After The Lake Caught Fire, the eighth novel in my Maggie Keiller/Derek Sloan crime-fiction series, will be published and available for purchase by mid-November.
The pristine shoreline of Georgian Bay north of the Ontario resort town of Port Huntington is threatened by voracious developers planning to build a vacation condominium development. Several local municipalities and community organizations are opposed to the plans, and the struggle soon becomes acrimonious.
At the same time, environmental testing reveals that the land proposed for development is a toxic wasteland, a result of chemical dumping by a long-ago munitions manufacturing company. Although the Russian-backed developer is undeterred, the public outcry increases dramatically after several unmarked graves are uncovered at the site of a former Indigenous residential school located on the property.
When a prominent, outspoken community leader is murdered by persons unknown, Maggie Keiller and Derek Sloan are drawn into the ensuing police investigation. That alarming murder is shortly followed by two more killings and the abduction of a young girl, frightening the entire district.
As the scandalous involvement of the provincial government in ensuring approval for the development comes under close scrutiny, several players step forward with plans of their own to enrich themselves. Matters worsen quickly, and Maggie and Derek, immersed in the midst of these fast-unfolding crises, suddenly find they are under attack from the same malign forces. In order to save themselves and protect the interests of the Port Huntington community, they must use every means at their disposal.
Like the seven books before it in the series, mayhem and skullduggery abound in After The Lake Caught Fire, a gripping, contemporary story that will hold your interest from start to exciting finish.
In plenty of time for Christmas giving, the book will be available to order by mid-November at this safe link, where the seven previous novels in the series will also be found—
Indian Residential Schools: Acts of genocide, deceit, and control
Children’s graves a crime against humanity
Many Canadians don’t seem to care about lasting effects of Residential Schools
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Imagine, if you can, the idea of having someone show up at your front door one fine day, armed with a court order from the government that authorizes them to take away your children, ages six and seven, and send them 500 miles away to be raised and educated in a state- or church-run residential school.
Inconceivable! Couldn’t happen! I mean, we all have our rights as citizens of this fair land, and so do our children, right?
Nevertheless, try to imagine your horror if it did happen. Imagine seeing your children whisked away in a government vehicle, in the company of two stern, efficient-looking caseworkers, and you rendered powerless to stop it by the police in attendance.
Imagine your grief when you enter your children’s empty bedroom that first evening, only to see their favourite cuddly-toys lying on their beds, overlooked by the uncaring abductors in their rush to pack and go.
Unthinkable! This is Canada, after all.
Still, imagine the anger engulfing you as you try over and over again—always in vain—to find out why this happened.
Imagine your frustration as every phone call, every letter, every face-to-face meeting, every court appearance results in the same outcome. You are told time after time, endlessly, that your children have been removed to a ‘wonderful facility’ to ensure they receive the best education, the best care, the best upbringing—all designed to guarantee they will eventually fit into the culture and norms of the broader society in which we all live, unencumbered by the standards and values that you, as their parents, might otherwise have instilled in them.
Impossible! No one has the authority to take children away from their parents unless those parents are deemed unfit.
So then, imagine your shock when you learn that the authorities do consider you unfit to raise your own children. And why would that be? Well, maybe because you look different than they do, or you speak a different language, or you worship differently, or you are uneducated, perhaps impoverished, or you don’t live in a respectable neighbourhood—or any of a number of other specious reasons they offer up in support of their decision.
Imagine going to jail if, overcome by exasperation, you take matters into your own hands to recover your children—illegally, according to those same authorities.
Imagine the weariness that finally overtakes you as you try—always in vain—to fight the inevitable.
This is a silly exercise! I can’t imagine such a thing happening! This is Canada!
It’s true, this is Canada. But indulge me by persevering with the exercise a while longer. Try to imagine the soul-withering despair you would feel as day after day goes by, week after week, month after month, year after year, and you do not see your children. Perhaps, if you are lucky, you receive letters from them now and then—more frequently at first, printed in pencil in block capital letters—less often as time passes, in cursive writing, using pen and ink. And always in English.
Imagine writing letters in return. What would you say? How sorry you are that you let this happen to them? How hard you’ve been trying to get them back home? How much you miss them? How much you love them?
And then imagine what you would think when their letters stop. For how much longer would you continue to write to people you hardly know, perhaps grown into their late-teens by now? Would you write forever? With no response?
Couldn’t happen! The authorities would be obliged to keep me informed.
Really? So in that case, imagine the overwhelming grief and sense of loss that would sweep over you when you are informed—in an official, impersonal letter, typed in crisp black letters, on school letterhead paper—that your children have died. They have died!
Even worse, imagine that they die and you are never informed! They die, and you never know about it. Your children! All you know is they were taken and you’ve never seen them since. Never is a long, long time.
And finally, perhaps worst of all, imagine that you do learn of their deaths—likely not until long afterwards—but you are never told where their remains have been deposited. Try to imagine the unspeakable horror of knowing that, not only have your children been taken from you, not only have they died, but their very existence has been expunged, as if they never even mattered.
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I spent a happy day this past weekend in the company of my daughters and their families, including my five grandchildren. And, although I am not usually prone to dark thoughts on such occasions, I tried to imagine what it would have been like if my sweet girls had been taken from me in infancy, what life might have been like if I had never seen them again.
I confess—it was nigh to impossible to imagine my family enduring such a horrendous, calamitous event. I mean, we have our rights as citizens, and so do our children, right? No one has the authority to take children away from their parents, right? I can’t imagine such a thing happening! This is Canada!
Except…except, such things did happen. As recently as thirty years ago, and going back almost 200 years. Right here in Canada.
It seems to me that what happens next—what our nation does about this—will go a long way to informing us all of what it means to be Canada.
I am asked from time to time, as perhaps you are, what my views are on various issues confronting us in this country. The questions are usually friendly, coming from younger family members (there are none older, alas!), friends and neighbours, and readers of this blog.
Two recent topics of concern have centred around the grisly discovery of more than 200 Indigenous children’s bodies, buried in an unmarked grave on the site of a former Roman Catholic residential school in British Columbia, and the horrific murders of a Muslim family here in Ontario.
I have tried to imagine myself being approached on the street by a news-channel reporter interested in my opinion, and asked: What do your people think of these horrible events? I would have trouble with the question because I’d not be sure what is meant by the phrase, your people. I am a married, White, straight, Christian, male septuagenarian of comfortable means, so which of those categories does the question imply I represent? All of them? Only some? Which ones?
In fact, of course, I represent no one other than myself. The question is idiotic. It would never be asked of me.
Nevertheless, I have watched on TV as persons of colour—Black, Brown, Asian, Indigenous, mixed race—have been asked that very question by (usually) White reporters: What do your people think of these horrible events?
I don’t doubt the sincerity of the reporters in wanting the answers, but I question the ingrained attitude that presupposes a person of colour other than White might be qualified to speak for an entire cohort. That presumption is equally idiotic.
I am also dismayed when I hear people in positions of power or authority—people who have it within their scope to enact laws and influence public perceptions, but don’t—passing along their deep thoughts and prayers to the families of victims of crimes like those cited earlier. Such thoughts and prayers following on the heels of a tragedy are worth nowhere near as much as education, legislation, and enforcement beforehand, all measures to help prevent such tragedies in the first place.
Helping our young people learn about our history of racism, the reasons for it, the work of countless advocates to reverse it, and how they might become more tolerant of differences among us is surely one such objective. Helping them devise skills to confront overt racism and discrimination of any sort when they face it is another. Aiding them as they grow into adults who will understand that actions have consequences is yet another. All of us must know we will be held accountable for what we say and do.
After such horrendous events occur, it bothers me to hear apologists proclaim: This is not who we are! Who do they mean by the word, we? The Canadian people? Only some of the Canadian people? Which ones?
The fact is, in both tragedies I have referenced, the perpetrators were White and (ostensibly) Christian. In other tragedies I might have cited that have befallen this nation, those responsible have been persons of colour, or persons of different faith, and even persons with serious socio-emotional problems. But they have all been Canadian.
So, I think this is who we are, in fact—a conglomeration of people of all races, ages, individual gender-identities, different religious and political affiliations, divergent economic situations, possessing and acting upon a value system that ranges from what is broadly considered within social norms to the lunatic fringes.
And for this reason, I think no one can truly speak for the Canadian people. We are not one happy, united clan living in the true north, strong and free. Rather, we are a collection of clans—clans whose members overlap, to be sure, in our workplaces, our schools, our places of worship, even our homes; clans who freely subscribe to many of the tenets that bind us as a nation; clans who, for the most part, want to live in harmony with each other; and clans who demand for their members the same fair and equitable treatment afforded all citizens.
But there are rogues among us, unfortunately. And they, too, are members of our clans. They are part of us, and so they play a part in defining who we are. The reasons for their behaviours—the grievances they nurse, the anger they manifest, the helplessness they harbour—all contribute to the actions they take.
Until we understand the causes for those grievances, that anger, and until we take steps to alleviate the conditions that spawn them, we shall never be free of their rogue behaviours. Looking back at our past can certainly help us understand where such hostility comes from, but perpetuating that past will doom us to more of the same.
I was discouraged when a major political party in Ottawa voted against a federal non-binding motion condemning Islamophobia in 2017, and again when the ruling party in Ontario this past week blocked a motion calling on the legislature to unanimously condemn Islamophobia. Unbelievably (or perhaps not), in a startling display of hypocrisy after those votes, the leaders of those parties quickly trotted out their timeworn thoughts and prayers mantra following the most recent tragedy. They do not walk their talk.
As a nation, we need to take positive steps to redress the wrongs of history by charting new paths, new legislation, new opportunities, that will promote and ensure equality for all citizens, not just the privileged few. We need a generation of leaders with the courage to walk boldly.
I confess I am unsure if we have it in us as a people to make that happen. And if we do not, I am left with one troubling question—
Philosophy 101 posed an interesting question: If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to witness it, does it make a noise?
“Of course it does,” one person might answer. “Noise is governed by the laws of physics, regardless of human presence.”
“Not so fast,” another person might argue. “Sound waves from any source emit no noise on their own. It is only when they are received that those waves generate noise.”
Which, if either, is the correct answer? I’ve heard persuasive arguments mounted on both sides of the question, but I’ve always been struck by the impossibility of being able to prove either position. One cannot be simultaneously there and not-there when the tree falls in order to determine if it makes a noise.
And it probably doesn’t matter, anyway. The tree fell. Who cares?
Here’s another question: If a person is unaware that (s)he is doing wrong, does the action still constitute wrongful behaviour?
“Of course it does,” one person might say. “The concept of right and wrong is an absolute, and ignorance of the wrongfulness is no excuse.”
“Not so fast,” another person might argue. “The concept and definition of right vs. wrong are not universally-accepted. They are ethnocentric, based upon cultural and religious teachings, only some of which might overlap.”
Here once again, as with the first question, one might shrug off the relevance or importance of the answer. We already know bad things often happen to good people, so what difference does it make if they are the result of unknowing wrongdoing or merely random happenstance? The result is the same. Who cares?
Well, the answer to this second question, I believe, does matter, indeed.
I’ve been thinking a good deal about this since beginning work on a novel, my fifth, which has as its backdrop the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls currently underway in Canada. Researching the subject leads, inescapably, to a list of similar situations—the forced sterilization of Indigenous women, and the forced relocation of Indigenous children and their enrollment in residential schools, to cite but two examples—both undertaken as official government policy well into the twentieth century.
Most Canadians now, I think, see these actions for what they are: atrocities. To those who don’t, I would simply ask, “What if they were to come for you, or your children, tomorrow? Because of your skin-colour, perhaps. Or your religious beliefs, your sexual orientation, or your political stance.”
Governments today, federally and provincially, are apologizing and attempting to make amends to the descendants of those who were victimized. Some Canadians, it is true, believe such efforts are unwise and unnecessary, given that it was not we who committed the deeds, but our predecessors.
It begs another question: Why should we be held accountable for the actions of people who died long before we were even born?
In answering this question, it’s instructive, I think, to try to determine if those actions were wilful or merely misguided.
Did those in authority in that earlier time think they would somehow improve the Anglo-Saxon bloodlines of our populace by sterilizing Indigenous women to prevent the birth of what some of them termed defectives?
Did our predecessors know—even as they did it—that they were wrong to uproot children from their families, to send them far away, to inflict the terrors of residential schools upon them?
Or, were they just trying to do the right thing, what the orthodoxy of those imperialistic times demanded, the assimilation of conquered, native peoples into the colonial mainstream?
“Of course they were right,” one person might claim. “They weren’t monsters! Many of them were clergy, nuns, teachers, all doing what they believed to be right.”
“Not so fast,” another person might say—especially a person of Indigenous descent. “They were rapacious invaders who took everything from our forebears—their land, their culture, their language, and their children. Would they have considered it right and just, had the tables been turned?”
I suspect the truth lies, to some extent, in both answers. Surely there were good and faithful people among the newcomers who believed they were doing God’s will, just as there were avaricious adventure-capitalists, determined to seize the riches of the new land for king and country (and their shareholders).
But the fact is, most Canadians today have come to a realization that those actions were wrong, regardless of motive. Even if the best among our predecessors were unaware they were acting wrongfully, their actions still constitute wrongful behaviour by today’s standards. And, they were knowingly carried out with government approval under the banner of Canada—under an authority that endures from generation to generation.
So, here is a fourth question: If hundreds of thousands of Indigenous people who lived in territory under the jurisdiction of Canada were severely mistreated by their government, and if no one alive today was there to witness it, does it matter, and should the government of today be held to account for those misdeeds?
The answer to this last question will not be found in Philosophy 101. But I choose to believe you and I, if we seek the truth, will find it.
Six syllables, sliding sibilantly over the tongue—ses-qui-cen-ten-ni-al. One-hundred-and-fifty years as a nation, a vision struggling hesitantly to life on 1 July 1867. Christened the Dominion of Canada, we were four provinces united against the manifest-destiny expansionism of the mighty republic to the south, but nestled still in the colonial arms of the imperial British embrace.
The first priority of this new nation? To fulfil the calling of its soon-to-be-adopted motto: Ad Mari usque ad Mare—from sea to sea, the Atlantic on the east, the Pacific to the west. And eventually, a third sea, the Arctic to the north.
And so it happened, the inevitable northward and westward reach, propelled and supported by the building of a transcontinental railway. After the original four provinces—New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Quebec—there followed: Manitoba, 1870; British Columbia, 1871; Prince Edward Island, 1873; Saskatchewan and Alberta, 1905; and Newfoundland, 1949.
Along the way, three massive territories joined the mix: Northwest Territories, 1870; Yukon, 1898; and Nunavut, 1999.
Now, here we sit in 2017, Canada, the true north, strong and free.
And what exactly is it we celebrate on this sesquicentennial? What have we accomplished as a nation? What are the values we stand for? How do our actions and behaviours, both collectively and individually, demonstrate those values?
What does our country do for us? Even more importantly, what do we do for our country?
It has been noted by critics, perhaps jealous of our good fortune to be situated on the northern half of the North American continent, that too many of us are apathetic about the affairs of our country—to which, in response, some of us simply shrug our shoulders. Others, though, rally to the causes of the day, to try to influence the course of events, the outcomes, the future.
There is a long list of accomplishments of which we might be justifiably proud. In the realm of medicine, the discovery of penicillin, insulin, and stem cells; in the sciences, the first light bulb, the telephone, Canadarm, and IMAX; on the world stage, international trade agreements, endeavours to control the deleterious effects of industrialization on climate, efforts to support peacekeeping initiatives around the world, a robust military response in defence of freedom during several major wars, and our welcoming of refugees displaced by global conflicts, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, or skin colour; and in a more frivolous vein, the invention of peanut butter, the WonderBra, basketball, and Superman.
Of course, there are chapters in our history that might, with today’s sensibilities, bring a sense of shame: the exploitation and displacement of Indigenous peoples, and the horrors of residential schools; the trivialization and suppression of women’s rights; the mistreatment of Chinese and black immigrants; the expulsion and internment of Japanese-Canadians; and the continued exportation of asbestos to developing nations, even after it was banned in Canada.
None of these might happen today because of a singular document: the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, adopted in 1982.
Governments of the day, to be fair, have apologised for the worst of these past crimes, and have established commissions and inquiries to seek a better way going forward. But it is questionable, still, how much influence their reports and recommendations have had, or will have, on the future; witness the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, or the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Commission, and assess for yourself their lasting effects on national affairs.
As in everything, actions speak more loudly than words.
Still, when I ask myself if there is any country in the world I would prefer to live in, rather than in Canada, my answer is a resounding No!
Despite the tumult and the shouting perpetually foist on us by the lunatic-left and rabid-right of the political spectrum, we are a people that wants leadership to govern from the centre. We favour moderation, not extremes; tolerance, not xenophobia; dialogue, not diatribe; ideas, not ideology.
Do these tendencies render us apathetic? I hope not. Rather, I choose to think of us as slow to anger, quick to forgive, strong in the face of adversity, proud of what we have accomplished, and determined, not only to rectify the errors of the past (even if all too slowly at times), but to avoid similar mistakes in the future.
Canada has had one-hundred-and-fifty years of practice with the concept of nationhood now, and still she carries on—both because of and in spite of, the behaviour and attitudes of her citizenry. Count me as one who is proud to be called Canadian.