Criminal Hockey Owners

Sports franchise owners are often scumbags (for instance and for instance) so no one should be surprised to find that many are criminals, but the National Hockey League stands out for the sheer number of criminals that have owned teams. Toronto, Nashville, Los Angeles, Buffalo, Vancouver, and the New York Islanders have all had owners sent to jail while they still owned the teams. Edmonton’s Peter Pocklington was no longer involved with the Oilers when he went to jail but he makes the cut for the NHL All-Star Team. Player rep Alan Eagleson who robbed his clients’ pensions is honorary coach. Ladies and Gentleman, I present Great Crime Bosses of the NHL:

William "Boots" Del Biaggio [photo: Silicon Valley Business Insider]

William “Boots” Del Biaggio [photo: Silicon Valley Business Insider]

First up: William “Boots” Del Biaggio III, one-time San Jose Sharks part-owner, who conned at least $67.5 Million out of numerous people and used $25 Million of that to buy a 27% share of the Nashville Predators in 2007. After ten disappointing years, owner Craig Leipold had decided to sell the Nashville  franchise. Jim Balsillie of Research In Motion fame tried to buy the team so he could move it to Hamilton but managed to alienate everyone in sight and was shut out of further dealings. Enter Boots Del Biaggio at the head of a group who wanted to buy the Preds and move them to Kansas City where he controlled a sports arena. Del Biaggio had previously tried to move the Pittsburgh Penguins to KC. He was co-owner with Mario Lemieux of a minor league team and Lemieux was miffed at Pennsylvania’s thwarting of an attempt by a gambling combine/casino to build a new arena for the Penguins. Anyway, Nashville rallied to hang on to hockey and a local group arranged to buy the team from Leipold, who then moved on to ownership of the Minnesota Wild. Del Biaggio joined this new group and contributed his share to a rumored $193 Million purchase price. A year later, Del Biaggio was suing for bankruptcy and holding secret meetings with Balsillie to buy out his share of the Predators. The League refused to allow Balsillie to buy in and Del Biaggio’s share went to a bankruptcy trustee who may still be looking for a buyer. Del Biaggio used faked documents and personal charm to scam millions which he then gambled away, both in Las Vegas and on Wall Street where he favored high-risk offerings that usually declined in value. In 2009, Boots Del Biaggio was sentenced to eight years and ordered to repay some $67.5 Million, which may happen the same day Hell freezes over. BTW, I don’t know how $25 M gets you 27% of $193 M but that is probably one reason why I am not spectacularly wealthy.

Sanjay Kumar and Charles Wang [NY Times}

Sanjay Kumar and Charles Wang [NY Times}

Rookie forward on this team — and they are all forwards — is Sanjay Kumar, most recent of a long list of owners who have abused the NY Islanders. Kumar was the protege of Charles Wang, founder, with Russell Artzt, of Computer Associates, a multi-billion dollar firm that is currently invested in the Cloud. Kumar joined Computer Associates in 1987 and replaced Wang as CEO in 2000. Under Kumar’s guidance CA used a “long month” bookkeeping practice to delay accounts in a way that would make them appear more desirable to investors. See, if an end-of-quarter month is 35 days long, you can show extra revenue and maybe pretend to pay off debts a bit earlier, thus enabling your outfit to reach its projections. There was other stuff, too, all designed to make Computer Associates look a lot better investment than it was. Mind you, it was a good place to work — Wang took the largest corporate bonus in history (up to that time) in 1999 when he accepted a $675 Million stock grant. Over a billion dollars was paid out in bonuses that year, even though CA was slipping in sales and profits. None of this escaped the notice of stockholders, who took a class-action lawsuit against CA claiming that, in 1996 and ’97, the company had inflated revenues by $500 Million on paper to boost stock prices. And there was a proxy fight over management practices which probably led to Kumar replacing Wang as CEO. And there were bribery charges brought against Wang. And Federal authorities were interested in the company, too. The SEC finally clamped down on CA in 2004. in 2006 Kumar was sentenced to twelve years in prison and a staggering $796 Million in restitution. Meanwhile CA agreed to repay more than $225 Million to stockholders and also clean up its accounting practices. Shortly before going to prison, Kumar sold his share in the Isles to Wang. And that means that the story is not yet over because many folks think Kumar took the fall for Wang. Certainly, that’s Kumar’s story. He says that Wang regretted leaving the CEO post and wanted back in so he stuck Kumar with the fraud that he had perpetrated. Wang is still waiting on the report of a Special Litigation Committee that has already said: “…fraud pervaded the entire CA organization at every level …and was embedded in CA’s culture, as installed by Mr. Wang, almost from the company’s inception.” Probably Wang will only be dinged in a civil court for cash, but, if there are future indictments, Kumar may have a new linemate on the Criminal Owners All-Star team.

When Wang and Kumar bought the Islanders they were seen as saviors because the franchise was in deep trouble. The team was brought into the NHL in order to stave off a Long Island franchise attempt by the World Hockey Association, catalyst for so much that is interesting in the NHL today. But the new team had to pay off more than $40 Million to the Rangers for infringing on their territory so it started out in a financial hole. The team was still in debt to the Rangers and to the League when the original owner, Roy Boe, sold to John Pickett in 1978. Pickett almost got the Islanders back in the black by concluding a cable TV contract worth a great deal in annual revenue but he signed a horrible lease on the stadium and the team tuned into a drain attached to his wallet. Four Stanley Cups (resulting from a smart management decision not to trade draft picks) were not enough to keep the team afloat at the end of the ’80s. Pickett brought in a group of investors called the Gang of Four (more on them later) who picked up a 10% share of the team and handled day-to-day management, but he was just treading water. Then, out of the blue, a buyer emerged. Our next team member, John Spano.

John Spano  [AP]

John Spano [AP]

John Spano had been a serious prospect to buy the Dallas Stars in 1995 but was somehow unable to close the deal. He also made a stab at buying the Florida Panthers that went nowhere. Then, in 1996, Spano offered John Pickett $80 Million for the Islanders and $85 Million for its exclusive cable contract which earned $13 Million a year for the team. A bit later, Spano also agreed to buy out the Gang of Four. Gary Bettman was overjoyed to have a guy with money taking over the Islanders and the NHL quickly gave its okay. Spano made a bit of a downpayment to Pickett and began acting like an owner, throwing a few bucks into players’ accounts and forcing Mike Milbury to give up his coaching job to Rick Bowness. But, in 1997, it was John Pickett who showed up at the NHL owners’ meeting. It seems Spano didn’t have any money other than the $2.5 Million he’d splashed around the Islander dressing room and he’d borrowed that. The cheque he’d given Pickett for $17.5 Million, bounced. In fact, Spano owed back taxes on his house of $85,000 and was being sued by a couple of companies he had done business with for various frauds. Awaiting prosecution on multiple charges, Spano fled to the Cayman Islands, but returned to the US after striking a deal with prosecutors. Spano delayed his court appearance for a long while but, after trying to pay rent with an expired credit card and bad cheques, he lost his bail, his lawyers quit for fear they wouldn’t get paid, he finally pled guilty to fraud charges and, in January of 2000, was sentenced to six years plus $11 Million in restitution, including $1.25 Mil to Mario Lemieux, who seems an easy mark. Let out of jail on supervised release in 2004, Spano immediately returned to fraud, was charged, convicted, and served four more years in jail before being released in 2009. He’s still out there, folks, be careful! Oh, and the Gang of Four? Two of their members were Stephen Walsh and Paul Greenwood who were indicted for fraud in 2009. They had bilked investors out of more than half a billion dollars over the years. Since they weren’t owners at the time, they don’t make the All-Star Criminal Team. Sorry, lads, I’m sure it would have been a comfort to you over the years you may have to serve in prison (sentencing perhaps next month).

The Spano affair was quite upsetting to the NHL and they vowed afterwards to use real due diligence in checking out prospective team owners — less than a thousand dollars was spent investigating Spano. Kevin Connolly has made a movie about John Spano titled Big Shot, that is on TV from time to time. Most of the material about the Islanders above comes from a great seven-part series by Dan Saraceni for Lighthouse Hockey that I highly recommend.

John Rigas [Bloomberg Businessweek]

John Rigas [Bloomberg Businessweek]

Still from the great state of New York, let’s go upstate to Buffalo for next team pick, John Rigas. Rigas earned his millions from a family cable television operation, Adelphia, based in Pennsylvania. In 1997 the team had been losing money for years and was in deep financial trouble. It was rumored that it would be unable to meet its payroll in December. John Rigas bought the team, then fired team president Larry Quinn, replacing him with his son, Timothy Rigas. A good season followed, then a disappointing one, and the following season the team was steamrollered in the playoffs by Mario Lemieux and the Penguins. In 2002, charges were laid against John Rigas and his sons for fraud. Among other things they were accused of using company funds as their own – Timothy buying a hundred pairs of bedroom slippers out of stockholder cash – and hiding $2.3 Billion from shareholders. John still denies he has ever done anything wrong. After lengthy delays, John got fifteen years in prison and Timothy got twenty. In 2002, when Rigas was indicted, the NHL took away his ownership and ran the Sabres from Gary Bettman’s desk. In 2003, a new ownership group led by Tom Golisano and including Larry Quinn, bought the franchise.

Timothy Rigas [AP]

Timothy Rigas [AP]

Bruce McNall made his fortune smuggling stolen antiquities into the US. Later, he produced a couple of movies including Weekend At Bernie’s which made him a few dollars, too. In 1986 McNall decided to get into hockey and purchased, over two years, the LA Kings. Shortly after assuming complete control of the franchise, in the summer of 1988, McNall closed a deal with uber-scumbag Peter Pocklington to buy Wayne Gretzky, arguably the greatest player in the history of the game. McNall also managed to pick up Jari Kurri and Paul Coffey at Gretzky’s urging. He tried to get Messier, too, but refused to trade Luc Robitaille and so wound up without a complete set of Edmonton Oiler stars. “Pocklington basically wanted the money but Glen Sather wanted the best players he could. Robitaille was number 1 on his list and it took forever to get him to realize I wasn’t giving up Luc,” said McNall in an Ask-Me-Anything session on Reddit last year. ( Highlights. Full AMA.) In 1991 McNall and John Candy purchased the Toronto Argonauts football team and hired US superstar Rocket Ismail away from the NFL. The Argos won a Grey Cup before Ismail went back south. McNall was named chairman of the NHL Board of Governors and supervised the hiring, in 1992, of Gary Bettman, which may cause you to despise the guy right away. Both the Gretzky and Ismail deals were instrumental in raising player salaries. The Kings never won the Stanley Cup in those years, but they came close in 1993. That was pretty much McNall’s high point, too. In 1994, the authorities closed in with questions about various irregularities including bribing a bank president to give him loans. McNall defaulted on a large loan at the end of 1993 and was forced to sell the Kings. It turned out that his wheeling and dealing had gutted the team financially and, in 1995, the LA Kings went into bankruptcy. Luc Robitaille was finally traded and Grant Fuhr briefly joined the Kings (McNall’s memory is that he obtained Fuhr from Pocklington at the same time as Gretzky, Kurri, et al.) Needing some cash during this period, McNall persuaded Michael Eisner to set up a franchise in Anaheim for the Disney Corporation. That deal netted him about $25 Million as Eisner had to pay to set up in Kings’ territory. But soon enough McNall was serving a six year sentence for the usual fraud charges that convict so many of these All-Star Criminal Owners. Still, he seemed not to draw the kind of disgusted sneer that the others merit. Gretzky visited McNall in prison and refused to allow his 99 jersey to be retired until McNall could attend the ceremony. Also unlike the others, McNall cheerfully admits most, or at least many, of his misdeeds. His autobiography, Fun While It Lasted: My Rise and Fall in the Land of Fame and Fortune, gives many details. When I first started looking at criminal hockey owners, I thought that no team had been successful after having suffered through a crime boss, but two Stanley Cups for LA disprove that thesis. McNall is first-line center on the Criminal Owner All-Stars.

Bruce McNall and wife at a dinner given by Luc Robitaille in 2007 [content ©2014 W.E.N.N]

Bruce McNall and wife at a dinner given by Luc Robitaille in 2007 [content ©2014 W.E.N.N]

One of the people that bought the Kings from McNall, Jeffrey Sudikoff, sold out his share during the 1995 bankruptcy. Sudikoff was later convicted of insider trading and other fraudulent activities but was sentenced to less than a year in prison, plus the usual restitution, of course, which, usually no one seems to expect to get back. Sudikoff does not make the cut for this All-Star team.

Pocklington and Gretzky. Does Wayne look happy? [Ray Giguere/Canadian Press]

Pocklington and Gretzky. Does Wayne look happy? [Ray Giguere/Canadian Press]

Is there anything else that needs be said about Peter Pocklington except that he sold Gretzky like a slab of meat processed in one of the plants where he tried to break unions? Gretzky wept but allowed Pocklington to say that he, Gretzky, had initiated the trade. Everyone else is clear that Pocklington said that he needed fifteen million dollars and would flog his greatest asset (and Edmonton’s hope for a Cup dynasty) to get it.

When Gretzky went to L.A.
my whole nation trembled
like hot water in a tea cup when a train goes by.

“The Trade That Shook the Hockey World”, John B. Lee

Pocklington wrote a book about this: I’d Trade Him Again: On Gretzky, Politics and the Pursuit of the Perfect Deal after he realized that he couldn’t stay in Canada any longer and moved to the US. So it is some satisfaction to all Canadians that Peter Pocklington was finally found guilty of something (there are so many possibilities, but fraud and perjury finally won out) and sentenced to prison. It is less satisfying when you know that the sentence was only six months plus six months house arrest, and even less satisfying than that to learn that he has yet to serve a single day. You can fantasize about Pocklington meeting his cellmate, a 250 lb. emigre Canadian hockey fan named Cookie who is serving a life term for murder, aggravated assault, and similar misdeeds, but that’s all it is — a fantasy. Pocklington is the despised member of the Corporate All-Star Criminals, sort of their Brad Marchand.

Tom Scallen post-prison. [Globe and Mail]

Tom Scallen post-prison. [Globe and Mail]

By the end of the 1960s, with the NHL expanding to more cities, there was a concerted drive to finally get a franchise for Vancouver. A local group, based around the WHL/PCHL minor league franchise Canucks was in the running but, rumor has it, Stafford Smythe blocked it for some reason or other, but maybe this is just western prejudice against godawful Toronto. Anyway, Vancouver did get a team but the new owner was an American named Tom Scallen. Scallen had gotten rich with Medicor, a Minnesota company that had something to do with the incomprehensible American medical system. That was 1969. By 1972 Scallen was facing various charges resulting from his manipulation of Canucks funds, essentially using hockey proceeds to pay Medicor debts. He spent the next two years in jail and was deported on his release. The Griffiths family bought the Canucks from Medicor and since then things have improved except no Stanley Cup. Scallen insists he did nothing wrong. He was pardoned in 1982 during Trudeau’s decline. A journeyman winger, Scallen will skate on a line with Kumar and Del Biaggio, unless the All-Stars acquire Wang, in which case he may join the father/son Rigas duo.

Wendel Clarke and Harold Ballard [Doug Griffin / Toronto Star ]

Wendel Clarke and Harold Ballard [Doug Griffin / Toronto Star ]

Captain of the All-Star Criminal Owners team is Harold Ballard, the man who destroyed the Toronto Maple Leafs. Ballard was buddies with Stafford Smythe (see Canucks section above), son of Conn Smythe who owned the Leafs. Stafford bought the franchise from his father in 1961 but it was Ballard who gave him the money and Ballard became part of the Leafs organization. These were good years for Toronto who won four Stanley Cups 1962-67, but at the same time Harold Ballard was showing his dark side. At one point he threatened to cut a video line with a fire axe unless the CBC agreed to his demands; he took down a portrait of the Queen in order to stick more seats up in the rafters — “What position can a queen play?” he said; when the Beatles played at Maple Leaf Gardens, he cut off the water fountains, turned off the air conditioning, and charged triple prices for soft drinks. Increasing profits was Ballard’s entire purpose in life. Meanwhile, players had begun to chafe under the serfdom imposed on them by the NHL and the World Hockey Association and the Players’ Union revealed new horizons. Ballard despised unions and he hated the WHA, refusing to ever deal with it. By the end of the 60s, Ballard had alienated several Toronto stars, especially Dave Keon. In 1969 charges were brought against Ballard and Stafford Smythe for using company — that is, stockholder — funds as their own. John Bassett, the third major owner of the Leafs, persuaded the Board of Governors of Maple Leaf Gardens to fire Ballard and Smythe, but the Board and Bassett lacked the followthrough to carry this out. Smythe and Ballard returned, got rid of Bassett, Smythe died, and Harold Ballard wound up owning the entire franchise right before going to prison in 1971 after being convicted on forty-eight out of fifty counts of fraud, tax evasion, and theft. Among other items he had bought motorcycles for his sons and charged them as expenses to the Toronto Marlboros, another of his properties. At this time the negotiations for the Canada/USSR Summit Series was going on and Ballard offered Maple Leaf Gardens as a training venue and did other diplomatic things to win a little favorable PR. Later, he billed Team Canada for every nickel he could squeeze out of them. Ballard later described his prison years as living in a motel with steaks for dinner and color TV in his bedroom. While he was incarcerated, Leafs management hired a European — something Ballard opposed — Borje Salming and made other moves that kept the Leafs a potentially good team. On his release in 1973, Ballard did all he could to destroy this work. Dave Keon’s contract expired in 1975 but the NHL Players Association was not yet able to stop an owner from controlling a player’s leaving his team. Ballard named a huge price for any team trying to recruit Keon, who jumped to the WHA. Keon, who had been a key member of the Stanley Cup winning Leafs, refused to have anything more to do with the Toronto organization for twenty years, after Ballard was dead. Meanwhile, a new young player with signs of greatness named Daryl Sittler had been acquired by the Leafs. Ballard at first lauded Sittler, then — after Sittler became active in the Players Association — tried to destroy him. He traded away Lanny MacDonald who was Sittler’s good friend and denounced Sittler to the hockey press, an action which resulted in Leafs players trashing their dressing room in protest. Sittler ripped the C from his jersey and Ballard said that was equivalent to burning the Canadian flag. Meanwhile Ballard, though micromanaging the team, hired his buddy Punch Imlach as coach. Imlach operated as a Yes man for a while but suffered several heart attacks that effectively removed him from the fracas. In 1981, Sittler finally found another team willing to pay Ballard’s price and he was traded. During all this period the Leafs’ revenues went up. Ballard tripled the franchise income in the early 60s and kept it rising thereafter. At the same time he engaged in petty nastiness that no one can quite explain, like destroying all the Stanley Cup and other championship banners that at one time hung from the Garden rafters. Why on earth? But the fact is, the man was a convicted criminal, possibly sociopathic; Harold Ballard needed no reason except his immediate desires. There are so many other stories about Ballard — his trashing of Foster Hewitt’s pressbox when the Hockey Hall of Fame wanted it as an exhibit, for instance– and the opportunities he wasted — Frank Mahovlich and Bernie Parent were two other potentially great players lost to the Leafs–but whatever the stories, the consensus is that Ballard was the worst hockey owner of all time. Which is why he is captain of this All-Star group of criminals. Can’t you see them skating on the ice in their black-and-white striped jerseys, their names just over their numbers on the back, sort of like Beagle Boys? (Ballard once refused to put players’ names on their jerseys. He was disciplined by the NHL so had names added, white letters on white jerseys, blue letters on blue ones, so that they could not be seen.) They skate out onto the ice, looking for a way to screw over their team mates, seeking a profit that can be made somehow, perhaps by throwing a game. Oh, don’t you just love the criminals that bring you hockey!

 

 

 

 

 

Remembrance Day: Crucified Soldiers

In May of 1915, a brief news story appeared in the London Times reporting that some Dublin Fusiliers had seen a Canadian soldier crucified with bayonets before being “riddled with bullets”. The story was reprinted in Canada and was brought up in the UK Parliament. Before long, various versions of the story were circulating: the soldier was one of a number of wounded left by retreating troops in a barn, the Germans bayoneted all except a sergeant who was tied to the large cross from a village church before being killed; the sergeant was pinned to a church wall with four bayonets before a fifth went through his throat; it was eight bayonets; it was many bayonets; he was dead when pinned to the wall/fence/tree/barn door; he was alive, and so on. The soldier’s name was given as Thomas Elliott of Brantford, Ontario. Elliott himself wrote to his pastor to say that he had not been crucified. Canada set Albert Kemp, Minister for Overseas Military Forces, to investigate and he found three soldiers, one of them a Victoria Cross winner, ready to testify. But: One claimed to have seen three soldiers, all crucified to a church wall; one was not in Europe at the time of the alleged crucifixion; and one claimed to have seen the crucifixion in a place that the Germans did not occupy. Sir Arthur Currie, commander of the Canadian Corps said that he could find no evidence of the event.

Ad for Bonds, Calgary Herald, November 2,1918

Ad for Bonds, Calgary Herald, November 2,1918

But Allied propagandists jumped on the story, printing posters and including the incident in a propaganda movie, The Prussian Cur. There is speculation that General John Charteris, chief of “Black Propaganda” and author of the German Corpse Factory myth and possibly the Angel of Mons story, may have been involved in promoting the story of the Crucified Canadian.

Still from The Prussian Cur, propaganda movie made 1918. The film is now lost.

Still from The Prussian Cur, propaganda movie made 1918. The film is now lost.

The Canadian soldier was said to have been crucified April 22-24 in the Ypres salient, perhaps at, or near, St. Julien. This was the extreme allied flank and the Germans meant to break through the defense and, perhaps, turn the Allied flank. But a direct assault seemed impossible of success until the German High Command came up with a new tactic: gas. On the 22nd, the Germans let loose a cloud of chlorine gas toward the Allied lines. Many troops ran from this new horror, but some 4000 Canadians stood their ground and kept the assault from victory. Some say that the Canadians may have killed Germans, including prisoners, after that as payback for the gas attack. Some say that the Crucified Soldier was German revenge for Canadian war crimes. Few speak of the crime of chemical warfare, possibly because the Allies were developing that very same weapon, using it for the first time in September, 1915. Crucifixion was an atrocity with more resonance for people — not many have been gassed but everyone has seen a crucifix.

"Canada's Golgotha" by Francis Derwent Wood on display at the Canadian War Museum. [via MelbourneBlogger]

“Canada’s Golgotha” by Francis Derwent Wood on display at the Canadian War Museum. [via MelbourneBlogger]

In 1918, Francis Derwent Wood cast a bronze image, less than a meter high, titled Canada’s Golgotha that depicted the incident. The bronze was to be exhibited in January, 1919, but Germany protested, demanding to see evidence that the event had occurred. There was none and the sculpture was withdrawn. Germany also requested that they have a representative on the Canadian commission under Albert Kemp investigating the claim. Shortly afterward, Canadian authorities pronounced that the story was “not proven”.

But while all this was going on, a nurse in France heard a wounded man tell her of a Canadian soldier whose body he had seen bayoneted to a barn door. He identified the man as Sergeant Harry Band. Band’s family, then living in Kelowna, B.C., had received letters from members of his outfit that also claimed that he had been crucified by German troops. Iain Overton investigated the incident and became convinced that Harry Band had indeed been crucified by German troops. [see a documentary here].

Sergeant Harry Band

Sergeant Harry Band

Band was born in Scotland and had seen service in the British Army before moving to Canada. In September, 1914, he signed up with the 48th Highlanders, an Ontario unit composed largely of Scots immigrants and people of Scots ancestry. A thousand strong, the unit was reduced to 300 men after the fighting at Ypres. Band listed his father in Kelowna as next of kin and directed that his pay be sent to a Miss Isabella Ritchie in Dundee, of whom nothing is known. Band was well-thought of by the men who served with him.
Many who studied this story mention that Belgium, around Ypres, is full of crucifixion imagery. There are statues by the roadside everywhere, not just churches. Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory: “The image of crucifixion was always accessible at the front because of the numerous real physical calvaries visible at French and Belgian crossroads, many of them named Crucifix Corner.” Fussell and others think that exhausted men fed their imagination with the everpresent imagery. But British soldiers hardly needed hallucination to see one of their own crucified, it was a rather common event.

Field Punishment No. 1. British War Office contemporary illustration.

Field Punishment No. 1. British War Office contemporary illustration. Note the pencilled instruction at left: “make the post look entirely unlike the cross”.

Crucifixion was the name given by British troops to Field Punishment No. 1. Men who were accused of petty crimes — losing a piece of equipment, for instance — would be bound to a post or caisson for hours at a time over a period of days, sometimes under conditions which resulted in fatalities. The War Office instructed that the post was to “look entirely unlike the cross” but the troops could see a resemblance. The Canadian War Museum helpfully notes that military punishment had little to do with justice but was intended to instill discipline. This concept of “pour encourage les autres” was carried to the extreme during the War as British officers ordered more than 300 troops to be executed for various infractions without any meaningful investigation. Canada honored its twenty-three executed soldiers in 2001, England gave a posthumous pardon to these executed soldiers in 2006.
One vet, at the age of 105, recalled the War and said he doesn’t know if posthumous pardons for those executed was a good idea, but he did remember feeling sorry for one man who was crucified:

One day I was ordered to stand guard over a chap who had been tied to a wheel, without food or water, as a punishment for something. I can’t remember what he’d done. But I felt sorry for him so I put my fag up to his lips so he could have a smoke. It was a very risky thing to do because if anyone had seen me they’d have tied me to the wheel as well!

"Ecce Homo" by George Grosz, 1924. Grosz was charged with blasphemy.

“Ecce Homo” by George Grosz, 1924. Grosz was charged with blasphemy for making this drawing.

After the War, German artist George Grosz produced a drawing which summed up the experience of all those men who had served in the Great War: “Ecce Homo”, subtitled “Shut Up and Do Your Duty”. Other artists echoed this theme. William Faulkner’s A Fable has a Christ-like doughboy as central character who winds up interred as The Unknown Soldier. Paul Gross’ film Passchendaele references the Crucified Canadian several times and has its hero undergo his own Calvary.

Paul Gross in Passchendaele, 2008.

Paul Gross in Passchendaele, 2008.

Many men died at Ypres. Some are buried in marked graves but other corpses simply disappeared in the mud. Those whose bodies were not recovered are memorialized at Menin, their names inscribed on the walls of the Gate. Occasionally a farmer will turn up bones in his field and, once in a while, these can be identified. When that happens, the remains are interred in a proper cemetery and a name is removed from the wall. More than 54000 names remain on that wall; one of them is Band, H.

Inside the Menin Gate Memorial near Ypres.  The names of more than 54000 men whose bodies were never identified are carved on the wall. Tens of thousands whose remains are identified are buried in the surrounding cemeteries. Five battles were fought at the Ypres salient with over a million casualties.

Inside the Menin Gate Memorial near Ypres. The names of more than 54000 men whose bodies were never identified are carved on the wall. Tens of thousands whose remains are identified are buried in the surrounding cemeteries. Five battles were fought at the Ypres salient with over a million casualties.

Notes:
The evidence that Harry Band was crucified is presented in this documentary.
Story from The Ottawa Citizen with Iain Overton’s remarks.

Various blogs and web pages exist on this subject. These may be useful:
Wikipedia
Spartacus (John Simkin)
Above Top Secret (links are dead)

Paul Gross’ Passchendaele

Heaven’s Maps

Sibusiso Mthembu, who lives near Durban, South Africa, has drawn a map of the way to heaven on the wall of his home. Pilgrims troop by to view this marvel and newspapers are reporting this as yet another weird event, something to chuckle over. But maps of heaven have been common throughout human existence and they are usually quite serious affairs.

Sibusiso Mthembu in front of his map to Heaven.

Sibusiso Mthembu in front of his map to Heaven.

Heaven is not necessarilly Paradise; it may be simply the Land of the Dead, the place human beings go after death. Still, it is a place and places are located by maps. Sibusio Mthembu is unusual, though, in that he has managed to return from Heaven. Usually this is a place that people only glimpse in dreams.

Journey of the Dead to Dhuwa, Land of the Dead for the Jiridja Australians, by Binyinyuwuy, 1948.

“Journey of the Dead to Dhuwa”, Land of the Dead for the Jiridja Australians, by Binyinyuwuy, 1948.

Humans have made maps for thousands of years but one culture’s version may be unreadable by other humans from other cultures. Maps derive from concepts of the World and people’s place in it. Medieval European maps used to place Jerusalem in the center and the known continents were arranged around it. The medieval concept of Heaven has to do with concentric rings of spheres of existence. Heaven is in the outermost sphere.

A map of Existence according to Dante. [via Kinkanon]

A map of Existence according to Dante. [via Kinkanon]

As Western concepts have become more technical, so Heavenly maps have become more diagrammatic:

Chart of Heaven by Clarence Larkin, about 1895.

Chart of Heaven by Clarence Larkin, about 1895.

But ecstatic visions still occur and are recorded by those who do not fear social judgment.Brenda Davis paints what she dreams. “I can’t help it. God knows I can’t read or write, so he tells me the stories.” Here is her “Map to Heaven”:

heaven_freeman

The most exact maps to Heaven are possibly those made by Athapaskan tribes in northeastern British Columbia. Hugh Brody has written of this in his great Maps And Dreams. Hunters, some of them, would dream of the hunt they would have and the game they would take. This was a special gift of a few. Amongst these, some would also dream of Heaven and the way to get there. The maps that are made from dreams are very special and not to be seen except on special occasions, such as when the Beaver people were trying to convince certain bureaucrats that they did indeed understand their area in geographic terms and had mapped it. They brought a moosehide bundle into the meeting place:

…they untied the bundle’s thongs and began very carefully to pull back the cover. …the contents seemed to be a thick layer of hide, pressed tightly together. With great care, Aggan took this hide from its cover and began to open the layers. It was a magnificent dream map.
The dream map was as large as the table top, and had been folded tightly for many years. It was covered with thousands of short, firm, and variously colored markings. …Up here is heaven; this is the trail that must be followed; here is a wrong direction; this is where it would be worst of all to go; and over there are all the animals….all of this had been discovered in dreams.
…it was wrong to unpack a dream map except for very special reasons. But…the hearing was important. Everyone must look at the map now. …They should realize, however, that intricate routes and meanings of a dream map are not easy to follow. There was not time to explain them all. The visitors crowded around the table, amazed and confused.
A corner of the map was missing…someone had died who would not easilly find his way to heaven, so the owner of the map had cut a piece of it and buried it with the body. With the aid of even a fragment…the dead man would probably find the correct trail, and when the owner of the map died, it would all be buried with him. His dreams of the trail to heaven would then serve him well.

But the bureaucrats did not understand the map nor the Beaver people’s claim to the land. Their mindset was biased toward the geological survey maps being used by the companies who wanted to build a pipeline through Beaver territory. So it is: we are unable to understand the maps of others and we lose our way to heaven.

Pictures I Like: “Mary Greyeyes”, photographer unknown 1942

mary-greyeyes

The Story: This photo is in the Library and Archives of Canada with the following untrue caption: “Mary Greyeyes being blessed by her native Chief prior to leaving for service in the CWAC “. Other places have Mary as an “Indian princess” being blessed by her father and chief. Also untrue.

The Facts: Here is the true story as related by her daughter-in-law, Melanie Fahlman Reid. Mary Greyeyes, aka Mary Reid, enlisted in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps  in 1942. Her brother David had joined the Army not long before, so Mary decided to give it a go as well. She was living on the Cree reserve at Muskeg Lake, north of Saskatoon, at the time. She wrote to the War Department and eventually got a letter telling her to travel to Regina and take a test. Mary had gone to a residential school and, in those days, there was no education for Indians beyond Grade 8, so she was apprehensive. But she passed with flying colors and became the first native to join the Canadian Women’s Army Corps.

Lt. David Greyeyes, 1943. [Department of National Defence]

Lt. David Greyeyes, 1943. [Department of National Defence]

The white women didn’t want her in the barracks and so Mary boarded outside the barracks. One day, her sergeant and two Mounties came by the boarding house and told Mary that, if she came with them and had her picture taken, they would give her a new uniform and a really good lunch. So they drove out to the Piapot Reserve, which is northeast of Regina, and there Mary knelt in the grass before band councillor (later chief) Harry Bull and had her picture taken. She remembered that there were a lot of bugs in the grass and it was uncomfortable. She and Harry had a conversation:

Harry says, “God it’s hot. What did you get for this?”
Mary says, “I get a good lunch.”
Harry says, “I got 20 bucks.”
Mary says, “So what are you bitching about? You get 20 bucks and I’m down here with bugs.”

Harry was a World War I vet and probably the original notion was to show an elder blessing the youth going to war or some such. The photographer went to local houses and found some stuff — pipe, bonnet, blanket, a knot of sweetgrass –that was cobbled together into a costume for Harry. He wasn’t Mary’s chief — they’d never met — and she wasn’t an Indian princess, whatever that was supposed to be.

Anyway, after the picture was taken, Mary was shipped out to England where she mostly worked in a laundry, which she hated. She asked for a transfer and her sergeant wrote on her application “Does Not Speak English”. But she did get reassigned to a kitchen. Whenever there was a need for a bit of colonial color to brighten up the news, they called on Mary who became “The Indian”. “She’s A Full-Blooded Indian But Now She Cooks For Palefaces” was one headline. It wasn’t all bad. She met Princess Elizabeth and the Queen Mother and sometimes enjoyed her status. Later she said that these were some of the best years of her life.

In 1946, Mary shipped back to Canada and was discharged. She returned to the Muskeg Lake reserve. One day, during a federal election, her old sergeant and a couple of Mounties showed up. They said, “Mary, you’ve got to come and vote.” The deal was, Indians who had served in the war could vote, if they gave up their treaty rights:

So Mary says to them, she says, “Can my mom vote?”
And they said, “No, she didn’t fight in the war.”
She said, “Well, what about my cousins over there, can they vote?”
And they said no. They said, “C’mon Mary, you gotta come, we’ve got the photographer.”
And she said, “All those years, I said nothing. Now I’m saying no.”

And that’s the real story of Mary Greyeyes.

[for a more complete version of the above, see Melanie Fahlman Reid's account in The Tyee]

Remembrance Day: The Hampton Gray Memorial At Onagawa Bay

On August 9, 1945 Lt. Robert Hampton Gray led two flights of Corsairs on one of the last operations of World War II. The first atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima two days before. Senior officers had been informed that a second bomb would be dropped on the 9th. Admiral Vian, commanding Royal Naval forces attacking Japan, ordered that his pilots were to take no unnecessary risks — they would only take one run at a target, for instance. Gray’s planes were set to attack an airfield near Matsushima but, at the last minute, Gray was informed that the field had been intensively bombed and was probably unusable. If so, Gray was to seek out secondary targets such as ships.

Lt. Robert Hampton Gray, photographed in 1942

The Corsairs took off from the flight deck of HMS Formidable and flew inland to check out the airfield, It was indeed devastated and Gray ordered his planes to Onagawa Bay where at least four ships were anchored. Gray chose the largest, the escort Amakusa, as his target and dived to the attack. The Japanese ships and the shore anti-aircraft batteries opened up and Gray’s plane was hit and began to burn. One of the two 500-lb bombs he was carrying was knocked off the plane by enemy fire. Gray continued on course and dropped his remaining bomb perfectly, hitting the ammunition hold. The Amakusa erupted in flames, rolled over, and sank in minutes. Meanwhile, Gray’s burning plane rolled over and plunged into Onagawa Bay.

Gray’s Corsair attacking the Amakusa. Painting by Don Connoly in the Canadian War Museum

“There goes Hammy!”, radioed another pilot. Lt. McKinnon took over the mission and the Corsairs went on to attack two more ships. A few hours later, a nuclear bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. The next day, Japan surrendered. Hampton Gray was the last Canadian to die in combat in World War II. He had already been cited for a Distinguished Flying Cross for an action near Tokyo where he sank a destroyer, now the military authorities listed Gray for a Victoria Cross. He is the last Canadian to date to win that honor.

Hampton Gray was born in Trail and raised in Nelson, B.C. His brother, John Balfour Gray, was the first man from Nelson to die in the War. He enlisted in 1940 in the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve and transferred to the air arm in 1941. He saw action in Africa and the Mediterranean and was part of an effort to sink the German battleship Tirpitz in the Baltic. His carrier force was assigned to the Pacific in 1945 and fought at Okinawa and then the Home Islands. He was well respected as a flier and a soldier. He was twenty-seven when he died.

Gray bust at the Fourteen Valiants memorial, Ottawa. [wikipedia]

A number of locations around Canada bear Hampton Gray’s name. In Nelson, the post office building, the Legion post, the local air cadets unit; in Halifax, the aviation school and on the monument to Canadians lost at sea; a mountain in Kokanee Glacier Park (named after both Hampton and his brother); the War Memorial gym at UBC; his bust is one of the fourteen Valiants at Ottawa; there have been two movies and several books about him — but the most interesting monument to Hampton Gray is at Onagawa Bay. There, a local named Yoshi Kanda began a campaign to create a memorial to Gray that was dedicated in 1989.

The monument to Hampton Gray erected in July after the original was damaged in the earthquake. Gray’s body lies somewhere under the waters of Onagawa Bay in the distance. [photo: nelsonstar.com]

The Gray memorial was seriously damaged in the quake/tsunami of 2011. It was refurbished and remounted across the bay from its original location in July, 2012. It is the only monument to an Allied soldier in Japan. The inscription contains these words:

 Now  former enemies have become friends. It is hoped this will contribute to the  repose of the souls of those who died for both sides and be a lasting symbol of  peace and friendship between our two nations.

Why The NHL Lockout Has Meaning For You

Perhaps you’ve ignored the National Hockey League’s lockout of its players because you think it doesn’t affect you. Guess again. The owners’ negotiating stance has become the standard for every employer.

Just to fill you in: When the current contract between the players and their owners ran out in July, the owners tabled a contract offer that would see player salaries cut and the total amount paid out to players reduced. The contracts that these players had signed individually with management became waste paper. In 2004, the owners locked out the players and, after a lost season, wound up with a deal that capped salaries and otherwise gave the owners an agreement that they said was final. But, of course, it wasn’t. “The intelligent victor always presents his demands in installments.” Now we’re at the next installment.

Back in 2004, the owners assembled a $300 Million fund to help each other through a season of no hockey. The players had whatever they had put away — that might be a lot for the stars but a whole lot less for the newly drafted and journeymen. This time the owners didn’t bother, NBC provided them with a contract that pays out even if not a single game is televised; the owners can sit back and giggle while they torture small animals or whatever else they may do for diversion.

But these power plays by management have become standard for employers. Take it or leave it, that’s the new by-word. Don’t want a salary cut? Then you don’t work. After all, nobody’s buying anything and interest on corporate debt is minimal. So shut the place down for a while — no one but the employees get hurt. If you’re in a public service job, then a contract can be imposed by the legislature and you must take whatever the politicians offer you. They’re not worried about you; they get rich from the backhanders and “campaign contributions” smeared around by the same people who use lockouts as a negotiating tool.

Oh well, you say, I’m not in a union job. But you are. Everyone that works is dependent on past union victories. All of that is now on the table. Looking forward to a pension? That means you want an “entitlement”. That’s what it’s called now. It used to be called insurance — after all, you paid a premium out of every paycheque for it — but now it’s an “entitlement”. And you know what, you are entitled. You are entitled to every damn nickel you put into that company or government plan plus a piece of whatever interest is left after the banks do their banditry.  

The model National Hockey League owner was Harold Ballard. He spent some of his time as owner in a jail cell. He reduced the once-might Leafs to a nothing team and openly laughed at the fans who came out every season to throw money his way. Ballard destroyed that team, but he made a huge profit, and his successors have continued to milk the franchise so that it is the wealthiest in the League. Harold Ballard set an example for owners everywhere: you can deliver a shoddy product and still people will buy it; you can destroy your company and make millions.

Mitt Romney headed a money-making organization whose business operated on Harold Ballard principles. It’s the current corporate model. We all of us — whether the 99% or Romney’s 47% — have skin in this game. And remember, next time you go into work, you might have to face some grinning scumbag in a tailored suit telling you, “Take it or leave it.”

One Hundred Dollar Misunderstanding

The Bank of Canada is introducing new plastic money. Now the story has come out that the original design for the $100 bill was changed because a focus group said that the woman on the reverse side looked “Asian”. So she was re-designed to be raceless, which is to say, White:

Now the question is: what did that woman look like before being changed into what to all westerners is an obvious Quebeçoise? One of my contacts at the BoC managed to smuggle out a specimen given to the focus group:

But hold on, another contact produced this one:

And yet another came up with this bill:

Why so many? Well, it seems that the original $100 bill, designed by immigration minister Jason Kenney pleased no one, so there was much image changing. Here’s Kenney’s design:

This is the same government that began minting coins that wouldn’t work in parking meters, that killed the penny, and now this. I thought Conservatives were supposed to be smart about money.

Amir Khadir and Mise en Demeure

Quebec Premier Charest has announced that the group Mise en Demeure will not play at the official Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day celebration on the Plains of Abraham. Charest says the festival is not political.  [double-take] What? You’re having a St. Jean celebration on the Plains of goddam Abraham that isn’t political? In fact, a Saint-Jean-Baptiste celebration anywhere has been pretty political for, oh, as long as I can remember. Back in 2008, a couple of bands were barred because they sang in English. (After a public outcry they returned to the bill.)

St.-Jean-Baptiste arrests in 1968. Trudeau used the occasion to begin his rise.

The group (whose name means “Official Notice”, a legal designation, en Anglais) has released correspondence with the Quebec government showing that the province threatened to cut off funding to other groups if Mise en Demeure was allowed to play. So, Mise en Demeure withdrew so as not to offend government sensibilities.

Is the group political? Sure. It’s right up there with, say, Chumbawamba as an anarchist threat. Why ban them? Why add more fuel to the fire in Quebec? Well, that’s because of Amir Khadir.

Khadir’s house.

Amir Khadir was born in Teheran and immigrated to Canada when he was five. He is currently the only member of Québec Solidaire to hold a seat in the provincial legislature. Solidaire is a leftist, sovereignist party. Khadir has shown his support for the recent Montreal protests but he is hardly the only member of the provincial government to do that. Khadir has three daughters.

One daughter, Yalda, has been charged in connection with the protests. Yalda is a real live wire. At a court hearing she attacked a press photographer saying that she deserved her privacy. Well, no, Yalda, you’re in court now and this is part of being a public protestor. Hold your chin up and face the camera. Current charges against Yalda include vandalizing the office of a political opponent of her dad’s. I don’t know if she’s guilty or not but the Quebec press has already pronounced that she is. Currently, the girl is out on bail.

The Mise en Demeure poster.

But what has this to do with Mise en Demeure? Well, when the cops went to arrest Yalda, they searched the rest of the house and discovered a poster for Mise en Demeure under a glass tabletop. The poster is a take on Delacroix’s painting of Paris revolutionaries storming the barricades. Instead of the bare-breasted figure of Marianne/Liberty (which probably would have had the group accused of pornography) there stands Bananarchiste, member of Mise en Demeure. The stripped dead soldier on the ground has been given the features of Jean Charest. A Montreal cop kneels before Bananarchiste. It’s a very straight-forward takeoff substituting current figures for those of Delacroix. The face of the guy in the top hat with the musket is now that of Amir Khadir.

The Delacroix original.

I can see Khadir and his daughters thinking that this was great fun, but proper Quebec is scandalized. It’s violent, they say, sucking in their collective lower lip like Max Pointy. “Charest Dead  at the Feet of Khadir” screams le Journal de Montréal.  Everything in the picture is removed from context, every syllable in Mise en Demeure’s lyrics is examined for propriety. Quebec used to think of itself as cool, now it sounds like a Florida court  trying a hip-hop artist.

But worse than this is the way that the media accepts that no proper politician would ever own such a seditious poster, at least not where a cop can find it, and if he does he’s guilty of something. Khadir hasn’t been charged with anything yet but the press is ready to defend Authority when it cracks down. Here’s a sample: this guy in the Gazette wants us to know he’s cool, he’s a metal-head who’s been to tons of concerts and he’s not offended by bad-taste album covers (he prints a Cannibal Corpse cover depicting one rotting corpse fellating another to demonstrate just how much he can tolerate) but this, this!, is too much, he says. Oh, my. Your poor bruised metallic feelings. But anyone who still looks to newspapers for unbiased news is doomed to disppointment. All of Quebec’s press is now and has always been opposed to the protests. Bring on the Law, they cry, and await Judge Dredd to sort things out.

Mise en Demeure remembers the good times. Quebec premiers’ heads on the wall.

So, another day, another stupid move by Charest. Meanwhile, you can listen to Mise en Demeure here. In fact, you can download a complete album for free! Don’t worry, Grand-dad, it won’t hurt your ears — it’s 99% acoustic and the lyrics are fairly clear; Chumbawamba is not an off-the-wall comparison.

More Montreal Protests

Protestors in Montreal are now disrupting the Formula One car race in the city. This has upset a number of people including ex-driver Jacques Villeneuve: “Villeneuve said he was raised to believe in hard work, and not imagine money will fall from the sky.” Villeneuve’s daddy was Gilles Villeneuve who was a champion F1 driver.

It’s not hard to dismiss Villeneuve — he’s paid, ultimately, by the 1% — but that raises the question: who benefits when the city is shut down for a monster automobile race? Businesses say that they will get $100 Million in extra revenue. Well, good! Except that it costs $15 Million to stage the race and that money comes from city, provincial, and federal taxes. That’s right, you in Nova Scotia, you in Saskatchewan, you in British Columbia (who ended Formula One racing in Vancouver), you are paying for this event.

The provincial government has attempted to get student leaders to end the protest but they say they have nothing to do with it. In fact, the Montreal protests have become something more than just student protests ever since the Casseroles began.

Casseroles are protests by ordinary people who walk outside and bang on a pan with a wooden spoon. This has really caught on; it’s sort of the Montreal version of “We’re not going to take it anymore!” Other places have been holding casserole nights in support of Montreal — even Calgary, in the Belly of the Beast, had one. Casseroles began in Chile in 1971 where they were called “cacerolazos”.  Now they are a fun way to show your dissatisfaction with… well, anything.

Click to play a casserole song

Innocuous as it may seem, this kind of protest is really getting to the powers-that-be. Demonstrators were arrested Friday for the first time in twelve days. Was it the casseroles or the complaints of F1 car owners? Who has more power in Quebec — the foreign billionaires who own these expensive toys or the local folks that possess a few pots and pans?  

Today, Sunday the 10th, is supposed to be a big demonstration in Montreal. The whole world is watching.

Here’s a Montreal story aggregator.

Printemps Érable

That’s a Québécois pun. It means “Maple Spring” but it sounds like “Printemps Arabe”, “Arab Spring”. Since February, Quebec has been the scene of massive demonstrations similar to the various Occupy movements of last year. These demonstrations have been prompted by the provincial government’s attempt to raise tuition for post-secondary education. Clashes with police are becoming increasingly violent, the government has introduced a draconian anti-assembly law, the minister for education has resigned, and the Spring has only just begun.

Protest march, May 22, Montreal

Reaction to the demonstrations has been remarkably similar to that expressed toward Occupy Wall Street and its cousins. First, serious pundits are asking for the program, the list of demands, and so on. They ask who the leaders are and are they willing to negotiate. Of course, these questions show an absolute misunderstanding of the entire situation: there are no leaders to be co-opted, no official demands that can be bargained into meaninglessness. The protests are a direct expression of discontent on the part of those who can feel themselves slowly being  crushed economically. And there is an immediate issue on the table, that of tuition hikes, though it is only one part of the general discontent with current conditions.

Second, critics have tried to paint the protestors as spoiled, privileged children who should be happy to be part of the great new world order. This has a special wrinkle in Quebec where tuition costs are the lowest in the country. So, Serious Commentators shake their heads and cluck their tongues — those brats should be grateful! And isn’t it unfair that you pay more? Of course it’s unfair but that doesn’t mean the answer is to make it just as expensive for them as it is for us; perhaps tuition ought to be reduced everywhere else. This raises the real problem which is the commodification of education and this is being protested in a lot of places — California, for instance, and England.

Education should not be a privilege reserved for the well-to-do, but that will be the result of making it more and more expensive. California schools used to have very low tuition but now they are among the highest in the U.S. Of course, California screwed up its economy so badly that the state must scramble for money. It can’t come from the wealthy (because that would mean raising taxes) so it must come from those with no income whatsoever: students. The death of cheap education is an attack on middle-class and blue collar families. We are on the road to a two class system: those on top and the vast majority toiling for them.

Nude march, May 3. This photo is from a Turkish source (http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/Default.aspx?pageID=447&GalleryID=586&gpid=18) and just goes to show that idiot journalism has been globalized. Blot out the finger? Really?

When Quebec went through its Quiet Revolution in the 1950s and 60s, it envisioned a particular kind of future for itself. One part of this future was free education even though, at the beginning, some tuition was charged — the idea was to phase it out. The separatist Parti Québécois came to power in 1976 and Anglophone capital fled the province making the downturn of the 1980s very tough indeed for Quebec. All social programs, including education, have suffered. Unemployment has been high, especially for young people, ever since.  Tuition has slowly risen.

A Quebec child goes through eleven years of primary and secondary school but instead of Grade 12, Quebec students take a year or more at a CEGEP (Collège d’enseignement général et professionnel) where they enter a vocational or academic track, work toward a ticket or try to fulfill entry requirements for a university, vocational school, or advanced training. Public CEGEPs charge no tuition — at least not yet, though that seemed to be part of the plan before things blew up in the government’s face.  But the CEGEPs are a focus of the demonstrations in Quebec. Those students protest against the tuition raises that they will encounter after they finish CEGEP. Students have boycotted classes and set up picket lines preventing other students from attending.

Well, you know that sort of thing is going to trouble the law-abiding comfortable people and, up until a few days ago, public opinion was running against the protests but the government changed all that. First, Education Minister Line Beauchamp, refused to allow the largest Quebec student organization,  CLASSE, to be part of any negotiating. That was a world-class political error. Bring the group in, divide them, give one faction some meaningless points, and then raise tuition while the group disintegrates. Student organizations exist to be co-opted by administrations. Having cut CLASSE out of talks, Beauchamp then demanded that it immediately renounce violence but the two moves — one excluding, the other a peremptory demand — seemed more than a little contradictory. After all, if you’re going to exclude a group, how can you insist that it follow your rules? The upshot is that CLASSE has become more radical in its demands.

About that “violence”: there have been some broken windows, some campus vandalism. Meanwhile, the police have tear-gassed and beaten many people, some of whom had no real connection with the protest except to be in the wrong place when the cops came through. All this is evident on numerous videos of the protests.

But this led to the other big government error: Premier Jean Charest hurriedly introduced legislation to establish order and throttle any dissent. The law, Bill 78, was hastilly scribbled on scraps of paper, government members editing as they went. Originally the bill applied to groups of more than ten people. Cooler heads prevailed and the new law says that people cannot gather in groups of fifty or more without government permisssion. Good thing the Canadiens aren’t in the playoffs, eh? I can see it now: cops busting fans on their way into or out of the Forum. And CEGEPs that are boycotted will be closed for the semester. (That should save the government a few bucks, maybe enough to pay police overtime.)

A page of the scribbled memo where “10” becomes “50”

Oh, and the law forbids supporting the students in any way. So, right after the bill was passed, cops arrested a Montreal restauranteur for wearing a red square, symbol of the protests, on his shirt. That is not the way to win friends and influence people. Public opinion is now swinging against the government.

Win Butler, of Montreal-based Arcade Fire, showing the Red Square on Saturday Night Live, May 19.

That has been the story in other places, too. The battle against tuition increases in Quebec, England, and California is part of a general revolt against the privatization of humanity, the concept that all our human relations are economic and, therefore, should be monetized. The idea that society is cooperative and that everyone shares in the greater good is being attacked with the counter-concept that, if something is valuable, it has a price and only those who can afford it can own it. Education is at the combative edge of this philosophic struggle. Is education available to everyone or only to those with money? Is learning a commodity to be bought and sold or is it a resource of value to all?

The Quebec protest, like the Occupy events, is a mass protest against the direction that society is taking. In the last federal election, the New Democrats, a social democratic party, won overwhelming support in Quebec. “We aren’t separatists,” say the Québécois, “We are socialists.” Tommy Douglas, that great Canadian, had something to say about socialism: “Friends,” he said,”The alternative is barbarism.”

From Quebec:

Open Letter to English Canada
Ten Points Everyone should Know About the Quebec Student Movement