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Nov. 3: Ashley Smith, and other letters to the editor Add to ...

Jail or the cemetery

Re Ashley Smith and The Madness Of Our Neglect (editorial, Nov. 2): Feodor Dostoyevsky said it best. “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

Jeffrey Sack, Toronto

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At Kinark Child and Family Services, we don’t give up on kids. As Ontario’s largest children’s mental health agency, we know that no troubled child should ever be treated like Ashley Smith. At-risk youth deserve to have their mental health needs recognized and treated first and foremost.

At the Syl Apps Youth Centre in Oakville (a secure facility), we provide a residential program for male youth in conflict with the law who have significant mental health issues. The only resource of its kind in Ontario, it’s operated by a group of professionals who help youth develop skills that will help them become contributing members of society.

The tragedy of what happened to Ms. Smith has inspired us to enhance the services and safety we provide to young people in conflict with the law.

Peter Moore, CEO, Kinark Child and Family Services, Markham, Ont.

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The death of Ashley Smith is indeed an indictment of multiple systems – corrections, mental health, the RCMP. What an unfortunate way to draw attention to the sorry state of children’s mental health.

In all of Canada, there are only 450 child psychiatrists. Furthermore, the training of teachers, police officers, probation officers, correctional service guards, pediatricians, family doctors – those at the front lines of dealing with behavioural disturbances in mentally ill youth – is woefully inadequate with respect to the recognition and treatment of mental illness in young people.

Having been an expert witness at a number of coroner’s inquests into the suicides of young people, I am saddened by how little we have learned in trying to prevent further deaths, and frustrated by the lack of resources that are devoted to children’s mental health.

I frequently refer teenagers such as Ashley Smith to treatment centres in the United States. Why don’t such facilities exist in Canada?

While some progress is being made – the Mental Health Commission of Canada, for instance, has recommended a national strategy to deal with the mental health needs of young people – your editorial is right on in warning where the continued neglect will lead – either to jail or the cemetery.

Marshall Korenblum, chief psychiatrist, Hincks-Dellcrest Centre for Children and Families, Toronto

Homework curse

The debate about homework has gone on for years with plenty of evidence cited on both sides for and against its value (The After-School Battleground – Life & Arts, Nov. 2). Why is homework seen as the foundation to academic success in some Eastern cultures while, in countries such as Finland, homework is very rare and yet their PISA scores are very high?

In Ontario, many educators seem to think we can play catch-up with the student’s skill base by assigning tasks to be done after school hours. The truth is there are very little real gains derived from homework. The best learning for children at home is when they can do the work under the close and loving eye of a family member.

I also admire the father who declared a moratorium on homework so he could do what really mattered at home: Be together!

John McCarroll, principal, St. Ambrose Catholic School, Stratford, Ont.

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There’s a vast misunderstanding or even ignorance of the purpose of homework. Its real intent is to accustom intending entrants to the (diminishing?) middle class to complete employers’ work at home in their own time at a zero rate of remuneration.

Ian Guthrie, Ottawa

Breast cancer

Margaret Wente’s column of Oct. 27 asked: Can We Just Relax About Our Breasts? As national board chair of the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation and a breast cancer survivor myself, I’d say this is no time to relax.

The support given to breast cancer charities, including ours, has led to breakthroughs in detection and treatment. Since 1986, mortality rates have fallen by almost 40 per cent. As the largest non-government funder of breast cancer research in Canada, CBCF believes all Canadians who support this cause should take pride in that success.

Breast cancer incidence rates, however, have remained consistent for more than 25 years. We need to change that. One in nine Canadian women will experience the disease in her lifetime.

The World Cancer Research Fund says 40 per cent of breast cancer is preventable through lifestyle changes. While scientific evidence in some areas is undeniable – carcinogens in tobacco and alcohol – evidence is emerging in many other areas. We advocate the “precautionary principle”: When no professional consensus has emerged, you may choose to put your health first. It’s sensible, rational advice.

Ms. Wente references the U.S. Institute of Medicine’s study of environmental causes of breast cancer and says there’s no evidence. Actually, the IOM called for more research. As advocates for the breast cancer cause, we want Canadians to make informed personal decisions and we’re committed to realizing our vision of creating a future without breast cancer.

Deborah Dubenofsky, national board chair, Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, Toronto

Gravy train politics

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford tells us that his high-school football team can’t operate without his presence but that city council can (Ford Skips Council For Playoffs – Nov. 2). Point taken.

Alex Peck, Toronto

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Michael Bloomberg. Rob Ford. Sigh.

Helen Godfrey, Toronto

Imagine all the …

While it’s heartening to learn that some dawdlers have recognized how important John Lennon’s career after the Beatles was, and the role Yoko Ono played therein, some things must be challenged, still.

Katrina Onstad (Yoko Ono’s Rocky Road To Redemption – Life & Arts, Nov. 2) says “Imagine is sentimental silliness.” Has she never been involved in an anti-war or anti-nuclear protest? Has she never considered, let alone empathized with, the Occupy movement? Or, God and Stephen Harper forbid, an anti-pipeline gathering?

Sure, songs are short and often simplify issues. But they unify people, and help us soloists join the chorus of voices lifted in hope, idealism and far-from-nonsensical dreams of a different social, economic and political order.

Like other sectarian hymns, Imagine inspires people to dream and envision a bigger world.

Craig Tapping, Gabriola Island, B.C.

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