ADHD, Pete Quily, and the chilly April night Michael Ignatieff became prime minister

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      Michael Ignatieff knows how to write, how to pontificate, how to be a pragmatist.

      But human being? Most would say not so much. Just ask local author Derrick O’Keefe, who just unveiled his withering rear-view paperback, Michael Ignatieff: The Lesser Evil? (Verso).

      But enough has already been written about Iggy’s fuzzy take on torture or previous support for an invasion of Iraq. And those detractors are right. Iggy definitely pragmatizes himself to death and won’t let his mind get out of the way for his heart, or for his humanity.

      Except the one time I caught him in the kind of contemplative mood that, if harnessed, could have been his keys to 24 Sussex Drive. I digitally recorded huge, forgettable swaths of Iggy’s campaign speech to an East Van crowd earlier this year, on April 25, a week before he lost his seat and his party was almost destroyed at the polls.

      A lot of the narrative that night, prior to the May 2 carnage, was carefully manicured talk that failed to ignite and blow the roof off the place. Iggy wanted to be prime minister, and before a crowd of adoring red partisans, he calmly told everyone why. He was trying hard to be nice, sincere, against “Mr. Harper” and his vicious pitbull ways.

      None of the stiff play-safe lines remain in the recorder’s archives, but for half a year now, I kept on file one question that Pete Quily, a coach for people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, asked about screening federal inmates for ADHD.

      The response was the most human that I had ever heard given by Iggy, heartfelt and totally forgotten, ’til now.

      “If he would have acted like that before the campaign, and especially at the beginning, when it started, they wouldn’t have been wiped out,” Quily, who also has ADHD, told the Georgia Straight by phone on October 27, referring to that spring night in the Alpen Club on Victoria Drive.

      “He was human,” Quily mused. “He connected, and he didn’t just do traditional trite platitudes. I mean, maybe a little bit, but he actually connected with people, and he gave real answers. And that’s so rare in politics. They’re often just playing it so safe.”

      My own recollection stems from watching Iggy from the bar of the East Van hub of the German Canadian community, just behind where Quily was standing as he asked the question that turned Iggy human. People were packed in so tight I had no choice but to linger in the back. But by now you could hear a pin drop as Iggy paused.

      “What would we do to screen federal prisoners for attention deficit disorder, because it seems to have something to do with why they’re in there in the first place,” Ignatieff began as the crowd went quiet. “And how do we get it treated, if you’re a professional who treats these people or seeks to help?”

      If you look at the prisoners in a lot of Canadian prisons, Iggy noted, “a lot of them haven’t finished high school”.

      During his graduate-school time at Harvard University, Iggy said, he spent every Tuesday night with a chaplain’s group talking with prisoners in a medium-security institution, spanning a five-year period.

      “All I can say about it is two things,” he said. “First, I am utterly unsentimental about prisoners, on the one hand. On the other hand, I’ve never seen a prison that didn’t make people worse. That’s the paradox, okay? [Applause] If we do send people to prison, and we must send people to prison, you’d better do something with them once they’re in there. Whether it’s ADHD, high-school equivalency, whatever it is, it just seems necessary to do that, otherwise we’re just warehousing human beings and they come out worse than when they went in.”

      Quily later conceded: “It was a ballsy move. He could have answered a bit more, but [former Liberal MP] Sukh Dhaliwal said that he would commit to screening prisoners in federal jails for ADHD. [Vancouver Kingsway Liberal candidate] Wendy Yuan said that, and Green party’s [leader] Elizabeth May, ‘of course’ was her answer. I nearly fell over.”

      The message, according to Quily, is clear.

      “Just be yourself,” he said, emphatically. “It’s all people really want you to do in politics. Just be yourself.”

      Unfortunately, the real Michael Ignatieff never really did show up except for that night.



      Pete Quily

      Nov 3, 2011 at 10:01pm

      Thanks Matt,

      great article. He really did come alive then.

      My question was related to my blog post 21% - 45% prisoners have ADHD according to 15 clinical studies 20%+ of addicts have ADHD. Only 5% of adults have ADHD.

      Hedy Fry Liberal MP For Vancouver Centre also supported screening prisoners in Federal jails for ADHD along with ex BC Premier & ex Vancouver South Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh and Alan Beesley Liberal candidate for Delta – Richmond East

      Don Davies ex NDP Justice critic also agreed to support screening prisoners in federal jails for ADHD and seemed to be fairly knowledgeable about the topic but unfortunately I didn't blog that.
      Pete Quily


      Nov 4, 2011 at 7:12am

      Ignatieff was a terrible politican. How can you be inspired by a talk about prisoners. He was getting ready to go into a national election. The economy was in the dumps and he wants to talk about prisoners. Talk about being disconnected. Most Canadians have no connection with prisoners or prisons. They don't commute. Unless of course your a socialist wantabe.
      No politican can be himself. We only say that. Why? Because the media will tear him/her apart and of course the opponents will also ridicule. This is a fallacy to explain why some politicans connect and others do not.
      When I elect a government/PM I am not looking for a buddy, a friend or an uncle. I am looking for somebody who I think is competent enough to run a government. Ignatieff was booked learned but political inept. Layton had the charisma but Canadians knew he would bankrupt the country. Ergo Stephen Harper is Prime Minister today under a majority government.

      John D

      Nov 4, 2011 at 8:04am

      I was once at a Liberal event with Ignatieff. After he gave a speech he left the podium. At these events there are often some 'odd' folks that hang around hoping to talk to politicians. I saw one of these odd folks going toward Ignatieff to engage him. Iggy could have easily avoided it by talking to someone else, grabbing an appetizer, etc. Instead he locked eyes with the man and approached *him*. He let the guy ramble at him for twenty minutes and was sincerely engaged the whole time. Iggy may have come off very wooden, but that night I saw that he was much more an 'everyman' than most of his competition.

      Mark McLaughlin

      Nov 4, 2011 at 9:33am

      Ok, Screen them. Then what? There doesn't seem to be any comment by all these progressives about what to do after that. Therapy? Medication? Release on compassionate grounds?

      ADHD is a pretty heavily diagnosed condition that has increased notably in the last 20 years and largely subjective. It would be surprising if prison populations didn't show a similar uptick in that same time frame. Most in jail are 18-40 years old after all.

      Since most diagnosed with ADHD are NOT in prision it stands to reason that the condition does not breed criminals but is often an EXCUSE for criminal behaviour. Most people would love to be able to walk out of a store without paying for the stuff they picked up but we learn to live in a society where that is unacceptable, minor compulsion problems or not.

      Bleeding hearts for those who break societies reasonable laws makes it harder to protect those of us who follow the rules. When I say "reasonable" I mean largly crimes of property and crimes of violence. Drug laws in this continent are mostly over reaching and ineffective.


      Nov 4, 2011 at 9:50am

      As someone with ADHD myself (undiagnosed and untreated until I turned 27), I find it rather disturbing that some would believe that this one factor might lead to criminal behaviour and prison. Prisoners may well have ADHD, but they have other problems as well that landed them there. If we start recognizing ADHD as a major factor in incarceration, the rest of us are giong to be stigmatized as having "that disorder prisoners have". No thanks.

      I know plenty of others with ADHD who are not in prison, and are no more likely to end up there than anyone else. Screen prisoners for ADHD as part of a broader screening program and rehabilitative effort may have some merit. But let's make sure that having ADHD cannot EVER be used as a mitigating factor when determining guilt or sentencing.

      What If?

      Nov 4, 2011 at 11:38am

      Iggy didn't take the Con's bait and waited until this fall to call a Federal election or better yet the new year?
      IMF says Harper is #one when it comes to the economy and I'm just wondering what the PM strategy is going to be to get Canada out of the recession it is in as Canadians find themselves hurting like never before as the divide between the middle class and the rich continues to widen? I know the finance minister says things are okay but this is the same Flathead who didn't know Canada was in a recession it was in.

      Pete Quily

      Nov 4, 2011 at 2:19pm

      Most adults and teens with ADHD do NOT commit crimes. Most are honest hard working citizens. Only a small percentage of teens and adults with ADHD commit crimes.

      I've coached police officers, entrepreneurs, psychologists, accountants, and pro athletes with ADHD. 3 billionaires have gone public with having ADHD. There's a MENSA ADHD group with 600+ members.

      You're seeing more diagnosed with ADHD because we're starting to look for it more, just like depression 20 years ago vs today. What you don't look for you won't find.

      But still the vast majority of adults with ADHD are undiagnosed and untreated.

      Screening prisoners for ADHD is not just about prisoners

      It's also about taking adults with ADHD seriously. If public and politicians, and govt learn that research shows ignoring & not treating ADHD in adults & teens can lead to 4-6 times higher rates of addiction and 5-9 times higher rates of incarceration, 3-5 times higher rates of all 3 eating disorders, higher rates of depression and anxiety, than maybe they'll take it seriously and devote resources to it.

      BC Liberals closed the only Adult ADHD clinic in province after a year long wait list for an entire year in 2007.

      I asked then BC NDP health critic Adrian Dix's office to mention it in legislature, just got lots of promises, the run around and they did nothing.

      Christy Clark promised “i’m absolutely committed to working with you on it” re: opening bc adult adhd clinic. It's still closed.

      I get emails daily from people in the Vancouver area asking where they can find someone who can diagnose and treat ADHD. UBC medical school students only get on hour on ADHD. Totally inadequate.

      ADHD should be diagnosed and treated, with multimodal treatment, even drug company reps don't claim ADHD meds are a complete solution. Ignoring ADHD is very costly to taxpayers let alone people with ADHD and their families

      See Dr Margaret Weiss's who used to run the BC ADHD clinic's great slides on the Economic Costs of ADHD

      Pete Quily

      Pete Quily

      Nov 4, 2011 at 3:37pm

      ADHD is not an excuse, it's an explanation.

      By the time someone with ADHD ends up in jail the odds are very high that the adhd has been undiagnosed and untreated or if treated only with ADHD meds , which are useful but they don't teach skills self awareness and self management

      By the time they're in jail adults and teens with ADHD have usually added on coexisting or comorbid disorders like ODD- Oppositional Defiant Disorder, CD conduct disorder which by definition involves crime, depression, anxiety disorders - GAD, PTSD etc, eating disorders, alcoholism, drug abuse, antisocial personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder etc.

      People who talk about the drug laws being useless rarely talk about why so many people with mental health condition use drugs to self medicate because society refuses to properly diagnose and treat MH conditions.

      Again 20% + addicts have ADHD research shows.

      How to deal with ADHD is prison is complex. Here are a few ideas.

      1. proper diagnosis by people trained to diagnose ADHD. As many medical professionals have told me, many of them had no training on ADHD.

      2. Education on ADHD, remove stigma, dispel the many myths even ADDers believe, educate them on what ADHD is and is not, how it can affect your life and different ways of managing it, exercise, diet, meditation etc.

      3. Cognitive behavioral therapy on ADHD group based and some individual.

      4. Long term non abusable ADHD medication Not ritalin but adhd meds like Vyvanse & concerta, strattera, wellbutrin that snorting them will just burn your nose.

      For more ideas, see the book ADHD and the Criminal Justice System Spinning Out of Control written by an ex deputy sherriff, ex probation and parole officer and ADHD coach and a professor of psychology and advisor to the Illinois Department of Corrections.

      20 years ago in Seattle Washington, Judge David Admire implemented the Life Skills Program to assist offenders with ADHD and learning disabilities. Data indicated "a recidivism of 68% without the program, to 45% for offenders who start but do not complete the entire program, and a drop to only 29% for individuals who complete the entire 14 week program"

      That was 20 years ago. Why isn't Vancouver doing this? Why isn't BC doing this? Why are the feds doing this?

      Pete Quily


      Nov 4, 2011 at 5:01pm

      I'm in awe of the work you're doing Pete Quily. I've been diagnosed with ADD and know how difficult it can be, although I'm one of the lucky ones who has a strong support system.

      Intervention for those who have ended up in jail because they've been undiagnosed is an opportunity to turn people's lives around in a profound way and something I've long wished to be involved in. I have some insights to contribute and I'll be giving you a call to see how I can help...


      Nov 4, 2011 at 9:15pm

      I do my best as a Canadian and vote at every election. I have mixed feelings about the whole topic of ADHD and the negative twist this article has chosen to present. I have two sons, one with ADD and the other with ADHD. The common link is me as they have differnt fathers. I have definately had a lot more challenges with the younger who has ADHD as I find people have a lot more issue with his hyperactivity. But, ADHD and ADD is not a negative thing. It is a disability but a creative and active disability. I often think the world has so much to learn from people with these disorders, more importantly how to parent these children - its not the prisions responsibility to educate and raise those with the disorders. Its the parents responsibility to learn, understand, and if necessarily, medicate them. My son advanced three grades when I finally gave in and medicated him. Swallowing my pride saved my son. So, if a politician wants to step in and help in educating the general population, he is definately going to catch my attention.