Letters

October 2004

by
• 1,294 words

Inside Canada’s Hate Industry
Andrew Mitrovica’s article on Grant Bristow (“Front Man,” September) provides your readers with a window into a unique time in Canadian history, a time when white supremacists, racists, and hate-mongers coalesced into the seething mass that became the Heritage Front. The passage of so many years has perhaps softened our view of these hardened bigots, turning them into nothing more than a cranky collection of social misfits. But as Mitrovica points out, these were the same people who squirmed with delight at the prospect of unleashing an eco-terror attack on an unsuspecting population. These are the same people who placed me, as leader of a Jewish organization, at the top of their “execution list” in the early nineties.

Hindsight provides us with the comfort and space to judge the actions of others. History may or may not look kindly on the role that Grant Bristow played in the “Heritage Front Affair,” but, from the perspective of our community, Bristow’s actions led to the demise of a significant hate-based organization and had a crippling effect on the larger hate movement. For that he deserves the thanks of all Canadians.

Bernie M. Farber
Executive Director, Canadian Jewish Congress,
Ontario Region Toronto

Republicans Abroad
Reading Richard Ford’s comments (“A Democrat Abroad,” Field Notes, September), I believe, as chairman of Republicans Abroad in New Zealand, that he captured some of the challenges that all Americans living outside the United States face. His observation that it feels odd to be an American now was particularly pertinent. But it is his statement on the lack of discourse between people who might disagree about which I wish to make an observation. Americans living abroad have unique opportunities to enter into conversations with people who sincerely like America but often disapprove of its policies. We need to take advantage of those opportunities, perhaps to change people’s perceptions, but at least to provide a personal perspective on some of the challenges we all face in today’s world.

William C. Bailey
Palmerston North, New Zealand

As a Republican in Toronto, I have been on the receiving end of unfiltered, unapologetic, and sometimes uninformed anti-Bush rhetoric often enough. (For the record, I’ve met no one in Canada who is pro-Kerry, only anti-Bush.) But what really matters to me are the times, more plentiful than Democrats would care to know, when someone stops me in a coffee shop or on the street to offer thoughtful words of support for our president and the tough work that must be done. Are these fanatics, hawks, or lunatics? No, they’re just regular Canadians who have looked at the facts and complexities of the situation at hand, and decided that, unlike Hollywood celebrities, they couldn’t do a better job of safeguarding America. I dedicate my absentee ballot to all those people!

Kelli Wight
Toronto

How To Save Democracy
The ancient Greek definition of democracy is “sway” or “influence” (kratos) of “the people” (demos). Allan Gregg’s piece (“How To Save Democracy,” September) is less about democratic renewal and more about making Parliament relevant and boosting voter turnout. The interests of Parliament and democracy would be much better served by renewing engagement from the bottom up.

Much of the debate about democracy has a single dimension, as if Parliament and democracy are one and the same. And yet there are plenty of good ideas for a broad-based approach to revitalizing democracy. Gregg himself points out some of the ways forward. These include helping citizens feel connected to the places they live and work. But making elected representatives the gatekeepers of these processes may breed more distrust and cynicism of politicians, not less.

A bold democratic project starts with the interests of citizens, not politicians. It offers widespread opportunities to meaningfully experience social and environmental issues. And maybe after these experiences, these citizens won’t vote. Instead they will volunteer, shop consciously, or engage in debate with their friends. Surely this is democracy as well.

John Dewey, the American political philosopher, once commented, “Democracy begins in conversation.” True democratic renewal requires investment in quality conversation such as more informed citizens and parliamentarians with listening skills. If we achieve authentic conversations, the votes will follow.

Sanjiv Lingayah
Toronto

Allan Gregg dismisses proportional representation as a solution for Canada’s ailing democratic system. Ironically, he then calls for Canada to follow Australia’s lead by making voting compulsory, without noting that their system includes a form of proportional representation. Indeed, Canada is one of the few democracies that has not incorporated some form of proportional representation as a way to ensure every vote counts. Fortunately, a number of provinces are considering a remedy for this shortcoming at their own initiative.

Gregg states that compulsory voting will somehow make Canadians better informed though he makes nothing of the critical role the media and special-interest groups play in ensuring that voters have the opportunity to be in-formed. Despite running a full slate of candidates, the Green Party was excluded from the leaders’ debate by the broadcast consortium. Many of our candidates were barred from local all-candidates meetings, and the party was omitted from the Student Vote 2004 ballot, an Elections Canada-supported initiative to encourage students to participate in our democratic process. When a handful of non-elected, unaccountable individuals frame the choices and limit people’s options, all Canadians suffer. When nearly 40 percent of Canadians choose not to vote, they are in fact sending a message, just like those who cast a ballot.

Jim Harris
Leader, Green Party of Canada
Toronto

Missing in Guantanamo
I wish to thank your magazine for the informed article by Bill Cameron on Omar Khadr and Guantanamo Bay (“The Black Hole of Guantanamo Bay,” July/August). I believe this article was of assistance in forcing the Canadian Government to respond to our several correspondences after a seven-month delay.

Dennis Edney (Omar Khadr’s lawyer)
Edney, Hattersley & Dolphin
Edmonton

Cross-Border Shopping
Blake Gopnik’s article (“Cross-Border Shopping,” July/August) raises issues that are pertinent to the phenomenon of large-scale international exhibitions, but I am left perplexed by his insistence on finding the Tasaday (or some other unspoiled tribe) of contemporary art. Trying to imagine the art excluded from the exhibitions, Gopnik neglects the artworks that are actually there, which he claims are indistinguishable. It is a familiar complaint, and one that only serves to reinforce what it seemingly criticizes: the erasure of difference. For example, his equation of Xu Bing with Brian Jungen is, upon examination, groundless; though both have had success in New York, they make markedly different work. Their diverse applications of the concept of hybridity, prevalent in global art today, should surely trouble Gopnik’s notion that these artists are making purely Western-style art.

Michael Davidge
Montreal

Not Tough Enough
I just finished reading Andy Lamey’s terrific review on the thorny subject of critics and book reviewers (“The Art of the Bad Review,” July/August). There is a lack of intelligent and caustic criticism in Canadian letters. As book reviews compete with celebrity gossip for space in our daily newspapers, it falls on magazines to take up the critical slack. I commend The Walrus for engaging its readership in a much needed critical dialogue.

Missing from Lamey’s discussion, however, was more talk of Canadian critics and book reviewers. It seems we always fall into the journalistic trap of looking to Americans and the British for validation.

Patricia Robertson
Wakaw Lake, Saskatchewan

Praise
Your magazine just keeps getting better and better. Keep up the good work. I know you were originally thinking about an insertion in Harper’s Magazine, dedicated for a Canadian audience, which would be great, but I prefer this – The Walrus.

Allison Neill
Vancouver

“The time has come,” The Walrus said, “to talk of many things.” Send us a letter, an email ([email protected]), or a tweet, or post on this website. Comments may be published in any medium and edited for length, clarity, and accuracy. Mail correspondence to: 411 Richmond St. E., Suite B15, Toronto, Ontario, Canada  M5A 3S5