Issues

September 2006

Re: “Living Better Multiculturally,” by Janice Gross Stein

Re: “Living Better Multiculturally,” by Janice Stein

I have considerable sympathy for Janice Stein’s lament about gender and equality in religion. But I find little merit in Stein’s argument that the Charter of Rights provides a solution. There is an important balance to be struck between the two halves of the liberal equation: liberty and equality. Pushing hard on the latter, as Stein does in her article, threatens to undermine the former.

While the Charter is designed to enhance personal freedom, it is also corrosive of freedom if applied everywhere. Among other things, it eliminates distinctions between persons and prevents them from associating with each other in exclusionary ways. This is appropriate when applied to governmental entities; governments must not engage in differential treatment or fashion discriminatory policies based on gender, race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, etc. However, private organizations are a different matter; not that private sector discrimination is something to be fostered, but it should be examined through a different lens.

Religions are biased by their very nature. Religious institutions are, for good reason, even exempted from provincial human rights codes, which otherwise apply to private sector employers, landlords, etc. While Stein is worried about gender equality, there is the question of religious discrimination. Religious bodies typically exclude other religions. The Catholic church near my house insists on giving communion and won’t give my son a bar mitzvah. They keep sending me to the synagogue down the street, as if they were advocates of the notorious “separate but equal” doctrine that Stein makes much of in her article. The point is that the Charter neutralizes social differences in a way that is appropriate to the public sector only. Its application to religious institutions would effectively end religion, or would require government to create a faith enforcement branch, turning the Charter from a liberal document into a highly coercive one.

Stein’s link to the Charter is the charitable receipt and the indirect subsidy thereby granted to religious organizations. Government funds can turn a non-state actor into a body subject to Charter obligations, but it depends on whether public service is implicated. Sometimes even a private business becomes subject to constitutional restrictions because it receives funding to perform a public task—e.g., a mining corporation providing municipality-like services in a northern “company town.” On the other hand, my research grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to fund my summer student assistant and defray the cost of books does not make me a government official or give my writing any authority beyond its power of persuasion.

Houses of worship get tax breaks, as Stein points out, but so do farmers, Canadian-made feature films and numerous other enterprises. With population growth schemes and the federal government’s new daycare allowance, even baby making may be a funded activity. That does not turn parents into government agencies and households into arenas in which freedom of speech applies.

Stein is right in saying that the Charter articulates the values of contemporary Canada. But it does so only when we remain cognizant of where the Charter ends, lest the rights and freedoms that it enshrines turn against the liberties of us all.

Ed Morgan
Toronto, Ontario


Re: “Memoirs of a Publishing Pimp,” by Nick Mount

Re: “Memoirs of a Publishing Pimp,” by Nick Mount

At first glance, Nick Mount’s review of Dr. Delicious: Memoirs of a Life in CanLit seems mainly devoted to laying out the book’s contents and summarizing my career; it offers very little in the way of analysis. But if one looks a little closer, “the problem” emerges. Mount is upset by the fact that as a publisher I was also a businessman concerned with “the getting and spending of money.” Implicit in his critique is the idea that academics should not sully themselves through involvement in business pursuits. He’s also upset that ECW Press, as a business, used “sizable chunks of taxpayers’ money to fund a journal and publishing house.” Finally, he is discomfited by the notion that I might have used those very taxpayers’ dollars to indulge myself in fine restaurants and the sex houses of Amsterdam. Has Mount uncovered the Sponsorship Scandal of CanLit? And is this just the tip of the iceberg? Maybe Canadian publishers are routinely using government money to spoil themselves, or maybe even get a little bit on the side…

If only it were so simple. Mount stands to be corrected on several fronts. First, he needs to demonstrate a deeper understanding of the history of government funding in this country. The assistance programs for Canadian publishers were designed to allow publishers to run successful businesses, not just break even. If there were no profit incentive, very few would be willing to make the tremendous effort or take the necessary leap of faith that publishing demands; and Mount’s own book of criticism (extensively supported by government funding) would never have seen the light of day. Second, he must recognize that even Canadian publishers engage in typical business practices—like putting the occasional dinner on the company tab, or (legally) exploiting the banking system, or billing for travel expenses. In this context, a trip to Amsterdam would be a legitimate expense for the publisher of Bill Brownstein’s Sex Carnival (which I was). But Mount needn’t worry about this: I paid for the trip myself.

Third, and perhaps most important, I think he should reconsider his critique of my desire to acquire literary real estate as a crude capitalist urge. If he knows that literature can be real estate (he takes me to task for trying to acquire literary property), then surely he can see that his own review is also real estate. In writing and publishing it, he has engaged in the pursuit of capital, just like me. Once published, the review will become a line on his CV, which he will use as currency to obtain a promotion, which he will use to increase his power as a teacher and academic, which will put more money in his pocket. And whose money will that be? The taxpayers’ money, of course.

Maybe Mount should give Dr. Delicious a closer read. I would recommend this passage on page 260: “One reason academics tend to bypass these material concerns is that many are still in denial, caught up in the idealistic view that literature and money are not related, or that talk about profit and loss has little to do with literary reputations, or excellence. Although it’s a badge of their pride that they would never dream of trying to make a profit from literature outside the academic market, it’s the material comforts of the industry of scholarship, of tenure, of sabbaticals and campus celebrity that they often crave. In truth, they’ve become cynical and corrupted by their own profit system—the spoils of academic life.”

Yes, as he says in his review, “it’s about the money, honey.” Welcome to the club, Professor Mount.

Robert Lecker
Montreal, Quebec


Re: “The Wrong Man,” by Robert Matas

Re: “The Wrong Man,” by Salim Jiwa

When I was a rookie at The Vancouver Sun in 1984 beginning to cover the Indo-Canadian community, I admired some of the stories Salim Jiwa did on the developing situation of Sikh militants and later the Air India bombing.

It is not surprising then that Jiwa, who works for the Vancouver Province, spends more than two thirds of his new Air India book—Margin of Terror—talking about the early years of the investigation into the unprecedented terrorist plot that saw 331 killed.

But his take on the case in the last decade is seriously flawed, particularly his assessment of the 19-month trial, the Crown witnesses who risked their lives to testify and the stunning verdict that saw the two accused men—Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri—walk free.

Jiwa might well have a different view of the trial and its 115 witnesses if he had actually covered it. After making a brief appearance on opening day in the spring of 2003, Jiwa showed up again on verdict day more than two years later. He missed seeing the witnesses on the stand. He missed seeing some in the public gallery bent on trying to intimidate them.

Still, Jiwa is now proclaiming Malik completely innocent and an unfair target of police scrutiny. Jiwa backs up this theory by saying the only real evidence against Malik was the testimony of his former employee, a woman identified as Ms. D. who Jiwa says was lying about conversations with Malik in which she claimed he confessed.

Jiwa fails to point out other witnesses who gave compelling evidence linking Malik to the plot. There were two men who testified that Malik asked them to take bomb-laden suitcases to the airport. There was evidence of Malik making under-the-table payments of more than $100,000 to the family of Inderjit Singh Reyat, an admitted participant in the plot. And there was testimony from a Nanaimo man who said Malik asked him to change an earlier statement to police implicating Reyat and Parmar.

More evidence linking Malik to the BabbarKhalsa terrorist group behind the plot has come out post-verdict, such as a Babbar membership form with Malik’s signature dated three weeks before the bombing. Jiwa says he doubts the form’s authenticity, though Malik himself has since admitted he signed it.

Jiwa also accepts without question the judge’s criticism of the key witness against Bagri, an FBI informant identified as John who says Bagri confessed to him. While John was eventually paid US$300,000 to testify, his evidence was corroborated by a veteran FBI agent whom Jiwa doesn’t even mention in his book.

And Jiwa wrongly says John “is also eligible to collect a portion of the $1 million reward.” Apparently Jiwa missed our stories in November 2004 that the reward was off the table by then and none of the witnesses would be collecting any of it.

Jiwa also unfairly suggests that newspaper editor Tara Singh Hayer was shot in 1988 and finally executed in 1998 in two unrelated crimes by individuals with personal grudges against his vitriolic writing style. Police have obtained evidence that Hayer—who was to be a witness against Bagri at trial—was killed in a politically motivated attack related to his knowledge of Air India.

Jiwa’s unfounded theories do a disservice to the dedicated police officers, prosecutors and witnesses who gave up so much to get justice for the Air India victims. And they unfairly undermine the journalists who actually covered the trial.

Kim Bolan
Vancouver Sun reporter Author of Loss of Faith: How the Air India
Bombers Got Away With Murder


Re: “Skeleton in Jackboots?,” by John Hellman

Re: “Skeleton in Jackboots?,” by John Hellman

Any review that speaks of “the frankness, nerve and patriotism of the Nemnis” is very hard to read objectively. We are pleased and honoured to have our book reviewed by John Hellman, a renowned specialist of personalism and of the Catholic youth movements of the 1930s and ’40s, important influences on Young Trudeau.

Professor Hellman rightly notes that we have discovered a Trudeau remarkably different from “the rebel of legend.” We were indeed surprised to discover “a dutiful and deferential student of the Jesuit fathers,” strongly attracted by “conservative, militant and authoritarian European thinkers,” in short, the antithesis of the well-known Trudeau.

Professor Hellman writes that our intention to show in Volume Two how Trudeau matured to become the champion of fundamental liberal values “will be a tall order.” Maybe so. However, as he correctly notes, our Volume One “establishes Trudeau as having a rigorously trained, first-rate mind with vast cultural baggage.” In Volume Two we will examine how this “first-rate mind’s” search for the truth was instrumental in his escape from the cultural cocoon of conservative and Catholic Quebec.

There is, however, a vague air of discontent that permeates the review, as well as occasional ambiguities in some sentences, that prevent us from responding adequately to Hellman in the limited space we have been allotted. One example: What does he mean when he mentions that Trudeau made, in 1941, a 1.600-kilometre canoe trip “instead of preparing with others of the French Canadian elite to help Lord Mountbatten test those German coastal defenses at Dieppe”? Is he arguing that the 1942 disaster of Dieppe is proof that the Canadian fight against Nazism was wrong? Who exactly is he criticizing in his ironic statement?

Regarding Trudeau’s anti-Semitism, Hellman reduces our treatment of this sensitive issue to the play presented at Brébeuf, and concludes that it only shows “a politically incorrect sense of humour.” Our analysis is much more complex. As for Trudeau’s submission to the Church, we cite the letters he wrote—until the age of 28—dutifully seeking permission from religious authorities to read books on the Index. For Hellman, Trudeau “could be seen as demonstrating chutzpah” in doing so. We are surprised by this interpretation and invite your readers to be the judges.

In view of the revelations of our book, Hellman seems to worry that Trudeau will lose many admirers in Canada. Is he suggesting that we, as his friends, should not have told the truth for fear of the consequences? Whatever he means, we can allay his fears. The fact that Young Trudeau has been a best seller in both English and French is ample proof that our book appeals to a large audience. Some readers and reviewers tell us they have come to see Trudeau as more human, more credible and appreciate the great distance he had to travel to become the man they know. His enemies use his past to deprecate him even more. As honest researchers and writers, our only commitment is to the truth, not to its consequences.

There are a few factual errors in the review. For lack of space, we will mention one only, which concerns us personally. Hellman claims that we were so shocked by our discoveries that we rushed and “decided to publish them in a stand-alone work.” The book he reviewed is, as intended, and as clearly indicated, Volume One of a series. It is not a short book and it took us a good five years of hard work to complete. Volume Two, describing Trudeau’s astounding conversion to liberalism and democracy will, we hope, be ready in two years.

We also hope that this exchange will help your readers benefit not only from our book but also from others that may be forthcoming on one of Canada’s most fascinating statesmen.

Max and Monique Nemni
Toronto, Ontario


Re: “Greening The Campus,” by Lorna R. Marsden

Re: “Greening the Campus,” Lorna Marsden

Sometimes a critical review demonstrates the very argument of the book it seeks to rebut. Lorna Marsden says early on that she wants to use her piece to “reinvent” our study of the university, Planet U: Sustaining the World, Reinventing the University. But what she proposes won’t take us where we need to go. And that’s the problem.

Marsden graciously acknowledges that Planet U is a “good read.” From there, her criticisms are legion, though often not well-founded. She says we quote only “a few Canadians.” Yet, of the 76 people in the text, 32 are Canadian. She says we cite best practices but only at a “general level” and we “make no reference” to the experiences of hundreds of universities. Yet the book is crammed with detailed examples from dozens of universities in Canada, the U.S. and Europe. She bemoans our lack of discussion of two voluntary declarations. Yet it has been the failure of universities to implement such rhetorical declarations that makes Planet U so necessary.

Marsden would rather have a technical manual for facilities managers than the Planet U critique. But our book also offers lots of “how-to” examples—from colleges using vacant land for urban agriculture to student U Passes to reduce car use, to a whole new planning structure for the university. We cite many universities doing good things to learn from.

Marsden is right on the need for new research. We could use a “companion volume.” Indeed, we need a whole new literature. Again, however, we identify many places—books, journals, organizations—beginning to do just that work.

The real difference is that Marsden does not take seriously our larger concerns—of a world hurtling toward an ecological chaos of our own making, of a productivist growth economy that resists rational redirection, of a “higher education industry” that is both a product and creator of this situation. With such differences, Marsden appreciates neither the need nor potential for universities to help spark transformative change. That is what Planet U is about.

“Instead of decrying the problems of modern society, and trying to locate them in history,” writes Marsden, we should simply provide the technical data. History and social theory are not relevant; critical analyses of power and knowledge are not legitimate. As if Michel Foucault never existed, Marsden urges that we just let the managers manage.

Data is important, but so too is structure. Planet U problematizes the university with its huge influence, resources and expertise in a world that badly needs its help. It certainly does not accept that it should accommodate itself to an unreflective globalization of fast food multinationals driving an economistic ideology of consumer choice.

To those who do try to understand the historic problems of modernity, Planet U is an optimistic book. It seeks new ways to break out of our state of macro gridlock. One strategy we propose is “comprehensive local innovation.” Thus might the “planetary university” begin to transform its city and region with a range of expertise, and a globally networked reach, that is not afforded to local governments.

Marsden is right that partnerships are needed with regulators. But meaningful progress will not happen unless we also remake our outdated structures of governance, especially the university. Our strategies—corporate innovation, “democratic experimentalism,” regional revitalization, social movement mobilization—are certainly not “revolutionary tactics.”

For Marsden, the basic challenges identified in Planet U do not exist—so there is no need for the book’s solutions. And that’s the problem.

Michael M’Gonigle
Victoria, British Columbia

Justine Starke
Vancouver, British Columbia


The LRC welcomes letters. We reserve the right to publish such letters and edit them for length, clarity and accuracy. E-mail editor@lrcreview.com.