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Samantha Nutt, founder of the NGO War Child and author of Damned Nations: Greed, Guns, Armies and Aid
Samantha Nutt, founder of the NGO War Child and author of Damned Nations: Greed, Guns, Armies and Aid

Samantha Nutt

Never apologize for being a woman with ideas Add to ...

I’m a medical doctor, writer, speaker and founder of an international non-profit organization – and I have opinions. Many opinions. If you don’t believe me, ask my loving husband. He’ll tell you that even my opinions have opinions. Except that apparently you can’t ask my husband, because he’s a provincial cabinet minister. And I’ve just read that wives of cabinet ministers are supposed to limit themselves to the smile and wave.

This would have been very useful information three years ago, when my husband was first elected to Ontario’s legislature. We could have had some extraordinary dinner conversations: “Honey, if I become a cabinet minister, do you promise never to say anything of substance ever again? Oh, and could you also stop being a Nutt?”

Nazanin Afshin-Jam MacKay has made the terrible, irrevocable and contemptible mistake of actually knowing something about something that matters. How can this be? Ms. Afshin-Jam MacKay is a human-rights activist and the author of a book she is trying to sell. I can sympathize; it is a relentless, soul-sucking pursuit. She’s also a former beauty queen, and somewhere among her list of achievements, she happens to be married to Defence Minister Peter MacKay. While being interviewed by journalist Jim Day for a Prince Edward Island newspaper, the subject of Omar Khadr – still languishing in Guantanamo Bay – came up. Then, Ms. Afshin-Jam MacKay reportedly did the unimaginable: She referenced, accurately, international law and the definition of a child soldier under the United Nations’ optional protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. She added that it might be time for Canada’s enfant terrible to come home. Her mistake was to echo what every international expert from Senator Roméo Dallaire to Amnesty International Canada’s Alex Neve has already said about the Khadr case.

She was hit with the full force of a thousand pundits on a slow news day. How could she possibly have opinions that stray from the Harper line? Had she not studied the ministerial brief “Taking It Like a Woman?” (In fairness, her copy may have been heavily redacted.)

This all would have ended blandly had Ms. Afshin-Jam MacKay not then attempted to pin responsibility for her comments on a vast, tweed-jacketed media conspiracy. Mr. Day, she alleges, used “duplicitous methods” to extract her ideas. Those journalists – always trying to get you to say what you think. Ms. Afshin-Jam MacKay then performed such a spectacular climb-down that it made me wish political wifeing was an Olympic sport, declaring that only governments have all the facts and can take proper action. What? And here you had me at “I think …”

Mr. Day explained that he identified her as Mr. MacKay’s wife in the article because that is the “status that gives her the highest recognition.” It reminded me of an article that ran in the Toronto Sun a couple of years ago, shortly after I’d been honoured with the Order of Ontario. The headline was “Wife of Minister Given Order of Ontario.” It didn’t matter that the decision was made by an independent committee, many months before my husband was elected. Nor did it matter that it was generously awarded for the years I’d spent working in war zones and for being outspoken on the rights of civilians in armed conflict. I was first and foremost a minister’s wife, with all the smug paternalism the headline implied.

Nazanin, if I may call you that, have courage. You are so much more than your M-r-s. And never apologize for being a woman with ideas. Some people have just watched a little too much Mad Men.

Samantha Nutt, author of the No. 1 national bestseller Damned Nations, is proudly married to Ontario Minister of Children and Youth Services Eric Hoskins. All her rights reserved.

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