, and more research is needed. If you know a man brave enough to grow a moustache for this cause, please consider donating to him by looking him up on Movember.com.

Life is so short, and we have such little time on this Earth. Let’s not make it any shorter than we have to simply because we’re afraid of our own asses.

sherimonk@gmail.com