The Fisher Kings

By Alex Roslin
Up! Magazine
Dec 1, 2007

Far from Nassau and its high-rolling tourists, the islet of Spanish Wells, near the Bahamian island of Eleuthera, is not your typical lazy beach town. That local waving as she passes, for example, is probably much richer than you are

Our first hint that Spanish Wells is a different kind of place comes when we meet Newton Curry. He is the caretaker of our colourfully painted, century-old fisherman’s cottage, who doubles as a lobster fisherman and local handyman (his slogan: “Curry Can”).

Newton has just hauled three months’ worth of luggage for our family of four from the water taxi. He cheerfully refuses our tip, then starts to leave.

“Where are the keys to the house?” I ask.

“Oh, you don’t need to lock your doors when you go out,” he says, smiling. “There’s no crime on Spanish Wells.”

No tip? No crime? Where are we, Sesame Street?

Well, the Bahamas’ aptly named Family Islands, actually. The Vegas-like carnival that is Nassau, the Bahamian capital, is a world away. Life here is as slow as fishing skiffs; golf carts and feet are the preferred modes of transport and easy friendships, generosity and relaxation are a way of life.

Spanish Wells is possibly the most fascinating jewel of these islands, and the most curious. Still blessedly overlooked by tourists, this tiny islet is accessed by a 10-minute ferry ride from the larger island of Eleuthera—which means “freedom” in Greek. The island got its name from the Eleutheran Adventurers, Puritans fleeing the English Civil War, who were the first Europeans to settle in this 700-island archipelago in the 1600s.

Many of the 1,800 people living in Spanish Wells trace their ancestry to these early refugees who ran aground on the Devil’s Backbone coral reef just offshore.

My family chose the island for our prolonged family vacation because of its quaint and reasonably priced rental cottages—US$2,500 a month for a three-bedroom gem; a brilliant history full of pirates, Civil War gunrunners and Prohibition liquor smugglers; the lack of crime; and because its small size meant freedom from a rental car.

And then, of course, there was the ocean, with its beautiful, bright splotches of turquoise, aquamarine and yellow, a fabulous three-kilometre pink-sand beach—that’s right, it’s pink, a phenomenon created when sugar white sand mixes with wave-crushed coral that's coated with algae and tiny amoebas, called forams—plus a shallow sandbar that stretches out for a kilometre.

It seemed like the perfect playground for our two little tykes, aged five months and two years. We also looked forward to eating lots of what lived in this water— lobster, stone crab, yellow fin tuna, hogfish, snapper and wahoo—all available directly from the island’s many fishermen.

What we didn’t know was what kind of reception we’d get from the people of Spanish Wells--the uncertainty fuelled by surreal tales about the mostly white, blond and blue-eyed islanders; close-knit, conservative, religious and wary of outsiders. Our Lonely Planet guidebook warned tourists to “be prepared for some frosty stares and passive displays of hostility.” Not exactly family vacation territory.

After a tiring trip—a flight to Nassau, a second 45-minute hop to the North Eleuthera Airport aboard a 19-seater Beechcraft 1900, then a water taxi to Spanish Wells, with 250 kg of luggage and two little ones in tow—the islanders put us at ease right away. Instead of frosty stares, everyone waves as they whirr past in their golf carts.

Our social calendar is soon full with invitations to dinner, kids’ plays and birthday parties, spear-fishing trips and, of course, church. It started with the first family we met on the ferry ride and kept coming when locals realized how long we were actually staying. Friendly waves to passing locals helped. (Bahamians are considered some of the most religious people in the world, with predominant Baptist and Anglican denominations, holdovers from their Puritan roots, and more churches per capita than any other country.)

Our new friends drop off lobster thermidor, guava duff (a fragrant cake-like bread) and homegrown bananas, and the gifts don’t stop when we don’t go to church. One of the Caribbean’s most famously reclusive settlements has clearly opened its doors to outsiders. We quickly suspected that the Lonely Planet author just breezed through town.

The seeds of change were planted by the lobster. Since the 1970s, when the Red Lobster restaurant chain started buying most of the island’s catch, Spanish Wells went from being a hard-luck fishing village to one of the wealthiest communities in the Caribbean. It now boasts the largest fishing fleet in the country.

Islanders like to say they count more millionaires per capita than any community in the world. This is one of the few tropical destinations where the locals are likely to be richer than most tourists—one of the reasons there’s no crime. (Our doors are never locked, which results in people leaving gifts of food in our fridge while we’re at the beach.)

But the lucrative lobster trade is only one part of what makes Spanish Wells crime-free and unique. Despite their wealth, the “natives,” as they call themselves, dress modestly and profess a huge pride in being a humble and neighbourly sort of people .

“The minute a tourist starts to think that because they have money, they can look down on the people here, that don’t work,” says Abner Pinder, who quit life as a fisherman to become the island’s chief councillor (the Bahamian version of a mayor).


Pinder is an embodiment of the modern, changing Spanish Wells. His other hats include real estate agent, owner of a fleet of golf carts-for-hire and shipping agent for the Bo Hengy fast ferry, the catamaran that departs from Nassau daily for Harbour Island, stopping in Spanish Wells along the way.

He is one of the island’s most prosperous citizens and friends with two of the country’s recent prime ministers. Yet, he still retains the air of the simple fisherman. He spends much of his days steering a heavily laden forklift around the docks, dressed in his trademark blue work pants and shirt.

Pinder’s attitude to tourism is typical here. “We love tourists, but we don’t want too many,” he says in the island’s curious Old South-meets-Jamaica brogue. “We don’t want our way of life to change. We don’t have to change because 95 per cent of the people in Spanish Wells are independently well-off. If Bill Gates comes here, he’ll be treated the same as you.”

But Spanish Wells has already seen a sea change in recent years. The island has a growing number of interracial families, and about a quarter of the students and teachers at the island’s school are black—a result of growing acceptance of “non-natives” and the influx of Haitians working in the area. We ask some black Bahamians who live and work on the island about racism, and they say there’s been healthy improvement in attitudes toward all “non-natives,” black or white.

But not all the change is for the better. Tourists have started sniffing around the island and buying up the charming cottages, many of them a century old. The “natives” hope to cash in on a US$13.6-billion resort-and-condo boom that is transforming this former British colony. Perry Christie, the past prime minister, called the planned projects “the largest direct investment of foreign capital in the history of any country.”

Some Bahamians complain the building mania is turning them into second-class citizens in their own country. Land prices have skyrocketed, making homes unaffordable for many locals.

On Spanish Wells, the real estate boom has been a mixed blessing. While it has no doubt helped the islanders warm up to outsiders, it has also caused property prices to nearly triple in the past six years, from $4 to $10 per square foot and from $10 to $30 for waterfront properties. Even with their incredible incomes, young families are finding it harder to afford a home.

Many are nervously eyeing t he largest of the development schemes, which is planned for privately owned Royal Island, just five kilometres southwest of Spanish Wells. Over the next few months, major construction is to begin here on an exclusive $500-million villa-and-marina project, complete with five-star boutique hotel and the first of a new line of 25 Jack Nicklaus Golf Clubs. Completion is scheduled for 2009.

While some Spanish Wells residents welcome the project, saying it will have a spillover effect on land values and bring a flood of tourists, others fear it for the same reasons. They worry newcomers will overrun their sleepy enclave and increase pressure on a fishery already suffering from illegal poaching by Bahamians and other Caribbean nations, as well as poverty and lack of government monitoring.

So far, however, mass tourism has bypassed Spanish Wells. Entire days go by without a single person to wave to on the entire three kilometres of pink (yes, pink!) beach. No Sea-Doos or parasailers mar the tranquil waters. No trinket-sellers hassle us while we search for conch shells, starfish and turtles along the sandbar. Even the stunning, world-class reef at Devil’s Backbone rarely sees visiting scuba divers, leaving the angelfish, groupers and parrotfish to enjoy the dozens of shipwrecks undisturbed.

For the warm-blooded locals, the water is too cold until it hits sauna-like temperatures in the summer. (“How kin you go in that watah?” they demand. “It’s freezin’!”) And the tourists, well, they’re off swarming the nearby über-rich enclave of Harbour Island and the casinos of Nassau. With no bars or nightlife in Spanish Wells, the streets are usually as quiet as Tombstone before a gunfight.

Some days, it seems like a shame our special little island remains overlooked. But most of the time, we bask in our own, secret discovery.

Bahamas ’ Dirty Secret

Haitians are the dirty little secret of the Bahamas. While this country and its tourism industry depend heavily on the estimated 30,000 to 80,000 Haitians living here (many of them undocumented) for cheap labour, they live in a virtual police state.

The U.S. State Department’s latest human rights report, the Country Report on Human Rights Practices released last March , slammed the Bahamian government for discrimination against the country’s largest immigrant population and fostering anti-Haitian prejudice . Haitians have a hard time getting citizenship. Even their children born in the country can only apply for citizenship when they turn 18, and then often wait years for a reply.

On Spanish Wells, about 200 Haitians work as gardeners, construction workers and labourers. By Bahamian standards, the island has a fairly good reputation among Haitians. Still, none wanted to speak with a journalist, even anonymously, for fear of reprisals by Bahamian authorities.

Jean-Pierre, who lives on nearby Eleuthera, tells a typical story. He lives in a Haitian shantytown with no running water, where people typically earn $30 to $45 a day while the cost of living is similar to Canada’s. He arrived more than 20 years ago on a work visa, and had three children, all born in the Bahamas. To date, no one in his family has citizenship.

Twice in recent years, police came to his door at 4 a.m. and, despite his work permit, took his family to Nassau for questioning, along with dozens of other Haitians in the shantytown.

He must reapply for a work permit each year at a cost of $600 and faces deportation if he loses his job. “The bossman is your security after God,” he says. “Haitian people are scared. There is no justice here.”

Stephen Harper Opens Door to Prison Privatization

By Alex Roslin
November 22, 2007
The Georgia Straight
[original article]

On April 27, 2006, the Ontario government announced the end of a bizarre venture. Canada's first large privately run prison, a 1,200-inmate maximum-security superjail in the cottage country north of Toronto, was a failure and would be taken over by the province.

The Penetanguishene-based Central North Correctional Centre was a striking attempt at getting in on the controversial private-prison craze that has swept the United States, where for-profit businesses now run approximately 150 prisons housing about 150,000 inmates. Ontario's five-year experiment with the concept, launched with much fanfare in 2001 by Robert Sampson–at the time the law-and-order Tory correctional services minister–ended amid revelations of flawed security, inadequate prisoner health care, and higher reoffending rates once the privately housed inmates were let back out into the world.

Today, Sampson has secured a gig with the Stephen Harper Conservatives leading a federal panel reviewing Canada's prison system. Its mandate includes finding "opportunities for savings including through physical plant realignment and infrastructure renewal".

Does the choice of Sampson mean the feds want to privatize Canadian prisons? Stockwell Day, the federal public safety minister, says no. "The question of privatization is not on the table," he told journalists after Sampson's appointment last April. But some critics aren't so sure. "We have to be very vigilant to see where this review is going and how broad it gets in terms of an agenda around privatization," NDP MP Libby Davies (Vancouver East) told a reporter.

Len Bush, national representative of 15,000 provincial prison guards in the National Union of Public and Government Employees, is also skeptical about Day's denial. "He's not actually come out and said, 'No, I won't privatize.' We would welcome him saying so. It looks to us that this is their direction, even though they're not in a situation where they feel they can say it publicly," he said on the phone from his Ottawa office.

Sampson submitted his report to the government on October 31, but it remains under wraps. In late October, though, news leaked from the Sampson panel suggesting that it was preparing to scrap statutory release, the virtually automatic discharge of prisoners under conditions similar to parole after they've served two-thirds of their sentences. Instead, "you'd have to show why you deserve to be released [at the two-thirds point]," a Canadian Press story quoted an unnamed source "familiar with the panel's report" as saying. "It'll put more people in [prison], so they're going to need more resources."

This has stoked the privatization fears: that the Harper government's law-and-order agenda could unleash a crisis of overcrowding in prisons, and guess what the magical solution will be? Private prisons. There is just one catch: crime experts say all this–dramatically increased prisoner numbers, possible privatization of prisons, and get-tough measures, including increased and mandatory sentences–will probably make Canadian communities less safe, not more.

At first glance, the plan may seem reasonable to some: make wrongdoers show they've changed. What could be wrong with that? It would force some to shape up, right? Wrong. Such a change would create instant havoc in already overcrowded provincial and federal prison systems by adding up to 30 or 40 percent more inmates virtually overnight, according to Neil Boyd, an SFU criminology professor who spoke to the Georgia Straight from his Bowen Island home.

The change in the statutory release rule could suddenly add another 2,200 prisoners to the federal corrections system, which currently houses 12,000 inmates–an increase of almost 20 percent, Anthony Doob, a criminology professor at the University of Toronto, estimated on the phone from his office. "The math is pretty straightforward. You could create a crisis almost overnight by changing parole practices."

Combined with other tough crime measures being proposed by the Harper government, a sudden tsunami of inmates would also swamp provincial prison systems, since many of those affected are those with sentences under two years. In B.C., provincial jails are already overcrowded and boiling with violence since the province closed nine facilities in 2001, said Dean Purdy, chair of the corrections and sheriff's-services component of the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union, representing 2,000 provincial corrections officers and sheriffs. At the Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre, where Purdy works as a supervisor, there have been 39 assaults on guards since 2001, compared to five in the prior 15 years, he said. "I can't imagine what it will be like to run the jails with a higher count."

"It [the increase in inmates] will come as a rude surprise to the provinces," said Craig Jones, executive director of the John Howard Society of Canada, speaking on his cellphone from a conference in Toronto. "The feds will crack down on crime, but the provinces will be punished."

In October, Harper introduced his Tackling Violent Crime Act, Bill C-2, into the House of Commons, complete with a shopping list of ideas courtesy of the U.S. law-and-order lobby, including mandatory minimum sentences for certain offences and harsher penalties for gun crimes. Harper declared the bill a confidence motion and said he'd accept no amendments to it, meaning the government will fall should it be defeated by the opposition–unlikely, since the Liberals desperately want to avoid an election.

Criminologists and prison guards say the actual result of the Harper crime package will probably be not safer communities but, rather, private prisons in which the bottom line is king, not inmate rehabilitation.

With five to 10 years needed to build a new prison from conception to construction, coupled with Harper's ideological predisposition to outsourcing government programs, Jones said it's not a big leap to privatized prisons coming to Canada in a big way. "Our anxiety is they're going to grow the prison population so quickly, they will be left with few options."

Creating a crisis to push through a controversial change is straight out of the playbook of Mike Harris's Conservative government in Ontario when it privatized the Penetanguishene prison, NUPGE's Bush said. "The strategy of the Harris government was to create a crisis and bring privatization forward to deal with the crisis," he said. "You take an overcrowded situation, add more people, and you create a crisis. We were hoping the experience elsewhere would have taught them."

The U.S. experience with privatized prisons is full of cautionary tales. After federal and state authorities brought in tougher law-and-order crime laws (among them the infamous "three strikes" statutes)–like the mandatory minimum sentences now being proposed by Harper–in the 1980s and '90s, the American prison population quadrupled, from 500,000 in 1980 to 2.2 million today. (Another 4.8 million Americans are out on parole or probation, meaning a total of one in 32 adult Americans is under the control of the justice system in one fashion or another.)

It's a myth, however, that the explosion in inmate numbers was about getting violent, hardened criminals off the street. Instead, the crackdown disproportionately targeted marginalized people and small-time drug offenders. In 2003, racial or ethnic minorities made up 68 percent of the U.S. prison population, according to U.S. Justice Department data.

So who were these new offenders driving the U.S. prison boom? Turns out a huge number of them were POWs–prisoners of the war on drugs. Between 1990 and 2000, the portion of inmates jailed for a drug offence shot up by 59 percent while those in for violent crimes actually fell from 17 to 10 percent, according to Justice Department numbers. By 2004, drug offenders made up 54 percent of sentenced federal prisoners, up from just 25 percent in 1980. Of all drug arrests, about two in five were related to marijuana. Moreover, nine in 10 marijuana busts involve possession only, not sale or manufacturing.

Early on, the big question became what to do with all these new guests of the correctional system. The crime crackdown led to a boom in the number of U.S. federal and state prisons, from 592 in 1974 to 1,023 in 2000. In one Texas county, 33 percent of the population is behind bars, according to a 2004 study by the Washington, D.C.–based Urban Institute.

Authorities turned to private companies to build and run many prisons. The largest operator by far is the Nashville, Tennessee–based Corrections Corp. of America, with 65 facilities under management, including 40 it owns outright, that house 72,000 inmates. Business at CCA is booming. Since 2000, its shares have shot up from $4 to almost $29.

But an independent study of CCA in 2003 found the company had failed to: provide adequate medical care to inmates, control violence in its facilities, and prevent a rash of escapes. Civil-rights violations have also been raised in hundreds of lawsuits against CCA by prisoners and their families, including several that revolved around inmate deaths. The study, cowritten by the U.K.–based Prison Privatisation Report International and the U.S. community group Good Jobs First, also said CCA tried to keep down costs by paying staff poorly, which resulted in high turnover and mistreatment of prisoners. Substandard conditions also had resulted in prisoner protests and uprisings, while several CCA guards had been convicted of drug trafficking inside the facilities.

A low point for the company came in the late 1990s, when it agreed to a payment of $2.4 million to settle a class-action lawsuit filed by prisoners at its Youngstown, Ohio, prison who said the facility was unsafe after a rash of stabbings. "It's been a nightmare," Youngstown's mayor, George McKelvey–who helped lure CCA to his city–said in an October 1998 Washington Post story. "[CCA's] credibility is zero."

CCA officials didn't return calls for this story.

The plague of scandals at CCA and other private prison operators prompted Business Week to publish a story in 2000 titled "Private Prisons Don't Work" that said "the industry's heyday may already be history."

"It's horror story after horror story in the U.S.," Lyle Stewart, spokesman for the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, representing 6,000 federal prison guards, said from his office in Montreal. "It's frigging terrible."

In recent years, many American states have retreated from the incarceration-oriented approach, largely because corrections now eat up seven percent of state budgets, on average. In 2000, California voters passed a resolution eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes and requiring treatment, not prison time, for nonviolent drug offenders. In November, even the hard-line Bush administration eased minimum sentencing guidelines for federal crack offences.

But while U.S. authorities step back from the ailing crime policies of the 1980s and 1990s, the John Howard Society's Jones sees the Harper government embracing the same troubled approach. "This government seems enthralled by the Bush administration," he said, noting that Harper's crime policies "seem to reflect a close study of the American model".

Jones said the Harper crime agenda is likely to fall heaviest on marginalized people, just as the measures did in the U.S. "Police go where the pickings are easiest. It will fall disproportionately on marginalized, mentally ill, and minority youth. You will not see more Conrad Blacks in jail," he said. "It's not about justice; it's about acting Old Testament."

From Bowen Island, SFU's Boyd agreed. "Why would we want to dramatically increase the number of people in jail for cannabis? That's what it [mandatory sentencing] did in the U.S. Why would we want to look at them [the U.S.] when looking at crime?" he asked, noting that the U.S. has 2.5 times more murders per capita than Canada.

"There's just no support for the idea that punishment will get the social safety we want. We should be looking at success stories," Boyd said, pointing to European countries that have promoted crime prevention and improved social housing over incarceration.

In fact, that's exactly the approach that was favoured by a crime prevention council within Canada's Public Safety Ministry when it reviewed corrections policy back in 1996. The council's study, which is posted on the ministry's Web site, doesn't mince words in its criticism of U.S. mandatory minimum sentencing as a failed model that did little to reduce crime rates while merely increasing the prison population.

"Not only is the cost of automatic incarceration brought about by this policy inordinately high, but it does little to stem the ongoing tide of new offenders," noted the study, titled Money Well Spent: Investing in Preventing Crime. "Minimum mandatory sentencing requirements rely upon the false assumption that people who are contemplating a criminal act–youths in particular–go through a rational process of planning their act and weighing the consequences of being apprehended."

As for Harper's plan to tighten parole eligibility, U of T's Doob said the notion goes against everything that's known about the importance of transitioning prisoners into society through supervised programs like parole and halfway houses. "Probably the worst thing you could do is hold a guy his whole sentence and then give him a bus ticket with no job, no program, and no controls."

Jones is also flabbergasted. "The evidence is clear that incarceration is the last resort. Most people do not benefit from it and a number of people get worse. Prison is an expensive way to make bad people worse."

Jones also is alarmed about privatized prisons making a return. "The staff [in private prisons] has less training. They employ harsher measures because they're cheaper; the conditions deteriorate. The inmates eventually get out, so it passes on the costs of dealing with them to future governments and generations. The issue is they're going to be worse when they get out."

Doob agreed, saying the evidence on privatized prisons is clear: "The data that exists in various countries suggests there are real problems in the ways that private companies run these things." Any money saved in direct operational costs is offset by the added expense of monitoring prison companies for contract compliance, a greater rate of prisoner escapes, and a higher recidivism rate. "It would be an ideological decision [to privatize prisons], not a financial one," he said.

The BCGEU's Purdy said provincial corrections officials weren't impressed when they travelled to Ontario to investigate the Penetanguishene experiment a few years ago. "They came back and told us they weren't interested in privatizing any jails in B.C.," he said.

Whatever Harper has in mind for the prison system, one thing is for sure: There's little chance he'll unveil any plans for privatizing prisons before the next federal election. Unless Harper wins a majority, it seems suicidal for him to take a chance on such a controversial idea. He'd have his hands full with furious federal prison guards who "would fight it to the death if there was any sense at all" of privatization plans, vowed Stewart.

Already, other elements of Harper's crime agenda seem destined for a collision course with the provinces, which are likely to flip out when they're hit with massive numbers of new prisoners.

Harper apparently isn't even finding many allies within the Correctional Service of Canada, even though it is likely to enjoy a massive budget increase to accommodate the new inmates. Jones said senior corrections officials see Harper's regressive policies as reversing years of hard-won policy gains in areas like parole and crime prevention.

"When the tide turns so dramatically, they [corrections officials] see their work as being undone," he said. "It turns back the clock on 40 years of progressive corrections policy."

The 1,000-Mile Diet

The post office is being paid to deliver fresh food to northern communities. Yes, the post office. And, no, the food is often not very fresh.

By Alex Roslin

November/December 2007

Catherine Qrunnut has a favourite food, and like anyone with a craving, she’ll go a long way to satisfy it. Last summer, she and her husband Edward piled their four kids into a six-metre boat and headed out on the land. After setting up camp, Edward and 11-year-old Raphael trekked for five hours over rocky ground and small hills in search of caribou.

When they reached the mountains, the pair shot a 90-kilogram female, butchered it and hauled the carcass back to camp, where the family shared a meal of raw caribou. It’s not the easiest way to put dinner on the table, the Igloolik, Nunavut, resident admits, but that’s the point. “My greatgrandmother survived hunger by hunting,” she says. “If she didn’t hunt, I wouldn’t be here. That’s why it’s important. I want my kids to see how hard it was back then.”

Though few Inuit families survive solely by hunting anymore, securing food is as challenging in the North as it has ever been. Animals are becoming scarce. In the Northwest Territories, the caribou population is crashing and the cost of everything is soaring. Five years ago, a two-month hunting trip would have cost $1,500. Last summer’s trip set the Qrunnut family back $3,000. “It’s getting harder,” says Catherine, “but we try to save up some money so we can teach our children our traditions.”

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The Quest for the Ultimate Addiction Cure

By Alex Roslin
Could the root of an African shrub hold the key to getting millions of addicts off heroin, coke, and crack – oh, yeah, and cure alcoholism in its spare time? Can a single dose of an extract from the mysterious shrub's root bark be worth years on a therapist's couch?
Some of the answers may soon be found in a three-bedroom house on the Sunshine Coast. Tucked away there on a hill, with a stunning view of the ocean and surrounded by tall trees, is the Iboga Therapy House.
Forty years after globetrotting backpackers introduced a substance called ibogaine into the U.S. drug culture, the extract from western Africa's Tabernanthe iboga shrub has become an underground rage among drug-addled Hollywood celebs willing to plunk down between $3,500 and $10,000 for ibogaine treatment at any one of about a dozen unregulated clinics worldwide, including the one in B.C.
Because ibogaine is illegal in the U.S. – one of just three countries to ban the substance, along with Belgium and Switzerland – clients have to travel to clinics in countries such as Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Slovenia for an "ibogaine experience".
Advocates liken the miracle drug – which can unleash a reality-shattering trip so powerful it has been described as "dying and going to hell 1,000 times" – to the Holy Grail of addiction cures, comparable in importance to the discovery of penicillin. Although ibogaine's alleged ability to quickly cure opiate addiction without withdrawal symptoms was discovered relatively recently, the substance has long been used in Gabon by hunters to stay alert and, in larger doses, in week-long sacred ceremonies in the Bwiti religion.
Yet despite the extraordinary claims about ibogaine's powers, a B.C. study launched last February is the first time the drug's therapeutic benefits for opiate addiction are being measured systematically in a public investigation. (Other clinics haven't released data.)
Preliminary results from the Sunshine Coast clinic have justified much of the hype. "I've witnessed people's lives being turned around," said Leah Martin, one of the study leaders. Of 20 pre-study clients who took ibogaine at the facility in 2004, 13 were found to be abstaining when evaluated later, after an average interval of six months. The abstainers included six out of seven cocaine or crack addicts, three of eight opiate addicts and four of five people with other addictions, including to meth and multiple substances.
With an overall abstinence rate of 65 percent, ibogaine does way better than the 10-percent average of conventional drug-treatment programs, Martin said. What's more, the clients at the B.C. facility are usually the hardest cases.
"People who contact the Iboga Therapy House have already done every type of program in their city and are scouring the Internet [for help]. They've been in detox multiple times and are highly resistant to other therapy. They say, 'This is my last hope,'" she said.
Ibogaine works in two ways. It eliminates cravings for heroin and other drugs in many people, but it also often works at a deeper level, getting them to revisit life experiences–good and bad–and helping many find ways to heal and ensure cravings don't come back. Scientists say it's like hitting a reset button for your brain. Traces of the drug remain in the body for up to six months, continuing to ward off addictive urges in unknown ways. "It truly is its own category [of drug]," Martin said. "Right after, it's common for people to say, 'Whoa, what was that?' But a month later, people might wake up and remember something and be able to move forward."
Ibogaine appears to work on "every neurotransmitter system we know about", Kenneth Alper, a psychiatry professor at New York University School of Medicine, told the Journal of the American Medical Association in a 2002 story on ibogaine. Alper, who is also a co-investigator in the B.C. study, has called the use of ibogaine "one of the biggest paradigm shifts regarding treatment for addiction in the span of my career".
In a testimonial on the Iboga Therapy House's Web site, one client says of the trip: "I pretty much died to my old self. I yelled, I kicked, I screamed (inside myself) but this new knowledge is too powerful to ignore." Says another: "I believe Iboga brings you into and through the land of the dead, to the land of the Gods."
The Georgia Straight connected with Martin early one morning near the end of her 8 p.m.-to-8 a.m. shift as a program worker at a Downtown Eastside residential detox centre run by the Portland Hotel Community Services Society. She spoke about her own ibogaine trip: "I felt as a facilitator I should know what it was like, to be able to relate."
An ibogaine experience usually lasts 24 to 36 hours, most of which is, typically, spent on your back because of impaired muscle coordination and perception. The first four hours usually involve plenty of vomiting, coupled with hallucinations and strange physical sensations. This isn't a drug for clubland.
Next is eight hours of what Martin called the "cognitive phase: the beginning stages of insights. You're remembering things or events. It tells a very interesting story of yourself and your life."
The intense visions are dreamlike, Martin said, but "if you find yourself in a vision you don't like, you can just open your eyes. There is a lot of randomness along with insights. It truly was a reflection of my mind and the things I obsess about. I laughed at myself a lot, realizing how ridiculous people can be."
This is the phase that can give people with addictions deep new insights into their troubles. "If you had trauma, people can relive that. After they're traumatized, sometimes they shut themselves off from the pain, and that's why they adopt certain habits. But to be able to see it in a healing way [with ibogaine] can be beneficial."
Then comes another 12 to 24 hours of "residual stimulation" as the person keeps dreaming but slowly comes down, often falling asleep.
Advocates say the drug isn't addictive itself partly because the trip is so hellacious. "It is not a recreational drug," said Rick Doblin, president of the California-based Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies, which is helping to fund the Iboga Therapy House study. Doblin is also the principal investigator.
The ibogaine work is just one of MAPS's stable of groundbreaking research projects. The group is also funding the first-ever studies of therapy involving ecstasy, LSD, and magic mushrooms to deal with mental-health issues like posttraumatic stress, end-of-life anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The U.S. studies all have an official okay from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and even of the drug warriors at the Drug Enforcement Agency, and are attracting interest from the U.S. military for treating PTSD among Iraq vets.
Early results show ecstasy is not only safe for therapeutic purposes, but it can also help people who don't respond to conventional therapy or treatment with the pharmaceutical drugs normally given for posttraumatic stress: Zoloft and Paxil. Doblin described the ecstasy results as "dramatic"–far better than those from the standard treatments.
The work has still met ferocious resistance from the DEA, however. MAPS is battling the agency in court to get permission for scientists to grow marijuana in order to study its use for pain relief, control of nausea, and other medical purposes. Last February, a judge ruled in MAPS's favour, but the DEA has filed a series of objections, citing security concerns and likening Doblin to Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.
Speaking over the phone from his home in Boston, Doblin said he owes much of his doggedness and success to his own ibogaine trip in 1985, a year before he founded MAPS. "I feel it's been a major contributor to what I've been able to accomplish," he said, describing the experience as "lasting, powerful and very positive, although at the time it was horrendous".
Back then, already active in drug-policy reform, he said he suffered from a neurosis common to many activists–"a certain arrogance, that we know the better world". An underground therapist suggested ibogaine could help him grow personally and become a more effective activist.
Doblin took it one morning at the oceanfront house of a therapist, who stayed at his side. He lay in bed with his eyes closed all day, vomiting constantly, coughing and feeling like he was choking. The barf brought out complex emotions: "a line between self-criticism, self-perception, and self-hatred". He started to blame his intense nausea on his inability to just chill out and unwind. "I thought this was all my doing–that I couldn't relax. If only I was better, I could be a better tripper," he said. Then came realization: here was a metaphor for his struggles with his arrogance. "I was crucified on the cross of my own self-perfectionism," he said, laughing.
Twelve hours later, the stars came out, his guts relaxed, the upchucking stopped and everything got good. "I had one of the most blissful nights of my life. It felt like transcendence through exhaustion," he said. "I'm forever grateful for that experience. I think about it often."
The experience helped Doblin work out the arrogance thing; it also enabled him to develop the confidence to strike out and found MAPS. Yet he doesn't believe it's the easy wonder drug some suggest, and he supported the B.C. study partly because of the underground myths about ibogaine. "We've been deluded for a long time with the miracle-cure approach," he said.
One problem is many ibogaine clinics that offer the expensive treatment are happy to let potential clients believe it will solve all their problems, Doblin said. The clinics have little incentive to follow-up with clients or study the treatment's effectiveness, which, he said, is widely overestimated.
First off, he said ibogaine isn't for everyone. It requires one to be "open to the self-reflection that ibogaine permits. It takes a certain courage to go through an ibogaine experience." Even for these folks, he said, the trip has to be supported by aftercare and, possibly, a second dose.
There may also be safety concerns. About a dozen deaths have occurred during the 3,600 recorded ibogaine treatments that have taken place outside Africa since 1990. Advocates say pharmaceutical drugs also cause adverse reactions. Also, coroner reports in most of the cases placed the blame not on ibogaine, but on conditions like heart or liver disease and, in one case, a man choking on his vomit while eating a sandwich after the session had ended.
Just the same, the Iboga Therapy House screens potential clients for several medical conditions like ulcers, liver problems, blood clots, and heart trouble. Patients start with a small test dose and are observed for an hour for adverse reactions before the rest of the gram-sized full dose is given.
Gone, however, are the halcyon days when the clinic used to offer free ibogaine. In 2005, its founder, Vancouver pot entrepreneur Marc Emery, ran out of cash to fund the facility, so it had to close. Last February, the clinic reopened with money from MAPS. It now hopes to become self-sustaining by charging $4,700 for a five- to seven-day treatment session for dependence on heroin, methadone, and other opiates, cocaine, crack, or alcohol. (Shorter, cheaper sessions are also offered for spiritual or strictly therapeutic trips.)
Aside from the ibogaine, which the clinic buys for $700 a dose from a distributor in Spain, the sessions include therapy, massage, acupuncture, mild yoga, and elements of the traditional Bwiti ceremony to set the mood for the ibogaine session. Only one client or couple stays at the house at any time, and staff are on hand around the clock to monitor them.
Doblin said the B.C. ibogaine clinic is inexpensive when compared to hospital programs. Besides that, the cost doesn't seem high compared to addiction's drain on people and society. Almost 10 percent of the B.C. government's budget is spent on substance abuse and problem gambling, according to a 2005 drug-policy report by the City of Vancouver. That report recommended alternative treatments for drug dependency, including the therapeutic use of psychedelic drugs like peyote and ayahuasca.
Although ibogaine wasn't mentioned specifically, Zarina Mulla, a city drug-policy planner and report coauthor, spoke enthusiastically about it in a phone interview from her office.
"It helps users analyze some of the issues behind the drug abuse. Perhaps this is the most important thing because you can relapse and go back to the drug," she commented.
Mulla said alternative approaches are vital at a time when the Harper government has announced a new Canadian drug policy modelled on the U.S. police-and-prisons approach, which she called "a failure…There's such a large amount of money for enforcement [in the Harper policy] and none for harm reduction and only a little for prevention and treatment."
Leah Martin, for her part, said she's not holding out hope for any federal funds for the ibogaine clinic. It did apply once, but was rejected. "They were looking for teens that do [drug-education] tables at raves. We were a bit too obscure for them. People generally don't know about [ibogaine]."
And in the current climate, that's not all bad. "We're lucky ibogaine is unscheduled [not banned] in Canada. We play our cards so we kind of stay off the radar."

For more info:

Is E Good for the Brain?

Some shrinks—and military officials—believe ecstasy may be penicillin for the soul

By Alex Roslin
FALL 2007

Is E penicillin for the soul? Maybe not if you’re George Bush or the DEA. But growing numbers of shrinks and families of folks with psychological problems say ecstasy is pretty much a Holy Grail of mental-health drugs.

No one’s been able to research the magical “love drug” since the U.S. banned it in 1988. But times they is a-changin’. MDMA, the scientific name for E, is being studied for the first time to help people who are depressed, majorly stressed or suffering from post-traumatic stress like soldiers and cops.

And get this: the studies have the U.S. government’s stamp of approval.

Early results are nothing short of miraculous; they threaten to blow people’s ideas about the drug’s safety and usefulness wide open and stick a finger in the eye of the war on drugs.

The patients’ stories are heavy. An Israeli man who survived a terrorist bombing that killed 10 people was suffering from post-traumatic stress. Therapy and various psychiatric drugs weren’t helping. He took some MDMA at a party and finally managed to calm his anxieties for the first time.

Shane, 25, took E with his girlfriend Sue after he was diagnosed with terminal kidney cancer that had spread through his body. The cancer caused the couple so much stress they almost broke up. They dimmed the lights and sat on the couch chilling to quiet music waiting for the E to take hold. “We both noticed an extreme calm and relaxation wash over us,” Shane said later. They held each other and cried, realizing for the first time they had been pushing each other away because they were so scared.

“It was a closeness I hadn’t felt in a long time with him,” Sue said. “We grew physically closer and felt a need to touch. It was in no way sexual—it was almost like a desire to be inside of each other.”

The session changed their lives. “By having ‘broken the law’ and done MDMA together, we have the chance to bring a lifetime of love and understanding into our short time together,” Sue wrote later in a testimonial.

If Rick Doblin has his way, people like Sue and Shane won’t have to break the law to get help from E. Preliminary results from the studies show MDMA can help even hardcore patients who were thought to be untreatable, says Doblin, the president of the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which is sponsoring the five MDMA studies.

“We had dramatic results in almost everybody—multiple times greater than with the standard treatments,” he said. “When they’re done, (the patients) wouldn’t qualify to be in the study any longer. They can return to normal functionality.”

One study nearing completion involved 15 people with moderate to severe post-traumatic stress due to sexual assault and other violent crimes. It included only people who didn’t respond to conventional therapy or the two drugs normally given to such patients—Paxil and Zoloft.

“So far, we’re seeing a greater effect than what was found with the Paxil and Zoloft trials. It’s looking very promising,” said Dr. Michael Mithoefer, a South Carolina psychiatrist doing the study at his clinic.

What’s the MDMA secret? Mithoefer said it seems to help people overcome their mistrust and fears and get in touch with their own “healing intelligence” to process their trauma. “They tend to feel, ‘Okay, I can do this. I can actually talk in detail about the trauma and I won’t be overwhelmed by the fear,’” he said. “People have the fear that if I go there I’ll start crying and never stop or go crazy.” That’s a big problem, he said, because patients need to revisit the trauma as part of healing.

The patients take a 125-milligram dose of MDMA on two or three occasions as part of a series of therapy sessions. They wear eyeshades and listen to soft music and are encouraged to go into their emotions. Mithoefer doesn’t say much until the patient is ready to talk.

“It’s fundamentally different from other kinds of medications,” Doblin said. “It’s not about forgetting the trauma or just taking painkillers and trying to ignore it, but finding a deeper level of acknowledgement.”

Before you go out and pop some E to get your head straight, remember these studies are being done in a controlled setting in the presence of a specially trained therapist who helps patients deal with the heavy emotions that MDMA can release. And it can get pretty intense.

“Some subjects said, ‘I don’t know why you call this ecstasy.’ It may be a difficult and challenging experience,” said Mithoefer.

Dr. George Greer, a New Mexico psychiatrist, prescribed MDMA to 80 patients in the 1980s when it was legal and said it had amazing effects. “Virtually all of them thought it was helpful,” he said. “When I gave it to a couple, every time the communication improved and it improved the relationship.”

Greer called the 1988 ban on ecstasy “a huge blow.” He sued the DEA to be allowed to keep giving it to patients, but the DEA overruled a court judgement in his favour.

He is now medical director at the Heffter Research Institute, which is sponsoring research into therapeutic uses of psilocybin—the active ingredient in magic mushrooms—for helping people with obsessive-compulsive disorder and end-of-life stress from terminal illnesses.

“The theory is it resets the serotonin receptors so they’re more balanced and you don’t have obsessive-compulsive symptoms,” said Greer.

One of the patients in the study was Pamela Sakuda, who was suffering a lot of anxiety after she was diagnosed with cancer and given six to 14 months to live. A single psilocybin session allowed Sakuda to let go of much of her stress and “understand how precious the present was,” said her husband, Norbert Litzinger.

Three hours into the trip, Litzinger was asked to come to the hospital room where his wife having her session. “She was just glowing,” he said. “Her first words were, ‘I love you.’ I said, ‘I love you, too. How are you feeling?’ She said, ‘Just wonderful.’

“She realized we had stopped making plans because she expected to die, so what’s the purpose of making plans? That was gone. She said, ‘Let’s make plans.’”

Notzinger said his wife turned the last two years of her life into a blur of activity filled with traveling, clubbing into the wee hours of the morning, weight-lifting and power-walking 40 kilometres a day; she also became an activist petitioning for the therapeutic uses of psychedelic drugs and marijuana, for which she also got a permit because of her cancer.

Along with the MDMA studies, MAPS is also sponsoring research into psilocybin, LSD and ibogaine, a super-intense hallucinogen that makes an acid trip feel like a wine cooler buzz. Ibogaine is thought to help reduce heroin addiction and alcoholism.

Doblin says he’s getting calls from the U.S. military about the research and hopes to recruit Iraq war vets and cops to the MDMA studies. Military officials think MDMA could help some of the 216,000 vets suffering from post-traumatic stress, mostly dating back to Vietnam, he said. Treating them costs $4.3 billion U.S. a year, and soon a new crop of vets from Iraq and Afghanistan is expected to enter the system. It’s estimated 30 percent of combat soldiers suffer from PTSD.

“How many of those people could be taken off the disabled lists?” asks Doblin.

But all this research is meeting a lot of resistance from the all-powerful U.S. drug-war lobby. Even though MAPS got an ok from the Food and Drug Administration to start its MDMA research in 2001, it took another three years to get approval from the squareheads at the Drug Enforcement Agency. “The DEA was really tough,” Doblin said. “They just delayed and delayed and delayed.”

The approval process included studying the safety of MDMA. Contrary to all the horror stories about how E will rot your brain, MAPS was able to show it’s safe for human testing and that any risks are “minimal,” said Dobin. “There is absolutely no evidence MDMA is hurting (the patients). It seems like it’s quite safe.”

Mind you, there’s also a difference between taking E in a clinical setting, where the purity and dose are controlled, and a club, where you don’t always know what you’re getting and people can abuse the drug, said Mithoefer.

“Our main purpose was to see if it’s safe for use with patients, and we are seeing it is,” he said. “The large majority of drugs we use in medicine can be dangerous if used inappropriately.”

Once the final data is in sometime in 2008, the next step will be to get government approval for full-scale testing on 250 to 300 patients. If successful, Doblin hopes science will trump drug-war politics and MDMA will be approved for use in therapy. One of the obstacles, he said, is the fact that pharmaceutical companies can’t get a patent on MDMA, which means there’s not a lot of money to be made off it.

“We’re trying to get the politics out of the way,” Doblin explains. “Our goal is for MDMA to be taken for granted and for people to ask, ‘Why was this ever illegal?’”

For more info:
Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies
Family accounts from MAPS' Rites of Passage project
MDMA-Assisted Therapy Method

Centres of Controversy: Hospitals Vs. Midwives

There are only two birthing centres in Montreal, which must turn away many eager parents. Midwives say resistance from the medical community is hindering their practice from growing in Quebec.

Special to The Gazette
The Montreal Gazette
Saturday, September 29, 2007

There’s a fine line between relaxed and sleepy, and Renelde Napoli strikes it perfectly. She is in her seventh month of pregnancy and a little tired out, but still in good spirits as she juggles caring for first-born Olivia, 4, and preparing to exhibit her jewellery at an upcoming art show.
She hopes to have her baby at the CLSC Lac St. Louis Birthing Centre in Pointe Claire with the help of midwives. While many expecting parents opt for hospitals because they feel safer there, Napoli feels the opposite.
“The birthing centre feels like a more comfortable and safer environment. It feels more like home—not threatening, with machines everywhere.”
Napoli has experienced both settings. She had planned to give birth to Olivia in the Pointe Claire birthing centre, but her first baby arrived just days too early—36 weeks into her pregnancy.
The cutoff for births there at the time was 36 weeks, five days. (It has since been reduced to 34 weeks.) So Olivia was born at the LaSalle General Hospital with the assistance of Napoli’s midwife.
Napoli said the hospital’s staff were “really nice,” but that she far prefers the extra care and natural philosophy of a midwife. So when it came time for baby No. 2, she immediately signed up again at Pointe Claire despite the fact she doesn’t have a car and needs to borrow or rent wheels to make the 30-minute trip from her Plateau home.
“The birthing centre seems so much more natural,” Napoli said. “I love that they take time to talk to you. Each appointment is an hour, and if it’s longer, it’s no big deal.”
Napoli is part of a growing movement of Quebec parents seeking an alternative to the hospital birthing experience.
Waiting lists at Montreal’s two birthing centres (the second is in Côte des Neiges) are long, with only 30 per cent of expecting parents able to get a spot. Parents who don’t sign up within a few weeks of becoming pregnant probably won’t get a spot.
A 2005 poll for Quebec’s Health Ministry found 15 per cent of Quebec women would like to give birth at a birthing centre, while another nine per cent would like to do so at home with the help of a midwife.
Yet only about 1.5 per cent of the province’s 80,000 annual births are currently assisted by midwives. The reason: Quebec has only 90 midwives working at eight birthing centres, well short of the 500 practitioners and 40 birthing centres that midwives say are needed to meet the demand.
Advocates say birthing centres are more natural for the 80- to 90 per cent of pregnancies that are low-risk and don’t require medical intervention, and that they can ease the burden on Quebec’s overworked obstetricians, who typically have a caseload of 200 to 300 births per year, compared with 80 for each team of two midwives.
Yet plans to expand the number of birthing centres in the province have stalled. A new birthing centre scheduled to open next year in the Laurentians got off the ground only after 14 years of campaigning by community groups and funding from the city of Blainville to construct the building.
In Montreal, midwives and community groups have campaigned for 10 years to create a birthing centre in the Plateau. With the Health Ministry refusing to finance a third birthing centre on the island, the local health board that includes the Plateau said it is hiring four midwives this fall to work out of the Ste. Justine Hospital.
Activists are negotiating with a private foundation to finance the construction of a building in the Plateau that they hope the Health Ministry would rent for use as a birthing centre.
Such a centre nearby would have come in handy for Moiya Callahan, a Mile End resident expecting her third baby in April. Like Napoli, she must rent a vehicle to attend prenatal appointments with her midwife at the Pointe Claire birthing centre, where she had her first two kids. Because of the distance, she is considering a home birth the third time around.
When Callahan learned she was pregnant with her first son, she went to a hospital for her first prenatal checkup, but said quickly got turned off. “I saw the doctor for about three minutes. It was not a very nurturing environment.”
She learned about midwives on the Internet and was won over by their philosophy of natural childbirth and self-empowerment. “You can spend an hour with them at appointments. Then, you really have that trust. Having that trust in them makes you trust yourself more.”

So why the delay in creating new birthing centres? A big part of the reason, midwives say, is resistance from the medical community in a country that was one of the last in the industrial world in which authorities started to legalize midwifery.
Quebec let some midwives practice in a pilot project starting in 1995, but midwifery was legalized only in 1999, while midwife-assisted home births were allowed just in 2005. Midwifery remains illegal in Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Yukon and the Northwest Territories.
Indeed, if gynecologist Corinne Leclerc has her way, parents like Napoli and Callahan won’t be able to give birth outside hospitals. Leclerc heads a committee on midwifery issues at the Quebec Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
“We are firmly against birthing centres and homebirths because of the security of the newborn and mother. We would like to work with (midwives), but in hospitals,” she said.
As an example of what can go wrong, Leclerc cited the case of a stillborn baby in a Montreal home birth attended by two midwives in Nov. 2006.
Quebec coroner Paul Dionne issued a report in August saying the death was preventable. He recommended the Quebec Order of Midwives, the professional body that regulates midwifery, change a number of its practices.
Midwives called the death tragic, but several said the coroner’s report was biased against midwives and has fostered misconceptions about the safety of their work.
“I thought the coroner was biased, not having done his homework,” said Gisela Becker, vice-president of the Canadian Association of Midwives.
“Many places in Canada and the world have demonstrated that home births are safe. When a death happens in a hospital, you hardly ever hear about the details.”
Sinclair Harris did a wide-ranging examination of Quebec birthing centre data as part of a study she presented at an international midwifery conference in 2004. Harris is a clinical instructor of midwife students who has worked for 14 years as a midwife in Quebec and Britain and 20 years as an obstetrical nurse in the high-risk-delivery room at the Royal Victoria Hospital.
Harris compared data on all 8,400 midwife-assisted births in Quebec between 1995 and 2002 and publicly available figures on 76,000 hospital births.
The number of perinatal deaths (those in which the fetus dies in the latter months of pregnancy, is stillborn or dies in the first weeks of birth) was 57-per-cent higher in hospital births, according to the data.
Harris cautioned the lower rate of interventions in birthing centres is partly because they accept only mothers with low-risk pregnancies. But, she said, the figures show midwifery is safe.
Harris criticized Dionne’s report, saying it suggests a lack of knowledge about midwifery protocol. “His recommendations are reasonable, but most are already in place,” she said.
For example, Dionne recommended that midwives get regular skills retraining and create guidelines to measure a labour’s progress and what to do in emergencies. Harris said retraining is already done and the guidelines already exist.
Another recommendation in the report falls into “grey zone,” she said—that midwives should transfer the mother to a hospital if they spot the presence of baby stool, known as meconium, in the amniotic fluid. In the case of the stillborn baby, Dionne said the fetus died as a result of swallowing meconium. The attending midwives later told police investigating the incident they had noticed some light meconium when they ruptured the mother’s water during labour on the night of Nov. 21, 2006.
Harris said the presence of meconium doesn’t necessarily mean the fetus is in danger and is not in itself a reason for a hospital transfer if the fetus is showing no other signs of distress.
Leclerc, the gynecologist, agreed meconium isn’t by itself normally considered a reason for a hospital transfer.
“Probably if the baby wasn’t suffering, the doctor would have said (to the midwives) it’s okay to continue what they’re doing,” she said.
Indeed, the Quebec Midwives Act requires only that midwives do a phone consultation with a doctor if “thick or unusual” meconium is noticed.
In the case of the stillborn baby, his heartbeat remained healthy for more than four hours after the discovery of meconium, slowing only during the final stages of pushing. The coroner’s report said the baby probably died about 15 minutes before it was born at 8:21 a.m.
Harris also criticized Dionne for failing to include a key fact in the two-page summary of his report published on the coroner’s website. The complete 10-page report, which the coroner’s office provided by email, notes an indirect cause of the fetus’ death was that it had a severely underdeveloped brain, which had a gestational age of only 23 to 25 weeks.
“The baby would have been completely incompetent neurologically and would probably have died within a few weeks (of birth),” Dionne told The Gazette this week.
But he said that doesn’t change his opinion that the midwives made mistakes. For example, he said, they should have called 911 immediately when pushing seemed to have stalled.
He also stood by his recommendation that a mother should be immediately transferred to a hospital if any meconium is detected. When told Leclerc’s differing opinion, he said: “I don’t give a damn. There should be an automatic transfer, period.”
As for the midwives’ criticism that he was biased and that his recommendations are already part of midwifery protocol, he said: “It’s not my business to answer them. Yes, I did some recommendations (for practices) I knew they were already doing. But it’s on paper, and their members didn’t do it. They were lax.”
The mother of the stillborn baby refused to comment: “We’re trying to turn the page.”
The Quebec health ministry, for its part, doesn’t plan to change rules governing midwives, and is leaving any reforms up to the Quebec Order of Midwives, which is studying Dionne’s report.
Back in the Plateau, Napoli said the death was “absolutely awful,” but that she believes midwifery has been unfairly maligned in the outcry over the case. “What about all the babies who die in the hospital? Doctors make mistakes, too.”

Midwifery Facts

Midwife-assisted births that involve a Caesarean: 6.2%
Hospital births that involve a Caeserean: 18.5%
Midwife-assisted births that involve an episiotomy (a cut to widen vagina to help baby emerge): 1.9%
Hospital births that involve an episiotomy: 30%
Perinatal deaths per 1,000 among midwife-assisted births: 4.7
Perinatal deaths per 1,000 among hospital births: 7.4
Fetal deaths per 1,000 among midwife-assisted births: 4.2
Fetal deaths per 1,000 among hospital births: 4.3
Cost of a midwife-assisted birth in 1997: $2,062
Cost of a hospital birth: $3,016
Percent of midwifery clients requiring hospitalization during pregnancy: 3.3
Percent among hospital clients: 10.3
Percent of midwifery clients who breastfeed at birth: 98
Quebec average for breastfeeding at birth: 72 percent
Sources: Public Health Agency of Canada, Evaluation Study of Quebec Birthing Centre Pilot Projects, Institut de la statistique du Québec, Quebec College of Physicians, Quebec Order of Midwives, Quebec Association of Midwives

For More Information

Return of the Scythe

Canadians are pulling the plug on lawn-care power tools and turning to eco-friendly reel mowers and even the Grim Reeper’s favourite instrument

Globe Life
The Globe and Mail
Friday, August 31, 2007

Peter Vido is trying to save the planet one lawn at a time. His weapon: a 1,000-year-old implement that is also handy for peasant uprisings or if you happen to be the Grim Reaper.
That’s right. Mr. Vido cuts his lawn with a scythe.
It almost went the way of the flintlock rifle, but in a time of futuristic robot mowers, Canadians are increasingly turning to more environmentally friendly tools - such as non-powered push mowers and, to a lesser degree, rudimentary implements such as the scythe to maintain their lawns.
Enthusiasts say non-powered tools are catching on because of growing environmental concern about fumes from gas-powered cutters.
A gas mower emits the same amount of smog-causing emissions each hour as 40 new cars over the same time, according to the California Environmental Protection Agency.
About 2.7 million Canadians mow their lawns each summer weekend, using 40 million gallons of gas annually, Environment Canada says.
“We have definitely noticed an increased interest in non-gas-powered lawnmowers. There has been a shift toward more environmentally friendly thinking,” said Maeve Burke, a spokeswoman for Canadian Tire.
Home Depot Canada has tapped into the trend with its six-year-old “Mow Down Pollution” program, offering anyone who turns in a gas mower a $100 credit toward a new electric mower or non-powered reel mower, which has blades that spin as the mower is pushed by hand.
The program, running two weeks each April, saw a record 5,000 gas-powered mowers brought in this year, Home Depot’s John DeFranco said.
Reel mowers produce healthier, more lush lawns, said Mr. DeFranco, and are favoured at many golf courses. “They provide a better cut for the lawn because of the way the blade contacts the grass. It puts less pressure on the root [than a gas mower].”
Aficionados also like the fact that non-powered mowing equipment isn’t noisy and has fewer parts to maintain. As well, they say an experienced user can cut a lawn as fast as with a powered mower.
For the self-described “eco-missionary” Mr. Vido, an organic farmer in Lower Kintore, N.B., a decade-long international campaign to revive the scythe has resulted in brisk sales through his website
“[Business] almost doubles from year to year,” he says. “There is definitely a growing interest.”
Mr. Vido says he’s had to turn away orders for his custom-made wood scythe handles because he can’t keep up with the demand.
At another major scythe retailer, Maine-based, sales have been growing 20 per cent each year, totalling 800 or 900 scythes in 2006, owner Carol Bryan says. Clients range from urban dwellers to farmers and country folks with a small piece of land, Ms. Bryan says. Thirty per cent are women.
“The modern version of scything is very ergonomic,” said David Patriquin, a biologist at Dalhousie University who switched to a scythe and a reel mower for environmental reasons.
Only one of his 12 neighbours in Halifax still uses a gas mower, he said.
“It’s a lovely thing to do. [The scythe] is very pleasurable and a very, very precise tool.”
Mr. Vido acknowledges reel mowers are probably more suited to most Canadians than scythes are, but he said both tools are helping people take a greener approach to their lawns.
Ms. Bryan agrees. “The weedwhacker tried to replace the scythe. Now, the scythe is replacing the weedwhacker.”
Special to The Globe and Mail

Mowing toys and tips

A growing variety of non-powered mowing equipment is available from major hardware retailers. “Vendors are creating a lot more innovation around this category,” Home Depot’s John DeFranco says.
The most ubiquitous is the reel mower. Also known as push mowers, they have gotten a lot lighter over the years and are available in a variety of sizes at most major retailers. Big sellers include models by Scotts Classic, Brill and Yardworks.
While some rural hardware outlets still offer scythes, aficionados recommend also shopping around online. Be sure to get one custom-fitted to your height, with a lighter, European-designed blade and handle. Online retailers also usually offer instructional material—a necessity because scythes are tricky to use and maintain for newbies.
Alex Roslin