LONDON, ONTARIO – At a time when people are straining to discern shapes and patterns amidst a blizzard of contending reality narratives that are blowing in from every direction at once, parroting vague platitudes like “We’re following the science,” “Listen to the experts,” “Diversity is our strength,” or “We’re going to build back better” might buy you a temporary sense of reassurance but it cannot last. After a few hours of perhaps desperately needed sleep, anyone capable of thought is going to wake up in the grip of a whole new set of questions, like, “Who is it that determines which ‘science’ we’re going to ‘follow’?” “Do any of these ‘experts’ have our best interests at heart?” “What is the purpose which the supposed ‘strength’ of ‘diversity’ is going to drive?” And “How can politicians who’ve never built a thing in their lives tell us how to ‘build back better’ something as infinitely complex as a functioning society?”
The manipulations being worked on us all right now seem to have been designed to create so much destabilization that for the sake of some semblance of order and an illusion of personal safety, we will allow ourselves to deny reality as we know it and submit to the latest delusion. Sure, with increased taxation and a lot more bike lanes, we’ll be able to control the weather . . . er, climate. As for that old canard that anybody is born male or female . . . now we understand those were meaningless categories that narrow-minded, patriarchal doctors assigned at birth. Body parts and biology are totally fungible and compared to your feelings, signify nothing at all. And those much ballyhooed traditions and values of Western civilization – what they called freedom of speech, religion and conscience and the impartial exercise of the rule of law – well, those were always instruments of racial oppression, don’t you know, and badly needed to be ‘reset’ in the name of universal equity.
Ideals do not come easily or naturally but have to be consciously and diligently aspired to. So of course, our society’s highest values have been imperfectly and sloppily upheld from time to time. And one favourite ruse of our manipulators is to fasten onto those occasions of sometimes spectacular failure and claim that such corruption is routine or – even better (ie: worse) – “systemic”. But do you know one sure indicator of the superiority of the Western tradition which is being so cavalierly dismantled just now? Even in a time as chaotic and full of self-doubt as this, it is only the maligned countries of the West that hordes of migrants and refugees long to escape to.
A very shitty game of manipulation and ginned-up hysteria is messing with the entire globe right now and is too much for any one person to take in, let alone synthesize. The best strategy I know for hanging onto some sort of equilibrium is to keep my focus on what I can see with my own eyes; on the people and events in a place that I know well. This doesn’t just help me to avoid drifting off into the ether with unverifiable conspiracy theories, it allows me to bring whatever insights I can to my own home ground. And appropriately enough, the first person I ever saw taking part in this shitty game which I am describing today, was me; albeit in a small and unconscious way.
Let me take you back to an exchange I had with my favourite Canadian novelist, Richard B. Wright (1937–2017), back in November of 2004. I’d introduced Richard to a capacity crowd at the Byron Library that night. After his reading and a flurry of wrist-cramping book-signings, we repaired to Chaucer’s Pub to unwind for a bit. With Richard still buzzing with performer’s adrenaline, our easygoing conversation was zipping all over the place. At one point he got me to list off some of the things that London was famous for – Labatt’s beer, life insurance, Guy Lombardo, Slippery the sea lion and a particularly fertile visual art scene in the 1960s. And then I got it into my head to ask a question about St. Catharines where Richard had moved in the early ‘70s to teach at Ridley College for the next thirty years and then retire. I asked him if he ever felt any sort of associative shame as a resident of the city where the globally infamous Bernardo/Homolka murders had gone down.
Richard knew me well enough that he didn’t take offense but he did let me know that he was bewildered by my question. Richard B. was nobody’s fool and I liked to believe that I was a reasonably bright and fair-minded chap myself. But as I struggled to rejig my query into a form he would find more graspable, its insinuation-loaded fatuousness became more and more apparent to me. My tape recorder wasn’t running so I’m paraphrasing here. But the gist of what this good man said, was this: “Of course I wish it had never happened in my home town or anywhere else. But it wasn’t St. Catharines’ fault. How much would I have to hate myself and my neighbours to regard a pair of unhinged psychopaths as standard bearers for the place where I live?”
[If you’d care to dig into my full exploration of Richard B. Wright and his incomparable canon, see this Hermaneutics from last year: A Celebration of Richard B. Wright.]
I was mightily impressed by Wright’s sturdy refusal that night to take on shame by civic or geographic association and his rejection of that notion became talismanic for me. Over the succeeding years I’ve had dismayingly frequent occasion to recall his example whenever I see entire groups of people being recklessly vilified as racists or sexists or knuckle-dragging morons because of the perceived sins of somebody else – whether a historical or contemporary figure – who hails from the same place, happens to be of the same age or sex, has the same colour of skin, upholds the same religion or political philosophy or gives voice to the same unapproved opinion.
In the good old days one rather effective way of avoiding such identitarian putdowns was to just keep away from the prime seedbeds for that sort of poisonous hooey; university campuses. But some sort of dam seemed to burst with the election of Donald Trump in 2016 and now with the muffled freak-out of the Wuhan Batflu pandemic, the self-hating madness has only proliferated further. Over the past nineteen months of lockdowns and restrictions and the attendant obliteration of the free exchange of ideas and information, the poisons of paranoia and projection have been able to seep into more minds and hearts than ever before.
I first became aware of the mainstreaming of this game five years ago this February when a very serious crime was deliberately obscured by the London Police and a couple of grotesquely puffed-up incidents of racial unpleasantness were blown out of all proportion by The London Free Press. Ordinarily, when something awful goes down in our community, the police and the press are the two institutions we rely on to tell us what’s happened in a responsible way and explain what measures are being taken to put things right. So I was alarmed when London Police deliberately withheld important facts about a murder-suicide and I was disgusted when the Free Press played up a report of moronic name-calling as an indictment of our city over all as a seething hotbed of racial intolerance.
As it was the more serious dereliction of duty, let’s start with the murder-suicide in south London that February about which, quite atypically, our police refused to name either the killer or his victim. Police Inspector Kevin Heslop would only tell the press: “This is a domestic-related incident. A male killed a female and then took his own life. We’ve got the family here and they are grieving. Obviously, this is the worst imaginable scenario. They don’t want the names to be made public. We feel we have a strong obligation to the family as well as the community. We are providing some information to put context to what occurred but we are drawing a line and saying that going beyond this line is an invasion of privacy.”
‘What weird ploy of dumb-fuckery was this?’ I wondered at the time. Was there some newly generated policy to spare the tender feelings of cold-blooded murderers’ kinfolk? While I was sure those relatives were having a perfectly awful time, I didn’t see why their aversion to publicity should take precedence over the need of citizens to be adequately informed about a serious crime that had just been committed in their midst. I knew London Police to sometimes be circumspect about a suicide but not a ‘domestic-related murder-suicide’. While no single news source directly over-rode the Police’s refusal to name names or properly flesh out the details, you could piece together a broad outline of what went down by compiling bits gathered from different media outlets. And this I proceeded to do in an article that month for The London Yodeller. Read in sequence these following four scraps pretty well laid out the bones:
[From 880 AM Radio] “Officers were originally called to an apartment building at 71 Grand Ave. around 5:30 p.m. Friday afternoon. When they arrived on scene, they found a woman’s body in the apartment. Hours later around 8:45 p.m. that night, the investigation led officers to Miriam Tire and Auto Repair Centre at the corner of High and Emery Streets where a man’s body was found inside.”
[From The London Free Press] “A spokesperson at the London Muslim Mosque said ‘funerals are being processed,’ but he wouldn’t provide information about the couple or the circumstances behind the case. At the auto shop, Miriam Tire and Auto Repair, the sole employee – owner Mahmoud Abdulrahim – hasn’t been seen since before the body was found at the garage.”
[From CTV London] “One neighbour tells CTV News the auto shop is named after one of the dead.”
[From The London Free Press] “Abdulrahim, known to neighbours as Michele, has a reputation as friendly and hard-working. Originally from Syria, he arrived in Canada many years ago and opened the business four years ago, neighbours said. While those who spoke to the Free Press didn’t know the wife’s name, some said they’d seen her occasionally working at the shop and that she did not appear to speak English.”
When the police and the press are coy in this way, the not-so-easily placated may strive to fill in the blanks. I heard mumblings that it must have been an honour killing and that the police’s restraint had been imposed from somewhere higher up the chain of command in the name of multi-cultural sensitivity. The details that we knew certainly didn’t jibe with the ‘sunny ways’ being promoted by our new prime minister, then in the fourth month of the first term of his electorate’s disillusionment and undergoing criticism for his unilateral push to bring 25,000 minimally vetted Syrian refugees into the country as quickly as possible.
Did the police withhold certain facts because they didn’t trust Londoners to receive them responsibly, to recognize that recent immigrants hardly had the market cornered in murder-suicides? Did they think we’d flip out and take up our pitchforks and go on some kind of rampage of intolerance? And where might they have gotten the idea that the Forest City was full of bigoted hotheads? Perhaps from reading the previous week’s editions of the finest, daily English-language newspaper in London.
The second incident of institutional dereliction regarded the black American actor, E.B. Smith, in town that month to rehearse his performance as civil rights leader Martin Luther King in the Grand Theatre’s widely hailed production of The Mountaintop. In the week before the south London murder-suicide, Smith reported to the paper that he had twice been accosted with racist slurs while out and about downtown in the company of that show’s co-star, Beryl Bain. Unquestionably it was ugly, regrettable stuff. But by Smith’s own account, at least one of those loudmouths had also delivered something of an apology, admitting that he’d been drinking and telling Smith: “I talk too much.”
Did two loutish insults really deserve such prominent media coverage? My own preference when hectored as a ‘shithead’ or an ‘asshole’ in public situations – not for the colour of my skin but (back in the day) for the length of my hair or (more recently) for riding a bike or refusing to give change to a strung out panhandler or just being in the way of some halfwit in a hurry – is to exhibit steely indifference or, if I’m feeling saucy, flip them the bird or tell them to piss off. But did a couple of moronic outbursts such as Smith related really warrant front page, above-the-fold placement under the banner headline, ‘Hate takes centre stage’? The tale of London as a racist cesspool was then picked up by the CBC and other national papers and the Free Press continued to bang that drum for the rest of the week with several follow-up articles, editorials and letters.
Were there intolerant lowlifes living in London five years ago whose kneejerk reactions and utterances threatened to lower our civic IQ? Undoubtedly. And I’m sure we and every other burg in the land have still got a few of those today and good luck to anyone who believes we’ll ever be able to eradicate all such human toothaches from the scene. The police’s suppression of pertinent facts about a serious crime and the media’s over-hyping of one man’s account of a couple of low-grade insults only managed to chuck the context and coherence of both of these incidents out the window; defaming Londoners overall as slathering bigots while deferring to and perhaps even feeding the worst suspicions and instincts of the noxious few.
But compared to the slick and weaponized chicanery that’s going down now, the police and press malpractice of 2016 was kid’s stuff. It took the intentional global spread of a galloping viral infection to provide sufficient cover for the agents of obfuscation and demonization to truly perfect their wicked craft. Over the last year and a half of on again/off again lockdowns and restrictions, communal events that give meaning and definition to Londoners’ lives - like baby showers and graduations, weddings and funeral ceremonies - have all been cruelly curtailed. For months at a stretch it has been impossible to have any physical contact with loved ones in hospitals or retirement homes. Even during those periods when churches haven’t been shut down altogether, choirs have been needlessly silenced and full capacity observances have been verboten. There has been no Western Fair for two years running, no Santa Claus Parade, no concerts or music festivals in the parks, limited access to gyms and live theatre, no gala fireworks displays to mark the 153rd or 154th anniversaries of the Confederation of a country which seems to have decided to fly its national flags at half-mast in perpetuity to commemorate our unworthiness as a nation.
And starting this week London (and every other community in Ontario) is going to further limit the freedoms of those citizens who have refused to have themselves injected with newly developed anti-Covid vaccines whose possible long term effects are not known and whose manufacturers have been indemnified from lawsuits should it turn out that they cause lasting harm. Though the vast majority of citizens (nearing eighty per cent as I write) have taken this shot which was supposed to protect them from the virus, the vaccines aren’t terribly effective at preventing the vaccinated from contracting new Covid strains which the spike proteins in the vaccines themselves may even be helping to develop. So it is now claimed that the unvaccinated – even those who’ve had Covid and developed antibodies which provide the best resistance of all – need to be segregated from the vaccinated because . . . well . . . oh, just shut up and take the shot like everybody else, why don’t you?
Quite predictably, it turns out that being sent to your room for nineteen months with instructions to try not to be so bloody infectious, doesn’t just destroy your economy and your community’s way of life, it does a real number on your social instincts, your self-respect, your sense of autonomy and your physical and mental health. The hectoring misery of this pandemic has only been officially lifted three times – once last June and twice this summer – when civic and health authorities temporarily relaxed their belligerent restrictions to allow and even encourage large-scale gatherings of Londoners to take place.
Now, truly benevolent overlords who actually liked their underlings would ensure that when they did finally deign to unlock the doors to the general population’s ‘time out’ in this way, it would be for some sort of respite from the communal deprivations we’ve endured; some gathering that might – dare I suggest it? – lift people’s spirits. But by some bizarre twist that seems downright sadistic, all three of these occasions of longed-for release were demonstrations commemorating half-understood crimes and atrocities committed against racial minorities.
Two of these atrocities didn’t even happen in London: the death of violent drug addict George Floyd who was loaded up on three times the lethal dose of fentanyl and complained of not being able to breathe twenty minutes before he was pinned to the sidewalk by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin; and the “discovery” in a handful of scattered Canadian communities of supposedly unmarked (but probably not never-marked) graves in long-neglected cemeteries adjacent to Indian residential schools that have been shut down for decades.
The London atrocity which we were given dispensation to collectively commemorate was indeed appalling. On June 6th a fast-moving pick-up truck driven by 20 year-old Nathaniel Veltman jumped the curb and mowed down five members from three generations of a Muslim family as they waited for the light to change on an early evening walk at the intersection of Hyde Park and South Carriage Roads. Salman Afzaal (46), his wife Madiha (44), their daughter Yumna (15) and Afzaal’s mother Talat (74) all died from their injuries. Only the now-orphaned nine year-old son, Fayez, survived.
In contrast to their protocol in the murder-suicide five years before, police immediately identified the driver and charged Veltman with four counts of first degree murder and one count of attempted murder and forthrightly deemed the act an anti-Muslim mass homicide. The first newspaper account included the testimony of an eye witness who saw the incident from her balcony and claimed that the driver of the truck accelerated just before running down the family in what appeared to be a deliberate act. The report of Veltman’s arrest mere minutes after the incident quoted Detective-Superintendent Paul Wright who said that Veltman was wearing a body armour-style vest and a quasi-military helmet and was laughing weirdly when taken into custody.
The Free Press report continued: “Veltman has no past criminal convictions,” Wright said, adding that he has had past interactions with other police forces but nothing of a serious nature. “There is evidence that this was a planned, premeditated act motivated by hate,” said Wright, who declined to elaborate on how investigators came to the conclusion, citing the ongoing probe. “There is no known previous connection between the suspect and the victims,” he said.”
Subsequent days’ press coverage included reports from Veltman’s associates at his place of work and fellow students from Fanshawe College who described a quiet but dependable personality, a bit of a loner, who had at least two Muslim friends he’d always treated well and was known to play airsoft – a game like paintball but using rubber pellets – which could explain the vest and helmet. The creepy laugh was a sinister touch, all right, but it does occur to me that if Veltman’s truck malfunctioned or he accidentally placed a foot on the wrong pedal or even if the young man experienced some kind of psychotic break . . . people do sometimes laugh in surreal disbelief when they suddenly find themselves in an awful predicament.
Clearly, I don’t know if Veltman acted out of racist rage or not but as a fellow human being, I hope he didn’t. I hope it was a terrible accident even though the first reports strongly suggest it was a deliberate attack. I look to a full and fair trial to determine what happened and to pass whatever judgement is just. And I fear that the odds of that happening have been impaired by intemperate remarks made by national political leaders just before and during the special vigil that was held for the family outside the London Muslim Mosque forty-eight hours after the incident.
Just before boarding his flight to London to attend the vigil, our Prime Minister said in the House of Commons, “Their lives were taken in a brutal, cowardly, and brazen act of violence. This was no accident. This was a terrorist attack, motivated by hatred in the heart of one of our communities.”
And NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said to the enormous crowd that filled the streets all around the mosque, “Our Canada is a place where you can’t walk down the street if you wear a hijab, because you will be killed. Our Canada is a place of racism, of violence, of genocide of Indigenous people, and our Canada is a place where Muslims aren’t safe.”
If you were sitting on the jury for this case and trying to attain sufficient clarity of mind to appraise all of the testimony you’d heard and the evidence you’d seen so that you could pass fair judgement, how helpful would it be to that solemn cause to know that two of the most powerful figures in the country had already broadcast their snap verdicts in this way?
And what an arrogant snub it was to citizens who turned out by the thousands to express their sympathy and grief for neighbours who’d been struck down, to be told by their Prime Minister and noted blackface enthusiast, Justin Trudeau, that their community has hatred in its heart? At least Jagmeet Singh’s incontinent rhetoric was so off the wall that it was easier for sane people to dismiss it. But unfortunately sane people aren’t the only ones we have to contend with nowadays.
On September 2nd, Julia Ferguson, a 29 year-old, London-born receptionist with Toronto criminal law firm, Hicks Adams LLP, was fatally stabbed when a 33 year-old man named Osman Osman entered the firm’s King Street office and killed the first person he saw. Detective-Sergeant Tiffany Castell of the Toronto Police told the press that the business was the real target of Osman’s attack, not Ferguson, “The attack was not random,” she said. “The business itself was certainly the target.”
Though the detective-sergeant would not reveal how police knew that Osman’s rage was directed at this particular law firm, (and there’s been a notable lack of curiosity from the press on this score) I’m afraid I have a hunch that might be worth pondering during this tsunami of reckless rhetoric, kneejerk judgements and institutional disintegration that is overwhelming the world we used to know. I’m recalling a front page story in the Free Press on June 29 – Accused mass killer hires T.O. lawyer – announcing that Nathaniel Veltman would be represented in his trial by Christopher Hicks of Hicks Adams LLP; the same lawyer, the sub-headline helpfully pointed out, who “defended biker convicted in ’06 Bandidos Massacre”. Do you think that might possibly be a significant link?
To conclude, what say we swing on by the local outlet of that international franchise operation which has done so much of the spadework in discrediting Western civilization over the past half century, and see how things are shaping up in the new academic year at London’s own university, ironically enough, called ‘Western’.
After months of enduring the isolation of remote learning, double vaxxed students came streaming back onto campus and on the Friday night after the very first week of classes, things spun badly out of control during some unofficial Orientation Week celebrations. Social media reports of more than 30 female students in one residence being sexually assaulted, inspired a walkout of 10,000 students and faculty in protest against 'toxic masculinity' and Western's 'rape culture'. The university president was interviewed by the press about how he intends to repair the situation and CBC's The National did a large story on the walkout on the night before our federal election. Yet when London Police went door to door in the residence interviewing students, they did not receive a single report regarding sexual assault.
Though it has received perhaps one fifth of the press coverage lavished on the totally unverified flurry of sexual attacks against female students, on that very same Friday night a first year student named Gabriel Neil who hoped to become an army doctor was murdered in the parking lot of a convenience store just across the road from his residence . A 21 year-old Londoner (not a fellow student at Western) named Allyen Ahmed has been charged with manslaughter in the 18 year-old's death.
The wild disparity of attention and concern that is being paid to an actual dead body and a gaggle of unsubstantiated rumours about rape, perfectly encapsulates the frivolous decadence of this crapulous moment in our decline.
If you would like to contribute to the ongoing operations of Hermaneutics, there are now a few options available.
THE AQUINAS LECTURE
G.K. CHESTERTON AND THE GIFT OF GRATITUDE
ALL LIFE IS A GIFT :
THE IMPORTANCE OF TRADITION :