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QDoc: a new venture that promises to change the way patients interact with doctors

Norm Silver Dave Berkowits edited 1
Dr. Norm Silver (left) & Dave Berkowits 

By BERNIE BELLAN It was in May of this year when I read an article in the Winnipeg Free Press by business reporter Martin Cash which told of a new venture that was going to provide an entirely new way for people who needed to see a doctor for urgent care. The venture was known as QDoc and it was the brainchild of two members of our local Jewish community: Dave Berkowits and Dr. Norm Silver.

As Cash wrote at the time, “it is being designed as the Uber for medical clinics to help link local patients, especially the elderly, parents with young children and people in remote locations far from a hospital or medical centre easily and quickly — and at no cost — with local physicians using an innovative patent-pending technology.”
Fascinated as I was by Cash’s story – and subsequent stories in other news media, including on Global TV and CTV News, I thought it was early days and, rather than contact Silver and Berkowits immediately to write a story of my own, I would wait a few months to see how QDoc had evolved in that time.
Recently I sat down with Berkowits and Silver at their downtown Winnipeg office to find our more about how QDoc has progressed – and to try to obtain a better understanding of just who it is that QDoc is most likely to help.
As it was explained to me during the course of the lengthy conversation I had with Silver and Berkowits, QDoc is “designed for episodic care” – similar to what is available at the groundbreaking Minor Illness and Injury Clinic on Corydon, the concept for which both Silver and Berkowits helped develop.

I asked Berkowits and Silver to tell me about their respective backgrounds prior to becoming involved with QDoc.
Berkowits said that he’s long been involved “on the technical side. I’ve spent my whole career mostly in diagnostic imaging. Recently I spent 15 years commuting from Winnipeg to Calgary. This is very exciting because now it’s a chance to be at home – and a chance to work with Norm. Norm is very passionate about medical technology.”
Silver jumped in at that point to say that he had recently retired from his position as an emergency room paediatric physician – “as of July 1st,” he explained. “I really did only five or five shifts the past year,” he noted, as he’s been devoting his full time to developing QDoc.
Silver added that “Dave has loads of experience in technology, but a huge amount of his experience is medical related as well, and my area is medical, but I’m familiar with programming as well.”
I asked how long they’ve known each other?
“Many years,” Silver answered.
I asked how old they were?
Berkowits said he’s 60, while Silver said he’s 50, adding that “Dave looks younger while I look older.”
I asked whether Norm is the oldest of the three very well known Silver brothers (the other two being dermatologist Shane and financial planner Michael).
Silver said that he is – older than Shane by a year and a half, and six years older than Michael.
Dave Berkowits’s younger brother, by the way, is Rady JCC Executive Director Rob Berkowits. Dave Berkowits’s sister, Heather, is actually married to Norm Silver. There is also another sister in the Berkowits family: Heather. Dave is the oldest of the four Berkowits siblings, he said, with 10 years between him and Heather, who is the youngest of the four.
Silver noted that he and Berkowits have become especially close the past 10 years – often working out together at the Rady JCC, “where we try to solve the world’s medical technology problems.”

I wondered where the idea for QDoc came from?
Silver said that “one of us would come up with an idea – and we basically had no ego about these things – and one of us would say, ‘Here’s a great idea,’ and the other would say, ‘Yah, but maybe we should do it this way instead,’ and in the end we would come up with a way better idea than either one of us would have come up with on his own.”

It was just about a year ago that QDoc did what is known as a “soft launch”. Silver and Berkowits had received help from a variety of sources, of which key assistance came from something known as North Forge Technology Exchange. North Forge is an organization supported by a number of private businesses that provides support and advice for start-ups in the technology sector. QDoc began with $1 million in capital, all of which was raised in Manitoba. Both Silver and Berkowits poured a lot of their own money into the venture.

At that point I wanted to explore just how it is that QDoc works. Silver and Berkowits suggested that I actually go online and register on QDoc to see how easy it is to access their system.
Subsequently, I did that following my conversation with them. I went to the QDoc home page and filled out the information needed to register and complete a patient profile. It was simply a matter of giving some very basic data, including name, address, phone number, and medical numbers (both the 6 digit number and the 9 digit number that all Manitobans have).
Once that was completed there is an optional area in which you can give information about allergies, your family doctor’s name, and the name and address of a pharmacy to which you might want a prescription sent – if that is a result of your online visit with a doctor.
At that point you are asked to fill out information explaining why you would like to see a doctor. If you have pictures that might be useful to a doctor in understanding your situation, you are asked to upload them.
Then, you would click on a button that says “I am ready for the doctor.”

That’s where QDoc works like Uber, as Martin Cash noted in his May article. At any given time there are doctors available to speak with you. Given the information you’ve just provided, QDoc will determine which available doctor is best suited to respond to your query and, within minutes you should be contacted by a doctor.
Berkowits explained: “We look at things like geographic location. Then the doctors who are available will get text messages on their phone – and, just like Uber, the first one to answer the text will connect with you.”
Silver also noted that “95% of the patients who contact QDoc have been ‘self-triaging’” and have had experience explaining their symptoms when they’ve presented in person either to a doctor’s office, an urgent care centre, or an emergency room.

During the course of our conversation though, several times Silver and Berkowits remarked upon the fact that, as QDoc has grown rapidly in terms of the number of patient visits, it’s become apparent that the vast majority of users are rural based – upwards of 75% at the present time, Silver said.
“In the rural areas, it’s hard to see a doctor,” he noted. And, although there has been quite a bit of publicity about QDoc in media, as I noted at the outset, it’s been primarily through word of mouth that people have become aware of QDoc.
Others “have said their pharmacists told them about QDoc,” Silver added. “Or someone else might have called a quick care clinic, but were told they couldn’t be seen and were suggested to try QDoc instead. Health Links has recommended us. So have emergency rooms.”

Looking back to his own education in medical school, which was over 25 years ago, Silver said that, long before “virtual care” became a reality (and which really came into its own as a result of Covid), “70-90% of diagnoses were shown to be able to be made by history alone; that’s without seeing the patient. When you look at adding video and talking to the patient, we know from our own metrics that 95% of diagnoses can be done without having to touch the patient.”
He added that studies in BC and Ontario have shown that when people were asked what they thought of virtual care, “98% thought it was as good as, if not better than in-person care.”

I was curious though, as to what the doctors who were standing by to receive texts from QDoc would be doing when they’re not actually working with QDoc.
“They all have other jobs,” Silver explained. “I’d say 80% of them are emergency physicians – because they do shift work.”
I wondered how many QDoc visits require referrals to other doctors? (In the Free Press article, Martin Cash told the story of a woman who contacted QDoc when her seven-year-old son was hit with a baseball bat. The doctor who responded to her query arranged for her son to see an ear, nose, and throat specialist the next day.)
But, as Silver explained, that would have been the exception rather than the rule when it comes to consultations with a doctor on QDoc, saying that “95% of our patients are taken care of without any other help” needed from any other doctors.
Also, since those first reports of QDoc in various media appeared in May, QDoc has been able to assemble quite a bit more information about how the program is being utilized. For one, there’s been a monthly volume increase of 70% month over month each of the past four months. (There were 144 visits to QDoc in May, but well over 1,000 in August.) As a result of all the new data that’s been gathered based on who’s been using QDoc It’s been a constantly evolving learning curve, Silver explained, but they’ve now arrived at some interesting observations, including: “15% of our patients would have gone to the emergency department if we didn’t exist and, (as has already been noted) 76% of our patients are from outside of Winnipeg – that’s where the need is.”

As far as how patients interact with the doctors, I wondered about the software that’s used?
“We have our own software that we’ve built from scratch,” Berkowits explained. “It’s an end to end encrypted video conversation. The audio side of it is recorded and kept as part of a medical record.”
“So it protects the doctor – and the patient,” Silver added.
In terms of what the patient would actually see on their computer screen, here is how it was explained to me: The screen would show: “We are searching for a doctor for you.” Then, “when the doctor accepts the call, they would hit the link on their computer or mobile device and doctor and patient would be connected together, with both audio and video. The doctor would be writing notes and ordering prescriptions, if necessary, while the patient might be asked to upload pictures or, with video, show the doctor if they have, for instance, skin lesions or, say, it’s your son who’s having trouble breathing, the doctor could examine him on camera.
Then, the doctor could fax a prescription to a pharmacy of your choosing. (It may seem archaic but prescriptions are still faxed into pharmacies in Manitoba, rather than sent digitally.) If lab tests are needed, the patient can receive an order for tests that can be printed out and taken to a lab.
The results of those tests will be sent to the doctor who ordered the tests, but if, for instance, the patient didn’t actually go for the tests that the doctor might have ordered, QDoc will send a follow-up communication to the patient saying “You forgot.”
What QDoc also does, at the end of every interaction between a doctor and patient, is ask the patient whether QDoc can send a copy of the report prepared by whichever doctor has treated that particular patient to that patient’s family doctor.

I asked whether QDoc is available 24/7?
The answer was “Yes. We don’t always have coverage 24/7,” but the system will respond 24/7 and, if there is no doctor available at a particular moment you’ll be told that.
Currently, according to Silver, there are “34” doctors in the QDoc system. “We want it be as attractive as possible for doctors working with us, so we want to give them a lot of work. Most of them are pretty motivated. Eighty percent of our paediatric patients right now are seen within five minutes of logging on.”
Another benefit of QDoc is that the 34 doctors who presently make up the total number of physicians on call at present are all connected through WhatsApp, where they share information and can discuss particular cases.
Silver gave this example: “A doctor who’s seeing a patient who happens to be in Brandon and who should really be seen by a doctor in person can ask on WhatsApp: “Is there anyone in Brandon who can see such and such patient tomorrow?” and a physician in Brandon can respond, “Yes, I can see your patient.” (Since the likelihood is that Brandon doctor is an emergency room physician, he or she will also likely say: “Tell your patient to come to emergency and tell the nurse that I’ve agreed to see your patient.”
As Berkowits observed, “virtual health care – since the pandemic, has become widely accepted, but the platform that we’ve built is widely collaborative.”

Something that Silver added – about emergency room physicians, is that quite often they’ll deal with a case such as a car accident or a drug overdose where a patient may present in an unconscious or semi-conscious state, the doctor treats them, the patient wakes up – and can be quite belligerent. But treating a patient virtually, where the doctor is able to give immediate and effective treatment – and the patient is very much appreciative – well, that’s very rewarding for emergency doctors – and is one of the reasons so many of them are flocking to join QDoc.

I suggested to Silver and Berkowits though, that someone would have to have either a computer or a mobile device in order to contact Doc.
While they didn’t totally disagree, Silver gave an example of a new initiative that’s been taken in cooperation with the public sector as an example how QDoc can be used to help patients who have no access to a computer:
“We have a partnership with something called the Downtown Community Safety Partnership,” he explained. “They’re relatively new and they’re funded by government. They’re working with homeless people. If they can get the money, they’re going to be carrying tablets and then they can help homeless people contact us. A lot of these people don’t go to a doctor, they don’t go to a hospital, they don’t trust authority.” But, as Silver noted, a doctor from QDoc might be in the best position to provide help – through a worker from this downtown organization.
Similarly, QDoc will also be working with one personal care home by installing a large screen TV through which residents, with the help of an aide, will be able to communicate with a doctor.

I wondered though, whether an initiative of that sort wouldn’t be perceived as taking the place of a visit to a family doctor?
Silver said that wouldn’t be the purpose, but where it would make sense would be, for example, if a resident suddenly developed a rash – and it might take weeks to see a family doctor.
Again, it occurred to me that there could often be a language barrier between patients and doctors on QDoc. I wondered whether QDoc had any contingencies in place that might help to resolve difficulties of that sort.
Berkowits said that “there are translation services that are free from the government and we’re going to try and partner in real time so that we’ll have three people involved in a virtual call: the patient, the doctor, and the interpreter,” but, he admitted that’s not on the immediate horizon.

I asked how much QDoc could conceivably grow, especially if it continues at its current rate of 70% expansion every month?
Silver answered that “we’d like to get to one per cent market share.”
I asked what he meant by that?
He said it “translates into $15 million of revenue.”
I asked how many patients would have to use QDoc’s service to reach that goal?
He said it “would be 150,000 patient contacts a year.”

In the long term the goal is to open up in every province in Canada, Silver added.
As far as how much money QDoc makes on every call, they take 15% of whatever amount the physician would bill Manitoba Health Services.
Considering that Berkowits and Silver have some pretty serious ambitions to grow their company, starting first in Manitoba, then in all of Canada, with the possibility of licensing their software to other countries as well, I asked whether they’re looking for additional investors?
“We’ve talked about that a little bit,” Silver said. “But, we don’t think we need investors. We’ve been able to get a lot of grants so far ($200,000 worth, he specified). “We should be cash flow neutral by early next year – if we don’t keep hiring more programmers.” (He explained that currently QDoc has 10 programmers.)
I asked Berkowits, who’s the software guru behind QDoc, what more needs to be done with the existing software powering QDoc?
“We have a list of features that we want to keep introducing,” he explained. “When we started out initially we were pretty happy for just a patient and doctor to connect. But, as we built this out we started taking a look at other electronic medical record systems and how they do things, we also want to make it easier and better for the physician. We want to work on our platform.”
Berkowits then went on to describe some of the enhancements that DocQ would like to make, including incorporating: “Artificial intelligence, natural language processing, ambient listening, conscription services.” (There’s not enough room to expand upon each of those subjects here. Suffice to say that this is an entirely new world of virtual medicine that Berkowits and Silver are planning on entering.)

At the end of our conversation Silver suggested that, in addition to trying the QDoc portal to see how easy it is to register as a patient, I take a look at the reviews QDoc has received from patients. Now, while I’m always a little bit sceptical of online reviews, the number of Google reviews that I was able to see (69 as of the date I looked at them – Sept. 4) showed unanimous praise for QDoc. While this article was not intended as an endorsement of QDoc – although it might certainly be perceived that way, the high praise QDoc has received thus far from patients is certainly an indication that Berkowits and Silver have hit upon something that promises to fill a desperate need within our health care system.

Norm Silver had also suggested that I might want to talk with at least one of the doctors who is working with QDoc to get a sense of what a doctor’s perspective is on the QDoc platform.
I spoke with Dr. Taft Micks, who is an emergency room physician based out of Brandon. As I expected – given that Dr. Micks had volunteered to speak with me after having been contacted by Dr. Silver, he was quite enthusiastic about his experience with QDoc thus far. He told me that he’s been with QDoc from the very beginning – which goes back to last October.
As an emergency physician, Dr. Micks said that he’s constrained by several of the limitations that apply to the delivery of emergency medicine in this province. He noted that “I don’t fee like I can take the time to address people’s needs in emergency,” but when he’s on QDoc, “I’m able to connect with a patient almost instantaneously” and “from a physician’s perspective, I’m able to arrange treatment.”
Micks added that he’s like to see emergency services expanded, but he’s quite aware that’s not realistic at this point. And, even though he’d be prepared to put in more hours in the emergency ward in Brandon, where he’s currently working 32 hours a week, Micks is quite aware that expanding emergency services will require hiring more nurses – a problem that won’t be resolved in the short term.
As a result, he’s been spending increasing amounts of time working with QDoc and, he added, he’s hoping to scale back the amount of time he’ll be spending in the emergency department as a result.
Micks observed that what QDoc is doing “is the future of medicine.”
“The software is designed to be as physician friendly as possible – as opposed to other software” that he and other physicians have struggled to learn, he said.
His only concern, he noted, is that as QDoc becomes increasingly popular, wait times to interact with a physician might take longer, but in the meantime he said he’s been quite impressed with how the system has been working thus far.

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Simkin Centre looking for volunteers

A scene from last year's Simkin Stroll

We received the following email from Heather Blackman, Simkin Centre Director of Volunteers & Resident Experience:

Happy Spring Everyone! Hope you all are well. We have a number of upcoming volunteer opportunities that I wanted to share with you. Please take a look at what we have listed here and let me know if you are available for any of the following. I can be reached at heather.blackman@simkincentre.ca or 204-589-9008.
Save the date! The Simkin Stroll is on June 25th this year and we need tons of volunteers to assist. This is our annual fundraiser and there is something for everyone to help with from walking with Residents in the Stroll to manning booths and tables, event set up and take down and much more. Volunteers will be needed from 3 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on this day. Come and help for the full event or for any period within that timeframe that works for you.
Resident Store – This tuck shop style cart will be up for business shortly. Residents will be assisting to stock and run the store for 2 hours 2- 3 times per week in the afternoons. Volunteer support is needed to assist residents with restocking items and monetary transactions.
Passover Volunteers
Volunteers are needed to assist with plating Seder plates for Residents (date to be determined for plating)
Volunteers are needed to assist Residents to and from Passover Services and Come and Go Teas.
Times volunteers are needed for services/teas:
April 22cnd – First Seder 1:30-3:30 p.m.
April 23rd – Passover Service Day 1 – 9:30 – 11:30 a.m.
April 23rd – Second Seder – 1:30-3:30 p.m.
April 24th – Passover Service – Day 2 9:30 – 11:30 a.m.
April 29th – Passover Service – 9:30 – 11:30 a.m.
April 29th- Passover Tea – 1:30-3:30 p.m.
April 30th – Passover Service – 9:30 -11:30 a.m.
April 30th – Passover Tea – 1:30-3:30 p.m.

Admin/Paperwork Volunteers – Volunteers are needed to assist with filing and other administrative duties. A monthly volunteering job is also available to input information on programming into Recreation activity calendars. Support would be provided for this.
Adult Day Program – A volunteer is needed to assist with the Mondays Adult Day Program Group. A regular ongoing weekly commitment on Mondays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Assist with Recreation programming and lunch supervision for our Adult Day Program participants that come in from the community for the day.
Biking Volunteers – Take our residents out for a spin on one of our specialty mobility bicycles. Training is provided and volunteers will be needed throughout the Spring, Summer and early Fall.

With summer coming there is also opportunity to assist with outings and other outdoor programming! Please let me know if you are interested!

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From Argentina to Winnipeg – creating opportunities in the IT sector for marginalized groups

By BERNIE BELLAN The following article about Pablo Listingart borrows heavily from articles written by Rebeca Kuropatwa in 2019 and 2021 for The Jewish Post & News. It is also based on a recent phone interview I conducted with Pablo, as well as material we received from a publicist.
Back in 2012, husband and wife, Pablo Listingart and Solange Flomin began seriously thinking about leaving Argentina.
This, explained Listingart, was “because of the political situation and other aspects [that] were degrading. We also wanted to have the experience of living in another country.”
So, the couple began traveling to explore other countries. They went to the U.S., but did not feel it was a good fit. Then, they went to several countries in Europe, but with a similar result.
Next up was Canada. “My wife had a cousin living in Vancouver and she spoke really highly about Canada,” said Listingart. “We started doing our research and sent emails to several Jewish communities. A couple answered, but communication with Winnipeg was more responsive.”
In October 2013 Listingart visited Winnipeg (while Flomin was pregnant with their first child). “After only two days, I fell in love with the city, the brown of the trees, how quiet it was,” said Listingart. “So, I called Sol and told her that this was the place.”
When Listingart returned to Argentina, he and Flomin started working on their application. The process took 10 months, as their son was born in the middle of the process.
The family made their move to Winnipeg in early March 2015.
Flomin and Listingart feel at home in Winnipeg. “We feel more Canadian than Argentinean, with cultures, values, and everything,” said Listingart. “That is the reason we are here, actually. We did not come for economic reasons. We didn’t feel that comfortable in terms of values and principles back there. Once I came here, I fell in love with the Canadian culture and values.”

Listingart had started up a charity in Argentina in 2011 that taught participants how to do software development. In Winnipeg, Flomin urged him to create the same kind of start up.
Today, Listingart’s charities, called Comunidad IT & ComIT, have operations in Latin America and Canada.
As an immigrant himself, Pablo explains that he started ComIT after immigrating from Argentina to Manitoba and seeing a gap in Canada’s education system. He noticed many individuals working survival jobs to help support their families, unable to get the training they wanted to better their positions.

In response, he developed a market-driven curriculum that he initially delivered to students by covering expenses himself. In 2016, Pablo Listingart became the founder and executive director of ComIT, a Canadian non-profit organization that offers free technology and professional skills training to unemployed and underemployed Canadians, with a focus on Indigenous, immigrants, visible minorities, and underserved communities. The charity aims to develop a community that links people struggling to overcome employment barriers with companies looking for skilled workers.
Women take up the majority of his enrolment. Many of them feel they can’t enter into a traditional program to enhance their educational skills due to barriers like limited access to funding, training locations, professional requirements, also family obligations, and lack of childcare. ComIT’s curriculum is designed to appeal to people who fall into that category by being free of charge, available online, and taught for only parts of the day.

Listingart and Flomin began running the charity together around raising their two kids.
“I had worked for several companies, like Microsoft, IBM, and others,” said Listingart. “Back in 2011, I thought about giving back to the community and society, and so I decided to start this charity. Those years back in Argentina were kind of busy and, with all the political issues over there, we decided to migrate here to Winnipeg.”
With the perpetually expanding operation of their growing charity, Listingart, as the charity’s executive director, was kept busy, and for the first few years of operating ComIT he even found time to build mobile applications and websites, but these days Listingart says that running ComIT takes up his full time.

ComIT in Canada began by running pilot programs in Winnipeg and in Kitchener-Waterloo. In Winnipeg, Listingart ran the classes with the support of ICTAM (now TechMB), and, in Kitchener-Waterloo, two of the main Canadian sponsors were Communitech and Google.
“That went really well, in terms of people getting jobs, so I kept doing it,” said Listingart. ComIT jumped from offering two courses to 22 courses per year – covering all the Canadian territory.
By 2023 Comunidad IT and ComIT had helped 4500 people find jobs (1200 in Canada). “Unfortunately,” Listingart explained, “people drop out for different reasons through the process, so we are not able to help everyone who joins the courses.” During our phone interview Listingart said that his charities have now trained over 6,500 students altogether.
“About 70 percent get jobs within six months of the training,” said Listingart. “We follow up with them, help them with their resumés…We have a free platform companies can access and see the resumés.”
Training is conducted in classrooms and online. “The impact is always bigger in person”, said Listingart. “We started developing content to be delivered online prior to the pandemic, mostly for Latin America, as a way to reach people we couldn’t physically reach, not having the funds to go to 15 countries, and then during the pandemic we developed even more content to continue running our training.”
While Listingart would love to be able to operate everywhere around the world, financially, that is not yet viable, but he was able to expand what he offers to all of Latin America and across Canada.

Listingart is no longer teaching in the program, due to a lack of time, though he does visit the classes when he is able. While only two years ago, ComIT was training 300 people a year in its courses in Canada, it has now grown to the point where 600 people a year are taking courses from ComIT.
As Listingart told me, “We actually doubled the number of students we had when I talked to Rebecca (in 2021). What happened, he explained, was “we were in the middle of the pandemic and we moved all the training online due to COVID. We are still running courses online, and that has allowed us to reach out to more people.”
“So nowadays we have students from Prince Edward Island to the Yukon,” Listingart added.
I asked Listingart where the funding for ComIT comes from?
He answered that most of it comes from the private sector, but a portion comes from a federal government agency known as PrairiesCan.
So, how exactly does ComIT conduct classes? I wondered.
Training is conducted by instructors in classrooms or online, where they reach their students via Zoom.
At ComIT, all training is provided free of charge. Trainees can hold a full-time job, while training in the evenings or mornings for only a couple of hours a day for three months.
While right now ComIT is conducting eight different classes, Listingart explained,\ – “with eight different instructors,” because “we run different topics along the year, it’s usually between 12 to 15 people that get involved in teaching courses.”
And what do students learn in those courses?
The program consists of three months of intensive instruction in various fields related to software programming.
“Most of the people that we train go on to be programmers,” Listingart said, adding that the majority of our graduates become software developers or website designers,” adding that “some are working in cybersecurity or other hardware related fields.”
The minimum age to register for a ComIT program is only 18 and there is no prerequisite level of education required.
While a good many of ComIT students are immigrants who may lack the kind of English language skills necessary to be hired by many employers, ComIT also has many Indigenous students as well as non-indigenous Canadians who are struggling.
Still, as Listingart says, students in the program have to be able to communicate. They “don’t need perfect English,” he adds, “they don’t even need a mid-level English,” but they do need “some basic communication skills.”
But it’s not simply a matter of someone applying to take ComIT courses and being automatically accepted, Listingart explained.
“We ask them (prospective students) a lot of questions,” he said. “We ask them what their goals are, like, if they are pursuing a career in IT or if they are interested in that… many things to gauge their interest. Those conversations help us understand whether these people can communicate with others.”
When it comes to finding jobs for graduates of the ComIT program, Listingart says that he and other members of his team meet with local employers who are looking for IT talent and discuss their exact needs within the industry.”
“We train them in what companies need right now,” said Listingart. “So, let’s say I go to Saskatoon and I talk to 10 or 15 companies over there…about 70 percent get jobs within six months of the training,” he noted. “We follow up with them, help them with their resumés…We have a free platform companies can access and see the resumés.”
Skip the Dishes, for instance, was on the fence for a very short time. They hired five out of seven ComIT trainees almost on the spot after they were interviewed – and soon after, the company became one of the charity’s local sponsors. To date, Skip the Dishes has hired 55 ComIT-trained students.
“My goal, so to speak…is to give opportunity to people who can’t afford other types of training and give them a first chance,” said Listingart. “We mention this at the beginning of every course. They only have one chance with us. We don’t give second chances. If they drop out for any reason, regret it, and want to come back, they can’t. I have hundreds of people on the waiting list to take courses. For me, this is a way to teach the value of work and, while doing it, you have the chance to work a job that pays well, that you can grow and learn…And, it’s not just for nerds, it’s creative work.
“My goal also has been to make the biggest impact that I can and …I’m happy with the results.”
If you are an employer interested in finding out more about ComIT or you know someone who might benefit by taking the program, visit

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Honest Reporting Canada’s Mike Fegelman delivers Kanee Lecture

Honest Reporting Canada executive director Mike Fegelman (Keith Levit photo)

By BERNIE BELLAN Mike Fegelman is the executive director and editor-in-chief of Honest Reporting Canada. Honest Reporting was founded in 2000 in the United Kingdom. It describes its mission as “to ensure truth, integrity and fairness, and to combat ideological prejudice in journalism and the media, as it impacts Israel to ensure truth, integrity and fairness, and to combat ideological prejudice in journalism and the media, as it impacts Israel.”
On Sunday, April 7, Fegelman was the keynote speaker at the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada’s annual Sol & Florence Kanee Distinguished Lecture Series.
Fegelman told the audience of about 250 at the Adas Yeshurun-Herzlia Synagogue that, before he was hired as Honest Reporting Canada’s executive director, “I knew nothing about Israel. I was hired because I was objective.”
Honest Reporting Canada “monitors news media 24 hours a day,” Fegelman said. With only a staff of six (including Fegelman), he said that they field on average 600-700 inquiries a day about alleged instances of media bias within Canadian media.
When HRC sees instances of what it perceives to be instances of unfair or biased reporting about Israel, it attempts to contact the journalist responsible for that “misinformation” or, as was the case with a particularly odious cartoon in La Presse of Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu depicted as a vampire, the paper itself was contacted and asked to issue a retraction of that cartoon and apology. (The cartoon has since been removed from La Presse’s website and La Presse did issue an apology.)

While Honest Reporting Canada might make the claim that its mission is to monitor news media in Canada for bias toward Israel and what it would regard as “unfair reporting,” however, after listening to Fegelman’s 45-minute talk – and especially to some of the responses he gave to questions from the audience following his talk, one might question the degree to which he himself is as “objective” as he claimed to be.
One particular subject was mentioned several times: the reporting by the Gaza Health Ministry on how many Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since Israel launched its retaliatory war following the Hamas-led massacre of 240 Israelis on October 7.
At one point Fegelman said that “we have to point out the fact Hamas provides no evidence to corroborate their claims (as to how many Palestinians have been killed). Media should at least acknowledge Israel’s claim that 15,000 of those killed are terrorists.”
Various reports, however, have cited Israeli intelligence officials as confirming that the Israel Defence Forces actually accept the Gaza Health Ministry’s figures for the number of casualties in the ongoing conflict. For instance, there was this report about what was reported on a Hebrew-language website in Israel: “Two Israeli intelligence officials who spoke to the Hebrew-language Local Call news website said the health ministry is mostly ‘reliable’ and their main source of statistics on civilian deaths in Gaza.”
Fegelman said that when it is reported that “33,000 Palestinians have been killed,” as reported by the “Gaza Health Ministry,” that health ministry “doesn’t distinguish between civilians and combatants.” Further, Fegelman asked: “Are some of the children killed actually child soldiers?” The problem is, absent any verifiable information from the IDF on this point, how do we know?
The problem, moreover, which Fegelman didn’t address, is absent any contradictory information coming from Israeli sources themselves about civilian deaths, what are media supposed to report?
So, when a questioner later said to Fegelman, “All people see on TV is dead babies. Can you give us some language to use in response?” Fegelman admitted “there isn’t an easy answer for the things Israel has had to do.”

My bringing this up is not to begin engaging in a series of “fact checks” on what Fegelman said during his talk. Rather, it is to show that “bias” and “unfair reporting” is something that can be continually argued – and perhaps by entering into a dissection of every instance of what Honest Reporting Canada might regard as anti-Israel bias, Fegelman – and the audience members who so strongly applauded his remarks, are all missing the larger picture, which is that Israel has, and is taking a terrible beating in world public opinion – not because of bias or distorted reporting, but because of the huge losses in both lives and property that Palestinians in Gaza have suffered – and the images that are there for the entire world to see.

One might argue that Israel had no choice: It had to deal such a severe blow to Hamas that the amount of destruction that has occurred in Gaza is justified, but to argue that “the war for public opinion is no less important than the war on the ground,” as Fegelman suggested at one point – well Mike, if that’s the case, then Israel has lost that war. The more honest assessment would be that, in an existential battle for survival, which is what some would argue is a fair description of the war in which Israel is currently engaged, then public opinion matters very little to Israeli decision makers.

Before entering into a more detailed description of what Fegelman had to say, I have to enter a particular objection toward what both he and several audience members had to say about the supposed “anti-Israel bias” exhibited by the Winnipeg Free Press. This subject has become one that has been raised quite a bit over the past few months within certain circles within the local Jewish community – especially after a controversial column by Jen Zoratti.
But, to say, as Fegelman did, that “the Free Press has an anti-Israel narrative on its op ed pages” – without providing any specific examples to warrant that accusation, is nothing more than an instance of Fegelman engaging in the kind of bias that Honest Reporting Canada accuses Canadian media outlets of exhibiting when it comes to reporting on Israel.

Still, in the interest of attempting to give readers the flavour of Fegelman’s talk, I will offer some of the remarks he made without entering into any further discussion whether what he had to say had merit.
Fegelman began by claiming that “media commentators are often parroting Hamas and are, in effect, becoming stenographers for this group.” He suggested we “need to challenge misinformation and disinformation.”
While Honest Reporting may have originated in the United Kingdom in 2000, “its genesis (in Canada) was just a few blocks away,” Fegelman explained. “We were founded (in Canada) by the late Izzy Asper,” he noted.
With specific reference to the Toronto Star, Fegelman suggested we have seen instances “of Canada’s largest paper calling for Israel’s annihilation” on its editorial pages by advocating for a one-state solution.

In reporting on the current Gaza war, Fegelman argued, “it’s increasingly difficult to tell who is the arsonist and who is the fire fighter?”
‘The media want to run with the most sensational story,” he said, “but part of our mandate is to educate journalists.”
“The sympathy for Israel following the October 7 massacre lasted all but a few minutes,” he suggested.
“This is a war between barbarism and civilization,” Fegelman said.
He referred to a famous remark made by Golda Meir with reference to the Yom Kippur War in 1973: “The world hates us when a Jew lashes out. The world loves us only when we are to be pitied.”
“The world is horribly indifferent to Jewish blood being spilled,” Fegelman observed.

We are making sure that when there are those who seek to libel the Jewish people, we have to fight back,” Fegelman said, “but knowing how to challenge disinformation is enormously difficult.”
Still, he argued, “We cannot let our opposition have a monopoly on discourse.”
“The war for public opinion is no less important than the war on the ground. If we lose, Israel will go down as the perceived villain.”
When it comes to civilian casualties, however, Fegelman claimed that “Israel deplores each and every innocent life that is taken.”
Saying that, in some ways, “Hamas is worse than ISIS,” Fegelman argued that “when hate becomes normalized, it becomes weaponized….We are in a genocidal propaganda war the likes of which we have never seen….Too many media outlets, whether it’s out of malice or of ignorance, have been spreading misinformation.”
When it comes to fighting back though, Fegelman argued, “We are not just passive victims – but like a muscle, if you do not use it, it becomes atrophied.”

Turning to the subject of social media, Fegelman observed that “Yesterday’s bigots used to be on the margins of mainstream social media; now they’re in the mainstream.”
“We cannot be afraid to tell the world what Hamas’s raison d’etre is – which is to seek an Islamic caliphate.”
But, what then “is the answer to media bias?” Fegelman asked. “We cannot rely on the old playbook,” he said.
Instead, he proposed five pillars of action:

  1. “We cannot project fear. We have to project resilience and instil Jewish pride.”
  2. “We must demand that we procure consistency” (from our elected representatives). Fegelman referred specifically to the recent resolution passed in the House of Commons when, among other things, Members of Parliament voted to restore funding to UNWRA.
  3. “We must demand that people speak up and speak out” against media when the media demonstrate indefensible behaviour. As an example, Fegelman pointed to the photograph of Hamas victim Shani Louk’s badly mutilated body in the back of a Hamas truck, which won a prestigious photography award. (It should be pointed out that Shani’s own father defended the photo as a “symbol” of an era.)
  4. “We have to make an alternative view impossible to ignore.”
  5. “We must avoid self-imposed limitations on our advocacy. We must not only project strength, we must possess it, too.”

As a result of “the obsessive magnifying glass being put on Israel,” Fegelman suggested, “terrorism is being accepted as a legitimate means of statecraft.”

Although many Jews may be in a state of despair these days, Fegelman told this story to illustrate how Israel has endured bleak situations before: When President Biden was a senator, he had occasion to visit Israel shortly before the Yom Kippur War, when he met with then-Prime Minister Golda Meir. After being shown maps which showed how precarious Israel’s security situation was, apparently Biden’s face showed how worried he was.
“Don’t look so worried,” Golda told Biden. “We have a secret weapon: We have no place else to go.”

In describing what Honest Reporting Canada has been able to accomplish, Fegelman said, “We have 60,000 subscribers.” (To subscribe to HRC’s reports, simply go to its website at https://honestreporting.ca and click on the “subscribe” button.) “We all have the power of agency,” he added.
“We may not see the elimination of antisemitism in our lifetimes,” he said, “but we have to push it to the margins.”
“If not now, when? The answer is now.”

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