Register Saturday | December 16 | 2017

Letters to the Editor

Maisonneuve Readers Write Back

F—ing Fantastic

I just read Matthew Hays’ “What the F—” article (Issue 25). Fantastic! As a local filmmaker who often works with documentary, I frequently wonder what, if anything, I should leave out of my interviews, especially when it comes to the fuck-word. I still was not fully sure if I had made the right choice with one film in particular. After reading your article, I realize that the times I left my interviews just as they were (bad language and all) have been the most rewarding. Thanks for writing your article the way you did.

—Robby Reis, Montreal

Consider Context

In his flamboyant defence of the infamous f-word, Matthew Hays has a passion for free speech but no conception of context. By arguing that obscenities should be retained when they’re “a meaningful part of the picture,” he shows a lack of perspective; he fails to ask in what context are we placing that picture? The anonymously public context of the New York Times is not the exclusively private one of Penthouse. If you don’t see that distinction, I guess you wouldn’t notice anything wrong with a toilet installed in a living room either.

Furthermore, the truth would not be “more accurately served” merely by surrendering to expletives. A reporter degrades himself if he thinks he must report profanity by participating in profanity. A respect for candour does not require fidelity to a limited vocabulary.  

—L.S. Cattarini, Montreal

Maisonneuve and Goliath

Kudos to Maisonneuve for Bruce Livesey’s brilliant article on lawyer involvement in Big Tobacco fraud (“Up in Smoke,” Issue 23).  The courageous publication of such a comprehensive piece of investigative journalism goes to show why Maisonneuve was the recipient of a National Magazine Award for “Magazine of the Year.”

Several Canadian provinces have sued or have announced that they will sue Canadian tobacco companies and their foreign parents for fraud and other serious misbehaviour.  It is alleged that the industry misled its customers for more than four decades.  Big Tobacco lied about the risks of its products, about addiction, about “light” and “mild” cigarettes and about its marketing directed at kids. This litigation is in response to the largest fraud in the history of Canadian business.  It was also the most destructive.  The health community contends that the misconduct in question caused or contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Canadians.

 “Up in Smoke” aptly puts a spotlight on the US Department of Justice’s multi-billion dollar lawsuit against American tobacco giants.  The suit was framed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).  In a 2006 decision, Judge Gladys Kessler ruled that the tobacco giants were racketeers and said, “At every stage, lawyers played an absolutely central role in the creation and perpetuation of the enterprise [i.e., the industry’s plan to deceive the public] and the implementation of its fraudulent schemes.” Judge Kessler also concluded that lawyers representing US Big Tobacco were part of that fraud.  But, as Livesey reveals, lawyers for the Canadian companies either facilitated the fraud or were very close to the activities that have so repulsed health officials and the courts.

Given this background, why was Maisonneuve’s decision to publish courageous?  It is now on the public record that other publishers rejected Livesey’s hard-hitting exposé, not because of a lack of journalistic value, but because of a fear of being sued by one or more members of the litigious tobacco family, even if the suit later turned out to be frivolous or to have lacked merit.  In the face of this implicit intimidation, and of the libel chill so prevalent in your industry, Maisonneuve said, “roll the presses.”

I have been involved professionally in the struggle to reduce the death and disease caused by Big Tobacco for over thirty years.  In the past two years, as the director of the Campaign for Justice on Tobacco Fraud, I have worked with medical officers of health, professors of medicine and other health officials in an effort to hold the tobacco industry accountable for its predatory behaviour.  In those thirty  years, I have never seen a more outstanding, in-depth look at tobacco industry behaviour in the Canadian press.  It should be required reading for every Canadian legislator and health professional. And perhaps for a few publishers. 

Congratulations again.

—Garfield Mahood, O.C., B.A.

Executive Director, Non-Smokers’ Rights Association, Toronto

No Beauty in Mass Slaughter

I lived in Hiroshima for three years and I find your cover for Issue 25 distasteful in the extreme. To call an atomic explosion an opportunity to rebuild is to dishonor the lives of the tens of thousands of people who were killed on August 6, 1945, in Hiroshima and on August 9, 1945, in Nagasaki. No visual clues are needed to identify this painting as an image of mass destruction, and there is no beauty in mass slaughter.

In addition, Rebecca Bird’s painting has been created from the perspective of the killers, not the killed. All the images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki from above were taken by the Allied planes that accompanied the B-29s Enola Gay and Bockscar on their missions of death. These images imply the moral superiority of the bombers and show none of the human suffering below. In contrast, photographs taken by the Japanese from the ground on August 6 and August 9 show the terrible human suffering that was inflicted by the bombs. By painting the mushroom cloud from the air, Bird has allied herself with the murderers, not the victims. I hope you will be more sensitive in your choice of artwork in the future.

—William Landry, Montreal