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Confronting the Stigma of Drug Addiction

When George Michael died on December 25, 2016 I was sleeping on a mattress in my empty apartment waiting to vacate it for the streets of Toronto on January 10 of the New Year. The news was poignant for most people, devastating for others, and breathtaking for me. And the timing couldn't have been worse as I faced a final layer of humiliation on my way to complete social indignity.

I shared a few things in common with George which unfortunately did not include my ability to sing. We were both born in 1963, over our lifetimes we had each developed substance use disorders and we were both most comfortable living in our skins when we were performing our passions. For George it was music, for myself it was coaching soccer, which, no matter how Canadian society wants to scapegoat it, one cannot get away from the fact it has been cruelly taken away.

My name is Paul James. I am a former Canadian international soccer player and coach and a three time inductee into the Canadian soccer hall of fame. I competed on four CONCACAF Championship teams while playing and coaching Canada on 47 and 35 occasions, respectively. Along the way I appeared in two Olympic Games and two FIFA World Cup Championships. In addition I have been honoured with 6 Coach of the Year awards at varying levels including in the NCAA and CIS;

 

From 2004-2010 I was a national television and media soccer analyst for numerous outlets including GOL TV and the Globe and Mail; and I also attained my B.A. from Wilfrid Laurier University and a soccer MBA from the University of Liverpool.

 

In spite of this background, I am currently living in Canada homeless, penniless, 53 years of age, with no social status. Alarmingly, my experience is not isolated as many thousands of Canadians across the country and millions of people around the globe experience similar circumstances.

 

Today, January 25, 2017 coinciding with Bell Canada’s Lets Talk About Mental Health, I communicate to the Canadian Prime Minister, the Canadian government, Canadian society and the global community as a whole that I am refraining from eating and drinking fluids with the exception of water, as one final effort, to confront the appalling injustice I have experienced over the past eight years fighting the discrimination and prejudice of my exposed poor mental health including a substance addiction to crack cocaine. Win or lose this particular battle, if the cause moves the ball an inch in making the path easier for others facing similar circumstances then the sacrifice will have been worth it.

 

In alignment with this inclusive cause, is the request for a government investigation and inquiry into the discrimination claims I filed before the Canadian courts in order that reform be considered on improving access to social justice for all Canadians without undue hardship being deliberately inflicted on such persons as a consequence of their legitimate pursuit of justice, without legal representation because they cannot afford it. No Canadian should have to risk ruining their life or their very existence by pursuing accountability on the perpetrators of clear, plain and obvious injustice, in order to assert their human right to be treated equally and fairly.

 

In addition, in the year 2017 it is time for a declaration by the Canadian government on the issue of substance addictions.

 

Are they bonafide mental health disorders or not?

 

With the answer to this question being a resounding yes can someone from Bell Canada explain to Canadian citizens and citizens around the world why your website does not list substance addictions as bonafide mental health disorders?

 

It is an unfortunate yet major faux pas for Bell Canada to ignore this reality knowing that their mission is to end societal Stigma on the shame and guilt thousands of Canadians feel towards their poor mental health. Without communicating the reality that the majority of mental health disorders are inextricably intertwined with substance use in one form or another Bell Canada’s campaign remains flawed.

 

As a Canadian citizen who suffered for many years with social anxiety and depression, which led to substance use, abuse and eventually addiction it is energy sapping to know Bell Canada, the Canadian government and the Canadian Judicial system cannot communicate the whole truth and nothing but the truth when it comes to poor mental health as it relates to substance addictions. The political pressure not to divulge the reality of substance addictions as mental health disorders harms as many Canadian lives as Bell Canada’s otherwise courageous movement assists others in speaking openly about their psychological health.

After responsibly opening up to people and work colleagues at York University and Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment in 2008 seeking support for my mental distress I lost both my media and soccer coaching careers within 12 months. And, as a consequence, five years later I was worse off in every facet of my life leading to now in 2017 complete destitution. Absurdly, in the incidence of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment I lost my job within days of returning from my original rehab visit.

 

Imagine, counterintuitively, the first ten years of my substance use and depression (1998-2008) was also the most successful period of my professional life and financial stability. Eight years on since I sought help, support and treatment for my poor mental health, my life has been harmed beyond repair. I have lost everything including two homes; pensions, savings, career, friends I thought were friends, complete social status and social connectivity leaving me more isolated and vulnerable than I have ever been.

 

Significantly, my circumstances over the past eight years are not because of an immoral character, a weak mind, or a lack of commitment and effort to live as a normal person with a disability. Nor are my circumstances the result of 24/7 use of crack cocaine; locus of control, self efficacy or effort in trying to live a life free from prejudice and discrimination. Rather my life conditions are the consequence of a failed system of mental health care, an egregiously inappropriate judicial system towards mental health which has deliberately prevented an access to social justice in my circumstance; York University’s appalling ethos in dealing with their own culpability for discrimination, a Canadian soccer industry and association full to the brim with bad politics and a society conditioned to be illiterate on the nuances of substance use, abuse and addiction and most certainly on what is required for anyone seeking help, support and recovery.

 

All told, it is why I can state with considerable turmoil that I am ashamed to be living as a Canadian citizen and of ever representing Canada as a soccer player and coach. The support I have received from York University, the Canadian Soccer Association and the recovery industry tasked with being supportive has been pitifully non-existent yet, juxtaposed against this deliberate failure, the marginalization, stigmatization, ridicule, online and national media defamation and abuse has been thorough and complete.

 

It is why I now seek Justice through a political protest of such painful magnitude.

 

In the fall of 2003 I arrived at York University to take over the soccer program. At this juncture in my soccer career I was a master of my trade and York moribund. Within six years the York soccer teams were considered amongst the best in the country: Six Divisional and four provincial titles and one national championship. On a personal level, I was awarded three Coach of the Year awards, including National women’s soccer coach of the year in 2007.

 

In 2008 my sister Julie and I organized our own intervention. In doing so, it was agreed by the participating members that saving my life was not mutually exclusive of saving my soccer career.

 

After opening up to people at York University in April & November of 2008 looking for support for my mental disabilities I was subsequently excommunicated, harassed, discriminated against, requested to formalize my resignation while two months later I was told that I could apply for a devolved coaching position and my application would only be considered with other applicants and this, three weeks after the women's team I coached had won their third sate championship in 5 years. Meanwhile I was also informed that the decision to hire the part-time mens coach as the full time mens’s soccer coach had already been made with no due process. I hadn't even left the institution. Three years later the athletic director whom I spoke to about my poor health in November of 2008 denied in written testimony that she even knew I was unwell. Yet she was the person who granted my three month leave of absence telling me she would have to inform the employee wellness office at York University and that at some point I would have to provide a doctors note, which in February of 2009 I did after receiving a letter from York’s employee wellness department requesting your “treating practitioner” complete a PRAL form.

 

As a result of York University’s “callous errors” and discrimination and the extraordinary coverup of the circumstances that surround my claim within the Judicial system this is who I am today, January 25, 2017:

 

53 years of age; homeless, unemployed for seven years; lost soccer career I spent a lifetime building it; six figure debt; liquidated all RSP’s; retirement savings and pensions; lost two homes; applied for numerous jobs including soccer positions without even an email in response; personal privacy destroyed; defamed by amateur bloggers and the National Post newspaper with no immediate redress considering the Canadian Judicial process; worked as a house cleaner, dog walker, and a part-time soccer coach for 8 year-old house league level players, an addictions coach, raked leaves, delivered flyers, shovelled snow; turned down to coach a local U17 boys team and denied the opportunity to be interviewed to coach an U14 boys team where both parents and players wanted me as their coach.

 

Canadian citizens and other persons around the world should feel safe in seeking support for their poor mental health irrespective of the fact it may involve a substance use disorder. And all citizens, at a minimum, irrespective of their minority status, should expect a judicial system that is transparent, impartial, honest, ethical, fair, responsible, accessible and above all JUST in order that, at the very least, future Applications to judicial systems be adjudicated and judged on truth and integrity not untruths and improprieties littered with avoidable conflict of interests. In all areas the infringement on my rights to be treated equally and fairly under section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has been egregiously and disgracefully infringed upon. I do not accept this nor should any other Canadian citizen.

 

George Michaels’s death along with the passing of Amy Winehouse, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Williams, Carrie Fisher, Rob Ford, et al is an appalling indictment of a world gone completely mad. As a global community where most citizens are illiterate to the true realities of what substance addiction really is, you scapegoat, ridicule, chastise, patronize, isolate, and punish instead of showing any real morsel of compassion, support, intellect, nous and resilience to helping those recover with their dignity in tact. And the reason for the perpetual punitive approach is because it is the default position in times of crisis that - borrowing a word from Madonna’s recent lexicon - “we really don't know what the Fuck To Do”.

 

The brilliant Canadian, Dr. Gabor Mate correctly sums up what we do know, “There has never been a War on Drugs. You cannot have a war on inanimate things. There has only ever been a War on People”.

My Story

Canada vs Honduras September 14th, 1985 World Cup Qualifying game. We won 2-1 and qualified for the FIFA 1986 Mexico World Cup.
Photo: Canada Soccer