Cranky White Men and Viola Desmond

December 14, 2016 § 4 Comments

Last week, the Canadian government announced a new face for the $10 bill.  Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald (1867-73; 1878-91), has long been featured on the $10, but Canada has sought to modernize our money and to introduce new faces to the $5 and $10 bills.  A decision on the $5, which currently features our first French Canadian PM, Sir Wilfrid Laurier (1896-1911), will be made at a later date.

viola-desmond

Viola Desmond will be the face of the $10 bill starting in 2018.  Desmond is a central figure in Canadian history.  On 8 November 1946, Desmond’s car broke down in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia.  Desmond was a cosemetician, trained in Montréal and New York, and operated her own beauty school in Halifax. And she was quite successful.  So, stuck in New Glasgow over night, she went to see a movie to kill some time.  She bought her ticket and took her seat.  Desmond was near-sighted, so she sat in a floor seat.  Problem is, she was black. And Nova Scotia was segregated; whites only on the floor, black people had the balcony.  She was arrested.  The next morning, she was tried and convicted of fraud. Not only were black people prohibited from sitting in the main bowl of the theatre, they also had to pay an extra cent tax on their tickets.  Desmond had attempted to pay this tax, but apparently was refused by the theatre.  So, she was fined $20 and made to pay $6 in court costs.

Desmond is often referred to as the ‘Canadian Rosa Parks,’ but truth be told, Rosa Parks is the American Viola Desmond. Unlike Parks, though, Desmond wasn’t a community organizer, she didn’t train for her moment of civil disobedience.  But, Nova Scotia’s sizeable African Canadian community protested on her behalf.  But, not surprisingly, they were ignored.  She also left Nova Scotia, first moving to Montréal, where she enrolled in business college, before settling in New York, where she died on 7 February 1965 of a gastrointestinal hemorrhage at the age of 50.

I am on a listserv of a collection of Canadian academics and policy wonks.  I have been for a long time, since the late 1990s.  A discussion has broken out, not surprisingly, about Desmond being chosen as the new face of the $10.  The government initially intended to put a woman on the bill.  A collection of white, middle-aged men on this listserv are not pleased.  They have erupted in typical white, middle-aged male rage.

One complains that the Trudeau government commits new outrages daily and he is upset that “they are going to remove John A. Macdonald from the ten dollar bill to replace him with some obscure woman from Nova Scotia whom hardly anyone has ever heard of.” He also charges that Trudeau’s government would never do this to Laurier (another Liberal), whereas Sir John A. was a Conservative.  On that he’s dead wrong.

Another complains that:

Relative to John A., Viola Desmond is no doubt a morally superior human being. If we are to avoid generating our own version of Trumpism, we must be careful not to tear down symbols of our shared history by applying current, progressive criteria to determine who figures on the currency.

Imagine with what relish Trump would tear into his opponents if the US eliminated George Washington and Thomas Jefferson from their currency. Both were slave owners – presumably far worse crimes in present terms than John A’s alcoholism or casual attitude to bribery.

Seriously. All I can say to this is “Oh, brother.”  But it gets worse.  A third states that:

I have to agree with —–’s sentiment here. We have to stop doing nice, progressive things just because we can. There is a culture war, and we need to be careful about arming the other side.
But I would say that having such things enacted by a government elected by a minority of Canadians doesn’t help. (Likely, the NDP and the Greens and even some Conservatives would have supported such a resolution, but) it does contribute to a sense of government acting illegitimately. It contributes to cynicism and outrage to have Trump as president-in-waiting with fewer votes than Clinton, for example.
With this one, I don’t even know where to start.  Since the advent of a viable, permanent 3rd party in Canadian politics, with the NDP in the 1960s, Canada has had exactly one Prime Minister garner a majority of votes in an election. That was Brian Mulroney in 1984.  he got exactly 50.0% of the vote.
Frankly, a collection of cranky middle-aged white men going on in this manner doesn’t really surprise me.  The first commentator has denigrated Desmond in this manner (“some obscure woman”) in each of his subsequent posts (and has diagnosed me with a variety of psychological problems for deigning to disagree with him).  They, especially the first one, take it as a personal insult that the government should seek to democratize our money, to have the faces on our currency greater reflect the nation, which is one of the most diverse in the world.  For some reason, they see this as an affront, as a challenge to their privilege.
And, thus, they make the perfect argument as to why Viola Desmond should be the face of the new $10 bill in Canada.  I don’t agree that she is obscure, I don’t think many African Canadians, people of colour, or Canadian historians would say so.  This is a positive step on the part of the Canadian government.

 

Remembering the Montreal Massacre

December 6, 2016 § 2 Comments

Today is the 27th anniversary of the École Polytechnique Massacre, also known as the Montreal Massacre.  On this morning, 6 December, in 1989, an armed gunman walked into the École Polytechnique, separated the men from the women, and shot 28 people, executing 14 female students.  Why? Because they were women and he felt that feminists had ruined his life.  As per usual, I refuse to name him.  He should be forgotten, he does not deserve infamy (he killed himself at the scene).  His suicide letter contained the names of 19 other Quebec feminists he wished to kill.

For Canadians of my generation, the Massacre was and remains deeply shocking.  It resonates. I remember where I was when I heard the news, I remember the shock I felt, and then the anger.  I grew up in a violent household, my mother the target of my step-father during drunken outbursts.  His violence appalled me.  All violence against women appalls me.  Deeply.

And here we are, 27 years on, and violence against women is still prevalent.  For this reason, name and remember the victims of the Massacre in Montreal 27 years ago, to honour them. May they continue to rest in peace:

  • Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student, age 21.
  • Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student, age 23.
  • Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student, age 23.
  • Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student, age 22.
  • Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student, age 21.
  • Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student, age 29.
  • Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department, age 25.
  • Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student, age 23.
  • Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student, age 22.
  • Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student, age 28.
  • Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student, age 21.
  • Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student, age 23.
  • Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student age 20.
  • Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student, age 31.

The Centre Of The Universe?

December 2, 2016 § 2 Comments

An interesting thing has occurred in the realm of Canadian sports journalism in the past few weeks.  For those of you who don’t know, the English-language Canadian media is centred in Toronto, which every media outlet will remind you is “Canada’s largest city.”  The much smaller French-language media is centred in Montréal, which is Canada’s second largest city.  Toronto’s got a population of around 4.7 million, compared to Montréal’s 3.8 million.  Vancouver is third, closing in on 2 million.  And Edmonton, Calgary, and Ottawa are all around 1 million.  So we’re not looking at the situation in the UK, where London is the largest city and about 5 times larger than the second city, Birmingham.

But, reading Canadian sports media these days, and you’d be convinced that Toronto is the only city in Canada and that its sports teams are all wondrous, virtuous conquering heroes.  Never mind the fact that Toronto teams don’t really win much of anything ever.  The basketball Raptors and soccer Toronto FC have never won anything.  The hockey Maple Leafs last won the Stanley Cup in 1967.  And the Blue Jays last won in 1993.  The Argonauts of the Canadian Football League are the really the only continually successful Toronto sports team, having last won the Grey Cup in 2012 (but, the CFL is a 9-team league, so law of averages…).

Toronto FC was engaged in a tense two-leg Eastern Conference final in the MLS Cup Playoffs against the Impact de Montréal, or IMFC.  An all-Canadian conference final should be one of those things that grip the nation, or at least get the media to recognize its import.  And while Sportsnet, the second of Canada’s sports networks, largely has, TSN, the largest sports network and MLS rights holder, has not.  It has openly and blatantly cheered for a TFC victory, and its coverage has exclusively treated IMFC as an interloper in TFC’s eventual, wondrous assent to the top of the North American soccer world.  On Wednesday afternoon, in advance of the second leg of the series, to be played at BMO Field in Toronto, TSN posted this article about the five keys to the match as its headline on TSN.ca.  Note that it’s all about what TFC needs to do to win.  This is just the most egregious example.  The rest of the coverage on TSN.ca Wednesday afternoon was all slanted towards TFC: its mindset heading into the match, which players it needs to excel, and so on.  Not a word from IMFC’s perspective, except for a feel-good story about the club’s 38-year old captain, and Montréal native, Patrice Bernier.

In the aftermath of the TFC’s victory Wednesday night, in a tense 5-2 match that went to Extra Time, allowing TFC to advance 7-5 on aggregate, TSN’s homepage was a torrent of TFC.  And while this is a good thing, and deserved, TFC won, it’s also still one-sided.  This was especially true of the headline that said “TFC MAKES CANADIAN SOCCER HISTORY.”  Factually, yes, it did.  It made the finals of the MLS Cup for the first time and is the first Canadian club to do so.  But, it did so after making history in an all-Canadian conference final.  And there was not a single story about IMFC and its own very improbable run to the conference finals.  TSN has continually picked against IMFC all season.  It predicted the Montréal side would miss the playoffs.  Then it wouldn’t get past DC United in the first round, or New York Red Bulls in the second round.  And so on.

On Thursday morning, TSN.ca’s home page featured no fewer than 12 features and stories about TFC out of the 28 in total.  Of the remaining 16 stories and features, 10 were about the Maples Leafs (7), Raptors (2), and Blue Jays (1).  One story was about how the Calgary Flames pummeled the Maple Leafs Wednesday night and another mocked Montréal Canadiens winger Andrew Shaw and his bad temper.  There’s a reason why Canadians in the Rest of Canada tend to dismiss TSN as Toronto’s Sports Network.

Meanwhile: Hockey.  The top team in the NHL right now is the Montréal Canadiens.  But, TSN’s coverage is almost exclusively about the amazing, wondrous Toronto Maple Leafs, who have a collection of burgeoning young stars and actually look like they might be a good team again one day.  There are also, you might note, five more Canadian teams in the NHL.  Sucks to be a fan of one of them: TSN just doesn’t care, other than to note the ways in which they’re failing.

And then Sportsnet.  Sportsnet is the rights holder for the NHL in Canada.  And while its coverage tends to be more national in nature, in that it notes that there are indeed teams in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, and Montréal, besides Toronto, how about them kids in the T-Dot, y’all?  But Sportsnet can even out-do TSN.  On Wednesday, the American-based Forbes published its annual list of NHL teams ranked by value.  As always, the New York Rangers are the most valuable hockey team.  The Rangers are worth $1.25 billion USD.  But Sportsnet’s headline reads: “Maple Leafs Rank Third in Forbes’ Annual Most Valuable Team List.”  So, you think, well, that makes sense.  But, wait, what’s the second most valuable team in the National Hockey League?  Chicago?  Los Angeles?  The New York Islanders?  Nope.  It’s the Montréal Canadiens.

Now, I know we Quebecers had ourselves a couple of referenda on leaving the country, and we still harbour a pretty strong separatist movement; at any given time, around 35% of us want out of Canada.  But, in both 1980 and 1995, we chose to stay.  And 65% of us at any given time want to stick around in Canada.  And we keep giving Canada Prime Ministers.  In my lifetime, five of 9 prime ministers have been Quebecers.

So, in other words, my dear TSN and Sportsnet, Québec is part of Canada.  And Montréal remains one of the largest cities in North America, and also remains a major centre of global commerce.  And its soccer team isn’t that bad, even if its appearance in the Conference Finals is a surprise.  And its hockey team, which is, after all, the most decorated hockey team in the world, is the most valuable Canadian team.

And, if you just so happen to be one of those provincials from the rest of the country, well, as we say back home, tant pis.

The New York Times Re-Writes History

November 28, 2016 § 2 Comments

Fidel Castro died this weekend. He was 90.  Whatever you think of him, and I am largely ambivalent, he was a giant of the past half century.  He was the dictator of a tiny, poor Caribbean nation with a population about that of New York City, and yet, he was a giant on the world stage.  Even after the Soviet Empire collapsed and all that support for Fidel’s Castro dried up, he maintained power.  Of course, his was a totalitarian state and, yes, dissent was dealt with harshly. And, yes, millions of refugees fled in dire circumstances for the United States.

But, what I take issue with is the New York Times declaring that Castro was “the fiery apostle of revolution who brought the Cold War to the Western Hemisphere in 1959.”  Um. No.  He did not bring the Cold War to the Western Hemisphere.  It was already here.  One of the two major belligerents of the Cold War, the United States, is located just north of Cuba.  The CIA, meanwhile, was already running around Latin America by the time Fidel and his revolutionaries marched into Havana in January 1959, overthrowing the corrupt American puppet-dictator, Fulgencio Batista.

In 1948, the United States interfered in a civil war in Costa Rica in favour of José Figueres Ferrer, in order to rid the country of Communist rule (hint, Costa Rica wasn’t communist).  Six years later, in 1954, the democratically-elected President of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán, attempted to seize land belonging to United Fruit for a land redistribution programme.  Instead, he incurred the wrath of the CIA, which, at best co-operated with, at worst, bullied, the Guatemalan Army, forcing Guzmán to resign. I could go on.

And at any rate, the Cold War came to the Western Hemisphere in 1945, a cypher clerk at the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa (Apparently the Times needs a reminder that Canada is in the Western Hemisphere?) walked out of the embassy and wandered over to the Ottawa Journal newspaper offices to tell his story.  It took awhile, but Gouzenko became the first defector to Canada, complete with Soviet secrets.

The Times‘s headline about Castro bringing the Cold War to the Western Hemisphere is simply factually wrong.  And this is what concerns me.  History and facts DO matter, and to play fast and loose with them is dangerous. It leads to mis-information running rampant in society.  We are currently reeling from revelations of the role of fake news sites in the Presidential Election.  The New York Times, however, is usually regarded as the leading American newspaper, amongst the most well-regarded globally.  It would behoove the headline writers, writers, reporters, and editors of the august institution to learn history.

Gentrification: Plus ça change

September 14, 2016 § 1 Comment

I’m reading a book that is, for the lack of a better term, a biography of the Kremlin.  I am at the part where the Kremlin, and Moscow itself, gets rebuilt after Napoléon’s attempt at conquering Russia.  Moscow had been, until it was torched during the French occupation, a haphazard city; visitors complained it was Medieval and dirty. And it smelled.  And not just visitors from Paris and Florence, but from St. Petersburg, too.

In the aftermath, Moscow was rebuilt along Western European lines, in a rational manner.  And the city gentrified, the Kremlin especially:

This was definitely a landscape that belonged to the rich and the educated, to noblemen and ladies of the better sort.  It is through the artists’ eyes that we glimpse the well-dressed crowds: the gentlemen with their top hats and shiny canes, the ladies in their bonnets, gloves, and crinolines.  They could be leading citizens of any European state, and there is little sense of Russia (let alone romantic Muscovy) in their world.

Leaving aside the fact that there were no citizens of any European state in 1814, this sounds remarkably familiar.  This is the same critique I have written many times about Griffintown and Montreal: as Montreal gentrifies, it is becoming much like any other major North American city.

But it is also true of gentrification in general.  There is a part on the North Shore of Chattanooga, Tennessee, I really like.  It finally dawned on me that it is because it reminds of me Vancouver architecturally, culturally, aesthetically, and in the ways in which the water (in this case the Tennessee River, not False Creek) is used by the redevelopment of this historically downtrodden neighbourhood.  But.  I could also be dropped into pretty much any North American city and see similarities: Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, New York, Boston, Seattle, Portland (Oregon), Cincinnati, Cleveland, Buffalo, Chicago, Atlanta, Nashville.  These are all cities (amongst others) where I have seen the same tendencies.

And, obviously, one aspect of gentrification is the cleansing of the city of danger and vice.  Just like Moscow was cleaned up in the aftermath of 1812.

Oh, Canada. :-(

August 26, 2016 § 5 Comments

Earlier this week, I wrote of some vile tweets about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the wake of the Tragically Hip’s final show in Kingston lat Saturday night. It turns out this was hardly the worst.

I read this article on The Walrus’ site last night.  This is disgusting.  There are people on Facebook blatantly calling for Trudeau’s assassination.  Others, riffing on the Conservative Party of Canada’s pathetic milk carton ad, have descended to hoping the Prime Minister dies in an avalanche like his younger brother, Michel did in British Columbia in 1998.

Conservative_ad

I got into a discussion with an old friend on Facebook in the wake of Monday’s post.  He was of the opinion that this animus against Trudeau was really nothing new, recalling the Mulroney era.  I argued otherwise.  That this IS new, it is the Americanisation of our political discourse.

I also wonder where the hell the RCMP is in all of this? Should it not be investigating calls to assassinate the Prime Minister?

What the Hell?

August 22, 2016 § 4 Comments

UPDATE: I thought this rhetoric about the Prime Minister couldn’t get worse. Turns out I was wrong; it can. And it has been for some time.

As every Canadian knows, the Tragically Hip held their last ever concert in their hometown of Kingston, ON, on Saturday night. Something like 11 million TV sets in Canada were tuned to the gig, broadcast coast-to-coast-to-coast on the CBC.  For those of you who don’t know, that’s about 1/3 of the population of the entire country. I haven’t seen numbers for how many of us watched on YouTube, as the CBC streamed the show worldwide.  Social media was full of pics, remembrances, stories about The Hip, a quintessentially Canadian band.  If you’re not Canadian, I simply cannot explain the importance of this band to most Canadians.  It’s something non-quantifiable.

The Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, was there in Kingston, one of the lucky 7,000 people inside the unfortunately named K-Rock Centre.  Gord Downie, the frontman who is dying of cancer, gave the PM a couple of shoutouts, particularly insofar as Canada’s abysmal record vis-à-vis our First Nations.  In the aftermath, a picture of Downie and Trudeau sharing a hug made the rounds on social media.  It’s a particularly touching image, and it shows Downie’s frailty.

o-JUSTIN-TRUDEAU-GORD-DOWNIE-570

But then Twitter happened.  A series of tweets from bitter, and mostly anonymous, Canadian conservatives attacked Trudeau for a variety of reasons, most of them just a sad bit of bitterness.  For example:

or,

These were relatively mild, however.  Others wished personal ill on the Prime Minister.  But the worst tweet I saw was this one:

What kind of person says something like this?  What has happened to the Canadian conservative movement that this can even happen?  FACLC’s tweet is simply the most egregious example that came through my timeline in the past few days.

While I can certainly understand a deep-seated dislike, even hatred, for a Prime Minister (i.e.: Stephen Harper), I do not know anyone who tweeted vileness like this, who wished personal ill on the Prime Minister of Canada  FACLC and anyone who supports such viciousness should be deeply ashamed of themselves.  So should anyone who posted such vileness in the first place.  This is not Canada, this is not who we are.

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