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Love and hope in a time of COVID

Saturday, January 16, 2021 @ 04:01 PM
Source: Ottawa Life Magazine

Last year, 2020,  there was much written and reported about how we ought to comport ourselves during the pandemic. In short, we were advised to be compliant, socially distant, wary of exaggerated or factually incorrect media and social media posts and, for the most part, encouraged to learn about the COVID-19 virus and its impact on our health and consequences for society. Who knew at the start of 2020 that Canada would be faced with well over 600,000 infected citizens and 16,000 deaths from the COVID-19 virus?  We have come a long way in a little under a year — some 2020!!

Now in early 2021, media have reported that people are musing about how tired they are of and about COVID-19.  Fatigue, in fact, has apparently led to apathy and a lack of trust toward those in positions of authority. Many also indicated that they are tired of the overwhelming bombardment of do’s and don’ts to manage through the pandemic. Many say it appears difficult to keep up — and we’re also apparently fed-up. Pollsters have reported that four out of every five people in Canada have zero trust related to anything COVID-19 related — this is troublesome. Even more troubling is that some politicians have provided stark and anger-inducing examples of why we might tend toward mistrust. And along with this unfortunate behaviour and head-scratching comments from some elected officials, people are still dying from COVID-19. In fact, at the writing of this, total infections in Canada is equal to the entire population of Niagara Region and deaths in Canada is equal to the population of Thorold, Ontario.

On December 28 2020, media identified that 15,001 Canadians had succumbed to COVID-19. That announcement, in and of itself, was important information for public consumption. To this writer, however, reporting numbers appears impersonal and casual. Information about COVID-19 infections and deaths give us timely information about the  pandemic and its impact, therefore that information should not be casual nor should it be impersonal.

Historically, society typically deals with horrible events through collaboration — to coordinate information to its publics that is both factual and timely. Canada did just that in the early to mid-1980’s when the tainted blood scandal became public; government acted swiftly and decisively to co-opt media such that only facts and accurate information was broadcasted at the time. The same occurred in the USA in the 1980’s when the Tylenol scandal killed seven people; the CEO of Johnson and Johnson moved swiftly with government and a collaborative media to accurately inform a frightened public that ubiquitous bottles of Tylenol in every medicine cabinet in every home and in every community was still safe.

By contrast, the COVID-19 pandemic appears uncoordinated. Since late 2019, when reports first surfaced about COVID-19 they were seemingly inflamed racist sentiments in some circles, emboldened civil-libertarians in others and yet other reports overtly stigmatized those who have contracted the killer virus as if their infection is responsible for its spread. At the same time, the manner in which other countries managed information flow to their citizens varied greatly and has left bewildered publics with disastrous unintended consequences and even greater levels of mistrust and anger. Here in Canada, there is a marked difference in how the pandemic is being managed and communicated province by province — at the same time there is a lack of national coordination with some provincial governments and citizens throughout the country react favourably or not depending on their favourable opinion (or not) of the Prime Minister or the Premier in any particular province. 

The reality is infections are on the rise and deaths have occurred and will continue to occur. To that end, we have no choice but to act collaboratively and work toward building infrastructure to guard against this pandemic and prepare for the future — if one occurs again.

The fifteen-thousandth-and-first death from COVID in Canada was my brother. He contracted COVID in early December. What’s troubling about his death was that he had been in his “bubble” since spring of 2020. When allowed to work during the last 10 months, he was compliant about following protocols. He and his wife are perfect examples of what it took to avoid the effects of the virus.  It’s unclear how he contracted COVID-19, but its effects attacked him hard and terribly. In a phone conversation in early December, while in quarantine at his home, he noted that it felt as if there were “popcorn kernels” in his lungs and even an expectorate could not dislodge the phlegm build-up. A week later he noted that it felt as though razor blades were slashing his lungs with every breath. He was admitted to hospital on 16 December. He fought hourly to breathe. While under the dedicated care of his local hospital ICU team, he did not complain to staff while the virus continued to ravage his otherwise fit and healthy body to the point where even being on a ventilator was the point of no return.

In one of his last notes to his family, he reconciled that the inability to breathe would likely lead to his death and although he fought hard to stay alive, he wanted to make the point that he was the face of COVID-19. For him being the face of COVID-19 meant that he was robbed of his ability to breathe and eventually survive — and it didn’t need to happen. COVID is a silent thief and a malevolent killer.  

In the intervening days up to his death at Christmas, the virus continued its relentless attack — his blood pressure dropped and his organs failed. Despite the outstanding care he received he died beaten and despoiled by COVID-19. The only saving grace was that while on a ventilator he was in a paralytically induced coma and did not experience the agony and terror of his body breaking down towards his final and horrible death.

As an analogy, if he was assaulted by a mob, his tragic death would have been all over the news. The effects of COVID-19 are is if one’s body is attacked by a mob. The virus grows and grows and grows inside its host in the hope of, working as a mob, taking over its host. When COVID attacks it does so with remarkable killer-like speed, our human bodies have not adapted to the relentlessness of this strain of virus and so it kills randomly. The worst part for my brother was that he endured a relentless attack hour after hour completely alone, confined to a sealed room and unable to benefit from the comfort of his family.

If, instead, he had had cancer and was in palliative care, his family would have been with him to appropriately say good-bye, hold his hand and otherwise comfort him until he died. 

But COVID-19, the abusive, life sucking virus battered his body to death and many might have asked if he had done something to deserve this fate. Many do think that having the virus is a stigma.

The difficulty for families of victims of COVID-19 is how to manage when a death from COVID occurs. Families are left to reconcile the stigma. The World Health Organization (WHO), for example, recently noted that if public officials and the media were to be more careful with language in statements and stories, it might assist in the reduction of the stigmatization of people who catch the virus.

For those who contract COVID-19, the stigma is as abusive as the virus itself.  In a recent report, the WHO noted that stigma undermines social cohesion and prompts social isolation of individuals and groups, which might even contribute to a situation where the virus is more, not less, likely to spread. In short, if people are trying to hide their illness to avoid discrimination, they are less likely to get tested or treated and that is a terrible consequence.

The Bereavement Authority of Ontario, the regulatory agency that oversees funerals in Ontario, noted that when a COVID-19 victim dies, the body must be sealed in an air-tight bag and it must be clearly marked “infectious risk – handle with care”. Not quite the dignity we reserve for the dead is it?  There will be no funeral either — rules around funerals during the pandemic are prescriptive — no more than six people can attend. In the case of my brother, we come from a large family with a mother and father, six other siblings, their spouses and their children — in total more than two dozen. Not to mention the scores of friends from Niagara and Muskoka Region who would attend funeral to support my brother’s wife and our collective families. It’s not a dignified way to celebrate a life well-lived.

There will be no final “send off” for my brother, no ability for anyone to come together in person to hug and comfort each other which is the very essence of community and the reason we celebrate a life at funerals. The great scourge of COVID-19 is that its victims seemingly just disappear! And this story can be told by well over 16,000 Canadian families whose loved ones suffered the same tragic fate from this pandemic and who have since died since this article has been published.

We are all part of a global family and the transient nature of people have made it easier for COVID to become a global pandemic. The impact of the virus, however, has somehow united the world – we’re all in this together and we’re faced with the prospect of having to manage economic disaster while needing to build infrastructure for the future to sustain economies and create resilience to fend off the virus.

We have a long way to go. We must strive to work through fatigue and do everything we can to know the facts about this virus. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported recently that the vast percentage of COVID deaths are those between the ages of 20 to 64 years of age (in the aggregate 58 per cent), which debunks the “theory” that the virus only kills seniors.  It’s that kind of information that needs to be messaged more in public to eradicate the casual attitude(s) among society that “it can’t affect me”. And when a person contracts COVID-19 it’s not because they are careless or dirty. It is, indeed, scientific evidence that viruses, like COVID-19, are lethal and, as such, are reason enough for us to protect ourselves.

We are in a second wave of this pandemic and clinical experts predict that there may be a third wave. Experts report that eventually, almost all of us will get this virus. In short, what’s known as a pandemic may become endemic. This COVID-19 virus will have genetically evolved such that its presence in society will be permanent and, as such, infections and deaths will be too — so vigilance against its spread is vital. Public Health officials will continue to advise compliance of protocols including social distancing — and that will save lives! It’s our responsibility to heed this advice.

COVID-19 is a brutal killer and can attack anyone, anywhere and at any time. However, polls indicate that many believe that this entire pandemic has been contrived — either politically or by an evil star chamber. This is simply preposterous! The death of my brother should serve as a tragic and sad reminder that this pandemic, this virus and its the effects are real — to think otherwise is a sad mistake. 

The scientific world has made advances in genomic innovation such that the heretofore vast quarry of knowledge about viruses is more well understood and vaccines are now available. But they are not an end in and of themselves – they are a prophylactic designed to prevent the spread of the virus – NOT cure it. So, we are not out of the woods!

As global citizens, we must remain vigilant, cautious, considerate and above all discerning! In the meantime, it is my pledge that we will appropriately honour the thousands — people like my brother David, not simply as the fifteen-thousandth-and-first death from COVID — of vibrant, loved and respected members of society whose unfortunate deaths at the hands of a killer virus prompted all of us to act with more vigilance. It is my hope and wish, too, that in 2021 and beyond we should all be the light and be inspired by the words of the great American literary genius James Thurber: “there are two kinds of light, the glow that illuminates and the glare that obscures!”

God Bless you all, stay vigilant and stay safe. 

- Marc Kealey

Celebrating Jim Flaherty

Wednesday, April 10, 2019 @ 08:04 PM

Jim’s untimely death five years ago today shocked many in Canada. For those of us who worked with and for him as a politician, we knew a person of unparalleled intelligence and ethics. We also knew him as a person of extraordinary grace!

For those of us who knew him well from Whitby, we were all so very anxious to see how well he performed while in politics and most especially for what he would do in life after politics. That’s why it’s so hard to comprehend a life so large cut so short.

I recall when I was a hospital administrator in Whitby and going through a particularly difficult time in 1997 because of a government mandated restructuring. The town was in a foul mood over the prospect of potentially losing its acute care services at the hospital. Jim came to my office and sat in the one chair I had for visitors and folded his arms, “Kealey”, he said, “hold fast! What you’re going through is the scourge of leadership. If you can’t handle this, you should get out! But I think you can handle this!” That advice has stuck with me throughout my career and I heed it often. Life can be difficult at times, but when the world has the benefit of advice like that from Jim Flaherty it makes things that are tough seem possible – and it’s simply a better place!

I had the opportunity in 2011 to host Jim for a fundraiser at my home in Mississauga. It was an interesting start to the evening because some trouble-making people in Mississauga had alerted media that the Minister of Finance was coming to my home and they assembled at the end of my driveway. When his car drove up, he stepped out, greeted them warmly and invited them into my home. As if knowing that they were intruding, they politely declined. Vintage Jim Flaherty – he was simply a better man!

- Marc Kealey


Responding to Bullying – A Perspective

Wednesday, April 10, 2019 @ 12:04 PM

In recognition of Pink Shirt Day – here is my perspective on anti-bullying that I co-authored in 2016. Sadly not much has happened in the way of any government legislation or regulation against bullying since then.

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- Marc Kealey


Walking in the steps of St. Paul

Tuesday, November 25, 2014 @ 12:11 PM

I have always believed that God channels His most treasured Saints through the least obvious of people on earth. Religious scholars teach us that St. Paul is one of the more important Saints in our faith. He was a lecturer, a debater and unafraid of anyone or anything. It was said that St. Paul actually confronted St. Peter to his face about issues affecting the newly found faith and the responsibilities of followers of it. My good friend and cosmic brother Michael Fredric Boland died last week – he was the quintessential and contemporary version of St. Paul – a debater, often raging against injustice and smarter by half than most.

I am compelled to write about Michael because his life was so impactful – for me! Michael was the epitome of what it means to be a lawyer – always inquisitive and always prepared. He loved his Catholic faith, his friends and most of all his family. More often than not, like St. Paul, he was prepped for debate. Michael could feel and exude rage better than anyone alive and was unafraid to let you know it when any injustice presented. He was visceral.

I first met Michael when I worked for the Rt. Hon. John N. Turner. I was living in Whitby at the time and traveling weekly to my office in Ottawa. The Meech Lake Accord had been introduced in the mid 1980’s and like me; Michael believed that the Accord was right in recognizing Quebec as distinct. Many thought otherwise – he railed against that and cited constitutional precedence in his argument. We became instant friends – an enduring friendship lasting 30 years and many events – football games, weddings, baptisms and many, many meals. We shared the same birthday – an occasion we never missed calling or meeting about or around for decades.

In later years he became my lawyer and railed against the injustice of those falsely accused and targeted on the web. Ironically he was the least techno-savvy person, but was so prepared and helped to move the Canada forward with better laws to protect against cyber-attacks.

You are loved Michael and I shall always remember you.
- Marc Kealey


Celebrating Jim Flaherty

Tuesday, April 15, 2014 @ 09:04 AM

Jim’s untimely death has shocked  the country.  For those of  us who  worked with and for him as a politician and knew him well from Whitby, Toronto and Ottawa and were anxious to see how life after politics was going to be for him in years to come it is particularly sad that a life so large was cut so short.

Condolences and expressions of sympathy to Christine his wife and his three boys can never assuage the hurt and loss.  It is painful beyond words to lose a husband and a father.

Words are never enough – Jim was simply a better man!

You are missed.

- Marc Kealey


Last year, Canada, along with most of the rest of the world, celebrated the 65th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel.  Yom Ha’atzmaut is a modern holiday celebrating the day Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, publicly read Israel’s Declaration of Independence on May 17, 1948.

In November 2005, Israel’s then Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, invited the world to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the assassination of its former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.  Representing Canada at this event was former Canadian Prime Minister John N. Turner.

Accompanying him to Israel, we met with Ariel Sharon at a special event at the Knesset and stared into those expressive eyes and held his hand in a tight shake that seemed interminable.  We attended numerous state events in Jerusalem, visited the Holy City, prayed at the wailing wall, attended a special session at the Knesset and were given a private tour of the National Museum of Art in Tel Aviv.  It was at this event that Ariel Sharon’s invitation to the world made perfect sense to me.  We were met at the front doors of the museum by media and the curator of the museum, a tall blonde perfectly tanned forty-something year old woman.  She immediately embraced Mr. Turner and invited him on a tour.  He asked her, “…wow, you speak such great English and you’re so blonde, are you Jewish?”  Her answer was even more perfect.  “Yes I’m Jewish, Prime Minister, but even more importantly, I’m Israeli?”

For most people, an opportunity to see a special part of the world like Israel conjures up religious and historic significance.  For us it was recognition that Ariel Sharon, the great political tactician and military strategist, wanted the world to remember the melancholy state of tension in Israel – and it’s surrounding neighbours.

He was a special man with a fervent zeal for the state of Israel and its special place in the world.  His invitation to attend the Rabin event saw hundreds of world leader take the opportunity to be there especially the United States who sent James Baker, Condaleeza Rice and Hilary and Bill Clinton.


In his official address to attending world leaders and invitees at the Knesset, Sharon described the special condition of Israel and lectured the world that solutions to the easing tensions in Israel are not easy and are certainly not transparent – but peace is necessary.  It was truly one of his better moments to shine for the world’s media.

We left Israel after an extended stay in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv feeling buoyed about meeting Sharon and by the special relationship Canada shared and continues to share with Israel.  Throughout his career, Turner had been to Israel many times, but never with this much intimacy or understanding of her place in the world.

Shortly after our visit to Israel, we were stunned and shocked by news of Ariel Sharon’s stroke in January of 2006, we thought his personal strength would help him get through it, but for years we wondered.  It was sad to hear that he has died, but for John Turner and me, we believe his legacy is as secure as his fight for peace.- Marc Kealey


A Soldier’s Story

Monday, November 11, 2013 @ 12:11 AM


soldierstoryMy grandfather is a war hero. For years I admired his ability to march to the cenotaph every November 11 with members of the Legion in Niagara Falls- even in his 70’s.   Some people, including my own mother, used to say that November 11 was always an excuse for old fogies like Blackie to get drunk – I never thought that and always reveled at his medal festooned chest on November 11. I always wanted to know what he endured on one blustery day in June of 1944.  I had opportunity in the latter part of the 1970’s when he and I drove together for the first time to Ottawa from Niagara Falls to attend the annual reunion to celebrate their regiment’s efforts on D-Day and hear the stories – some good, some troubling. Those stories have stuck with me and struck me awesome to this day.

The soldier’s name was C. Grange Black – all his life he was known as Blackie.  He married his sweetheart, Frances, in 1932 when the world was tense.  Seven years later, as a father of three and a Sergeant in the 43rd Cameron Highlanders Regiment of Ottawa, he kissed his wife and kids good-bye, marched his troop out of Lansdowne Park and onto a ship headed for Iceland.  While in Iceland he and his regiment were deployed for what he called menial military work known as “garrison duty” until he and his mates were deployed to England in 1941.  There he marched on a daily basis, trained with a rifle and kit and, like his mates, yearned to earn his keep by fighting in Europe.  On 6 June 1944, the 43rd was the only Ottawa regiment who had trained to land on D-Day at Juno Beach in what became known as Operation Overlord.

At reunions in Ottawa with Blackie, he recounted to me myriad stories of his departure early in the morning of June 6, 1944 from Portsmouth; he often recalled having no idea of what he would be up against when he landed at that stretch of the beach in Normandy code named Juno.   The trip across the channel was rough, the swells were high and the temperature was cold.  It was early morning – he said that on the trip across, he was joking with his men and singing off-key as he often did with his grand children in later years, but, he’d recount, when he neared the beach and he heard the whizzing of bullets and they smelled the fowl stench of gun powder, he become uncontrollably frightened.  The ramp to his LCA lowered and he at the back ordered his 35 other troops off the vehicle – that was lucky for him because some were cut to shreds by bullets from the German pillboxes at the top of Juno Beach.  Before he died in 1987, he confided to me that he jumped over the side of the LCA, grabbed one his soldier mates whom he thought was having a hard time getting his feet and raced with him to the beach. In fact, his colleague wasn’t struggling, he said, he was already dead and that fact gave Blackie the advantage he needed to advance protected from the hail of bullets using his mates body as a shield. That single act apparently haunted him for years – often making him weep in private.

Once on the beach, he discarded his Enfield rifle for a more effective Bren machine gun, he loaded himself up with ammunition he found and crossed the barbed wire to the advance site – all the while dodging bullets. He had soiled his pants and was wet from seawater, sweat and urine.  He had no idea that the four years previous training would prepare him for a mere 600-metre assault. But it worked!  He and several of his Canadian mates subdued the Germans taking them prisoner. He recounted one story in particular about a German prisoner resplendent in warm wool uniform while Blackie, freezing and wet, decided to beat  him up for his pants, his undergarments and his boots.  He also confided that he had taken a German luger complete with its breechblock – as a souvenir.  I remember seeing and holding it years and years later.

Following the landing on D-Day, Blackie and his regiment fought in almost every battle in the northwestern Europe campaign ending a few months later and until the end of the war he and several of his soldiers ended up in Huemen in the eastern part of Holland to help liberate it from Germany.  He returned there several times since the war ended – marching proudly down its main street to the delight of many grateful Dutch citizens.

Blackie died in 1987 in Niagara Falls leaving at the time, his wife of 55 years, five children, 17 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.  Blackie lived in Niagara Falls for almost 17 years and his life there was marked by him being named as Man of the Year one time, he was the biggest booster of the Niagara Falls Flyers hockey team, was a huge fund-raiser for the Legion and the Arthritis Society and never missed a reunion in Ottawa for the 43rd regiment with me.  The year he died, I attended the regiment’s reunion in his honour and, to mark his death, donated his barracks box to the museum at Cartier Drill Square in Ottawa including that German Luger.

He has a brick on the Juno Beach wall in Normandy prominently displaying his name, rank, regiment and years served.  I’ll remember him as a Canadian hero – a war hero!- Marc Kealey


Warrior Football Fundraising Golf Tournament

Monday, August 26, 2013 @ 01:08 PM

Be sure to check out the Warrior Football Summer 2013 Newsletter.

Click to view newsletter

As mentioned in the newsletter, I will be hosting a special fundraising Golf Tournament to support the Waterloo Warrior Football program. This will be held at Markland Woods on Tuesday, September 17.

For more information, contact Marshall Bingeman at Shotgun start, limited to 18 foursomes, dinner and first class treatment!
- Marc Kealey


Earlier this month I was honoured to be part of a wonderful team of alumni, coaching and university staff who hosted the first annual Waterloo Warriors Football Gala.

The event was a huge success and the money raised places the team well on its way to achieving the Renaissance of the Football program and its fundraising goal. The funds raised from the close to 600 people in attendance will go to scholarships, leadership programs and enhanced training tools – all vital elements of a successful football program.

As with all good things, this wasn’t an overnight success. The journey started over a year ago when a core group of supporters, athletes, faculty and alumni committed their time, energy, support and money to bring the football program at the U of Waterloo back to life after having suffered some major blows in the past.

One element of the plan was a call to action of all former football players, alumni, staff and other interested parties to join together to kick off the Renaissance of the program. After much hard work and planning, this was accomplished with resounding success culminating with the First Annual Waterloo Warriors Football Gala raising over $50,000.00.

Guests were enthralled by the evening’s headliner, former CFL and NFL offensive tackle, Chris Schultz whose message was clear – it’s going to be ok! Guest speakers included legendary Coach Tuffy Knight and newly minted UW coach and CFL great Joe Paoapao. Guests were visibly moved by current Warrior Receiver and top 40 under 40 Award Winner, Brandon Eaket whose emotional and motivational talk was a highlight of the evening. Another highlight was the first annual Ring of Honour inductees – outstanding football athletes at Waterloo who exemplify the spirit of the University of Waterloo’s football program. Four former football players from the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and 00’s decades were inducted to the Ring of Honour.

I am proud of my association with the University of Waterloo and the Warrior football program, my days there in the early 80’s have netted me many friends and a core group of stalwart Warrior fans and former players alike. Even more so I am proud and honoured to be part of the “team” to bring today’s Waterloo Warriors back to glory.- Marc Kealey