Month: July 2018

An Invitation to the Angel of Death

President Donald Trump is not the most serious threat to the wellbeing of the United States of America. That threat is the powerful men who permit him to rage unchallenged and often incoherently and the evangelical church leaders who naively believe he has repented his past lifestyle.

It’s hard to say who is the most obnoxious … the high-priced suits elected to serve their country, but now focused solely on protecting their jobs; or, the well-dressed preachers who don’t seem to care what President Trump says or how he says it, as long as he keeps his promises to protect a few specific principles they hold dear.

A few months ago, when the President engaged in his first slanging match with North Korea, he warned the small nation’s leader Kim Jong Un that as U.S. Commander in Chief he had at his disposal weapons capable of the mass destruction of Kim and his country. A few days ago, he was using the same bad-mouth bully talk to warn Iran’s religious leaders to exercise caution in their rhetoric.


A few observations on Trump’s illogic: He says if the USA ever feels threatened by Iranian rhetoric it will respond “with consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before.” He used similar bluster-bombs with Kim Jong Un warning him that his country could be wiped from the face of the earth with “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if push ever came to shove.

Then there was the muscle phrase “you will suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered.” No clue as to who those few were or what they suffered. We can presume fire and fury and consequences never before seen suggests Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the only cities in the world to suffer and survive – at horrendous cost – nuclear attacks. It is hard to believe the United States of America would be willing to lead the world into a third nuclear apocalypse.

Another thought on the word slingers in the realms of international diplomacy. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo had a brief comment about Iran’s leaders warning about the ‘hypocritical holy men” who run the country. I thought it introduced an unusual brand of diplomacy to the proceedings.

I’m sure hypocritical holy men are not a rare breed existing only in Muslim countries. I’m also sure President Trump is one of the last men in the world with the right to complain about anyone else using excessive rhetoric.

Which brings me to my point: I didn’t read or hear of any Christian holy men taking the President to task for the violence and arrogance of his threats. It’s possible that ministers of Christian flocks used Trump’s volatile tantrums as a Sunday sermon theme. Possible, but not likely.

So far, only one or two have wondered out loud if the White House thunder mug should be reminded of the advice of James the Apostle who warned of the dangerous power of the unbridled tongue. “The tongue,” he wrote, “is a fire, a world of iniquity. So is the tongue among our members that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.”

Trump supporters insist that tough talk has so far held the dogs of war at bay. Maybe, but I can’t shake the feeling that President Trump would love a session as Commander in Chief with his army in the field; and that he has no idea at all what follows when the “fateful lightning and His terrible swift sword” are released. And the Angel of Death takes the harvest she feels her due.

“Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid”

The letter to the editor was brief. Just five words published, I suspect, exactly as written: “Be afraid. Be very afraid.” It was signed by one Brian Smith and whether that is the Brian Smith well remembered as a municipal and provincial politician or a Brian Smith I have never met or known, I thank him for his timely warning of the looming danger contained in Premier John Horgan’s threat to create a Crown corporation with a positive sounding title – BC Infrastructure Benefits.

I use the word “threat” rather than “promise” because, although we still await the details of the latest gospel of NDP salvation, there’s more threat than comfort in the announced assurance that once it is up and running, the new corporation will bring undreamed of benefits to every corner of the province. Local workers will get an abundance of job offers in the multitude of jobs destined to be created in the near future. Wages will be improved in all sectors; all will be well with the world – as long as you’ve joined a union and paid your dues.

We do not yet have a list of the massive government projects we are assured will soon be on hand to create riches for everyone from file clerks to high tech experts working in the construction industry – as long as they are bona fide card-carrying members of a trade union.

Ah, yes, the new Crown corporation will be responsible for hiring all workers on the multibillion-dollar construction horizon. Full details we hope will follow but here’s a direct quote from Horgan’s blueprint of the road to economic prosperity as reported in The Times Colonist’s Comment page July 18: “Within 30 days of employment on the job site, any non-union worker or a worker from another affiliation will be required to join the union for work specific to the project.”

Schedule: Government announces a decision on a mega project; big companies enter bids; winning company informs BC Infrastructure Benefits what its workforce needs are; BCIB assigns the workers who will already hold current union cards or will be given 30-days to get one; no card, no job.

Significantly, the quote is in a brief editorial on the same page as Brian Smith’s flashing red light warning: “Be afraid. Be very afraid”, written, I am sure, by someone who remembers this same battle being slugged out not so many years ago. I’m talking about the 1980s, the “restraint” years which saw the birth of British Columbia’s version of the Solidarity Movement with massive protests at the Legislature and in Vancouver by militant trade unionists.

Readers interested in inside stories of that trade union versus government should grab a copy of Bill Bennett, a Mandarin’s View by Bob Plecas. His chapter “Restraint” is fascinating, especially the final scene in Premier Bennett’s Okanagan home where the toughest labour leader in the province, Jack Munro and the premier finally agreed to terms – with a handshake.

Plecas notes the Vancouver Province reported: “The clear winner in the 13 days of public sector strikes and marathon weekend bargaining was Premier Bill Bennett’s government.” Labour reporter Rod Mickleburgh commented: “Bennett budged, but he budged on his terms.”

One of the many issues on the table during that year of “restraint” was the right of construction companies to hire non-union workers on government projects.

I’m sure Premier Horgan remembers those years, but a quick refresher might remind him it was foolish labour leaders who came close to marching their members like lemmings to what Vancouver Sun columnist Marjorie Nichols described as “collective self-destruction.” And, it was a tough, hard-hitting trade unionist to the core, common sense Jack Munro, who saw the folly of the path Solidarity was pursuing and agreed to  acceptable compromise.

The premier should remember the election that followed hard on the heels of restraint and the tumultuous debate over enforced union membership – the debate some Solidarity leaders were convinced, based on massed membership rallies, would translate to massed support at the polls.

It didn’t quite work out that way. When the polls closed on October 22, 1986, Social Credit had increased its majority by 15 seats to hold 47. New Democrats had retained 22.

I’m sure Brian Smith’s warning was directed primarily to the electorate. I’m also sure the electorate will understand it.

But, I also I think Premier Horgan and his faithful Green echo Andrew Weaver would do well to take it to heart, to “Be afraid. Be very afraid.” Voters in BC don’t like to be told what they must join and pay membership dues to before they can earn a living.


When Students Teach Their Teachers

It had been my serious intention to pen a few thoughts this day on the merits of England’s soccer team and its glorious long-awaited burst from round ball bottom feeders to capture the beautiful game’s World Cup trophy. Alas, as I have long been aware, the way to hell is paved with good intentions and, as Robert Burns once wrote, “the best-laid schemes of mice and men gang ‘aft agley’.”

A few days ago, things went badly aft agley for England’s soccer team as an inspired 11 men from Croatia recovered from a one goal deficit, went on to win a semi-final contest 2-1 and left England exhausted, bewildered, dismayed and sadly aware – if they knew their Burns’ – of the line warning what happens when best-laid schemes go astray “and leave us nought but grief and pain for promised joy.”

It was back in 1966 that England made it all the way to the final game of the World Cup winning gold by defeating Germany 4-2 in extra time. A well-remembered game because England’s winning goal was disputed and remained under challenge until a couple of years ago when, in 2016, modern technology re-created the moment when Geoff Hurst’s shot hit the crossbar and bounced down across the goal line. You can watch it all in slow motion via Google.

From its 1966 peak England bobbled about, sometimes looking like a possible threat, others like a third-rate side trying to avoid relegation – until two years ago. Coincidental with the high-tech vindication of its 1966 victory, the Football Association (FA) appointed Gareth Southgate, a new young manager. He had two years to select and whip a dubious England team into shape and hopefully play reasonably well in the World Cup contest. He wasn’t expected to beat the world’s best, just to show challenge and restore a bit of old country pride.

The same year a rock band, The Lightning Seeds, launched a rap song – Football’s Coming Home. It was a prophecy and didn’t draw much attention until the Cup preliminaries began and English fans started singing – singing? Well chanting, rapping, whatever – “football’s coming home … everyone knows the score, they’ve seen it all before … they just know … they’re so sure that England’s gonna throw it away, gonna blow it away … but I know they can play ‘cause I remember Three Lions on a shirt … I never stopped dreaming … football’s coming home.”

It became the team song and the Three Lions, which had been the team’s logo since its first international match against Scotland on November 30, 1872, quickly became The Young Lions who responded to the new and unusual support from sports writers and the thousands who watch club games every Saturday.

They went into their first 2018 World Cup match among the clubs least favoured to win. They finished in the final four and moved up as possible Cup winners but fell at the final hurdle. As the BBC sportswriter put it, their “good work undone by tired legs and perhaps a withdrawal of ambition to protect a precious lead.”

King Henry I was the first English leader with a lion on his standard in 1100. He added a second shortly after his marriage to a lady whose father had a lion on his shield. In 1152, Henry II married Eleanor of Aquitaine whose family crest was a lion. And it was Richard the Lionheart (1189-1199) who used three golden lions on a scarlet background. It has been used by every king or queen since.

Rumour has it that the Young Lions preferred The Lionheart design – three lions on a red shirt background as their lucky game shirts. When they lost to Croatia they played in white. Inconsequential? Of course. We all know shirts don’t win soccer games any more than images of lions on flags and shields won battles for Crusader knights. Belgium popped the lucky red shirt Saturday morning before it had a chance to grow a legend. A good thing too if England is to continue with its promising path of a return to former greatness in the game it once owned and taught the world to play.

They say it’s the sign of a great teacher when students build on knowledge taught and rise to heights their mentor only dreamed of. That is certainly true in soccer and was clearly demonstrated these last few weeks as new names appeared on the list of challengers for the game’s greatest bauble. In rapid order once triumphant South American teams were sent packing by less flamboyant but harder working and ever confident teams.

England was lethargic in Saturday’s battle for bronze. Belgium was full of energy and far more determined to win a spot among the champions – even it was third. And in the cup final Sunday, one of the teams that started with little chance of surviving for more than a few early games will be challenging France for the right to be crowned the world champion of soccer.

France, powerful, classy, are favoured to win. So was England when they played Croatia and the small nation came back from one goal down to win their spot in the final. England, team, and country, were shocked as France and fans will be if the blue shirts lose.

I’ll be rooting for Croatia and thinking how wonderful it would be if nations could settle all their differences this way.






Are We Now Old Enough To Know Better?

The bronze plaque looks new, not yet weathered by wind or rain. It tells a simple story. Too simple.

                                                       50 Dallas Road

                              Historic Site of Victoria Immigration Building

“Known simply as ‘The Immigration Building’ the imposing red-brick building that once stood at this site was a symbol of hope, often a difficult hope, that new life in a new land would be better than in the old.

“The Immigration Building was opened in 1907 and until the late 1950s, any immigrant landing in Victoria had to pass through its doors. Depending on their country of origin, some immigrants were detained for a very long period of time and many were forced to pay an entry tax. This Monument acts as a reminder of the enormous courage it took to set off on a journey to an unfamiliar land. Although often entered with trepidation, The Immigration Building offered promise new; a chance to become a part of the vast mosaic called Canada.”

The plaque does indeed mark a spot on Dallas Road where hope may once have sprung eternal but quickly died in a new nation consumed with the evil belief of white supremacy. Called “the new Immigration Hospital” when it replaced the old centre in 1909, it was a two-storey structure with racially segregated wards, medical inspection areas, and administrative offices. It was designed to accommodate 96 Hindus, 36 women, 24 Chinese, 48 Japanese and 16 others. Care had gone into the facility with one administrator explaining the difficulty of “providing plumbing suitable for immigrants accustomed to washing themselves with water rather than using toilet paper.” At the same time, he said he could “assure white people that care is taken that they shall not commingle with Orientals at any stage of their stay.”

While the bulk of inhabitants at 50 Dallas Road would be Chinese or Hindu, it was clear from the outset that any white immigrants confined for whatever reasons would have “privileges.”

In the month of July 1908, more than 30,000 passengers from foreign ports were processed in Victoria by immigration officials and doctors. And, that was at a time when massed arrivals of gold seekers and labourers to build the Canadian Pacific Railway were on the wane and Victoria was no longer Canada’s chief port of entry for immigrants or travelers.

It had been the busiest immigration port in the early 1880s, first with the gold rush, then with CPR hiring 17,000 Chinese labourers to blast and tunnel a railway track through the great mountain ranges blocking land routes from what was rapidly developing as a new country to be called Canada and the Pacific coast.

The railway workers were not the first Chinese imports. That distinction goes to a few brought out earlier to work in newly discovered coal fields. Those workers impressed mine owners with their skills, their work ethic, the fact that they could be fed on a cheap diet of fish and rice, and that they were happy to work for low wages. At least, their employers were happy. It is doubtful if a Chinese worker immigrant was ever asked if he was happy with his dollar a day pay.

The cheap labour made Chinese workers welcome and desirable until November 7, 1885, when “the last spike” was driven at Craigellachie at 8:30 in the morning. Suddenly, the vast number of Chinese labourers became redundant, unwanted, and far from welcome in the province in which they had helped build a vital rail link. In BC, the disenchantment had been growing for couple or years, mutterings about the “yellow peril” were rife.

In 1884, a Royal Commission was established “to make inquiry into all the facts and matters connected with the whole subject of Chinese immigration, its trade relations as well as the social and moral objections concerning the influx of Chinese people into Canada.” On August 9, the Commission met in Victoria with the recording secretary reading a terse but clear history as to how the Commission came to be: “British Columbia has repeatedly, by her Legislature as well as by her representatives in Parliament, solicited the Executive and Parliament of Canada to enact a law prohibiting the incoming of Chinese to British Columbia.”

BC was not the only province expressing fears about the growth of the Chinese immigrant community, but it was possibly most aware that immigration laws in the province were not well written, and during the gold rush and the railway building years it hadn’t been too careful in framing sound legislation to welcome workers from other countries.

It was estimated that by using Chinese labour, railway building costs were reduced by between $3 million and $5 million. Chinese workers were paid roughly half a white worker’s pay and they had to provide their own food while the white crews were provided meals.

The fact that an estimated 600 to 2,200 Chinese lost their lives didn’t seem to enter the debate – possibly because no one has ever been able to come up with definitive records. It is a sad fact that Canadian attitudes at the time did not rate a Chinese death as being as important as the death of a white person. Coal mining disasters were commonplace a hundred years ago. On Vancouver Island coal mine casualty lists, white workers are named – often with their place of birth noted. Chinese workers are noted only by a number. No name, no place of birth. Just a number.

So, in the year the last spike was driven, The Chinese Immigration Act designed specifically to address the “Chinese problem” became law. The Royal Commission had recommended the imposition of $10 head tax on Chinese immigrants. In its wisdom, and probably egged on by BC, the federal government upped the head tax to $50 – a huge amount of money for a labourer to raise.

The new law quickly became nicknamed the Chinese Exclusion Act because, although not as openly hostile as the USA “exclusion act” of 1882 which banned Chinese immigration entirely, the new Canadian law did effectively exclude a class of immigrants for ethnic reasons. Their place of birth rather than their personal health or character decided their fate. Just to make sure Chinese would-be immigrants understood the government’s feeling, successive governments boosted the head tax from $50 to $100 in 1900, then to $500 (a year’s pay for a Chinese labourer)

And then, to make absolutely sure everyone understood which way Canada was leaning, in 1923 (the year I was born so not yet a lifetime away) Ottawa passed a new Chinese Immigration Act. It was properly named the Chinese Exclusion Act because that is exactly what it did – ban for the next 24 years the entry to Canada of anyone born in China.

There were four exceptions: Diplomats, students, merchants, and Canadian-born Chinese returning from education in China. A Canadian-born Chinese was allowed two years for an education stay in China. Failure to return to Canada on time would result in barred re-entry.

There was one other penalty for every person of Chinese descent. On passage of the Act, whether a citizen of Chinese descent was born in Canada or was a legal immigrant accepted as a citizen years earlier, he or she would be required to register within 12 months for a photo identity card. Failure to register would result in imprisonment or a fine of up to $500.

The Act was repealed in 1947 after the world saw the ultimate results of racism and genocide in WW2.

In the post-WW2 years, Victoria’s Immigration Hospital Centre became the target of many complaints about the care provided inmates. The building, too, was suffering from neglect. It was finally left empty and stood that way for 20 years; a haunted house, gaunt and falling apart until, in 1978, the wreckers’ ball finally ended its life.

But it wasn’t until 2006 that then Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced in Vancouver what his government hoped would be an end to “the Chinese question.” He had already extended a formal apology for past insults to the Canadian-Chinese community. Now, he said he was announcing the payment of $20 thousand to each of the estimated 400 survivors of the head tax years or to their widows. He hoped the payment would at long last remove “a moral blemish from our country’s soul.”

All that’s left today is a plaque. Let it remind us of hope and promise by all means. But let it also remind us of what we once were when racism was normal, bigotry acceptable and defended.

We were young as a country then and should have been old enough to know better. I sometimes wonder if we ever will.