October 3, 2002 Halifax Herald

Bouquet for PM; brickbat for Supreme Court

THIS IS a first for me, lavishly praising the prime minister. Since he spoke out so sincerely about the inequities between the wealthy Western democracies and the world's poor countries, during an interview with CBC's Peter Mansbridge, it would be inappropriate for me not to do so, especially when I've so often criticized him for his missteps.

Jean Chrétien has been criticized by many for his effort; they claim, in light of Sept. 11, that it was inappropriate. If anything, it was the opposite. Wealthy countries, as he so eloquently put it, have a moral obligation to do more to ease the burden of the world's hundreds of millions of poverty-stricken, starving people.

The present inequitable situation is engendering much hate for the West. In fact, its neglect and lack of compassion are key ingredients for breeding terrorists in Third World countries. The aftermath of the unseating by force of the Taliban in Afghanistan is the best up-to-date example of Western miserliness, and lack of compassion and vision.

The country, after several decades of being used as a battle ground between the West and the Soviets, then battered by the internal opposing forces that these powers had helped establish, including the Taliban, is in ruins. Add to this the return of more than a million refugees and the situation borders on the catastrophic.

In Afghanistan's case, besides helping to establish a democratic government, what have the wealthy nations, including Islamic, done to alleviate the dire situation and help assure that the rule of law takes root? Not much. They held a meeting and promised $4 billion, a drop in the bucket when one considers that an entire country of approximately 22 million people has to be rebuilt from scratch. And the promised aid is only grudgingly trickling in.

It's illogical that the West spent tens of billions to topple the Taliban, and will not spend the same to help this battered country get back on its feet. If it doesn't respond with increased aid, the West will likely have to spend tens of billions in the future to topple another terrorist-supporting regime that will arise from the plight of the desperate. Is this what we want?

A tip of the hat to Mr. Chrétien for having the courage to say what needed to be said. I hope his action will motivate the leaders of the other wealthy countries to find the wisdom to take their heads out of the sand and tackle a festering poverty problem that someday might, if left unattended, spell the end of civilization as we know it.

On another topic: Wonder why insurance rates are rising? Well, I don't have all the answers, but I have a few.

I'll start by quoting from a Canadian Press item carried in the That's Outrageous column in the August Reader's Digest, entitled "Ill-gotten gains?"

"Two widows can get money from their late husbands' life-insurance policies, even if the men died committing crimes, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in March.

"Danielle Goulet's husband, Roger Arbic, died in January 1994 when a bomb he was placing in a vehicle at Montreal's Dorval Airport exploded in his hands. His insurance policy was worth $50,000.

"The other case involved Maria Oldfield, whose spouse died in Bolivia in 1996 when one of 30 cocaine-filled condoms in his stomach burst, causing a heart attack. That policy was worth $250,000."

"The Transamerica Life Insurance Company of Canada refused to honour the policies, arguing nobody should profit from his own crime. But the court ruled the beneficiaries were innocent third parties and, therefore, shouldn't be punished for the crimes.

"Rene Vallerand, lawyer for Transamerica, says the high court sets a dangerous precedent for insurance claims. . . ."

My first reaction was to question the mental health of the Supreme Court justices who acquiesced in the decision. Have they lost their collective marbles? It seems to me that the court's prime function is to protect the public at large from harm, not to tell criminals to take out large life insurance policies before committing a crime in order to prevent their families from suffering if they get killed in the commission.

Such thinking completely lacks logic, especially so when this is taken into consideration: If the insured criminal survives and gets caught, their dependents will suffer because they may have to rely on charity.

Where's the logic? I think that Parliament, prodded vigorously by the press, should take an interest in finding a way to overturn this outrageous decision. And, in the future, more care should be taken when appointing justices.

The insurance companies aren't immune from blame. Their policy of paying small, questionable claims because of the legal cost involved in litigating them, needs to be revisited. The word-of-mouth advertising of such an open-door policy is costing them millions.

They need to institute a new policy: fight to the end questionable claims, no matter how small, which will eventually result in a vast reduction in payouts; and pay legit ones without question.

Daniel N. Paul


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