Letters

Letters

Illustration by Leanne Shapton

ATONEMENT

Mitch Miyagawa’s “A Sorry State” (December) resonated with me. I am a Canadian, born in Lethbridge, Alberta, to Chinese parents who were naturalized citizens. I had trained for military service during my university career, and in early 1943 I began to look into joining up. However, the medical officer at the recruitment office informed me that I did not meet the physical requirements for army service. Undeterred, I tried the navy, but I was told that they only accepted “British-born subjects of the white race.” My next choice, the air force, would only accept men of “pure European descent.” Dispirited, I accepted civil employment and took over my father’s role as the sole supporter of our large family. As a result, I was unable to serve when the restrictions were removed later that year. Despite the sting of rejection, I still wanted to join the military after the war. I found this opportunity in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve, where I was able to maintain civilian status while serving my country on a part-time basis. After fifteen years, I retired in the rank of lieutenant commander.

Nowadays, the armed forces frequently court minority populations. For example, in February 2001 the navy invited the Chinese community of Victoria to tour the frigate hmcs Ottawa and meet with recruiters to explore naval service as a career. Canada’s new citizenship guide, released in October 2009, encourages service in the regular Canadian Forces as “a noble way to contribute to Canada and make an excellent career choice.” As a proud Canadian, I am happy to say that we’ve come a long way.

Reginald Bing-Wo
Regina, SK

The Walrus bills itself with the brazen tag line “Canada’s Best Magazine.” This seems to contradict your recent cover story, which deals with the Canadian tendency to be yielding and compliant. Perhaps your logo might read “Purportedly One of Canada’s Better Magazines.”

G. Bough
Marlbank, ON

HAVANA AFFAIR

I salute Ian Delaney (and Sherritt International) for his wise decision to invest in Cuba (“Castro’s Favourite Capitalist,” December). In 1995—almost coincident with Delaney’s first overtures to Castro—our company, YM BioSciences Inc., presented the Cuban government with our own proposal. We were a Canadian pharmaceutical start-up hoping to access Cuba’s cutting-edge biotechnology—the flower of the revolution. Our project was blessed at the highest levels: Mark Entwistle, Canada’s ambassador in Havana, organized a dinner through which we were introduced to Fidel Castro. Pierre Trudeau himself attended as our guest.

The meeting was successful, and the partnership has been very fruitful since. Like Sherritt, our project has had an enormous impact on Cuba’s economy and has helped integrate Cuban talent into the international science and business communities.

Unlike Sherritt, however, YM has maintained friendly relations with the United States. The majority of our shareholders are in the US. We have never been blacklisted by the American government, because we have never been accused of trafficking in any property owned by American citizens before the revolution. To this day, YM is the only company to have received US clearance to treat American patients with a drug of Cuban origin.

Most important, our friendship with Cuba has allowed us to develop a potentially invaluable cancer drug, nimo-tuzumab, which is being used in clinical trials throughout North America. Nimotuzumab does not cause the severe side effects that similar drugs do, making it the only medication of its kind safe for treating children with inoperable brain cancer. Our flagship treatment centre for this condition is the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

Finally, touching on the anecdote John Macfarlane relayed in his Editor’s Note, we have sponsored the Cuban Terry Fox Run every year since its inception—a symbol of our commitment to both cancer research and Cuban-Canadian partnership.

David G.P. Allan
CEO, YM BioSciences Inc.
Mississauga, ON

In his December Editor’s Note, John Macfarlane suggests that Canada determined its Cuba policy independently of US influence. However, recently released information shows that this is not quite the case. Documents at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum reveal that Pierre Trudeau gave advance notice to the White House before he made his 1976 trip to Havana. President Ford’s administration was not pleased but saw an opportunity as long as Trudeau had Castro’s ear. The Portuguese empire was collapsing; with the end of Portuguese rule in Angola in 1975, a three-sided civil war had erupted. Fidel Castro favoured one of the factions, the Communist mpla, so strongly that he sent soldiers to fight on its behalf. Trudeau was asked to advise Castro to withdraw his forces.

Trudeau agreed to deliver the message. When Castro rejected his request, he all but terminated Canadian aid to Cuba. Trudeau’s actions explain why his risky trip had no long-term impact on Canada’s relationship with the US. In fact, Trudeau was a welcome guest at the American bicentennial celebrations only a few months later.

Graeme S. Mount
Professor Emeritus, Department of History, Laurentian University
Sudbury, ON

PILGRIM’S PROGRESS

As a fellow peregrino, I enjoyed Timothy Taylor’s article about his travels in northern Spain (“Walking the Way,” December). Although I do not doubt the sincerity of his account, my faith in his writing was undercut by an error, as tiny as each of the 25,000 footsteps he made daily on his pilgrimage, yet so important to his narrative. The man whose remains were found in Santiago de Compostela was not the brother of Jesus, but rather his Apostle James (brother of John the Apostle). Hagiographers suggest that after preaching in Spain following the events of Easter, James returned to Judea, where his death at the hands of King Herod Agrippa made him the first martyr among the Apostles. His remains were returned to Spain and buried in a field in the northwest province of Galicia. When we walk the Camino, we participate in the myth. Let’s make sure it’s the right one. Buen camino!

Michael Munnik
Ottawa, ON