Passover and Through British Columbia

Passover and Through British Columbia


Howard Adelman

Two days ago, we left Cowichan Bay on Vancouver Island after a wonderful month’s stay. We pretended we were Israelis and observing seven days of Passover with only one seder. The pretense was valuable in another way because of the radical difference in a Canadian versus an Israeli geographic sensibility. I often say that there is more fresh water to be viewed from our cottage window on Georgian Bay than in all of Israel. But in British Columbia, at least in the part we traveled through yesterday, the fresh water is found in rushing streams over rocks and quiet but very deep lakes. It takes 2 hours to cross the narrow waist of Israel from the Dead Sea to Tel Aviv. It takes two days to cross the bottom just of British Columbia – about ten times the amount of time as in Israel, and that is for just one of ten provinces.

This morning we head for Medicine Hat, Alberta, and hope we are not being too ambitious. We are about to go through the final pass through the Rocky Mountains, a generic name for what is actually five different mountain belts. The specific Rocky Mountains, along with the Mackenzie and Franklin Mountains, constitute the Foreland Belt. Going westward, there is the Omineca Belt, including the Purcell Mountains that we passed through yesterday between the Rocky Mountain Trench to the east and the Kootenay Lake to the West. Further west again are the Intermontane Belt and the West Coast Mountains. Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands belong to the fifth, the Insular Belt of mountains off the West Coast. The Rockies are literally only the most eastern belt of mountains in British Columbia. Yesterday, we traversed the Strawberry Pass and the Kootenay Pass and this morning we will go through Crowsnest Pass traveling through the actual Rocky Mountain Range to finally reach the Albertan border.

Yesterday, in the latter part of the afternoon, Strawberry Pass allowed us to travel from Grand Forks on the B.C. border with the United States, about three-quarters of the way between the Pacific Ocean and the Alberta border, to Trail, Salmo and Creston, B.C. through the Selkirk Mountain Range. We probably should have stayed over in Creston, but we pushed on through the Kootenay Pass at over 5,000 feet between Creston and Cranbrook where we eventually stayed overnight. It was a long drive since we only set out from Osoyoos at 2:00 p.m. (We were visiting wineries all morning in the lower Okanagan Valley, but more on that tomorrow.) However, it was well worth it just to see the sunset on the Selkirk Mountains with the higher snow-peaked Rockies looming behind as we managed to arrive in Cranbrook just at the end of twilight.

Yesterday afternoon’s travels were the most exciting part of our trip thus far, visually that is. I should probably save the description until the end of this blog to end on the highest note. But I am just too excited to share the experience. In any one hour (under the poetic assumption that we were seeing Canada with Israeli eyes), we probably saw more fresh water and certainly more trees than in all of Israel. In the just over 200 km. from Grand Forks to Creston, we passed creek after creek, each wider than the Jordan River, and full of rushing water racing over the stones. Sometimes they flowed east and sometimes west and sometimes they flowed upwards as the rush of water behind pushed the frothing water in front up over a hump before we encountered another stream flowing down the mountains as we went from valley to valley during the final melt of the snow on the mountains.

We often saw deer beside the road which were mostly placid and seemingly unafraid of the trucks and cars – perhaps because there were so few on the road. At one point I noted that we had been on the road for twenty minutes and had not seen another vehicle, but I was quickly corrected. There was a small truck behind us evidently which passed us very soon after when the highway widened to offer a passing lane.

The road trip yesterday culminated when, in a light rain at the end of the day, a rainbow curved up ever so slightly, only arching at the top literally in front of us on the road. As we approached this red, orange, yellow and then green and then even blue rainbow, the colours became clearer, brighter and more distinct. The contrast with the gray misty mountains in the background and the snow-capped peaks even further back with the golden crown of the final sun of the day on the crown of the most proximate mountain, was magical. The various shades of green in the fading light of the day of the different species of tree reflecting different degrees of light needed a landscape painter to capture the view. Or a great photographer like my driver. However, tired from the long day, she mistakenly deleted the day of exceptional pictures when she went to transfer and save them.

We never knew whether we were looking at Grey Mountain or Crowe Mountain, Mount Plewman or Mount Neptune, though we identified the Rossland Range as we passed that town. Sometimes the valleys between the mountains were narrow and deep and sometimes broad with alluvial plateaus and even farms. As we moved west after Creston, we entered horse and cattle country. And we were never allowed to ignore the clouds.

The colours shifted from silver grey to dark and light grey, and then even to mauve. Sometimes the clouds were streaked and at other times billowy. And when the sun was setting, it illuminated a pure patch of white cloud sitting like a puff ball on top of the place just where a very black cloud seemed to clash with purple-grey one. At one point yesterday, we saw a pure white cloud that looked like a large rectangular puffy box just sitting in the middle of the sky.

In addition to Strawberry Pass and Kootenay Pass, there was even a Blueberry Pass – at least on the map, for I never did see a sign on the road indicating when we passed through it. I did see the name of Bonanza Pass, but could not tell when we entered it and when we came out. In one trip, it is just too difficult to comprehend such a varied terrain and I should have studied much more geology before the trip.

But back to the sky and the most startling picture of all. Just near the end of yesterday’s drive as we were coming through the mountains and the sun had already set behind the mountains to our west, there was still plenty of light. We were passing a lake. Beside the dark mountain rising up from the lake on the other, western side, a blaze of red appeared, not so much over it as beside the mountain, and between it and the dull, fuzzy, even misty, grey mountain further back. The sense of mystery, the sense of wonder, was awesome. Truly awesome! – the very opposite in meaning to the oft repeated term, especially among young people. When I order halibut and chips in a restaurant in the Okanagan Valley, the waitress says, “Awesome!” Even when I order a diet coke – yes I have resumed drinking the stuff contrary to my vows to quit – she said “Awesome!

I have to tell you about yesterday morning in the Southern Okanagan Valley between Oliver and Osoyoos. A waitress saying “Awesome!” was the worst of our experiences. For, what else do travelers do on a sunny, beautiful morning, but visit wineries? We had a choice of 36 just in the very southern Okanagan alone. Given the controls of the Liquor Board of Ontario, when we go into an LCBO store we may, if we are lucky, have a choice of perhaps 4 wines from B.C.. It is a provincial disgrace. Any one winery in the Okanagan offers more choices, and there are a great wineries over many parts of B.C., including on Vancouver Island. In the Cowichan Valley alone, there seemed to be over thirty wineries and we enjoyed delicious, even exquisite meals at both the Unsworth and the Zanatta Wineries – and, of course, bought some wine.

But the Cowichan Valley, as delightful as it was, did not compare to the Okanagan with one winery after another. Of the 36 within 12 km between Osoyoos and Oliver (there are probably over 300 in the whole valley), we visited the following wineries: Road 13, Hester Creek, Tinhorn Creek, Fairview Cellars and Burrowing Owl, five out of the six we had chosen. It was already two p.m., so we passed on visiting the Young & Wyse Collection near the border with the U.S., partly because it was getting late and we had a long drive ahead, and partly because this winery was evidently started by a so-called black sheep of the family that ran Burrowing Owl and we thought we might run into similar varieties – a premise which was probably wrong, but served as a useful excuse to cut our excursions to wineries short.

First, you have to comprehend the beauty of the Okanagan Valley, with each segment of this valley stretching northward for over a hundred kilometers to beautiful Kelowna and Vernon and even beyond to Salmon Arm where one of my readers – or, at least receivers of my blog (I must not be presumptive), lives. We restricted this visit to the very southernmost part and vowed to return with friends for a week just to explore the whole valley and the many varieties of offerings. We were just a week too soon when the real opening of the winery season begins next weekend with music events, special dinners. For me, the fall would be best when all the fruit stands are open in the late summer and early Fall. For the South Okanagan offers not only barrels of wine, but baskets of wonderful fruit. And though I love wineries (more than wine since I drink very little and very seldom), I really love fruit. However, in the spring there are the wondrous display of blossoms – apple, peach, pear, apricot, plum and, of course, those I consider the most beautiful of all, cherry blossoms.

The green of the landscape as the vines have begun to show their foliage and the grass grows rich belies the fact that the area is really a desert fed and made fruitful through irrigation. The summer days are very long and very hot (it can reach thirty-five or even forty degrees), but the nights are cool. Further, the soil on the east side of the road as one heads north is sandy, whereas on the western slope you find alluvial soil. Given the different levels up the mountains on each side, the different degree of sunshine – the western slopes are covered in shadows later in the day – the different varietals, the vast array of differences in taste just due to nature within very short distances is remarkable, When one puts on top of that the various tastes and talents of the different vintners, you get the picture.

But the real story is historical and beneath the soil. The Okanagan Valley is steeped in geological time. I need not go back through the Mesozoic (dinosaurs) and certainly not the Paleozoic era, but only the Cenozoic Era of mammals. I need only pay attention to the latest epoch and period of the post Glacial Age of the last fifteen thousand years. But to understand what took place on a deeper level, it is important to comprehend plate tectonics which came into prominence when I was a graduate student at the University of Toronto and John Tuzo-Wilson was there and built on the science of cohorts and predecessors.

(The German geologist Alfred Lothar Wegener was among them and he published his seminal book, The Origins of Continents and Ocean at the beginning of WWI and introduced what was then only a theory – that of continental drift when he noted how the pattern of the eastern coast of North and South America matched up with the western contours of Africa and Europe. He put forth the theory of a vast ancient super-continent of Panges or Pangea – I can’t remember – that broke apart and the two parts drifted apart to leave the Atlantic Ocean. The theory was proven beyond any reasonable doubt by the identity of fossils found on each side as well as the matching rock formations. It took years for his theory to be accepted, perhaps because he was German and Germany was an enemy in WWI.)

By the time I was a graduate student, his theories and that of Tuzo-Wilson established plate tectonics as the governing theory explaining the behaviour of the crust of the earth and especially the plates, floating on a hot mantle below, and, floating above, the relatively thin crust. I digress, not only to show off and share my knowledge, but because it is critical to understanding the rise of the five belts of mountains in British Columbia and the creation of the Okanagan Valley.

As the great glaciers cut through and then retreated through the mountain belts, some formed by magnum rising up through the plate that extends westward to the San Andreas Fault and far eastward. As the glaciers retreated, the non-glacial deposits of sand and gravel, in the streams and valleys as well as peat were supplemented by till from the glaciers as they melted leaving behind clay, sand, pebbles, rocks and boulders, and the inner and sub-glacial deposits of the same mixture of materials resulting in eskers (deposits from holes or tunnels within the ice) and kames, the material in the fans, deltas and channels formed by the retreating glaciers leaving behind kettles, or deep depressions and holes – the kettle lakes of the Okanagan Valley.

But it is the third type of glacial deposit, the sediment within a glacial lake left behind as the shores of the lake retreated that is the most important for the richness of the soil in the Okanagan Valley. And the subsequent taste of its wines. But more on that, hopefully tomorrow. I have to get on my way if we are to get to Medicine Hat.

Gay Talese and Voyeurism

Gay Talese and Voyeurism


Howard Adelman

An article in the 11th April issue of The New Yorker entitled, “The Voyeur’s Motel” about an American motel owner who years ago deliberately bought a small motel so he could spy on the sex lives of his guests. The article is an extract from Gay Talese’s forthcoming book with the same title and it will almost certainly be a best seller. My surprise on seeing the article was the realization that Gay Talese was not only still alive, but still active as a writer, though, if I read the current cultural news I should have known that given the recent gefluffle over what he said about women journalists. Of the three or four so-called founders of the New Journalism, although Tom Wolfe was the most famous and Jimmy Breslin the most infamous, Gay Talese was the one who I liked best ever since Cathy Breslin introduced me to his writings when I worked on The Varsity as a student.

The reasons were obvious. I then considered myself a playwright and Gay Talese had a great ear. He was able to bring to life a character even if he never interviewed them directly. Further, you not only could hear the character talk; you could hear him think. I say “him” because I believe Gay seemed almost always to write about men and belonged to an old school as an Italian from the Jersey shore, even though it was his mother’s great skills as a listener in her women’s wear store that Gay Talese absorbed from the period in which he helped her as a kid. But he also took from his father, a men’s tailor for the mafia among others, not only his love of wearing bespoke suits, but an attention to detail and quality. And when he applied both skills, he listened carefully to how his subjects spoke about themselves as well as the revelations in what they did not say in the silences and pauses and hesitations.

But most of all, he introduced the writer preoccupied with verity into journalism, a field then traditionally of amateurs for whom writing the exciting story rather than the truth had been the norm. (Read Ben Hecht.) That required surrendering the omniscience of the author and including within one’s writing self-impressions and reflections so that the writer was part of the story. I try in my own writing to bring that lesson learned from the New Journalism, though I have never developed Talese’s ear nor his patience. What writer would wait almost four decades before putting in print such a “sensational” story as a motel owner who spied on his “guests” for years and kept a diary and records of his observations? In the days of the Panama Papers, Edward Snowden and Wiki-leaks, it is very difficult to call Talese’s revelations about an inconsequential motel owner as sensational. But then Talese was the writer least concerned about notoriety and fame even when writing about Joe DiMaggio or Frank Sinatra. For him, the story of an ordinary guy could be enormously revealing about the human soul, and Talese’s concern in selection was whether the interviewee could and would be a partner in such revelations.

The irony was that his attention to detail incorporated the devices of fiction – providing a back story and context while doing, as I did with my first play, cutting out the traditional first act which was used to introduce the characters and the story line, a practice which was becoming standard. (I always claimed that the reason I did so was because, when I hitch-hiked down to New York to see plays, I never saw a first act because I snuck into the theatres during the first intermission.) The truth was that plunging into the story from the opening scene, whether in a novel, a play or a film, had become the new norm; Gay Talese was one of the pioneers. But Talese had one practice that both his mother and father introduced him to, keeping detailed notes and very orderly files on his clients and subjects. Gay Talese was the Charles Darwin of the New Journalism, except he included as much about his own responses as about the “client.” He was really a cultural anthropologist rather than a biologist. I suspect this was a main interest in his voyeur subject who had similar habits.

Most of all, Gay Talese was the writer as a voyeur of the commons and the commonplace to help understand the larger world and the historical changes underway. So it should be no surprise that near the end of his life as a writer that he would choose to write about voyeurism, for voyeurism was an essential prerequisite to being the kind of writer he was and remains. In this story of the motel owner, he is a voyeur of a voyeur. And we, the audience, the readers, are voyeurs of a voyeur examining the life of a voyeur so we learn a great deal about voyeurism. But not just any voyeur! But a voyeur who recollected and reflected on his voyeurism and kept notes as meticulous as Gay Talese himself did. The outstanding feature of Gay Talese as a voyeur is looking at the other in order to see into his own soul.

It also explains why I personally am not a good fundamental voyeur of the everyday. I lack the curiosity about detail requisite to becoming a proper voyeur as distinct from one interested only in thrills. I am sure when his book is reviewed that reviewers will repeat his titillating stories that interest me the least. Neither do the parts of the tale concerned with his subject’s clever techniques and detailed preparations grab me. I am not a lover of the detective story. Of interest to me is not that Guy Talese used shirt cardboards on which to write his brief notes, but the fact that Gay Talese as an Italian always felt himself to be an outsider, and an outsider in search of recognition, that led to his talent and writing style. But what most intrigued me were the ethical and legal quandaries with which Talese wrestled as he gathered and recorded his observations and reflections.

In my analysis, we have four levels:

1.      The perspective of the voyeur and what he or she sees;

2.      The recollections and reflections of the voyeur looking at himself;

3.      The voyeur of the voyeur;

4.      The recollections and reflections of the voyeur of the voyeur who would not only record what he heard and his impressions, but his own reflections about the moral quandary into which he, Gay Talese, had been cast in hearing what had been said, particularly when he was told about a murder that had been seen.

“I spent a few sleepless nights, asking myself whether I ought to turn Foos in. But I reasoned that it was too late to save the drug dealer’s girlfriend. Also, since I had kept the Voyeur’s secret, I felt worrisomely like a co-conspirator…” “I was the Voyeur’s pen pal, his confessor, perhaps, or an adjunct to a secret life he chose not to keep completely secret. Several times over the years, it occurred to me that I would be wise to discontinue our correspondence.”

Then there is myself, the voyeur writing, recollecting and reflecting about the voyeur of the voyeur, and then you, my readers, who look on, and hopefully recollect and reflect on what I am writing. So there is an infinite regression in voyeurism that makes the subject of Gay Talese’s article so interesting, for he is very much self-conscious of that reality. But why in his own mind and in that of Talese and in my own is voyeurism so fascinating? I insist that it is not for the vicarious pleasure of the voyeur looking at adults engaged in sex. But perhaps I protest too much. Perhaps my delight in reading Gay Talese is that it allows me to distance myself from the immediate – something Gay Talese refused to do when on a rare occasion he wrote about women, this time women in massage parlours, and insisted that he experience the performance literally first hand.

Gerald Foos, the subject of Gay Talese’s article, was perhaps even more honest than Talese, and certainly myself, for he admitted openly that he enjoyed and got a great deal of pleasure in watching others engage in sex. Further, he, very much like Talese, and vey unlike myself, was “very curious about everything and everyone I see.” I, by contrast, have a very narrow range of interests and they are not primarily driven by curiosity so much as concern. I, to the best of my recollection, have never been preoccupied with invisibility (as Foos was), though, like many adolescents, I too dreamt of dying and observing how the attendees at my funeral reacted to my death. Though I shared with both Foos and Talese what Foos called the advantage in youth of “unsupervised freedom,” and the resulting precocious freedom, perhaps I never followed in the footsteps of Foos because I never had the “rear window” experience of watching a young aunt cavort in her bedroom nude when I was a pubescent adolescent. Perhaps that is why I am more concerned with throwing things out than collecting them, for collecting was a preoccupation of both Foos and Talese, though Talese focused almost exclusively on his own observations and reflections rather than on sports cards or other paraphernalia.

As Talese wrote about Foos, “he always associated his collecting with his boyhood attraction to his aunt. He wrote, ‘The youth will confuse sexuality and the art of accumulating objects. . .  There was a direct association from his aunt being nude and his collecting.’” Talese was not only interested in the genesis of Foos’ obsessions, but with their development as well as the evolving character of his own observations. “The entries become increasingly portentous, and Foos starts to invest the omniscient Voyeur character with godlike qualities. He appears to be losing his grip on reality. But only once, while posted in the attic, did he actually speak through a vent to a person below… [The “guest” never clued into the source of the words he heard.] The journal entry ends with an existential rumination: “Foos is sinking deeper into isolation and despair. The more I read, the more convinced I became that Foos’s stilted metaphysics were his way of attempting to elevate his disturbing pastime into something of value.”

Conclusion: “I am still unable to determine what function I serve. . .  Apparently, I’m delegated the responsibility of this heavy burden to be placed upon myself—never being able to tell anyone! . . . The depression builds, but I will continue onward with my research. I’ve pondered on occasion that perhaps I don’t exist, only represent a product of the subjects’ dreams. No one would believe my accomplishments as a voyeur anyway, therefore, the dreamlike manifestation would explain my reality. Finally, I will be able to satisfy my constant yearning and uncontrollable desire to peer into other people’s lives. My voyeuristic urges will now be placed into effect on a plane higher than anyone else has contemplated.”

Even if only for self-justification, there are “higher’ levels of purpose as well as perspective on the drives and reflections on the self. There is the utility of the practice. For Gerald Foos, there are lessons to be learned from the observations, though Foos himself never shared what he observed and concluded with his clients. But he wanted to do so, to tell men, for one, to be patient in their sexual practices, to be as much or even more concerned with pleasure one gives to one’s partner as for oneself. The indifference of many if not most men to their partner’s needs and desires is perhaps what most distressed this voyeur in all his observations. This was his reflection following his first engagement in voyeurism. “Conclusion: They are not a happy couple. He is too concerned about his position and doesn’t have time for her. He is very ignorant of sexual procedure and foreplay despite his college education. This is a very undistinguished beginning for my observation laboratory. . .”

When he saw so many men piss into the sink and most men partially miss the toilet when they stood up to urinate, he even thought he could advise the makers of bathroom fixtures on the manufacture of a domestic urinal.

Further, though the primary concern was voyeurism, the observing of another person as totally other when there is seemingly no relationship, the underlying theme is partnership, partnership between the voyeur and his unknowing objects as well as the partnership between a journalist and his or her interviewee and the potential for complicity. That partnership almost becomes a betrayal when Talese joins Foos in his attic observational post and, refusing to forego his insistence on being dressed-up in public, inadvertently allows his tie to slip through the slats in the vent, thus revealing his and Foos’ presence to the resident below in the motel room. Needless to say, they were not caught.

Then there was Foos’ concern with science, with generalization, with access to material that Masters and Johnson never had in their pioneering scientific study of sex begun when I was an undergraduate. “As the years passed, he (Foos) became more preoccupied with receiving recognition for what he viewed as his pioneering research. By necessity, he existed in the shadows, running his laboratory for the study of human behaviour. He considered his work to be superior to that of the sexologists at the Kinsey Institute and the Masters and Johnson clinic. Much of the research at such places was obtained from volunteers. Because his subjects didn’t know they were being watched, they yielded more accurate and, to his mind, more valuable information.”

Finally, there is the concern with norms and values. As a result of his spying and what he sees when he spies, Foos develops into a misanthrope.

Conclusion: Thousands of unhappy, discontented people are moving to Colorado in order to fulfill that deep yearning in their soul, hoping to improve their way of life, and arrive here without any money and discover only despair. . .  Society has taught us to lie, steal, and cheat, and deception is the paramount prerequisite in man’s makeup. . .  As my observation of people approaches the fifth year, I am beginning to become pessimistic as to the direction our society is heading, and feel myself becoming more depressed as I determine the futility of it all.

And then again:

My observations indicate that the majority of vacationers spend their time in misery. They fight about money; where to visit. . .  All their aggressions somehow are immeasurably increased, and this is the time they discover they are not properly matched. Women especially have a difficult time adjusting to both the new surroundings and their husbands. Vacations produce all the anxieties within mankind to come forward during this time, and to perpetuate the worst of emotions. . . You can never really determine during their appearances in public that their private life is full of hell and unhappiness. . .  This is the “plight of the human corpus,” and I’m sure provides the answer that if the misery of mankind were revealed all together spontaneously, mass genocide might correspondently follow.

Another of the normative results was that Foos became anti-war since many of his “guests” were military personnel from the nearby base and he observed the effect of war on their personal lives.

Then there is the revelation, the great surprise – at least a hinted one. Was Foos not really just or even primarily a voyeur, but a writer of fiction? Talese never says this explicitly, but it is suggested when Talese discovers that Foos only bought his motel three years after he ostensibly recorded his first observations in his journal. And what about the murder Foos claimed to have seen? Talese could discover no record in the Denver Colorado police department or the coroner’s office of any such murder. Most importantly, is voyeurism less about objectivity than about the subjective imagination? For Talese noted that voyeurism is perhaps more about anticipating what one is going to observe than the actual observations.

There are also the conclusions about voyeurism more generally. The observations are not supported by any type of objective systematic or statistical data, though Foos did count and classify his observations of positions and male versus female orgasms. Mostly, he offers just impressions, not replicable observations. And there are no controls, no placebos. But the observations are a preoccupation with the nature of the world at present and the almost omniscient prevalence of surveillance. I very recently became aware of this when I sent some reviews in of the motels and restaurants to Trip Advisor and then was asked by email to review two motels at which I had stayed but had not written about. They knew motels in which I had rented a room even though I had told Trip Advisor nothing about those motels.

So you can consider this a review of a motel owner and a writer about him rather than the motel itself, a motel at which I never stayed, a motel which no longer exists because it has since been torn down to make way for a new development. But that is part of the character of this story. It belongs to a time which precedes modern internet, video and audio surveillance. “This conversation is being recorded to help us improve our service.” The story is a tale of nostalgia, a throwback to a time when vices were relatively innocent.


With the help of Alex Zisman

The Niqab and the Canadian Election

The Niqab and the Canadian Election


Howard Adelman

Forgive me for jumping out of my series on the Iran nuclear issue. But the issue of the niqab on which the results of the Canadian election may turn, is too important, precisely because it is so unimportant. For non-Canadian readers let me provide the context.

The niqab is the veil worn by a very small minority of Muslim women in Canada. Zunera Ishaq became the unsought for central player when the Stephen Harper refused to admit her into Canadian citizenship unless she removed her veil or niqab in the public ceremonial swearing of allegiance. Zunera’s niqab has a very wide slit; the forehead and upper cheekbones can be seen. Many of us have seen Saudi women at airports where the slit is extremely narrow and some where even the eyes are covered by a netting as in wearing a burka.

The political issue arose over whether, when a person applies to become a Canadian citizen, they will be permitted to wear the veil in the public part of the ceremony. Of course, this is not how the issue was raised as part of electoral politics. The situation was made out as if it is about women being “forced” to hide their faces when they wish to become Canadian citizens and whether a person who hid her identity in public could swear an oath of allegiance. Or, at least, this is how our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, and his partners in the Conservative Party in Canada framed the issue.

The following are the facts:

  1. Two women in Canada since 2011 have refused to take off their niqabs in the public ceremony, not in private, as a condition of becoming citizens.
  2. There is no law in Canada prohibiting the wearing of a niqab at the public ceremony where the citizenship oath is taken.
  3. The government of Canada issued regulations banning the wearing of face veils when taking the oath of citizenship in the public ceremony.
  4. Zunera Ishaq, clearly no wilting rose, took the Government of Canada to court over the issue.
  5. She won her court case and, just recently, in the Federal Court of Appeal, won again.
  6. The courts have ruled that the Canada Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects Zunera Ishaq from being forced to remove her veil during the public part of the ceremony and that she should be given the right to wear the veil in the public ceremony, become a citizen and be allowed to vote in the forthcoming election on 19 October.
  7. The latest ruling by the Federal Court of Appeal was on 18 September.
  8. The Government of Canada even lost the subsequent court case asking for a stay in allowing Zunera Ishaq her rights.
  9. Last Friday she exercised her rights, became a citizen and can vote in the elections on 19 October or in the advance poll.
  10. This is but one of a long series of cases where the current Government of Canada has sought through regulations to get around the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; the government has been thwarted at every turn by the Canadian courts.
  11. Note that, before participating in the public ceremony where the oath is taken, any applicant for citizenship must go through a number of steps to prove the applicant’s identity.
  12. Those steps include, in the name of the principle of political accommodation, that Zunera Ishaq remove her veil in private before a female official to establish her identity.
  13. The public ceremony is part of the ceremonial part of the occasion, one that if you ever attend is very moving for almost all participants.
  14.  The Conservatives, as part of the election campaign, promised to “rectify” the matter by introducing legislation within 100 days of taking office that will require those applying for citizenship to take off face coverings during the formal ceremony confirming citizenship.
  15. They promise to do this without first hearing from the Supreme Court of Canada whether such legislation would be legal under the Canadian Constitution and even though the party, if it wins the largest plurality of seats, will only be a minority government.
  16. The Conservative Party has also signalled that it even plans to introduce legislation banning any federal employee from wearing a niqab when serving the public.
  17. Further, Catherine Loubier, a spokeswoman for the Conservative Party, stated that the niqab issue was part of the Conservative “agenda” as a well-established principle of the party, and that the party has simply benefited from a “coincidence.”
  18. It appears that this may even be part of a future plan to allow a Conservative minority government to be defeated on such an issue and call an election to get a majority vote for the Conservative Party.
  19. The real issue is that Stephen Harper is the one really wearing a metaphorical niqab behind which he has been hiding to distract Canadians from really examining closely his mismanagement of the economy, his destruction of the “civil” dimension of the Canadian civil service and the myriad of other issues on which he has a deplorable record.
  20. In Canada, and in Quebec particularly the issue of wearing religiously identifying garments, particularly by civil servants serving the public, has become a contentious issue.
  21. In France, girls at school are banned from wearing a hijab, that is a headscarf, let alone a niqab. The Quebec Marois government which introduced the Charter on Quebec values and laws against the wearing of “ostentatious” religious symbols or garments introduced laws banning the wearing of any ostentatious religious symbols by Quebec officials and others in particular situations; this was in the French tradition of religious secularism, laicité.
  22. The opposition parties came out strongly against the Government position based, not on whether they liked or disliked women wearing the niqab, but on the basis of human rights and upholding Canadian law and the constitution.
  23. One possible result, as established by polls, is that support for the New Democratic Party in Quebec, where the party has most of their members of parliament and the vast majority of Quebec seats, has fallen precipitously; polls initially indicated that much of that shift favoured the Conservatives given the politics of fear and blanketing the airwaves with pictures of ominous happenings as a woman dawns a veil. More recent polls suggest a more significant shift to the Liberals. Since Justin Trudeau holds the same position on the niqab issue – namely that it is being used as a distraction and wearing it anywhere is a human right as interpreted by Canadian courts,
  24. The biggest irony of all is that a very feisty Zunera Ishaq donned the veil, not in the name of tradition, but in the name of her rights as a private person, in the name of the secular religion of Canada and against the advice and even pleas of family members.

One cannot but admire how Tom Mulcair as leader of the New Democratic Party has handled the issue as a matter of principle in spite of the political backlash against his and his party’s views. However, while praising his principles, one can also be disappointed in the way he handled the spin on the issue. He based his objections on two foundations – first on the rights of these Muslim women and the rule of law in Canada. Second, he attacked Harper for using such a politically miniscule issue to arouse ethnic and religious fears in Canada and a degree of hostility to Muslims that is beneath the surface. His principles may be admired, but his ability at political counter-attack, at counter-spin, may not be. In any case, he may have lost support in Quebec for a myriad of other reasons.

Naheed Nenshi, the Muslim mayor of Calgary and perhaps the most popular politician in Canada, offered a very spirited attack on the Conservative position. He did so, not because he is a member of any other political party to the best of my knowledge. He was just absolutely appalled by the position of Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney, Harper’s leading cabinet minister. Nenshi made the following points;

  1. He personally does not like the niqab and wishes people would not wear it.
  2. The wearing of the niqab may not be, for the women who wear it, a symbol of oppression and of masculine misogyny.
  3. The government’s position is contradictory for, in the name of supposedly protecting women against the oppression of their husbands, their families and their tradition, the government would adopt the position of oppression to tell women what they can wear in certain circumstances.
  4. The government has far more important issues to debate in an election than what two women in the last four years have chosen to wear at a public ceremony in which the oath of citizenship is sworn together with a larger group of applicants.
  5. Those issues include the disappearance of large numbers of aboriginal women, an issue on which the Government of Canada refuses to set up a Commission of Inquiry.

In spite of Nenshi’s intervention, and that of many others, including very articulate Muslim women who would never wear a niqab, polls initially indicated that a majority of Canadians, not just in Quebec, supported the Conservative Party position. Léger Marketing found 82 per cent were in support of the policy nationally, and 93 per cent in favour in Quebec.

I am not a political spin doctor. But I would have advised a slightly different approach than that of either Tom Mulcair or Naheed Neshi or Justin Trudeau for that matter. First, as Nenshi did, I would have indicated that I do not particularly like women wearing a niqab  – but because I enjoy seeing the beauty in a woman’s face. Secondly, even though tattooing has grown in popularity, I have a very much stronger distaste for people who adorn themselves with tattoos and have been an oppressive father who banned my children, while supported by me, from ever getting a tattoo. Nevertheless, I would never think of passing a law or regulation banning this form of ostentatious personal identification by a civil servant, a student or an individual seeking to become a citizen.

But a tattoo does not hide a person’s identity. In fact, it establishes it more clearly – ask the number of criminals who have been caught because they were identified by the specific tattoo they wore. True enough, but the criterion espoused by Harper was his personal distaste for the behaviour of women wearing a niqab, since objective evidence and fact establish unequivocally that it is not an identity issue. I once had a woman who wore a niqab to my class and never had any difficulty whatsoever in identifying her, in fact even less difficulty than identifying most of my students – I was very bad at that very important skill.

The basic point is that my personal distaste, whatever it is and however much anyone agrees or disagrees with it, should not be the basis for making Canadian law or regulations. Further, it is not only I who say so. The Courts of Canada have ruled on this issue over and over again. My position on tattoos may be very appealing, especially to a number of older people who are appalled at the increasing propensity of young people to wear tattoos. But when it comes to public space and civil discourse, it is none of my business.

Mulcair and Nenshi attacked Stephen Harper for introducing such a trivial issue in an election because it was being used as a wedge issue for those who feared the influx of Muslims into Canada. That may be the case, but a vast majority of Canadians support Harper’s position and I do not believe they are anti-Muslim. They are against the practice of women wearing niqabs. The political issue, as opposed to constitutional one, is to focus the debate, not on their personal taste, but on principles, the laws of Canada and the rights of women. But one can best, I believe, shift the focus of debate only once establishing an identity with those Canadians who are opposed to women wearing a niqab.

The courts can decide what is lawful and not lawful with respect to dictates of the government re requirements of dress or tattoos. My personal distaste is irrelevant. Rights are. Respect for differences is critical. What is most relevant is Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party’s effort on tramping on what I believe are prime Canadian values – tolerance, respect, not just acceptance, of others – and recognition that I should never make my personal tastes, whether for vanilla ice cream, diet colas or niqabs, a basis for making public policy.

Why did Harper adopt this position? He certainly used it to sew fear and division, but the incident really fell into his lap. It had long been Conservative public policy. Therefore, it is doubtful whether the debate over the wearing of niqabs at public rituals when swearing an Oath to the Queen was intended as a wedge issue, though it was certainly played up for that use.

The explanation however lies deeper. Stephen Harper is a classical small “l” liberal when it comes to the separation of religion from the public political sphere and from civil society. His prime enemy is not socialism or the nanny state, though these are lined up for extinction. His main enemy is the secular liberal religion of human rights. He is a traditional Conservative or classical liberal who believe that religious affiliation, beliefs and commitments belong to the private sphere. Harper is not a member of the secular religion of rights or humanitarianism. He deeply and sincerely believes in Machiavellianism as the guide to practice in the public sphere. Faith is a private matter. The public believes, especially Quebecers, that religion must be excluded from public life. Harper adds to that belief a conviction that the public realm is the sphere governed by power, not by faith, by manipulation rather than tolerance and inclusion. Harper practices the politics of exclusion and works hard to divide the public polity to gain enough support, even if it is minority support, to defeat those who have faith in the liberal secular religion of rights.

The public sphere and especially political elections offer the arena where these secular religious wars are fought. Hopefully, Harper will lose this battle.

Why the Tories are winning the Jewish vote

Why the Tories are winning the Jewish vote


Howard Adelman

According to exit polls, a plurality of Canadian Jews – 52% – voted Conservative in the 2011 federal election. Will Jewish Canadians continue to support Harper in the 2015 elections in even increased numbers, even when polls indicate that his national support has been hovering around 30%?

In post-Word War Two Canada, Jews were very divided in their political loyalties. Gradually, voting patterns coalesced mostly behind the Liberals. Joe Clark’s stumbling initiative to move the Canadian embassy to Jerusalem in 1979 and Brian Mulroney’s strong support for Israel never affected voting patterns significantly.

In October 2000, cracks in the Jewish community’s traditional support for the Liberals appeared after Canada voted for UN Human Right Council Resolution 1322, which condemned Israel’s “excessive use of force” against the Palestinians. This was but one of ten resolutions that Canada supported critical of Israel. Irwin Cotler openly chastised members of his own government.

If Liberal stands left the door ajar for losing Jewish votes, politicians on the right began to push it wide open. Stockwell Day, as head of the Canadian Alliance Party, began to make inroads among Jewish voters. Stephen Harper continued the trend. Just before the Alliance and Conservative parties merged in 2004, Harper gave a speech to Civitas, an organization dedicated to promoting individualism and social order; Harper emphasized family, crime, self-defence and a principled stand in foreign policy to attract support from ethnic groups and religious denominations. He has been unstinting in his appeal to Jews and in his support of Israel.

Ahead of the 2006 federal election, the Harper government adopted a number of very prominent positions on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that favoured the Israeli government. Canada became the first Western country to suspend aid to the Palestinian Authority. Harper unequivocally defended Israel’s reprisals in Lebanon after Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers, even though Israel’s massive 34-day attack killed more than a thousand Lebanese and displaced a million more. Canada evacuated 50,000 of its citizens in Lebanon at the time. When eight members of a Montreal Canadian-Lebanese family were among the casualties, Harper defended Israeli military actions as “measured.”

After that, prominent Jewish Liberals began to join the Conservatives, including Robert Lantos, Heather Reisman, Gerald Schwartz, and other Jewish Liberal plutocrats. While Michael Ignatieff, then leader of the Liberal Party, accused Israel of war crimes, under Harper, Canada was the first country to withdraw from Durban II in January of 2008. At the beginning of 2009, Harper’s government was the lone dissenter on the UN Human Rights Committee’s criticisms of Israel. As a result, Canada lost its bid for a seat on the Security Council.

In June of this year, I had dinner with Irwin Cotler. He had originally been elected in Mount Royal with 92% of the vote. In the 2011 election, he told me that a majority of Jews in the riding voted for his Tory opponent. He only managed to be re-elected with overwhelming support from the non-Jewish community. He was not running again. If he had chosen to do so, he predicted he would have been defeated. However, he strongly believed that the Liberal candidate, Anthony Housefather, would win. Current polls seem to support that belief.

In 2015, Mount Royal is awash in Robert Libman-Stephen Harper signs. Libman may possibly be on the verge of overturning 75 years of support for the Liberal Party in that riding but that now seems unlikely since Anthony Housefather is such a popular candidate running for the Liberals. .Jews in Canada live in a country much more dedicated to hyphenated integration than melting pot assimilation. Seventy-four percent of Jewish Canadians have visited Israel — twice the ratio of Americans. For most Jews in Canada, Israel is the wedge issue, far more important than it is for Jews in the U.S. The strong and sincere rhetorical support for Israel by Stephen Harper, even when there are no deliverables, has resulted in a tectonic shift in Jewish Canadian voting patterns likely to increase in 2015 even as much of the rest of the Canadian population is moving in the opposite direction.

Are Canadian Jews Lemmings?


Howard Adelman

Though most responses to my last screed against Harper were positive, one of my favourite readers replied simply, “I am not a lemming!”

Below, is my answer.

You are not small. You are not thick-tailed and you certainly are not a rodent. There is, however, the possibility that you are a lemming who joins a movement unthinkingly, but that choice would not result in a headlong rush to destruction without a proper consideration of the consequences.  There is also the possibility that you may claim the choice is a result of careful thought and deliberation. Again, as a further alternative, you may believe that your conclusion results, not because of ignoring the evidence or from faulty logic, but from using a different moral scale.

The Jewish shift to Harper may have had some rationale before he achieved a majority because of the performances and commitment of the opposition with respect to Israel. When combined with the absence of sufficient evidence of the consequences when Harper led a minority government, his tremendous rhetorical support for Israel may have so tipped the moral scales of evaluation, especially when the world generally appeared to have isolated Israel. But after the last four years?

As I see it, there are actually six logical possibilities to account for the continuing shift in Jewish support for Harper even after the evidence for forsaking any other alternative to Harper is taken into consideration.

Process of Decision Positive Consequences Negative Consequences
Careful thought Not a rush to destruction


A headlong rush to destruction


Moral imbalance Not a rush to destruction


A headlong rush to destruction


Unthinking Not a rush to destruction


A headlong rush to destruction


Support for Harper may be a result of deliberative thought in the belief that, whatever the evidence urging non-support, the consequences will not be destruction and those consequences are not as bad as the consequences of supporting any alternative, especially when the matter of Israel is given disproportionate weight. This is alternative A above. Alternative D is an empty category because careful thought and a headlong rush to destruction are incompatible.

A second and third possibility: a different scale is being used to weigh various alternatives. In this option, enormous weight is given to support for Israel. (Options B&E) On this issue, there is a real debate over whether unstinting support for the current government in Israel contributes or subtracts from the possibility of Israel’s destruction. My own view is that it contributes to the possibility of that destruction, but the weighting is difficult and inconclusive at this time. However, the host of measures leading to the diminishing of Canadian future prospects is so overwhelming. On any reasonable moral scale, it is very difficult to see how Harper’s unqualified support for Israel, especially when there are absolutely no deliverables, could possibly outweigh the array of other negative considerations.

The fourth and fifth possibilities are that the choice could be unthinking, but the path may or may not lead to destruction. Here there is a point. The path may lead to further diminution of Canada’s future; characterizing the outcome as destruction may be hyperbolic. Even though using the reference to lemmings suggests a mass parade over a cliff ending in drowning, blind and unthinking following a Pied Piper may not have that catastrophic result. But the individual is still a lemming in either case.

So let us take the two alternatives of utilizing a different moral scale that gives a disproportionate weight to the effects on Israel. Set aside my argument that, in spite of and, possibly, because of Harper’s cheerleading for Israel, this has been bad not good for Israel. If that disproportionate weighting is so great that virtually all consequences for Canada are diminished, does that not risk a backlash against Jews in Canada for making Israel so important that most Canadian Jews are willing to risk Canada’s future? Does it not risk the possibility that an alternative government to Harper’s conservatives will diminish its support for Israel in response to that Jewish voting pattern?

The only other alternative is the possibility that the Jewish vote has shifted so significantly towards Harper because it is the result of deliberative thought, in spite of the myriad of Harper’s bad policies and practices, just because, rhetorically, he is the most passionate defender of Israel. I prefer to be generous and think it is the result of unthinking, both because I know that all my Jewish friends who are voting Tory are, to a person, very intelligent and considerate human beings, and, secondly, as I have argued, any reasoned consideration of the evidence and logic could not result in a vote for the Harper government. So my only conclusion must be that their behaviour is unthinking because I refuse to insult the intelligence of my closest friends. Better unthinking than stupid thinking I say. Otherwise, if you support Harper because you have thought the matter through, then I have to attribute that support to an inability to reason adequately, to bad reasoning, rather than any lack of thought altogether.

Hence, my conclusion that many of my closest friends may be behaving like lemmings.

Playing with Numbers

Playing with Numbers


Howard Adelman

Last night I came home and listened to the late night news. The big news: the Harper government had posted a surplus, the first in Harper’s eight years running the government. I had become used to the government playing games with refugee figures – announcing in 2013 that the government would take in 1,300 Syrian refugees in the next 12 months and then taking 20 months to do so. Further, most were privately sponsored refugees. When Canada announced it would take 10,000 Syrian refugees over three years, this really meant that Canada would take in 1,300 government-assisted refugees per year and private sponsors would be allowed to bring in just over 2,000 per year. After the election campaign started, Harper announced that Canada would take an additional 10,000 Iraqi and Syrian refugees and take them in over four years. That meant a total intake of 2,500 additional refugees per year, or 1,250 additional Syrian refugees. Of these, the number of government-assisted Syrian refugees would be about 500. Clearly a pittance. The spin is how to make 500 sound like 10,000 and almost 2,000 sound like 20,000. The basic figures are accurate; the spin given to those figures is misleading.

Was the government doing the same with the budget? According to figures released by the finance department yesterday, after seven years of running deficits, the federal government had a $1.9 billion surplus in the 2014-2015 fiscal year. Canada had produced a surplus one year ahead of Jim Flaherty’s prediction. The original prediction for 2014-2015 had been a $2 billion deficit rather than a $1.9 billion surplus. Further, the April, June and July figures reinforced the picture of the trend towards surpluses.

There is an old saying: figures don’t lie; politicians do. I think this is a misrepresentation. Spin is not lying. But to understand spin you have to unpack the figures. There are a number of ways to produce a surplus. First, you can budget less than the previous year; in effect, cut a department’s budget. Second, you can download expenditures onto the provinces. Third, you can spend less than you even projected in your budget. The options are many.

Let me offer an example. In the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, the projected expenditures for 2014-2015 on primary and secondary education for aboriginal youth was $1,445 billion. In 2015-2016, the projected expenditures were set at $1,431 billion. How could the expenditures possibly go down when the rate of increase of the aboriginal population was much higher than that of the rest of Canada?

When you read the hundreds of pages of documents just in that one department, one policy stands out. There is the noble intention begun in 2014 of bringing success rates of aboriginal children up to those of the rest of the population. How is this to be done? You get bands to vote to join regional school boards so that now the province bears the burden of the costs, not the federal government, and the expenditure on aboriginal children’s education is immediately boosted by about a quarter. This “push” in this direction is helped when you recognize not only that aboriginal children receive at least 20% less support than the equivalent cohort in the provincial school system, but that over the last eight years, the educational support deficit has grown so that the differential is moving towards 30%.

The message to band leaders: you want better education for your children, vote to become part of the provincial educational system, thereby relieving the federal government from the obligation to pay for the education of aboriginal children and teens.

Look at a number of departments where the Harper government was determined to cut. In northern economic development, the main estimates were $53,442,608 in 2013-14; in 2014-15, they were $30,945,766, an enormous cut. In 2012-2013, expenditures for the chief electoral office were 119,580,193. In the 2014-15 estimates, they had dropped to $97,110,432. It is any wonder that we have increased our democratic deficit. In the department that I know best, Citizenship and Immigration, budgeted expenditures dropped from $1,655,418,818 in 2013-2014 to $1,385,441,063 in 2014-15, a 17% cut. No wonder Canada lacks the visa officers on the ground to process Syrian refugee applications to come to Canada.

Monies for the Library and Archives of Canada were reduced from $118,923,232 2013-14 to $95,864,788 in 2014-15. In the arts and research field, the National Film Board, National Museum of Science and Technology and the Natural Sciences and Research Council suffered cuts. Statistics Canada, once upon a time the pride and joy of Canada for the rest of the world – we provided a paradigm for other nations to imitate – expenditures dropped from $519,891,309 in 2012-13 to $379,555,524 in 2014-15. The cuts were so drastic, not only effecting the long form census that was made voluntary, and, therefore, useless for research, but the whole basis for economic and social research in Canada was decimated.

This is a government that is not interested in the knowledge base on which prudent planning depends. The library in the Department of Immigration and Citizenship was packed up and sent to a warehouse in Quebec. The policy unit was eliminated. Harper reduces expenditures through micro-management, requiring the smallest expenditures be approved by his office – except when it comes to his Senate appointees. This government has saved money by running the civil service into the ground in many areas.

I am not saying that some areas should not have been cut or that all expenditures have been sacrosanct. However, the Tories cannot even bring in more refugees if they wanted to; they are unwilling to spend the money even though, in the long run, such expenditures are a tremendous investment in human resources, especially when the population intake consists of skilled tradesmen and professionals who can contribute to economic growth.

When you add to these policies the practice of not even spending the money allocated, it is not that hard to produce a surplus. In 2014-15, actual expenditures were $800 million lower than projected. Some of the costs have little to do with Canadian policy, however important prudent fiscal policies are. Carrying charges on debt are at record lows so that actual expenditures on debt were $100 million lower than projected. But there are other ways to produce a surplus. Focus on the revenue side.

In June, for example, the government brought in $1.1 billion more than it spent following the May/June surplus of $3.9 billion. And this was when we were officially in a recession. One way to increase revenues is to sell off assets. So the Canadian government sold its last block of 73 million shares in General Motors in April, increasing the government coffers by $2.7 billion. So if we sell off assets to increase revenues, and since surpluses are seasonal and the surplus in June dropped from $1.6 billion in the previous year to $1.1 billion, the optimism for this year has to be muted somewhat.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a fiscal conservative. I believe, in normal circumstances, we should stay within our budget. But I also believe that some savings, such as cutting our repairs to infrastructure, is indeed penny wise and pound foolish. Cutting programs that provide valuable service is an imprudent way to balance the budget. Further, there are times, as David Dodge has said, when interest rates are low that it is imprudent not to borrow and invest in infrastructure – roads, sewers, public transit. Spending $125 billion in this area over ten years may be the height of prudence.

Pensions are a case in which taxes and investments get confused. Harper decried the Ontario pension plan for increasing taxes. But these were not tax increases. These were increases in forced savings that in turn could be invested in economic growth. Whereas the Conservatives began their term of office by cutting the sales tax by two points, the government has not reduced the taxes for the employment insurance fund. The employment insurance fund is now in surplus and normally premiums should be reduced. They have not been, providing an important source for ensuring that income exceeds expenditures. An employment insurance cut would benefit both individual workers and businesses, especially small businesses.

So has the Harper government been a prudent manager of our economy? In some ways it has. Some cuts were warranted. But so were increased expenditures in other areas – aboriginal education for example. By cutting two points from the sales tax, government funds for needed areas, such as infrastructure or aboriginal education, were unavailable.  The cuts were imprudent.  So were many of the cuts in various department budgets.

There is another area where the Harper government has been prudent. Canada’s debt-to-GDP ratio is 40.4 per cent, including the debts of local, provincial and territorial governments, the lowest among G7 nations where the average is 86.8%. This is commendable. However, flying higher and taking a longer overview, Canada really escaped going into recession in the economic shock of 2008 because the Harper government inherited a government with financial surpluses, $13.6 billion in 2006 and $9.6 billion in 2007. It took on an enormous deficit in 2009 of $61.27 billion. Simply cutting expenditures and micro-managing the government is a way to save money, but also to cripple services that Canadians need – especially veterans.  Areas requiring investment also suffer.

I do not know why the Harper government has a reputation as a prudent manager of the economy. It has not been. It has operated the government as if tax revenues were like money dropped in a piggy bank and your job was to ensure that you not spend anymore than had been dropped through the slot. The real economic job of a government is to spend and invest money wisely and prudently and allow future generations to inherit a better and better Canada.

The Harper government has been more imprudent than prudent on this scale of measurement.

Dr. Tim Hunt

Dr. Tim Hunt


Howard Adelman

I am ashamed, deeply ashamed, at what is happening to our society. And by our society, I mean our global one. For the phenomenon is not local. I not only felt ashamed. I cried. I literally cried. And I could not even offer as an excuse that I have shallow tear ducts like most women.

The story is simple, but the consequences have been catastrophic for Dr. Tim Hunt, for science, for our academic institutions, and for a society that believes it upholds the principles of due process and the rule of law as well as the underlying principles governing their application. For we have allowed hysteria and mob rule to take the place of deliberation and consideration in meting out rewards and punishments.

On 9 June 2015, just one week ago, Tim Hunt was the invited speaker at the 2015 World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul Korea. His audience for the lunchtime address consisted of female journalists and scientists. The title of his talk was: “Creative Science – Only a Game.”. I have been unable to find a transcript of his talk on the internet. Nor have I been able to learn whether the exact title of his paper had a question at the end of the title. However, I suspect Tim Hunt was exploring the issue of the degree to which science is a field of playful creativity or simply an activity governed by rules with the results determined by skill or strength or aptitude or even luck. Whatever else games are, they are usually competitive. Play, on the other hand, is open-ended, more freeform and specifically not governed by fixed rules.

I have no idea whether this was in fact the theme of his talk, for the hullabaloo that arose from the talk came from one short paragraph. Reading that paragraph offered virtually no clue to his thesis, though an interpretation might suggest that he favoured a rule-based system of scientific discovery rather than one emphasizing the free range of the imagination. Tim Hunt’s father, Richard William Hunt, was a paleographer, an expert in the study of ancient manuscripts, and was then Keeper of the Western Manuscripts at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. He may have been very rule-based given his profession. At the Infants Department of the Oxford High School for Girls where Tim Hunt was enrolled by his parents, the only thing he tells of his memory of the school is that he learned to detest, even hate games, because they were so competitive, especially games like musical chairs where I suspect he, as an early nerd, was probably the perennial loser. Thus, given his experiences before he was eight-years-old, one  inclined to believe that he favours the playful approach to scientific discovery.

This interpretation would be reinforced by his autobiographical comments on the Dragon school he attended when he left the girls school. “The Dragon was much better, much less regimented, at the same time much more playful and more serious.” This suggests he favoured a playful rather than a games approach to scientific discovery. This interpretation is reinforced by the additional evidence that when he started his scientific career in the sixties at Cambridge under the supervision of Asher Korner. Hunt always lauded Korner deservedly for encouraging a great deal of freedom for students working under his supervision in both their choices of research and their approach to a problem. Hunt was not the only one to say so. Tony Hunter, a winner of the Wolf Prize, a colleague of Tim Hunt’s at Cambridge and in the direction of research both were pursuing, also lauded Asher Korner under whom he worked before Korner moved to take up the Chair in Biology at Sussex. Hunter also commended Korner for encouraging a free play of the imagination in approaching scientific problems.

In any case, the paragraph that gave rise to a firestorm around the world was the following: “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls … three things happen when they are in the lab… You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry.” (My italics) Anyone who knew anything about Tim Hunt had to recognize he was being self-referential. He met his wife, Mary Collins, an almost equally famous molecular biologist, by working beside her in a lab. Perhaps she cried when he offered her some criticism, and that opened their way to falling in love, making a lifelong happy marriage by all accounts and having two daughters themselves working their way up the ladder in scientific careers.

Since the brouhaha broke out, Mary Collins has steadfastly defended her husband and reprimanded the despicable and cowardly academic and research institutions to which she has devoted her life. In the series, Methods in Molecular Biology, she authored the eighth volume, Practical Molecular Virology – Viral Vectors for Gene Expression. The issue under discussion is a viral vector, but not of the expression of genes but of a hysterical culture gone mad. Mary has occupied even more esteemed positions than her Nobel-Prize-winning husband. She has been a Professor of Immunology at the Division of Infection and Immunity at University College, London, the head of the Division of Advanced Therapies at the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control, and the Director of the Medical Research Council Centre for Medical Molecular Virology. She is an innovative scientist in her own right with a tremendous record of research in cell biology undertaking pioneering work on how to introduce new genes into cells, work that promises to be so crucial to treating inherited conditions leading to cancers as well as in the actual treatment of those cancers.

It is too bad these two great scientists had not dedicated a bit of time to understanding the new rapidly spreading viruses on the new media that create such panic and chaos in the social conduct of human beings. But more on this later.

Notice the following about that paragraph that led to the hysteria. First, Tim Hunt was making a personal reference. “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls…” In the speech, at least, he did not seem to be proposing a generalization about the interaction of men and women in labs. Secondly, there is absolutely no implication from that one paragraph that he favoured sexually segregated labs let alone inhibiting women from pursuing scientific careers, hardly likely given the career path of his wife and two daughters. Third, though it may perhaps be difficult to detect in print and perhaps even among a cosmopolitan audience unfamiliar with what passes for humour at Oxford, Tim Hunt was steeped in a particular form of humour characteristic of Oxford but, coming from Cambridge, it was not an art he ever mastered. The humour is often self-deferential, sharp and usually at the expense of either the person telling the joke or a close colleague in which dissing one another in clever and subtle ways becomes the order of the day.

However, assuming the comment was offered in humour (he claimed it was meant to be jocular and ironic), it was an absolutely dumb joke to present in that forum unfamiliar with the nuances of Oxford college humour. The late Professor Jerry Cohen at Oxford, a Canadian and McGill grad, who was the Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory at All Souls College from 1985 to 2008, was deserving of even more fame as the greatest raconteur in imitating and making fun of that sense of humour. There have been actual scientific surveys about humour at Oxford. Over 60% of scholars there, both male and female, value humour as the most important trait in understanding an individual’s character. My sense in having read about Tim Hunt is that he was as bad at the competitive spirit of joke-telling at Oxford as he was in playing musical chairs as a seven-year-old at the Oxford School for Girls. Humour is used there to ease tension in relations as well as to express oneself in this competition of wit and sharp barbs.

Perhaps the stress on what I often regard as bad humour – I am not an Oxford grad; my eldest son earned his PhD there so I will have to check with him – arises from the fact that Oxford is an old university deeply steeped in traditions going back to the Middle Ages and the manuscripts Tim’s father so carefully preserved. For in those manuscripts, as in Shakespearean plays, the English had inherited the inane idea from the Greek philosophers that governed the understanding of the body for almost two thousand years, in spite of much Egyptian evidence to the contrary, that humour was a cardinal fluid, one of four – phlegm (blood), choler (yellow bile) and black bile (melancholia), being the other three – governing human behaviour and dispositions. The four humours gave an individual his or her personality dependent on the ratios of each fluid in the body.

Based on medieval theory, Tim Hunt lacked sufficient humour fluid in his body.

Nevertheless, quite aside from his apparent indiscretion and insensitivity to context, anyone who knew just a little about Tim Hunt had to know that he was not in favour of banning women from molecular biology labs in particular and science in general. He did not advocate sexual separation, even as he put his foot further in his mouth in BBC interviews afterwards when trying to explain his views. He lacked a high profile public relations agency to explain to him that once the ire of the mob has been aroused, do not try to explain. Do not try to equivocate. Just say you are sorry in the most sincere manner possible and do so as soon as possible after committing what is interpreted as a grave social offense. Then withdraw from the battle, otherwise one is bound to leave one’s own guts strewn all over the field of public battle, especially one as averse to fights and conflicts and competition as Tim was and is. Earlier this morning, the hosts of the lunch, the Korea Federation of Women’s Science and Technology Associations (KOFWST), had the good graces simply to ask for Tim Hunt’s apology and immediately accepted it.

If only that had ended the matter. If only the British and European institutions had not acted with such unseemly haste in tarring and feathering Tim Hunt. If… if.

Contrast the way General and Chief of Staff Tom Lawson handled his controversy when he opined in an interview with Peter Mansbridge on CBC for The National when questioned about sexual harassment in the military. Although “the terrible issue” of military sexual harassment “disturbs the great majority of everyone in uniform,” he opined, while admitting it was a trite answer, “it’s because we’re biologically wired in a certain way and there will be those who believe it is a reasonable thing to press themselves and their desires on others. It’s not the way it should be.” Note that he was not saying that what is determines what ought to be. He explicitly opposed such a position. But in explaining sexual harassment in terms of some form of biological determinism, he stepped on the feet of all those who believe quite reasonably that it is a matter of nurture not nature, and that the problem lay in institutions which encouraged or even merely tolerated such behaviour instead of ensuring zero tolerance through education and punishments.

Lawson’s statement was far worse than Tim Hunt’s. It was not made as a joke. Lawson generalized instead of being self-referential. And Lawson occupied a supreme position of authority in the Canadian armed forces and was directly responsible for the elimination of sexual harassment in those forces. If he accepted a biological determinism in a war against social norms that condemned such behaviour, his false consciousness might make it very difficult for him to perform his job. He was wise enough, or was in a position to have cracker-jack public relations advice, to immediately back down and apologize. So instead of the stripping and tar and feathering of Tim Hunt, I suspect Lawson will be allowed, even if shamefacedly, to keep his position and retire in good grace. Tim Hunt was stripped of all of his positions even though in not one of them did he any longer have any authority to make decisions about who did or did not work in labs.

In the case of Tim Hunt, a bit of knowledge – not very much – would have clarified that such a hardnosed misogynist position did not characterize Tim Hunt’s life or experiences, let alone his convictions and positions he advocated. After all, aside from meeting and working with his wife in labs, he worked in 1979 under Joan Ruderman who taught him so much about embryology; he worked in her lab studying the translational control of maternal mRNA. In Joan’s lab, he also worked with Nancy Standart, a postdoc research student, who followed Tim Hunt to Cambridge. He gave equal credit to Nancy for establishing the first well-authenticated case of mRNAs functioning as translational controls and, subsequently, with identifying the key regulatory regions that serve translational masking. The list goes on.

There is absolutely no evidence that Hunt is either sexist or a misogynist and every evidence to refute such charges. That conclusion was based on the hue and cry based on misreading what he said and wrote. The charges forced Hunt to resign as Honorary Professor with University College, London, in the Faculty of Life Sciences, as a member of the Royal Society’s Biological Sciences Awards Committee, as a member of the European Research Council (ERC), all in spite of many women who had worked with him who defended Tim Hunt and his reputation. Dame Athene Donald, professor of Physics and fellow of the Royal Society, insisted that, “Hunt was always immensely supportive of the ERC’s work around gender equality.”

Let me offer a taste of a bit of the witch hunt that drove such a distinguished scientist into the wilderness and ostracism. Kate Rybczynski, a professor of economics at the University of Waterloo and chair of the university’s Status of Women and Equity Committee, wrote an op-ed published in yesterday’s Toronto Star. This is the way she sarcastically began her column. “The trouble with science is all girls. I see it all the time – women swooning in the corridors of our engineering faculty flirtatiously tweaking pipette in our science labs and sobbing over keyboards in computer labs.” With such a very different form of humour, belong to burlesque rather than the ancient common rooms of Oxford, on the level of farcical hyperbole, Kate began her advocacy of literally hanging Tim Hunt’s effigy in the courtyard of college campuses.

The fact that even reading the simple extracted paragraph would not lead any individual versed in the least care in reading to interpret what he said as a generalization about women in science seems to have passed over her head – or perhaps under it. He did not say or write, “the trouble with girls in science,” but “my trouble with girls.” He did not write nor did he clearly mean that, “Hunt is essentially saying that having a woman as a colleague reduces the productivity of men to the point that companies and universities would be better off having a gender-segregated lab, or worse, hiring less qualified men and excluding more qualified female candidates.” This a totally unwarranted extraction.

Should Kate be asked to resign for writing such inanities? Not from her academic position – she may possibly be a very god psychologist – but as chair of a university committee concerned with assuring that women are treated fairly on campus? Should she be fired from that position for her inability to read and her gross misinterpretations of what is said and read and for not doing her homework? Unless, of course, she apologizes for her insult to the normal intelligence of the rest of us, let alone Jim Hunt.

The rest of the article about closing the gender gap is critical and important, and it is too bad the opening drivel of her op-ed piece undercuts any respect that should be given to such arguments. Tim Hunt has set the stage for women in biology in a remarkably generous way. Knowing this, he was invited to address women journalists and scientists in Seoul, Korea who did not know he was as awkward with Oxford traditions of humour as he was at playing musical chairs. After all, he came from Cambridge. Tim Hunt, in spite of Kate’s ill-grounded charges, has not been one who has “made science and tech a toxic environment for women,” quite aside from Margaret Wente’s argument in The Globe and Mail that such charges are empirically obsolete.

Kate’s conclusion: “It’s good he stepped down.” We may indeed need more men and women to stand up for gender equality, but gender equality means that Kate’s comments and unsubstantiated generalizations should be treated as part of the hysteria in assessing and judging others. The op-ed is, not a sufficient cause for Kate to be asked to step down, for even academics, perhaps, especially academics, should be entitled to their moments of stupidity in the sun. But they should not be joined. They should be criticized.

What is more despicable is the way esteemed institutions bent to the will of a mob and acted precipitously, without due process, without reading the full text, without a fair and reasonable inquiry into what happened, without Tim being allowed to explain himself before his peers – in summary, without a semblance of due process and without a proper day in the court of public opinion.

Cyclins and cyclin-dependent protein kinases are the key messengers in both telling cells when to turn on and serve as inhibitors telling cells to turn off in making enzymes to catalyze mitosis. Tim Hunt’s work was crucial in advancing our understanding into how such messages actually work. If only political scientists and sociologists did as well in teaching us what institutions and activities are critical in inhibiting mob hysteria and how it has worked in the past, the equivalent of preventing the runaway reproduction of cancer cells. These same institutions are needed to turn the switch on to ensure healthy reproduction of cells take place.  We clearly need to learn how and when to turn on and off the switches of public opinion and to allow a fair consideration when people slip up.

There is a lot more to learn from Tim Hunt. He has stood on the shoulders of the founders of molecular biology, such as Francis Crick, who set the standards. Crick always took great care to explain what he was thinking about. He was always careful to make sure that everyone around the table really understood. Most importantly, he always asked a myriad of questions before he inserted his own opinion. We have much to learn from these molecular biologists well beyond their enormous contributions to the advancement of their field. Instead, we allow them to be humiliated and lynched when they slip up and make a stupid joke.

Abe Rotstein

Abraham Rotstein

1929 -2015


Howard Adelman

Tomorrow morning I will be attending the funeral of my very good friend Abe Rotstein. In the evening, I will attend the shiva at his house on Admiral Rd where he has lived for over half a century. I only received notice late afternoon yesterday that he died. The message came from Massey College where we both are Senior Fellows. (I have attached the notice.)

I was taken totally aback. We were to have lunch this month in what we all called “Abe’s Group”. I was looking forward to attending as I had been away since 21 September of last year and had missed our monthly gab sessions over lunch in the UofT Faculty Club. The lunch was cancelled because most of the participants were out of town and could not attend. (Late April and May are the times when most Canadian faculty travel to international conferences.) Abe planned to reschedule for May.

I did not at first know the cause of Abe’s death. I thought it could have been from the prostate cancer he has had for years but kept a closely guarded secret from most who knew him. However, just before midnight last night, a very old friend sent me a note that Abe had died of heart failure. Though Abe moved much more slowly lately than his customary graceful walking style, though his puns came less frequently and no longer had their previous acerbic acuity, he could still deliver puns better than the rest of us put together.

When I sent my eldest son, who is a professor of history at Princeton University, the notice of Abe’s death, he sent a brief reply: “It made me cry.” Abe was at Jeremy’s Bar Mitzvah. Abe organized the weekly meetings at Hillel that allowed our children to get some semblance of a Jewish education. Jeremy was the first to have a Bar Mitzvah at that Hillel group.

But my relations with Abe go back further, to the period when I was an activist graduate student at the University of Toronto. Actually, even further back. For Abe had attended when my play was put on at Hart House. He was a junior faculty member then and we had not yet met. He sent me a brief note applauding the play. I was very flattered.

Abe sat on the first Board of Directors of Rochdale College and continued on after I left. Together we helped organize Praxis, a research institute on applied democracy in the seventies. That was torched by the Mounties. Abe was part of our bi-weekly Hegel discussion group in the seventies. He was the one who showed me that Hegel had lifted sections from Martin Luther holus bolus into the Phenomenology of Spirit (Then, scholars had a different view of what we now call plagiarism.) This gave me my breakthrough in totally re-interpreting Hegel in a radically different way than the interpretation I and many others had inherited from Alexandre Kojève. (Incidentally, Abe resembled Kojève physically in many ways.) In September before I left, Abe told me that his final version of his manuscript on Hegel had been accepted for publication. I do hope it will still appear.

Abe edited Canadian Forum. He was an old style political economist belonging to a radically different camp than modern economists who differentiate themselves radically from political scientists. But he passed through radical changes and upheavals with a remarkable equanimity.

When he was younger, he was a heavy smoker. But he smoked cigarettes with a long elegant holder somewhere between a theatre and a dinner length, that is, slightly longer than the cigarette holder used by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Noel Coward or Hans van Bűlow. I never asked him whether he used a cigarette holder for practical reasons to filter out carcinogens or simply to keep tobacco flakes out of his mouth and the smoke further away from his eyes. I know he detested the idea of having nicotine stained fingers so I suspected he used a cigarette holder primarily as a statement of style.

For Abe was unusual for an academic. He had a high sense of elegance. And he was always a gentleman – certainly not in the sense of belonging to the landed gentry or of being of noble birth. For Abe came from Montreal as a son of a Jewish worker. He had been a member of Habonim, a leftist Zionist movement. This was not a background that usually produced gentlemen. But Abe was a gentleman in the much larger sense – courteous, kind and considerate of others. He had gracious manners that never failed to amaze me. If chivalry had been a modern virtue, he would have exemplified it. Pithily, he was a noble spirit and an honourable individual.

In the last few years he has tried to convince me to write a certain type of book that he insisted only I could write. A year ago, he renewed the effort. I even made a stab at it. I am convinced, but never succeeded in convincing him, that a memoir from me about the last sixty years was beyond my capabilities.

Perhaps I will try again. I will miss him.

Notice from Massey College follows.

Professor Abraham Rotstein

1929 – 2015


We are very saddened by the news of the death of Senior Fellow and renowned Canadian Political Economist, Abraham Rotstein. Prof. Rotstein died on April 27 in Toronto. His association with the Massey College goes back to 1973 as Senior Resident and soon after graduating to Senior Fellow (Continuing). For decades he had an office in House 1 while holding the title of Senior Southam Fellow. Known by all as Abe, he advised scores of mid-career journalists as they took up their positions as Southam Fellows and had a reputation for first of all, asking the most challenging questions in their interviews but following up during the year with sound advice on their courses interspersed with unforgettable puns. Tribute was paid to Prof. Rotstein in the 2008-09 MasseyNews on his third and final attempt to retire from the position. Quipping quotable quotes such as “Every dogma has its day” and “Much will have to change in Canada if the country is to stay the same”, Prof. Rotstein claimed to have ‘tried to retire on three separate occasions, but no one seemed to listen’. He held the Southam Program together so wonderfully that his efforts to retire were certainly ignored until a High Table in his honour in 2008. He continued to come by the College frequently after that and was often seen in Ondaatje Hall at lunch.


Prof. Rotstein was a courageous economist and compelling nationalist. He was a wondrous intellectual and leading force in Canada.


We send our deepest sympathy to his family, close friends and colleagues.

The flag on the College bell tower has been lowered to half-mast in his memory.

Funeral details:

Thursday, April 30 at 11:30 a.m. at Benjamin’s Park Memorial Chapel, 2401 Steeles Ave. West.

See the website of the Chapel for more details:


Shiva address: 102 Admiral Road, evening services at 8.00 p.m.; Shiva concludes on Monday evening, May 4.

American Idolatry

American Idolatry


Howard Adelman

Three days ago, we raced across five states of the United States of America. We traveled from the middle of Nebraska across Iowa and Illinois and traversed the upper reaches of Indiana to get to Michigan from where we left the next morning to get home late afternoon on the day before yesterday. Arriving home and settling back in is a process that included dealing with a pile of mail higher than me, a telephone message box that was full, as well as the unloading and unpacking from seven months away. Home is a great place to be after you have been away so long, but it requires a couple of days to make it feel like home again.

I have been wanting to write about the responses to the Iranian Nuclear Framework Agreement for days, especially as optimism has turned to pessimism among my friends. But perhaps today’s blog can be considered a prolegomena to another revisit to the Iranian agreement next week. For all agreements are about some degree of trust, even though they are built on distrust and suspicion. This blog is basically about whether America, not Iran, can be trusted to keep treaties.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei last week said that, “If the other side avoids its amphibology [ambiguity] in the [nuclear] talks, it’ll be an experience showing it’s possible to negotiate with them on other issues.” This response feeds the hopes of those negotiators who believe generally that engagement if possible is a better approach than either coercive diplomacy or coercion through military action and who see this agreement as merely a first step in negotiating with Iran on its support of terrorism and its attitude towards Israel as well as Iran’s goal of becoming a regional power.

But one does not have to be so hopeful about larger accomplishments to support the framework agreement or so pessimistic about those larger goals to undermine it. In fact, the deal may crash, not because of the spoilers on each side or because the negotiations over the next two months will be so difficult and tough. It may be sufficient that each side has to engage in public relations or spin to undermine those spoilers such that the use of these steps in public relations themselves undermine the deal. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has already warned the Americans that the “fact sheet” issued by the American side would complicate how the deal is received in Iran. What each side needs to make the case for the deal domestically is often at total odds with what each side has to do to make the deal with one another.

For years I have been on the side of those scholars of international negotiations that stress that the most important aspect that threatens peace agreements has to do with those spoilers who oppose them. Peace is often not made by peaceniks but by ostensible warriors who agree to smoke a peace pipe. That is why it is so often the case that peace agreements are often made by the most belligerent ones in domestic politics because they do not have spoilers to contend with domestically. Today, however, I will write about the monument on Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota with the famous sculptures of the faces of four American presidents as iconic representatives of the history of America: George Washington (1732-1799), Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) and Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt (1858-1919), that we visited the day before our mad dash home. I also want to write about the monument to Chief Crazy Horse subsequently though we saw it just before visiting Mount Rushmore. I will leave the discussion of Iran for now.

Let me begin with one of the observations we made in crossing Nebraska and especially Iowa. The corn fields were tiered. We were curious why this was the case. I looked for an answer when I got to our hotel room and found an article in the April 1917 issue of the American Threshholder, a popular farmer’s magazine a century ago that spread the message of good farming practices while advertising new tractors and threshing machines and taking advantage of the changes in advertising brought about by the invention of the linotype press one hundred and twenty-five years ago almost to the day in 1890. (As you will understand in the follow-up, the reference to advertising is relevant.) The article was the equivalent of today’s blogs with reflections by a very astute observer on raising corn in the Midwest.

His main point was to prove that, contrary to what the cattlemen had argued, farmers could raise corn in the territory west of the Missouri River, given that the land was semi-arid with relatively small amounts of rainfall. For the writer, it was an important lesson learned “when there was no more north to conquer.” He noted that even in 1917 in Montana, there was as much land under cultivation for corn – 18 million acres – as in Iowa and Illinois put together. The author also posed a challenge to the cattlemen with whom the farmers were in contention. And it always seems to have been thus as ironically implied in the song in Oklahoma. Farmers and cowboys should be friends but the never seem to have been.

The challenge was simple. Recognize truly who the Indians were. Contrary to cowboy beliefs, Indians were not savages. They had been settled farmers who raised corn; the white man had learned the techniques of growing corn, including tiered farming, from the Indians. Evidently, constructing the rolling lands into tiers was used to preserve scarce water. Further, the American settlers had learned those methods from the Indian women. “Are you saying,” this early twentieth century blogger argued against the cowboys, “that the white man cannot do what their Indian sisters had already proven could be done?” He reminded those cowboys that a century earlier, the Lewis and Clark expedition, which had opened up the West for Western and northern expansion, had survived partially by the corn they bought from the Indians.

In reading this essay, I was reminded of a number of observations:

–          The American practice of continuing to use the term Indians, both by native peoples as well as non-natives, contrasts with the Canadian practice that has replaced the term “Indians” with “aboriginal peoples”

–          The American stress was on expansion through settlements combined with the exercise of power

–          Farming was carried out by women in Indian societies as the men hunted and trained to be warriors

–          When we visited the site of the Battle of Little Bighorn where General George Armstrong Custer made his last stand, when the American cavalry first attacked the Indian encampment, they slew women, children and old men as the warriors slipped out of the village into the surrounding forests to be able to regroup later and prepare to counter attack

–          The first casualty that really alerted the Indian encampment was the killing of a young Indian boy; the second was the killing of an Indian woman who had been picking turnips – it was these two killings, and not the famous use of the Indians’ early warning systems, that really woke up the camp to the fact that the camp was under attack by the U.S. cavalry.

–          Runs the Enemy, an Indian chief, was smoking his pipe in his teepee when, “Bullets sounded like hail on tepees and tree tops” as reported by a Hunkpapa warrior. The family of Chief Gall – his two wives and three children – were all killed in the attack

–          The determination that led to the slaughter of every last man under Custer’s immediate command was a result, not only of the determination of the Sioux and Cheyenne to preserve their lands and their way of life as promised, but because of the fury that fired them up when they learned that the American cavalry had so wantonly slaughtered women and children

As one last final point to drive his message home, the author pointed out that the early fur traders had founded a distillery on the Yellowstone River using corn raised by Indians.

All of this is but background to discuss my observations after visiting both the monuments to the presidents at Mount Rushmore and the monument to Crazy Horse 17 miles away in the Black Hills of South Dakota. We were especially pleased that we had seen the latter monument before visiting Mount Rushmore. Let me signal my main general observation. We loved our visit to the monument to Crazy Horse in spite of all the reservations and issues the monument raised. We spent four hours there. We were totally disappointed and put off by our visit to Mount Rushmore. We spent less than an hour there. This was in spite of the fact that I was enthusiastic about the latter visit and had been looking forward to it, and only learned about the monument of Crazy Horse en route (revealing my ignorance of the American west) and we decided to make a side trip to see the monument to Crazy Horse before visiting Mount Rushmore.

To readers unfamiliar with American monuments, especially non-Americans, I only knew of Mount Rushmore because of the important role it played in Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, North by Northwest. (More on this in a subsequent blog when I combine film analysis with social observation.) Carved right into the Black Hills of South Dakota, considered sacred to many Sioux people, the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, dynamited and drilled tons of rock to create huge iconic faces of the four former American presidents, except they do not appear in the order in which they served. Theodore Roosevelt looks out from a position further back between Jefferson and Lincoln.

The monument evidently receives three million visitors a year. As the promotional material advertises, “Today visitors come to appreciate this colossal man-made creation, learn about the design and construction process, appreciate its significance as a symbol of the American history of ‘monumental’ leaders (my italics), and to learn about the natural and cultural history of the Black Hills region.” I came away with a very different response. I was both disappointed and very critical of American egoism and insensitivity.

The Black Hills in Sioux culture was the place where the spirit of their ancestors abided. White men scarred the landscape to create a tourist attraction. Further, they did so by boasting that the four figures selected represented different ideals of American development. Washington stands for independence from foreign rule and there are no notes that I read about George Washington’s speculation in land in the Indian territories. Those lands had been recognized by Great Britain as belonging exclusively to Indians “in perpetuity”. They were to be reserved for the Indian peoples.

Washington was motivated to fight the British much more, in my understanding, not primarily because of unfair taxes, but because of restrictions on American expansionism that Great Britain’s treaties with the Indians imposed on American settlers. The fight over taxes that continues until today was just a cover for a much different imperial agenda. Washington at the age of 17 worked as a surveyor for the Ohio Company. That experience aroused his covetous desire for the land across the Allegheny mountains. After all, Washington embodied the opportunistic and visionary businessman as well as a military commander and democratic leader. At the time of his death, Washington owned fifty thousand acres of western land worth then a half million dollars. No other Virginian had been so active in lobbying and working to acquire the West for the expansion of settlements.

American expansionism was built upon a foundation of disrespect for international treaties and a belief in territorial acquisition as much if not more than a resentment of inherited aristocratic authority. As a result, the native Shawnee and Delaware Indians were pushed off their land. “If he (Washington) was at all restless, the form it took was in a determined quest to gain vast tracts of western land that he considered his both by right of discovery as a surveyor and right of conquest as the Virginian who had held on to the frontier backcountry through years of bloody battles and raids. Here his appetite was unquenchable.” Washington matured as a rapacious frontiersman, though, when he retired from his political and military career, as an elder statesman and patrician, he urged Congress to treat Indians more humanely in contrast to his early contempt for Indians as savages who threatened white settlement.

Washington led the faction that believed that the only way to defend against that savagery of Indians was through offence and carrying the battle into Indian territory. The British House of Commons had passed the Quebec Act which expanded the borders of the Quebec colony to include the West south to the Ohio River, thereby denying the “rights of freeborn Englishmen” (Washington) to acquire western lands across the Ohio River. Further, the rights of a freeborn Englishman meant the right of possessive individualism.  “No country ever was or ever will be settled without some indulgences. What inducements do men have to explore uninhabited wilds but the prospect of getting good lands? Would any man waste his time, expose his fortune, nay his life in such a search if he was to share the good and the bad with those who come after him? Surely not.” These words of Washington should have been etched in the stone at Mount Rushmore, but that would not enhance the propagandist vision that Americans have of themselves.

At Mount Rushmore, Thomas Jefferson is not celebrated for his contributions to American democracy and universal human rights, but as an iconic representative of expansionism. After all, Jefferson had written James Monroe (author of the doctrine of America’s manifest destiny) that “it is impossible not to look forward to distant times when our rapid multiplication will expand itself beyond those limits, and cover the whole northern, if not the southern continent.” His acquisition of the western territories of the Mississippi valley in the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 doubled the size of America.

At Mount Rushmore, Abraham Lincoln is not celebrated for his contribution to the emancipation of Blacks from slavery and especially not for his personal humility, but for his preservation of the union and his willingness to use coercive force to achieve that goal. Further, in the quest for unity as an ultimate value, the Lincoln administration had introduced the equivalent of a loyalty oath. Trustworthiness and loyalty to the union became the key criterion for government workers rather than “civil service”.

Theodore Roosevelt, the least visually correct image of his actual visage and with only a hint of his pince-nez as he lurks in the background, is celebrated, not for his belief in the power of America or his open imperial advocacy of expansionism or even for his love of the natural environment, but ironically for his defense of individual rights, but as those rights had evolved into an ideal of the freedom to exercise individual will with the fewest constraints possible on the individual by the state. Yet this colossus was created through federal patronage while the monument to Crazy Horse was created on the libertarian idea of refusing any aid from government.

The political message of Mount Rushmore comes across clearly before you come close to the platform to observe the faces as you proceed to the viewing platform along a wide pathway to pomposity and imperial ambition bordered by pillars with the flags of each of the states. The monument is a dedication to what I would consider false advertising about those presidents, to the art of capitalist “realism,” the American counterpart to the iconic figures of Soviet socialist realism with the same artistic virtues of the worship of the colossal using iconic abstraction for ostensible virtues that ought to be considered vices. Mount Rushmore is propaganda and idolatry at its worst, representing humans as embodying abstract ideas, though there is acknowledgement that everyone has not been pleased with the decision to make the carvings. The monument to Crazy Horse, as I hope to write about, is a direct challenge to American iconography. Given the values that have emerged in the aftermath of post WWII America, it is no surprise that there have been no monetary allocations since 1941 to ensure the completion of the sculptures. The abstract iconic faces will presumably never have bodies.

As one Black visitor wrote as a response to visiting Mount Rushmore, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image!!! Being a Black American I find Mt Rushmore to be another insult to minorities everywhere. Four slave owners (sic!) being recognized for what? Some people just don’t get it and unfortunately it’s the people who are making decisions about America. We (Americans) are slowly being taken apart and if America does not wake up WE are headed [for] destruction. Funny thing is all WE have to do is treat everyone with respect. Make sure that everyone is treated the same regardless of their ethnicity and culture. Unfortunately, America still refuses to respect all people and until that happens, America will continue to fall. America is the best country, WE just have very poor leadership, and it started with those four individuals on MT Rushmore!!!!”


Return Trip

Return Trip


Howard Adelman

Yesterday morning we started our trip back to Toronto. We left Victoria, B.C. earlier than expected because the house we had rented turned out to be a bust even though it had a wonderful location and terrific views. This was our first error in renting houses out of perhaps fifty over the years. The change, however, meant that we could travel back to Toronto in a more leisurely way. As if it was symbolic, our last restaurant meal proved to be equally disastrous. This was my review of Vic’s Steakhouse in Victoria BC.

This was the worst steakhouse at which my wife and I have eaten. My wife’s crab cakes were inedible (they were returned to the kitchen) and the lettuce in her salad was gritty and presumably had not been washed properly. My medium rare steak was properly cooked but was mediocre, but the seared potatoes were lukewarm rather than hot. The broccoli was mushy. The service by Victor was very friendly and accommodating, but when my wife asked for bread and was served six slices of doughy white bread with a pot of butter, we were insulted that they wanted to charge extra for the order. [I am not eating bread during Passover.] Either this was an off night for the restaurant with a substitute cook or the restaurant should close. After questioning our bill, the charges for the crab cakes and the bread were graciously removed and explained as an error.

This bad experience was not typical of Victoria. For example, the Aura Restaurant was superb. But it did spoil our last evening. Yesterday morning we planned to take the 11:00 a.m. ferry to the mainland but were lucky and got on the 10:00 a.m. one which had been put on as an extra for Easter Monday. The ferry trip from Victoria to Vancouver, if you have never taken it, should not be missed. The hour and a half trip through the islands between Victoria and Vancouver is simply great.

However, the road trip until east of Abbotsford could easily be skipped if possible, but we were soon into the beautiful mountains en route to Hope, B.C. We did not stop there but pressed on and were quite shocked as the mountains became almost barren. At first I thought the mountainside had been just massively cleared of trees, but it soon became obvious that trees had never been in abundance. Only last evening did I read that we had passed through a desert area of the mountains that received relatively little rain. As we approached Osoyoos, the fruit farms were in full blossom and we passed many vineyards, but they grew and were prolific, much as in California, because of irrigation. Unfortunately, all the fruit stands seemed closed, understandable for this time of year.

We did pass six places where a kind of Muskoka chair with a higher back was raised up carrying a sign advertising Osoyoos cabins. At first, I made the mistake of thinking the sign was for a place that built something called “Osoyoos cabins”.  The signs provided a humorous interlude, and we needed some type of relief.

We had been told that the trip through southern B.C. was exquisitely beautiful compared to traveling through Washington State. Until we reached Osoyoos, we were deeply disappointed. The towns of Princeton, Hedley and Cawston seemed little more than shack towns littered with RV camps and the odd old car dump. Had we made another mistake? Had our luck in traveling run out beginning with that terrible meal in the steakhouse in Victoria? Were we being punished for leaving our grandchild for months before we would see him again? Perhaps the accommodation I had booked in Osoyoos would also be terrible.

As it turned out, the Watermark Beach Resort was a lovely place. Because we were traveling in the shoulder season between winter and summer recreation, we had a suite and not just a room and at a very good price. But what was most surprising was the small tapas bar in the hotel that did not even have its own name. We were served by a high spirited ex-Liverpudlian who had been raised in Dublin. Though he was the only one serving – there were not that many tables occupied – the service was superb. But the meal was even greater. I was surprised subsequently to learn that not all the reviews were raves, but ours certainly was. The beef vegetable soup I had was hot, tasty and very hearty with excellent meat and firm rather than mushy vegetables, The carpaccio with the extra garnishes was terrific. My chicken curry was not too spicy, but very tasty with excellent locally-made yogurt and a cherry condiment.

Our stay has been great. This morning we will visit three local wineries and then drive to Bonners Ferry in northern Idaho taking the slightly longer but reputedly exceptionally beautiful route on highway 3A rather than 3 from Castlegar around Lake Kootenay and through the Kootenay Pass. I have even identified a small café – Dawn’s Early Rising Sunshine Café and Bistro – in Castlegar for our one stop en route – other than for taking pictures. I hope it is a success.

Niqabs and the Canadian Citizenship Oath

Niqabs and the Canadian Citizenship Oath


Howard Adelman


I am en route back to Canada so a requirement of Canadian citizenship for new Canadians, namely the oath of allegiance, is an appropriate topic raised in Michiel’s email to me yesterday which I first read last evening. Further since this issue is primarily a thought exercise requiring only reading the documents referred to as well as the federal court ruling, and does not require extensive research, it is a great way to fill my early morning hours.

Michiel Horn sent me Cliff Orwin’s discussion of Harper’s opposition to wearing the niqab when an immigrant takes a citizenship oath to become a Canadian citizen. A niqab, a veil that covers all but the eyes of the face of a Muslim woman, is required by some ultra-orthodox Muslims to be worn when in public in the presence of a non-mahram male, that is, a mature male past puberty who is not a relative of the immediate extended familys. Thus, fathers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers, siblings, children, grandchildren, uncles, cousins, nephews, father-in-law, son-in-law, and further refinements are mahraim. Essentially, if a Muslim married a mahram, this would constitute incest.

I have forwarded Michiel Horn’s e-mail separately since I was not able to technically include it within this blog. The references were to the following:

My response has little to do with Harper’s political motives – which are often questionable. It has more to do with Cliff’s critique that is correct as far as it goes. However, the critique, on the one hand, went too far since the court found in favour of Zunera Ishaq, not on the basis of the constitutional challenge and the respect for religion and requirement of tolerance, but on errors in administrative law in a government making something mandatory and incumbent on judges to implement when the applicable legislation permitted no such action. More importantly for the point I want to make, Cliff’s argument does not go nearly far enough to unpack the underlying issue. Once unpacked, a whole different dimension of the issue emerges. But first let me briefly recapitulate first Harper’s position, Cliff’s response and that of the Federal Court that found in favour of Zunera Ishaq.  

Minister Stephen Harper’s Position

Harper stated in parliament, and did so most vociferously, that it is “offensive” for a new applicant for Canadian citizenship to wear a face covering niqab when taking an oath to become a Canadian citizen. Actually, he said it was offensive because at the time of the oath the individual was “joining the Canadian family” not becoming a Canadian citizen. The two are not the same as Cliff noted. This policy was introduced by Jason Kenney as Minister of Immigration and Citizenship on 11 December 2011. Kenney argued that 80% of Canadians oppose wearing a niqab when taking an oath of citizenship. Harper vowed to appeal the Federal Court decision. (More tomorrow on that vow.)

Clifford Orwin’s Views

Cliff Orwin argued that Harper’s position is totally wrong and made Jason Kenney’s tending to religious suppression even more heinous. It is not an issue of numbers. Cliff does not care that the ruling only applies to one hundred women in Canada – actually, it applies to one hundred women per year, but this is a technicality since the point is the rule affects relatively few of the quarter million individuals who become citizens each year. Nor does it matter that 80% of Canadians follow Harper’s lead and abhor that a religious Muslim woman be allowed to wear a niqab at a public ceremony where the oath of allegiance to Canada is sworn. Nor does Cliff think that Harper’s appeal to transparency and openness is at all relevant. “Liberal democracy isn’t about compulsory baring of ourselves (or our faces) to others.” Nor is calling the Canadian society a “family” relevant, for in taking the oath of citizenship, one is not joining one big family, but simply acquiring membership in a state. For Cliff, it is about the fundamental small “l” liberal belief in “the right of each of us to lead a life of our own, in religious matters as elsewhere,” as long as in doing so we do not harm another. Offending someone is not prohibited by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Freedom of worship is a Canadian value. The Canadian Charter of Rights requires respect for religious freedom. Transparency and openness are appreciated by Canadians, but unburdening ourselves, as one might do in a family, is neither protected nor expected by the Charter. Nor is the issue one of respecting local customs – “when in Rome” – for wearing a niqab is a religious practice, not an expression of local custom. So custom is not the issue. The right to wear the niqab as a form of religious expression is. When Paikin asked Cliff whether it was alright for an immigrant to wear a Nazi storm trooper uniform when taking an oath of citizenship, Cliff insisted the issue was not the same. Wearing a Nazi storm trooper uniform is not ok because it is not a religious expression, but an expression of intolerance. Therefore, it is not a parallel circumstance.

To repeat, the issue for Cliff was not whether the vast majority of Canadians abhorred the practice of women who believe it is appropriate to wear a niqab, particularly at a Canadian citizenship ceremony when taking an oath of citizenship. What the vast majority of Canadians abhor about a piece of apparel when that apparel is worn for religious reasons is of no consequence. There are indeed legitimate reasons why wearing a niqab rubs people the wrong way. A man wearing shorts and sandals leading a woman in a burka in a doctor’s office may be repugnant to someone also sitting in that office, but the woman wearing the burka has as much right to wear the burka as the other woman in the office has the right to be repulsed by the practice. Again, the reaction to wearing a niqab is irrelevant to the right of the woman to wear the niqab, including when taking an oath of citizenship. A niqab-wearing Muslim woman may not be Harper’s type of Canadian, but hopefully all Canadians do not and will not conform to what Harper thinks is a right kind of Canadian but, rather, what the law determines.

Paikin offered another example posed by a commentator to Cliff’s Globe and Mail op-ed. She said that, at a citizenship oath ceremony, she had observed a man taking the oath of citizenship, shaking the judge’s hand and receiving a certificate but when his wife took the oath, he insisted that she could not shake the judge’s hand and the husband took the certificate on her behalf. Cliff insisted this was not ok. The reason was because, in this case, the man was interfering with the wife’s freedoms. Presumably, if she declined to shake hands with the judge and personally requested that her husband receive the certificate on her behalf, that would be ok. It is the interference with the right of the individual to make her own religious beliefs known that was evidently the problem.

Paikin asked whether some aspects of the Muslim religion were essentially intolerant, especially of other religious beliefs. Whether or not that was the case, Cliff replied, was not relevant since the person taking the oath vowed to subscribe to the laws of Canada that dictated respect for the religious beliefs of others. It was presumed that just as her avowal of her religious beliefs was sincere, so it must be presumed that her oath of Canadian citizenship must be presumed to be sincere. I will return to this issue, but as a segue into the next section it has to be noted that while Cliff defended the right of the woman to wear the niqab on charter grounds, these were not the grounds the federal court struck down the 11 December 2011 policy banning women from wearing a niqab at a citizenship oath ceremony.

The Legal Case

The case arose when Ms. Zunera Ishaq, a Pakistani Muslim immigrant, following Hanafi beliefs that require devout Muslim women to wear a niqab in public, applied to have her citizenship ratified by taking an oath of allegiance to Canada. A permanent resident of Canada as of 25 October 2008, her citizenship was approved by a citizenship judge on 30 December 2013 after proper identification was made on 22 November 2013 (at which time she removed her niqab in front of a female immigration officer). Zunera Ishaq was granted citizenship on 2 January 2014. The citizenship ceremony to consummate the awarding of that citizenship was scheduled for 14 January 2014. However, for the citizenship to be consummated, she had to take an oath of allegiance to Canada before a citizenship judge. The citizenship oath that she was still required to take reads as follows:

I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.

At the time she removed her veil for identity purposes, she was also advised that when taking the citizenship oath, she would also be required to remove her veil. She presumed that this also could take place in private in front of a female citizenship judge. However, she learned that Operational Bulletin 359 introduced by CIC on 12 December 2011 required removal of any face covering for the oath taking part of the citizenship public ceremony. As the CIC officials testified in court, prior to 12 December 2011 the judge only needed to be satisfied that people had taken the oath; after 12 December, the judge was required to witness the person taking the oath and not simply hear the oath, meaning that neither monks sworn to silence nor mutes could take the oath. More specifically,

[C]andidates wearing face coverings are required to remove their face coverings for the oath-taking portion of the ceremony.

However, the regulation went on:

“If they do not [take off the face covering], they will not receive their citizenship certificates and will have to attend a different ceremony. If they again do not comply, then their application for citizenship will be ended.”

The presumption was that this alternative ceremony would allow her to take off her niqab in private before a female citizenship judge. However, she was warned that this would not be the case. Further, all compromises proposed meant that she would be required to remove her veil before unrelated adult males. Both the initial and the alternative ceremonies were public. So Zunera Ishaq appealed to the Federal Appeal Court in accordance with the provisions of the Immigration Act. She did not wait to be ordered to remove her face covering but appealed the regulation in anticipation of this outcome.

The government would claim in court that this made the whole appeal moot since no action had been taken that either did or did not abuse her rights. I would argue it was a silly argument – since the issue is that you are affected by a regulation, and not whether you are affected in a very specific way. The government further claimed that the citizenship judge, as an independent official, might have disregarded the policy, but section 1 of the manual specifically says the regulations bind the judges. Both of these government responses to Zunera Ishaq’s claims were rightly ruled as invalid.

The issues were as follows:

  1. a declaration that the Policy infringes paragraph 2(a) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), 1982, c 11 [Charter] [regarding respect for religious beliefs];
  2. a declaration that the Policy infringes section 15(1) of the Charter [prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion and sex];
  3. a declaration that the Policy is inconsistent with the governing legislation and is therefore beyond the powers of the Respondent [what constitutes proof that she took the oath];
  4. a declaration that the Policy unduly fetters the discretion of citizenship judges [a contention under administrative law];
  5. an order enjoining the Respondent and any officials of the Respondent from refusing citizenship to the Applicant on the basis of the Bulletin; and
  6. her costs.

In this case, there were technical issues as well as constitutional ones at stake concerning dates of notice and to whom notice was to be given, but we can ignore these for they had no effect on the substantive case and were ruled as inapplicable. Further, the above-mentioned CIC regulation was not

promulgated under sections 27(g) and 27(h) of the Act, which permit the Governor in Council to make regulations “(g) prescribing the ceremonial procedures to be followed by citizenship judges” and “(h) respecting the taking of the oath of citizenship.”

The intention of the policy was that it be mandatory. On that ground, and on that ground alone, the court found the position of the government to be inconsistent with the legislation and invalid.

Tomorrow: The Deeper Issue – Potentially Conflicting Oaths