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Flowers are seen outside a home in Ajax, Ont., on Thursday, March 15, 2018 after a woman and her two children were killed in the house.

Colin Perkel/The Canadian Press

Letters to the Editor should be exclusive to The Globe and Mail. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. Try to keep letters to fewer than 150 words. Letters may be edited for length and clarity. To submit a letter by e-mail, click here:

Violence against women

Re Femicide Numbers Not Getting Lower, 2019 Report Shows (Dec. 6): Why has it become permissible to sub-identify murders in Canada? Even the use of the word femicide suggests it is something different from homicide. Homicide means the killing of another. It is not a gendered word.

We should be outraged by all murders in Canada and not act as if the murder of women is more egregious than the murder of men. What are some of the statistics on male homicide? Is it higher? Where are males most at risk: those living in small towns or cities? Is there complacency about male murders?

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We should reduce homicides in Canada. Period. I do not believe this is an area to start playing gender politics.

Pamela Pastachak Ridgeway, Ont.

Re Why The Rifle Used In Montreal’s École Polytechnique Shooting Remains Legal, 30 Years Later (Dec. 6): A gun that can kill 14 women and injure 10 others should not be needed for groundhogs or other small animals. I am appalled that a lawyer would dismiss its danger to women.

Our newly elected federal government has promised to address assault weapons and handguns. Let us get on with it. I would suggest that we honour the young women who died at École Polytechnique by letting the government know that we support their efforts to rid our communities of these lethal weapons.

Margaret McGovern Toronto

Scar tissue

Re ‘Logging scars’ show that impact of deforestation is underestimated, analysis reveals and Grassy Narrows community urges PM to deliver on treatment-facility pledge (Dec. 4): From 1980 to 1983, I was a public participation officer with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry in Kenora, Ont. I saw the terrible damage that clear-cutting does. I saw the awful legacy of mercury poisoning caused by pulp and paper mills.

I myself was nauseous for six months after leaving Kenora; the clouds of drizzling smog from there affected my health. Dryden and Fort Frances were no better. You could smell their mills for several miles along the Trans-Canada Highway.

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Where is the leadership on best practices for forested lands, and to build a treatment facility for the suffering people of Grassy Narrows?

Richard MacFarlane Toronto

Let’s talk

Re Why Calling Someone A Nutcase Is No Big Deal (Dec 4): Contributor Thomas Ungar suggests that when people use disparaging terms, we shouldn’t get upset because they are being “human and authentic.” He is referring to the language around mental illness, but would he extend the same licence to people who would denigrate other groups, such as those with physical disabilities, Indigenous people or the LBGTQ community?

Dr. Ungar admits such language is hurtful, but those who use it do not fully understand the implications. Since when is ignorance an excuse? Maybe we should all try to be a little less “authentic” and a bit more thoughtful.

Susan Warden Toronto

Contributor Thomas Ungar’s main argument is that to destigmatize mental illness, it’s more important to understand the science of it than to protest use of the word “nutcase.” Therefore, let’s not worry with the second.

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The word is used daily to undermine the humanity of those experiencing mental illness – often the most vulnerable among us. It erroneously frames people as contemptible. It invites others, especially when uttered by those in power, to do the same – which I’m sure, if Dr. Ungar were sincere about destigmatizing mental illness, he would not want.

Paul Salvatori Toronto

Contributor Thomas Ungar believes that in order to stop the stigmatization of mental illness, we should provide proof of its physicality through techniques such as brain scans. I am not convinced.

The opposite might happen: Physiological evidence of mental illness might reinforce perceptions that “nutcases” are people whose irrational behaviour is inherent, so society should lock them up. History sadly shows that, as Dr. Ungar points out, it is “human and authentic” to demarcate ingroups and outgroups, and to perpetrate violence against outgroups. Cross-cultural research demonstrates that language reflects worldview and vice-versa.

Rather than ignoring derogatory language, we should find an ethical consensus premised on extending to others the acceptance and assistance we would like to receive, should we find ourselves in their situation. Statistics suggest it is highly probable that we will find ourselves in their situation, since one of two Canadians older than 40 currently have, or have experienced, a mental illness.

Ellen Badone Professor, anthropology and religious studies, McMaster University; Hamilton

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“Nutcase,” "wack job,” “loony bin” – I never dreamed, in 2019, that I would see these words uttered by a prominent Canadian psychiatrist to refer to persons with a serious mental illness.

Thomas Ungar claims that the use of such terms is part of “natural human behaviour.” To be fair, he says that he does not actually condone the use of these hurtful words, but he certainly strongly advocates for tolerance of such language by others.

Would he think it’s okay to call my father and mother deaf and dumb? I sincerely hope not. Words do matter.

James MacDougall CM, PhD, department of psychology, McGill University; Montreal

Contributor Thomas Ungar argues to disregard the use of insulting terms and focus instead on transforming the way mental illness is understood by the public. My problem is that one approach should not be sifted out from the other.

Visceral reactions to the behaviour of those with mental illnesses are understandable. My mother lived most of her adult life with paranoid schizophrenia, largely poorly medicated. I have used words for her that were much harsher than “nutcase.” But she was my mother and I love her.

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Separating the person from the behaviour can be very difficult, perhaps impossible for those with no exposure to it. Mental illness is a physical illness. It transforms those who suffer from it, much like cancer, which also once carried a heavy stigma.

The first step in understanding this fact should be recognizing that people with mental illness are still people. Removing stigma means restoring respect. But there will never be respect if all people see are nutcases.

Wes Smiderle Ottawa

Contributor Thomas Ungar refers to a “wack job” in ordinary parlance as someone with a mental disorder. Meanwhile, columnist Gary Mason refers to “out of whack” public spending as something undesirable or out of order (A War Kenney Is Actually Destined To Win – Dec. 4). This must puzzle new Canadians struggling to learn English, who must wonder whether it is a good thing to be “in wack” (or whack) or “out of whack” (or wack). They must think English is a wacky (or whacky) language.

Randal Marlin Ottawa


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