Category Archives for Unapologetically Canadian

Active while Coping with Loss

When Ethel Henrietta Murray’s husband Patrick volunteered for the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force on Wednesday, April 12, 1916, the couple lived at 80 Anderson Street, in downtown Montreal.[1]

According to his military records, by the time he died on October 29, 1917, driving with the 4th Brigade of the Canadian Field Artillery, her first name was Henrietta and she had moved to 1251 Wellington Street. Later, she lived at 956 Ethel Street.[2]

None of her addresses exist anymore, nor have I yet found any evidence explaining why she moved to Verdun. Based on their addresses and circumstances, however, I suspect that she—and three other women who lived nearby—worked at “la poudrière.”

La Poudrière is the local colloquial name for a building that currently houses 64 units for senior citizens. The Canadien Slavowic Association (l’Association canadienne slave de Montréal) operates the space.

During World Wars I and II, however, the building housed weapons production facilities.

During World War I, some 4,000 people assembled 8 million fuses.

Most of those people were women, as photos from the era show. I haven’t yet been able to find a list of their names, but I’d like to do so.

Ethel or Henrietta Murray (her name appears both ways on the military records) may have been one of these women,

Other women I’d like to verify include Marjorie Victoria Stroude Luker, Ellen or Helen Elizabeth Winsper, and Mrs. John Sullivan. All four women lived within walking distance of la poudrière between 2016 and 2019.

Military records include the addresses of these women because all of them received telegrams about loved ones being wounded or killed overseas.

Marjorie’s husband Arthur was wounded in Italy on August 20, 1917, and then died of the flu in Belgium on December 2018. Although the couple lived in Point St. Charles when he signed up, her benefits were sent to her at 714 Ethel Street by the time he died.[3]

Ellen or Helen Elizabeth Winsper, the wife of George Winsper who died on November 7, 1917, had moved from Rosemont to 196 St. Charles Street in Pointe St. Charles by the time he died.[4]

Two records mention the grief of Mrs. John Sullivan when Private William Wright, a steamfitter from Scotland, died in action at St. Julien on April 24, 1915. Neither have her first name. One document describes William, who was 21 when he died as the adopted child of Mr. and Mrs. John Sullivan. Another one, and the one I think is more correct, mentions that she is his sister. Her address at the beginning of the war was 9 Farm Street, Point St. Charles, the same as his when he enlisted. His medals were sent to her at 431A Wellington St., Point St. Charles.[5]

If these women worked together, as is possible, they too risked their lives.

Employees with the British Munition Supply Company–which was created by The British Government under the auspices of The Imperial Munitions Board–faced the possibility of accidental explosions. Britain paid $175,000 in 1916 to construct a building that could contain shockwaves. It also included a saw-tooth roof to prevent sunlight from entering.[6]

One description of their work comes from the biography of Sir Charles Gordon, who led the team that arranged for building construction.

The IMB had inherited from Sir Samuel Hughes’s Shell Committee orders for artillery shells worth more than $282 million, contracts with over 400 different factories, and supervision of the manufacture of tens of millions of shells and ancillary parts. Its most serious problem was acquiring time and graze, or percussion, fuses for the shells produced by its factories. There was no capacity to create and assemble these precision parts in Canada, and contracts with American companies had proved dismal failures. The problem was given to Gordon to solve. He recommended that fuse manufacturing be done in Canada. The IMB set up its own factory in Verdun (Montreal) to make the delicate time fuses. Skilled workmen and supervisors were quickly brought over from Britain to train Canadian workers. British Munitions Limited, the IMB’s first “national factory,” was open for business by the spring of 1916. The last order from Britain, for 3,000,000 fuses, came in 1917 and the last fuses were shipped in May 1918. British Munitions was then converted by the IMB into a shell-manufacturing facility.[7]

Another source I read said that Dominion Textile Company purchased the site for its textile operations when the war ended in 1919. Two decades later, Defence Industries Limited revived the site for a shell factory during World War II, between 1940 and 1945. David Fennario’s book “Motherhouse” offers a good look at the women’s lives during this second wartime era.


[1] Attestation Paper, Library and Archives Canada, RG 150, #347740, Patrick Murray, a derivative copy of the original signed by Patrick.

[2] Address card, ibid.

[3] Attestation Paper and address card, Library and Archives Canada, RG 150, #1054006, Arthur Luker.

[4] Attestation Paper and address card, Library and Archives Canada, RG 150, #920146, George Winsper.

[5] Library and Archives Canada, RG 150, #26024, William Wright.

[6] “Usine à munitions pour retraités slaves” by Raphaël Dallaire Ferland,  ttps://, accessed September 22, 2018.

[7] Biography – GORDON, SIR CHARLES BLAIR – Volume XVI (1931-1940) – Dictionary of Canadian Biography,, accessed September 22, 2018.


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Unapologetically Canadian Episode 10: Alternative Investing with Bradley Semmelhaack

This week, I’m publishing my interview with Brad Semmelhack, a portfolio manager with Crystalline Management, an alternative investment house in Montreal. Crystalline celebrates 20 years of existence this month. Congratulations, Mark, Brad and the team.

Brad and I spoke in a room at the top of a tower on Sherbrooke Street looking out over the city. It was stunningly beautiful.

Listen to Unapologetically Canadian Episode 10: Alternative Investing with Bradley Semmelhaack

A transcript of our conversation follows, but if, like me, you want to brush up on some finance industry basics first, check out investment basics from the Financial Consumer Agency, the pdf “Investment at a glance” from the Canadian Securities Administrators and the Bank of Canada’s portrait of hedge funds in Canada.

Here’s the transcript:

[00:01:25] Thank you Tracey. Yeah, Crystalline. We’re actually celebrating our 20th year and it was founded by my partner and CEO Marc Amirault who had worked for 15 years at the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec and decided to take the strategy that he was implementing at the Caisse to a smaller business to fulfill a dream if you will and to be able to have more flexibility and do his own thing really and be independent.

Brad’s Career

[00:02:00] I come from a background where my dad started on the floor of the Montreal exchange in 1955. I joined him in 1994 after having planted trees for six years and then was hired ten years later when Mark was able to he actually got tired of having me call him about 10 or 15 times a day with an idea and thought it’d be much simpler if I just turned around and given the ideas that I had to pick up the phone.

[00:02:27] So anyway that’s sort of how I got here. I started covering my dad’s clients in 94 and then when these hedge fund things started becoming more prevalent, as a salesman I decided to go with the new thing whereas all the other salesmen decided to stick with the old stuff and when I started pulling in some decent numbers, heads started turning and I was able to capitalize on the positioning I’d had made in the innovative fashion but ultimately got got picked up and moved from what we call the sell side, which is the brokers, to the buy side, which is the money managers and I’ve been here for 14 years now and will be celebrating as I said 20 years of Lane in September we have our party. So that’s a little bit of how I got here.

[00:03:18] Wow. And when you say innovative I don’t know what. So tell me what kinds of innovations are.

[00:03:26] Well it was I mean hedge funds were trying to innovate in general.

Money Management Styles

[00:03:34] The traditional money management is what we call a long only. You go and you invest in an instrument of public debt or equity. And if it goes up you mark your wealth up and if it goes down well you mark your wealth down and then it depends on where you sell if you crystallize that profit or loss.

[00:04:05] What we what we do here is more we call it arbitrage and the irony of all this is when I was doing finance at McGill there was a professor who said ‘arbitrage, there is no arbitrage. There is no free lunch you never find this.”

[00:04:25] And I always wanted to go back and tell and well you know what I’ve been doing arbitration for 14 years. And in fact, it does exist and I think with the prevalence of high-frequency trading, which is pure pure arbitrage, there are ways of–it’s not really riskless it’s never a riskless profit–but certainly you can hedge out or you can…

[00:04:51] Really what it is a different silo of risk where you’re using different instruments and the relative legal attachment that each one has to that designate how one is priced relative to the other. And in that way, you can pull out inefficiencies in the market between different all the different actors in capital markets because each one works in a different silo typically and don’t always look at these relationships.

[00:05:28] So if you can straddle all the different players, you can often you can often eek out a small profit from inefficiencies and people say oh wow you’re you’re you’re strategies are so complex and it’s so complicated and I just don’t understand the math and I fire back ‘you know these people who do long only, they typically research companies for a month or two or three or years before investing and then they have to follow those companies on a day-to-day basis. The news, what’s going on what’s going on in the industry what’s going on in the economy, who the actors are in capital markets, what the Mr. Market thinks. You know.

[00:06:14] I just look at relative pricing. Really it’s a mathematical equation really understood understanding in a very detailed fashion the relationship between different instruments in the capital structure of a company and that is available in capital markets where, whether it be options or we don’t do futures, but options or bonds or convertible bonds or equities or preference shares.

[00:06:44] So you try and tie all those things together whereas in general all those different instruments are only looked at by people only looking at that one piece of the capital structure.

[00:07:00] So you’re actually doing entire groups of investments in order to take advantage of all that. Is that what you mean?

[00:07:06] Yeah you pair off or sometimes in one case we have 12 lines on one company. So you have the convertible bond, you’re long on the convertible bond and then you’re short a whole series of calls and then you’re short the equity. In another case, I’m long one bond short another bond and along the equity. You know in some cases, I’ll just do the preferreds. I’ve done one preferred against another that’s a little bit more common. One bond against another. There are quite a few people doing that. That’s more or more typical but I won’t go sort of like a long short fund would be long one bank versus the other thinking that one bank is going to outperform the other somehow. We don’t…there’s no real attachment there and legal attachment whereas, in the case of a convertible bond or a warrant or an option, there’s a legal attachment between the two. In the case of merger arbitrage there is a legally binding deal between two parties that, should it be consumed based on certain criteria, one security will become the other or cash.


[00:08:16] So that’s the other type of that’s the other type of I mean there’s always where when I said before, there’s always risk while the risk there is that the is consumed as we saw in the case of AECON last month I believe.

[00:08:30] You know the Canadian Government did not allow a Chinese entity to take over a Canadian engineering firm so that there was the risk there.

[00:08:40] In other cases, it can be as simple as just this morning Superior Propane bought the assets of a US company that had propane distribution and the result of that was that that company was able to redeem their bonds. So now I took the position that that transaction was going to be consumed so I bought the bonds that the company had suggested maybe repurchased should the transaction be consumed.

[00:09:15] Okay so that when they were reported…

[00:09:18] Yeah. So once the deal is consumed, they go and then they officially make the announcement.

[00:09:25] So what have really what it really boils down to is the different investment vehicles land you in different risk buckets so that’s when typically money managers talk about a split. They talk of a 65 35 stock-bond split and then within the stocks you have big cap, small cap, foreign holdings, etc.

[00:09:49] We’re a different risk bucket, so we allow investors that choose to invest with us a third alternative which is a further diversification out of that bond stock typical you know very tried and true if you would that’s been around forever the versification mix. You can broaden that out and in certain cases they broaden it out very wide into different buckets and there’s private equity and there are infrastructure and real estate commodities and then you can different plan sponsors break those out in different ways but basically we fall the we fall sometimes in the bond allocation sometimes in the alternative allocation sometimes in the hedge fund allocation but our clients typically you know they have they have and they have an allocation for that allows for they have a mandate to diversify their investments in order to try and control the chance of loss of capital.

Who are your clients?

[00:11:08] Well we have we have mom and pops and we have retirees and we have big pension funds. It goes across the gamut just people that want to diversify outside or within depending on your philosophy that that mix depend just depending on how they want to allocate to their asset mix what asset mix they determine and how they how they want to implement it.

[00:11:37] So at some places, you’re it to creating a kind of a new movement in a different kind of investing.

[00:11:43] Yeah I mean and alternatives you know it’s it’s it’s not really new. Keeping up with the Joneses from the 50s is actually Jones had a hedge fund.

[00:11:51] Oh really. I didn’t know that.

[00:11:54] And he wasn’t even the first hedge fund. The term hedge fund is a misnomer really because a lot of people don’t do any hedging. It simply usually falls under a different rule that allows people to invest.

[00:12:16] So you have certain rules that you invest that anyone can invest and hedge funds are somewhat more restricted in who can invest and what those vehicles and the rules under which those vehicles exist. So that the rules are both very onerous and are very well-defined but are just not the same. There are very similar rules for the most part.

[00:12:44] And then when it gets into the fine print in the details, the rules are not quite the same.

[00:12:50] So we fall under the private placement rules and so our potential investors are more restricted whereas say a mutual fund or anything that’s on the listed stock market it falls under the anyone can invest in them. And there are just two different sets of rules they fall under two different sections of the investment acts and the and the regulations.

Typical Day

[00:13:16] Okay. And so in terms of a typical day when I arrived, I was kind of surprised you have six screens in front of you. Pretty much everybody in the place has six screens in front of them. What does a typical day look like? Other than, when I arrived there were only two screens of the six that were on.  [Note: my photo belies my words, as all 6 screens are clearly on.] [00:13:39] I might have been to just come back and get a coffee. But yeah I know all six. Typically I mean I try and put different things on different screens but often I might have a spreadsheet that takes up even more than all of the six screens.

[00:13:54] So, is it all math? What do you as a person.

What do you actually do?

[00:14:01] Math is a model. But you need to read a lot of an awful lot of text before you can before you can see how to put into mathematical into a mathematical model or programming language what that those documents what that reading is telling you. Like I was going through the the the indentures which are hundreds of pages long to try and figure out how to model the Superior Propane and New Alta how to model how the what math to use to figure out how much I can pay for those bonds. And you got you’ve got an awful lot of text to go through to try and figure out what numbers to put where. And then once you figure that out, then you can put the numbers in. But I had discussions with three different dealers who give me three different interpretations of those documents and it was up to me to finally read them and decide how I was going to interpret it. And when you when you actually walked in I was trying to get the person on the phone who could answer that question at the company because the company put out a press release that said we will call them in the normal course according to the indenture period. And the indenture being 150 pages long and cross-referencing between six different sections and subsections and sub-articles and definitions and preambles and supplemental indentures and revisions. It got rather complicated rather quickly.

[00:15:33] So like many jobs, you turned into a detective.

[00:15:35] That’s a good way of putting it. You really have to be a detective because there are a lot of things that companies can say and a lot of things companies cannot say. And you have to do a whole lot of a whole lot of thinking and a whole lot of deductive use a whole lot of detective work to find the information and then a whole lot of reasoning to come to a likely set of outcomes and the likelihood each of them is going to come to pass and then making a decision as to whether you can live with the possibilities for the different outcomes.

[00:16:17] Wow OK. That’s a cool way of putting it. Anything else about your day that you want to describe?

[00:16:25] Well first thing first is that you always come in and have a great big cup of coffee.

[00:16:30] The coffee machine here is good I suppose.

[00:16:33] We actually have five of them. Very important to have coffee.

How many employees do you have?

[00:16:40] We started Mark started alone and then he hired one more and one more and then we were after that we were four and then six and then we got up to with interns about 20 and now we are 16 and we’ll probably end up around 18 by the end of the year. That is kind of the vision for now. Plus or minus maybe some part-time or interns or what have you. But yeah I mean there’s everything a big part of any organization is compliance. You know there’s maybe five or six people who are actual full-time job is investing and then five actually right now and then everybody else–the other 11–do accounting, compliance, sales marketing and what have you.

[00:17:40] So it’s it’s really it’s really a big process to keep to keep track of all this and then that’s not to that’s not even to mention all the people in prime brokerage and all the dealers who call me all day long and then all our suppliers in terms of lawyers and accountants consultants and you know then all the

Regulatory Oversight

You know there’s got to be five or six different regulators that oversee us between people who are looking for tax evaders in the United States, terrorists who are trying and trying to hide their money in different places, etc. The AMF we’re trying to make sure that we do things according to the rules the RCMP are making sure that we’re not that there are no fraudsters.

[00:18:29] You know we get an awful lot of people. I’m often told. Hey, you hedge funds you’re not you’re not regulated. Nobody oversees you and I’m like OK how many times you’ve been audited in the last 20 years? And they’ll say oh I don’t know auditors by the AMF. Well, maybe once or twice and I’ll say they typically come in here every four years. And the last time they spent three weeks, four of them.

[00:18:48] So wow. So please don’t tell me that I am not regulated because they went through every single piece of paper we had with a fine tooth comb and they made sure that everything was was on the level and copacetic and cross-referenced.

What do you want people to know about the financial industry and how it works?

[00:19:18] Well I mean.

[00:19:19] This is a Canadian company. It’s you know it’s in the middle of Montreal but you work internationally.

[00:19:28] Yeah we invest in. We specialize. We initially specialized in Canadian arbitrage when we started out with one point five million dollars and then pretty much when we hit 50 we had to start looking outside of Canada because you really want to take the very best ideas. We don’t you know we don’t have to invest in anything. There are no constraints really. We can take. We like to be able to take really the cream creme de la creme the very top easiest fruit we can take. It takes you know maybe a little more time to research but they really have a strong conviction about even though there may be 500 positions in the portfolio, you know like I said there can be 12 positions that makeup one strategy or investment in one more pointed idea really. So you have to have a pretty broad universe to go and find those ideas and then and then be able to follow them and have public information and so on. It’s really yeah so past 50 till now, there’s a little more in the US and we broadened bit by bit what we do in each of those markets.

[00:20:58] So that now there’s probably you know maybe 20 sub-strategies I think we have that are defined in three large silos of fixed income arbitrage, merger arbitrage and convertible arbitrage. I don’t know if I answered your question.

[00:21:20] No you didn’t. Good.

[00:21:21] Good aside you explain to me how your work within the financial industry but you didn’t tell me what you want people to know about that.

[00:21:29] OK so yeah I mean I think I mentioned before that you know hedge funds are regulated just like everybody else.

[00:21:38] And in my in my estimation, more so but I think my many of my competitors would disagree. Everybody is overseen. Everybody has a different spin on how they’re doing things and you know for that for the hugest part everybody is really trying to do their best and offer something that is in the best interest of the clients. But everybody is doing a jaw. It’s like it’s like going into it it’s like going into any store and buying anything. I mean you go into a food store and the greengrocer does not want you to get sick on his cabbages.

[00:22:22] But you know sometimes cabbages get in there that might be a little bit rotten.

[00:22:26] And he didn’t see it or you know maybe he’s got a bad cabbage and he paid for them and he’s got to get rid of them.

[00:22:35] He knows they’re going to be bad in a week. So he puts them in the front to try and get rid of those ones first. But really the freshest ones are at the bottom or if you go into a depanneur or you know the freshest milk is in the back and the less fresh milk is in the front. I mean is that unethical?

[00:22:53] You know I’m trying to find an anecdote to you know people do act in the best interest, but at the end of the day no matter how many consultants and advisers and everything you’ve got to you’ve got to be able to have a good gut feel about who you are who you’re dealing with and check them out.

[00:23:15] I mean you know there are you’ve got you got to make sure you feel comfortable because you know it’s really hard to stay away from it’s usually no. It’s usually pretty easy to stay away from the Earl Joneses and the Madoff’s but they do creep in there every once in a while. But it’s more ending up with someone who you feel uncomfortable dealing with and you’re not quite sure who is who interests there are there where the balance is sitting on their best interest and just being comfortable with the service you’re getting. I mean you know it always comes down to a buyer beware. Never forget that no matter how many consultants and lawyers and accountants and everything.

[00:24:08] It’s almost like if you ask for too much advice someone is going to say no to something. So you know at the end of the day it’s going to be you.

[00:24:16] So you have to have you do have to put on your thinking cap when you’re choosing the right adviser or the right investment.

[00:24:24] And and and make sure you are comfortable at all times and as time goes on.

[00:24:34] I mean a good anecdote is my life partner who I think it took me it took about four people we had to go through before we finally found someone that she liked dealing with. And they’re all doing a good job there all honest. Know most of them are banks and banks have about the biggest compliance departments in the world. And she you know but it took it took three or four different advisers until she finally found somebody with whom she was comfortable and I’ve recommended you know I’d try and help out friends who ask and I know often give them three or four or five different choices and they’ll choose the person with whom they feel the most comfortable.

[00:25:13] And you know once you’ve gone through are they registered and you know are they offering me a product that I that from my best gut makes sense to me and a good plan that that is going to meet my financial goals. You know after that do I actually like sitting down and discussing investments with the person and they seem to be listening to me and do they seem to be acting in my best in my in my self-interest while still carrying on their business. And you know there better not be too much of a conflict of interest there how do you feel about that.

[00:25:49] And you know read about conflict of interest and read about how much they’re being paid.

[00:25:55] I mean everybody gets paid. You know lawyers get paid up to a thousand dollars an hour you never think twice. Doctors get paid huge amounts. You don’t think of how much you’re paying your accountant or many advisers. You know in the finance industry we do get paid and it’s not. It is becoming much much more transparent as time goes on.

[00:26:15] But there is a lot of work that goes on behind it. And you know somebody has to pay for all that compliance and all that oversight. And unfortunately, like most industries, it comes out of the user and that is all part and package of investing in public investments.

[00:26:33] Do you go private.

[00:26:35] No you can always invest in your own company but then you’re you’re open to the sharks and there’s no one overseeing it.

[00:26:43] The public markets are overseen by so many different people and you know there is a premium to pay for that and it all comes out in the wash but in that you have a much better feeling than you can go to bed at night knowing that you’ve excluded ninety-nine point nine nine nine nine nine you know six sigma of the of the bad folks.

[00:27:12] It’s interesting that it sort of reminds me of the thing we’re learning about social media which is that if you’re not paying for something if you’re not paying for a product then you are the product so basically you have to have to keep in mind when you’re doing financial purchases as well.

[00:27:28] You know when I whenever I talk to someone whenever we have a company and whenever I look at an investment the first thing I have to consider is OK

The person giving me this information, where do they benefit from this?

What is their stake in this and what outcome is best for them? Who has control over this outcome and what’s the best outcome for them. And how much control do they have on making that outcome happen?

[00:27:59] And that’s usually that’s usually the best path towards the most likely outcome no matter how difficult it is to get to that outcome or how unlikely it might seem. That’s usually what comes about.

[00:28:16] That’s an awesome answer. It’s a philosophical answer too that it fits into many things, not just finances.

[00:28:22] Well it’s just you know it’s amazing that you know the people who control the company if they have a lot of stock that stock that company is not going bankrupt. If they have no stock, the company is likely to go bankrupt. If they own bonds, that portion of the capital structure will be protected. If there’s a bank in there, and the bank owns management, well the bank’s going to be protected.

[00:28:59] And anything is possible. And you know even with all the regulatory oversight, it’s very often there are fait accomplit that happens and then once you’re put into that situation, it doesn’t really matter what came before, there’s a new reality and that’s the new reality.

[00:29:19] A good example was in the case of Bell Canada when they were supposed to be taken over. Way back over 10 years ago. That was a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court where the bondholders had been assured with personal knowledge personally in their offices staring in the eyes from the management of the company that the company would never ever do anything that would that would risk their investment grade credit. And that’s why it was not necessary to put into writing and legal form protections against a leveraged buyout that would that would compromise the value of those bonds.

[00:30:01] And it went all the way to the Supreme Court that the company was allowed to go against the word that they gave. It went back and forth.

[00:30:09] That was it was that was the so-so verbal contracts no longer exist at least not, in that case, one or even written contracts today can go against Oh no no.

[00:30:21] If any legal laws. I mean we had a bankruptcy where we had to go to court and prove that there was a there where the bank was going to charge for a loan for a loan in bankruptcy too much.

[00:30:40] And the judge had approved that because it was a very big company within a very tight spot.

[00:30:48] And that was the only option for the company was to accept the terms of that loan and we had to really do an awful lot of legal work in that court to have that amount reduced. Wow.

[00:31:05] And it was it was like the judge said yes this loan is too expensive but I’m going to accept it because that’s the company’s the money tomorrow morning if not it stops the company from operating.

[00:31:19] And that is you know that is often an overriding principle. And.

[00:31:25] OK. So whether that company that is very much like bankruptcy law or whether they were in bankruptcy.

[00:31:31] And yeah you have to you know a lot of a lot is often said about capital markets and you know investors want this and investors want that.

[00:31:39] But in Canada the responsibility of the people running the company which is ultimately the directors who are who are responsible. Their responsibility is to the corporation and its stakeholders and in the law, that is often applied as being very much including suppliers and employees and the business and the I mean the whole point to law is to allow businesses to continue. So it makes sense that when something comes before a court that the overriding philosophy of a judge should be how is this going to continue? How is this process going to end so that it has the best outcome for the Canadian economy and that is the judges really go to a lot of trouble to try and see through what all the lawyers are trying to do because the lawyers are just acting and you know they’re trying to prove their case and that’s their job too. And then the judge has to really cut through that and understand all what the lawyers were telling them over the days and days and days that they have to listen to all this and then you know give a judgment on how you know what the best outcome is for all the parties concerned depending on what all the promises that were made before each of them.

[00:33:02] Right. So that’s for Canada as a whole which leads to my last question is about you personally as well. I like how you go into the philosophy world away from getting on you know who you are. And your last question is

Do you consider yourself a Canadian and if so why?

[00:33:22] Yeah I mean I do consider myself a Canadian even though you know you don’t go back too far to find when I when my grandparents and great grandparents immigrated to this country.

[00:33:37] But you know the why.

[00:33:45] I just feel that I I try and you know you I don’t know if it’s I act on how I think it is to be Canadian or I think I’m just part of a mosaic of what it is to be Canadian and I think in Canada more of a mosaic. But I think people here are pretty happy and you know try and do things that they can have their life, liberty and pursuit happiness but without really impeding on anybody else’s.

[00:34:18] And if anything I think we’re very much Canadian as Canadians and every Canadian you know really think several times before acting so that everything we do does not only does not hurt anybody else but things that we do are not only in our self-interest but enhance the people around us and that we try and make that as broad as possible.

[00:34:48] Even at my high school is their motto what they try and what they try and teach their students is to be a man for others. And you know with boys-only school so far. But you know I think that to a great extent to some extent is is what it is to be Canadian. Not only living for me but also you know how my life positively impacts others.

[00:35:17] I think it’s is it Winston Churchill that said you as you take your life that you made you make your life with what you give for others or something like that. Anyway that might be British but anyway I certainly think it applies to Canadians and I identify with that and try and carry that out.

[00:35:37] So it’s not you know it’s not just giving money it’s how you act. Every single day.

[00:35:42] I remember a company that came in here that wanted to build a gold mine and he was like I’m like Oh how. What’s going to happen when you say drained. What do you mean draining like all the lakes above the mine are going to be drained lake or what do you do with all the fish.

[00:35:53] And like oh we don’t care about the fish. I’m like well what about the environmental protection. We can get all those permits is not a problem we’re just going to drain those and you know whatever happens the fish, they can take care of themselves like well I’m not investing your company. Thank you very much. Goodbye. I’m a fisherman and my dad’s a fisherman and everybody I know is a fisherman and you’re not just going to drain those lakes and let all those fish die. Give me a break. Get out of here. You’ve gotta have a better plan than that.

[00:36:22] Well you could have left Canada if you had wanted to. So you had opportunities to go pretty much anywhere.

[00:36:28] Well yeah but you know I was sitting around one of our favourite tables and actually there was one of my interns had come from Latvia it was and I was trying to I was asking around you know where should where should he go and work. Shouldn’t he go to China or should he go and work in Europe or should he go back to his own you know where he comes from. And and and the people I was talking to were like well know the best place for him. What is a better country than Canada to live in? Where can you possibly have so much freedom, so much safety, so much access to health care and education and safety really, have a say in your what goes down in the laws and with happens with the government and opportunity in terms of what to do with your life you know where to go to school, what you can take and then what you can then do with that education and how you can act on an everyday basis. And you know Montreal with its festivals and its diverse mosaic of people and restaurants and things to do and green spaces…I lived in the States for two years and I loved it. I just it was it was it was a cultural shock more so than I expected. There were different ways I could have stayed there. It played out that it was easier actually for me to come back. I’ve been to Europe a few times. I have a few people that have been there. I’ve considered going there a few times but I always end up being happy to be here. So, for now, I’m going to be here I’d like to do some more travelling if I can get myself away from my six screens that each seemed to have six tentacles that hold on to me.

[00:38:21] The right. That was a great conversation. I appreciate it. Thanks very much.

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Unapologetically Canadian Episode 9: Environmental lawyer Charles O’Brien’s EMF case

I recently interviewed Charles O’Brien who is the lawyer who intended to get the class action about electromagnetic fields authorized in Quebec. So far, it’s been a three-year journey.

I spoke to him last month just as he got the judgement and found out that we were not authorized. And I say “we” because my husband was the technical expert for the last couple of years. And so I started to take a personal interest in the case which is not usually what I do as a journalist but that’s what happened. So that’s why I’ve been public about it. And that’s why I helped start a nonprofit to help publicize and continue Charles’ work. We are still in the process of trying to get this class action authorized.

Listen to Unapologetically Canadian Episode 9: Environmental lawyer Charles O’Brien’s EMF case
[00:01:08] The other thing that you need to know as a listener is that Charles and I have been friends we’ve just determined for 22 years. So I’m biased on that side too. I want him to win.

[00:01:16] Oh good. So the challenge is not being authorized means that we have to appeal this decision or do something else. So we might as well start off with that first.

How do you feel about the decision?

[00:01:32] Well I think that there are a number of errors in it, both in law and in terms of the facts that we presented. I’m particularly concerned over the issue of the rights of the flora and fauna, which I thought we made a very strong case for and was not really opposed at all by the other side. It was very short and I don’t think very seriously treated by his lordship and so on that aspect, I am quite concerned. I don’t think that to say that because we eat animals, they don’t have rights and that as far as I can tell was the basis of his decision.

[00:02:12] On the other hand, his lordship was very clear that the case was in his view far too complicated to proceed as a cumulative effects case because generally you sue either one party one industry and we sued all of the emitters all the major emitters, two of each for the most part and the governments. And it certainly is the case that our claim is complicated.

It’s complicated in the sense that there are many sources. It’s complicated in the sense that there is false science that we’re trying to disprove and it’s also complicated in the fact that the governments have been I would say very unquestioning in their view and claims that safety code 6 and similar standards that are used elsewhere for EMF is an acceptable standard. It really isn’t. It’s not a standard at all. And that’s one of the mistakes that the judge made is to call it a standard. It’s called a guideline here but we’re not sure it’s applied and it certainly doesn’t apply to cumulative effects.

Modern environmental law

Modern environmental law is all about cumulations. It’s all about the multiplicity of sources of a kind of pollution effect. And the judge really seemed to prefer to have an assessment based on either one source ie Smart Meters or towers or what have you. But where cases like that have been brought in the past, and particularly in BC in the Davis case, they failed because the defendants simply come to court like in the old water pollution cases and say that we are not the only people dumping. There are other sources of EMF and therefore you can’t pin it on us.

So we intentionally chose a more complicated approach. Pedro Gregorio put together a very well-thought-out methodology for trying to weigh the various emissions of all the different polluters when it comes to EMF with the help of our other experts. And so I think that though it is a hard case, this is the only way to prosecute it and the judge seemed to say that it was too complicated for a court to handle. Which I think is not how these matters are to be considered in a class action context where you are trying to protect the victims.

[00:04:38] So I think the court is better and really obliged to find a way, as efficiently as possible, to take the evidence that is there and make the most of it and decide whether or not there’s a case and if there is a case then require the defendants to show that the claims aren’t true.

So I guess that’s the next step is either appeal this decision or what?

[00:05:05] If we don’t appeal, the other option would be to file a somewhat pared-down version of a cumulative effects case, where we would, instead of trying to get all of the industries involved as defendants; we would limit it to the most severe polluters. Given that 5G is going to be the next big source after towers and smart meters, I think we would limit it to those kinds– I’d talk to the experts of course, and find out who they think are the essential defendants. I think the governments have to be there because of the lack of a serious standard for EMF, but the option would be to pare it down to the very least number necessary from the various industries to make sure that the main contributors to EMF pollution are there.

Why do you care so much about this issue?

[00:06:15] There’s a couple of reasons for that. One of the reasons that bothers me the most is that like lead, asbestos, climate change, tobacco is the most recent example, I’m personally bothered where the industry influences the science and convinces the government that there is no pollution problem and there are no victims, when in fact there are. The false science aspect of it is very bothersome to me. I hate dishonesty. I consider it to be dishonest. The government has played along with this. I don’t understand why not just our government but many significant governments including World Health and other organizations like that.

The other reason that I went with this is that Quebec is the most open-minded jurisdiction to environmental class action suits, both in terms of authorizing and also in terms of funding. EMF has not been able to be prosecuted as a class action anywhere. There have been discreet cases of brain cancer or a brain tumour in cell phones but nobody has really tried to put together a serious EMF class action suit with the exception of the case that was brought in British Columbia, which is the Davis Case. In that situation, they tried to sue for smart meters. And they were blocked because the defendants brought experts who said, even if there are EMF emissions from smart meters, there are other EMF emissions from a variety of sources. They again claimed that there were natural sources, which is not true in regards to non-ionizing radiation and they claimed that humans make EMF which is laughable. But the other option which is to choose the largest emitter and sue them only has failed. So the cumulative approach is necessary.

Quebec is open to class action and Quebec has a funding provision, which unfortunately we didn’t get funding, but there are fewer costs involved as well. So this is the right jurisdiction to bring a case like this.

As well, when you go to class action conferences, the judges continue to complain that in Quebec class actions come from other provinces or come from the States. Many of the class action suits that are authorized are photocopies of California cases or Ontario cases. And then they become national. The Quebec lawyers sitting in the back seat until the decision is made elsewhere. In Ontario, usually or in BC and then we just follow along and the judges really want to have Quebec at the forefront of class actions. As we’re very strong in environmental law and environmental class actions, and in particular Quebec we’re far ahead of everybody else in terms of the rights of flora and fauna, it seemed to me that this was the kind of subject matter that Quebec would be interested in and could lead. So that was why I put those two elements together both the cumulative effects of EMF and the rights of flora and fauna and of course, flora and fauna are clearly affected by EMF just as humans are.

[00:09:34] From there. I am questioning because I don’t want to ask you questions about strategy are still working that out and we just thought the judgement and it’s only two weeks old, so it’s not like you’ve had a lot of time to digest it anyway. So maybe we can move on to the rest of your career. One of the things that the judge pointed out is that you are essentially a one-man operation. He actually found that questionable as a way to operate. I’m surprised it would seem to me that a one person operation is actually more limber and able to do some kinds of cases that would be different than other major firms might be able to handle primarily because you don’t have to worry about conflict of interest as much.

Exactly and conflict is an issue here.

And one of the things that I noticed in Quebec that a lot of cases that otherwise might have grounds to be taken up by someone often are left behind because firms are worried about conflicts with other clients. And so I thought that he would have been impressed by your handling of this. You talked about

Why do you operate as a one-person operation and what have you done in your career?

[00:10:52] I would start with this case and then I’ll tell you more after. This case is all about experts. Any EMF case is about experts and when Marcel Durand spoke to me and asked me to take this on. I said if you bring me an expert, bring me a qualified expert, I will take on the case. And I heard back from Marcel again about eight months later in another phone call. I said, Marcel, we had this conversation months ago. And then Marcel went and got top-flight experts.

So I felt comfortable and competent handling this as an environmental lawyer on my own. In particular, because I had world class actions and I also had the benefit of Pedro, your husband, who as a friend and as an expert was able to oversee people in my community that might have a bias for a certain view of things where he doesn’t have that. And so I had not only EMF experts but I had an independent expert who was able to look at their various expertise that was being proposed and to tell me this is credible. This is less credible. You can go this far. You can’t go any further because the stand would make the world dysfunctional from an electricity point of view.

So in this case, I’ve told everybody from day one it’s about the experts and the prosecutor’s legal element of it shouldn’t be that hard. Now I made it more difficult by bringing in a large number of defendants. But it really is a case about expertise. And if you look at our exhibits and our claim as drafted, it is almost only readable by somebody who has an understanding of engineering for the nature of the emissions for the nature of the damage caused. So. In this case, it was about having the experts.

I did approach other lawyers but you know they wanted to be paid. And we didn’t have any funding for that. So you use the resources that you have. We had essentially free experts or very affordable experts and of a quality that is second to none. So, in that case, I wasn’t at all bothered by it.


[00:13:03] With regard to why I’m a sole practitioner in environmental law, part of that is the fact that I like to choose cases that I think will be jurisprudence-making that will open the door for other cases in the future. The law firms are more interested usually in defence work quite frankly where the money is, or government work, where you have to answer to the government or the people that are telling the government what they want done. When I work on my own, I’m able to handle cases the way that I want. And what I’ve done to a fair extent is bring in notions from outside of Quebec and outside of Canada, American law, European law. In this case, some of the leading stuff comes out of India and China. So I take ideas from other countries as progressive as they can be in environmental law. I find lawyers that I can work with, experts I can work with and clients that are sympathetic to the cause right. Clients that have a good claim. And prosecute it that way. So it allows me to do things that other firms couldn’t do.

And it also comes back to the conflicts issue which you mentioned earlier because in a large firm you can’t sue companies like Google or Amazon or whatever the large companies because most large firms have a connection.


[00:14:32] In the tobacco case, it was very hard for the plaintiffs to find a law firm that didn’t have a conflict of interest and the lawyers that took the case for the plaintiffs had to actually walk out of the firms they were in because those firms had conflicts. So a smaller operation gives you the opportunity to do things that are more cutting edge. And I’m not there to reaffirm principles that already exist. I’m trying to push the envelope of environmental law and get better environmental precedents here in Quebec.

[00:15:03] Now that sort of brings up the whole why you even stayed in Quebec because you have some education from the U.S. you have the possibility of going in a whole bunch of other different countries and you could probably be more financially solvent.

What makes you stay here?

[00:15:20] It’s true. I have a master’s from France and from Vermont. I could have worked in the States but Vermont has a lot of environmental lawyers and the States has a lot of environmental litigation. They’re far more advanced than we are by I would say at least a decade, and possibly more. Quebec, when I started working here 20 years ago, was well behind the curve in environmental law and Canada is too. Quebec is catching up. We’ve got very good legislation and our charter is very strong. But the jurisprudence is not there yet. So my calculation was that I could do more good for the environment creating a precedent in Quebec than working in the States in a field that already had been paved existed and wasn’t going to change much.

[00:16:10] So you’re a trailblazer?

Here I am.

But doesn’t mean making sacrifices? Personal sacrifices?


And having personal gains too, because you have family here.

[00:16:29] Most lawyers are interested in making money. Some lawyers are interested in making money and having a good reputation. And there are a handful that are actually trying to do good works and are less concerned about the other two.

So the sacrifice is financial, but that doesn’t bother me. I don’t have huge financial aspirations. I would like to do some good. As much as possible.

One of the reasons this case decision frustrates me is that I thought we were on the path to do something of great value not just for the Quebec victims, human flora and fauna but also for Canadian victims and North American victims where there are class action regimes available. So I’m happy to gamble in that sense. I don’t need the money or the reputation. But it’s a personal choice right. It’s the way I want to do things.

Yeah, but it’s thought out. It’s not like it just sort of happened. It’s not like you’ve been carried into it you sort of directed your own life. Or have you been carried into it to an extent?

[00:17:39] No. I made decisions along the way. I’ve been offered jobs in large law firms. I’ve worked in a large law firm. I was offered jobs in Vermont after I graduated with a master’s in Vermont. But I thought that was more important to try to establish a stronger environmental law basis here, create a jurisprudence here, where more good can be done.

[00:18:02] I’m not required in Vermont. I’m not required in France. But there are very few plaintiffs lawyers in Quebec, again not that many more in Canada, for environmental issues. And for flora and fauna, there are no lawyers doing anything at all.

But one of the things listeners some of the listeners don’t know is your history in Quebec and your roots here and your reputation here in your life in Quebec isn’t just based on doing good as a lawyer you have a history as a person here too. That’s what I want to talk to you about.

[00:18:37] Yes, I was born here and grew up here. My family’s been here for at least 100 years anyhow.

Many of my friends left Quebec when Réné Levesque got elected and people became concerned about referenda etc. Most of my friends moved to Ontario or the States. I had no interest in doing that even though I studied abroad and came back here. so I feel an attachment to get back into Canada for sure.

[00:19:09] And that leads to my final question which is:

Do you consider yourself a Canadian? If so, why?

[00:19:16] I most certainly do. I think the answer to the why has to do with values. You know. We are certainly different from Europeans that I’ve met and the Americans that I’ve met. I think there’s more of a social sense and there also is a sense of wanting to do good in the world. We speak about it a lot. I don’t know if we do as much as we seem to want to do but there is a civility here that I appreciate and a sense of neighbourhood that I haven’t found so much elsewhere. So I think that’s all part of it.

[00:19:55] Oh and what about your attachment to Montreal?

[00:19:59] Oh yeah I do love Montreal. That’s the cultural aspect for sure. I just got back when I was explaining to people in Panama that we had jazz music and we had Jackie Robinson because we had an openness to coloured people where the States did not. And I think, especially now you can see our openness to people of all cultures and backgrounds and colours and religions. And I think that’s a great thing. I’m pleased with that. I Had a friend who was once asked if there was a black problem in Toronto. She said yeah we don’t have enough of them.

[00:20:41] That was a good answer. That’s how Canadians think. We want more diversity and we enjoy it and believe it’s a good thing. Whereas other countries don’t.

It certainly helps with the food, music, the entertainment everything. I think we all share interests and attachment to Montreal. I didn’t grow up here though like you did.

[00:21:06] In Quebec, in particular, there is there’s a sense of being very social and sociable. You know if you watch people in a restaurant, they’re all going to be speaking amongst themselves. And a party is many people together, not groups of people off in corners and that is something that is very much the Quebec mindset and sense of community and I think that’s wonderful.

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Unapologetically Canadian Episode 8: Pedro Gregorio explains how EMF harms people

This is a transcript of my interview with Pedro Gregorio who is an expert in electromagnetic fields. He’s been consulting on a class action lawsuit here in Montreal and he also happens to be my life partner. And so we’re talking about electromagnetic fields what they are and. How he’s learned about them over the years.

Listen to Episode 8: Pedro Gregorio explains how EMF harms people
[00:00:39] So before we begin, Pedro, can you tell us

What are electromagnetic fields?

[00:00:45] So electromagnetic fields are pretty much everywhere. Anytime you think of anything in nature, a technology that uses electricity, you’ll have an electromagnetic field present. It’s a phenomenon that’s so broad-ranging that it’s difficult to comprehend. It can be complex.

But I guess one of the simplest ways to think about it is a rainbow. Everybody knows what a rainbow is, right? It has light. It has colours. There are different colours but it’s all light. If you were to stretch that rainbow out in both directions towards the lower frequency end, you’d get heat, you’d get radio waves, you’d get microwaves. Eventually, you’d get static fields, like static electricity when you pull a sweater over your head or the Earth’s magnetic field which doesn’t change. And if you go in the other direction all the way up to higher frequency you get to dangerous things,  things that can cause cancer directly like radiation, cosmic waves gamma rays, all those crazy things.

[00:01:52] When I think of electromagnetic fields I think of the towers next to our house or my cell phone or heck even the computer we’re talking on now and the microphone, so how can you think about it when you’re thinking about those devices.

[00:02:10] Sure. So I mean electricity you know people have been using electricity for a little over a hundred years. And not to put too fine a point on it any device that uses or creates electricity is using or creating electro magnetic fields. They come basically in two general flavours if you want to talk about it that way. There are power fields. So the kind of stuff that you’d have coming in on your hydro wires or devices that are making motors spin and use a lot of power, including microwave ovens that heat your food. And then on the other end, you’ve got low power stuff that’s used for communication. So TV signals, radio signals, your cell phones those kinds of things.

What are ionizing electromagnetic fields?

[00:03:08] Right. So to come back to the rainbow analogy that I was talking about earlier people when you get those funny sunglasses they all say UVA and UVB protection. So if you were looking at the whole rainbow including the invisible stuff at either end, when you get past the light you see…the rainbow goes you know green and blue, violet…If you go past the violet the colours you can’t see, those are ultraviolet. And people know that those can cause skin cancer directly. That’s kind of on the thin hairy edge of where you start talking about ionizing radiation. So ultraviolet light and above, ionize. What does that mean? It means the individual particles of light if you want are powerful enough to actually knock electrons. So think if you had a bowling ball and you throw it at a brick wall, you can knock bricks out of the wall. But if you’ve got a ping pong ball and you throw it at the brick wall, it’ll just bounce off. So the higher frequency radiation is called ionizing because each particle is powerful enough to knock bricks out of the wall to knock electrons out of the structures that make you and me.

What are non-ionizing electromagnetic fields?

[00:04:22] The non-ionizing is more like the ping pong balls like the parts lower than ultraviolet on the rainbow like blue light, green light, red light. They include radio waves, microwaves all of those other frequencies all the way down to the FM radio signals,  am radio signals, shortwave signals all of those things and the power frequencies the kind of 60-hertz stuff that comes out of the wall socket. The individual particles of those are small. They’re like ping pong balls or grains of rice. You can throw as many of those at a brickwall as you like, you’re not going to knock out a brick.

Why are EMFs harmful to people?

[00:05:11] So just like we’ve figured out over the past 100 or so years as people how to manipulate electromagnetic fields to our advantage, evolution has had a head start on us. And in fact, all of biology depends on mastering electromagnetic fields as well. Throughout nature, you look at birds and insects, they navigate magnetically. You look at plants, they use electric fields and create electric fields as part of their metabolism as part of their growth. And if you look at you and me, our entire biology is determined and takes advantage of, electricity and electromagnetic fields. Whether it’s neural signalling, such as all of the thoughts all of the nerves all of that happens in our body based on electric currents electric fields. When we dream, our thoughts, our memories, all of that is electricity in play. On the other end, even making our muscles move requires electric signalling and even moving things throughout our body, you know like when we perspire or when we have to move chemicals throughout our body for metabolism, all of that leverages electricity. Now whereas in technology, usually, you’re talking about electrons as carriers of electricity, in biology, you’re talking about ions. It’s slightly different, but the result is the same. You and I are electromagnetic beings.

If we’ve got technology creating electromagnetic fields, and people creating electromagnetic fields, why don’t they just work together?

[00:06:57] Right. So they don’t work together because they weren’t designed to work together. All of the electromagnetic phenomena that occur in nature have been there forever. The Earth’s magnetic field. Lightning from thunderstorms. All of these other phenomena have been around and biology has evolved over millennia, over millions of years with all of these as a background. In fact, you and I have actually tuned in to that the beat, the heartbeat of the planet. There’s actually a frequency, kind of like a pulsing, that happens in nature that people need to be tuned into in order to sleep, for example. So the difference with our technology is that it’s only about a hundred years old and from an evolutionary point of view, that’s instant. That’s like if you’re sleeping comfortably and someone comes in and flips on the light. It’ll disturb you. All of these new technologies are disturbing. Why don’t they play well together? Because conventional technology and science doesn’t acknowledge that there’s an issue.

How exactly do they affect people? What is happening?

[00:08:13] Right. So going back to the person sleeping, what do we do when we want to go to sleep? We turn off the light. If someone was to come in and turn on a pulsing light like a strobe light it would be pretty hard to sleep. It disrupts your sleep right? Well, the reality is that electromagnetic fields used in communication–cell phones etc.–those are always on. We can’t see them, but our brains can actually feel them. Some of the fundamental frequencies that phones use to talk to each other are actually matched to the frequencies of theta waves in our brain, the frequencies that we use for deep sleep and deep thought and they can actually get disrupted. Even cardiac pacing, your own internal pacemaker that lets your heart beat in time, that can be effected by external technology electromagnetic fields. So there’s lots of evidence that shows how even weak electromagnetic fields created by technology can impact biology and human biology in particular.


[00:09:16] But so then how can I mean because not everybody gets sick from electromagnetic fields. I mean they’re they’re hypersensitive people who they can tell if you’re talking on a cell phone to them for example, but normal like a lot of people don’t feel the difference if they’re talking on a cell phone.

[00:09:39] Sure. And I think there’s a couple of things we want to be careful about. One is “is there an effect?” and another is “do I know as an individual what’s affecting me.”

[00:09:51] There are lots of days when I wake up and I feel lousy. I may not be able to know why but there’s probably something making me feel lousy. And yes there are estimates of between three to five percent or more of the population are what we call the electro hyper sensitive individuals. These are people who can be affected when they’re surrounded by technology whether it’s power technology or mobile phones technology or wi-fi, bluetooth, those kinds of things more commonly. The reality is we are all electro sensitive. As we discussed before, our bodies depend on electricity for our for our rhythms and for all of our vital functions. And we are sensitive to those electric fields, the ones that our bodies create to regulate them and the disturbing fields that come from outside accidentally, those can also impact us. Some people are electro hypersensitive. They’re more sensitive than the normal population and as you say some of them, they can tell if there’s a cell phone on in the room. And they can be affected in profound ways, debilitating ways. Some people have to literally try and escape technology and find one of the few remaining spots where they’re not exposed. But having said that, people aren’t born electro-hypersensitive. It’s a phenomenon that develops on either chronic exposure to fields or other environmental issues–it could be chemical sensitivity, and then typically there’s a trigger event, an acute exposure, following which the individual continues to be hypersensitive to ever weaker exposures. So somebody who you know for a number of years, no issue. All of a sudden something happens., and then from then on, they can’t tolerate being in a room with people who have cell phones for example.

[00:11:45] Wow that must be really tough.

[00:11:47] It’s actually a huge challenge. And part of the challenge is a) for a very long time they don’t know what’s going on. All of a sudden they know that they’re sick but they don’t know why? Some of these folks struggle for a long time just to identify what the issues are. The medical establishment not only doesn’t know what’s going on but they are actively encouraged and taught that if someone presents with these symptoms, you refer them to a psychologist. So these people sometimes get ostracized. They get isolated. They find themselves in a situation where they have to remove themselves from social situations. They lose their friends. It can collapse relationships. They can spend a lot of their personal fortunes trying to mitigate, once they do find out what the issues are and how to protect themselves, they literally have to build cocoons and technological shells to protect themselves. It’s really a very challenging circumstance.

What is a Farraday cage?

[00:12:48] A Faraday cage is a shield. What a Faraday cage does is it interrupts an electro electric electromagnetic field. So for example, you look out the window, you can see the light coming through. You pull on the blind the light doesn’t come through. Electromagnetic fields generally, the kinds we’re talking about radio and power frequencies, they’ll go straight through solid walls. But what does stop them, depending on thefrequency, is a metallic shell. So a Farraday cage. Think of it as kind of a mesh. But it has to completely surround you look like like a cocoon. And if you have a Faraday cage that’s grounded, then the waves instead of passing through and impacting the individual, they meet the shell and they’re kind of directed around like a skin. So they pass around the individual. So you literally make a protective cocoon. Some people who suffer from hypersensitivity, they find that they have to create Faraday cages in their homes, particularly in their sleeping areas. And in some cases, it looks like a mosquito net over the bed, but it’s actually a metallic mesh.


How did you get involved with all this stuff?

A few years ago when my daughter came to me and said that for a school project they were looking at how some people are sensitive to Wi-Fi and how Wi-Fi should be controlled if not banned in schools, I looked into it. I did a little bit of research and of course, I found it was all in her head. It was completely something she imagined. And there was no issue whatsoever, which sadly is the situation for a lot of folks. A lot of people today who are the most expert advocates trying to raise awareness on this issue also started out in the same way, including you know epidemiologists, oncologists, medical experts et cetera. People who had no idea anything was going on. Later in talking with Maitre Charles O’Brien about the work he was doing on the class action, that’s when my interest was piqued and so I dug a little bit deeper. I dug beyond the industry-sponsored research and the lines that the mainstream want people to believe, which is basically that if it doesn’t heat it can’t hurt.

So for basically for almost a hundred years the thought has been that electromagnetic fields that are too weak to heat tissue can’t possibly cause any harm.

A cell phone is a microwave oven

So we all know what a microwave oven is, right. We all know microwave popcorn, you put popcorn in and you hit the button, pop right? What people don’t know is a lot of the communication technology we use today, a cell phone, if you tell somebody a cell phone tell them, it’s a radio they’ll say Aha. They’ll understand a cell phone is a radio. If you tell them a cell phone is a microwave oven, they’ll look at you like you’re crazy. But the reality is that the radio frequencies that cell phones work on are identical to the frequencies used by a microwave oven to pop your popcorn. The difference is the cell phone power is vanishingly tiny compared to the microwave, so it doesn’t heat. However, you’re holding the cell phone right near your brain, right near the softest the wettest, most sensitive and fragile tissue on the body. And even though it can’t heat doesn’t mean it can’t hurt. Sure a ping pong ball can’t knock a brick out of a brick wall, but the human body isn’t a static structure like a brick wall. We’re constantly rebuilding ourselves, right. So think of it as a brick wall thats constantly with a mason taking out old bricks and putting in new bricks. If you start bombarding a mason with ping pong balls while he’s trying to replace bricks, he’s not going to put the bricks in very straight. So non-ionizing radiation, microwave radiation, even low power radiation like in our telephones and our communication technologies, they may not be powerful enough to break apart the structures of our bodies. They can, however, and they do– there’s a huge amount of epidemiological and other scientific evidence–they do impact our body’s natural processes of regeneration, of growth, of signalling. And those effects can be pernicious. Maybe they don’t happen on one exposure. The people who are using cell phones for extended periods of time can have huge impacts on their health up to and including cancers.


[00:18:22] Wow that’s pretty shocking. And it means you’ve been working on this for what three years sort of?


[00:18:30] About three years.


[00:18:31] And what have you learned in that time? Where has your personal thinking on this issue gone? I mean other than the fact that I mean if you align satellite dishes for a living.


[00:18:47] What do you do for a living?

Thank you for asking. I build microwave communications technologies. I build satellites. Yes, I do. Like with so many dangerous things, distance is our friend. And so the best way to keep yourself safe from electromagnetic fields is to avoid them. Now the nature of these things is that when you move twice as far from a source, you’re exposed one quarter as much power. If you move ten times as far from a source you’re exposed to one hundredth the power. So when we think of things like cell phones, they work by putting up cell phone towers in neighbourhoods, in backyards, near schools, in church steeples. These are things that are in our community. And in order for those signals to go far enough to be useful, they have to be powerful enough that if you’re close you can be exposed to some pretty important fields. A satellite’s always 36000 kilometres away. You can’t get too close to satellite. And so rather than being something that creates an acute exposure for certain individuals, it creates a uniform exposure for everybody at a level that’s millions of times lower than what we’re talking about with the technologies we typically carry around.

[00:20:07] So yes I do build microwave communications systems for a living. And yes, I have looked at the numbers and I feel good about what I do.

[00:20:17] And but you can’t you can’t do cell phones that way can you?

[00:20:22] Today’s technologies don’t make it practicable but it comes back to one of your earlier questions. Why aren’t people doing things better or is there a better way to do things? People do stuff if they’re told to do stuff. Technologists and companies that make these systems, they have no reason to do it. For almost 100 years, everyone’s been told this is safe. Don’t worry about it. And so what happens? The regulations reflect that this is safe don’t worry about it. And the technology development and deployment reflect that this is safe, don’t worry about it. But if you were to look at where we’re living today compared to what is the natural background.

How much more radiation is there now than there was even 200 years ago?

It’s not a thousand times. It’s not a million times. It’s not a million million times. It’s one with 18 zeros after it. It’s almost unimaginable. These are levels that have never been seen. Ever. In the history of humanity, of evolution. And they’re increasing dramatically. When we went from the introduction of cell phones in the 90s and then we went 2G and 3G and 4G. Every time the background radiation in our cities is increasing thousands and thousands of times. And now people are talking about 5G, which is again a whole other technology that brings its own risks. Which risks? I can’t tell you. No one has studied them. We haven’t even identified what the 5G protocol is and deployment is set for two years time.

[00:22:08] Wow. And it seems to me I’ve heard that they’re going to be going on the Montreal Windsor corridor. Is that true?

[00:22:15] They’ll be everywhere pretty much. There are a few locations that have been identified as being key spots to bring them up to deploy initially and test it out make sure it works. There are sites all over the world. I don’t know specifics but the density of these stations will be at least ten times what today’s cell towers are. So look we are talking about before, one where to stay safe is to get farther away. You won’t be able to get farther away.

[00:22:47] All of this conversation sort of makes me think of a friend of ours who talked about isn’t it depressing being too informed about things?

[00:22:55] Ignorance is bliss.

[00:22:57] And

Is there anything people can actually do or is it too late?

[00:23:02] I think it’s never too late. There’s a lot of things people do. I mean heck, you know that I spend most of my time on my mobile phone and it’s not a question of oh my god this is dangerous, lock them all up and get rid of it. Let’s go live in caves. But it’s a question of informed consent and it’s a question of knowing what your danger is and knowing what to do about it. Do I use a microwave oven? Sure I use a microwave oven. Do I stand at the door and stare into it. No, I don’t, because that’s dangerous. Companies won’t tell you it’s dangerous, but we have examples of very high profile individuals who today are hypersensitive because they did just that. They looked in the microwave oven during an unfortunate event.

So there are things individuals, consumers and citizens can do.


Believe it or not, laptops are not meant to go on the lap.

[00:24:07] Some of the most sensitive biology we have is our reproductive organs. They’re very fragile and they’re also poorly located for having a laptop on your lap or having a cell phone in your pocket.

These are behaviours that we can control.

Cell phones

If you’re using a cellphone,  don’t hold the to your head. Use handsfree. Use a wired headset. Text rather than talk.

Putting your phone in flight mode in airplane mode when you go to sleep or preferably keeping it far away from your bed. Because even when you’re not talking on the cell phone, it’s still chattering away. It’s checking in with the network. It’s receiving e-mails. It’s doing all kinds of stuff. It’s updating to the latest version of the Google apps or whatever. Our phones are busy little bees and if we just by turning the screen off they don’t stop. They keep doing stuff And when we’re asleep when our brains are trying to regenerate when we want our quiet time we don’t want that strobe light pulsing in the room. Put the phone in airplane mode and you’ll sleep better.

[00:25:05] OK. Actually, that reminds me of the little container that you made for me which is which I can wear around my neck so that I can listen with my wired headsets to podcasts. And what is that lined with?

[00:25:22] In the case of the pouch that I made for you and for our daughter it’s like with a metallic mesh that’s been designed to match and to block the frequencies that the phone uses. I mean cell phones are indiscriminate little communicators. They’re they’re basically little. They’re constantly talking in every direction. Now obviously the signal has to get to and from your phone or else your phone won’t work as a phone it’ll just be a pretty box on the screen but there’s no reason that those signals have to go through our bodies. And so when I saw that you were constantly using your phone all the time wearing it for listening to podcasts and things like that, I made this pouch and it hangs around your neck because you say it’s a pretty little pendant and it’s lined just on the side that faces your body. So the phone is perfectly comfortable communicating away from your body but it sort of shields the radiation from getting towards you too much.

[00:26:21] But it’s not 100 percent of course.

[00:26:23] If it was 100 percent, your phone wouldn’t work.

[00:26:27] So it’s not like a luddite you don’t want to give up my phone.

[00:26:31] No I’m not asking anybody to give up their phones. What I’m asking is for people to get informed about what the real dangers are to get informed about what their rights are and to start demanding that governments regulate real safety and that companies build devices that are truly safe.

[00:26:51] Actually there were a couple of things that I learned when we were listening to the court case hearings that kind of surprised me. One was the lawyer from Canada said that Canada regulations were not designed to keep individual Canadians safe but only can Canadians as a whole safe. Can you tell me a little bit about what you’ve learned about how we are regulated at the moment and how those regulations differ around the world? Because I understand Russia has been a little further ahead and primarily because of some of the things that happened during World War II, which I’m also investigating because of the book I’m writing.

[00:27:36] So yeah the history of EMF is fascinating and it’s you know geopolitically speaking, people first began to be aware of this stuff on or around the second world war when we first started using radar for detecting ships. And there was a condition called Radar sickness that these radio operators would suffer from. Some of them were acute cases. Now this equipment was very primitive, very indiscriminate and really really loud and people a lot of people got very very sick with it. But that’s when people started investigating and realized, hey there’s more here than meets the eye. Let’s figure out what’s making people sick and how we can control it to keep people safe. And the Russians did a lot of early work on this and they arrived at a safety level that was about 100 times lower than the level that the Western world eventually settled on as being quote-unquote safe. The level that is considered safe is a level that doesn’t heat. What does that mean? It means if you…

[00:28:49] This is in the Western countries.

[00:28:50] In the Western countries and it’s enshrined in law. Health Canada has safety code six, which is a guideline. It’s not a regulation. It doesn’t have the force of law but it’s a guideline that’s enforced in government facilities and which industry Canada uses it to set permit levels for technology vendors.

[00:29:13] And what it says is the standard for safety is based upon using a device for six minutes and having it not heat tissue more than 1 degree Celsius. There’s a safety factor tenfold or so that’s applied to do that. Somewhere between 10 and 50 depending on the circumstance. But still. That’s what’s considered safe. If it doesn’t heat, you’re all good. And that’s enshrined in Canadian statute today. Health Canada, as you said the attorney general of Canada at the authorization hearing stated quite explicitly that the mandate of Health Canada is to ensure the health of Canadians. However, Health Canada has no legal responsibility for the health of any individual. Canadian citizen. Which is a somewhat contradictory statement.

[00:30:19] But what about Russia. You said that there…Are their standards still 100 times lower?

[00:30:24] Russia standards are still significantly lower. I’m not sure if it’s 10 or 100 times at this point depends on the frequencies. And frankly, I haven’t reviewed them recently. But what we have started seeing around the world are certain countries in certain geographies and jurisdictions starting to take the matter much more seriously. Recently in France, there’s been a law that bans the use of Wi-Fi in kindergartens and that mandates that Wi-Fi used in primary schools for lessons be on a switch. So they turn on the Wi-Fi during the lesson and they have to turn it off after a lesson. And it’s all about reducing exposure and keeping children safe. Because as we’ve said the health effects, they don’t happen overnight with one exposure. They happen over time with the cumulation of exposure. And when we think about kindergartens and children they will be exposed in their life to levels way beyond anything you and I have seen. We only started using phones in the 90s, right, when we’re already adults. And so starting to expose children, as we’re now doing routinely, from infancy in some cases, creates a huge amount of cumulative exposure at a time when the biology is fragile. The children are small and the exposure is now ubiquitous. You can’t get away from it.

Baby Monitor

[00:31:53] Didn’t we actually expose our children? Didn’t we have a baby monitor that we could leave on and hear from other parts of the house like on Wi-Fi?

[00:32:00] The baby monitor that we had, because we’re old people, back at the time when our kids were little, the baby monitor we had was what we call analog. It’s kind of like an AM radio. So that’s substantially safer because of a lot of details in the way they work. But today, yes baby monitors that are available are similar to those cordless house phones. There are digital devices. They’re always on. They’re always transmitting. There are pulsed frequencies and they are among the most hazardous especially for hypersensitive individuals. But they are among the most hazardous devices you can have in your home. And unfortunately, the use of that demands that it be placed closest to the baby. So you’re taking is the most dangerous enough device you’re placing it on the nightstand next to the most fragile and precious thing that you’ve got. And nobody knows about it. Well, citizens don’t know about it. The companies do know. Because while here in North America that’s the standard, in Europe the devices have a very simple feature that’s called Sound activation. If the baby isn’t making any sound, it turns off the radio transmitter.

[00:33:16] But we don’t have that in North America?

[00:33:18] No. It’s not available in North America.

[00:33:21] You can’t even buy it in North America.

[00:33:23] You cannot even buy it in North America.

[00:33:25] Is that because it’s cheaper to produce it the other way?

[00:33:29] I haven’t looked at it in detail. There may actually be a regulatory thing. People regulate technology deployment in order to keep you safe. Government regulations that tell you what you’re allowed and not allowed to sell. I don’t believe North American regulation supports it. Now the cost. Sure maybe it costs a little more to put that sound sensing circuit in and the logic to switch it on and off. But you have pretty much identical products available in Europe and in North America almost identical packaging. The only difference is the one in Europe will shut off when the baby is not making a sound and the one in North America does not. So the company’s know.

[00:34:10] And so the one that doesn’t shut off that means always sending out those pulses.

[00:34:17] Yup.

[00:34:17] Wow That’s kind of horrifying.

House phones

[00:34:19] Just like those House phones. What we call the DCT.

[00:34:22] Oh the ones that you got rid of.

[00:34:24] Yes. Really loud, really annoying from an EMF point of view. Very dangerous and even your cell phone, when you’re travelling in your car.

[00:34:35] You ever notice that when you’re out in the country, your cell phone battery lasts not as long or when you during long trips. Well, that’s because your cell phone is doing what’s it’s constantly hopping as it’s moving in and out of cell phone coverage. It basically has to scream ‘here I am,’ ‘here I am’ to find a signal as you’re travelling or if you’re out in the country and the cell station is farther away, your phone actually boosts its power transmit power so it can scream louder to get a signal to the station. So you go out into the country to get away from electromagnetic radiation. And what does your phone do? It turns up the electromagnetic radiation in order to be able to keep working. Not his fault that’s how it was programmed. And it’s not really the programmer’s fault either. He doesn’t know. Nobody knows. It’s an industry well-kept secret.

[00:35:23] Wow.

[00:35:25] So what’s next in your adventures on this. How would you like to communicate to people about all of this? Do you have any idea of what you’re going to do next?

[00:35:38] Well there are lots of great resources out there for anyone who’s interested in the issue and I think we all should be some of them are really approachable and readable and there’s a huge wealth of scientific literature site thousands of papers dissecting expanding and investigating every aspect of EMF and health-related issues. So anyone who’s keenly interested can look into those. But there are some great Web sites including C4ST Canadians For Safe Technology set up out of Ontario that’s gathered together some great resources. There are lots of really motivated people around the world who take this issue to heart and are doing some fundamental and groundbreaking work to try and raise awareness to try and effect change in terms of the way these technologies are regulated and ultimately how they’re designed and deployed. So it’s not all doom and gloom. I think with everything it starts with education. But really it really is about people a) understanding that the dangers are not non-existent and they can be quite significant and b) gathering together and asking seeking out and assisting with our with our political leaders that the issue is real it’s something we care about and be addressed.

Do you consider yourself Canadian? And if so what does that mean to you?

[00:37:47] I’m a proud Canadian and have been since 1984 when I took my citizenship oath. You know I wasn’t born here I’ve been in Montreal pretty much all my life and it’s the only country I’ve ever known. So for sure, I’m Canadian. I still have a very strong heritage from my birth country of Portugal and I’m very proud of that too. But being a Canadian means never having to say you’re sorry.

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