Friday, December 20, 2013

My Favorite Christmas Story: Nativity by Kevin Annett

I'm an atheist but this lovely Christmas Story touched me.

It was written and sent to me by a christian whom I like and respect, Kevin Annett.

I write christian and not Christian because his Christianity is non-denominational.

Kevin was a Reverend for the United Church in Canada and defrocked by the Church for exposing it's abuse of Aboriginal children in Residential Schools in Canada. After defrocking Kevin, the United Church went on a life long persecution campaign against him ensuring that he was unable to work and earn a living, organizing a personal smear campaign against him amongst other things.

Kevin describes himself as not being religious but still "walking with Christ".

This story is a bit long but I hope you'll take the time to read it. IMO, it's worth the time.

Merry Christmas/Happy Solstice/Happy Holidays!


By Kevin D. Annett

The last Christmas we were all together hangs over memory like the fog did that year in the Alberni valley. It was a time of gathering, two years and more of labor summoning so many together where once there were but a few. And it was a time of ending.

The church stewards had warned me to expect an overflow crowd at the Christmas eve service, and like overgrown elves they had busied themselves around the building, stringing wires and sound systems in the cold auditorium kept that way to save money. The snows had come early, and our food bank was already depleted.

With my eldest daughter who was but five, I had walked to the church one morning in the week before yule, pondering the cold and the sermon, when I met the one who would pierce the fog that year for us. She stood patiently at the locked door, her brown eyes relaxing as we approached. Her bare hand gestured at me.

“You’re that minister, ain’t you?” she mumbled to me, as daughter Clare fell back and grabbed my hand.

Before I could answer, the stranger smiled and nodded, and uttered with noticeable pleasure at her double entendre,

“They say you give it out seven days a week!”.

 I smiled too, gripping Clare’s hand reassuringly and replying,

“If you mean food, we’re a bit short, but you’re welcome to whatever’s left.”

She nodded again, and waited while I unlocked the door and picked up Clare, who was clinging to me by then.

The basement was even more frigid than the outside, but the woman doffed her torn overcoat and sighed loudly as we approached the food bank locker.

“For all the good it’ll do …” she said, as I unlocked the pantry and surveyed the few cans and bags lying there.

I turned and really looked at her for the first time. She was younger than she had sounded, but a dark, cancerous growth marred her upper lip, and a deep scar ran down her face and neck. Her eyes were kindness, and in that way, very aboriginal.

 “I’m sorry there’s not more …” I began, since back then I still saw things in terms of giving. But she shook her head, and instead of saying anything, she looked at Clare, and the two of them exchanged a smile for the first time.

 I stared, confused, at the cupboard so bare, and heard her finally utter,

“Them people in church, you know what they need?”

I set Clare down and shook my head.

“They need Him. They sing about Him, and pretend they know Him, but hell, they wouldn’t spot Him even if He came and bit ‘em on their ass.”

I smiled at that one, and even dared a mild chuckle.

“You doin’ a Christmas play for the kids?” she continued.


 “I bet it’s the usual bullshit with angels and shepherds, right?”

 I nodded.

 “That don’t mean nuthin’ to those people. Why don’t you do a story about … well, like, if He came to Port Alberni to be born, right now.”

 I finally laughed, feeling very happy. She smiled too, walked over to the cupboard and picked up a small bag of rice. Donning her coat, she nodded her thanks, and said,

 “My bet is Him and Mary and Joseph, they’d end up in the Petrocan garage, down River road. The owner there lets us sleep in the back sometimes.”

And then she was gone.

I didn’t try explaining the stranger to anyone, ever, or what her words had done to me. All I did was lock the food cupboard and lead Clare up to my office, where I cranked up the heat and set her to drawing. And then I sat at my desk and I wrote for the rest of the day.

The kids in church were no problem at all. They got it, immediately. The Indians who dared to mingle in the pews that night with all the ponderous white people also took to the amateur performance like they had composed it themselves, and laughed with familiarity as the holy family was turned away first by the local cops, and then hotel owners, and finally by church after church after church.

 It was mostly the official Christians who were shocked into open-mouthed incredulity at the coming to life of something they thought they knew all about. As the children spoke their lines, I swear I saw parishioners jump and writhe like there were tacks scattered on the pews.

 “Joe, I’m getting ready to have this kid. You’d better find us a place real friggin' quick  …”

 I’m trying, Mary, but Jehovah! Nobody will answer their door! I guess it’s ‘cause we’re low lifes.”

 Look! There’s a church up ahead. I bet they’ll help us!”

 If you believe the Bible, whoever He was loved to poke fun at his listeners and shock them out of their fog, and our play would have made him proud. As the eight year old girl who played Mary pleaded fruitlessly for help from a kid adorned in oversized clerical garb, and was covered in scorn by the young “priest”, I heard a sad moan rise from the congregation.

 But things took a turn when Mary and Joe came upon an Indian, played by one of the aboriginal kids.

 Sir, will you help us? My wife’s going to have a baby …”

 Sure!” replied the native kid with gusto. “I got a spot in a shed behind the gas station down the road. The owner lets us all sleep in there!”

And in a contrived scene of boxes and cans scattered where our communion table normally stood, Mary had her baby, as erstwhile homeless men with fake beards and a stray rez dog looked on, and one of the witnesses urged Mary to keep her newborn quiet lest the Mounties hear his cries and bust everyone for vagrancy.

 Voices were subdued that night in the church hall over coffee, cookies and Christmas punch, and the normally dull gazes and banalities about the time of year were oddly absent. The Indians kept nodding and smiling at me, saying little, and not having to; and the kids were happy too, still in costume and playing with the local stray who had posed as the rez dog in the performance that would always be talked about. It was the white congregants who seemed most pregnant that night, but they couldn’t speak of it.

 It was one of my last services with them, and somehow they all knew it, since we had all entered the story by then. For a churchly Herod had already heard a rumor, and dispatched assassins to stop a birth, and me, even though it was already too late.

 My daughter Clare was not running and rolling with the other kids, but in her manner joined me quietly with her younger sister Elinor in tow. Our trio stood there, amidst the thoughtful looks and unspoken love, and person after person came to us and grasped our hands, or embraced us with glistening eyes. An aging Dutch woman named Omma van Beek struggled towards me in her walker and pressed her trembling lips on my cheek, and said something to me in her native tongue as the tears fell unashamedly from both of us.

 Later, when we were scattered and lost, I would remember that moment like no other, as if something in Omma’s tears washed away all the filth and loss that were to follow. And perhaps that looming nightfall touched my heart just then, for I gave a shudder as I looked at my children, almost glimpsing the coming divorce, and I held my daughters close as if that would keep them safe and near to me forever.

The snow was falling again as we left the darkened building, kissing us gently like it had done years before when as a baby, Clare had struggled with me on a toboggan through the deep drifts of my first charge in Pierson, Manitoba, on another Christmas eve. The quiet flakes blessed us with memory, and settled in love on the whole of creation, even on the unmarked graves of children up at the old Indian residential school.

The old Byzantine icon depicts Jesus as a baby, hugging his worried mother while she stares ahead into his bloody future: her eyes turned in grief to the viewer, yet his loving eyes seeking her, past the moment, past even his own death.

The image may still hang in the basement of my church, where I left it.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Legal Aid, Corruption, Access To Justice and Denial of Charter Rights

Justice Denied - Access To Legal Aid
Justice Denied - Access To Legal Aid
It really doesn't surprise me that Canadian's Charter Rights have become so eroded. This is inevitable when those most vulnerable to having their rights violated are actively denied access to the Justice system.

I live in Ontario. A province where access to Legal Aid is so restrictive that, frankly, despite the fact that I know many social activists, many poor, I don't know a single person who has been able to benefit from receiving Legal Aid to protect their rights. 

It doesn't matter whether they're dealing with criminal charges as a result of arrests during protests or whether they're dealing with petty government bureaucrats who over-extend the rights they have to intrude into the privacy of those needing to access the social safety net; make decisions about who does and doesn't get access to the social safety net; or how they interpret the rules regarding the type of access, etc.

I can also attest to the fact that despite the fact that I have been eligible for Legal Aid at different points in my life based on income, I have never, throughout my entire lifetime, been granted access to the benefit because of these extra-legal regulations that the Provincial governments of ALL political stripes have given themselves the right to impose.

It's important to remember here that Canada is constitutionally different from the US in that we don't have inviolable rights. We aren't a republic. 

As a result, what we have is privileges that are deceptively called 'rights' which are granted to us by the state and which can (and have been) taken away from us at the drop of a hat when the state deems that wish to withdraw the granting of the privileges they've given us. (eg. War Measures Act imposed in 1970, Ontario Legislation imposed during the G8/G20 in Toronto in 2008 - both were by Liberal governments and swept under the proverbial carpet).

Any excuse to do this can (and has been) used, whether it's 'terrorism' (Bill C-41: Anti-Terrorism Act) or 'financial' (Provincial Regulations controlling access to Legal Aid) or something else. 

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms grants Canadians the following privileges:

15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
(2) Subsection (1) does not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability. (84) 
24. (1) Anyone whose rights or freedoms, as guaranteed by this Charter, have been infringed or denied may apply to a court of competent jurisdiction to obtain such remedy as the court considers appropriate and just in the circumstances.  
--Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Given that these are the privileges granted to Canadians by the State.

Given that Ontario Legal Aid (and that of other provinces) restricts who can access Legal Aid based on type of case and not just income.

Given that the Province is often the party that is likely to be challenged, sued in these cases.

When the Province restricts Access to Legal Aid in any way for any reason other than income ...

Are they not violating each and every Canadians' Charter Rights and Freedoms to Access to Justice and doing so in a manner which is not only self-serving (covering their own asses) but prejudicial and harmful to the citizens of that Province?

Isn't that Corruption?
cor·rup·tion kəˈrəpSHən noun noun: corruption; plural noun: corruptions
1. dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery.
2. the action of making someone or something morally depraved or the state of being so.
I'm not a lawyer but it sure looks that way to me.

Apparently there are lawyers and others who agree that access is being restricted, and that it's a problem, if you read the following article written in 2007. However, note, that in 2007 things just got worse. It was bad before then too. And also note that these changes which reduced accessibility to justice occurred both at the Federal and Provincial levels which implicates ALL of the major Canadian political parties.

Has Corruption become so systemic that we don't recognize it anymore, even when it slaps us in the face?

Have Canadians really become such lazy, apathetic slobs that we've stopped caring about our own Civil Rights?

If not, then why the hell aren't we metaphorically storming the barricades over this one?

And where the hell is the Canadian Civil Liberties Association?