Elizabeth May mailed me a photo of her cats!

I just received a big letter from Green Party leader and Saanich – Gulf Islands MP Elizbaeth May! Here’s the photo she sent me of her cats when they were kittens:

Elizabeth May's cats when they were kittens.
Elizabeth May's cats when they were kittens.

Last month my friend Janean sent me a link to a story about a guy who wrote a letter to Stephen Harper to ask about his cats. In response he received a signed letter as well as a photo of Stephen Harper’s cat Stanley. A photo of the letter was posted by Reddit user MyLastNameIsHO.

Suffice to say I love cats a heck of a lot more than Stephen Harper and I thought it would be nice to see if other party leaders had cats too so I decided to write a letter to Janean’s MP and Green Party leader Elizabeth May.

25 March 2013

Dear Ms. May,

I am writing this letter as a friendly and light-hearted inquiry about any cats that you may have.

A few days ago my dear friend Janean Sharkey, who also happens to be a wildlife biologist and one of your constituents, posted a link on Facebook about Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cat. Apparently someone wrote the prime minister to inquire about his cats and Harper replied with a letter and a large glossy photo of his pet.

While I love cats I am not a big fan of Harper or the Conservative Party of Canada. I will, however, admit that I was touched by his expression of affection for his feline companions but feel that there is room for other political cat stories on the Internet.

I don’t know if you currently have a cat but I am writing this letter with the assumption that you like them. After all, would an educated and committed animal person like Janean live in a riding represented by someone who doesn’t? I don’t think so! Hehe.

Would you please send me a photo of your current or former cats? I would also like to know what cats mean to you and why you believe, if you do, that cats are especially important to British Columbians and Canadians. Furthermore, what do you believe our leaders should do to support housecats and their owners? I intend to post your reply on my personal website at www.nathaniel.ca.

I have enclosed a photo of me and my cat Khan which was taken at the Sears portrait studio in 2011. Khan is an eight-year-old diabetic domestic shorthair and he’s pretty much the centre of my life. He loves sushi, cake, houseguests, and the sun lamp. He’s a very friendly and mellow pet who gets along with just about anybody and the vet even describes him as “very Zen.”

Kind regards,

Nathaniel Christopher

The photo I sent to Elizabeth May.
The photo I sent to Elizabeth May.

Today I received a reply! In addition to the photo she also sent me a lovely card that she purchased in support of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee as well as really sturdy vinyl photo holder with the House of Commons logo on the front.

The stuff I got from Elizabeth May! The brid on the card is a black-throated green warbler.
The stuff I got from Elizabeth May! The brid on the card is a black-throated green warbler.

This is what she wrote in the card:

Dear Nathaniel,

Thanks so much for your sweet letter. I do love cats. The enclosed photo is of my cats when they were kittens!

Thanks for your photo with Khan.


Elizabeth's letter to me.
Elizabeth's letter to me.
The binder thing that Elizabeth May sent me!
The binder thing that Elizabeth May sent me!

Homophobic grafitti in Vancouver on 4/20

On April 20 Vancouver celebrated its 18th annual 4/20 celebration.  That’s basically the day when thousands of people converge downtown to buy, smoke, see, or smell marijuana. Some go down there.

The celebration was founded by employees of Canadian cannabis activist Marc Emery who wanted to host a day-long rally to celebrate cannabis and call for its legalisation.

This year’s celebration attracted an estimated 20,000 attendees up from 15,000 who showed up last year. Many of these people, of course, made their way through the city to get home or to another destination. I spent part of the day visting with friends in Hastings-Sunrise which was a lot busier than usual. Hundreds of people pushed their way through Hastings on their way to or from the big celebration.

In addition to the people I also noticed a spammy sign at the corner of Nanaimo and Hastings had been defaced with homophobic graffiti. I spoke with area residents who said the vandalism took place sometime on April 20.

"GAY" spray painted on spammy advertisement.
"GAY" spray painted on spammy advertisement.

The Charter at 30

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. w00t!

As a gay man I credit the Charter for the advancement of a culture and society that protects and includes gay and lesbian people.

While sexual orientation is not specifically mentioned in the Charter successive rulings prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation and expanded gay and lesbian equality to areas such as marriage and pensions. Gay and lesbian people have also made gains in areas such as employment, health benefits, housing, hate crimes, and adoption.

I frequently read news stories from other parts of the world where leaders attempt to pass homophobic legislation or otherwise use the state to oppress gay and lesbian people.

It makes me grateful to live in Canada but I am mindful that even here we have politicians and governments who would love to push through a bunch of crazy homophobic laws. But they can’t. We have have a constitutionally embedded Charter.

In a 2002 University of Toronto law professor Brenda Cossman wrote an article in which she evaluated the legal implications of the Charter for the gay and lesbian community.

The Charter has been an effective tool in challenging the denial
of formal legal equality of lesbians and gay men. Laws that discriminate against
lesbian and gay individuals and relationships have been struck down as
unconstitutional, and legislatures have been forced to amend their laws to
extend formal legal equality. In so doing, there has been a shift in the politics
of democracy. The Charter critics—right and left—are correct to point out that
courts have done what almost no legislature was prepared to do. The
legalization of politics has delivered formal equality for lesbians and gay men

In early 2011 Saskatchewan’s right-of-centre government told provincial marriage commissioners that if they refused to conduct same-sex marriages they would have to resign or be fired even if doing so conflicted with their religious conviction.

“In my view, from a litigation point of view, it’s a done issue,” Saskatchewan’s Justice Minister, Don Morgan told me. “There’s certainly an option to appeal to the Supreme Court, but when you got a well-written judgment from five of the leading jurists in the province, you would want to accept that.”

The decision came a week after Saskatchewan’s highest court unanimously ruled that proposed legislation giving marriage commissioners the right to refuse to marry couples for religious reasons was unconstitutional.

The Government of Alberta, in contrast, has gone to great lengths to prevent gay and lesbian equality from taking root there. IF it wasn’t for the charter Alberta would be just like one of the 29 US States where residents can be fired on the basis of sexual orientation.

In 1991 Delwin Vriend was fired from his position at a private Christian university because he was gay. He was unable to file a human rights complaint as sexual orientation was not included as a prohibited ground of discrimination in Alberta’s Human Rights legislation.

He sued the commission and the provincial government and the case was ultimately heard by the Supreme Court who ruled that provincial government could not exclude gay and lesbian people from human rights legislation and that such exclusion violated the Charter.

We still have a long way to go with regards to gay and lesbian equality but I’m grateful for the significant gains we have made thus far and I believe we have the Charter to thank.

Taking the city bus from Vancouver to Seattle

Vancouver to Seattle
Vancouver to Seattle

Have you ever considered taking the city bus from Vancouver to Seattle? Not the Greyhound, car, or Amtrak but public transit. I considered it, found out it was possible.

I was curious to see how far south I could go on public transit. I was hoping there’d be a way to go all the way down to San Francisco on public transit commuter buses but I can’t seem to find a way to go further south than Olympia without hopping on an Amtrak or Greyhound.

My friend and I wanted to go down to the US border on transit for a day of fun and happiness in Blaine, Washington. But I was like “Screw Blaine, let’s go to Seattle!” She was like “Okay!” But I just looked at all the long bus trips and connections and am like “Blaine will be fine!”

Here’s what such a trip might look like:

  1. Take the SkyTrain at 5:30 in the morning and then transfer on three Surrey buses until you get to 8th Ave. and King George Highway at approximately 6:50 a.m.
  2. Walk (or bike) approximately 2 km to the US border station. I don’t know if they have a walk-through section or anything. Hopefully they are more accomodating than the McDonald’s drive thru.
    US Border Crossing
  3. Head to downtown Blaine and catch the 70X Bellingham/WWU at 7:51 a.m. Arrive in Bellingham at 8:41 a.m.
  4. Catch the 80X Mt. Vernon bus at Bellingham Station at 9:40 a.m. Arrive at Skagit Station in Mt. Vernon at 10:22 a.m.

    Mount Vernon, Washington
  6. Hop on the 90X County Connector – Everett Express bus at 4:15 p.m. and arrive at Everett Station at 5:00 p.m.
  7. Take the 510 Everett – Seattle bus at 5:20 p.m. and get off in downtown Seattle at 6:10 p.m.
  8. Have dinner at the Space Needle!

    Space Needle Restaurant
  9. Hmm… I don’t think I’ll be going to Seattle this way…

It’s time to eliminate first ladies

Last week the leaders of the world’s biggest economies met in London for the G-20 Leaders’ Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy. While the men were talking about facts, figures and policy their wives were off doing their own thing.

Stories about global recession ran alongside vignettes about what the ladies were wearing, their posture and how Michelle Obama compares to Jackie Kennedy.

I fail to understand how it is newsworthy or relevant to report on the happenings of women who are married to male politicians. I believe it is profoundly sexist and demonstrates the need for gender equity in politics.

Of the 20 plus world leaders at the summit only two were women: President Cristina Kirchner of Argentina and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. Both women are married but neither of their husbands participated in the “first lady” events. Where the female leaders were visible in the group photos with their male cohorts, their male spouses were conspicuously absent from the colourful swaths of cloth  in “first lady” group photos.

The absence of “first gentlemen” (one a former president of Argentina and the other a professor) was not a case of an overbooked schedule according to Guardian Columnist Zoe Williams:

“The truth is, they couldn’t have come – it would have unmasked the whole thing for the absurdity it is; whether or not they arrived at this conclusion themselves, or were just casually not invited, history doesn’t relate.”

I do not think someone should have a public role simply because they are married to a politician.

Here in Canada the prime minister’s spouse may occasionally accompany them on an official function but do not have any stated public role.  In fact, that’s one thing I quite like about Canada. The wives of the last three prime ministers have maintained a very low public profile and the prime minister before that, Kim Campbell, had no husband.

I believe a public role for the spouse of a politician (who is usually male) invariably promotes negative stereotypes about the role of women in politics. In the United States it is common to see male politicians at official events with a well-manicured wife in tow.

It’s obnoxious.

Photo by PATTI MURPHY/Ag Weekly Idaho First Lady Lori Otter shops for locally grown groceries at the Boise Co-Op as part of a campaign to encourage people to support buy local initiatives.

In 2008 there was a very real possibility that the next American President would be female. The media and society were forced, for just a moment, to look past what she was wearing and seriously evaluate her vision for America.

Hillary Rodham-Clinton was a contender for the most important elected position in the United States – not just Bill’s arm candy.

A big part of achieving gender equity lies in our ability to promote positive, powerful role models rather than pandering to bullshit stereotypes about the place of women in society.

I want to hug Michelle Obama!

Everyone who’s handled Canadian coinage has rubbed their palm against the Queen’s unfaltering visage. But few of us will ever have the opportunity to make physical contact with the woman behind their pocket change.

Michelle Obama, it seems, has taken that opportunity to a new level when she engaged The Queen in a brief, but meaningful, embrace this week.

I was deeply moved. I love the Royal Family.

I believe their presence and place in Canadian society has always been an inseparable part of our culture, history and identity and will remain so for many years to come.

While politicians come and go The Queen and her family have always been constant. I believe they keep us grounded to our roots without impeding us from moving forward in the world. It’s a happy balance of tradition and progress.

When Michelle Obama hugged The Queen she instantly added a new and extremely human dimension to this huge figure. The gesture is evidence of the First Lady’s incredible warmth and sincerity.

In this photo  Michelle Obama has a  kind, responsive expression on her face and ease of body language that is typical in her encounters with people from every walk of life.

I don’t think it made any difference to her that she was meeting the Sovereign. She saw past the titles and into the person before her, and I think that’s why The Queen responded positively. We all long to be treated like human beings.

I think Michelle Obama will bring so much good to this world.  Over and over again.

What would you do for a hug from Michelle Obama? What would you say to her? What would you tell your friends?

I want to know! I’ll mail some Twinkies to the person who writes the best response.

Gary Korpan

When I was 12 years old Nanaimo voters elected Gary Richard Korpan as their mayor. They repeated this again in 1996, 1999, 2002 and 2005. Tonight, however, it appears the voters have chosen a new mayor in businessman John Ruttan.

Although I’m not a big of Korpan, I think he deserves credit for braving the storm so long and devoting 15 years of his life to the service of Nanaimo as mayor.

I believe that in many ways the Nanaimo of today is a vast improvement over the Nanaimo of 1993 and that he deserves credit for helping to make that happen. I know he believed in making Nanaimo a better place.

He’s also played a pivotol role in my career as a journalist. In fact, my very first interview was with him. We sat outside the museum and he patiently answer my questions – even the silly one “Who’s your favourite Spice Girl?” He conceded he wasn’t familar with their work but had an extensive music cd collection of rock, jazz and pop.

My next interview with him, unfortunately, didn’t paint him in a great light. I wanted to address the issues facing gay and lesbian youth with local politicians. His answers, and ignorance on the issue, was shocking to say the least. The following year he famously vacated the council chamber along with four councillors when a motion to declare pride week was brought forward.

He’s never made a secret of his adamant opposition to gay pride celebrations or parades.  He’s consistently voted against them stating that he would also vote against any heterosexual pride celebrations.

Although I disagree with his position I respect that he stood by his beliefs against all odds.
I wish him all the best in his future endeavours.

Why I won’t vote for Obama

Well, I’m an American citizen. I have my passport and everything. But I won’t be voting for Obama… or anybody today. In addition to being a citizen of the States I’m also considered a resident of the State of Indiana for voting purposes. However, I’ve never lived there. It was the last place my father lived so it’s my state of residence by default.  Indiana requires that you actually live there for a month before the election in order to vote, so I won’t be voting. I don’t think it’s an unreasonable rule at all. We expect the same of our voters up here.

Here’s the email I got from the elections people:

Thanks for your message.
The different states determine in their laws whether a person such as yourself who is the child of a resident, but who has never resided in that state themselves, is eligible to register and vote there. Indiana’s Consitution requires that a person be a legal resident of an Indiana precinct for at least 30 days before the election.
Although the Indiana General Assembly has considered an amendment to the Indiana Constitution to permit the children of Indiana voters who have resided overseas (but never resided in Indiana) to vote, this amendment has never been passed by the legislature and submitted to Indiana voters.
As a result, under the facts below, you would not be qualified to register for the November 2008 general election. If you have further questions, please let me know. Thanks again,
Brad King
Indiana Election Division

Canada Post vs. Nathaniel

So, when I opened the mail today I received a letter in the strangest envelope.

It was a cheque I was expecting, but there was no return address and the postal marks were very strange. It was stamped as “Short Paid Unit” and something about 104 cents:

There was a little card stapled to the back which read: “Postage Due: With this card you received mail that was sent without enough postage. To avoid delay and inconvenience, the amount due was not collected at the time of delivery. Please affix postage on the other side of this card to cover the amount due, and mail the card.”

I put two stamps on the back and will put it in the mail before five. I should probably invoice the place that sent the letter for $1.04! It was lame for them to forget postage! Heh What do you think?

Conservative Party typo on campaign signs!

I can’t be too harsh with them, as I’ve written and published many things with glarings typos.

But this one is too good to resist!

The Conservative Party candidate for Burnaby-Douglas is Ronald Leung. There are two very prominent signs for him on an empty lot at the northwest corner of Hastings and Willingdon. The candidate’s website is listed as “Website.com”. That is obviously an error. His other signs list ronaldleung.ca as his website. “website.com” was probably placer text on the original file. I guess they were in such a hurry to put two signs on every lot that they forgot to check to make sure the information was correct.

Hmm… You know the Conservatives tend to put misinformation on their campaign literature, householders, and bills so it’s no wonder that one should slip up on the sign of a c-list candidate.

Ronald Leung's errant sign