Month: November 2018

“We Will Not Defer Justice Or Right…”

It was in the summer of 1215 that the Archbishop of Canterbury penned the first version of the Magna Carta which became an essential building block in common law wherever democracy is genuinely cherished.

Only four copies of the original are known to exist today – one preserved and held in Lincoln Cathedral; one in Salisbury Cathedral and two in the British Library. Reprints or extracts flourish, often disguised in trimmed and streamlined modern prose, but echoing what legendary UK Judge Lord Denning once described as “the greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot.”

The Magna Carta informed England’s King John that henceforth “no freeman shall be taken or imprisoned or be disseised (have his property confiscated) of his freehold, or liberties, or free customs, or be outlawed, or exiled or any otherwise destroyed; nor will we not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his deed, or by the law of the land. We will sell to no man; we will not deny or defer to any man either justice or right.”

With minor language changes, it remains law today. To ensure justice was done, the authors of the new treaty made certain King John understood his “lawmakers and peacekeepers” were now out of the brutal dictatorial way of doing business; that the new administrators of the law “will appoint as justices, constables, sheriffs or bailiffs only those who know the law of the realm and who wish to observe it well.”

Some 800 years later, the phraseology may have changed, but the foundational reforms of the Magna Carta remain the same bedrock on which our democratic freedoms stand.

The authors of the Canadian Bill of Rights (1960) acknowledged they were building on and re-endorsing old and sometimes neglected laws: “It is hereby recognized and declared that in Canada there have existed and shall continue to exist without discrimination by reason of race, national origin, colour, religion or sex the following human rights and fundamental freedoms: The right of the individual to life, liberty, security of person and enjoyment of property, and the right to not be deprived thereof except by due process of law; the right of the individual to equality before the law and the protection of the law; freedom of religion; freedom of speech; freedom of assembly and association and freedom of the press.”

The Charter fleshes these freedoms out a little and urges Canadians to be alert and ready to oppose any new laws that could be construed to “impose or authorize the imposition of cruel and unusual treatment or and unusual punishment … or to deprive a person who has been arrested or detained of the right to be informed promptly of the reason for his arrest or detention.”

It may be argued that when legislative clerk Craig James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz were escorted from the Legislature by police and Alan Mullen, an investigator hired by Speaker Daryll Plecas, they were not placed under arrest. True, but,they were arbitrarily denied freedom of movement, banned from their offices and suspended with pay from their duties simply because as yet unnamed informers had suggested they be the subject of a criminal investigation.

The government reacted immediately. In a rare display of unanimity, opposition Liberal MLAs joined the NDP and its three Green camp followers to pass a government motion ordering that James and Lenz be suspended with full pay. Without debate, the bewildered pair were denied freedom of movement, marched to their respective offices – flanked by a policeman and a self-proclaimed private investigator – to collect personal belongings.

The proceedings were recorded on television news cameras for all the world to see the bewildered embarrassment of two highly respected public servants being removed from key positions in the Legislature pending investigation of unconfirmed suspicions. They have been informed they are being investigated, but for what remains a mystery at this writing.

The RCMP and the provincial government, including its three ragged Green standard bearers, piously whimper they are banned from commenting on the incident because it is under police investigation. And the Liberals fume that they were, betrayed, not given all the facts before they voted on the suspension motion.

Not the most inspirational look at a democratic parliament in action, and a far cry from the time in 1642 when King Charles I marched into parliament with an armed guard and demanded the whereabouts of five MPs critical of his policies. Speaker William Lenthall replied with one of the shortest but most powerful speeches ever heard in a British parliament: “I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am.”

I am left with them impression that today’s inhabitants of the BC Legislature lack the ability to clearly understand their role in the protection of the foundations of democracy so hard fought to obtain and to hold for centuries by clerks,  Speakers and members of legislative assemblies. They seem to forget they are where they are as servants of the people.

Their actions in recent days do not synchronize well with the guarantees of Magna Carta or today’s Bill of Rights. Unconfirmed rumours, investigations with challengeable authority, refusal to indentify real or imagined causes for concern, are closer to Star Chamber proceedings than they are to what we proudly call “full disclosure” even as our Legislature, to its shame, denies even modest transparency.

 

(Italics used in text are mine, for emphasis.Jimh)

 

Silenced By An Apple

As I wrote some years ago and now repeat – it’s that time of year. Memory buds clicking on and off, some bright and others just a flicker but strong enough to re-kindle flames of decades-old memories.

Every year since I was old enough to appreciate the regrets of lost opportunity, December has been a month to dream of what might have been – or what would have been, if I had turned down a challenge to go “scrumping” in the orchard adjoining the residence of the Vicar of St. Mary’s Anglican Church in England’s industrial Midlands.

Scrumping involved scrambling over a six-foot wall anytime in late Fall, finding a tree with unpicked apples or a recent crop of windfalls and loading every available pocket before hoisting yourself back to safety to share the harvest with friends. Friends awaiting my return from a Vicar’s orchard forage in the late autumn of 1934 were fellow choristers, the boy soprano section of St. Mary’s choir practicing for a rare invitation to sing in Coventry Cathedral.

Early for choir practice, the devil was finding work for idle hands – and it was my turn to go over the wall.

At least that’s the way Reg Snape, organist, and choirmaster, saw things about an hour later when he found me unable to respond to his cry “Hume solo,” my mouth being full of apple. Practice that evening was one of many “specials” designed to prepare the choir for a Christmas festival in Coventry Cathedral. On discovering that his entire soprano section had been eating stolen goods supplied by one “scrumper,” he banished me from the choir – permanently.

Scrumping may have been regarded as a youthful autumn sport throughout England – but not by Mr. Snape. To him, it was outright stealing from the vicar and must be punished harshly. Fortunately, banishment to the Colonies was no longer an option, but the expulsion of one fallen choir soprano was a choice open to Mr. Snape that would discourage other potential scrumpers. He took it. I was expelled.

In the spring of 2002, I stood with my son Andrew in the shell of old Coventry Cathedral, built in 1373, destroyed by German bombers on November 14, 1940. I told him how I almost got to sing a solo there in 1934 as the organ (once played by Handel) lifted my less than angelic voice to the heavens.

I was able to tell him how the last time I had stood where we were then standing was on the morning of November 15, 1940, when I was amid still smouldering timbers wired in the shape of a cross – the ruins where the altar once stood. A simple message at its foot, placed there within hours of the air raid, read “Father forgive.”

The original charred-cross timbers are still preserved, but a replica replaces it above the Altar of Reconciliation. The original scrawled message, now carved on the altar wall remains unchanged: “Father forgive.”

At noon every Friday since November 1940, the old Coventry Cathedral has conducted a brief ceremony to remember the day of destruction. The congregation is asked to participate with the two-word response, “Father Forgive,” as the final clause of Coventry Litany of Reconciliation is recited as a statement of faith: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Non-Christians can find their own final words.

And, I can still dream about the day I almost got to sing there but was done in by an apple.

 

Readers Prefer a Dash Of Spice

We may like to think that we moderns brought the world its twittering classes and face to face gossip exchanges, but the fact is both classes were on the scene and active millenniums ago.

Their range wasn’t as great as it is today, but the format was identical and a few hundred kilometers north of its now capital city of Victoria native nations of Nootka Sound used it to keep up to date on events.

It was in Nuu-chah-nulth territory where long-distance travelers and traders were welcomed with a traditional feast at which they were expected to repay their hosts with news of other places. They were expected to be truthful when they reported to local chiefs stories of victory or defeat in battles witnessed in their travels; of famines survived or record harvests shared.

And when left to continue their travels or go home, they were loaded with gifts of food in the hope that the storytellers would twitter about them favourably.

In his classic book, A History of News” Mitchell Stephens tells us the Nootka chiefs were not above a little salacious storytelling every now and then. One such story involved  “a suitor who tumbled into a barrel of rainwater as he was sneaking out the window of his lover’s house.” Once twittered at a lodge campfire, the story took wings and “spread like wildfire up and down the coast.”

Today it would be proudly praised as a top story “going viral.” Readers still prefer news stories with a little sex and a dash of violence, reporters prefer writing them and publishers know what their readers prefer.

The age of twittering storytellers eventually faded as society recognized that a twice-told tale could become slightly different in its second telling and unrecognizable in its third and fourth. Some of today’s reader will remember the old campfire game where we sat in a circle our leader would whisper a sentence in an ear which would then be passed along to whispered completion. The final recipient would then stand and recite what he heard whispered and the leader would read out what had actually been said at the start of the game.

It was never the same story.

In Europe, coffee table twittering and chatter lasted for centuries before being replaced by more stable print and a vastly wider audience. Unfortunately, a wider audience has never automatically guaranteed a more honest product. Mitchell Stephens skillful autopsy of print-press, its triumphs, and its failures should be a must read for all who wish to ply the trade of journalism, snipe from the sidelines with a twittering load of misleading grapeshot – or just happily pay a weekly fee to read the inane posing as news.

“A History of News” was first published in 1988. It could be hard to find but will be worth the search if you are successful. But be warned it could be a painful journey as Stephens forces us to understand that while we lamented much of the “news content” presented in our newspapers even as they went into their continuing death spiral, it was “content” readers preferred.

In the last few lines of his book Stephens’ writes about the expanding power of huge companies building ever larger data banks. He writes : “….no matter how sophisticated news organs become, unless human beings are also re-wired, they are likely to continue to satisfy their desire to remain aware with a spicy, hastily prepared mix of the portentous and the anomolous similar to that with which they have satisfied that desire for the past few thousand years.”

 

 

 

 

The White Poppy of Remembrance

The park and the war memorial in London, England, are both postage stamp size. They stand –The Hermitage Wharf Memorial Garden and the People of London Memorial – on the south bank of the River Thames, a short walk from London’s classical Tower Bridge landmark.

The garden is just that, a small well-tended bed of flowers surrounding a circular block of stone with a dove in flight cut through the centre. There are two inscriptions. “In war resolution, in defeat defiance, in victory magnanimity, in peace goodwill” graces the circular stone on one side. On the other, there is a command: “Remember before God the people of London, 1939-1945.”

It is the lone memorial in London, the city of statues and bronze tablets marking historic happenings, to the 20,000 civilians who lost their lives in 57 nights of consecutive bombing raids – the London Blitz. On the last night of the blitz, May 10 – 11, 1941, more than 1,000 high explosive bombs smashed across the city with the heaviest concentrations in the East End and Thames dockside.

Over the course of the 57-night blitz mixed in with the heavy-duty bombs were 55 heavy oil canister firebombs and thousands of incendiary bombs. There were also 11 “blockbuster” parachute mines. A “blockbuster” would drift down and stand silently until the detonator-timer kicked in. It would destroy a full city block on explosion. The end results of firebomb explosions require no explanation.

While London was suffering its worst of the 57 nights, the historic town of Penryn, 435 kilometres west and close to the edge of Cornwall, was sleeping until one bomb from a lone aircraft fell on a row of modest houses. Today, flowers grow in Penryn’s Memorial Garden with a small tablet reading: “On this site stood homes which were destroyed during an early morning air raidwhen 18 lives were lost.” Each year the town remembers.

Details of the Penryn “raid” are hard to find but they still read out the names of the dead, including “four-year-old David Boxhall, and Percy and Ronald Pascoe, brothers four and two years old” who died with their mother and five other family members. John Rickard Rapson, 78, was a victim, as was Richard Ralph who, The Falmouth Packet newspaper reports, “had survived four years in WW1 trenches only to be killed in his own home.”

Penryn was a flea bite when compared with London or other major UK cities. And by 1945 the brutal devastation in UK cities paled when measured against the wreckage and loss of civilian lives in cities across Europe from the channel ports to Moscow.

Germany had lost as many as 500,000 civilians including 76,000 children – and their mothers.

Adding to the ranks of civilian dead were women who served as air raid wardens, in ambulance services, and as firefighters. There is a Memorial to Fire Fighters near St. Paul’s Cathedral. It is a bronze sculpture depicting a crew in action during an air raid when civilian firefighting casualties were high. Two members of the squad are female firefighters. There were many others

Last Thursday there was a letter in my local newspaper signed by a 90-year old woman who wanted people to know that on November 11 she would be attending a memorial service for the Spanish Civil War, the first democracy versus fascism war – 1936-39. She would, she wrote, be proudly wearing a white poppy.

I have never met or spoken to Alison Acker, the letter signer, but I salute her white poppy courage. The different poppy with its white petals and green centre has been around since the 1930s when a group of women, many of whom had lost husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers in WW1 decided to become advocates for peace. They would remember fallen soldiers, sailors, and airmen with a white poppy symbol of peace that would reach beyond the military and include the civilian dead.

It was not a popular movement and showed little growth over the years, but it never faded away. Many ex-service groups denounced it as unpatriotic and a betrayal of the men and women who served in the armed forces and helped keep the world and our nation safe.

The white poppy supporters denied the charges, insisted they respected and appreciated the sacrifices made but also believed that war should not be glamourized and that civilian dead deserved respect equal to that accorded the military. In the years since WW2 white poppy wearers have insisted they honour all war victims, especially the elderly and women and children who, since that conflict have been unarmed but in harm’s way once the fighting starts.

The white poppy received an unexpected boost a week ago when the 141-year-old St. John Ambulance organization changed its uniform dress code to allow its volunteers to wear the white poppy.

The Peace Pledge Union which handles white poppy distribution says it hopes to have 100,000 sold before November 11 – 10,000 more than a year ago. It sounds encouraging until measured against the war-like rhetoric hurled back and forth at the international level, and especially by our southern neighbour.

Our world leaders threaten but say what they really want is peace; and we, the people – or most of us – echo that we, too, want peace.

But not enough to wear a white poppy.

President Trump’s Final Solution?

 

The weather on January 6, 1864 was not unusual, but maybe just a little unexpected. Deep snow covered the hills surrounding Canyon de Chelly, and a cold wind was making things difficult for renowned Indian fighter Kit Carson. He and his 400-strong “army” had been charged with the task of clearing the canyon and the surrounding country of Navajo tribal natives.

Carson launched what would become a 16-day relentless assault on the Navajo. Every “Hogan” was burned, corrals were torn down, food supplies stored for winter were destroyed, and wells and water holes were filled with rocks and soil and rendered useless.

Then, Carson sat and waited for survivors to surrender – which most did rather than face death by starvation. Tribal histories say they realized they could not survive the winter. “They had no livestock, their homes were in ashes, and crops destroyed, children clad in rags and afraid to light fires because they would attract Carson’s attention.”

When they surrendered at Fort Defiance and Fort Wingate, they were, to their surprise, welcomed with gifts of food and blankets and roofs to sleep under. And, they were told that more food and blankets and permanent homes awaited them at a place called Bosque Redondo near the Pecos River in eastern New Mexico. The military had an outpost there called Fort Sumner.

There was what Kit Carson and the army regarded as a minor problem: how to get them from Fort Defiance to Fort Sumner. Some tribal stories handed down verbally estimate the final number of Navajo assembled by Carson in what is now Southeast Arizona in March 1864 was “around 8,500 men, women and children.” Whatever the total, on the day they moved, they had no idea their new home was close to 500 kilometers away – and they had to walk every kilometer. At least, those who survived what the Navajo still call “the Long Walk” – would have walked every kilometer.

Tribal histories say: “Soon the Navajo’s moccasins fell apart and their blankets turned to rags…… (many) became sick from different foods the soldiers gave them. They didn’t know how to use flour or coffee beans. They mixed the flour with water and drank it and the coffee beans they boiled in stews … Old people and young people fell along the trail. If they did not get up the soldiers either shot them or left them to freeze to death.”

Before reaching the Pecos River, they had to cross the Rio Grande and many drowned there before the military guard allowed the walkers to make a few primitive rafts. The number of deaths on The Long Walk varies between 3,000 and 5,000 – depending on who is telling the story.

The Navajo remained incarcerated in Fort Sumner for close to four years when a new treaty was negotiated, and the survivors rejoined a small band of Navajo warriors who had avoided capture and refused to surrender. The Navajo had survived.

The Fort Sumner concentration camp site is, by all accounts, better visited today than it was 25 years ago when I took my youngest son to see this rare historic site and learn a little harsh American history. He listened to my Navajo story, but couldn’t visualize a concentration camp on what looked like an empty field with a fence around it. He drifted off to Fort Sumner’s small cemetery for another look at a gravestone claiming to mark the last resting place of Henry McCarty or William Bonney – better known as “Billy the Kid.”

Billy the Kid was a 21-year-old murderer with eight victims to his name when Sheriff Pat Garrett shot and killed him at Fort Sumner in 1881 – and remains in the American psyche (and that of 10-year-old boys) a far more interesting historical happening at the old outpost than The Long Walk of the Navajos.

I think I owe readers a reason for reviving The Long Walk story. It was just curiosity. I got to wondering: How would Commander in Chief USA President Trump resolve his current troublesome problem of refugee “invaders” seeking food and a place to call home?

Late last Thursday afternoon via television he told me. At the first sign of trouble if/when the refugees reach the Mexico – USA border he would “use the rifle” to halt the cavalcade. And that brutal promised order from the Commander in Chief of the US Armed forces should be all his most ardent supporters need to trigger an already overdue farewell.