Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Ashley Simpson: Five Months Gone

Every morning for five months now, my cousin John Simpson has wept on his pillow, each day unable to awaken from a bad dream, a nightmare, Groundhog Day, whatever you want to call it.

Everyday, John and his wife Cindy awake with the same mantra: "Come home, Ashley. Where are you? Please be safe."

It's the definition of insanity, finding yourself with the same hope expecting things to change.

They never do.

Sometimes, life's a shit sandwich, served cold.

But John has to go on, for the family, in her memory. It's not always easy, putting one foot in front of another. So he walks in Ashley's memory, and in the name of the countless others, missing and murdered women in this country who have disappeared without a trace. He plays cards, and builds bonfires., cooks marshmallows for the grands.

It's how he's built.

He's a Simpson. A man of few words. A man who just gets things done.

But we know inside, it's eating him up.

We all want to think that Ashley is out there, staying at a bed and breakfast somewhere, that she will call when ready. We want to think that because we cannot imagine what else might have happened to a young woman who was here one day, flashing that legendary smile, then gone the next.

Disappeared without a trace, without a wallet or a car, after an argument with a boyfriend.

Today, John wrote this note on Facebook. I want to share it because I want everybody to take away a little bit of the family's pain in hopes it will lessen. Insanity, I know.

Wishful thinking, again. That pain will never go away. It will only lessen, and even then, just a bit, if they learn what really happened to Ashley on that spring day.

And now, over to you, John.

Well, kid, my how we miss you.
Our pain and sorrow are enormous.
The void you made when you left us is huge.
We are living in a nightmare.
I wish on no family the lack of response from the RCMP.
It is discouraging to say the least.
No wonder they have such a huge problem in BC.
They have no heart no soul. They speak with a forked tongue, as one would say.
And the government of BC, well I have a few choice words for you while you stand idly by while your women and children go missing for years .
You have done nothing but hide the fact that BC is not a safe place for women of any race.
You can believe me, if there is any connection to my daughter's disappearance and what's going on out in BC , I will get a someone like a lawyer to see if he can do something about it.
This I promise you my kid.
We still have faith that, somehow, you can break free of your chains that hold you.
Where ever you are, get free, contact anyone.
We are not far from you at anytime.
As for us Ashley, we cry daily, as we laugh daily, as we all remember your smile. Your hard laughter.
Survive we will but with a huge hole in our hearts.
You will never leave our thoughts and dreams.
We love you, my girl.
Well I'll head out to dry my tears as they flow down my face as they have daily since you have left us.
No, it doesn't get easier.


Amen to that, John. Amen to that.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

The Best Exotic Marigold Medical Publisher

Come close young Canadian medical students.
For I have a story that will make you piss in your scrubs.
Your beloved research papers, the ones that you hoped would get you the good jobs in hospitals, the ones that would eventually get you tenure at prime universities, may be out there in the ether.
Or they may be languishing somewhere on some server mid-Atlantic because a few Canadian publishers are taking big payouts and selling you out to off shore interests.
This year, medical publishing in this country finally entered the Theatre of the Absurd.
It all began a few months ago, when a company out of India began courting independent Canadian medical publishers offering them stacks of sweaty money if they would sell their companies. To the publishers, they seemed legit. They had a whopping big website -- though if the sellers had read them, they'd probably notice a lot of inaccuracies and mistakes.
The publishers were assured that it would be business as usual at their beloved journals. The only change would come once the transition happened, when the journals would be produced in little sweatshops by nameless, faceless, feckless tribes of copyeditors and designers.
Meanwhile, the publishers would be rewarded for their good work, and could aspire to scratch golfing. Or condo buying. Or both.
Canadian managing editors and designers were let go and the "new partners" were finally in charge.
The transition began, and that's when the trouble started.
Manuscripts disappeared. The doctors in charge could no longer access their files. New websites popped up full of errors and typos.
The old publishers were horrified as they watched all their good work crumble into rubble. The Internet was full of vitriol. The blame game began.
Then one enterprising editor-in-chief googled the new parent company.
This is what he found.
Amazing that the publishers hadn't done the same.

Friday, 2 September 2016


In the winter of 1984, Pierre Trudeau took a walk in the snow, and we all know what happened to the country.
Liberals wandered in the desert, like Moses looking for a sheep, for what seemed like forever. Some people got rich, some people got appointed, some people killed themselves with booze. Me, I took the coward's way out, got married and moved to Regina where I had babies and smelled like corn on the cob.
Nobody was really shocked when Pierre called it quits. Not even the true believers who toiled for him in the Langevin Block or on Parliament Hill. Some of them were sad but a lot of people had already made their plans to move on.
There was much salivating and gleeful hand-rubbing at the thought that opportunity was finally knocking. People who had been loyal spear carriers for nearly two decades were getting ready to cash in, and sell their stock to Bay Street. Spokesthingies became bankers. Policy wonks became association vice-presidents. The less fortunate skulked into the middle ranks of the public service and began wearing double knit pants and running shoes.
Influence had suddenly become an attractive commodity for which private sector companies were willing to pay handsomely.
A lot of millionaires were made in the 1980s as Liberals were more than willing to join forces with their Conservative rivals to set up consulting firms and do deals over scallops at the Sheraton. A lot of $500 bottles of wine were bought at the Rideau Club as papers were not so discretely slipped across the tables. Sucking and blowing actually became a thing, as everybody checked their ideology with the matrons at the front door.
The Pierre-leaving gave the Liberal faithful the opportunity to attach themselves to the coat tails of rising stars, the likes of Jean Chretien, John Turner, or Don Johnston. Fart catching continued to be a national sport; it was just different smelling farts they were catching.
For those who still believed, it was a difficult time as the zebras began to show their true stripes.  The distinct smell of jack off was in the air as people lined up for their gold-plated embassy and senate appointments. Government boards filled up quickly.
The Bryce was Right and as a result, he was rewarded handsomely. Lloyd Francis traded his French tutor and began to brush up on his espagnol. Colin Kenny, a boy just out of shortpants, got the golden ticket and was appointed a Senator. (Three decades later, he's still there.)
The largesse kept on getting larger and larger.
People were not just prepared to "dance with the one who brung them" as Mulroney famously said. They were prepared for a God damned orgy of entitlement.
It was time not just for change but for very large bills.
Hard to blame people.
There was a lot of fatigue in the Trudeau camp; we had slumbered for years under his efforts to bring home Canada's constitution. (Was it patriation or repatriation? Would the Gordian knot finally be severed?)
The idea pool became as dry as an Arizona desert as Trudeau eyed his destiny as an ambassador for peace (which was politico speak for a man with a million travel miles).
Being a Liberal had become embarassing for even the truly committed. There was a disastrous budget handed down by Allan J. MacEachen which so infuriated Liberals that they started marking their Liberal magazine "return to sender" with expletives painted all over the cover.
There was the National Energy Program which, to this day, remains a spoke in the side of good Western Liberals. (If you are too young to remember this ask a Western Tory who will surely enlighten you.)
Minions like me, the little people who toiled on IBM Selectric typewriters responding to Prime Ministerial mail didn't need tea leaves to know a lot of people hated Trudeau for such comments as "Why should I buy your wheat?" Or "fuddle duddle."
Instead of trying to win over voters, the Prime Minister had taken to saluting them with his middle finger, providing the creators of Trivial Pursuit with the answer "Salmon Arm salute."
If you worked in correspondence, you didn't need to see the polls to know Liberals were knee deep in caca.
I was in charge of opening the mail from concerned voters who took great pains to put pen to paper. One enterprising fellow, when asked to contribute to the Liberal coffers, fashioned a pop-up middle finger. Another lad sent us a photo of himself ejaculating with a handwritten note, "Here is my contribution."
We all knew that the Party was beginning to smell bad, as all parties do after being in power longer than two terms. Once I suggested to the Prime Minister's principal secretary that it would have been nice for Canada to adopt the two term rule, as our friends south of the border had done. He proceeded to lecture me on the differences between our two systems.
My eyes glazed over. It is the God given right of any person to be Prime Minister of Canada for life, said no one ever.
With Trudeau stepping down, we were gone baby gone, and we knew it. And so it was, during the next few weeks, the ranks of the PMO emptied their desks, and stole enough stationery and framed copies of the Constitution to start a museum.
I watched all this from my vantage point at the corner of Metcalfe and Wellington, which would soon be known as the office of Mila Mulroney. I had a good view of the Changing of the Guard, and I wanted to wait til summer to see it all over again.
Besides, I'd already burned my journalism bridges. I had no cred, nor qualifications for any other job. I had left my job as a rock music writer two years earlier, looking for new adventures and all I got was this stickin' Trudeau t shirt.
I decided to stay and watch it all play out. 
It all turned out well for me. Trudeau's correspondence director fired everybody so I got hired on as a letter writer over the summer under the new leader, John Turner, a man who left politics as a hottie and returned in old man pants.
I stayed on as a writer for hire with the same job just a different office in another building. The view sucked.
Let me say that I was never a Liberal "militant".  I hadn't joined the Young Liberals whilst at Carleton University, nor was I even a real sympathizer. I had simply lived my life since I was twelve under a Trudeau government. I didn't know anything else. It was like I had tried out the journalism thing, then got a job in Dad's shoe store.
It was a natural fit for me as I had basic liberal values. I was the daughter of a war widow raised on welfare, who got her university paid for by the paternalistic governments of Bill Davis in Ontario, who wasn't, let's face it, a real Conservative. The Liberal topped up my university stipend with a mess of grants. Going to work for the Liberal Party was like paying back the debt so that's what I did.
Unfortunately, seguing from journalism to politics meant that I was never really trusted. At the time, I was also married to a top journalist on Parliament Hill, further cementing my position as an outsider.
Love her, just don't trust her. She really isn't one of us.
When the time came for the Liberal Party to bid their fond farewell to the leader, I wasn't even invited to the party at the Ottawa Civic Centre.  After two years of faithful service, no one thought to give me a ticket.
After much complaining, somebody offered to find me a ticket but I no longer wanted to go. My heart wasn't in it.
On the night of the farewell, I decided to toast Pierre in style, so I walked from the Langevin Block to the Press Club and asked the bartender Denny Tang to fill up a bag full of beer, which I took back to my office which was located across the hallway from the RCMP.
It would be just me, the officer who was watching a baseball game, and the commissionaire.
I turned on the old black and white, snapped a cap and filled my gullet with Labatt 50.
I felt like a really dirty girl, drinking illicitly in the halls of power, but in retrospect, I now know that that RCMP guy could not have given a shit if I had been doing lines of coke instead.
It was surreal watching all of my colleagues tearing up on queue for the pool feed. Me, I didn't feel much of anything except a slight buzz from the warm beer.
After the show ended, I went back to the club for a couple more. The club was like a deserted bowling alley. Everybody, journos, politicos, were at the Civic Centre. It was just me and Denny. It reminds me now of that Jackson Brown song, Rosie.
Rosie, you're alright, you wear my ring/
When you hold me tight, Rosie that's my thing/
When they turn out the lights, I gotta hand it to me.
I always thought Jackson Brown was singing about Rosie, a girl like me, a loyal groupie but he was only describing a hand job. The Liberals didn't care about me. Like the man who sent in the photo of himself, I was merely giving my contribution.
I must say, I loved my time in politics, but I really paid for it. The stench of Liberal followed me around for years. It would keep me out of boardrooms and hallways forever.
To the Trudeau Liberals, I had been the stinky kid from the ink stained hallways of reporterland, an untrustworthy scallywag.  To my former colleagues in journalism, I was a turncoat, a sell out who had wasted my gold plated journalism credentials for personal profit. And to the other Liberals, who had been lying in wait for the end of the Trudeau era, I was a has been.
And I was only twenty-five.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

The cancer diaries: Choosing life

Last December, this little lady had major cancer surgery to remove a tumor underneath her tongue.

It's been a tough road back for Jennette who has spent more than ten years as a caregiver for both her husband and her father. Both men lost their battles. Roger died a year before Jennette was diagnosed with cancer. Her father Jim died just a few months ago.

I'm not sure what was worse, losing the two loves of her life, or having a doctor take a backhoe to her gob taking most of her soft tissue and teeth with it. Honestly, I think it was the loss of love that hurt her the most.

She quipped a few months ago that now, the only men in her life were her doctors and her undertaker.

During the battle with cancer, Jennette was struggling to care for her dad and visited him daily while he was in palliative care at St. Vincent's Hospital. The good news was that her doctor declared her cancer-free, the bad news was that the oncologist recommended radiation "just in case".

I took Jennette to the hospital dentist who announced she would have to have all her teeth pulled and that, after radiation, she would not be able to have bottom teeth as the tissue would be destroyed. The dentist was nice enough but I got the impression he really just saw her as an old person who would have to settle for what her speech pathologist described as "the new normal".

A lot of us would have take the treatment, but Jennette decided to choose quality of life over radiation. She said all she wanted was to be able to eat the foods she loved instead of the gruel that she was expected to blenderize.

Frankly, at the time, I thought she should have had the radiation but I was wrong and cowardly while she was brave. She decided to explore all her options and found expert dentists at GumDocs who say they can give her back her smile. She will have dental implants in the bottom that will cover the damage that was done by her surgeon to save her life. And she will have a new set of uppers that will give her the Joe Biden grin.

When it's all said and done, by Christmas, Jennette will be able to enjoy turkey dinner without having to put it in a blender.

I am so excited for her. She kicked cancer's ass, and lived to tell the tale. She put aside her own health to care for Jim, and she stared down all the medical professionals who treated her like a patient instead of a person.

Well done, Jennette. You deserved better in your Third Act.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Ashley Simpson: In her name

On Saturday, the friends and family of Ashley Marie Simpson will gather to play games, drink some suds and raise some money in her honor. The fundraiser is meant to raise awareness for the We Canada Walk for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman Foundation, along with the Shuswap Search and Rescue team who helped in the search for Ashley after she went missing.

Here are the details.

As people who read my posts know, Ashley is my cousin. I never met her. I moved away from our home of St. Catharines four decades ago, before Ashley was born. I didn't know my cousin John, either, and have only distant memories of his brothers and sisters who were adopted by my aunts and uncles.

Thanks to Ashley Marie, I know them now. We have been brought together by her tragic disappearance on that cool day in April. Nearly every day, her family and friends hold a virtual prayer circle in her honor. Ashley's pals post selfies and messages on Facebook. This summer, they participated in a walk for missing and murdered indigenous women. They are constantly talking about her in print and on television.

Out of the ashes of this terrible story, her story is having an impact.

People are listening and taking action, in their own small ways.

I write a blog about her every week. Whenever I write about Ashley, thousands of people read and share the posts. Money is being raised. People are talking, organizing and doing -- all in her name.

Because they have to.

When someone like Ashley goes missing, the world becomes a little smaller. The clock stops while the world keeps spinning.

The people who love and know her feel helpless.

When we can no longer count on her smile or jokes or the good food she made, we have to find an outlet for our grief. So we do.

I've done a lot of thinking about God over the years, as I've watched people endure endless tragedy. Murder, mayhem, senseless violence. Entire communities wiped out by the angry wrath of storms. 

My cousin John and his family must have had some choice words for a God who would give them such a tremendous gift -- the love of a child -- and then take her away from them in such a gut-wrenching fashion.

I've also asked those of faith to explain to me how such a loving God can turn on good people and hand them misery.

I guess I didn't like the answer. You see, I have never really bought the notion of "God only gives us the burden we can carry."

God didn't answer me, either. He must have lost my coordinates.

So I turned inward, to reflect on my own memories and thoughts. And here is what I came up with.

What I have learned in lo these 60 years on Earth is that, in times of tragedy, the goodness of people shines brightest. Good people are like firefighters who run into buildings when everybody else is running out. They take lemons and make lemonade. They give shelter. They give hope.

And in the case of Ashley, they wrap the family in loving arms and let them know that they matter, that the life of Ashley, in her short time on this planet, mattered.

The lesson may not be found in the Bible. Maybe we find it in Dr. Seuss after the Grinch stole everybody's presents on Christmas Eve. Instead of wallowing in their sorrow, they came together in a collective song and spirit.

Perhaps it's just as simple as a child's tale.

On Saturday, the people of St. Catharines/Niagara will come together to raise their voices in a collective cry to stop the violence against women in this country. On another day, they will get their feet moving in memory of those same women.

They will never stop because they can't.

They will stare adversity in the face, they will face their greatest fears, because the only thing that makes sense, the only way to combat evil is to do good.

Doing good will be the only way to keep Ashley's spirit here on Earth.

They are doing good in her name.

In the name of Ashley Marie Simpson who will live on through their good deeds.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Ashley Simpson: Female Lives Matter

On July 22, the family of Deana Mildred Wertz reported her missing from her home on Yankee Flats Road, which is part of the community of Salmon Arm, B.C.

Deana was last seen in the early morning of July 19, 2016.

She lived not far from my cousin Ashley Simpson who vanished three months earlier. A lot of people are asking: is there a predator on the loose in that small community? Is it just a coincidence that two women went missing from that same rural road?

There are differences in both cases. Ashley is a young (33-year-old) Caucasian woman from Ontario. Deana is described as First Nations. She is middle aged (46-years-old).

But that is where the difference ends.

It is a frightening coincidence that has re-opened the wound for the Simpson family. They still hold out hope that Ashley has simply lost her way, but every time one of these police alerts pops up, their hope dims.

If Ashley had not disappeared on that spring day, I would not have known about Deana or paid much attention to the plight of the missing and murdered women of British Columbia. I am ashamed to say that. Like many people, I have become desensitized to this kind of violence. There's too much of it; after a while we stop taking it in.

But the anguish experienced by Ashley's family -- cousins I had never met -- have made this personal for me. Over the last three months, I got to know Ashley from videos, Facebook posts and photographs. Her plight has forced me to examine my own prejudices and assumptions about women who go missing.

Ashley is a hard-working, well loved woman, a free spirit who has touched many lives with her sense of humor. She is missed, and must be found.

Deana, I'm sure is just the same. She is a mother, a friend, a vibrant person in her own right.

The families deserve to know what has happened to them.

For more information about Deana, or Ashley please visit the B.C. RCMP page. The report is posted below.

If you live in Salmon Arm, pay attention, get involved, report anything suspicious.

Remember, it could be your daughter, your mother or your sister.

Female Lives Matter.

On July 22, 2016, 46 yr old Deana Mildred Wertz was reported as missing to the Enderby RCMP. It was reported that Deana was last seen in the early morning of July 19, 2016 at her residence on Yankee Flats Road.

Deana Mildred Wertz description: as First Nations, 5'2”, dark, shoulder-length hair, brown eyes and last seen wearing a grey T-shirt and grey cut-off sweat pants.

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Deana Mildred Wertz is urged to contact their local police, or Crimestoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS). Media Release:

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Life in the Labrador Lane

Scott chose Finnigan from a dysfunctional litter.
His mother was a Bernese Mountain Dog, purebred. His father came from unknown lineage.
Papa was a rolling stone. He rolled into Finn's mother's yard, did the deed and escaped without offering any child support.
Finn may look and smell like a Labrador Retriever, but undoubtedly, there is something else in there. The vet thought Daddy might have been a Great Dane.
Still, his offspring masquerades as a Black Lab.
And he's good at it.
It's always hard to pick from a litter. I mean, all puppies are cute, right?
Finn made a good impression. He nuzzled Scott's hand and licked him all over. Clearly, he was far superior to his brother who spent our visit chewing wires on the tractor.
Finn, on the other hand, seemed sweet and loving. That was until he got in the car and promptly puked all over Marissa.
Since adopting him four and a half years ago, we have had many names for him.
Idiot. Asshole. F!@khead.
His incessant barking, I believe, has caused me irreparable hearing loss.
He wipes the table with his tail, and assaults Sophie the Pug on a regular basis.
He eats poo.
But like all Weirdos Who Masquerade as Labs, Finn has some truly great qualities.
First of all, he is a star athlete who can jump and catch a Kong in mid-air or trim the trees outside.

He is an excellent watchdog who regularly reminds me in his own noisy way that dogs are essential background characters in all advertisements on television.
Finn can also tow a 270 pound swimmer around a Quebec lake by his tail, and otherwise spend hours looking for his Kong in shallow water when its location is evident to everyone but him.
But perhaps his best quality is his ability to mend a broken heart.
Finnigan took on this role for me last year when I lost my beloved pug Gordie.
As I watched Scott drive away from the lake with my ailing boy, knowing I would never see him again, I took to the water and prayed to the mountain to take away my sorry.
I don't know if God heard me or not, but Finnigan certainly did.
We walked together for hours in the shallow water, back and forth. Finnigan never left my side, not for a moment.
He performed all his goofy tricks: trimming the trees, chasing the ducks, and scouring the lake for fish. While he couldn't take away the pain, he eased it like Ativan on an empty stomach, or a tequila shot on a sandy beach.

That stupid black nose. That pointy head. That smile, minus part of a front fang, lost in a titanic battle with the Kong.
After that day at the lake, all was forgiven.
He had done the job he was put on the Earth to do.

Today, I saw something that made my heart sink a little.
Finn was having trouble with his mouth, and started making a yakking manoeuvre.
I thought he was choking, but realized that there was something wrong with his jaw.
Then he went to bark, and couldn't. It seemed to hurt too much.
So today, he is lying at my feet looking so un-Lab like.
I feel I need to return the favour, to keep him close until we get this figured out.
I think his Kong days may be numbered.
There won't be any throwing the thing in the air and watching him catch it with his big strong mouth.
For it is the adored Kong that may be the villain of the piece.
Putting away the Kong will make him miserable for a few days because he is Kong obsessed. Like most Lab-imitators, Finnigan doesn't have an off switch.
He insists on catching it over and over. In the sun, in the heat and the rain, he is like the mailman who delivers smiles, and gasps and hoots.
Not today my friend.
Today, it is my day to be the boss of him.
I will take away the Kong, hoping it will live another day.
Because it is the love of Finnigan's life, as he is the love of mine.
Safety first. At least for a while.
Good luck with that, Rose.