History comes to Hamilton: “No one was left to speak for me.”


UPDATED 1107 EST Nov 11/07 — Last night I had the absolute honour to meet and listen to the words of Sibylle Sarah Niemoller von Sell at a Holocaust Education Week event hosted by Christ’s Church Cathedral on James Street in Hamilton. According to the event’s program, Ms. Niemoller von Sell, or ‘Sarah’ – the name she took upon conversion to Judaism – and her family were active participants in an underground railroad that aided Jews and were heavily involved in the attempt to assassinate Hitler on July 20, 1944.

In later life she married Pastor Martin Niemoller, who established the Protestant “Confessing Church” in opposition to the Nazi-oriented “German Christian” church. Niemoller was imprisoned for eight years by the Nazis, seven of them in Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps. Pastor Niemoller is best known for a poem he wrote to express his dismay that the intelligentsia of Germany did not speak out earlier against Nazism.

Sarah came to Hamilton to talk about the importance of speaking out against injustice, quoting both her husband and Martin Luther King Jr. in her remarks. She is a slight, grey-haired, 84 year old woman, but she looked like a giant to me. After she was finished speaking, she met with members of the audience and I was able to give her a letter I brought to explain the effect that her husband’s poem had had on my life and my determination to speak out against injustice, especially in Caledonia. I could barely speak, so emotional was I in the presence of such greatness.

As we drove home, my wife and I hardly spoke, so awed were we of the history with which we had been touched. This morning however, I awoke after last night’s moving experience to read the small-minded words of Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Julian Fantino in the Hamilton Spectator [reprint] criticizing – once again – Gary McHale, a man who has never committed a single crime in Caledonia, for organizing (peaceful) protests in order to draw attention to the violence, crime, vandalism and race-based policing practices that have victimized residents – native and non-native alike.

I was struck by the startling contrast between Fantino’s words of criticism for outsiders speaking out against injustice, and those of historical giants such as Sarah Sibylle Niemoller von Sell, Martin Niemoller and Martin Luther King Jr. Judge for yourself whose words make you want to aspire to be a better citizen, a better human being, and whose words make you ashamed that our leaders have learned nothing from history:

“The German people were never taught to question authority.”

Sybille Sarah Niemoller von Sell, Nov 07/07

“They came first for the Communists…but I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the Jews…but I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the Unionists…but I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Unionist. Then they came for the Catholics…but I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me…and by that time there was no one left to speak for me.”

Pastor Martin Niemoller, date unknown (Note: there are various iterations of Pastor Niemoller’s poem. This version was taken from the Holocaust Education Week program for last night’s event)

“I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against “outsiders” coming in. I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. I cannot stand idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

“You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations.”

Martin Luther King Jr., excerpts from ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail,’ April 16, 1963

“People coming into the community to stir things up are not helpful.”

“This proposed rally is irresponsible, provocative and at the end of the day, people will see it for what it is, mischief making.”

“We have people in the community that don’t live there and their whole interest is to cause trouble.”

“When (McHale) comes to town, when he agitates and creates problems down there, we obviously create a greater police presence.”

“Things have stabilized considerably as long as we don’t have these interlopers coming in to create problems.”

OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino, Jan 08-Nov 08/07

For the record: Neither McHale nor I have committed a single crime in Caledonia. Not a single person – civilian or police – has ever been hurt during one of our protests. Our speeches and our writings have been focused on peacefully restoring the rule of law, equality before the law, respect for the Supreme Court and the Charter of Rights, and preventing violence and crime against innocent people – native and non-native. No hate. No violence. No incitement of violence. All one has to do is to read our words to know the truth. Watch our speeches from our October 8th ‘Remember Us’ March and read the resulting media coverage to know that Commissioner Fantino is deliberately lying to the media and the public about our activities and our motivations in order to divert attention from the injustices caused by the race-based policing practices of his force.

Here are some links for media types who might want to question Commissioner Fantino’s ridiculous assertion that law-abiding, peaceful citizens exercising their Constitutional right to expose his force’s failures are somehow the real problem in Caledonia:

Why I go to Caledonia

My parents lived in Holland during WWII, saw Jews with yellow stars and watched as they were taken away. Because of this I read a lot about the Holocaust and came to learn – as I said in my letter to Sarah Niemoller von Sell – “the evils of race-based laws; the duty of an individual not to blindly follow orders they know to be wrong; the folly of not standing up against evil; and the shocking ease with which those in power can commit terrible crimes in the name of the state if they make the lies big enough.”

I have attempted to explain why I go to Caledonia in several posts. Here are a few:

Sarah told us last night that we all have a duty to tell the stories of injustice. I urge those who are afraid to speak out against injustice on behalf of others, afraid to question authority, afraid to tell their stories, to attend a Holocaust Education Week event so you may understand the importance of that duty.

Other references

Mark Vandermaas, Editor

Canadian Advocates for Charter Equality

3 responses to “History comes to Hamilton: “No one was left to speak for me.”

  1. Mary-Lou LaPratte

    Mary-Lou LaPratte sent the following comment to Susan Clairmont of the Hamilton Spectator in response to her Nov 08/07 story (Fantino Takes Aim) in which OPP Commissioner Fantino singles out Gary McHale’s protests as a significant expense to taxpayers. She gave VoC permission to reprint it here. Mary-Lou is well qualified to comment on the failures of the OPP; please see Strength of a Woman – Mary-Lou LaPratte, Ipperwash hero.

    Dear Susan,

    Interesting article on McHale and Fantino. I find it odd that the police would blame one man for all the costs of Caledonia policing when he didn’t even get involved until six months after the occupation of the DCE estates. During the first six months some of the worst damage was done to infrastructure, assaults of police , residents, and visitors, lack of business and real estate values tumbled. A class Action lawsuit was launched by residents, Citizens of Caledonia website was put up and the Citizens Alliance was formed. None of this had the influence of McHale at the time.

    I find it shameful that Fantino would centre out one person to blame for all the mess of Caledonia , but then that is easier than actually addressing the crime ongoing to innocent people through no fault of their own. We may agree to disagree on how the message has gone out about Caledonia, but not all of us can turn our backs on the plight of others that shows the Rule of Law has been tossed aside. There is plenty of blame to go around that Fantino refuses to acknowledge or talk about. McHale as a scapegoat obviously allows Fantino to be unaccountable.

    Should McHale not ever be seen in Caledonia again change the situation for the better??? I think not.

    Mary-Lou LaPratte

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