Month: November 2014

A Grey Cup Welcome

Grey Cup Day – the day when British Columbians show how proud they are to be host of the national annual contest to decide which Canadian Football League team should be crowned champion.
The day – weekend actually – when the city of Vancouver welcomes brothers and sisters from coast to coast to witness the gridiron action from the roof-covered warmth of BC Place – and increases hotel and motel weekend rates by 15 or 20 percent to make sure the stay is memorable.
I confess to stealing the numbers from a CBC television newscast waxing enthusiastic on the city’s preparation and anticipation of the great event. Struck me as a strange way for Vancouver hospitality kings to be showing off our coastal pride, and a poor way of persuading visitors to come back and see Vancouver has much more to offer than a frost-free football game.
Seemed even stranger to hear those “hospitality” increases being touted as the mania of Black Friday with pledged price reductions swept the rest of the merchandising world.
Adding to the open display of Vancouver’s un-brotherly love was the advice of a chamber of commerce type who said people unable to find accommodation at the jacked-up down-town prices could find bed and board out in the suburbs at reasonable prices.
One other strange thing: A few days ago organizers of the event were forecasting the five or six thousands still unsold Grey Cup tickets would be scoffed up before game time. In other years sell-outs have been claimed weeks before kick-off but this year “because the home team – the BC Lions – is not in the final” there were “understandable” gaps in the crowd.
Vancouver, despite its sometimes unseemly lust for sporting recognition, is not a city of true sporting fans. Let it lose a key series in hockey and they’ll half-destroy the town. Let their team lose a chance to play in the Grey Cup football championship and, like spoiled children, they’ll stay at home on Cup day pouting as they sip their beer and watch American football on TV.
I’m sure the game will have struggled to a sell-out by kick-off – the seats filled by fans from Hamilton and Calgary, a few hundred from Saskatchewan, and many from across Canada; fans who love a national championship for what it is, a clash of the best teams in the country. Fans prepared to travel thousands of miles to be part of a national spectacle many of their hosts choose to ignore.
Too busy re-arranging hospitality rates, I guess.

Lest we forget – what?

Among the most often quoted phrases on November 11 each year is the solemnly intoned “lest we forget, lest we forget.” Like a church bell “tolling the knell of parting day” they ring out to end ceremonies at Cenotaphs around the world although the words of Rudyard Kipling were never written to remember those who died in “dust of conflict and through battle flame.”
They were written to remind Queen Victoria in 1897, her Diamond Jubilee year, that her Empire would not last forever; and to warn her subjects that their power and pride as a nation was not an immortal right. That one day the sun would set on the British Empire, as it had set on other great empires since small clans and tribes united and became nations.
Kipling’s Diamond Jubilee poem became a hymn, aptly known as “Recessional”, and still sung today as choirs and clergy leave their appointed places at the end of a service. The first verse reminds that England has been blest to be granted “dominion over palm and pine” and prays “Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet – lest we forget”. Lest we forget that with great power come great responsibilities.
It’s an appeal Great Britain never heard – or ignored – as did every empire than once dominated the world. Be it Greek or Roman in ancient times, British until a few decades ago and now the United States and Russia with China pushing hard for the top nation spot, they all find it hard to believe that one day “the tumult and the shouting” of triumphs “ will die (their) captains and their kings depart.”
In courageous prophecy Kipling warned the Queen “far called our navies melt away, on dune and headland sinks the fire/ Lo all our pomp of yesterday” is fading and we are forgetting why.
In his final stanza comes a final warning that it is a “heathen heart that puts (its) trust in reeking tube and iron shard, all valiant dust that builds on dust, and guarding calls not Thee to guard.”
Next time you hear the Recessional sung, listen beyond the glorious music but hear and mark Kipling’s final two lines of prayer: “For frantic boast and foolish word, thy mercy on thy people Lord.”
And next November 11 when you hear “lest we forget, lest we forget” remember what it really is that we’re failing to remember – and why? (Readers interested in a more detailed analysis of Recessional can find at http://kiplingsociety.co.uk/rg_recess1.htm)

I Disagree with what they say – But…

I don’t envy British Columbia’s Minister of Advanced Education Amrik Virk as he tries to jockey himself into a politically favourable position in the Trinity Western University dispute. Months ago his ministry, along with the Federation of Law Societies and the BC Law Society approved a move by TWU to establish a faculty of law on its Fraser Valley campus.
In short order the accreditation moves were challenged in Nova Scotia and Ontario. Lawyers in both provinces voted to deny any graduates from TWU’s yet to be formed law school the right to practice in their provinces. The BC Law Society took a second look at its original support given in April, by formal vote among all members in June decided to switch from supporters to deniers and join Ontario and Nova Scotia.
Minister Virk is now promising his own second look with a warning that with court challenges approaching he may, just may, have to withdraw his endorsement for the new law school. He must think and move carefully before making decisions on matters involving religious beliefs which are fractured and change at the core of every denomination.
The lawyers united against law school accreditation for TWU base their arguments for denial on a clause in a “Covenant” the university requires all students, administrators and faculty to sign before enrollment or employment. By signing students and staff agree to abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”
As noted a week ago the WTD Mandate also sets a high bar for other Christian moral values, but the so called “gay clause” appears to be the only one upsetting protesting lawyers. Clayton Ruby, named in the Globe and Mail (Nov. 19,2014) as one of the lawyers leading the legal challenge against WTU, quotes him as saying Virk’s original blessing for the law school bid would create “ a two tiered system of legal education”. It would lead, he is quoted as saying, to a situation where an openly gay student would be “treated like a second class citizen”.
Ruby is confident he and other objectors to WTD’s law school will win when the case goes to court December 1. He suggested to the Globe that Virk is now backing down from his original support because he knows it is impossible for him to win.
Ruby could be right. Heaven knows our courts make strange decisions from time to time, but I have faith that those adjudicating this case will have the legal and common sense to understand that Western Trinity is a private institution. It does not receive any capital or operating funding from the government. It is a Christian faith-based school. Its mandate sets high, historically held Christian values.
Personally I would never sign their mandate. Nor should anyone disagreeing with such a mandate carefully, clearly, spelled out.
TWU is not the only religious organization offering education with faith related demands. Catholic schools throughout the world, although tarred heavily in recent years by adherents who pledged their faith, but then betrayed it, still offer high standards of education in their faith based schools, colleges and universities.
In Britain, Church of England Schools rate highly, even though their church was created by King Henry VIII to make divorce easy and remove adultery from the list of mortal sins. It was left to non-conformist Scottish Presbyterian John Knox to try and bring some of the old reverence back to marriage and stamp out adultery – then and now the main cause for divorce. In his “mandate” marriage could only be terminated by adultery but Knox and his mentor Calvin, deplored the fact that adulterers could only be excommunicated not executed. The innocent party was free to re-marry. The guilty party could be forgiven after a public expression of repentance and “if they cannot remain continent…we cannot forbid them to use the remedy ordained by God” and marry again.
Catholics have been trying to sort out sex, marriage and-divorce problems for centuries. It still does not recognize the existence of divorce, same sex marriage or homosexuality in any form.
I just hope the courts and Minister Virk do their due diligence and it is courts understand that beneath the Christian umbrella there are many widely different. We do not have to agree with them or accept them – but we should firmly defend the right of any group of people to believe what they will.

Whose Covenant Counts?

Little more than a year ago, in mid-December 2013, the provincial government of British Columbia approved plans to establish a law school at Trinity Western University in the Fraser Valley.

In the spring of this year a group of lawyers in the province moved a motion to bar graduates from the yet to be established faculty of law on the grounds Trinity Western discriminated against students who shared same sex relationships. When the motion was presented to the BC Law Society benchers last April it was rejected by a vote of 20-6, but that wasn’t the end of the matter.

Law Society members affronted by TWU’s stand on gay relationships pushed for another vote, one that would include more than the governing Benchers. All 13,530 members were invited to participate and some 74 per cent of the membership voted to reverse the April decision. The Law Society of BC had decided “the proposed law school at Trinity Western University is not an approved faculty of law for the purpose of the Law Societies admission program.”

In simple terms that meant Trinity Western could establish a faculty of law – but its graduates would not be eligible to practice in BC – or in Ontario and Nova Scotia where similar law society decisions have been made.

At the root of the problem is Trinity Western’s “Community Covenant Agreement – Our Pledge to One Another.” It is a covenant all students and staff are required to sign before they can enroll as students or be hired as  staff. And its standards are high, heavy on Christian bible moral standards as interpreted by TWU’s board of governors who express their beliefs and ethical codes in easy to understand, if hard to accept, language.

“This covenant both identifies particular Christian standards and recognizes degrees of latitude for individual freedom. True freedom is not the freedom to do as one pleases, but rather empowerment to do what is best.”

Those who sign the Covenant pledge “to abstain from gossip, slander, vulgar/obscene language, prejudice, harassment or any form of verbal or physical intimidation, lying, cheating or other forms of dishonesty….” There are cautions about problems with over consumption of alcohol and a pledge to keep the Campus tobacco smoke free.

And wedged among the “do not’s” is the abstention lawyers across Canada feel they must challenge. TWU students – and faculty – must o abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of a marriage between a man and a woman.”

Oh dear, oh dear, are governors, faculty, staff and students at TWU being told by various Law Societies to believe that of all the things listed as worthy of abstention, only the one on sexual preferences and choices, discreet or indiscreet, makes them incapable of practicing good law?

I wonder how many Trinity Western critics belong to religious organizations which condemn same sex relationships. I wonder how many BC lawyers voted to deny the right to practice law in BC to TWU graduates, while clinging firmly to their own Roman Catholic faith which does not recognize gay marriage, and still has difficulty fully accepting divorced couples back into the church.  Did they think the TWU mandate “to observe modesty, purity and appropriate intimacy in all relationships (and) reserve sexual expressions of intimacy for marriage…and exercise careful judgment in all lifestyle choices” might impair their legal advice?

I wonder how those same critics view the army of Nuns who work around the world as educators, nurses, doctors, and lawyers while clinging to the religious covenant they have sworn to uphold, and strive to keep.

And just for the record I am not in any way associated with Trinity Western. Don’t know any staff or student and am far too long a sinner to ever sign their mandate. I just wanted to point out that the law can sometime be “an ass.” Or as Lord Macaulay once said (He was British politician who died in 1859 so won’t object to me modestly misquoting him) “I know no spectacle as ridiculous as the legal fraternity in one of its periodical fits of morality.”

Remembering

The Belgian village of Adegem lies about 72 kilometers from Brussels on the highway to Ghent. It started as the final home for 818 young Canadians killed as they liberated seemingly endless towns lining the south bank of the Scheldt estuary. Today it is the final resting place for 1,119 Commonwealth warriors, 33 Polish fighters, three French soldiers and one unknown. They have all been gathered from isolated battlefields, brought together in one place to be remembered.
The Canadian liberators fought their way through and around Adegem in late September 1944. It was much smaller in those days than it is today. A small village with a long memory.
Every September on the anniversary of liberation day the children of Adegem walk from the village to the nearby Canadian War Cemetery and cover the steps a central war memorial with fresh flowers. In the early years of that remembrance parade mothers, survivors of the German occupation, walked with their children. Today the children who walked in the first ceremony now walk with their own children, their grandchildren and some their great-grand children.
In today’s ceremony the once small stream of flower carrying children has grown to small river. They parade into the cemetery with their flowers and form two circles, one behind the other. At the most solemn part of the ceremony the smallest children in the inner circle step forward and place their bouquets on the steps surrounding a single, tall cross.
The inner circles then retreats, the outer circle moves forward to place its flowers. I am told that the silence of the moment is complete. The lines of grave markers embrace the moment.
I felt a little of that silence in the 1970’s when then BC Premier Bill Bennett, his Finance Minister Evan Wolfe and his Minister of Economic affairs Don Phillips and their wives joined the Mayor and several council members from the village in a brief wreath laying ceremony.
It was a solemn occasion and ended with a brief walk along the crosses “row on row.” The Premier was walking ahead with his wife Audrey as they came to the end of a line and turned to walk back along another row to the central memorial. As they turned the first grave stone facing them on the new row read:
“Pte.Richard Wesley Badley, the Canadian Scottish Regiment, 10th October, 1944. Age 19. Son of Albert Henry and Mary Badley, Kelowna, British Columbia.” The Bennett’s were from Kelowna. They knew the Badley family. And a war which had once been a story talked about on ceremonial occasions had suddenly become real and very close to home.
It was a quiet ride back to our hotel.

For Real Heroes

In northern Italy the Savio River, fed by incessant, hard-driving rain, was in full spate as an advance party of Canada’s Seaforth Highlanders floundered and swam across to establish a bridgehead for a following army of tanks, heavy artillery and battle hardened infantry in pursuit of a retreating German Army.
It was October 21, 1944, and the Seaforth’s infantry spearhead, crossing the river in what official reports described as “weather most unfavourable to the operation”, was carrying only light arms. They had a few hand-carried Projected Infantry Anti-Tank (PIAT) weapons, automatic rifles, a few Tommy guns, and some side arms
One of the soldiers advancing across the Savio was a cheerful, happy-go-lucky Private Ernest Alvia Smith, born May 3, 1914, and raised in New Westminster and known for ever as “Smokey” since he ran high school track. “Smokey” Smith was 30 when he crossed the Savio and later that October day watched with other Seaforths as the river behind them rose six feet in five hours. They were cut off from the main force; their tanks and heavy guns stranded on the wrong side of the river.
”Smokey” was part of small detail “consolidating its right flank objective” when on the morning of October 22, the German 26th Panzer Division launched a counter attack. For his part in repelling that attack “Smokey” was awarded the Victoria Cross, the most prestigious military award for bravery.
The calm words of the official citation describing how “Smokey” earned his VC tell us that on that rain-swept night and day in northern Italy Private Smith and two other Seaforth soldiers were “suddenly counter-attacked by three MarkV panther tanks supported by two self propelled guns and about 30 infantry.”
The situation facing the trio of Seaforth’s “appeared almost hopeless.”
But:“Under heavy fire from the approaching enemy tanks, Private Smith, showing great initiative and inspiring leadership, led his PIAT group of two men across an open field to a position from which the PIAT could be best employed.(Then) Leaving one man on the weapon Private Smith crossed the road with a companion and obtained another PIAT.
“Almost immediately an enemy tank came down the road firing its machine guns along the line of ditches. Private Smith’s comrade was wounded. At a range of 30-feet and having to expose himself to the full view of the enemy, Private Smith fired the PIAT and hit the tank, putting it out of action. Ten German infantry immediately jumped off the back of the tank and charged him….Without hesitation Private Smith moved out onto the road and, with his Tommy gun at point blank range, killed four Germans and drove the remainder back.”
The last volleys of that encounter had hardly died away when a second tank thundered into view with all guns blazing.”Smokey” held his position “protecting his comrade and fighting the enemy…..until they finally gave up and withdrew in disorder.”
The citation notes a third tank opened fire but “from a longer range” and “Private Smith, still showing utter contempt to enemy fire, helped his wounded friend to cover…obtained medical aid for him……then returned to his (forward) position to await the possibility of further enemy attack….”
“….Thus, by the dogged determination, outstanding devotion to duty and superb gallantry of this Private soldier, his comrades were so inspired that the bridgehead held firm against all enemy attacks” until the main army caught up.
When it did catch up the spearhead Seaforths, inspired by “Smokey”, had knocked out two tanks, two self-propelled guns, a half track, a scout car and convinced a third tank to stay out of range of the PIATs.
When he died aged 91 several British newspapers paid tribute to the Canadian hero. During his military life “Smokey” was several time “busted” from non-commission officer rank back to private – the rank he held when he won his VC. He was restored to “Sergeant” after that event.
But the last line in Britain’s Guardian newspaper’s lengthy obituary would have made him prouder than his sergeant’s stripes. It read: “Ernest Alvia “Smokey” Smith, soldier, born May 3, 1914; died August 3, 2005.”
He would have liked that, as, I think, do most of us when we read of heroes. Real heroes, their tribute earned, not carelessly bestowed by politicians currying a fatherly image, or journalists creating hysterical headlines to sell a few more newspapers.

The Quality of Mercy

I shall wait now, as the tumult and the shouting fades, for a detailed, factual, telling of the of the assassination of two Canadian soldiers, one in a parking lot in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, southeast of Montreal, the second at the National War Memorial in Ottawa.
I have, heard and read and watched on TV, the cowardly acts of two mentally unstable young men. One used a car to run down and kill Canadian Forces Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent as he walked across a parking lot. The other shot and killed Corporal Nathan Cirillo as he stood in ceremonial tribute at Canada’s National War Memorial in Ottawa.
Martin Couture-Rouleau was the driver of the car who waited two hours in the parking lot before he found a uniformed target to ram. Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was the rifle toting killer who shot Cpl Cirillo twice in the back before racing into the Parliament buildings presumably to find other unsuspecting targets
Public reaction was angry, fearful, and emotionally over the top with newspaper headlines from one screaming OTTAWA UNDER ATTACK to others suggesting Canada’s capital city was under siege by Islamic forces.
Time now for a calmer view; time to reduce the hyperbole and for government to tell us, calmly and rationally what happened – and how we, especially media, must keep calm when, as it surely must, something similar, happens again.
What do I want to know? I would like to know who issues the designation of “hero” so easily – and just a few weeks before we gather on November 11 to remember so many of them.
I would like to know why Samearn Son, the unarmed security officer at the entrance to Parliament who was shot in the foot as he tried to wrestle the rifle from Zehaf-Bibeau, virtually disappeared from the story after he shouted “gun, gun…” and thus warned others what they were facing. He hasn’t been mentioned by the designators of heroes.
I would like to know what happened to the two survivors of the car ramming in which WO Vincent died. Referred to as “wearing civilian clothes” has vanished from the story. The third man, a soldier in uniform, was seriously injured. Is he okay? Are he and his family being properly take care of?
I would like to know if a news story was accurate when it noted Cpl.Cirillo and his colleagues were there for ceremonial impressions only. Their weapons looked powerful but were not “live”. They might deter but could never stop an attack.
And one last question: I have nothing but praise for the quick reaction of Sergeant at Arms Kevin Vickers, to “drop, roll and rise shooting” and killing Zehaf-Bibeau. But I have a queasy feeling when I read his weapon was an automatic and that after the shooting he tersely reported he had engaged the suspect who “is now deceased’, then calmly returned to his nearby office to re-load. Does that mean he emptied a full clip and that other nearby security staff added some postscript shots to make sure he hadn’t missed?
I’m sure we shall find out when autopsy reports on all the dead are made public. And I hope that whatever they reveal we can soften kneejerk reactions by remembering Portia’s plea in the Merchant of Venice: “The quality of mercy is not strain’d, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath: it is twice blest; it blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”