Month: February 2022

Not Endorsed By Organized Labour

A recitation of a few facts buried in the untidy mess left behind when an angry mob – poorly disguised as champions of righteous indignation – was eventually herded off the streets of Ottawa in ugly disarray and with minimal violence.

The protest had started with triumphant cavalcades of vehicles from heavy-duty semi transports to modest pick-ups favoured by small-acre market gardeners. They all seemed to be flying Canada’s National Maple Leaf flag and plentifully equipped with eardrum-challenging airhorns to make sure onlookers would follow the sound and note that many of the flags were flying upside down – the international signal for distress.

These blaring convoys departed from Vancouver and Halifax, heading east and west for Ottawa and picking up more airhorns and flags en route, with the goal of paralyzing the Capital and shutting down a few important trade links between Canada and the United States of America. 

National and international TV networks loved them for their colour and their noise, especially when they rumbled into the heart of Ottawa to disgorge drivers, a few families with playpens, pets and occasional grandparents to jam every available parking spot and disrupt or shut down normal business operations.

For a while, television relished its coverage of the great “Freedom Convoy” of hard-working truck drivers rising in wrath to protest COVID-19 mandated vaccination. Convoy organizers tried to portray the protests as a denial of human rights issues, with grassroot truckers challenging health authority claims on the best ways to control infectious disease. And, for a while, it appeared to be working until someone started asking how many full-time union-accredited truck drivers were driving in the protest convoy.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents big-rig truckers on both sides of the Canada-USA border, had denounced the Ottawa excursion; so had the Canadian Labour Congress. The CLC left no room for speculation when the blockades were moved into place:

“Canada’s unions have fought for generations for the right to protest. This is the cornerstone of our democratic system. But, what we have witnessed on the streets of Canada’s Capital … is something different altogether. This is not a protest; it is an occupation by an angry mob trying to disguise itself as a peaceful protest … We have seen right-wing extremists spreading messages filled with racism and intolerance, flying the Nazi and Confederate flags alongside other symbols of violence and hate. We have seen organizers not only demand the end of all public health rules but also call for the overthrow of our democratically-elected government. This is an attack on all of Canada and not just the people of Ottawa.”

The CLC had equal criticism for what it felt was a delayed and inadequate early response to the invasion, which “has also raised serious questions about an uneven application of policing. Authorities spent the first week taking a hands-off approach to the occupation of city streets and parks, not even handing out parking tickets … This is a far cry from the kind of crackdowns we have seen toward Indigenous land protests …”

Federal and civic governments responded to these strong labour union proclamations, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declaring the Emergencies Act and Ottawa’s city council appointing a new acting police chief. And 48 hours later, a police presence bolstered by law enforcement officers from other jurisdictions had restored relative calm to the streets.

I can hope that this calm is of lasting quality, but in this world where guns and violence long ago replaced butter and the ability to compromise as the preferred way to resolve problems, I fear my hope is in vain.

Does Your Home Town Offer Sanctuary?

There was a time when humankind got along with minimal legal encumbrances.

In biblical times, what we know today as the Middle East was exploding with population growth. Ten tribes of Israel were carving up the land and agreeing that the Levites among them would own no land in the new country but would be its new overall 10-tribes “administrator.”

The Levites, as multi-generations of governing bodies have discovered since, soon learned being in charge of things may briefly be good for the ego but can also be painful.

One of the festering sores facing the Levites in their new role was a law as ancient as humanity itself: The old Mosaic “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.” The Levites were wise in their ways which is why they were asked by tribal brothers to take on the toughest of tasks, that of persuading fellow Israelites to give up the power to slaughter – without trial or examination – a person who had been responsible for the death of another. Any blood relative of the dead, even if the death had been obvious accidental manslaughter, could openly kill the killer.

“So they (the Bible tells us) set apart Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali, and Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the hill country of Judah. And beyond the Jordan (River) east of Jericho, they appointed Bezer in the wilderness on the tableland, from the tribe of Reuben, and Ramoth in Gilead, from the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan, from the tribe of Manasseh.”

And, thus, were created the first six Sanctuary Cities of Israel, scattered throughout the country with each one reachable by not more than one day’s journey from anyplace where one human being had taken the life of another and could automatically, without trial, be executed by a member of the victim’s family. The Sanctuary City Law decreed that if an accused could reach “sanctuary” before the family took its lawful tribute, the accused could not be harmed until charged with murder and found guilty. 

Readers may justifiably be wondering why I’m delivering a weekend sermon on a law several thousand years old and involving long-forgotten Sanctuary Cities and the unpopular protection they were offering. I have a few reasons, among them the fact that Sanctuary Cities still exist, and Canada has several. They don’t deal with life-for-life vengeance anymore, not in Canada, anyway, where the death penalty was banished years ago.

So how come Toronto, Hamilton, London, and Montreal have “Sanctuary City” designations while Vancouver modestly dropped the title “Sanctuary City” but has an officially adopted Access to City Services Without Fear for Residents With Uncertain or No Immigration Status. That designation has earned praise from the Canadian Labour Congress “for Vancouver taking action to support non-status migrants beyond the standard designation.”

Sanctuary Cities may no longer be needed to protect the precious belief in Canada that every person is innocent of any charge until proven guilty, but they obviously have a role to play in an expensive humanitarian effort.

Residents of Canada “with uncertain or no immigration status” are hard to count.

The Canadian Institute of Health Resources admits: “There are no accurate figures representing the number or composition of undocumented immigrants residing in Canada. A guesstimate of about half a million has been proposed nationally, but this number varies among other sources that suggest there are anywhere from 20,000 to 200,000 undocumented workers.

“In 2003, Ontario’s Construction Secretariat claimed there were 76,000 non-status immigrants in Ontario’s construction industry alone. Other sources assert that at least 36,000 failed refugee applicants had never been deported, and another 64,000 individuals overstayed their work, student, or visitor visas in 2002. If it is assumed that workers are accompanied by family, the numbers in Ontario would rise to the highest figure previously estimated for all of Canada. With respect to settlement, Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto have the highest number of undocumented migrants with nearly 50 per cent residing in Toronto alone.” 

Why the hang-up with the numbers? Simple answer: Hiding in our major cities are a minimum 200,000 refugees from other countries seeking a Holy Grail called “Canadian landed immigrant status.” Some are here having crossed a remote border without detection. Others have watched official study visas or limited work permits lapse, and on being rejected for landed immigrant status, they have quietly found work somewhere and blended unnoticed into our cosmopolitan population.

Racism is something they have to live with; incidents they have to nurse quietly at home, and bullying and derision about accent or colour are tolerated without complaint. There are no health care benefits or unemployment benefits, just social isolation and the constant fear of discovery and deportation by federal authorities.

The Canadian Labour Congress has been a steadfast friend of the would-be Canadians and has had some success getting smaller municipalities to remember that Sanctuary City policies are consistent with Canadian Charter protected rights to equality and security of person; and that many municipal services can be provided with the promise of “access without fear.” 

The United States of America has a wonderful Statue of Liberty at the entrance to its main harbour on the East Coast. Its inscription once earned the USA worldwide admiration – and a little envy here in Canada: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.” The USA seems to have lost sight of the message and its meaning in recent years.

Maybe we could build on the Sanctuary Cities foundation and offer the world a Sanctuary Country with the first huddled mass to be welcomed being the one that’s already here but afraid to show its face.

Cast Away and Left to Die

“A middle-aged, motherly little woman with her hair in a neat bun answered our knock at her screened-in veranda door. Inside we found a friendly warmth about the modestly furnished room. In a corner, a bowlegged wood stove crackled. The smell of baking was strong in the room.

“There was a cake in the oven,” she explained. It was for ‘the boys,’ the one-eyed Chinese and the Japanese. Last week she had baked them a jelly roll. This week, for a change, she had baked them a cake. We had arrived a little too early to ‘have a piece,’ she said with a twinkle. But, the humor was the kind that struck at the heart …”

The writer was Cy Young in the telling of the story for Maclean’s Magazine readers in 1948 of – “three of the loneliest people in Canada” – serving a life sentence of isolation on Bentinck Island roughly 12 miles by sea from Victoria BC (with Race Rocks a close neighbour) because they were suffering from leprosy, a disease loathsome in appearance and, since Biblical times, thought highly infectious. Because most victims were Chinese, it was known in Canada as Chinese leprosy.

The three survivors on Bentinck were a middle-aged “matronly woman who has been a missionary in Africa, an old Chinese who talks pidgin English and a 29-year-old Japanese who is studying carpentry by mail. They have only one pathetic thing in common – they are lepers.”

It was back in March 1891 that the City of Victoria’s health inspector was first asked to check on reports of Chinese males sleeping on the sidewalks of the Chinese quarter. Renisa Mawani, University of BC Sociology, in a detailed Historical Account of Pandemic: Health, Colonialism and Racism in Canada, informs us the inspector discovered five Chinese males thought to be inflicted with leprosy. It was recommended that the city establish a leprosy colony on D’Arcy Island.

With provincial government assistance, D’Arcy became home for 49 lepers until 1924, when the federal government assumed control, closed D’Arcy and opened Bentinck Island as a new site.

With the passing of the years, D’Arcy faded from memory until reporter Kim Luman writing in the Globe and Mail in October 2000, visited the old site and reported: “The bones of Ng Chung lie here. And although the grave is unmarked and his story may never entirely be told, his name is being remembered now for the first time in more than 100 years since he was sent to this small island off the coast of British Columbia to die. Ng Chung was one of the first five Chinese men banished to D’Arcy in 1891.”

Now in charge of providing care for lepers, the federal government didn’t try to hide its racist policies. Canada already encouraged segregated Chinese schools and openly admitted only white people contracting leprosy to a leper colony in Tracadie, New Brunswick, operating as a hospital with doctors and nurses. Any leper with Chinese ancestry was sent to D’Arcy or, after its closure in 1924, to Bentinck, which continued to operate until 1956, when the last man died. In total, 10 died in Bentinck and 14 on D’Arcy.

Only a few were possessors of what reporter Cy Young described as the warm humour shown when his hostess said her cake was too soon out of the oven to cut them a slice, a gentle apology for the rules they had to observe.

It had been agreed that the nameless “hostess” should remain so, known only to relatives, staff and the government records branch, the fear of leprosy being so great that patients and close relatives needed protection from an easily aroused and prejudiced public. The lady revealed she had contracted leprosy while working as a missionary in Africa. One day, she noticed a loss of sensation in her left leg, and a medical diagnosis confirmed leprosy.

When she was moved to Bentinck a year before Young’s visit, she was a bed patient. She still had partial paralysis in her left leg, a lack of sensation in several parts of her body and some weakness in her forearms. But she was no longer confined to bed.

“The disease itself is not so bad,” she said. “Nor is the isolation. It is being cast out that hurts. If people took a different, more sensible attitude to our disease, there is no reason why we should not be allowed to live in an institution such as a tuberculosis sanatorium. My friends have stood by me. They think more of me now than they ever did. But some of my acquaintances will not visit my family anymore because I am here. That hurts me very much.”

And what did she do with her time day after endless day?

“Oh, we have our little times,” she said, motioning to her fresh-baked cake. “Sometimes I write for the church paper or sew or knit. Sometimes I read or sit listening to the radio.”

We lose track of the nameless hostess after Bentinck closed down and can only hope she had many more “little times,” cakes cool enough to cut and the calm example of how to handle adversity.

100 Days – and Still No Housing

Well, we do indeed live in interesting times as the headlines in our daily newspapers, news broadcasts between inane commercials, and the ever-growing chorus of mini online news outlets wash our minds “with news of fresh disasters.”

Every morning I mutter imprecations as the always busy gnomes of the national and provincial word factories clutter up my inbox with blurbs of little interest. But, alas, a news junky not yet old enough to know better, I scan the daily offerings and, once in a while, stumble over one which disturbs an otherwise comfortable retirement.

It was one of the smaller items in my daily dosage, just three or four paragraphs beneath a headline reading: “One Hundred Days And Still No Housing.” The 100 days being the last time any number of governments assured us they were aware of the crucial shortage of affordable housing from coast to coast to coast and were determined to do something about it.

It is, of course, a lie repeated not for just 100 days, but for a thousand years or more since the great industrial revolution that brought us the welcome comforts many of us enjoy – comforts so many more thousands are denied.

This leads me, nicely, to another breaking news story these past few days that has been attracting far more attention than “100 days and still no housing,” the great project so sorely needed but never affordable.

Pause and reflect on this story rampaging across our TV screens: A story of tumult; a story of bully-boy horn-blowing; a story of thousands of protesters thoughtlessly littering the streets with garbage, defiling the grave of a dead soldier and thinking it funny to make a joke of a statue tribute to an extremely fine human being named Terry Fox.

At the heart of this protest – billed “the Freedom Convoy” – is the amazing willingness of thousands of Canadians to back it with cash, the stuff we can’t find for housing, to the tune of $10 million and growing with every dollar raised via GoFundMe, legitimately and quite openly.

Just Google GoFundMe, and you can find the names of the people who run the show and what they charge for their services. Wikipedia confirms “payment processors collect 2.9 per cent plus $0.30 from each GoFundMe transaction.” GoFundMe’s home page and board of directors may surprise you.

Last Thursday, Feb.3, the House of Commons Public Safety and National Security Committee issued a call to GoFundMe to appear before the committee to explain what safeguards it has in place when it comes to releasing $10.1 million raised for the truckers’ convoy.

The committee says it is seeking assurance that none of the money will be used “to promote extremism, white supremacy, anti-Semitism and other forms of hate that have been expressed among prominent organizers for the truck convoy.”

GoFundMe has already paid $1 million to the truckers but, at this writing, had suspended the balance pending further investigation.

Strange, isn’t it? All that cash floating around out there with multi-millions up for Lotto grabs each week, other millions just waiting for a GoFundMe blessing – but not enough to build affordable housing.