What a time to be alive


I’m a large black man living in Toronto, Ontario.  My relationship with the police has been well documented via social media over the past 10 years. From rants written on message boards, to blog entries on Live Journal, it hasn’t been easy dealing with the cops.

Four years ago during Caribana weekend in the city, I had the unwanted privilege of being pulled over five times in a single night while driving my 1978 Chevrolet El Camino. Now I can’t express enough how humiliating it feels being pulled over in a very busy part of the city during a very busy weekend. I’ve been pulled over for DWB (Driving While Black) so I know how it goes, the cops flash their lights, present a false reason for stopping you, only to attempt to find out who you are and what you do. I try not to lose my cool, I smile, let them know I’m not one of the bad guys they’re looking for and usually it ends with a warning or tip from the boys in blue.  But after being stopped for the fifth time, I was beyond furious. “Don’t you guys share information? I thought you job was to serve and protect, not profile and harass. Yes, this is my car. Yes, I have insurance. I’m just trying to drive around with my brothers and enjoy to fruits of my labour.”

Since that outburst, I haven’t been pulled over again while driving my classic car. I guess after they collected all the cards from their carding program and saw my information numerous times, they might have realized that I wasn’t a threat. I know how it can be for young black men in Toronto, I can’t imagine what it’s like to be black in America. Some police officers are shooting black men for some of the most unjust reasons of all time. If raising your voice results in getting a bullet, I would have been dead a long time ago.

I haven’t been sleeping very well lately. For the past few days, it seems like we can’t even go 24 hours without something crazy happening or seeing another tragic headline in the media. We as a society are being confronted with the ugly reality of discrimination and something has to be done about it.

About a year ago I was exchanging messages via Whatsapp with a buddy of mine, discussing the current state of race relations in Canada. South of the border our American neighbours were dealing with the deaths of two unarmed black youth (Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown) who were killed with little real consequences for their shooters. Ironically enough, he was in my El Camino for three of the five times I got pulled over during Caribana.

A strong, proud and opinionated Black man, he is one of the few black faces in his workplace and has often offered an opinion not commonly heard in his Bay Street office. “Miller, I can feel it coming. This new era of hate is upon us.”

His words of foreshadowing discrimination and hatred at the time seemed laughable and exaggerated, but sadly he turned out to be right.

Since that conversation, our society has been subject to countless shootings of unarmed black men. Their deaths have been caught on body cameras of police officers who pulled the trigger, while some of the footage has been caught on cellphone by witnesses and shared millions of times across the globe.

I saw what the Falcon Heights Police department did to 32-year-old Philando Castile in Falcon, Minnesota. Castile’s dying moments were live-streamed on Facebook by his girlfriend, causing outrage, protests and harsh comments from the state’s governor.

Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, was shot and killed by Baton Rouge police on July 5. Sterling was selling CDs outside the store, as he had done for years, when he was murdered by police responding to a call of a man threatening someone with a gun.

Charles Kinsey, an unarmed black man was shot by North Miami police as he was trying to help a man with autism, even though he had his hands in the air and was laying on the ground, he still took a bullet in the leg. Cell phone footage captured the incident and luckily he lived to tell his story.

I know some people aren’t too supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement and are quick to say “All Lives Matter” but let’s be clear, not all lives are being murdered by police officers whose job is to “serve and protect”. You might not agree with the tactics used by the supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement but instead of criticizing their antics, but try to understand their perspective and applauding their efforts to shed some much needed light on these issues with policing. We as Canadians have a reputation of being polite and passive, but when issues of injustice and arise, are you still willing to remain silent?

If all lives matter, we should all be standing with the black lives matter movement.

By: Andrew Miller


Dad’s Day


The very first Father’s Day celebration was held in the Spokane, Washington YMCA on June 19, 1910. The celebration was launched by Sonora Smart Dodd in memory of her father, William Jackson Smart, a Civil War veteran and single dad who raised six children on his own.

The tradition caught on, and presently many countries celebrate Father’s Day on the third Sunday of June. In Canada, Father’s Day is not a civic holiday, but nonetheless it’s a day to celebrate our fathers and for some fortunate men, a day to celebrate being a father!

Back in the day, fathers were not viewed widely as primary care givers to children. Fathers were expected to go to work and bring home a paycheque and let mothers take care of child rearing and domestic affairs. Fortunately for all those concerned – but especially for children, those days are long gone.

The rise of feminism brought more women into the workforce. Economic realities frequently dictate that families need to rely on two incomes to make ends meet. As women increasingly bring home paycheques too in equal measure to men, it falls upon enlightened fathers to share equally in child rearing responsibilities along with mothers.

Today, families come in many varieties. Fathers co-parent along with mothers, same-sex spouses and step-parents and also increasingly by themselves. Father’s Day serves as a reminder that parenting is an equal opportunity affair and that fathers have an important role to play. So let’s honour fathers today and everyday.

SEIU Healthcare wishes everyone a happy Father’s Day!

#FridayFeeling: 7 feel-good hashtags for each day of the week

 “Hashtag” skit with Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake


What is it about the weekend that we love so much? Could it be the BBQ waiting to be fired in the backyard, being able to press the snooze button on our alarms, or finally being able to catch up with family and friends? Whatever it is, the weekend is a time we look forward to, and it doesn’t only apply to people who work in certain jobs. In fact, studies have shown that the “weekend effect” makes people happier regardless of occupation.

So, what if every day could feel like the weekend?

Each day, Twitter populates a “Trending” section where the most used hashtags and topics being talked about appear. On that list, there’s at least one hashtag that trends specifically to getting us pumped and motivated, if not reflective and inspired for the day. Thinking of getting a meal plan ready for the week? Tweet it out and use #MondayMotivation – motivate others while also getting ideas for next week.

With social media, and Twitter in particular, people who share the same joys (and pains) are just a hashtag away, creating a real sense of community and ability to get inspired as well as inspire others.

Check out these 7 feel-good Twitter hashtags and connect with us throughout the week @SEIUHealthCan:

  1. #MondayMotivation
  2. #TuesdayTip
  3. #WednesdayWisdom
  4. #ThursdayThought
  5. #FridayFeeling
  6. #SaturdayVibes
  7. #SundayFunday

Got hashtags to share? Tweet them to us @SEIUHealthCan and include #healthaholicblog!

By: Richelle Himaya

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Seniors’ Month turns 32 this year


2016 marks the 32nd anniversary of Seniors’ Month, which recognizes the important role seniors play in our communities.  This year’s theme is “Seniors Making a Difference.”

Seniors in Canada are living longer and healthier lives than previous generations. In 2014, over 6 million Canadians were aged 65 or older, representing 15.6 percent of Canada’s population. By 2030—in less than two decades—seniors will number over 9.5 million and make up 23 percent of Canadians. Additionally, by 2036, the average life expectancy at birth for women will rise to 86.2 years from the current 84.2 and to 82.9 years from the current 80 for men.


While many seniors lead fulfilling lives without significant physical or cognitive changes, aging can be debilitating. Physical ailments, mobility issues, chronic pain, cognitive and sensory impairments can affect one’s functional ability. Other challenges such as retirement, changes in income, widowhood, the loss of friendships through death, and new caregiving responsibilities can lead to social and emotional isolation. Research indicates that promoting and maintaining mental health among seniors has a positive impact on their overall health and well-being and significantly affects quality of life.


In 2011, 92 percent of seniors in Canada lived in a private home. Recent Government of Canada investments in affordable and social housing, age-friendly communities, support for caregivers and programs to combat homelessness are helping seniors stay in their own homes and remain physically and socially active.

Many communities have services just for seniors. These include:

  • adult day programs – including social, fitness and other healthy activities;
  • transportation services – for people who don’t have public transportation or need help to use it;
  • community hospice services – including counselling, support groups, yoga and art classes, grief support;
  • residential hospices – where end-of-life care is provided in a home-like environment for those who can no longer stay in their own homes. People in residential hospices receive a wide range of palliative services to keep them comfortable.


SEIU Healthcare is proud of our members who support and assist our senior citizens and we wish everyone a happy Seniors’ Month.

Remembering Everything Nightingale Fought For

Modern day nursing is going through a renaissance. Being one of the oldest professions in healthcare comes with many challenges, and being adaptable seems to be a constant factor when being connected to this career choice.

Nursing Day is celebrated every year on May 12 in many countries across the world. This day is in honour of Florence Nightingale, a British nurse who founded the modern nursing profession in the 1800s.

Nightingale was born into an upper class British family in 1820. She made her first impressive mark in the field of healthcare during the Crimean War, which took place from 1853-1856 in the Black Sea region near Russia and Turkey. She led a team of 38 women who nursed and cared for wounded British soldiers in the conflict. Her team found the medical facilities weren’t caring for the wounded soldiers adequately. Medicines were in short supply, hygiene was neglected and mass infections were common. Thanks to Nightingale’s efforts, she helped reduce the death rate at the site from 42 to 2 percent.

After the war she came back to Great Britain and founded the Nightingale Training School in 1860 to train and educate women to become nurses. She also wrote a book called Notes on Nursing, which served as the cornerstone of the curriculum at the Nightingale School and other new nursing schools.

This book is considered a classic introduction to nursing. It was published at a time when the simple rules of health were only beginning to be known. The book did a lot to improve care in an era when hospitals were riddled with infection and many people viewed nursing as a lower-class occupation.

Not only was Nightingale a nursing pioneer, she was also a social reformer. She wanted to improve healthcare for all sections of British society regardless of their wealth or income, advocated for starvation relief in India, and expanded the role of women in the workforce.

Florence Nightingale did a lot of work expanding the scope of practice for nurses to provide better care for patients. Some of the issues she faced are similar to what nurses’ experience today. Nurses have to lobby their managers, employers and the government to expand their scope of practice to provide superior patient care in our healthcare facilities.

In today’s nursing environments, often nurses are assigned to provide care to ungrateful, violent and verbally abusive individuals. Nurses are scheduled to work long hours, with little or no breaks, and are constantly on their feet for most of their shifts to deal with patients with a variety of ailments.

Canada’s constantly growing aging population has the government searching for new ways to attract more nurses to the field and to provide alternatives for people who need help. Nursing has a proud history but clearly it isn’t attracting students to his healthcare profession since admission into nursing programs in Canada are in a downward spiral. Nursing can be a thankless job, but it can also be one of the most rewarding professions for those whom care and have a passion for giving and positive change.

Let’s remember everything Nightingale fought for and continue to push for the change that is needed to advance the future for nursing across Canada and globally. We will all be healthier for it!

By: Andrew Miller

Banning Asbestos – The Personal & the Political


For the Day of Mourning on April 28th, a broad coalition of asbestos victims and family members, labour, health, environmental and NGO organizations have banded together to call for a ban on asbestos in Canada. Under the umbrella, “Ban Asbestos Canada”, the coalition is calling for a comprehensive strategy to address the lethal legacy of asbestos.  Examples of strategic initiatives would be looking into early detection, increased research, improved screening and safe disposal/removal of asbestos.
Linda Reinstein, the co-founder of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) in the U.S., is involved in these discussions as she sees a connectivity between Canada and the U.S. on banning asbestos.  Reinstein says,
“For decades, the U.S. bought chrysotile asbestos from Canada. We’ve seen the callous profiteers, miners and users, profiting over people.”

However, Reinstein says she’s hesitant to use the word ‘ban’ because it sounds like such a simple solution to an extremely complex, layered issue.  From exposures in the workplace, schools, and hospitals and to volunteers helping with natural disasters, asbestos is a ubiquitous problem which must look at prohibiting use and imports, establishing medical programs, outreach and education and workers’ safety programs for those working in contaminated buildings, Reinstein adds.

“I want to stop the import; we’re still importing asbestos since the 1900s which is horrific.  Over the last 150 years, we have consumed over 31 million metric tonnes, 31 million metric tonnes. That’s huge and that means it remains in building, in schools, communities, you know, we have a long legacy of asbestos issues.”

The knee-jerk reaction to banning asbestos, once known as the “magic mineral”, is that it’s the only economically viable option.  As Linda mentions, this notion is a complete fallacy: “It’s manageable when you do ban asbestos.  You know, there are economically viable substitutes, there’s implementation programs.  Countries do not falter and waver on the brink of bankruptcy because they banned asbestos.  So we need to get that notion out of people’s minds.”

To battle this misconception, the Ban Asbestos Canada campaign has pointed to the 56 other countries who have banned the use, exportation and importation of asbestos, such as the UK, France, Australia, Japan and Germany.  In its place, the coalition is asking for a safe substitute, which could simultaneously create Canadian jobs.  For example, manufacturing asbestos-free brake pads that are already being fashioned in Guelph, Ontario.

Linda Reinstein’s Story

For Linda Reinstein, the political is personal.  Linda’s husband, Alan, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2003 and her advocacy started shortly after.

Prior to being diagnosed, Linda said that Alan experienced the classic nine months of misdiagnosed symptoms, with no clear diagnosis of what was causing his pleural effusion.  The experience was an emotional roller coaster: “Alan went through these tests and he would get ‘negative, negative’, we were jubilant thinking ‘oh great, it’s not cancer, it’s not this, it’s not that’ but we didn’t realize the false negative was so high. So we felt we did all the right stuff in our lives and then unbeknownst to us, Alan was suffering from an aggressive, terminal disease.”

While Linda can’t be sure, she says that his diagnosis was probably a combination of occupational and non-occupational cancer as he worked in home repairs (e.g. with stucco walls) and in a shipyard in the 60s as a metallurgical engineer.

When asked who she directed her anger towards, Linda responds, “My anger was sort of widely distributed. I was angry at the government, I was angry at the manufacturers who make products, I was angry at the employers who bought those products…This manmade disaster has been caused by over 100 years of time, and frankly, ignorance. I was angered by many different aspects of asbestos: I wanted my life back, I wanted Alan’s life back, I wanted my daughter’s life back. But I always say, there’s no rewind button in life.  I had to accept my new normal and do the best I can to take care of my husband who was very ill and be the best mom I could be.”

Instead of being consumed by her anger, Linda turned her anger into action by co-founding the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization.

“ADAO was actually borne out of pain, fear and anger.  The pain of having someone you love being diagnosed with a terminal yet preventable disease was overwhelming.  Alan was sixty-three and my daughter at the time was ten.  The fear of losing Alan and the fear of the unknown was huge. Would he ever work again? How long would he live? How would our lives change? Could we survive? And then the anger; the anger to know that all of this could have been prevented had Alan not worked or been exposed to asbestos.”

Linda started with a visit to Washington with her 11-year old daughter.  Senator Patty Murray was introducing a Bill to ban asbestos and Linda was determined to go.  As they waited in line for Starbucks and other places around Washington, Linda started to realize “that something was deeply wrong in our country because people would say ‘it happened to me, it happened to my family’ and then I was like ‘wait a minute, this isn’t that rare disease that I’ve been told, it’s just underreported.”

When she came home, Linda said she knew she needed to do something “fast and dramatic” Linda reflects back: “So I came home from LA, put on a baseball hat, went to a friend’s, we set up a website and I had no mission vision, financial planning, nothing, other than the feeling I knew I needed to do something.  That if I didn’t, mesothelioma would claim my life too, because I was really angry and I was so scared and I would cry in the garage, just turn off the lights and cry.  Like what do you do to help your family when your husband’s diagnosed? How do you do your homework with your child? I don’t know if anybody in your family has had cancer but it’s not just the patient; cancer impacts the entire family.”

Linda met Doug Larkin at Senator Murray’s briefing and they became instant friends. Doug was also feeling anger, as his father-in-law, Bill, had been diagnosed with mesothelioma.  Together, Doug and Linda cofounded ADAO, which takes a three-pronged approach to preventing asbestos-caused diseases:

  • Educate the public and medical community about asbestos-related diseases and preventing asbestos exposure. Support research that leads to early detection, prevention and a cure.
  • Collaborate with organizations around the world for a global asbestos ban. Raise awareness that asbestos is still legal and lethal in the U.S.
  • Unite asbestos victims to reduce isolation and strengthen community action through social networks and ADAO’s Share Your Story platform.

One of the biggest strengths of the campaign, in Linda’s mind, is the organization’s ability to blend social media advocacy and social media story-telling.  In order to get people to care, Linda says she has to be able to tell her own story, the story, a shared story so that people understand this is a real issue.  Linda says that when she started out, “I was a TEDx speaker in my community, I began testifying in front of Congress, I was able to share my story – when I say my story I mean a shared story, it’s not just Linda and Alan, it’s the Linda and Alan’s of the world.”

Now, the ADAO is the largest independent asbestos victims’ organization in the U.S., and has has shared stories from all across the U.S, and abroad from countries like Canada, Australia and South America.

“Asbestos victims find it cathartic and empowering to channel grief and anger through storytelling. We all want our stories to be heard, felt, remembered, and shared. As I like to think, sharing makes us stronger,” says Linda.

For those whose lives are impacted by asbestos, Linda says the most important approach is not to lose hope – there isn’t a cure yet but there are improved treatments and communities where they can give and receive support, such as the ADAO.

Linda says, “Every person who I’ve asked for help has extended their hand. Even if they didn’t understand or maybe they didn’t feel it was the issue they were really passionate about – every person has helped me along this journey. It’s amazing.  People understand that it’s health, it’s safety, it’s basic human rights, it’s a disaster that never should’ve happened.”

For more information on the ADAO please visit: http://www.asbestosdiseaseawareness.org/

Widows of the Workers: Waiting for the Dust to Settle

SEIU Healthcare Healthaholic Blog Widows of Workers

The following blog post has been written by Natasha Luckhardt, a community activist who is passionate about improving the lives of widows of occupational disease. While Natasha is a researcher at SEIU Healthcare who often focuses on OHS issues for the union, this particular passion project is independent from the organization.

The National Day of Mourning, which honours workers who have been killed on the job, falls on April 28th. From April 1st to April 28th, I will be raising funds for a documentary about widows of asbestos.

While there are many of these widows, this film will focus on the widows who have lost their husbands to occupational cancer at General Electric (GE) in Peterborough, Ontario.

Sandy LeBeau is one of these widows.

“My girls were 15 and 17 years old when they lost their dad and five years before that, they sat at the table for supper when he said the chemicals will kill him,” explains Sandy LeBeau.

Her husband, Ron LeBeau, worked at the GE plant in Peterborough for 20 years.  Along with many other employees in the plant, Ron was exposed to various hazardous, degenerative and lethal chemicals, including asbestos. He had that discussion with his daughters and wife right after he read the WHMIS report in the 1980s, which revealed the potentially lethal effect of the many chemicals he worked with at GE.

Over the years, Ron LeBeau watched as his coworkers passed away as a result of cancer or other acute illnesses – many of whom were under 50.

After Ron LeBeau’s brother-in-law was diagnosed with asbestosis after working in a manufacturing plant in Northern Ontario, his sister advised Ron to ‘get out of there.’ But it was too late.

Ron died of stomach cancer within three months after being diagnosed. He was only 39 years old.

It has been 20 years since Sandy LeBeau filed for compensation on her husband’s behalf and she has not received a cent.

Sandy was one of the 700 workers and widows who showed up at an occupational health intake clinic in Peterborough to investigate whether or not their cancer or her husband’s cancer was due to asbestos or exposure to other chemicals. 230 of the 700 filed for compensation. To date, only 107 of these workers have received it.

Since their husbands have been silenced by occupational cancer, the widows are the ones who are left behind to tell the details of the asbestos-ridden clothing their husband would come home in. They remember how their husband always had a varnish all over his body that you could smell even after he had showered. They recall how their husband’s shoes were tainted blue from the chemicals and white from the asbestos.

Like Sandy LeBeau, the widows are also the ones who can speak to the history of the “Electric City” as Peterborough was coined in its manufacturing glory; the dynamics of spending their whole lives in a town whose industry both kept the city going, and made the people sick.

They could also tell you that the GE property is now a ghost town. It used to employ 6,000 workers in the 1960s and 1970s, but it now runs with a much smaller staff of around 600-1,500 people.

They are also the ones who, after losing their husbands, have lost their battle with the compensation system or who, after 20 years, have still not received a final response either way.

And yet, their lives have not been overcome with pure grief; they still laugh, they cry, they reminisce and they remember. Sandy says she talks about her husband every day.

The goal of this documentary is for people to know about Sandy’s husband, the workers, the widows, the community and especially about asbestos. Asbestos is often seen as a relic of the past and I want to show that this toxic chemical is still very much alive and is having a grave impact in communities, such as Peterborough.

The documentary will talk about the history of asbestos, or what was known as the “magic mineral”, the conflicting dynamics of people who worked for a company to earn a living but were exposed to this poisonous dust, the head-spinning nature of the compensation system and the metallic odour that was always lingering around the manufacturing plants in Peterborough and staining the houses around it.

I’ll also be interviewing widows who were compensated, as well as workers who are still fighting cancer and trying to obtain some form compensation at the same time.

It won’t be all sadness, though. I’ve interviewed these people before and their strength, wit and presence is inspirational and I want to share their stories with the world.

April 28th is The National Day of Mourning and this year, the Canadian Labour Congress has announced that asbestos will be the main theme raised. Simultaneously, there is a “Ban Asbestos Canada” movement on behalf of labour and other organizations for a comprehensive ban on asbestos and I want to add my voice and the workers’ voices to this movement.

Any help that you can give – money*, advice, your expertise – to share these stories would truly mean so much.

To keep the momentum going, I’ll be releasing a few short videos leading up to April 28th, highlighting issues such as the extent of their husband’s exposures in the plant, their experience with the WSIB system and the socioeconomic and emotional impact of their loss.

#settlethedust #voicesforwidows #widowsofworkers #widowsofasbestos #banasbestoscanada

*The money will be going towards hiring people for audio, filming and editing.  I won’t be taking any of the money for myself as I’ll be contributing to the documentary as well. The budget is based off of the bare minimum for starting a small documentary project, based on conversations with people in the film industry.