At Machzikei Hadas synagogue, a rally against hate

More than 600 gathered for a multi-faith solidarity event in Ottawa to combat racism and xenophobia
Line up at Machzikei Hadas synagogue for multi-faith solidarity event. Photo by Dennis Gruending

On Nov. 19, I was among 600 people crowded into Ottawa’s Machzikei Hadas synagogue for a multi-faith solidarity event. Earlier in the week, someone painted racist and Nazi graffiti on two Ottawa synagogues and a mosque, as well as a United Church whose minister is a person of colour and the residence of a Jewish woman, who teaches in her home. Even in blustery weather, there was a long line outside of the synagogue. But once inside, I felt nothing but warmth. Continue reading At Machzikei Hadas synagogue, a rally against hate

Dr. Doug Gruner, warm welcome is key to refugee integration

Dr. Doug Gruner says warm welcome is key to refugee integration
Dr. Doug Gruner, warm welcome is key to refugee integration

Dr. Doug Gruner says that a welcoming approach toward refugees is a key to their successful integration into Canadian life, and access to healthcare is vital to the process.

Gruner practices at the Bruyère Family Medicine Centre in Ottawa. He spoke recently to a class at the Ottawa School of Theology and Spirituality (OSTS). “Once we make a decision to accept refugees,” he said, “it is our responsibility to provide them with health care.” Continue reading Dr. Doug Gruner, warm welcome is key to refugee integration

Donald Trump wins election but not the vote

Donald Trump won the U.S. election but lost the popular vote. What happens now?
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump. Photo by Michael Vadon/Wikipedia Commons

Our southern neighbours have chosen as their president a serial liar, a crude racist and sexual predator — someone who has grown wealthy by avoiding taxes, declaring bankruptcy several times and stiffing both his employees and his creditors.  What’s more, Donald Trump is a potential demagogue similar in temperament to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.  Continue reading Donald Trump wins election but not the vote

Katharine Hayhoe talks softly to Christians on climate change. Is there a better way?

Scientist and evangelical Katharine Hayhoe talks softly to fellow Christians about climate change
Scientist and evangelical Katharine Hayhoe. Photo courtesy of Katharine

I’ve been writing blogs for nine years now, and I receive the greatest response — much of it negative — whenever I write about climate change. I suspect that at least some of those who react are paid by the carbon industry to sow doubt.  I accept the scientific consensus that that climate change is real, that it’s human-induced and that it’s already causing catastrophic damage. Taking my cue from organizations, such as the International Panel on Climate Change and NASA, I tend to be uncompromising whenever writing or speaking about the issue. Continue reading Katharine Hayhoe talks softly to Christians on climate change. Is there a better way?

‘Globalization of indifference’, ignoring the world’s refugee crisis


There are 65 million forcibly displaced people in the world. What are we doing about it?
Photo by Mstyslav Chernov/Wikimedia Commons

The world still faces a massive crisis over forcibly displaced people. In 2015, there were more than 65 million — the most since the Second World War. And half were under the age of 18. About 24 million of these people have fled their countries and are counted by the United Nations as refugees. A much larger number, 41 million, are internally displaced, forced to flee their homes but remain within the borders of their countries. In Syria, for example, 6.6 million people are internally displaced, which represents 30 percent of the population. Continue reading ‘Globalization of indifference’, ignoring the world’s refugee crisis

Dr. Brian Day’s medicare challenge: he’s no freedom fighter

Dr. Brian Day, a Vancouver-based orthopaedic surgeon, is using the courts to attack medicare
Dr. Brian Day, undercutting medicare. (Day website photo)

Vancouver orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Brian Day is challenging a law that prohibits doctors from working in both the public and private health care systems simultaneously and extra billing their patients while they do so.

Day did some boxing in his youth and now, bizarrely, he compares himself to the late Muhammad Ali as a kind of freedom fighter against injustice. He says he’s going to court not out of self-interest but rather on behalf of patients on waiting lists.

Opposes equal access

The basic tenets of medicare, which covers hospital stays and physicians’ services, are that it be tax-financed, publicly administered and equally available to everyone. Day is not impressed with equal access as a core value. He told the National Post: “We in Canada will give the same level of services to a wealthy person as to person who isn’t wealthy, and that doesn’t make sense.” Muhammad Ali he is not.

Extra bills patients

In fact, it seems that Day has been extra-billing patients for years. According to a B.C. Medical Services Commission audit initiated in 2008 and completed in 2012, Day’s clinic illegally charged patients hundreds of thousands of dollars more for services covered by medicare than is permitted by law. Day filed his legal challenge in 2009, after the audit had begun, claiming that the law preventing a doctor from extra billing patients is unconstitutional.

Wants it both ways

In Canada, the fee for physicians’ services is negotiated between the medical profession and agencies of a provincial government. There is nothing to stop a doctor from practicing entirely outside of the public system and billing his or her patients rather than the government. What Day wants, however, is the right to provide services in both the private and public systems, and also to charge more than the negotiated fees. Then-Health Minister Monique Begin made that illegal in 1983 because she believed it created a financial barrier for the poor and people of modest means.

Reform, but don’t privatize

Day’s critics say that his solution would mean reduced services for patients who don’t have the extra money to jump the queue. Former Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow, who led the Royal Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada, concluded in 2002 that Canadians cherish their health-care system and see it as a right of citizenship. Most often it works well, but it’s also in need of improvement and innovation, which Romanow said demands thoughtful reform but not privatization.

Political door is closed . . .

Most Canadians and their doctors support medicare, too. But attacks upon it have been constant and led most notably by the Fraser Institute, a Vancouver-based lobby group that also dislikes unions and public schools, and challenges the science of climate change. Some politicians, including former premiers Ralph Klein and Mike Harris, also wanted to undermine medicare but citizens and voters wouldn’t stand for it. Interestingly, both Harris and Klein after retiring from politics became associated with the Fraser Institute, which receives at least part of its financing from groups in the U.S. linked to the Koch brothers and far-right organizations.

. . . so use the courts

In Canada, the political door has been closed to Day and his backers so they are now are trying to use the courts in their bid to to undercut public health care.

This article was published on the United Church Observer website on September 15, 2016. 


Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in rhetorical battle

In her use of rhetoric Hillary Clinton is a foil to Donald Trump
In her use of rhetoric Hillary Clinton is a foil to Donald Trump. U.S. State Department photo.

Dear readers of Pulpit and Politics:

Normally, I post my articles directly to my website, but in this case I am making a slight exception. Policy Options magazine has  just published a piece that I wrote about the competing rhetorical styles being used by Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election campaign. I am asking you to read the piece by going directly to the Policy Options website site. You can do that by clicking HERE.

Best wishes,
dennis gruending

Colten Boushie shooting in Saskatchewan fuels backlash

The shooting death of 22-year-old Colten Boushie in Saskatchewan prompted a bigoted backlash on social media.
Supporters of the family of Colten Boushie, who was shot to death, gather at the North Battleford, Sask. courthouse on Aug. 18. Photo by Peter Garden

Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old First Nations man, was shot to death on Aug. 9. He was in a farm yard near Biggar, Sask., about 100 km west of Saskatoon. Gerald Stanley, a 54-year-old farmer, has now been charged with second-degree murder. According to Boushie’s family, he and four friends were returning from swimming at a river when they sought help for a flat tire at a farm. Stanley’s family, meanwhile, issued a statement through their lawyer, saying that what occurred on that day is not as simple as what has been portrayed.

Racist comments on Facebook   

Either way, Boushie’s death has unleashed a torrent of public emotion and comment on social media. On Aug. 18, roughly 200 people gathered peacefully in support of the Boushie family at the North Battleford, Sask. courthouse, where Stanley was arraigned. Elsewhere, a Facebook page called Saskatchewan Farmers Group included racially toxic comments following Boushie’s shooting. One commenter, who wrote that “his [Stanley’s] only mistake was leaving three witnesses,” is the elected reeve of a rural municipality in southern Saskatchewan. The page has since been taken down and the once-outspoken reeve is now unavailable for comment.

Of course, the self-described Farmers Group cannot claim to represent all farmers. The Saskatoon-based National Farmers Union, a modestly sized but well-established organization, issued a news release of their own, condemning racist comments, including those on the Farmers Group page.

Premier Wall says “stop”       

The torrent of racist comment on social media was such that Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall pleaded for it all to stop. “Racism has no place in Saskatchewan,” Wall wrote on his Facebook page. His post received more than 500 comments — most of them supportive — but there were others that were unrepentant: “Wanna stop racism? Revamp those obsolete treaties and make every adult in Saskatchewan pay taxes.” Another said: “The very sad truth is that [by] being ‘white,’ we can be discriminated upon more than any other race and no one faces any repercussions.”

The treaties

These latter two comments capture a sentiment that fuels the antagonism toward First Nations people in our country. The original inhabitants occupied and used the land for tens of thousands of years but were forced by the British Crown — and a succession of Canadian governments — to give most of it up. In the Prairie provinces, they surrendered that land in seven treaties negotiated in the 1870s. As a result, the First Nations were shunted onto small reserves to make way for European settlement. It’s both ignorant and malicious for the descendants of settlers who benefit from those land surrenders to now say that the treaties should be torn up.

Who’s on top? 

The second comment — that it’s really white people who are discriminated against more than anyone else — is simply not true. How is it that the descendants of settlers whose governments forced First Nations from their land and into poverty can somehow see settlers as the victims? Indeed, the bigots and the foolhardy on social media have had their day. But surely, we won’t allow them to prevail in the near and distant future.

This piece appeared on the United Church Observer website on August 24, 2016.