The Gravel Lot

Radio piece from last January on parking at Carleton University

I Am Ghanadian

6 Fun Facts in Honour of Canada and Republic Day

Photo Courtesy of Tara Sprickerhoff

1) Shared National Holidays

July 1st in Canada is celebrated for the formation of the Dominion of Canada in 1867. In Ghana, July 1st also marks Republic Day. Republic Day (not to be confused with Independence Day on March 6th) celebrates the formation of the Republic of Ghana in 1960, when the first president of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah took office replacing the British Governor-General as head of state.

2) Commonwealth

Ghana and Canada were both colonies of Britain, and still remain part of the Commonwealth of Nations. Given their shared status as Commonwealth nations, Canada and Ghana do not have “embassies” in their respective countries. Commonwealth countries share high commissions. Therefore there is the Ghana High Commission in Canada, and the High Commission of Canada to Ghana.

At the Commonwealth Summit in Malta last November, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took time to meet with Ghanaian President John Mahama, outside of regular meetings.

3) Organization Internationale de la Francophonie

While Canada is a full member of the Organization Internationale de la Francophonie, Ghana is an associate member. French is not widely spoken in Ghana, and English is the official language (although Twi and other indigenous languages are also spoken). However, West Africa is a region full of French speaking countries, including Côte d’Ivoire, Togo and Burkina Faso, all of which border Ghana. Therefore Ghana attained associate membership to join its regional counterparts.

4) What’s in a name?

Both Ghana and Canada have borrowed names. Canada is believed to come from the Iroquois-Huron word for village, kanata. The name was adopted by French explorer Jacques Cartier, and the name soon took hold.

The original name for the area that covers modern day Ghana is largely unknown. The British called the colonial area The Gold Coast. Upon achieving independence, the name Ghana was adopted from the Ghana Empire, which covered most of modern day Mali from the 7th-13th centuries.

5) Trading Partners

Ghana and Canada are not each others’ largest trading partners, but there is still a sizable amount of goods exchanged between the countries. According to Industry Canada, Canada exported over 200 billion dollars in goods to Ghana in 2015, while importing roughly five billion dollars. Food products are the top good sold to each country. Canada’s top export to Ghana is wheat, while Ghana’s top export to Canada is Cocoa Beans.

6) Money Matters

Despite having different currencies, a traveler might get confused and hand over five Ghanaian cedis when they mean to give five Canadian dollars. Ghanaian and Canadian currency share a similar colour code:

The Royal Canadian Mint in Manitoba produces coins for Ghana, which explains why the cedi coin can also be mistaken for a toonie.


Happy Republic Day and Canada Day to all my Ghanadian friends!

The Castle

Cape Coast Castle- Cape Coast, Ghana


It is so dark that you constantly have your hand in front of you as a safety precaution in case of a fall. Despite being unable to see the floor, you can feel how uneven it is underneath your feet. The stone and brick curves and twists your ankles into awkward positions, and even though you sense the tripping hazard, the hot air is so thick and heavy you feel as though it might actually catch you in case of a misstep.

The dungeon beneath the Castle, Installed lights provide some light to a few areas-Photo Courtesy of Rebecca Gerster

After a minute of soaking in the humidity, sweat begins to drip out every pore as if you were in a sauna. Your eyes adjust as best they can to darkness, but still very little can be made out. The air is difficult to breath, and as uncomfortable and lightheaded as you feel, it is nothing compared to the sinking feeling in the pit of your gut once you realize: this is where people lived. This dark dreary dungeon underneath Cape Coast Castle is where they ate, slept, pissed and shit. And waited, sometimes for months. Waited to be sold and shipped across the Atlantic, to an unknown fate. If they survived the journey.

Though they appear fairly spaced out, cells kept hundreds of captives at a time

Cape Coast Castle looks out on the Atlantic Ocean, along the coast of what is now Ghana. It is a relic of the once lucrative trans-Atlantic slave trade and stands now simply as a historical tourist destination, but also as a solemn reminder of how awful people can be to each other if they lose sight of their shared humanity.

The cells beneath the castle were always packed to the extent that hundreds of people were forced to sleep on top of each other, and on top of their own sewage. There is no toilet, only a small dyke area, where feces would amass.

Small trenches where captives were expected to defecate- Photo Courtesy of Rebecca Gerster

As you walk throughout the rest of compound you begin to notice the extreme contrasts of the castle.  The building itself, while beautiful in its own right is old, the white walls stained by the wear and tear of centuries past. Yet the lifeless castle stands overlooking nothing but ocean. The waves brushing against the shore in a rhythm that sounds as though the sea itself is breathing in and out.

The Castle stands right on the coast, overlooking the Gulf of Guinea. Captives were marched through tunnels underneath the battlements, through the infamous Door of No Return, and ferried onto slave ships


Directly above the cells where the male slaves were kept stands a church, where the governor of the fort, his administrators and the soldiers garrisoned here prayed for their souls to reach paradise. A symbol of salvation standing directly above the condemned souls below, signify heaven and hell.

The location of Church is directly beneath the governors quarters, and directly above the entrance to the dungeon

As you walk through the governor’s quarters you realize that this large, lofty room was meant for one or two people, yet below people were on top of each other day and night. The governor also had the freedom to bring female slaves into his quarters for his own pleasure. For some of these women, this could turn into their own freedom. Female slaves who became pregnant were given freedom, and their mulatto children could be educated and put to work as administrators.

The governor’s quarters were roughly the size of the cells, but filled with much more air and light

Some escaped by other methods. In some instances malnourishment became so extreme that people were able to slip out of their shackles. However, if they were caught it meant death in a most gruesome manner. At the corner of a fort is a cell for escaped slaves. They were chained there and kept without food, water and with little air as the cramped space provided. The cell was only emptied once all inside were dead. Those who continued to live did so beside the decaying corpses of those who had already perished.

Scratches from human hands mark the floor of the cell where those who attempted to escape were kept

The only other way for slaves to leave the fort was through the infamous Door of No Return. Slaves were marched through the Door onto the beach and then sailed across the Atlantic. In 2009, the remains of two people that had died in slavery in the Americas were brought back through the door of Cape Coast Castle, as a symbolic apology for the brutality of the site, and a commitment to ensure the humanity of individuals is never again compromised in such a way.


Ending the “Advocacy Chill.” Should Charities be “Political?”

CRA Headquarters, Ottawa

Something was different. Alternatives had gone through audits by the Canadian Revenue Agency before, but this time something was different. The rules were still the same, but the CRA seemed to be more rigid in their interpretation.

“It was the third time we had gone through an audit. The first two times there was no issue, and we we’re doing exactly the same work.” says Michel Lambert, co-founder and executive director of Alternatives.

The Montreal based charity is an international organization that focuses on advocating for human rights. Lambert says that during their last audit, the CRA suddenly seemed to have an issue with their human rights advocacy. “The rules evolved somehow without the law being changed,” he says.

Alternatives was just one of several charities targeted by the CRA under the Conservatives. In total 30 charities were audited, with five losing their charitable status. The wave of audits were purportedly to ensure that charities only allocate ten per cent of their funding to “political activities” as per CRA rules. However, Lambert believes these audits targeted Alternatives because they had opposed some Conservative policies, and supported certain organizations such as Palestinian and Iraqi human rights groups.

The focus on charities that do advocacy became known as the “advocacy chill” amongst charitable and non-profit sector. While the Liberal government recently announced that it would not be proceeding with new audits, there still remain questions for charities that, like Alternatives, have already undergone or are undergoing the audit process.

“Serious Harassment of Political Critics”

Marc Epprecht, a professor of global development studies at Queen’s University, says the audits targeted at organizations that the former government viewed as “opponents.” He says the audits were “serious harassments of political critics.”

Audits specifically looking at organization’s political activities originally began in 2012, initially examining environmental groups, such as the David Suzuki Foundation, that were critical of the government’s environmental policies. Through 2013 and 2014 the audits began to also focus on organization that work in international development.

However the audits were only a recent development in an increasing tension between former government and international humanitarian charities. In his book Struggling for Effectiveness: CIDA and Canadian Foreign Aid, Stephen Brown argues that hostilities toward certain charities began in 2009. He writes that the government began cutting off CIDA funding to humanitarian organizations that did not comply with the new focus on trade in international humanitarian work.

For example, The United Church is one of the organizations still currently under audit. Kairos Canada, the Church’s human rights advocacy organization previously had a turbulent relationship with the Conservative government, that saw them lose CIDA funding. Ed Bianchi, a program manager with Kairos, says that their past relations with the government may have led to their most recent audit. “There were a lot of concerns raised that certain organizations were being targeted, and others ignored.”

Epprecht says the audits were an extension of the government’s attempt to discipline charities into combining their humanitarian efforts with Canada’s international trade agenda, particularly supporting Canadian mining companies operating abroad.

Alleviate or Prevent?

Eliminating people’s need for charity is not a valid goal for charities, was the message form the Canadian Revenue Agency under the former government.

However, there seems to be a growing consensus amongst the international humanitarian community that charities need to be able to do advocacy work in order to create significant change. Bianchi says that part of Kairos’s mission is to raise public awareness on certain issues which at times involves political advocacy. “What we are doing is trying to affect change,” he says, “and often times this means advocacy.”

It appears as though the former government planned to maintain an old understanding of humanitarian work. Oxfam, a well-known international charity was at risk of losing its charitable status because its mandate to “prevent poverty” was seen as too political.

However, Epprecht suggests that charities need to be able to engage in advocacy work, in order to alter systemic causes of humanitarian inequality. “The time for band-aid solutions to some of the important issues that the government itself has identified are gone,” he says. “When you say these groups can’t do advocacy that restricts them to little projects,” that do not have a large impact.

Jennifer Henry, the executive director of Kairos, agrees with Epprecht. She says that much of Kairos’s work is geared towards creating durable solutions to inequality. “Change isn’t just about meeting basic needs,” she says “it’s also about changing systems and policies,” which requires advocacy.

Many of the organizations do advocacy outside of Canada as well. Lambert pointed out that part of the issues they faced in their audit was that they had helped fund a group in Iraq advocating for women’s rights. While this had not been considered part of their “political activates” under previous audits, during their last audit the CRA indicated that it does count.

Gareth Kirkby conducted a study of charities doing advocacy work for his master’s thesis at Royal Roads University. He says that advocacy by charities is and should be accepted as a general part of the democratic process. “We have so many good things in this country because charity advocated for them,” he says. Instead the government “used the vagueness of the regulations to scare vital experts from participating in very important policy debates.”

Clarity for Charity

There is agreement amongst experts within and without the charitable sector that the CRA regulations governing charities need to be updated. Many were pleased that the Liberal government called off the audits for the remaining five charities that were to be audited.

Kirkby thinks there needs to be more done. In particular he suggests that the current ongoing audits be stopped, and that the five charities that had their status charitable status revoked be reinstated. “There is more than just a bit of tweaking that needs to be done,” he says.

Similarly Lambert would like to see a discussion of the definition of charities. The former government relied on a rigid interpretation of the current description of charitable work under current CRA rules. As it stands now, the CRA recognizes charities as having one of three primary objectives: relief of poverty, advancement of education or advancement of religion. “These are things that charities did two hundred years ago,” Lambert says. “It’s a bit ridiculous for 2016, otherwise I’d just call us an alternative religious organization and then have no problem.”

As for what a new regulatory system would look like, Henry thinks the rules need to be modernized to reflect the diversity of sector. “The system that we have didn’t anticipate environmental organizations,” she says, and that the system should also reflect a “modern human rights framework.”

However it does not appear that the new government will be doing more than just “tweaking” for now. In a recent press release, the office of the Minister of National Revenue, which oversees the CRA, indicated that that the rest of the audits will continue. They also do not appear to be taking an active role in reinstating the status of those charities that were deregistered. Furthermore there is no indication that the Minister is considering changing the definition or rules governing charities.

Charitable Limbo

While the announcement that the audits were being halted was met with praise from the charitable sector, it has left the remaining charities still under audit in limbo.

Kirkby says that it might be too late for the five charities that had already been deregistered. “Once that process is complete they are essentially disintegrated,” he says, “they could reinvent themselves as a non-profit or a community group” as was the case with Dying with Dignity, who lost their status. However, this still takes a financial toll on organizations, as they lose revenue for tax deductible donations.

As for organizations that cannot reinvent themselves, the future is bleak. “They have essentially lost it all,” Kirkby says.

While Alternatives has not lost their charitable status, Lambert is still concerned that it will happen, as the final ruling on their audit has not been released. “We have no idea where we are in the system,” he says, “maybe tomorrow I will get a phone call from the CRA saying ‘oh and by the way you are going to lose your status.’

“It’s still a possibility.”

Richmond Suffers from PTSD with Dissociative Features, Forensic Psychiatrist testifies

Nov. 4, 2015

Dr. Helen Ward, a forensic psychiatrist, testified that Howard Richmond’s claim that he killed his wife while suffering a flashback is plausible and consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.

Richmond has been charged with first-degree murder of his 28-year-old wife, Melissa Richmond, who was stabbed to death on July 24, 2013. Richmond’s attorneys argue that he is not criminally responsible because he was in a dissociative state due to PTSD.

Richmond sat stoically staring at the front of the courtroom while Ward recounted her examination of the 53-year-old soldier. Richmond only moved when the court adjourned, standing as if at military attention.

Ward examined Richmond after his arrest. She testified to the court that in her examination, Richmond described situations in the recent past that she would characterize as dissociative amnesia as a result from PTSD. Ward explained dissociative amnesia as “amnesia of amnesia,” and noted that PTSD can affect the brain biologically in a way that makes memory retrieval difficult.

Richmond had earlier testified that it initially took him months to recover memory of what had happened the night of his wife’s death. He claimed that he had met his wife near South Keys to engage in an outdoor role-play sex scenario. Richmond attributes his actions to a hearing a loud noise that triggered a flashback to his 1992 peacekeeping tour in Croatia, where he witnessed the execution of a young girl.

Ward testified that in the most extreme cases of dissociative states, a person with PTSD can lose complete control of their actions as they relate to the present moment. Instead they act as if they are experiencing past trauma.

Ward pointed to one incident that Richmond had described to her as an example of his suffering from dissociative amnesia, recounting that he had no recollection of punching holes in the dry wall of his home after an argument with his wife that took place prior to her death. Ward said that Richmond told her that his wife had to explain what had happened, that during the argument he had heard a loud truck horn outside and began punching the walls shouting “let the girl go!”

During Richmond’s cross-examination earlier last week, the Crown alleged that he is fabricating the flashback to avoid criminal responsibility. The Crown alleged that he was motivated by her plan to leave him and her $700,000 life insurance policy.