The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

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Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL: black_rod_usher@yahoo.com

Monday, October 17, 2005

Fudging the truth, Governor-General style

It's interesting that in her first formal interview as Canada's new Governor General, Michaelle Jean fails to mention one name-- The Queen-- who she represents by her office.

She seems to have adopted the attitude of her predecessor that the Liberal government appointed her de facto Queen of Canada since all she talks about is me, me, me.

But then her recall throughout the interview seems a bit foggy whenever it matters most.

And reporter Paul Samyn does his best to aid and abet her memory lapses.

After all, that's the price of an "exclusive", or rather "faux exclusive" in the Winnipeg Free Press.

You see, whenever the Liberals in Ottawa want to plant a story, they deliver it to the Free Press on a Friday to run on Page One Saturday, the most read paper of the week.

( Reporters, especially those of the far left, love to say they speak truth to power. But what they really mean is they want to run anything that hurts George Bush. When it comes to power in Canada, well, they become pussycats wanting a tummyrub. )

And so Paul Samyn asked questions about the sensitive topics that Jean wanted to put to rest before arriving in Winnipeg. But he threw more softballs than get tossed at Charlie Krupp Stadium in August.

And he swallowed her answers whole, without follow-up, either because he wasn't prepared or he didn't want to embarass her. After all, he did get a beautiful glossy picture of himself and the Governor General, suitable for framing.

Michaelle Jean and her Liberal Party patrons want to leave the impression that the questions raised about her loyalty to Canada are all coming from the separatist camp in Quebec. In that, they're wrong (and they're well aware of that).

Canadians from across the country still have reason to believe that Jean and her husband were more than casual observers of separatist sentiment.

Her carefully crafted inauguration speech failed to dispel those suspicions particularly because it was so obviously carefully worded. And her first interview only serves to confirm the worst.

* Take this Q&A about her appearance in a documentary by her husband where, in a bar in the company of high-profile separatists, she raises her glass in a toast to independence.

The documentary, she says, was about "a great poet named Aime Cesaire." He spent his life fighting colonialism. But he felt his home country Martinique and its neighbour Guadalupe were stronger as part of France proper than as independent countries.

The film, she says, "is about confronting Aime Cesaire."

(So the documentary is about "confronting" someone who opposes separatism...)

"And you have other persons, who represented Quebec sovereigntists, disillusioned ones, still very purist. But the movie is about Aime Cesaire."

(Note that these other "persons" are not identified.)

"The famous toast was to all those ideas of independence. And when you listen to the soundtrack, you can hear clearly 'aux independence'."

Then, she asks ingenuously:

"Don't you think independence is an important value for Canadians? ...I mean, for example, don't we as Canadians want to be fully independent from our neighbours?"

Deftly, with an assist from Samyn, she slips the question about her association with separatists and begins to expound on what freedom means to her.

But you get an entirely different idea of that infamous toast when you examine what Jean did not say and what Samyn did not ask.

* Let's start with who, exactly, is Aime Cesaire. Jean forgot to mention that he was a Communist legislator from Martinique, who broke with the party because he felt anti-colonialism took precedence over class struggle.

He remained a Marxist, however, and like his former student, Frantz Fanon, came to believe only a proletarian revolution would bring a new society to the Third World. His writings inspired the separatists in Quebec.

But not more than his pupil, Frantz Fanon, whose book The Wretched of the Earth was the gospel for revolutionary movements around the world in the Sixties and Seventies. Fanon believed that violent revolution was the only means of ending colonial repression in the Third World.

"Violence," he argued, "is a cleansing force. It frees the native from his inferiority complex and from his despair and inaction; it makes him fearless and restores his self-respect."

Some of the people inspired by Cesaire and Fanon sat at the table with Jean. the people she called representatives "of Quebec sovereigntists, disillusioned ones, still very purist."

Her merry band included separatist hardliners such as FLQ member Pierre Vallieres, poet Gerald Godin -- a Parti Quebecois cabinet minister a co-founder of its predecessor, Rassemblment pour l'independence nationale , Yves Prefontaine, novelist Dany Laferriere, Andree Ferretti and poet Paul Chamberland.

* The interview with Jean fails to adequately explain just who she was rubbing shoulders with.

"Poets" Godin and Prefontaine and Andree Ferretti were founding members of Rassemblment pour l'independence nationale (RIN), the first formal association to fight for the independence of Quebec. Long forgotten now, RIN had a high profile in the early days of separatism.

Their more famous actions included

- a demonstration in 1964 against the visit by Queen Elizabeth II to Quebec,

- a riot in 1968 protesting the presence of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau on St. Jean Baptiste Day, and

- they were the most vocal when French President Charles de Gaulle shouted his infamous cry "Vive le Quebec Libre" to a Montreal crowd.

When the RIN and other separatist factions decided to unite behind the Parti Quebecois, Andre Ferretti refused to go along, opposing the idea of abandoning civil actions for provincial politics.

Paul Chamberland was the first to put a political spin to the term Quebecois, using the word instead of French-Canadian to designate Quebecers as people of a separate nation.

Pierre Vallieres was a founding member of the terrorist group the FLQ. His book White Niggers of America was seminal to the separatist movement. He wrote it during the four years he served in prison for manslaughter in New York. (We can't find who he killed. If you know, email us.)

During the October Crisis, when the FLQ kidnapped and later murdered Quebec vice-premier Pierre Laporte, Vallieres tried to instigate a general strike. He was arrested and accepted a plea bargain, a one-year suspended sentence on three charges of counselling kidnapping for political purposes.

* It's informative to listen how Jean spins the toast that got her into trouble. "Aux independence."

A transcript supports part of what she said.

Mr. Chamberland (raising a glass of wine for a toast): To independence! To independence!
Yves Prefontaine: To independence!

But she dis-remembers another part of the fun night, when Vallieres says:
"Not only should Martinique go to independence, but to revolution, as Quebec should."
To which Jean replies:
"Yes, one doesn't give independence, one takes it."

Not much ambiguity there.

Even less when we understand the context of the toast in the bar. This wasn't a group of chums going for beers after a long day at the office, or a coupla Haitian emigres bumping into a table full of separatists out to drink to the old days. These people were brought together.

But its 'why' that's important, and the answer is not some obscure Martinique poet.

* There was a reason Michaele Jean and her husband were cozying up to Quebec separatists.

It was just after the Meech Lake Accord had been killed, here in Manitoba. Yes, in Manitoba. We did it.

We're proud we did it. And we would do it again. So stop giving Newfoundland the credit.

- Meech Lake was dead.

- A group of Quebec MP's formed the Bloc Quebecois.

- The Quebec Liberal Party released the Allaire Report calling for massive decentralization of national government ---or a referendum on independence.

- The polls showed 60 percent support for independence, the highest ever recorded.

That was the background to the infamous Michaelle Jean toast story.

The hardline separatists had seen their dream seemingly die when their violent revolution was quashed. Now, more than 20 years later, they saw the dream resurrected. A referendum that could not lose. Success at last. A toast to independence, indeed. Quick, get it on film.

And Michaelle Jean drank.

* As if further proof was needed, reporter Samyn gently raised the question of how she voted in the 1995 referendum on separatism.

Jean ducked the question entirely. Her pretext: the high road. The secret ballot is a sacred trust. One cannot sully that trust by telling how one votes. N'est pas?

Contrast that with voters in Iraq's referendum on a new constitution:

In the south, Shia women in head-to-toe veils and men emerged from the poll stations flashing victory signs with fingers stained with purple ink, apparently responding in mass to the call by their top cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, to support the charter.

Once the constitution is stable, the country will be stable, Rajaa Mohammed Abbas, a 35-year-old Shia woman, said after voting yes in the southern city of Karbala, where crowds of people marched after casting ballots, chanting yes, yes to the constitution.

This is all wrong. I said no to a constitution written by the Americans, said Jilan Shaker, 22, a laborer who showed up at a polling station in Baghdad's Azamiyah district polling station in shorts and plastic sandals.

In Iraq, where they are just learning the power of the ballot box, they have no difficulty telling how they voted.

Indeed, no one we know hesitates to admit they voted No in the Charlottetown Referendum.

Only those who voted Yes, waffle and hedge and change the subject to the sanctity of the ballot box.

Michaelle Jean thinks we're stupid. That we can't see the truth as she evades it. But the truth is staring Canadians in the face.

She probably also thinks we didn't notice her answer to a question "about the statement you issued to deal with questions about your allegiance..."

"I wasn't pledging allegiance," she snapped.

"Nuff said.

* Michaelle Jean, the new Governor General, toasted Quebec separatism with the the founder of a homegrown terrorist organization.

Michaelle Jean, the new Governor General, voted to break up the country in a referendum.

And Michaelle Jean, the new Governor General, wants it clear she wasn't pledging allegiance to Canada.

Is this the best Paul Martin could do?

With this exclusive interview, Michaelle Jean wanted to preempt further questioning, before she comes to Manitoba, about her loyalty to Canada.

She failed.

Her last chance to put the corrosive questions to rest come with her visit to Winnipeg. Its then that she can stand before Canadians and repudiate her separatist drinking buddies.

She can meet with Bruce Vallance, who was almost killed in by the FLQ , and express her sympathies to him and to the other innocent men and women who were killed, maimed and traumatized by the terror campaign conducted in the name of Quebec separatism by the man who inspired her toast.

(And if she is too busy providing photo ops for Liberal MP's and appointees, perhaps her husband Jean-Daniel Lafond will address the issue on Wednesday when he lectures St. Boniface College students about “cinema and the portrayal of reality”.)

And the news media can hold her to it instead of spilling out more puff stories about her daughter and her dog.

Or will The Black Rod be the only one asking them to do the right thing?

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