Sunday, 1 February 2015

Solitary Confinement: A Barbaric Canadian Practice

Solitary Confinement: A Barbaric Canadian Practice

On August 2, 2012 I posted a blog called, “Torture in American Prisons,” which you can find here.;postID=2920370963420447024;onPublishedMenu=posts;onClosedMenu=posts;postNum=63;src=postname. Among other things, this post discusses solitary confinement as a form of torture.  
Ashley Smith, wiki commons

Lately there’s been a lot of press in Canada about solitary confinement because of two cases.  The first was of Ashley Smith, who had originally been convicted at the age of 14 of throwing crabapples (a kind of fruit) at a mailman. Unable to control her behavior while she was in juvenile detention, as soon as she turned 18 (the age of adulthood in Canada) authorities transferred her from one prison to another, all over Canada, until finally she took her own life on October 19, 2007.  She was in solitary confinement and choked herself to death while guards watched from outside her cell. These guards had been ordered not to interfere unless they thought her life was in danger. Which it was.

The second case was of Edward Snowshoe, a young Aboriginal man also in solitary confinement. After 162 days, unable to bear it any longer, he killed himself (this was in 2010). Snowshoe had been convicted of shooting and injuring a taxi driver during a robbery in Inuvik, in Canada’s far north. This was a serious crime, but we are not supposed to sentence people to death in Canada.

Edward Snowshoe, top right. Wiki Commons
Snowshoe’s case is yet another travesty of Aboriginal life. Disproportionately high numbers of Aboriginal people in Canada are incarcerated (when they aren’t actually being murdered, as four times as many Aboriginal than non-Aboriginal women are, but that’s a topic for another blog). Corrections authorities and criminologists have tried for several decades to ameliorate Aboriginal prisoners’ conditions, but they haven’t succeeded yet.

At the same time as this discussion of solitary confinement has been going on, the Canadian Government has introduced new legislation called the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act. This legally unnecessary act (legally unnecessary because the “barbaric” practices it prohibits are already covered by other laws) targets forced marriages. I agree that forced marriages should be banned, but so should other far more barbaric acts. The widespread use of solitary confinement in Canadian prisons is one of them.

I must admit that I sometimes have the name knee-jerk reaction to violent criminals that Canada’s ruling Conservative Party seems to have. I wrote about the Conservative Party’s crime creation agenda in my October 19, 2012 post “Canada’s Crime Creation Policy”, which you can access here

Wazim Ganesh and his mon. Wiki Commons 
This morning (January 23, 2014) as I was thinking about writing this post, I saw an article in my local paper, The Hamilton Spectator, (pp. A1 and A4) entitled “Beating victim’s mom says jails unsafe.” Wazim Ganesh was a 21-year old prisoner in Hamilton’s Barton Street jail, who had been convicted of assault, including sexual assault. Another prisoner, Jordan McPhee, allegedly beat him up, with the result that Ganesh is now seriously brain damaged, unable to speak or walk on his own. McPhee had already been charged for beating a cellmate at another penal institution. There is a very affecting picture of Ganesh and his mother in his hospital room. When I read the article and saw the picture, my reaction was “lock him (McPhee) up and throw away the key”.

But there are so many things wrong here that we ignore. I know there’s a jail a ten-minutes’ drive from where I live, but I’ve never seriously thought about what that means, even though I once had a private tour of part of it, when I served from 1991 to 1996 as a member of the (Hamilton) Mayor’s Committee against Racism and Discrimination.) But that jail, like probably every other one in Canada, is overcrowded and underfunded. Too many prisoners in one cell, too many violent prisoners, too many prisoners with mental illness, and too many Aboriginal prisoners. 

Juan Mendez, UN website
Mental illness is a special problem. Like many other Western jurisdictions, a few decades ago Canada stopped “warehousing” its mental patients in hospitals and released them “into the community.” But despite the best intentions of many Canadian volunteers, such as those who run the John Howard Society (for male prisoners) and the Elizabeth Fry Society (for female prisoners) there’s hardly any support for these mentally ill people. So now we warehouse the ones we convict of crimes in prisons instead of hospitals.  And when we really can’t control them, we throw them in solitary confinement.

Juan Méndez, the United Nations Rapporteur (reporter) on torture condemned solitary confinement in October 2011. He defined it as isolation for at least 22 hours a day without any human contact except for prison guards, and said solitary confinement for more than 15 days should be absolutely prohibited.  He says any more than 15 days of solitary could amount to torture.  And he says solitary confinement of juveniles and the mentally ill should be absolutely prohibited.

So it’s official: Canada has the distinction of being a torture state.

Book Note: Condoleezza Rice's Extraordinary, Ordinary People

Book Note: Condoleezza Rice’s Extraordinary, Ordinary People

People who read this blog will know that I don’t generally like U.S. Republicans, nor do I like people who support the American gun lobby. Nevertheless, I have just finished reading Condoleezza Rice’s 2010 memoir, Extraordinary, Ordinary People.  A cumbersome title, referring to her parents, whom she adored. I wanted to read this memoir because Rice was the first black woman ever to be a presidential National Security Advisor, and then to be Secretary of State (the equivalent of a Foreign Minister) under George W. Bush.

Condoleezza Rice was born in 1954 in Birmingham, Alabama, where she grew up. Birmingham, she tells us, was the most segregated city in the US South.  Her parents were educated professionals, her father a Presbyterian minister and her mother a teacher. At one point in her early childhood they tried to register to vote.  At that time, it was still permitted to “test” voters (usually black) to see if they were fit to vote; the Voting Rights Act was still to come in 1965. Her mother was light-skinned and the registrar gave her an easy “test”: who was the first American President. But there was a jar of beans on the registrar’s desk, and her darker-skinned father was asked how many beans were in the jar. Obviously, he couldn’t answer correctly, so he was denied the vote.

At the time, however, Alabama was dominated by segregationist Southern Democrats.  Republicans were trying to get more votes, and an acquaintance told Rice’s father that there was a Republican registrar who would let blacks register to vote. So her father went to that registrar, was registered as a voter, and always after than voted Republican. 

wiki commons
Rice also remembers the first time her family went out to dinner in a “white” restaurant, just after the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Years later in the White House, colleagues were suggesting that they not celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and instead celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act the next year. She hit the roof, saying the Civil Rights Act was what had permitted her and her parents to eat in a newly desegregated restaurant.

But what hit me most in her memoir was her explanation of why she supports the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, the one that gives individual citizens the right to bear arms. She takes seriously the right of citizens to protect themselves against their government.

In 1963, at the height of the US Civil Rights Movement, Birmingham erupted in violence and fear. Rice remembers hearing bombs explode in her neighborhood. She remembers the deaths of four African-American girls at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, and attending their funerals.  She used to play dolls with one of the girls, and the others were all known to members of her tight-knit black middle-class community.

 In response to the violence, she remembers when her father sat on the porch the entire long night, a gun on his lap. The men of her neighborhood organized patrols to protect the two entrances to their community from the Ku Klux Klan (a powerful white racist organization formed in 1866 and supported by many powerful whites, including members of governments).  As she put it, if black men in Birmingham had had to register their guns, “Bull” Connor, the cruelly segregationist mayor who ran Birmingham, would have known who had guns and confiscated them.  

Rice tells us that she really admired President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert, both assassinated, in 1963 and 1968 respectively. At one point she was a registered Democrat. But became a Soviet specialist after studying at the University of Denver with the former Czech diplomat Josef Korbel (father of her predecessor Madeleine Albright, the first woman Secretary of State). She was disappointed with the Democrat President Jimmy Carter’s lack of knowledge of Russia, and she particularly disapproved of his decision to boycott the 1980 Moscow Olympics because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. By contrast, she thought that Ronald Reagan had a better understanding of the Soviets, so she became a Republican.

Condoleezza Rice had a strong sense of what it means to be African-American. She was raised on the principle that to get ahead, she had to be twice as good as any white person. Her parents also discouraged her from feeling like a victim, instead encouraging her to work very hard to make the best of the circumstances she was in. She is a supporter of affirmative action programs but believes they should be implemented by spotting talented people and giving them mentoring and financial assistance, not by lowering standards.

So I guess what this tells us is that you shouldn’t make assumptions about people based on their politics. I never thought I would encounter a reasonable argument on the right to bear arms, but Condoleezza Rice has given me something to think about, as has her account of growing up African-American.

Update: A friend of mine has complained to me about this blog. He considers Condoleezza Rice to be a war criminal because, he says, she signed off on the US use of torture during the G.W.Bush administration. “What’s next,” he asked me, “a favourable review of a book about Stalin’s childhood?”  I think he has a valid point, although I would have to check the facts about Rice’s exact role in authorizing torture.  So I want to make clear that if Rice publishes a second memoir about her role in the Bush II administration, I will be critical of it.  It is an interesting question though: should we be interested in the early lives of public figures and if so, should that interest only pertain to their later illegal or evil acts?


Friday, 9 January 2015

Charlie Hebdo and Freedom of Speech

Charlie Hebdo and Freedom of Speech

As everyone reading this blog knows, two days ago (January 7, 2015) the offices of a French satirical magazine called Charlie Hebdo were attacked in Paris by Muslim extremists a
reporters and police outside the Charlie Hebdo offices after the shooting,
8 January 2015, wiki commons
nd twelve people were killed. Two of them, a copy-editor and a policeman, had Muslim names.

This morning (January 9, 2015) on The Current, a radio program of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), there was a debate among journalists about whether the cartoons that Charlie Hebdo published should be re-published in Canada.  A Quebec journalist argued that every media outlet in North America should publish them. The spokesperson from the CBC argued that the CBC hadn’t published the cartoons before the attack, so why should it publish them afterwards. That’s like saying that if the CBC hadn’t published a picture of a Canadian before she was murdered, why it should publish the picture afterwards?  It seems that some journalists are frightened to publish these cartoons and are trying to find rationales for not doing so within the framework of journalistic ethics and responsibility to viewers or readers.

the cover of the Charlie Hebdo renamed Charia Hebdo,
the bubble says: 100 lashes if you do not die of laughter, wiki commons
It was particularly ridiculous this morning to listen to a trio of (presumably) non-Muslim Canadians argue about what “moderate” Muslim Canadians might find offensive. Personally, I find the term “moderate Muslim” itself offensive. It implies that my fellow citizens who are Muslims must constantly defend themselves against the charge that they might be religious fanatics. Canadian Christians don’t have to go around all the time saying, “I’m Christian, but I’m not a fanatic” as if they were all members of extremist white, self-styled Christian groups unless proved otherwise.

I asked myself if I would be willing to publish Charlie Hebdo cartoons.  There isn’t a complete set of particular cartoons, as there was during the 2006 “Danish cartoon” controversy; Charlie Hebdo was targeted because of its supposed irreverence to Islam  over the years.  I found a set of their cartoons, with translation and explanations, here. Some of the cartoons are about Islam but others are about Christianity or politics. As the authors of the piece explain,  Charlie Hebdo was (is?) a journal that resolutely defended French secularism and liked to mock all kinds of pretentious authority. I particularly liked the cartoon of Mohamed returning to earth and being beheaded by an Islamic State-type fanatic, even though he identifies himself.

Freedom of speech is a core human right, usually identified as a political right. In the international academic debates on human rights, there are those who claim that civil/political rights  are “Western,”  “imperialist,” and irrelevant to the rest of the world.  I find these arguments facile. They tend to emanate from people who either do not investigate Western history to see how important freedom of speech has been in the evolution and protection of Western democracies, and/or from people who think that the history of the West has nothing to teach other societies that are not democracies or, perhaps, don’t wish to become democratic, rights-protective societies (See my chapter, ”Historical Amnesia, Genocide, and the Rejection of Universal Human Rights,” pages 172-82 in
Mark Goodale, ed. Human Rights at the Crossroads, Oxford University Press, 2013).     

Yet dictatorial, authoritarian or totalitarian governments all impose controls on freedom of speech, from North Korea to China to Russia to Iran to numerous African dictatorships.  Some people might argue that you can live comfortable lives without this right, as in China. But in China today, even as the rich get richer the poor are left behind, rural to urban migrants are treated as if they do not exist, the state or its corporate cronies can expropriate your property and force you out of your home--- and the list goes on. And those who criticize these policies are jailed or tortured or forced into exile.

Now we have a new kind of non-state censorship. Fanatical Muslim extremists are trying to stop all portrayals of Islam that they consider offensive. Some well-meaning non-Muslim Westerners, like the journalist I heard today, seem to assume that these fanatics also represent the views of “moderate” Muslims, whom non-Muslims should not “offend” by publishing cartoons about Islam, or Mohammad, or the burqa. Muslim Westerners, it seems, are very thin-skinned, lack a sense of humor, and are incapable of exercising their religion if their fellow citizens publish cartoons about Islam. I don’t think this is the case. Most of the Muslims I know in Canada are as attached as I am to freedom of speech.

If we only have one human right, it should be freedom of speech. From freedom of speech flows freedom of the press and freedom of association. These rights make it possible to criticize governments, which in turn sometimes persuades them (in democracies, at least) to change their policies. Just as we can criticize governments, so we should be able to criticize religions. Without freedom of speech and the press, for example, the Roman Catholic Church would probably still be burying its head in the sand about widespread abuse of children by priests. I know a lot of practicing Catholics (family and friends) and I’ve yet to hear one claim to be “offended” by such criticism of their church.

I am exercising my right to freedom of speech as I write this blog. I don’t know how much courage I have (not very much, I suspect); certainly, I don’t  have as much courage as all the journalists and cartoonists who wrote and drew for Charlie Hebdo. They are martyrs to a centuries-long battle for freedom.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Canada and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Canada and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

This blog was originally posted on the website of the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences (Canada), December 9, 2014

December 10, 2014 is the 66th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

 In his Why Canada Cares (McGill-Queen`s University Press, 2012, pp. 4-5), Andrew Lui shows that Canada`s initial response to the formulation of the UDHR was extremely negative.  Canada was worried the UDHR would give rights to Communists, Jehovah`s Witnesses, Japanese Canadians and Aboriginal Canadians. Canada also opposed economic and social rights. Indeed, Canada actually abstained on December 7, 1948 in a preliminary vote for the UDHR, along with the Soviet Bloc. It only voted for the actual Declaration on December 10 because its earlier abstention was so embarrassing.

Since 1948, Canada has shown a steadily increasing commitment to the principles enunciated in the UDHR, starting with the 1960 Bill of Rights and followed by the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  In legal terms, women have been fully equal to men for 30 years. The racialized criteria of our immigration program were removed in the 1960s

With regard to economic human rights, such as the rights to food, housing, health care and security enumerated in Article 25 of the UDHR, though, the situation is not as good. Although Canada is a welfare state with many poverty-alleviation programs, it does not rank as one of the most generous, especially compared with the Nordic states.  

Our biggest shame remains Aboriginal rights, where our founding as a settler colonial state still resonates.  Aboriginal Canadians have more rights than they did before 1948: for example, they can vote and organize themselves, But they endure extremely high rates of incarceration. Their employment rate is concomitantly low. They have far higher rates of malnutrition than other Canadians. Aboriginal women and girls are far more likely to go missing—or be murdered—than other women and girls.

Troop movements during the surrender of the Chenier Cell during the 1970 FLQ crisis in Montreal ,
wiki commons
And we still have to protect basic civil rights such as the right to a fair trial, easily over-ridden by our governments in emergencies such as the 1970 crisis in Quebec or the atmosphere of paranoia since 9/11.

In its foreign policies, Canada has shown a reasonably strong commitment to international human rights during the last 30 years. In Article 2, the UDHR prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race. In the 1980s, Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney helped lead international condemnation of apartheid, though not at the cost of Canada’s trade with South Africa.

Under the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien, Canada was active in introducing the land mines treaty, in promoting the International Criminal Court, and in devising the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect, among other measures.

Our current government under Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper promotes LGBT rights worldwide. LGBT rights are a fairly recent addition to the human rights canon, unheard of when the UDHR was proclaimed in 1948.

a homeless woman in Toronto, wiki commons
Harper has also opened an office of religious freedom. Protected by Article 18 of the UDHR, freedom of religion is especially important now that IS in Iraq and Syria is “cleansing” entire regions of Christians, of groups such as the Yazidi whom it considers heretics, and even of  some Muslims through murder, rape, enslavement and expulsion.

Harper also promotes a maternal and child health initiative; maternal and child health is an important economic human right, first mentioned in the UDHR’s Article 25, 2, requiring “special care and assistance” in motherhood and childhood. However, Harper’s initiative excludes access to abortion, guaranteed by Canadian law but not guaranteed by any international human rights law.

Canada’s human rights record is far from perfect, both internally and internationally. Canadians must be eternally vigilant in protecting their rights.  And they must hold their governors to account to make sure our foreign policy always includes human rights.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Aboriginal Cultural Rights versus a Child's Life: A Canadian Case

Aboriginal Cultural Rights versus a Child’s Life: A Canadian Case
Over the last few months an interesting legal case has been going on in Brantford, Ontario, a small city near where I live. The judge’s ruling is likely to generate much commentary and lots of legal articles.
Makayla Sault (on the right), picture taken froom facebook
Brantford is near two Aboriginal reserves, the New Credit First Nation and Six Nations Reserve. (Reserves are the bits of land that the Canadian government left for Aboriginal use during its colonization of this country). In the last year, two11-year-old  girls from these reserves were diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (cancer) at the McMaster Children’s Hospital, the hospital connected to the McMaster University medical school in Hamilton, Ontario. With their parents, both girls have refused chemotherapy. The first girl was identified as Makayla Sault from New Credit First Nation (Aboriginal groups are identified as “nations” in Canada in recognition of their pre-colonial sovereignty). She is a very sweet-looking girl and it is heartbreaking to think of how ill she is.
By court order, the second girl, from Six Nations, has not been identified, although she is referred to as J.J. With J.J.’s agreement, her mother withdrew her from chemotherapy at the McMaster Children’s Hospital and took her to an organization called the Hippocrates Health Institute in Florida for “alternative” medical treatment that she believed was compatible with indigenous Six Nations traditional medicine; the Florida treatment consisted of nutrition and naturopathic therapy.
The individual in charge of the Florida centre is not a physician: the Institute is licensed by the state of Florida only to provide massage therapy, while its director is licensed to provide nutritional counselling. However, the director has been at Six Nations Reserve to advocate his form of treatment, although I’m not sure from the reports I read when this happened.  Presumably treatment at the Hippocrates Institute is not free. This is the same centre Makayla’s parents took her to. At first, after she went there, she felt much better, but on November 14, 2014 it was reported that she was now very ill and her father was asking the world for prayers.
Neither the hospital nor Brant Family and Children’s Services (BFCS), the agency responsible for children’s welfare at the two reserves, took any action to prevent Makayla’s removal from chemotherapy. But in the second case, when the BFCS refused to act, the hospital went to court, asking a judge to order the BFCS to seize J.J. and force treatment upon her. This is a common type of action, for example when a Jehovah’s Witness child is deemed by doctors to need a blood transfusion and the parents refuse (Jehovah’s Witnesses are a religious group that do not believe in blood transfusions). 
On November 14, 2014, the judge rendered his decision. He ruled that Aboriginal people’s constitutional rights overrode the hospital’s right to demand co-operation from the BFCS to force the child to undergo treatment. On October 16 the judge was quoted as saying “Maybe First Nations culture doesn’t require every child to be treated with chemotherapy and to survive for that culture to have value.” (Tom Blackwell, Financial Post, “Judge says forcing aboriginal girl to stay in chemo is to ‘impose our world view on First Nation culture’”, October 16, 2014). The judge also said that the aboriginal right to practice traditional medicine could not be “qualified as a right only if it is proven to work by employing a Western medical paradigm.” (Kelly Grant, “Ontario court judge rules hospital can’t force chemo on native girl,” The Globe and Mail, Nov. 15, 2014, p. A20).
I am not a lawyer or a legal scholar, so I don’t know the details of Aboriginal rights. Canada’s 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms does say in Article  “The guarantee in this Charter of certain rights and freedoms shall not be construed so as to abrogate or derogate from any aboriginal, treaty or other rights or freedoms that pertain to the aboriginal peoples of Canada.” Apparently the judge interpreted this to mean that Aboriginal people have the right to choose what medicines they wish to use, even if the best advice from what he called “Western” medicine suggests they won’t work.
The doctors at the McMaster children’s hospital said that with chemotherapy, the two girls have an 80-95 per cent chance of survival. They also said that there are no known cases of children surviving this type of cancer without chemotherapy.
 I am a mother too, and I can imagine how terrible it must be for the mothers of these girl
the McMaster Children’s hospital
s to watch them endure the pain of chemotherapy. If my son had contracted cancer at age 11 and required two years of chemotherapy, I might also have wanted to look for alternative treatments. In J.J.’s case, the mother’s claim is that the alternative therapy she has chosen in Florida is compatible with Aboriginal medicine. The judge seems to have decided that whether it is truly aboriginal, in the sense of having been a traditional medicine within that culture, is irrelevant. Whatever an Aboriginal person declares is traditional medicine is so, even if it is a treatment offered by presumably non-aboriginal people in Florida.
In other contexts, I think very few human rights activists would accept that a child’s life could be sacrificed for cultural reasons. Children, like all human beings, have a right to life. Perhaps we could prevaricate and say that not giving a child medical treatment that she says she doesn’t want is an act of omission, not comparable to denying her treatment she does want. But I do not think an 11-year-old is capable of independent judgment or understanding of the consequences of withdrawing the treatment.
I also have some questions about all this. First, why the judge did call recognized international medical practice “Western?” Does he have evidence that people living in, or from, places such as China, India or Africa successfully undergo treatments other than chemotherapy when they contract cancer?  I thought scientific medicine was international. 
Another question is about the laws that govern people who purport to practice medicine without a license. I have a hard time understanding how an individual from Florida who is licensed only as a nutrition counselor can be permitted into Canada to give talks in which he claims to know ways to cure cancer other than chemotherapy.
The mother of the second girl was quoted as saying “I will not have my daughter treated with poison…She has to become a healthy mother and grandmother.” (Connie Walter, CBC News, October 1, 2014. “First Nations girl’s family rejects chemo, hospital goes to court to force treatment”).  The poison she was referring to was chemotherapy, which is designed to kill cancerous cells so that healthy cells can grow. I hope the mother’s ambitions are realized and that J.J. has a long and healthy life, but I fear that by rejecting “Western” medicine the mother and her daughter have made a fatal choice.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Terrorism vs. "Mischief": Canada's Double Standard

Terrorism vs. “Mischief”: Canada’s Double Standard

On October 22, 2014, a young Canadian named Michael Zahaf Bibeau attacked Canada’s Parliament in Ottawa.  He managed to evade the (very light) security controlling access to the building and entered it, carrying a shotgun. Fortunately, he was shot and killed by security forces before he managed to reach the rooms where Canada’s ruling party, the Conservatives, as well as the opposition New Democratic Party were holding their caucuses. Had he entered the building an hour later, he might have been able to kill the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, or members of Cabinet or ordinary Members of Parliament as they left their caucus room.

Before reaching Parliament, Zahaf Bibeau approached the National War Memorial just outside it. There he shot and killed Corporal Nathan Cirillo, one of the unarmed soldiers standing guard over the memorial.

Corporal Cirillo became the country’s symbol of grief over what many people considered a terrorist attack. The murderer’s name suggested his origins were Arabic and French-Canadian. H
The late Nathan Cirillo, taken from Cirillio instegram account
e had tried to obtain a Libyan passport (his father was from Libya) shortly before the attack on Parliament but had been refused. He identified as a Muslim and had made a video shortly before the attack, mentioning Allah. But other Muslims considered him dangerous and a mosque in Vancouver which he had once attended had had its locks changed to keep him out.

This was enough evidence for many people to decide the attack was terrorism. Two days earlier, one Martin Couture-Rouleau, a convert to Islam, had attacked two soldiers in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu near Montreal, killing one. He was then shot dead by police. It appeared he had been “radicalized’ during his conversion. Many Canadians, including me, wondered if the two events had been co-ordinated, especially as the Islamic State (formerly ISIS) in Iraq had threatened Canada a short while earlier.

But now it seems that both these attacks were the work of mentally disturbed Canadians. Indeed this was the position of the level-headed leader of the New Democratic Party, Tom Mulcair. It’s also my position. Had they been around twenty years earlier, these two men might have become neo-Nazis, or crazed survivalists, or they might have murdered for incomprehensible reasons, like the young man who murdered twenty schoolchildren and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012, before committing suicide (and after killing his own mother).

Corporal Cirillo was from Hamilton, Ontario, where I live, and was buried there on October 29. It was a national event, with the Prime Minister in attendance. It was also front-page news in my local newspaper, The Hamilton Spectator. There was much talk of how he was the victim of a terrorist attack.

Hamilton’s Hindu Saraj Temple after the attack, wiki commons
That very same day, on the same front page of The Hamilton Spectator, another event was reported without a word about terrorism. On September 15, 2001, a few days after the Al-Qaeda attack on New York City, a mosque in Hamilton was defaced and Hamilton’s Hindu Saraj Temple was firebombed. The firebombing happened at night and, fortunately, no one was in the building. The temple was reduced to cinders and the perpetrators were never caught. However, 12 years later police received information that led them to arrest Christopher Pollard, Damien Marsh, and Scott Ryan, by then all in their mid-30s. Pollard and Marsh were convicted on a charge of mischief. They were fined a mere $10,000 each and sentenced to 80 hours of community service, with no jail time. Pollard expressed remorse to the police. The case against Ryan was still before the courts.

My question is, why wasn’t the firebombing of Hamilton’s Hindu Temple considered a terrorist act? Perhaps Canada’s terrorism laws do not apply retroactively to crimes committed on September 15, 2001. I am sure, nevertheless, that members of the temple must have felt terrorized. According to a victim impact statement read by one of its members at the trial of Pollard and Marsh, the firebombing was “our very own 9/11.” She continued, “The message that this hate crime spoke in volumes was ‘you do not belong here’ and ‘This is not your place.” (Molly Hayes, The Hamilton Spectator, October 29, 2014, p. A5)

But popular and media discussion did not describe these men as terrorists. Perhaps it was because they were white (or so their pictures in the paper suggest) or perhaps because their motive was not religious but merely racist. Or did they get a pass because they didn’t actually kill anyone (by sheer luck) or because stupidity is considered more understandable than mental illness? Their defence lawyer said they were young and stupid: they were also drunk at the time.

Why is it merely mischief when three white men bomb a Hindu temple, burning
Tom Mulcair, wiki commons
it to the ground? If three stupid, drunk young Muslim Canadians (yes, some Muslims do drink) had firebombed a Christian church in Hamilton on September 15, 2001 and then got away with it for 12 years before being caught, would they now be convicted merely of mischief?

Or would they be considered proof of a deep and long-lasting conspiracy against their own country?

Monday, 20 October 2014

Memoir of a Stateless Person: Helmut Hassmann

Memoir of a Stateless Person: Helmut Hassmann

About 25 years ago, when “citizenship studies” was just beginning as an academic discipline, a colleague from the University of Toronto asked me if I knew that there were people in the world who were stateless. I replied that I did, as my father had been stateless for over 30 years. Now I have just co-edited a book with my colleague at Wilfrid Laurier University, Margaret Walton-Roberts, called The Human Right to Citizenship: A Slippery Concept; it will be published soon by University of Pennsylvania Press. There’s a section on statelessness in it.

Most people who study statelessness refer to Hannah Arendt’s discussion of it in her book, The Origins of Totalitarianism (pages 276-281). Arendt herself was a German Jew rendered stateless by the Nazis, and German Jews were one of the groups she was referring to in her discussion.

My father was a “half-Jew” from Germany, but he had been stateless all his life, for reasons that he reveals below.  This is a short memoir that he either wrote or dictated after he arrived in Switzerland in early 1939.  It describes the odyssey of one stateless man seeking refuge from the Nazis.  I used this memoir in my introduction to The Human Right to Citizenship because of its poignant plea for human rights, a plea I discovered only some years after my father’s death, despite my own lifetime of writing about human rights. My father wrote “you’re so utterly powerless, so impotent… What ever happened to human rights? Is there such a thing anymore? Is it not a mockery of all humanity, when, today, millions are forced to wander about aimlessly, at the behest of a megalomaniacal criminal!? [Hitler] When every country spits them out again like outcasts....”

In my last blog, (, posted October 3, 2014, I wrote about our life in Canada after we arrived here from Britain in 1951. My father arrived in Britain two weeks before World War II, thanks to the assistance of the Swiss Quaker (Sister Annie Pfugler) who took him in when he arrived in Zurich, and some English Quakers named Backhouse. In 1940 the British interned him as an enemy alien for six months on the Isle of Mann, and then sent him to Canada for another year or so of internment. (You can read about the internment in Canada of Jewish and non-Jewish refugees from Axis countries in Eric Koch, Deemed Suspect, Toronto, Methuen, 1980). Then my father returned to Britain and joined the British army, married my mother, and became a British citizen in 1947.  He held on to his British passport the rest of his life, even when he became Canadian.

 Here is the memoir. Note my father had absorbed the Nazi racist term “Aryan.”

 Michael Howard (born Helmut Hassmann):

account of his escape from Germany, apparently written or transcribed in Switzerland, 1939

Translated by Dr. Mathias Guenther, February 2009

“I was born in 1913, son to a family physician. My father succumbed to pneumonia in 1918, which he had contracted on the battle field. He was Jewish; my mother is Aryan.

I spent four years at primary school and the following six years I attended secondary school [Gymnasium]. In 1930 I matriculated, having placed first among the graduating students. I left school in order to begin an apprenticeship at an oil manufacturing firm in Leipzig. After a two-year training period the last half -year was credited to me and I was appointed by the same firm to the post of Spanish correspondent. I was dismissed from my position in 1933, due to the upheavals that had in the meanwhile broken out in Germany. However, shortly thereafter I was able to obtain a position at the Leipzig sales office of  I. G. paints industry, which was still politically unconnected at the time. I worked there for five years, as a technical sales correspondent.

 However, the Nazi industrial cell [? Betriebszelle?] had in the meanwhile gathered information about myself and found out that I am of non-Aryan descent, something my well-intentioned boss had not revealed.  This, around 1936, was the beginning of the action against myself, which, between 1937 and 1938, had come to such a point that I decided “voluntarily” to quit my position.  All the more so, as my employers were in absolutely no position to offer me protection, as they would then be in danger of themselves being politically suspect.

 Being stateless–my grandfather was Russian, as was my father, even though his country of birth was Germany–I was unable to obtain any residence or work permit abroad. I thus went to Italy, as a visitor, in order to seek to obtain a residence permit in that country for a protracted length of time. However, on October 4th, 1938, I was verbally informed by the vice-prefect of Milan that, unless I had departed Italy by October 9th, I would be escorted to the German border by two carabinieri.  I then spent another two months in Italy illegally and during that time I sought to obtain immigration permits from all of the consulates. However, because of my stateless status the answer everywhere was negative; alternatively, the landing fees in the states overseas were so steep as to be unaffordable. At that time I had about 1000 lire, which evaporated throughout my subsequent wanderings. After some well-meant advice from elderly Italian friends, and unable to find any lodging in Milan because of my illegal status, on December 8th I left for Yugoslavia. After walking for eight hours I got to the Yugoslav border, in a heavy snow squall. There I was picked up; however, I was treated with great kindness and was passed along, from one place to another, over a distance of about 12 kilometres. Throughout I was accompanied by a soldier, carrying a loaded and cocked rifle.  This pleasant company was to stay at my side until February 12th. At the fifth station I eventually was made to stay, for two days. While I was not locked up and was fed very well, I was not allowed to take one step into the open air.  The next thing I was told: back to Italy!  Back we went for five hours, in silence, beside the soldier with rifle and mounted bayonet. All this because I am stateless. Fortunately my guide had the day previous received three Veramon-powders [a painkiller?] from me, [end of page 1] for his intense tooth ache. He thus stopped right at the border and said: “ Fujine - frontiera-Italia-Rakek.”, that is to say, “Run back to Italy and then take the train back again to Rakek” (Yugoslavia).  I thus walked for about 100 metres in a straight direction and then turned around again right back to Yugoslavia, skirting the customs building. I then hiked for five hours, up the highest heights of the Yugoslavian frontier mountains, heading inland. Snow had freshly fallen and was about 60 cm high; I wore dress shoes and got one foot bath after another. I couldn’t walk along any roads as I had a hellish fear of being nabbed once again. However, even the strongest will fails in the face of exhaustion and excessive exertion and in the end I was so spent that I just didn’t care about anything anymore. In order to avoid drawing attention to myself I had already sacrificed my small suitcase and briefcase containing much nice underwear and I now walked straight into the next larger village, along the middle of the main road. A policeman who walked my way didn’t glance at me once, for which I was very grateful to him. To my dismay the train station to which I wanted to go was in exactly the opposite direction that I had walked. I thus had to walk back 12 kilometres; I was very dejected and my legs failed me.  Coincidentally, a peasant with horse and wagon appears behind me just at that moment, who understands a bit of Italian. I ask him if he would take me along. Yes, with pleasure; I climb up the box beside him, shivering and cold. We drive for about 20 minutes when I notice with a start that we are heading straight for the customs house, from which I had been sent off this morning. .... I promise my peasant 50 dinar if he can get me by the place without being detected. He is unflappable: “We’ll get by alright.” And he is right! Nobody come from the building, no guard comes our way. I heave a sigh of relief. We finally get to the stop from which the bus is supposed to take me to the next larger village or town with a train connection. However, the bus won’t arrive for another two hours. Eventually I am taken by bus to S. At every stop in between five policemen–however, everything is in order. By train I drive to Maribor, where a friend of an Italian acquaintance of mine, a Slovene, would be setting things in order for me.  Unfortunately, he was too much of a coward to do even the barest minimum for me.

 After 2 days I drive to Belgrade. I was to rue my notion that I might be able to go underground more easily in this large city. I was seized after no more than five days of freedom. “So, you emigrated without a visa! What are you doing here anyway?” “My passport has been taken from me.” “Unless you take a ticket to the border and are away from here by 5 ‘o’clock you will be arrested.” In the course of my search for a room in Belgrade I had met a Russian woman, who had fled Russia back at the time of the Russian revolution. She showed much sympathy for my situation. “Well, you state that you have no money to drive back; the least the state can do is pay for your return journey”, was her opinion. I go back to the office and inform the bureaucrat working there, a most unlikable person with a malicious expression. A lengthy report is taken, where are you from? Why? Aha, half-Jew etc.  “Well, for the time being you’ll have to stay here, for a couple of days. Of course, you will get room and board.” The room was—a prison cell, 1.5 x 3 m.  The board consisted of water and a kg. of bread per day. Christmas passed, and then the new year; early at 7 o’clock a walk, always in a circle, a horde of ragged, coarse guards, who were generous with their face slapping and kicking. Reading forbidden, newspapers forbidden. I didn’t understand any Serbian. The light was kept on all night long, there were no mattresses for sleeping but only the hard wooden floor, for 4 weeks.  For no other reason but because you are stateless and do not have any right to live and work anywhere, because you are “non-Aryan” and regarded as a second-class human being. The only admirable thing was companionship. Nowhere is there better companionship than in prison. There were men there, genuine men, who wasted away in prison for their convictions and who were tortured. Yes, tortured! Hit on the soles of their bare feet, with ox reams braided with wire, 50, 100 times or more! I saw a man, 55 years of age, who had been denounced as Macedonian: at 5 o’clock in the evening he was summoned for “questioning”; he returned at 8 o’clock, led by two policemen, as he was no longer able to walk on his own. He had to endure the caning of the soles of his feet on the grounds merely of a suspicion: to watch all of this was worse than anything else... I had stomach cramps for 3 days; you could relieve yourself only during the walking hours. Otherwise there was a bucket; no one, of course, wanted to use it, in consideration of his comrades. Later on we shared one large room with 15 political prisoners. I had been brought in on December 17th; at midnight on January 14th a gendarme took me to the Italian border. The darkness was pitch black and rain was streaming down. Suddenly, a flashlight flares. “Alti le mani!”  (Hands up!) I look into the barrel of a revolver and am in the hands of the Italians.

At times the border guards can be simply touching. I immediately started to speak Italian, was given a glass of wine, a cup of espresso, and was allowed before anything else to lie down for a sleep. After lying down for perhaps 15 minutes, I notice how the Italian, the same one who had confronted me with his revolver, placed a warm fur coat over my thin blanket. However, my luck was to last for only one day; the day following I found myself in Abbazzia, a nice resort town, in prison.  No sign anywhere of the ocean, of course, as where I lie, together with three others, is in a cellar. I was unable to sleep a wink, because of fleas and bed bugs. My bed consists of a straw mattress and old sacks, too torn even to be used to carry coals. My arms and legs are completely covered with bites, literally, blister upon blister. It is a horrendous torment. I sleep in my clothing, winter coat, gloves, partly because of the cold–there is no stove–partly so as not to scratch myself like mad all the time.  Four weeks imprisonment in Abbrazzia. At 7:30 in the evening the light is turned off, which is worse than elsewhere, when it was kept lit. You’re already fully done sleeping at midnight and the hours drag on without end. Come dawn, it gets worse again, in another way: the bare “white” walls, up which crawl the bed bugs; this iron bedstead with its linens that haven’t been laundered for years, the barred small windows, high up, the constantly locked door, the bucket, the dirt on the floor, the vermin in the “bed”.  And you’re so utterly powerless, so impotent, at the mercy of the arbitrariness of Italian officialdom. What ever happened to human rights? Is there such a thing anymore? Is it not a mockery of all humanity, when, today, millions are forced to wander about aimlessly, at the behest of a megalomaniacal criminal!? [Hitler] When every country spits them out again like outcasts....

Finally, bound with handcuffs, I was brought to Trieste, from there, via Venice, to Milan; then, after eight days of  louse-ridden arrest, on to Como, from there to Chiasso, always manacled, always in a single cell, mostly without any window. That was my fate until February 22nd, 1939. I spent 12 anxious hours on the mountain at Lake Como, which forms the border to Switzerland. I sent a short fervent prayer to heaven to get there, for my freedom. And HE helped me. .. I am now here, in Zurich, without any means and illegally, but I feel well all the same as good people have afforded me help.”

Friday, 3 October 2014

My Name Change: A Story about Genocide and Racism

My Name Change: A Story about Genocide and Racism.  

This year marks the 15th anniversary of my decision to change my name from Rhoda Howard to Rhoda Hassmann. I still have to use the clumsy “Howard-Hassmann” for professional reasons, as from 1976 to 1999 I published as Rhoda Howard, but my legal name is just Rhoda Hassmann. Throughout the years, people have occasionally assumed that I changed my name because I married or re-married, but that is not so. I married in 1978 and remain married to the same man, who is named neither Howard nor Hassmann. I changed my name for political reasons.

The story below is a story about genocide and racism, and what it can do to those who escape or survive it, as well as their descendants.  It was published in Toronto’s Globe and Mail on May 24, 2000, p. A20. A colleague from the then University of Western Ontario (now Western University) sent me a message shortly thereafter saying he’d made it an assigned reading in his course on racism.

It’s taken me a long time to decide to post this private story, but I have decided it is a contribution to the literature on memory and genocide, and thus worth the post. I have not made any changes to the original article, although I now know that some details of my father’s escape from Germany may be inaccurate.



The Globe and Mail (Toronto) May 24, 2000 pA20


The certificate of name change arrived on September 2, 1999: I was now Rhoda Hassmann, no longer Rhoda Howard. September 3 was my fifty-first birthday. I spent it at banks, human resources offices, the automobile club.  By the end of the day my new name was secure.

The name I adopted was that of my paternal ancestors. My father, born Helmut Hassmann in Germany, changed his name in Britain to Michael Howard in 1947. Hassmann was a German transliteration of my great-grandfather’s Russian-Jewish name, something like Chazman. My grandfather, born Bruno Hassmann, died “for the Fatherland”, as the memorial in the Jewish graveyard in Leipzig puts it: he was a doctor in the German army during the First World War.  My father was a “half-Jew”, to use Nazi terminology. 

My father escaped from Germany in 1938; the Gestapo was looking for him after he criticized Hitler at a company banquet.  Forged passport, stays in nasty prisons in Yugoslavia and Italy, a fortuitous encounter with a Swiss Quaker who protected him from deportation and helped him go to England. Then internment camps, on the Isle of Mann and in Canada; a stint in the Pioneer Corps of the British army; marriage to my mother, a Scottish gentile; and eventual immigration to Canada.

This would be a happy story of survival, were it not for my father’s profound inability to cope with what had happened to him. There is a diagnosis for people like him now: post-traumatic stress disorder. Throughout my childhood, he had  nightmares. He was unbearably angry, trusted no one except my mother.

Above all, he never told anyone who he “really” was.  The official story when we first came to Canada in 1951 was that he was a German (gentile) anti-Nazi refugee; this story changed after my parents realized the extent of anti-German prejudice in Canada. Then the official story became that my father was English. Despite his heavy European accent, we stuck to that story for years.

My sister, who is older than I, remembers being instructed on her first day of school never to tell anyone where my father came from. School forms asking for parents’ place of birth caused us distress. Our mother told me and my sister that there were some Jews in our father’s family, but instructed us never to let him know that we knew. Our father’s past was a taboo subject. My parents made a few Jewish friends: my mother would whisper to us that so-and-so was Jewish, so that we knew we could trust her.  But at dinner parties we all had to pretend that no one at the dining room table was Jewish.

In the early 1960s my father watched television reports of the Eichmann trials with another “half-Jew”, a man from Poland whose first wife and two children had been gassed. He claimed to be South African, and like my father had an adopted English name. Although each of their wives had whispered her husband’s secret to the other, neither man ever spoke of his background.

When I was fifteen, my father told me he had “something to confess: I am a half Jew”.  He “confessed” this to me because his mother, a German Christian, was coming to Canada to visit us, the first time she would meet us children. Many years later, I learned from a distant Jewish cousin that she had announced her intention to tell us who we were.  But even after my father “confessed”, we were still under strict instructions to hide. Only when I went to McGill University at seventeen did I learn to my great surprise that there were many Jews who actually were open about their identity. 

My father never came to terms with his past. Very rarely he mentioned something about it: on my last visit with him, he told me how upset he had been when he was denied access around 1935 to his local swimming pool. He felt guilty that he had not been able to save the life of a favorite Jewish aunt, even though he could not possibly have done so. Sometime in the 1970s he listened to his employer’s advice never to trust a Jew, without revealing his identity.

Just prior to his death in 1998, at the age of 84, my father was taking a course in Italian at McGill. As an oral report he told his young colleagues about his adventures in Europe, concluding that all his problems had been because his step-father was Jewish.  Even then, 60 years after escaping from Germany, he could not bring himself to say in public that his own father had been a Jew. He told me on our last visit that if someone asked him a direct question, he would not lie: but otherwise, he said, it was “not worth it” to reveal the truth.

 For many years I wanted to change my name back, but as long as my father lived, I could not.  He would have been angry and afraid.  He might have asked me to keep my “old” name for the return address on my letters, just as many years ago he asked his mother to put “Collin” not “Cohn” on her letters (she refused). So I waited, always irritated by the effects of  bearing a fraudulent English name.

So now I have done it: I have my “real” name. The profound effects of the Holocaust on my attitudes, thinking, and scholarship at last have some tangible expression. I no longer bear a name adopted because of fear. It’s a bit late in the game, after 51 years with the other name: what if I die young, I asked myself last September, after all this hassle of making the change?  But I decided that if I do die young, I want to die as who I am.





Thursday, 25 September 2014

Forgiveness: A Somewhat Dissenting View

Forgiveness:  A Somewhat Dissenting View
A couple of weeks ago I watched the movie The Railway Man, starring Colin Firth. This film is loosely adapted from a memoir of the same title by Eric Lomax, an Englishman who had been a prisoner of the Japanese during WWII and had been enslaved to work on the Burma railway.
In the film, set in 1980, Eric Lomax is a tormented veteran whose hobby, dating from before he became a prisoner of war (POW), is to follow railway routes and schedules. The film goes back and forth between the elder Lomax and his younger self as a POW. After he is taken prisoner, he draws a map for his fellow POWs to show them where he thinks they are. The Japanese find the map and torture him to reveal for whom he drew it, convinced he is a spy for the Chinese. After the war, he becomes obsessed with revenge against the Japanese. Then one day he discovers that the interpreter for his torturers is still alive and is guiding tours of his former prison camp. He sets off to take revenge on the interpreter but ends up forgiving him.
In real life, Eric Lomax did indeed discover that the interpreter, Nagase Takasi, had been trying to atone for his sins during the war. In the real story, Lomax first obtained counseling, then when he discovered Nagase was still alive wrote to him, eventually meeting after several years of corresponding. Lomax did formally forgive Nagase, and they remained friends until their deaths. This story was told in Michael Henderson’s Forgiveness: Breaking the Chain of Hate (Book Partners, Wilsonville, Oregon, 1999), pp. 117-20.
After we watched the film, my husband expressed surprise that Lomax forgave Nagase. Under international law in force at the time of WWII, POWs were not supposed to be enslaved, starved, tortured or murdered. Why would you forgive a war criminal who tortured you?
Discussion of forgiveness has become popular in the burgeoning academic literature on post-conflict resolution. There is a much criticism of Bishop Tutu, the Anglican South African bishop who sat on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Tutu appeared to subtly pressure victims of apartheid-era human rights abuses who testified before the Commission to forgive the perpetrators of these violations. In the documentary film A Long Night’s Journey into Day (if I remember correctly), about the TRC, there is a scene where four black women are asked to forgive the black policemen who murdered their sons, on the orders of his presumably white superiors. The four women discuss forgiveness, noting that they are all Christians, and decide to forgive him. 
Prisoners of war working on the Burma railway, 1943 Wiki Commons
When I saw this film I was horrified. I though the women should not have forgiven the former policeman. It seemed that what he had done was too severe for forgiveness. I realize that forgiveness is valued in Christianity, as it also is in Judaism and probably in all other religions, but I still thought that the women should not forgive and that once they got over their momentary impulse to forgive they would regret it. In the TRC Commissioners’ defense, I believe, once this subtle pressure was brought to their attention they tried to avoid it in the future.
I thought a lot about forgiveness when I wrote my article about Official Apologies, which you can find in the open access journal, Transitional Justice Review  (vol.1, no.1, 2013), which was founded and is edited by my former student, Joanne Quinn, I believe strongly that despite Eric Lomax and others like him, victims of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and other such horrors should never be pressured to forgive.
As I argued in my article, I think we should distinguish between interpersonal and political apologies and reconciliation. In the ideal model of interpersonal apologies, something like the following occurs:
Apology (acknowledgement of the facts, taking responsibility for the harm done, expression of sorrow and remorse, promise of non-repetition) → forgiveness→ restored good relations→ increased interpersonal trust→ reconciliation.
Forgiveness may well be necessary in an interpersonal apology, and it may well be good for the victim of a wrong to forgive. But I don’t believe, as so many people seem to, that the opposite of non-forgiveness in the desire for revenge, nor do I think that without forgiveness, the victim is eaten up by bitterness. Rather, the victim can simply ignore the perpetrator, or treat him with the contempt he deserves. Many Holocaust victims, for example, simply got on with their lives.
I think that for political reconciliation, the model is something like the one below.
Apology → victims’ restored sense of self-worth→ restored good relations→ increased social trust→ reconciliation.
 There is no need for forgiveness in this model. The perpetrator apologies, the victim accepts the apology but does not forgive, and good relations consist of the victims’ not wanting revenge. Perpetrator and victim can interact in the public sphere without further contact. The Eric Lomax’s of the world are few and far between, and victims should not be pressured to act as he did.