“They Simply Pass Him By…”

I always ask: “Will we never learn?” And, quickly move on to happier memories, remembering the good times and skimming quickly over the times when our personal or community decisions were unwise and coldly indifferent.

Indifference – perhaps the greatest evil act we can ever commit against a neighbour, workmate, friend or partner who, in need of nothing more than friendship, finds indifference.

It’s been a fairly constant theme of mine to remember times in history when mankind, in general, did unbelievably cruel things in the name or religion or politics and continued to repeat these cruelties over the centuries.

I happen to be scribbling these few words on Friday, April 2 – Good Friday. A good day in the Christian celebration book for a few thoughts on “indifference,” the theme of many First World War poems from the pen of Geoffrey Studdert-Kennedy.

Read it thoughtfully even if a non-Christian in belief: “When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree. They drove great nails through hands and feet and made a Calvary. They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep, for those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.

“When Jesus came to Birmingham they simply passed Him by. They never hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die. For men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain. They only just passed down the street and left Him in the rain.

“Still Jesus cried: ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ And, still it rained the wintry rain that drenched Him through and through. The crowds went home, and left the streets without a soul to see. And Jesus crouched against a wall and cried for Calvary.”

It is from Studdert-Kennedy’s “Unutterable Beauty” collection and worth remembering the next time you are fortunate enough to be asked for help – and are able to respond.

Patience: The Risks Remain High

Tough questions, tougher answers, and I begin to wonder if we have now been so battered around the clock and from every inhabited part of our planet with news of fresh or pending disasters that we have reached Rhett Butler’s breaking point in the classic movie “Gone With The Wind.”

Remember? Of course you do. Scarlett had just finished her latest recitation of how badly she felt treated by life and fate, and Rhett had snapped: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”… as the fog rolled in, the credits marched across the screen and those of us old enough to have spent three hours watching an epic movie walked home through a blacked-out world back to a real-world standing poised to explode.

It was 1939. My world was England. Safe, secure. A schoolboy well acquainted with maps, I was taught that half the world was painted pink – the British Empire. Invincible. Even father, a First World War veteran, said so. “They know what they’re doing,” he said.

It took some time for us to realize that the first casualty of war had always been “the truth.” And so it was when I was growing up, and Winston Churchill started to feed the people unpleasant facts. He fudged once in a while, sat on bad news occasionally, but by and large, all he offered was “blood, sweat, toil and tears” and the confident assurance “we shall pull through.”

Dr. Bonnie Henry, guiding light for public health affairs in BC, prefers gentler words. She asks critics to be kind – not “soft,” just “kind” – and always with the added Churchillian assurance that “we shall pull through.”

She reminds me of the poet Rev. Geoffrey Anketell Studdert-Kennedy (cct) I have long admired and quoted. He was nicknamed “Woodbine” Willy in the First World War because of his less than priestly habit when “to the men, I should have offered grace, I put off with a cigaret.” (Woodbine was a cigarette brand. It is estimated that the chaplain gave away 865,000 cigarettes at his own expense.)

I’m not suggesting Dr. Bonny wander hospital wards offering Woodbines to the dying; just that in her choice of words, she reflects the kindness and caring well earned by health care professionals since Florence Nightingale. Just a few days ago, in one of her weekly reports to the public, Dr. Bonny said: “We are immunizing more people every day, and in parallel slowly turning the dial on the restrictions we have in place. We must remember the risk for all of us remains high, particularly with indoor activities – whether for work or social reasons.

“As a result, to get through this storm and continue to protect our loved ones, we must all continue to use our safety layers and follow all of the public health restrictions we have in place.”

Readers could help her cause by learning those few words and reciting them to those among us, shedding crocodile tears for feeling democratically deprived of places to imbibe. For emphasis, they can quote Rhett Butler’s last words to Scarlett.

As a reminder, running alongside our COVID-19 pandemic on a separate track but demanding attention from “health care” workers is the number of deaths due to toxic illicit drugs. “It highlights the ongoing critical risk to public health and safety from the illicit drug market,” says Lisa Lapointe, BC’s chief coroner, in her latest public report.

“I extend my sincere sympathy to everyone who has lost a beloved family member or friend to substance use. The continued tragic and unprecedented rate of death in BC highlights the urgent need for a multi-faceted, evidence-based and accessible system of care for those experiencing problematic substance use.”

The total number of deaths is the largest ever recorded in the month of February and an increase of 107 percent over the total number of deaths recorded in February 2020. The average of 5.5 lives lost each day makes February the second consecutive month in which the average number of daily deaths was above five. The 1,724 deaths recorded in 2020 work out to an average of 4.7 deaths a day. (My emphasis)

Also of note; 15 percent of the lives lost in 2021 were people 60 years of age and older, and 40 percent were over age 50. These increasing numbers continue a trend that has been observed in older age cohorts over the last several years.

Just the Facts, Please!

“TWO WEEKS AWAY FROM A HUG” … this page-wide headline shouted out on my local newspaper on March 19. It topped a story on the launch of “mass immunization clinics” for seniors – a story to be read carefully, thoughtfully, as the world forms battle lines to combat the killer virus COVID-19.

It is a year, give or take a week or so, since the people of the planet Earth were mildly disturbed by rumbles from world health authorities that 2020’s flu season might be a little different than normal. There was a rumour that China was already engaged in a fight to keep a new strain of the flu under control, a rumour that quickly developed into a frightening truth and a confession that the new bug was no longer under laboratory control. It was free, roaming the world and rampant – a declared pandemic with no eye to pity, no arm to save.

No corner of the globe was spared. Nations with established universities and medical research laboratories of high repute stepped up front and centre seeking a cure or at least trying to find a way to halt the invasion of what was now named COVID-19.

World scientists estimated the fall of 2021 as an optimistic success date for a vaccine to possibly halt the rampage. And there was universal rejoicing in early spring when three, then four, major research companies were able to offer tested and approved vaccines months ahead of schedule.

Vaccination for those who seek it and a general return to what was once normal living is now slowly underway in BC, with early glitches being worked out at mass vaccination sites. Even though new COVID variants are emerging, there are those chanting “free at last” and banking on vaccine protection while checking opening times at a favourite bar.

Even Premier John Horgan seemed a little anxious about opening time. At least he sounded that way last Wednesday when he appeared to suggest it wouldn’t be long before Dr. Bonnie Henry looked kindly on relaxing a few rules in the form of benefits for the vaccinated.

Being a politician, he was careful to add, of course, any such decision would be hers, not his. True, and as such, it will be based on health care reasoning, which means being sure the new “infectious variants” in the virus can be controlled by the vaccines.

Which brings me full circle to my opening quote from my local newspaper suggesting its readers are now just “two weeks” from celebrating victory over Covid 19. The facts are that the promise of victory is there with celebratory “hugs” ready to be joyously given; but for now it remains just that a “ promise” not a fact..

Murphy’s law that “if anything can go wrong it will” still hovers and Yogi Berra’s reminder that “the game ain’t over ‘till its over” remains a truth.

So, readers all, be patient. Listen to the health experts not the politicians. And remind yourselves that your parents and grandparents had longer waits to survive famine, pestilence, war and a multitude of other man-made or nature created disasters.

“Will We Ever Learn?”

“What a disappointment the 20th Century has been. How terrible and melancholy is the long series of disastrous events that have darkened its first 20 years. We have seen in every country a dissolution, a weakening of bonds, a challenge to those principles, a decay of faith, an abridgement of hope upon which the structure and ultimate existence of civilized society depends.”

And the speaker was none other than our revered former leader, Winston Churchill, holding forth in 1921 on the terrible state of the world in the century that had opened with such great promise 21 years earlier. It would be another quarter century and a Second World War before Churchill, then prime minister could shake the nation he loved from the world-wide “terrible melancholy” wrought by the war to end all wars.

It wasn’t just at home in England, a once-proud sapphire of Empire set in a silver sea, that melancholy prevailed. In Russia, there was bloody revolution and five million dead from starvation. In Italy, the people were entranced with the military triumphs of a comic-opera caricature called Mussolini over impoverished small and economically deprived nations.

In Germany, Hitler was triumphantly uniting his First World War shattered country before leading it to destruction beyond belief. The end to his reign of terror was costly beyond reckoning in human life and money to every nation involved.

Amazingly, humanity made progress in seemingly every field of science, but little in the fields of tolerance and simple kindness.

The 20th Century marked 100 years of scientific marvels progressing to manned flights to the Moon and now surging beyond to check out Mars; and medical science, which can and does work miracles in holding at bay diseases that were once automatic death sentences.

There was a brief time when our young songwriters stirred our thinking, reminding us of our individual responsibilities to each other, but that too soon got swamped and drowned in the clash of pounding percussions.

Hard to believe that not too long ago, we sang songs about becoming bridges over troubled waters. We asked ourselves why we seemed happy to embark on another war every few years or so – but couldn’t find time to answer the now age-old question posed in the modern pop ballad “Wage War – Will We Ever Learn?” 

Maybe you can remember its opening lines of seeing things “face to face, but never eye to eye … all this vision but we’re going blind from all the emptiness we feel inside.”

Or the warning that “we hate what we don’t know, refusing to let go … we let it burn, we let it burn. Oh, will we ever learn?”

When “Brownouts” Were Routine

If you can remember when “brownouts” were a regular feature of life in British Columbia, then you are an aging westerner who lived in the era before W.A.C. Bennett shocked Canada from coast to coast with his “nationalization” of BC Electric, a private company he felt was standing in the way of economic progress.

That story is voluminously documented and well told by a multitude of sources. It makes fascinating reading of grand, touching on dictatorial, political decisions and the development of what would eventually become one of the great debate battlegrounds of the century – the development of hydroelectric power.

It was in 1961 that construction began on what would eventually be named the W.A.C. Bennett Dam, 186-metres high (610 feet) and boastfully proclaimed “one of the world’s largest earth-filled dams.” Seven years later, in 1968, the project was declared completed at $756 million with a flourish of announcements that it had all been achieved “on time and on budget.” There was a modest confession a little later that a draw from reserve funds had been required for building a storage reservoir in what was known as “the Trench.” 

The first great step toward the electrification of British Columbia had been taken, although the debate on final terms of the benefit-sharing agreement between BC and the USA continued for years. The passage of time muted bitter NDP opposition to what had become known as the Columbia River Treaty; more power became readily available, and “brownouts,” the frustrating regular fading of power at peak usage time, became rare.

The Bennett Dam and power plant development sparked angry environmental debate and cries of injustice from first nation people who had lived in the valley where their ancestral homes were now buried by the great lake created behind the new dam. A compensation formula was established, but it was far from a happy solution.

The wide-open spaces of British Columbia’s famed Peace River country with fabled rivers and virgin valleys became a centre of attention for BC Hydro and its next major power project. This massive development named Site C would fulfill BC power needs well into the 21st Century.

BC Hydro had already invested $1.5 billion in Site C, with another $4 billion committed through contracts and agreements in the then-estimated $8 billion project. At least, that’s what former Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett (no relation to the former premier) once told Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer.

Just a few days ago, New Democrat Premier John Horgan announced, with some regret, that he could not justify cancelling the massive project. Reluctantly, he said, his government could only watch and weep as billions of dollars flushed through the giant turbines on a wasted journey to the sea.

Could it be that Premier Horgan had earlier failed to grasp the possibility that Site C could, 15 or 20 years from conception, become the economic lifeline its supporters have always claimed it would be?

Just two weeks ago, BC took possession of two newly built electric-powered ferries. More will undoubtedly follow. The entire world is on the verge of abandoning fossil fuels for electric automobiles vehicles.

More modern houses and apartments are being constructed with built-in security systems; blinds and curtains that open and close at the touch of a button, and hand-held miracle gadgets that we have to ask the grade two nipper next door to show us how they work.

When WAC Bennett stormed ahead with his Columbia River Treaty and his first hydro projects, the criticism was fierce and unrelenting. But, the ultimate successes of BC Hydro saw an end to regular brownouts and the start of the era when it became hard to find even a remote cabin in BC where you couldn’t switch on an electric light.

I doubt if I’ll still be around in 2025, so I will miss any Horgan (or successor) announcement that BC Hydro’s Site “C” is “on-line. It will be a grand opening” – with Site “D” – in the planning phase.

Another Brief Chapter

The e-mail was brief, to the point and received the day after I published an account of RCAF Pilot Officer Reg Price’s death-wrestle with a grievously wounded Lancaster bomber staggering just above the black night waves of the north sea.

My story — or rather FO Prices story – had opened catastrophically as seconds after he ordered his four Merlin engines to “full thrust” for take off on ambing mission to Dusseldorf, Germany – one engine burst into flame. As the flames were extinguished and the propeller “feathered” a second prop exploded and flamed, the fire conquered, the prop feathered.

And the once mighty, still fully loaded Lancaster with a heavy – 4000 pound high explosive bomb and a multitude of incendiary explosives roared into night just a few unsafe feet above the runway surface. So close that FO Price would later admit “I didn’t want to know how close.”

Once clear of land and over the North Sea FO Price turned the Lanc for home, jettisoning bombs, guns and anything else to lighten the aircraft and maintain safe altitude. Readers not yet nodding off can refer to last weeks offering if they want more memory freshener for detail. If, on the other hand, you prefer to find out how the opening words of today’s observations tie-in with today’s pre-amble, carry on:

The e-mail: “After reading your post today I shall go to bed tonight grateful in the knowledge that during the night of November 3 rd 1943 at least two guardian angels had their hands at play. One above the English coast safely guiding home pilot Reg Price’s Lancaster bomber and his crew. The other one was stationed over their intended target Duesseldorf (cct) guarding twelve year old Carl Heinz who with his family was taking shelter from the bombs some of which were now resting on the bottom of the ocean. It is undecided as to which angel is responsible for this turnout.”

Being “undecided” on guardian angel decisions is a wise precaution especially when dealing with a battlefield like Dusseldorf on Nov.3/4,1943 when a staggering 598 aircraft, including 344 Lancasters and 233 Halifaxes covered the skies and guardian angels were in short supply.

Of interest is the first casualty count in the early morning hours as daylight ended the fearful night. Twenty six dead, they said and later revised the total to 118, and then on further reflection, 622 dead with 942 injured and an explanation that after such massive, explosive, destruction it was difficult to count the dead. They could never really be sure.

To end on a brighter note it is a comfort that I can find some in the fact that a native born Canadian and couple of aging immigrants to Canada from war-mongering nations can share a friendship in their declining years. All three are in their Nineties, have lived full lives, enjoy good company and still figure our glass is half full.

And by sheer coincidence former FO Price and I are residents of Berwick Royal Oak Retirement centre while Carl (Charles) von Muehidorfer, formerly of Dusseldorf resides just across the the highway.

A Ninety Minute Lifetime

It was just before 17:25 hours, November 3, 1943, as the summer of wartime England faded from deep purple to the black embrace of a Lincolnshire winter night.

Snuggled down for the night was the small village of Kelstern, one of many similar English villages that found themselves central players in the Second World War as air warfare created new battle zones in once pastoral places.

In 1943, Kelstern was the home of RAF Squadron 625. On November 3, some 15 four-engine, heavy-duty Lancaster bombers were lined up at one end of the main runway awaiting permission to take off for a several-hour flight to Dusseldorf, deep in Germany.

At the head of the queue when we begin our observation of this night’s operation was Lancaster W4833. Pilot for the flight is Flight Sergeant Reg Price, 22, born in Lloydminster in 1921. He joined the RCAF in 1941. Tonight’s flight is his second in command, his third in combat. On the two earlier flights, he was “second dickey” to the pilot on the flight deck.

The night we catch up with him, he’s in the lone seat upfront watching the oil lamp runway lights mark a path through the dark and waiting for a green “take-off” light signal.

Logbooks tell us this was a raw crew on their second op after an initial grind to Kassel a few days earlier. This would be a flight to test their mettle … their battle-fatigued aircraft was at its maximum gross take-off weight with fuel and bomb load, including a 4,000-pound high explosive “cookie” and a full load of incendiaries.

Given the green light, Price “applied full boost to the four Merlin engines and accelerated down Runway Six in almost total darkness. And the flight engineer, standing beside the pilot because there never was a seat on the flight deck for a co-pilot, reported flames spewing from the starboard inner engine. The fire was extinguished, the prop feathered. The Lancaster faltered as fire broke out in the port inner engine. It, too, was extinguished, and the prop feathered. But the Lancaster flying on two engines with its full load of bombs was still in grave danger.

The order was given to lighten the aircraft, and everything that could be discarded was. The 4,000-pound “cookie” and the heavy clusters of incendiaries fell into the North Sea. So did ammunition and the guns. And even the navigator’s sextant.

Still several miles from the English coast PO Price held his course until he caught a glimmer of air strip lights. “It wasn’t difficult landing,” says. “We still had two engines and confident control. My tail gunner later told me it was a nice landing….but then all successful landings are.”

The fight to get home had taken one hour and 15 minutes from take off to safe landing. Chatting with me over coffee in Berwick Royal Oak close to 100-years later Reg said “at the time it seemed to last for ever.”

Pilot Officer Price was awarded the distinguished Flying Cross. The official citation notes that he completed 31 sorties comprising 213 operational flying hours as the captain of a Lancaster aircraft. “This officer has carried out his tour of operations displaying quiet persistence and a cool, determined endeavour over a long period sometimes under the most trying circumstances.” The citation noted his “cool and skilful” handling of a double engine failure.

But maybe his own citation is the one that really counts, the one where he says, very quietly: “Well, I got the medal, and I cherish it, but it was the crew that won it. We knew what we had to do, and we did it.’’

It’s a frame of mind we could all profit from.

Sounding Brass and Crashing Cymbal

Scavenging in the mudflats of the Internet a few days ago, I stumbled across the promise of a PBS documentary on a once infamous USA gangster named Al Capone. It was a little late in the day for an old guy but, being a fan of PBS – and its Canadian twin the Knowledge Network for their commercial-free programming – I poked the appropriate buttons and, presto, there full-screen was the pale, slightly-smirking face of a long-dead gangster and the program title “Al Capone – iconic.”

“Iconic” sounded a little out of sync, although I’ve used it many times over the years without much thought. Better check the Oxford Dictionary: “Being a famous person or thing that people admire and see as a symbol of a particular idea, way of life, etc.”

Had to think about that for a minute before sadly concluding that the Oxford definition of “iconic” was, in this instance, the description of a man without morals, a cunning manipulator of easily led malcontents and the mastermind behind the mass execution of rival gangsters – Al “Scarface” Capone.

Capone was conveniently in Florida on St. Valentine’s Day, Feb.14, 1929, when seven members of a rival gang lead by George “Bugs” Moran were executed by Capone shooters in Chicago. Moran had been Capone’s chief rival for control of the lucrative criminal activities in the Windy City.

It was estimated that at the time of his eventual arrest and trial for tax evasion, Capone’s income from crime was more than $60 million a year. He was sentenced to 11 years in jail but was released on November 6, 1939, after serving seven years, six months and 15 days. At the time of his release, he was suffering from incurable venereal syphilis. Severe brain damage from the disease had reduced him to a childlike state.

He died in seclusion in Florida on January 25, 1947.

So, these past few days, while adding fractionally to my less than iconic sum of knowledge, I’ve been wondering if I know anyone who rated iconic pied-piper leadership credit – someone “famous” and admired by easily-lead, thoughtless followers who like to break things and make others fear their bullying wrath.

I don’t think Donald Trump is as frightening as Capone, who “owned” police and powerful politicians and bent them to his will. But, there’s little doubt he would like to be; that he believes he is rightly billed iconic when he is, in fact only sounding brass and clashing cymbal signifying nothing.

We Thought We Knew Better

The bronze plaque tells a simple story: 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, 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 “facilities,” 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 Hindus, it was clear from the outset that any white immigrants confined for whatever reasons would have “privileges.”

In 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 “travellers.”

It had been the busiest immigration port in the early 1880s, first with the gold rush. That was followed by 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. They had impressed mine owners with their skills, work ethic, the fact that they could be cheaply fed on a 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, and the vast number of Chinese labourers became redundant and far from welcome in the province where they had helped build a vital rail link. In BC, the disenchantment had been growing for a couple of years; mutterings about the “yellow peril” were rife.

In 1884, a Royal Commission was established “to make inquiry into and concerning 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 to the influx of Chinese people into Canada.”

On August 9, 1894, 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. 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 Chinese workers with their low wages – roughly half a white man’s pay – and the fact that Chinese workers had to provide their own food while the white crews were provided meals had reduced railway building costs between $3 million and $5 million.

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 Chinese deaths as important as a white man’s. Coal mining disasters were commonplace a hundred years ago. On Vancouver Island coal mine casualty lists, white men are often named with their birthplace noted. Chinese workers are just noted by a number. No names, no place of birth. Just a number.

So, in the year the last spike was driven, The Chinese Immigration Act explicitly designed to address the “Chinese problem” became law. The Royal Commission had recommended the imposition of a $10 head tax on Chinese immigrants. In its wisdom, and probably encouraged by BC, the federal government upped the head tax to $50 – a massive 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 effectively excluded a class of immigrants for ethnic reasons. Their place of birth rather than their health or character decided their fate.

To make sure would-be Chinese immigrants understood, successive governments boosted the head tax from $50 to $100 in 1900 and then to $500 in 1903.

And then, to make 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 appropriately tagged the Chinese Exclusion Act because that is precisely what it did – ban for the next 24-years the entry to Canada of anyone born in China. There were four exclusions: Diplomats, students, merchants, and Canadian born Chinese returning from education in China.

A Canadian born Chinese was allowed two years for an educational 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, they would be required to register within 12 months for a photo identity card. Failure to register so 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 the Second World War.

In the 1950s, Victoria’s Immigration Centre became the target of many complaints about inmates’ care. 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.

All that’s left is a plaque and, since the 1970s, the dedication of February each year as the month to honour black immigrants fleeing rampant racism in the USA following the civil war that promised to end slavery and racism. A worthy honour for black immigrants who brought with them many talents to help build Canada.

But let it also remind us of what we Canadians once were when racism was acceptable, bigotry encouraged and at times protected as a “right” by new laws. We should have known better.

Being Prepared for the Worst

Playing a little catch-up with an item abandoned in the maelstrom of malcontents seeking to remove a newly elected government of the dis-United States of America. A frightening spectacle in a country so long the boastful champion of democracy.

It was with that hurricane battering from our neighbour south of the 49th Parallel that an issue in our own backyard, which had been testing our community tempers for some time, seemed to lose importance. 

So, here’s the thing: Vancouver Island, where I live, has excellent transportation links with the Lower Mainland and the State of Washington. By air, they’re just minutes away and by ferry across the Salish Sea from about 105 minutes to the mainland and a lot less to Port Angeles.

Before COVID-19, BC Ferries ran every hour in the summer – a spectacular mini-cruise between various gulf islands with glimpses of island life just short of heaven.

Before COVID-19, the lower car deck on the ferries was reserved for vehicles only. Transport Canada required the car driver and any passengers to leave their vehicles and find their pedestrian way to higher “open decks” closer to lifeboats and other safety equipment, and well above the water line to make evacuation easier should disaster strike. 

Then came COVID-19 and infection protection measures requiring face masks and social distancing. Car drivers, already resenting the order to leave their vehicles, must now move to a higher open deck for the brief ocean voyage, objecting to the modest interference with their personal preference. They argue that being forced to leave their vehicles and mingle with walk-on passengers in their hundreds places them in a higher hazard zone and invites pandemic contagion.

Social media outlets and letters to the editor became the favoured paths of protest. Talk show hosts and print pundits appeared to enjoy the protest as relief from our cousins’ uncouth behaviour south of the 49th. And Transport Canada heard their cries and suspended the “no passengers on closed lower decks during the voyage.”

Car drivers welcomed the change, but the joy was short-lived. In a couple of weeks, the ban was back. Protests were renewed and strengthened by the support of BC Ferry and Marine Workers Union and the clout of Provincial Premier John Horgan.

Letters to Victoria’s Times Colonist kept the issue in focus until January 20 when a front-page story by business editor Andrew Duffy reported Canada Transport had replied to an email requesting reasons for restoring the ban of passengers on closed decks during a voyage.

Duffy’s story was modestly accusatory “Transport Canada won’t budge on ferry deck regulation.” The implication was that Transport Canada wasn’t listening to reason, but the content of the response as quoted by Duffy conveys something different.

In clear language free of bureaucratic baffle-gab, it reads: “Remaining in a vehicle on an enclosed vehicle deck while a ferry is operating is not safe for passengers. Enclosed vehicle decks are specifically designed to contain smoke and fire in order to protect the other levels of the ship and allow more time for passengers and crew to stay safe and evacuate.

“No country in the world allows people to remain in their vehicles on enclosed vehicle decks. If an emergency were to happen – say a fire, flooding or collision – evacuating everyone safely would be extremely difficult. In fact, the loss of life could be catastrophic.”

For good measure, Duffy and his newspaper deserve a thank you for sharing with us this advice from Transport Canada: “Ferry travellers do not need to choose between personal and marine safety. By physical distancing, wearing a mask and leaving the enclosed deck while the ferry is operating – passengers and crew can stay safe.”

Essential ferry travellers , who will probably continue to complain about being ordered to leave their vehicles for little more than an hour, should read the Transport Canada reasoning again — and recite the maxim they have known to be wise since childhood but so often ignore: “Be prepared for the worst while hoping it never happens.”