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Minimum Wage, Maximum Outrage

Twenty-five years ago, Haiti produced almost all of the world’s baseballs. Women would stand in the factories all day, hand-stitching the cowhide, 108 stitches per ball. It cost about nine cents to produce a baseball, and one woman could stitch three dozen per day.

Few if any of the stitchers ever saw a baseball game, which is alien to Haiti. Even if they wanted to they could never afford a ticket. They earned $3.10 a day. It wasn’t much, but what do you expect in a tropical dictatorship? Haiti at the time was run by a ruthless kleptocrat called Baby Doc Duvalier.

Times have changed. Haiti is a full-fledged democracy today, and Haitians don’t make baseballs anymore. They make T-shirts. The sweatshops are a little cooler and cleaner; the work is more mechanized, and the assembly lines are a lot more productive. But one thing remains the same as it was in the bad old days of Duvalier: the men and women on the line still earn about $3 a day or less—barely enough to buy a bottle of milk and a loaf of bread in the supermarket.

Considering inflation, the garment workers are actually worse off than they were 25 years ago. Today, breakfast, lunch and public transport consume most of what the average T-shirt maker earns in a day. During a recent visit to Haiti, I met a woman who’s been on the assembly line for four years. Her name is Paulette Dorval, and she works 10 hours a day, six days a week. She has four children, but she’s had to send three of them away to live with her mother. Every two weeks, she gets a pay envelope with 840 Haitian gourdes—that’s 22 dollars and 63 cents Canadian. That’s 18 cents an hour. On the day I met her, Paulette said she wasn’t having any dinner. She’d spent the last few pennies on the bus ride home from work.

Koreans own the factory she works in, but nationality has nothing to do with the exploitation of garment workers in Haiti. The French owner of a t-shirt factory in Port au Prince threatened to shut his factory down, and lay off hundreds of workers, if the minimum wage was raised to $5 a day. He meant it. And an executive of a Montreal company, Gildan Activewear, that buys a lot of its leisure wear in Haiti justified the country’s pay rates by saying you have to look at the question of Haiti’s minimum wage in an “holistic” way. That’s the word she used. Holistic.

Gildan says everything costs more in Haiti: electricity, transportation, fuel, building expenses. There’s also the cost of insecurity and rampant corruption. The argument is that if manufacturers had to pay their workers a better wage, a living wage, say $5 a day, they simply couldn’t compete. In other words, it comes down to a choice between profitability, and Paulette Dorval eating dinner every day. There is no middle ground.

The ruling classes in Haiti aren’t happy about the fact that they have to pay beggars’ wages to keep the factories open. I put the question to Rene Preval, Haiti’s president, and he told me that his government has no control over how much Haitians should be paid. He said major corporations like The Gap and Levi’s make those decisions. They determine the contracts. The people who market t-shirts and sweatshirts in North America are notoriously sensitive to price fluctuations . . . Preval said that when the Dominican Republic raised its minimum wage for garment workers to $5 a day, it lost 110,000 jobs. In one year. That kind of setback would be a catastrophe for Haiti, which has had enough grief in recent years due to horrible weather, kidnappings, corruption, and a weak near-bankrupt government. As a result, Preval recently vetoed a law that would have paid garment workers 200 gourdes a day ($5.32 CDN.)

Indeed, the so-called friends of Haiti, like Bill Clinton, and the secretary-general of the United Nations, are on record as saying that what Haiti needs is MORE sweatshop jobs—tens of thousands more—to lift the economic base because, after all, two or three dollars a day is better than nothing.

I’m not an economist, but having spent some time with Paulette Dorval, I wonder if that’s true. I mean, what has her job given her? She’s hungry, she can’t afford to care for her family, she can’t send her children to school, her job affords her little or no dignity, and she has almost no chance for promotion because she has little self-confidence or managerial skills. She can’t join a union. There is none. Nor does she get any employee benefits. Paulette is trapped in an economic model that hasn’t changed in a quarter century.

If we stopped buying those t-shirts, if Paulette lost her ill-paying job, she would have to fall back on Haiti’s so-called “informal” or street economy. That’s no solution either. But there’s a third option: using some of those hundreds of millions in foreign aid that Haiti gets to create much-needed jobs in agriculture, in tourism, or in more modern manufacturing that pays a decent wage. That might be the start of a new economic model, one in which Paulette could find an income, dignity, and the means to raise a family. Sadly, that’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

I interviewed the director-general of Haiti’s biggest industrial park, Jean Kesner Delmas, and I asked him if he wasn’t a bit ashamed as a Haitian citizen that 20,000 of his countrymen and women were earning less than a living wage. Squirming in his seat, Delmas finally admitted that it was a disgrace. He said, yes, maybe they were being exploited, and that the bosses should understand that a happy worker is a better worker. But then he stopped, and reflected on his words, and begged me not to use any quotes that would get him in trouble with his superiors.

Like the Gildan executive, Delmas asked me to take the wider view, the holistic view. But Paulette Dorval cannot think “holistically” about her situation because her needs are all narrow and immediate and short-term: food, medicine, a new dress, getting her family back together.

And there is no escape for people like her. If you’re a member of Haiti’s small middle class, with an education, there’s always the chance of emigration and finding a job in the US or Canada, and becoming part of Haiti’s Brain Drain. That’s precisely what four out every five Haitian university graduates do. They achieve, and they leave. But Paulette has no delusions about even making it to the middle-class. The best she can hope for is to hold on to her wretched job and maybe, at some point, to benefit in some small way from the hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid that flow into Haiti from the US, Canada and Europe.

And that, finally, is the enigma of Haiti. It’s an economic basket case that absorbs vast amounts of foreign aid, the object of all our best intentions, and yet nothing substantial ever changes.

I’ve been visiting Haiti regularly since the late 1980s, and the one recurring theme is “stasis.” The poor remain poor. The roads are always bad. There are never enough schools, or hospital beds. The jails are always overcrowded. And every heavy rainfall brings a flood. Environmentally, Haiti is fast becoming a wasteland. It exists under virtual trusteeship—policed by 10,000 United Nations peacekeeping troops, kept on life support by 10,000 non-government organizations (NGOs) who comprise, far and away, Haiti’s biggest industry. And then there are a dozen or so bourgeois families who drive late-model SUVs, run the factories, and effectively keep Haiti’s economy in a medieval time warp.

All that human activity, all those dollars, and the best idea for the future involves creating more $3-a-day sewing-machine jobs! Paulette Dorval, and Haitians like her, deserve bigger dreams than that.

Claude Adams is a veteran freelance journalist and videographer who has reported extensively from Haiti and other developing countries.

Alkali Lake: "Sick as our secrets"

The Tyee, August 11, 2009

"We are only as sick as our secrets." If the people of Alkali Lake needed a slogan (and they don't), this would serve. I found it on a piece of paper pinned to the wall of the Pow-Wow Arbor, a wooden open-air structure where, every year for the past 33 years, the natives of Alkali Lake, B.C. have hosted an Alcoholics Anonymous Roundup.

Here, along with alcoholics from around the world, from as far away as Australia and Mexico and even China, the townspeople of Alkali Lake (or Esketemc, as they call it) gather to share 'secrets' of how alcohol almost destroyed them a half-century ago, and how they saved themselves. Both the secrets they relate in their stories -- brutally honest, confessional -- and the telling of them are parts of the healing, in a sobriety program that has caught the attention of problem drinkers everywhere.

Health director Irene Johnson, a small, squat woman who has her own history with booze, says this openness is key. "We've been in so much pain," she says, "that it's easier now to be honest about it rather than keep shoving it down, you know, getting sick and committing suicide."

'That's how easy it was to get alcohol'

The stories are pathetic, horrific and unnerving. Binge-drinking by children as young as eight, sexual abuse and physical assault, the despair of people dispossessed by residential schools and other agents of colonization. But this is not time or place for excuses or finger-pointing. Says Chief Charlene Belleau: "It's time to quit blaming the government, quit blaming the churches, quit blaming anybody for where we were at as people, if we're going to recover from 150 years of residential school policy and the pain that's been there for all of us."

The AA philosophy is to take responsibility. Still, it's hard not to apportion blame. One native woman tells of how as an eight-year-old girl, she and other children in Alkali Lake would steal money from their parents, mail it in an envelope to Williams Lake with instructions, and then wait for the white man's taxis to deliver bottles of wine promptly "at four-thirty on Tuesdays and Fridays, right to our door."

It was a modern variant of supplying firewater to the Indians, except this was wine, and these were adolescents, learning how to lose themselves in addiction even before their teens. "If you ever wonder why we because alcoholics in Esketemc, that's how easy it was to get alcohol," the woman said. "I was on Skid Row in my own home." Today, she is sober, has been for more than 20 years, but she still calls herself "an alcoholic." Dry or not, you’re an alcoholic for life. It's a burden that follows you to the grave.

At the AA Roundup

You don't get invited to the Alkali Lake Roundup unless you're an addict, or in the family of one, but two weeks ago I rented a car and went anyway, uninvited. I violated another rule by bringing recording equipment -- the tenets of AA, after all, emphasize anonymity. But I wanted to see (and record) the phenomenon of the Alkali Lake first-hand. Was it myth, or hard reality, or a little of both?

It's not hard to find the 'Powwow Arbor,' as they call the site of the annual AA Roundup. Just outside Williams Lake, you leave Highway 97 and exit on Dog Creek Road, and then you just follow the signs. You arrive at an open field, filled with teepees and RV's and small knots of people drinking coffee and soda. The focus of attention is the Arbor, a kind of open-air wooden corral with turf in the centre and elevated benches all around. Nearby is a sweat lodge, and a hill where alcoholics can fast and meditate.

I was an unexpected stranger, but I was not turned away. I told organizer Ken Johnson that I wanted to shoot video and record some audio tape, and he said okay. He pointed me to the coffee urn. What struck me immediately was how easily and effortlessly the natives and non-natives mixed, and how they shared the common candid language of addiction.

Mid-way through the afternoon, a pretty 16-year-old blonde girl from southern California takes the microphone and introduces herself. "I'm Helen and I'm an alcoholic/addict," she begins. The people sitting in the corral respond as one: "Hi Helen."

"I'm really really grateful to be here sober," Helen continues, with a confidence that belies her age. "I have 107 days today (APPLAUSE). It's the longest I've have been ever sober and it feels amazing... I should be dead right now. I always say I'm on borrowed time. I should be dead considering all the things I did. I'm so glad I'm alive, which is a huge change."

Procession of teen recovering alcoholics

One by one, a procession of native teens then take the microphone. Trevor, in training with the Armed Forces and leaving soon for Afghanistan, says he will miss his parents. Irvin, in his teens and sober for six years (more applause), says "it's an awesome experience to see what life is really about instead of waking up in a ditch, or in somebody's car." Another young woman, her four-year-daughter standing next to her, can't stop crying as she talks about her frequent alcohol relapses. But with the help of the people around her, she says, better days are coming.

Listening to the stories is Patrick Haggerson, a therapist with the Betty Ford Institute in California, famous as the addiction treatment centre-of-choice for Hollywood celebrities. Haggerson comes to Alkali Lake once a month, both to teach and to learn. He's intrigued by how the community has integrated the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous with a number of native practices.

"Alkali Lake is an example of how they kind of blended the two paths, and that's of great interest to us... Even though it's a small community they have regular AA meetings every week, they have support services and social services, and they've eliminated a great many of their social problems or at least reduced them. They are able to get funding and bring in outside support like me. I mean, that to me is huge success."

Alkali Lake first came to the world's attention in the mid-1980s, with the release of a documentary called The Honour of All. In the natives' own voices, and with re-enactments of their own experiences, the film tells how the Reserve went from a nearly 100 per cent alcoholic rate to nearly 100 per cent sobriety, in a decade. They did it with hard-core social action, and relentless social pressure. Bootleggers were tracked down and their operations closed, alcoholics were given food vouchers instead of their social assistance cheques, and problem drinkers were told to go into treatment, or go to jail.

It was rough social engineering, and the two pioneers of the program, Andy and Phyllis Chelsea, met a lot of local resistance from their neighbors. But they prevailed and, bolstered by the international publicity generated by The Honour of All, the Chelseas toured the world and told the Alkali Lake story. They, and the town, became the poster children of the sobriety movement.

"It's never gonna go away"

Today, Andy Chelsea has given up his leading role in the program, and he's dismayed at the number of teenaged addicts on the Reserve. He believes that as the sobriety program became professionalized, it focused too much on individual addicts, instead of families. In short, he says, they forgot about the kids. When I ask if addiction is still a problem on the Reserve, it provokes a sardonic laugh. "Oh yeah, every kind of addiction... and it always will be. It's never gonna go away. If you want miracles I think Jesus better come down from up there and tell everybody you're not gonna drink ever again in your life. That's the only way it's gonna happen. But He's not gonna do that."

Chelsea guesses that the addiction rate in Alkali Lake today is "around 40 percent" but then quickly adds that this number includes drugs, and that the reserve's population has doubled in the last 30 years to about 700 people. He doesn't want to be seen as a nay-sayer. "No, it's not a magic formula. But it works. If it's going to save the lives of 10 people... it's worth it."

Patrick Haggerson says it's a mistake to play the percentages game where native addiction is concerned. "It's ridiculous. Go to Williams Lake and ask what is your percentage of alcoholism. They'd laugh at you... I don't think that is a realistic model to use for (measuring) success. It's better to look at the resources that are active in a community that supports sobriety."

What Alkali Lake offers is not only resources, but also continuity. Keith, a 62-year-old non-native man from Fraser Lake, says he has been coming here for the last ten years "to recharge my batteries and get my life in perspective." His friend Marty, from Kamloops, has been coming since 1978, and he talks with the vivid imagery used by many recovering alcoholics. "The door of heaven didn't open and bring me in; the door of hell opened and let me out... I hear on the inside now, and I'm very busy listening to myself."

The program is also inclusive. Recovering alcoholics are encouraged to bring their kids, even very young ones. It's important, say community leaders, that children not be shielded from the realities of addiction. "We always invite families," says Health Director Irene Johnson. "When I was growing up I felt there was no hope, nothing would ever get better, so the option was either suicide or stay drunk, because sooner or later i would die from it anyway. I don't want my granddaughter to have that hopeless feeling. So we invited whoever and they come here and they're part of us. We need to bring hope to our children."

Secrets and healing

It's important not to over-idealize Alkali Lake, however. The Reserve, like the rest of Canada's native population, has issues that are as serious as alcohol. Irene Johnson summarized the dilemma this way: "Okay, I'm sober. Now what?" There's still abuse, child abandonment, violence, poverty, alienation. Those problems are still there when the hangover passes and, if left unresolved, they can undermine the most rigorous sobriety programs.

Healing is hard. The next challenge for the natives of Alkali Lake, as with other native Canadians, is to reveal the deeply-held "secrets" of their residential school experience, as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission begins its work of truth-telling. There is more there to recover from than sexual abuse by white priests and nuns -- the toxic legacy of the schools is permeating through the generations, and the stories are not easy to tell. Native leaders warn that communities need to be ready to deal with the consequences of disclosures of native-on-native abuse.

But Alkali Lake has taken the first important steps -- driving home the message that addiction, and the despair that comes with it, is a shared communal experience, as is the healing. Mildred, a native woman in her 40s, carried her own secret belief while she was drinking. "For a long time," she says, "I thought it (alcoholism) was only happening to me." Now she knows better.

Rwanda and the Devil: Letter to The Walrus

July/August 2009

Beyond Evil
Thank you for Alice Mukarurinda’s story of tragedy and reconciliation in Rwanda (“No Small Mercy,” May). It is perfectly understandable that she should tell her children that “the devil came to Rwanda,” but there is nothing supernatural about what happened fifteen years ago in Central Africa. It was less a story of divine good versus evil than a story of very human manipulation and fear, a descent into momentary madness. The fraction of the Hutu population that took up machetes against their countrymen (estimated at less than 20 percent) were, like Alice’s attacker, terrified by the approaching Rwandan Patriotic Front army of Paul Kagame, an army that would later exact its own UN-documented toll on Hutu civilians. This does not by any means excuse or diminish the horror of the 1994 genocide, but it does make it “our” story, not the devil’s. And it also helps to explain why reconciliation in Rwanda will be an excruciatingly difficult and lengthy process.

Claude Adams
Producer, Out of the Darkness
Surrey, BC

See the full Walrus article

"Word Makers of War"--A Plea for Pacifism

Think about this:

On Page 2 of Nicholson Baker's profoundly counter-intuitive book "Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization" we find this, the opening lines of a pacifist play, Jeremiah, by Stefan Zweig:

"I had recognized the foe that I was to fight--fake heroism that prefers to send others to suffering and death, the cheap optimism of the conscienceless prophets, both political and military who, boldly promising victory, prolong the war, and behind them the hired chorus, the 'word makers of war' as Werfel has pilloried them in his beautiful poem."

Word makers of war. I love it, and seek out Franz Werfel and his poem. Werfel, a pacifist charged with treason, published a book of poems in 1919 entitled Der Gerichtag (The Day of Judgement) which contained a poem with this title. (Another possible translation is "Propagandists of War" but I like "word makers" better.) I think of jingoists and sabre-rattlers, and the purveyors of death myths, starting with Homer--"It is sweet and honorable to die for one's country."--and including Rupert Brooke --"There shall be/ In that rich earth a richer dust conceal'd."

Werfel's poem, clumsily translated, contains these lines:

"The fools are babbling and the overambitious are croaking
And they call manliness their old excrements.
Just so that the fat women are yearning for them,
The chest full of medals
Is vaulting into dawn."

Another more powerful poem, called "The War," was written in the first months of WW1:

"On a storm of false words.
The head wreathed by empty thunder,
Sleepless from lies,
Girded with deeds which only do themselves,
Bragging with sacrifices,
Unpleasing, terrible for Heaven--That's the way you are going down,
Time . . . "

And I think of the Christie Blatchfords of the world, filling the heads of infantrymen on the way to Afghanistan with "empty thunder" and praising the generals (and presumably, the politicians behind them) who lead our soldiers to war, and to death, on foreign soil. Word makers of war.


And here is Chris Hedges, reviewing a new book, The Photographer, in the New York Times Review of Books:

"It is impossible to know war if you do not stand with the mass of the powerless caught in its maw. All narratives of war told through the lens of the combatants carry with them the seduction of violence. But once you cross to the other side, to stand in fear with the helpless and the weak, you confront the moral depravity of industrial slaughter and the scourge that is war itself. Few books achieve this clarity. 'The Photographer' is one . . .

"The disparity between what we are told or what we believe about war and war itself is so vast that those who come back, like (author Didier) Lefebvre, are often rendered speechless. What do you say to those who advocate war as an instrument to liberate the women of Afghanistan or bring democracy to Iraq? . . . How do you explain that the very proposition of war as an instrument of virtue is absurd?"

Maybe we would have more clarity and honesty about war as "an instrument of virtue" if the word makers, the writers and combat correspondents, embedded themselves with the powerless, rather than with the soldiers. Alas, embedding with the victims isn't sexy, and it exposes one to the real mortal danger of war.


The virtuous war, the good war, is a pervasive myth. WW 2 was "good." Vietnam was "bad." (All lost wars are bad.) Equally pervasive is the myth that war is necessary.

Here is an excerpt from Drew Gilpin Faust's "This Republic of Suffering; Death and the American Civil War". A war, by the way, that left 620,000 men dead on the battlefields, more than the combined dead of the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish American War, WW1, WW2 and the Korean War.

"Death created the modern American union--not just by ensuring national survival, but by shaping enduring national structures and commitments . . . Americans had to identify--find, invent, create--the means and mechanisms to manage more than half a million dead: their deaths, their bodies, their loss. How they accomplished this task reshaped their individual lives--and deaths--at the same time that it redefined their nation and their culture.

"The work of death was Civil War America's most fundamental and most demanding undertaking."

Note the message behind these sweeping sentences: War creates a sense of nationhood. Is this true? It's an unsettling thought: Nationhood at a cost of half a million lives. And what kind of nation does this blood-flood produce? A nation of graves? A nation, perhaps, that embraces war as a viable instrument of nation-building? Destruction as a means of creation. "To save the village, it was necessary to destroy it." It's the kind of logic one wants to run away from.


Notes from the breadline . . .

OK, so I'm not on the breadline. Yet. But I wanted to get your attention. I don't stand in line for free bread. I still buy my peasant bread for $12 a loaf from Floran, my Transylvanian baker in Kitsilano. But I ration myself to one slice a day. Things are getting tough. I'm into my sixth month of unemployment. My allotment of UI cheques runs out next month. I'm down to my last 8K in savings. Yesterday, for the first time ever, I bought a lottery ticket. I lost. I wake up every morning at six in a funk. How many days have I got left before the entire superstructure of my life comes crashing down? Okay, that's melodramatic. I'm in a semi-dream state, and in that state, everything is ragged. But the dread of joblessness is beginning to consume me. As Slappy White said: "The trouble with unemployment is that the minute you wake up in the morning you're on the job."

First, a little bit about myself. I'm 60 and in great health. I'm presentable. I have a resume to die for. Check it out. I have hair, I look okay in a suit, and I know which fork to use at a dinner table. There are a dozen things I can do well, for money (and benefits.) But I'm not doing them. What's that all about? My savings are running out and my credit cards are maxed and that Sour Hour between six and seven in the morning is getting worse. The walls are closing in. I'm getting defensive. (Notice how I emphasized my "great" health after I told you I'm 60.)

Have another look at the picture above. I believe that's Justice in the breadline. Justice is going begging. It's the damned unfairness of it all. I feel myself shrinking. "Unemployment," said Mason Cooley, "diminishes people." I put on my ego in the morning and it doesn't fit anymore. The other day I was helping my son Gabriel mow a neighbor's lawn--he's trying to start a gardening business--and I thought: "Hey, maybe I could do this, for eight bucks an hour." From Visiting Professor to the common vetch (a garden weed) in five years; how the worm has turned.

So I went to Poynter Online, and read Colleen's Help Column. And one of her many pieces of Advice to the Jobless is "Keep a Journal." It's a way of staying in touch with yourself, or reminding yourself that you're moving ahead. Also, it's a way of taking those daily quantum units of job-search frustration, reducing them to a few simple words and then dismissing them as insignificant. To be honest, there's also a bit of petulance at work there: Look, cruel world, what you have reduced me to!

It's also something to do. It's Defoe's Plague Diary. Notes of a Fan. Chronicles of Wasted Time.

So here's my journal. I'll try to keep it simple. No chewing of the furniture, no eruptions of hurt or rage. You'll have to read the sentiment between the lines. And you'll know that when it ends (if it ends?) I'll have found work and my Seldon Crisis will be over. (Seldon Crisis: See Isaac Asimov.)

Thursday, May 21, 2002

Start day by checking email. A woman with information about my proposed documentary (hereafter referred to as PD) has contacted me on Facebook. She wants more detail about my project. I tell her we should communicate by email, because Facebook is "too public." (I've been working on my PD for three months--more about that later.)

I spend five minutes emailing the head of the media department at a local university. Do they have any openings for media trainers, or teachers for that matter? I go through the daily Media Job Search Canada listings. Example: "Senior Network Analyst, CBC Montreal" I do a quick scan of Jeff Gaulin's Jobsite. It's a desert out there. I have breakfast (single slice of peasant bread, buttered) and read about a journalist who wrote a book, made some money, and decided to travel the US with a pool hustler for a year, looking for action.

Yesterday, on the advice of a newspaper buddy, I wrote a short note to a high-profile PR company, telling them a bit about me, and asking about media training jobs. I'll be happy to get so much as an acknowledgement of receipt. You have to understand that I've been doing this daily, for months, and only one in 12 prospective employers even go to the effort of telling you they're received your application. (Here you'll have to read between the lines to sample my emotion.)

Monday, May 25

While bottom-feeding, came across an online men's magazine called JimberJaw that's looking for hip, edgy, sexy articles on such soul-catching subjects as Where to Pick up Girls, Where to Find a Great Cigar, and New Gadgets the New Male Can't Do Without. (JimberJaw is a caveman who's brought to life after being frozen for 50,000 years, and the publication admires his "simple thinking"--all he apparently wants is a Bud, a broad and a gadget) I enquire about such things as payment, kill fee, expenses, etc. The answer comes quickly "$25 per article--300 words. No kill fee. Payment only for articles accepted." I'm surprised they don't offer payment in the form of flints, or a jawbone . . . Gardening is sounding like more of an option every day.

Also inquired about a British-based website that specializes in "wind power and other alternative energy" stories, and is looking for somebody, anywhere, a self-starter, to work for 2 days a week. They promise "competitive" wages. I sent them my CV and my day rate. Haha.

Sunday, June 14

Maybe I should just roll with it. John Patrick Shanley, speaking at a commencement ceremony, says that you just need to tell everybody that you're a poet. Copy Walt Whitman. "Whitman never worked a day in his life." Instead of sweating in the unemployment line, sit under a tree and compose a verse. Presto: You are living gainfully. You are adding to the fluency and harmony of the cosmos. As someone else said, reality is only a matter of how you language it.

Saturday, August 1

Month and a half since the last posting, and little change. No movement on the documentary, no interest in Alkali Lake (unless you count $75 from The Tyee as interest), and little progress in the Sydney Banks retrospective. His "stakeholders" want a budget for a legacy video, but I'm getting silence from Bill. Driving me up the wall. Meanwhile, I wait for the Mary Aikins at Readers Digest to respond to a pitch on three stories: Jade (a pickup from BC Business), Alkali and Banks. But it's like glaciers moving. Nobody responds to anything. My rage is building. Magi thinks I'm falling apart--her theory is I'm looking for "no parking." I have to open up and allow success to come in! Meanwhile, the vault is almost empty. And I've emailed The Chelsea tenants to sound them out on buying the condo . . .

Just another "bad" Indian?

Christopher Pauchay, the Saskatchewan man who left his two young children to freeze to death on a native reserve in 2008, begins a three-year penitentiary term this month. That makes him a “criminal” under Canadian law, subject to all the sanctions that come with this label. But to a small group of people close to him, and to a growing number of Canadians who believe in restorative justice, Pauchay is less a criminal than a victim—a man in need of healing, not hard time.

Prison, they believe, may only criminalize Pauchay further. And a prison term won’t do anything to repair the physical and emotional scars that his homicidal carelessness left on the Yellow Quill First Nation. That healing work will have to wait at least until Pauchay is released. "How,” asked elder Howard Walker, “can we begin a community healing if we are apart from one another – if he's not here with us?"

A select group of two dozen neighbors—in a sense, a jury of Pauchay’s peers—believed in their hearts that they had a a better, more remedial alternative to prison. They were turned away because, some critics say, our justice system is myopic when it comes to aboriginal culture. We are fixated on punishment rather than restoring.

This is not an easy position to advance. What Pauchay did on the weekend of Jan. 27, 2008, was repugnant on so many levels. After an evening of heavy drinking, Pauchay, the only parent at home, carried his two young children—Kaydance, 3, and Santana, 1—outside in freezing winter weather. We still don’t know why. The children were dressed only in shirts and diapers.

Pauchay says he remembers nothing else. He was found incoherent and nearly frozen to death on a neighbor’s doorstep. Early afternoon the next day, from his hospital bed, he asked about his daughters. A few hours later, searchers found Santana’s body in the snow. They found Kaydance 16 hours later, also frozen.

Pauchay is an alcoholic. He has 51 prior criminal convictions. Before sentencing him, Provincial Court Judge Robin Morgan said the accused lacked “insight” into the reasons for his anti-social behavior. He is clearly not a model citizen. And he’s not wise to the ways of the non-aboriginal world. He told the judge that even though he was in a drunken stupor when he lost his children in the -50C degree night, their death was an “accident.” And he compounded the mistake by telling the judge that “jail isn’t the place for me.”

These statements may not be “insightful,” to a judge’s ear, but they are very likely true. Nobody doubted that Pauchay loved his kids and that he had absolutely no intention of harming them. And prison probably won’t cure his addictions. (Addiction programs in prison are voluntary.) But under our justice system, Pauchay’s kind of truth-telling didn’t help his cause. Judges and juries would rather hear remorse and some earnest self-recrimination. We like to believe that even addicts make free choices between right and wrong, for which they must be held accountable. But Pauchay didn't buy into that, and it cost him.

In the end, with everything stacked against him, and facing a malevolent white population, Pauchay considered himself lucky to get three years. He could have gotten seven.

Some say he shouldn’t have gotten a day.

Simon Fraser University Criminologist Liz Elliott told me the three-year sentence was counter-productive and short-sighted, catering to a “macho politics of longer, tougher stiffer sentences.” (Disclosure: Neither Elliott or I attended Pauchay’s trial, or the sentencing.)

In a kinder, more compassionate universe, Pauchay would have been handed over to his neighbors, as they requested. He would have undergone treatment under their care, and been required to work with tribal elders to counsel young natives tempted by drugs and alcohol.

That was the recommendation of a Yellow Quill sentencing circle—a form of restorative justice in which friends, family and tribal elders come together to help “heal” one of their own. After all, Pauchay was a product of a seriously troubled community, riven by unemployment, alcoholism, and a host of other problems.

So the people of Yellow Quill suggested a life sentence of healing and counselling, under their watchful eyes. Pauchay, they said, had already been punished enough. In the words of Yellow Quill Chief Larry Cashene: “The moment Christopher woke up (after his children’s death) was the moment he started his sentence.”

They spoke of forgiveness, rather than punishment. The judge thanked them. And he sent Pauchay to prison anyway.

“It was a slap in the face,” George Peequaquat, one of Christopher’s neighbors, said of the three-year sentence. “They said, we’re going to let you go through the motions, but we’ve already made our decision.”

The Yellow Quill natives, and Pauchay’s lawyer, Ron Piche, have to choose their words carefully. Judges in Canada don’t take kindly to criticism. But the general feeling is that Pauchay was condemned as much by the force of popular feeling among the non-aboriginal community, as by his negligence.

Even before the trial started, Provincial Justice Minister Don Morgan told the Saskatchewan legislature that it would be “highly troubling” if someone with Pauchay’s record received anything less than a prison term.

With that kind of political interjection, it’s hardly surprising that the feeling among Saskatchewan’s non-aboriginal community took on a vigilante tone. The CBC website received more than 800 comments about the story of his sentencing, many of them of the “throw-away-the-key” variety. Some of the comments were borderline lynch-mob.
Canadians, it seems, are fiercely wedded to their concepts of retributive justice. “No more chances,” was one typical remark. “Protect the rest of us from him.”

But some commentators watching the news from a distance took a different line. In Carcross, Yukon, Harold Gatensby, a long-time proponent of aboriginal justice, labelled the judge’s decision an act of “interference.”

“The struggles going on in the native community that were generated by the Queen’s Law, will not be fixed by it,” he told me. “The community will (fix the struggles.) These are our children, not the government’s.”

In an email, the criminologist Liz Elliott said a prison sentence may provide immediate public gratification. But what happens down the road? “When Christopher Pauchay is released from prison," she said, " with all of the new problems he will have to contend with, it is highly unlikely that anyone from the court will be there to help him and the Yellow Quill community with his reintegration, or with the obvious meaningful changes that need to occur for that community to become healthy.”

She said the annual cost of $80,000 to keep Pauchay behind bars would be much better spent on alleviating the conditions in native communities like Yellow Quill, a hamlet of 120 families who live in conditions that you find in some Third World countries.


Critics of our existing justice system say that the people demanding longer, harsher sentences are ignoring an important fact: Tough justice doesn’t make for safer communities. Even a two-time Commissioner of Correctional Services, Ole Ingstrup. admitted that the deterrent value of more and longer prison sentences was almost non-existent. Ingstrup retired in 2000, criticized for his “liberal” views regarding incarceration and his embrace of the idea of restorative justice.

Nevertheless, we as a society remain locked in the belief that the answer to reducing crime is to throw more people behind bars for longer periods. In Saskatchewan, natives make up a tenth of the general population, but more than two-thirds of the prison population. That’s a shocking statistic—it says as much about the failure of “white” justice as it does about aboriginal criminality. And more than half of those inmates go back into prison within four years of their release. We are creating an entire criminalized culture.

In his book American Furies, journalist Sasha Abramsky focuses on the US penal system, but some of his most damning conclusions apply equally well to Canada. “Can a country’s democratic institutions survive,” he asks, “when the primary emotion underlying so much of its social policy . . . is revenge?”

Other critics of the justice system say that by advocating tougher sentences, we are worshipping at the “church of payback” with little concern about how the conditions in our institutions affect inmates.

The French philosopher, Michel Foucault, author of Discipline and Punish: The Birth of a Prison, said the state needs prisons because it’s the best way “to insert the power to punish more deeply into the social body.” Prisons are places where the “civil servants of moral orthopedics” can better perform “experiments” on men and women. Their inability to rehabilitate doesn’t matter. The prisons are monuments to the state’s monopoly on power, warehouses of human failure, and even though they don’t “help” inmates, they help us, the grateful voters, to sleep a little easier, at least for a while. Says Liz Elliott: “Punishment is for everybody else.”


Sentencing circles aren’t that new. In fact, they’ve been a part of Canadian law since 1996. That’s when the government began funding the circles as part of an Aboriginal Justice Strategy. And that’s when the Supreme Court of Canada spoke positively about the “notions of community-based sanction and restorative justice.”

Other voices echoed that sentiment. The Law Commission of Canada, for one, took aboriginal culture into consideration when it acknowledged in 1999 that under the existing Criminal Code “crime is objectified and abstracted from the social context in which it took place.” In other words, crime is of the community, and may be dealt with in and by the community.

Indeed, preferential sentencing is in the Criminal Code. Section 718.2(e) says that "all available sanctions other than imprisonment that are reasonable in the circumstances should be considered for all offenders, with particular attention to the circumstances of aboriginal offenders."

And Judge Barry Stuart, a vocal proponent of aboriginal-sensitive justice who has conducted hundreds of sentencing circles, said that circle sentencing and other community justice processes “do spectacularly better than formal justice agencies.”

So why, then, are native Canadians like Pauchay, so needing of restorative help, still thrown into prison? Because judges still have the final word of punishment, because paternalism is still entrenched in law, as it is in most of the institutions that touch on aboriginal life.

Rupert Ross is an Ontario prosecutor who has made a life study of the aboriginal way of justice. In his highly-regarded book Returning to the Teachings, Ross says we do an injustice to law-breakers, native or otherwise, when he deal with them strictly as “offenders.”

Ross argues from the perspective of 21 years of court duty in the remote First Nations of northwestern Ontario. There he found social traumatization that was so severe, and so pervasive, that he came to believe that the criminal justice system as we know it may actually be an obstacle to community healing. He blames the legacy of the residential schools and other forms of colonization for the alcoholism, violence and sexual abuse in native communities. He won't comment on the Pauchay case, but he believes that the corrosive effect of colonization is transmitted through generations. (Or as Murray Ironchild expressed it: "We didn't commit a sin, but it was passed through us . . . by the priests and the Indian agents.")

“I don’t know how to lock up and torture only the ‘offender-parts’ of people,” Ross writes, “while comforting the hurt parts, teaching the curious parts, nourishing the starved parts, unearthing the hidden parts, emboldening the cautious parts, and inspiring the dreaming parts.

“I worry that whatever I do to the offender-part will make it harder still to touch and encourage all the others, much less restore balances between them.”

Balancing all the parts of Christopher Pauchay, the damaged parts and those still intact, will require a mix of compassion, firmness, continuity, trust and love.

Those are things he won’t find in the nation’s prisons. But he may find them in his community. As a nation, we’ve already taken the first tentative steps towards a system of justice that meets aboriginal needs, a system that’s humane enough to see that Pauchay is a victim, as much as wrong-doer. Why undermine those strategies now?

The Frontline Doctor and the Unknown Soldier

Cpl. Kevin Megeney, a 25-year-old reservist from Stellarton, Nova Scotia, died two years ago, of a gunshot wound in the chest, in a medical tent at Kandahar Airport, in Afghanistan. More than 60 other Canadian servicemen have died in combat since then, but we still don’t know the full circumstances of Cpl. Megeney’s death.

We don’t know why he died. But we know how, in a description of graphic, hair-raising, heart-stopping detail that evokes the fiction of Dalton Trumbo, or medical reports from US Civil War battlefields. We know that his lungs bulged out of the chest incision, “inflating and deflating,” and we know that liters of blood poured out of his chest wound in a “gelatinous heap.” We know that Megeney had red hair and blue eyes and that he looked “cheerful even in death.”

The Canadian surgeon who tried to save him called the Megeney shooting “another blue-on-blue”—military jargon for “friendly fire” which is itself a distasteful jargon for the aberration of one soldier killing a comrade-in-arms, reasons unknown. (A court-martial is scheduled for this June.)

These observations into Cpl. Megeney’s death appeared near the end of a 2007 article in the San Francisco-based magazine Mother Jones, an article written by Dr. Kevin Patterson of Saltspring Island, entitled Talk to Me Like My Father: Frontline Medicine in Afghanistan.

The Canadian Forces make no apology for the fact that, two years after the corporal’s death, we still don’t know what prompted the shooting. Investigations into “friendly fire” incidents, it seems, unfold in extreme slow-motion, at a pace that seems designed to flatten adverse publicity. By comparison, the military inquiry into Dr. Patterson’s act of non-fiction was nearly instantaneous. Before the end of October, 2007, a so-called Summary Investigation found that Patterson had committed a “breach of patient confidentiality.” A copy went to the BC College of Physicians and Surgeons, Patterson’s professional regulating body.

And the College itself took more than a year before ruling that Patterson had indeed broken the doctor’s code by naming the dead soldier. He was reprimanded, fined, and told to brush up on medical ethics. As part of the deal, Patterson apologized to the Megeney family, and confessed to having made a “bad decision.”

Patterson was also put on a kind of creative probation: In any future writing, journalism or otherwise, he would not include the names of patients, or use information that that could identify patients. (Interestingly, the deal says nothing about Patterson’s freedom to divulge names, or details, with a patient’s approval.)

Patterson gets litle sympathy from fellow doctors, or from the arbitrers of professional ethics. They all fall back on Hippocrates, the father of medicine, who said, “All that may come to my knowledge in the exercise of my profession . . . I will keep secret and will never reveal.” I talked to several doctors and ethicists, and they all agreed that Patterson should not have used Megeney’s name, or details that could have revealed his identity.
Dr. Gabor Mate, a well-known commentator on social issues, said flatly that without doctor-patient confidentiality “there is no basis for a healing relationship.” And bio-ethicist Dr. Margaret Somerville of McGill University had no time for the argument that the horrors of war need greater exposure. “The problem is, that’s the argument that should have been put to the Megeney family (to get their permission) before the article was printed,” Dr. Somerville said. “It’s a valid argument but it definitely doesn’t take precedence here.”

Stephen Ward, a professor of journalism ethics at the University of Wisconsin, in Madison, is not so sure. He said that telling the story of the death of Cpl. Megeney, in all its gore, may serve a “greater good”— giving citizens needed insight into the “nitty-gritty” of the soldier’s experience in wartime. “If the writing has anything to do with the pressures placed on the soldier,” Ward said, “then it’s good to know. We are too often accused of sanitizing war.”

The “we” in Ward’s quote, of course, are journalists, and Kevin Patterson is not a journalist. He is a civilian doctor who, in effect, keeps a journal, and shares this journal with his readers. (He is also an accomplished author of fiction and non-fiction.) Should he not, then, get a special dispensation from Hippocrates’ inflexible rule of “Never tell?”

Patterson put forward this argument himself shortly after his article was published in 2007, as the controversy began to build. “It is necessary,” he wrote, “to face with open eyes the grotesque nature of war trauma. The recent disengagement and fatigue of the public with these matters is itself grotesque.” Who better to chronicle the “grotesque trauma” than the nurses and doctors who have to treat the wounded, often under extreme conditions? The military, sensitive to any news that may hurt recruiting, certainly won’t tell these stories. And embedded journalists with the Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan are well aware of the price of breaking military rules about disclosure: you’re on the next flight home.

Leaving Cpl. Megeney’s name out of the Mother Jones article, of course, would not have protected his anonymity, since Canadian newspaper readers had already knew the soldier’s name, and knew that he died from friendly fire. All that Patterson added to the story, were the medical details of his final minutes of life.

Tom Maddix, an ethicist with Providence Health, said using Megeney’s name was unnecessary. “Stories have great power,” he said. “and the exact name of the person is not the issue.” Professor Ward disagreed. He said using the name gave the story credibility and authority.

It’s instructive that it was the Canadian Forces, and not Megeney’s family, that provoked the investigation into Patterson’s conduct. Mother Jones magazine contacted the soldier’s family in Nova Scotia before the magazine hit the streets, to alert them to what was coming.

Clara Jeffery, the Mother Jones editor, says she spoke with Karen Megeney, the soldier’s mother, by phone. As she wrote in the magazine’s blog: “She assured me that the family would like to see the article, and that she was a nurse and would read it before any other members of her family; she said it would help to have closure to know more about what happened. We heard from other members of the family who also wanted to read it, and some whom after they did expressed the desire to write to Dr. Patterson ‘to express my appreciation to him for exhausting every effort to save [him]’."

It was only later, after the Canadian Forces completed their investigation, and the College of Physicians weighed in, that the Megeneys went public with their displeasure.

The Canadian military took a uncompromising zero-tolerance approach to Dr. Patterson, even though he was a civilian volunteer a war zone. “The issue here is entirely about medical ethics, not military law or discipline,” a Canadian Forces spokesman told me. Did the Megeney family bring an official complaint to the military about the Mother Jones article? “The family was not happy,” is all the CF spokesman would say.

All arguments about the need for patient confidentiality aside, should the Canadian Forces be the sole judge of what information can and should be released about how soldiers live and die in foreign lands? Is there not a case to be made for the claim that the stories of the war dead belong to all of us, since we have a moral, physical and spiritual investment in their sacrifice? Is it not arguable that in some cases, their names, and their violent stories, should transcend our norms of “privacy?”

Is a policy of official silence not at least as grotesque as the stories of how soldiers die?

POSTSCRIPT: On July 30, 2009, a military jury found Cpl. Matthew Wilcox guilty of criminal negligence causing death. Wilcox shared a tent with Megeney at Kandahar Airport. Testimony at the hearing showed that the two men were playing a game of "quick draw" when Wilcox's pistol discharged on March 6, 2007. Wilcox argued that he fired in self-defence. Military analyst Michelle Drapeau said the ruling matched the crime and that the charges are among the harshest that a soldier can face.

"The fact that this was done (by) his hand, in a camp where ammunition should not have been available and should not have been loaded into a weapon to begin with, all that would have come to the fore and taken into account when the panel fundamentally decided he was guilty of two of the three charges," Drapeau said.

Wilcox faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

If you would like to follow the discussion of this article, please go to The Tyee.

The Bonehead Bishop

Late last year, while most of us were obsessing about Barack Obama and the collapsing housing market, tens of thousands of traditional Catholics around the world were spending hours at prayer. Over the course of a month, in fact, they tallied up 1.7 million “rosaries”—those 55 little glass beads on a string, each of which represent a “Hail Mary” or an “Our Father.”

It was a tsunami of supplication--a lobbying effort to shake up the Vatican in Rome. What these old-school Catholics wanted was for Pope Benedict XVI to lift, after 20 years, the excommunication order on a group of slightly wacky fundamentalist bishops who call themselves the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX)

Somebody Up There must have been listening because, earlier this year, the Pope did exactly that: moved by prayer, or politics, or perversity, Benedict lifted the yoke of excommunication from the breakaway clergymen, the first important step in welcoming them back into the Roman Catholic Church.

Now normally this wouldn’t be a big deal. Schisms come and schisms go, and the quarrels of bishops don’t count for too much in the modern world. But there was a wild card in this story, and his name was Richard Williamson, and his loose tongue set off an international storm that seriously scuffed the image of the 1.1 billion-member Catholic Church.

Before I go on, a disclosure. I’m a (lapsed) Catholic, and this story has its roots in my hometown of Sherbrooke, Quebec. There, as a youngster, I was an altar boy, and I could recite the service of the Mass in the perfectly-enunciated Latin. Like my mother and sister, and a billion other Catholics, I obediently worshipped in a language that I couldn’t understand, but that was okay. It was ritual, it was holy, it was our version of talking in tongues.

Then, in the mid-60s, Vatican II came along and changed everything. That church council launched a whole series of reforms; most notably, the Mass would henceforth be said not in Latin, but in the language of the faithful. What that ushered in, then, was an English Mass, a French Mass, a Spanish Mass, and so on. It was a break with two millennia of tradition. (The Council also got rid of fish Fridays—the silliest tradition of them all.)

No big deal, you’d think. God understands all languages. But wrong. It was a very big deal for the traditionalists. They said No. They saw a vernacular Mass as the ugly face of modernity. It took the “mystery” out of the Mass and out of the priesthood: “Dominus vobiscum” carries a lot more holy bang that “The Lord be with you.” So the holdouts for traditional organized themselves into groups like the SSPX, and they continued to celebrate the mass in Latin. Over time the Vatican grew vexed at this challenge to its authority, and excommunicated them. (Excommunication means exclusion from the sacraments of the church. It’s a kind of exile, a holy blacklist.)

A year later, on April 5, 1989, the story really heated up. That’s when one of the excommunicated bishops, Richard Williamson-- dour, humorless, a Brit who wears his arrogance like a badge--visited the local SSPX church in Sherbrooke. Williamson was on an Eastern Canada tour to beat the drum of traditional values. There was a small congregation in attendance at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, maybe 20 or 30 people. They were there expecting the usual polemic against modernism. Instead, Williamson dropped a bombshell.

“There was not one Jew killed in a gas chamber,” the bishop declared. “It is all lies, lies, lies.”

“The Jews created the Holocaust so we would prostrate ourselves on our knees before them and approve of their new state of Israel.”

A local reporter in the audience, Rossana Coriandoli, was stunned. She’d heard that Williamson was going to say something controversial, but this was over the top. “It was very creepy,” she recollected recently, 20 years later. She didn't remember much else, except that when she looked around at the congregation “no one seemed outraged.”

Sherbrooke has a tiny Jewish population, but when one of them, Dr. Alan Fein, read Williamson’s comments in the paper the next day, he was furious. He felt the bishop was promoting anti-Semitic hate, and should have been deported. “So I called the RCMP and the anti-defamation league,” he told the local newspaper at the time.

The RCMP looked into it, but decided there was not enough evidence to prosecute Williamson for hate propaganda. They couldn’t find a tape recording of his remarks.

The next day the bishop moved on to Montreal where he decried rock and roll music, drugs, nuns “behaving like dancing girls,” and other evils of modernity. Probably aware of Montreal’s sizeable and influential Jewish community, however, Williamson had nothing further to say about the Nazi death camps.

Fast forward 20 years. It’s January, 2009, and Pope Benedict decides the time is right to invite the traditionalists of the SSPX back into the fold. So in the name of Church unity, the Vatican “re-communicates” four SSPX bishops, including Richard Williamson. But the Vatican, incredibly, fails to do a routine background check. (Or else, it doesn’t care.)

The result is a head-on collision with the Internet Age. An Israeli news agency Googles the words “Bishop Richard Williamson” and up pop the quotes from his “lies, lies, lies” Sherbooke sermon in 1989. There’s also an interview with Swedish TV last November in which he repeats his no-gas-chamber nonsense, and says that only 300,000 Jews were killed, not six million. There are headlines of outrage all over the world: What was the Church thinking when it invited this Neanderthal back in from the cold?

Relations between the Vatican and Jews have never been very good. This made things much worse. Vatican officials pleaded that they were unaware of Williamson’s Holocaust heresy. The bishop is told to recant his most outrageous remarks--to wear the figurative hair shirt--or risk spending the rest of his life in that wilderness occupied by defrocked and disgraced clergymen. (Meanwhile, the notorious Swedish interview already has more than 100,000 hits on YouTube, at

Is the Williamson affair a blip, an honest oversight by the Vatican, or is there a discernible pattern here? You be the judge: Two weeks ago, Pope Benedict promoted an Austrian bishop, Gerhard Maria Wagner, who believes that homosexuality is curable, and that Hurricane Katrina was sent by God to clean out the “spiritual pollution” of New Orleans. Anyone who’s visited the poor black neighborhoods that were submerged by Katrina knows how offensive this comment is. On Feb. 15, after another firestorm of controversy, Wagner had the good sense to resign.

Although I no longer practice the faith, I’ve never lost my fascination with the way the world’s oldest institution manages its affairs. One of its tactics, in moments of stress, is Earnest Denial. I contacted the Catholic archdiocese in Sherbrooke to get their take on the Williamson scandal. Sorry, they said, nobody remembered a thing about the bishop's 1989 visit. I called the local chapter of the SSPX and they mumbled “no comment.” They directed me to the order’s Superior-General in Ontario, but he was “unavailable due to travel.” It’s almost as if everybody was hoping this little incident would fall between the cracks of history.

Here in BC, the SSPX has only a few hundred followers, with churches in Langley and in Nanaimo. When I asked the regional prior, Fr. Loren Gerspacher, about the Williamson affair, his voice dropped to a whisper, he said the bishop was a “very respected” member of the society, but he was not at liberty to say anything more.

I had other questions, like, why would the Roman Catholic Church invite a bigoted Holocaust-denying misogynist back into the fold, and excommunicate people like the American Catholic activist, Father Roy Bourgeois, who advocates for the ordination of women into the priesthood? The answer, I fear, is obvious: Williamson’s thinking is more aligned to the mindset of the old boys in Rome with the funny hats, than is the thinking of an activist priest who believes in the equality of women. A strain of anti-Semitism, prompted by the false conviction that the Jews killed Jesus, has never been far from the heart of traditional right-wing Catholic orthodoxy.

It is so, and always has been thus. The Williamson affair was triggered by simple-minded historical revisionism, but it’s really about the age-old struggle within Christianity of yesterday versus today, pope-ocracy versus democracy, the mediaeval versus the modern. And to the discredit of the Catholic Church, the medieval rarely goes without a fight.

Postscript: Following the controversy, Williamson was sacked from the directorship of the Le Reja seminary in Argentina by the head of the Latin American chapter of the SSPX. Days later, the Argentinian government ordered him to leave the country, or face expulsion. The suggestion was that he had not been forthright about his “true motives” for being in the country.