Reflections

Ukraine Air Flight 752

This is a difficult piece to write, and the little editor/censor that sits on my shoulder and occasionally whispers in my ear to shut up, is practically shouting at me. Possibly I should listen, but here goes anyway:

I am offended by Prime Minister Trudeau’s gesture to make a $25,000 gift to each of the 57 families who lost loved ones when flight 752 was shot down on takeoff from Tehran.

Like all Canadians I am shocked and angered by the inexcusable loss of innocent lives that occurred as a result of Iran’s stupidity, negligence, or worse.  The loss to Canada was especially egregious, given the remarkable accomplishments of the victims. We lost doctors, scholars, promising students, entrepreneurs, the very best of what we hope our immigration policies will attract.

Indeed the families of the victims  deserve our support and respect. I applaud the government for taking a stern line with Iran, demanding answers, and compensation, and for the consular support they are providing to the families.

That said, it is, I believe, wrong on principle for the government to provide compensation in such circumstances, where they are not to blame for the loss that occurred, and where to do so sets an unhealthy precedent.

Compensation should flow from fault, or responsibility for the loss, not from a politician’s desire to be seen as virtuous.

Consider that aircraft crashes in Canada last year claimed at least as many lives as we lost on flight 752. Eighteen Canadians were lost in the equally unforgivable Ethiopean Airways  Boeing 737 Max 8 crash, without the government feeling the need to start writing cheques, and there were 22 aircraft fatalities in Canada in July alone last year, all resulting from small aircraft crashes, and none resulted in the government rushing forward to pay the victims’ families.

Please understand this is a difficult matter of principle, and not intended to be hurtful to the families involved, who deserve, and in the fullness of time will doubtless receive, much more fulsome compensation from the proper source, the government of Iran. It is a reflection on what is, and is not, the proper role of government.

The government will easily spend more than the $25,000 now being paid to each family, in order to send investigators and consular officials to Iran, Indeed they have already spent far more than that in order to convene and host a meeting of foreign ministers from affected nations, in order to forge a united plan of action. That money is appropriately spent. The $25,000 gift payments are not.

The families of the Ethiopean Airlines disaster have suffered every bit as much as the Flight 752 families, and in addition to the anguish of sudden, and unnecessary bereavement,  have faced the same expenses of repatriating bodies, and conducting funerals, and many have felt compelled to make the expensive journey to Ethiopia to visit the crash site.

When authorizing the expenditure of taxpayers dollars governments need to look beyond the  political value of the headline the expenditure creates, and be guided by policy- hopefully by policy not formulated in the midst of an emotional maelstrom, and a policy which is applied consistently.

Is it now government policy that the family of every Canadian who loses their life in a plane crash anywhere in the world is to be given a payment? I certainly hope not. If so, it marks a complete about face from Canada’s long-standing policy against providing gratuitous assistance to Canadian travelling abroad. Consider the Canadians presently trapped inside Kashmir who have been denied financial assistance to leave, or the 300,000 Canadians  nervously living in Hong Kong who are hoping in vain that the Canadian Government might ride to their rescue if things get worse.

There is a limit to what any government can do, and we deserve to know what criteria the government is using, when they spend our money. Buying a photo op is not an appropriate one.

To the families I say, we all share your grief, and we understand that you did not want to be thrust into this awful spotlight, and you did not come to government with your hand out, expecting anything. I truly wish we didn’t have to make any commnet at all.

 

Categories: law, Politics, Reflections | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

A Slight Misunderstanding

Travelling the safari lodges of Botswana one soon realizes what the locals have long known- their Setwana names are impossible for a Westerner to pronounce. So, a custom has grown up in the service industry for workers to adopt  simple, pronounceable nicknames, to cater to us linguistically challenged tourists. Continue reading

Categories: Africa, Bucket list, Etiquette & manners, humour, Reflections | Leave a comment

A Promise kept

He came into our lives by accident nine years ago. After an exhaustive internet search for cats available for adoption, we had made our choice and found our way to Katie’s place, a wonderful  ‘no-kill’ cat shelter in Maple Ridge that accepts all comers, to meet and adopt the handsome young lad who had caught our eye. Continue reading

Categories: death and dying, In memoriam, pets, Reflections | Tags: , | 3 Comments

Life in the slow lane

Reminiscing about the halcyon days of summers past is one of the better ways to ward off the seasonal blahs of mid-winter, especially since back surgery has robbed me of the ski season. Keeping me warm beside the fire recently have been fond memories of  our  years as ‘narrowboaters’ on the canals of  Great Britain.

For the uninitiated, narrowboats are essentially long skinny houseboats. (never  more than 7 feet wide, and up  to 70 feet long- ours was a 56 footer)dscf3319-xl They are descended from the working canal boats that plied the rivers and canals of the UK at the dawn of the industrial revolution. The canals, once the transportation backbone of the nation, re-emerged as a recreational marine network, as the commercial importance of the canals faded with the advent of rail and road transport, and people began converting the old work boats into pleasure craft. Modern narrowboats are purpose built for recreational living.

As a form of summer recreation narrowboating is sublime. With all the comforts of home packed between the gunwales, you perch on the small rear deck of the boat,dscf3449-xl and putter through the English countryside at a sedate 3 miles per hour; about the pace of a brisk walk. We seldom covered more than a couple of hundred miles on a two week cruise, and typically chose a ‘ring’ -a route along several intersecting canals that would eventually lead us back to our starting point without re-tracing our steps.

Although equipped with TV and radio, we preferred to keep them off, shutting out the modern world and slowing ourselves down to the pace of the 19th century, where the original narrowboats were horse drawn. The tow path, once reserved for draft horses, remains in the public domain enjoyed by runners, ramblers and dog walkers, and by boaters  who are entitled to moor for free on the tow path. We would find a likely spot, typically a shady rural spot with pastoral views, pull into the bank, bang a steel peg into the ground fore and aft , and wind our mooring  lines around them.

The canals meander through some of the most picturesque rural countryside that England has to offer. It glides slowly by all day, an ever-changing panorama of country life, from half timbered farm house to grand estates, quaint villages, and ancient canal side pubs.

It is hard to find a more deeply relaxing vacation than a fortnight on a slow moving narrowboat, unplugged from the internet, your body and your mind slowed to the tempo of life on the canal. dscf3139-xl

Categories: Environment, Reflections, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christmas in the Congo

I had a moment of lucidity towards the end of my first year law school exams, and decided to put the paper chase on hold for a while, and bolted for the freedom of the open road.

I joined a small group of like-minded vagabonds and a couple of crazy Aussies who just happened to own a secondhand Bedford Army truck, which we decided to drive from London to Nairobi, across the Sahara desert,Chris028 through the jungle of the Congo and on to the Great Plains of the Serengeti.

It was the adventure of a lifetime, and the Christmas season of 1973 found us approaching the border between the Congo and Rwanda, a border which abruptly and unexpectedly  clanged shut in our faces in a snafu over expired exit Visas (or possibly a miscalculation of the size of the Christmas present expected by the border guards.)

Christmas eve found us rolling out our sleeping bags on what passed as the front lawn of a small mission church, in a tiny jungle hamlet where poinsettias bloomed naturally by the roadside. We made a stab at holiday decorating by up-ending a large hand of Bananas and festooning it with bits of tin foil.

My journal for Christmas eve recorded: “at dinner time, a group of youngsters, led by a guy wearing a band leader’s cap appeared, going door to door, singing some sort of chant-a local version of Christmas carols we guessed-stopping at our truck where we tipped them a few coins.

“Wieners and beans and smash for dinner – about 7:00PM  Firos, one of the Cypriots who operate the trading post at the crossroads came by to quietly invite us to a Christmas party. Quietly, because Mbuto, the Congolese leader, introduced draconian measures against the local white population last month – confiscating land,  businesses and money. In the aftermath, a ban has been imposed on gatherings of more than five whites,  in order to throttle any dissent.

“Firos’ place, a couple of rooms tacked onto the back of the store, was the universal ‘bachelor pad- messy kitchen, but a fridge full of Makasi beer, and an empty living room except for a stereo and a stack of records sitting on an empty beer crate an a bedroom. painted black, with nude pin-ups as wall paper.

” About five guys were there when we arrived, and others filtered in during the evening As the bash got underway loud rock & roll gave way to Greek folk music – and the crockery started to fly as we were taught the rudiments of Greek dancing. The party ended with a drunken sing-song – Jingle Bells, Silent Night, Oh Suzanna  (for some unknown reason!) and a beautiful medley of Spanish Christmas songs sung by a maudlin Spanish ex-pat suddenly grown very homesick.”

My journal reveals that much of Christmas day was taken up with nursing a hang over and trying to locate a black market source of diesel, as we were literally running on fumes, and the gas stations (all owned by whites) had been shut down in consequence of Mbuto’s ‘reforms’ It also records  our Christmas dinner in some detail:

“We started about 2:00PM- first course was canned beef stroganoff (and beer) , followed by a very hot spanish rice salad that no-one could eat.(and beer) Next, canned ham, with canned new potatoes, and canned mushrooms,(and beer)  accompanied by fresh bread, and tinned margarine, all topped off with tinned Christmas pudding topped with tinned  Danish cream, (and beer) afterwards, people seemed to just drift off and crash -too much food -too much beer.”

“Boxing day – a cop arrived at breakfast with a letter addressed to “Monsieur le Chef de groupe des hippies”. We have been ordered out of town! Managed to score most of the fuel we needed from the guy that runs the brewery, and managed to clear the town by 4:30 and made about 60km by nightfall”Chris099

Christmas in the Congo- they don’t make ’em like  that any more !

This year I’m riding the BC ferry for adventure – how about you?

 

 

 

 

Categories: Africa, Bucket list, Reflections, Travel | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

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