The Influence of Youth

Racism is a refuge for the ignorant. It seeks to divide and to destroy. It is the enemy of freedom, and deserves to be met head-on and stamped out.” – Pierre Berton

After all of the news regarding the Alabama legislation today to redefine abortion, the White House basically flipping off the Congress by refusing access to documents, ignoring the oversight role of Congress and the list goes on America teeters on the brink of a new monarchy. I don’t know what else to call it but when the Judiciary Chairman, Jerry Nadler, refers to President Trump as “King” one can no longer ignore the red flags of a silent coup being conducted “inside” the White House.

I find it astounding that we have sat back as long as we have watching democracy slip away from our American friends while filling provincial governments with that same type of populism. I reflect back on the influence of the mentors I have had contribute to my believes and find this complacency among the electorate to be just about unbelievable. But it is and it has past the state of being believable. The re-emergence of racism, the erosion of rights, the rewriting of history and a demographic polarization that favours those sipping their mint julep on the back deck while others have to boil their water so their children can safely drink.

In 1973, on my way to Montreal from Vancouver, I stopped for a couple of days to see my brother in Ottawa. He was there on his air traffic controller training. This was a time period when “beer parlours were just that, beer parlour”. If you wanted a cocktail or high-ball you went to the lounge. We had been in the beer parlour but I had a craving for a shot of sherry so I went upstairs to the lounge.

The Chateau Laurier was and is a very upscale hotel in Ottawa which is often reflected in the quality of their customers. I was blown away when I walked in and stumbled upon Pierre Berton quietly reading in a corner while sipping his glass of wine. He was in Ottawa promoting his newest book “Drifting Home” and quietly relaxing over a glass of wine. Now I didn’t know him but as an activist I knew who he was. Being a brash young activist who lacked some of the social skills that come with maturity I approached him and offered to buy him a drink. He was very polite and accepted.

Alberta Wheelchair Sports team outfit, off to Montreal

We spend about a half hour discussing (more me asking him the occasional question and absorbing his wisdom) on a wide range of social issues. I was 23 and had just left a hotbed of activism Vancouver. Since my crutches were very obvious we open the discussion around polio and disabilities. We talked about wheelchair sports, my college days at Mount Royal College in Calgary, navigating a world not really designed for accessibility.

When I mentioned coming from Alberta and my activities as an activist be praised Alberta for finally having repealed the Alberta Sexual Sterilization Act (1972). He gave me a lesson on the importance of a democracy and how it affects everybody, not just the elite which made laws like that one very discriminatory. To be discussing something like discrimination with a man of Berton’s stature made me feel like a kid on his first trip to Disneyland. My chest pumped out a little when he praised my activism accomplishments to that point. Things I didn’t really recognize as accomplishments but he stressed the importance of citizen engagement and the role it plays in protecting democracy. This was a point in my development where the term “citizen engagement” was a brand new concept to me but I soaked it up like a sponge in a bucket of water.

Of course as a young guy engaged in activist and the civil rights movement being very important to me I was just soaking up the dialogue Mr. Berton was spreading on me. This 45 minutes of mesmerizing conversation ended with him explaining the connection between the Alberta repeal and the recent American Supreme Court decision “Wade vs Roe”, something I had never really heard of. Having been involved with the anti-Vietnam protests in during my Vancouver days I was well aware of the civil rights movement but had yet to engage in the pro-life or women’s movement. That came later when I returned to Calgary and eventually became involved with the United Nurses of Alberta.

This renew attack on the protection of women provided by “Wade vs Roe” decision is not restricted to America. Canadians are also encouraging threats by voting in populist governments in Canada. I can now reflect on the history of how we have arrived to where we are and realize how important casual contacts were in my past. Trump has taken America almost back to the very reason they are a Republic, escape from a monarchy (King George the third) and if Wade vs Roe gets overturned, almost fifty years later, it will reverse so many ideals women fought so hard to achieve.

Meanwhile in Alberta we have a new government who are already eroding an Education Act that was recently amended to offer further protection to threatened students. With the protection GSA’s offered students and a government rewriting legislation taking away a teachers right to practice confidentiality I am left wondering just how protected we really are.

After finishing our drinks we both went our own way. I never ran into him again but certainly was aware of his activities. It just recently that I have begun to understand the impact of those fleeting moments I have had experienced with so many positive role models. Pass me my fiddle Nero said…  

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