A Sunday Poem — “Bones”

 

A burial site uncovered

during excavations in Ottawa.

 

The Ontario government

asks those who might be related

to early Bytown residents

to come forward.

 

Bones were also found

in the Prime Minister’s closet

in connection with his family vacations

to the Bahamas.

 

Federal Liberals

ask anyone with information

to keep quiet.

 

(Editor’s note: poet Shai Ben-Shalom, an Israeli-born biologist, examines current events in the Blacklock’s tradition each and every Sunday)

Review – Recalling A Gangster Funeral

Lost to history is the state funeral of Generalissimo Trujillo, strongman of the Dominican Republic, shot by assassins in 1961. Canadian diplomat John Graham attended the mass. “The only people in the entire church without guns were the clergy and the diplomatic corps,” he recalls.

Fearful that rebels would seize the corpse for public display, Trujillo’s henchmen hoisted it from the church by helicopter winch. “The Generalissimo’s coffin swinging in the air was a moment of unbearable, transcendent mystery for the dazed and credulous mourners below,” writes Graham. Only later did diplomats learn Trujillo wasn’t in the coffin; they’d stuffed it with an unknown corpse while preserving El Presidente in a freezer for quiet burial.

So goes Whose Man In Havana?, the memoirs of a man who served a lifetime in the foreign ministry. Graham’s writing is warm and personable with anecdotes from an era when Canada briefly strode on the world stage.

“When I first joined the foreign service in the late Fifties I caught the tail end of the much-ballyhooed Pearsonian golden age,” says Graham. “Although not always golden, it was a good time to be in External Affairs. The good times dipped a few times, but they did not come to an end with Mr. Pearson’s departure.”

Canada in the Fifties had a Nobel Peace Prize, the 4th largest air force on earth and an aircraft carrier, HMCS Magnificent. The British Empire was bankrupt; Europe was in ruins; and America was desperate for Cold War friends. “In the post-war period, Canadians entered a time of prosperity that their forebears and indeed, most of the fellow inhabitants of the world had never dreamed of,” historian Craig Brown wrote in his 1987 Illustrated History of Canada.

Parliament thought nothing of buying Avro Arrow jets at $6.6 million a pop and driving defence spending to 40 percent of the federal budget. This was the heyday of Canadian diplomacy, Graham writes: “It is a term that invites abuse and is best avoided, but seen from the second decade of the twenty-first century, those years appear bathed in gilded light.”

It was an era when Canadian diplomats on the Latin beat packed pistols for safety; Graham recalls the assistant trade commissioner’s Chevrolet Impala was burned by Dominican street rioters in 1961. In Cuba, Graham spied for the CIA by sketching suspicious Soviet military installations: “When the mission was over I sometimes wondered whether I had reported anything significant in the acutely nervous Cold War context,” he writes. “I don’t know – Langley never told me – but I doubt it.”

Whose Man In Havana? is not a lament for a bygone era. It is a collection of reminiscences by a talented storyteller that leaves readers with indelible images – like the massacre of black dogs in Haiti on rumours a Vodou spell had been cast over a corrupt local official named Duval. “A Priestess declared she had used her sacred Vodou powers to transform Duval into a dog, a black dog,” Graham explains; “The gardener told me no black dog is safe in all Port-au-Prince.”

By Holly Doan

Whose Man In Havana? Adventures from the Far Side of Diplomacy, by John W. Graham; University of Calgary Press; 328 pages; ISBN 9781-5523-8242; $34.95

Contractor Got Quick Call, Lobbied Dep’t Nine Times

A Québec company that won a lucrative ten-year federal contract for pandemic masks repeatedly lobbied Industry Minister Navdeep Bains and his staff, records show. Bains’ department contacted AMD Medicom Inc. within hours of the World Health Organization declaring a global pandemic: ‘The government out of the blue reached to Medicom.’

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Grant Was 66% Of Revenues

MPs on the Commons finance committee yesterday questioned the scope of a federal grant that would have paid We Charity the equivalent of two-thirds of its annual revenue. Marc and Craig Kielburger, the $125,173-a year co-founders of We Charity, had testified they would not have made any gains on the agreement: “Does that seem to be a bit odd to you?”

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Appointee Ordered To Testify

John McCallum, former Canadian ambassador to China, yesterday was ordered to testify at a Commons committee after he refused to appear voluntarily. The order followed disclosures McCallum worked as a consultant in China after he was fired by the Prime Minister in 2019: “This China assignment is the perfect job for me.”

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MPs, Unions Want Pushback

MPs yesterday joined the United Steelworkers union in demanding immediate Canadian retaliation against U.S. tariffs on aluminum imports. The Commons trade committee condemned earlier tariffs as unlawful: “Is there hurt out there? Yes there is.”

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Won’t Disclose Mask Delivery

The Department of Public Works yesterday would not say if it has taken any promised rush deliveries from a Québec company awarded an exclusive ten-year contract to supply pandemic masks. Public Works Minister Anita Anand had justified the sole-sourced contract on a promise Canadian-made masks would be on their way to doctors and nurses “toward the end of July”.

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MPs Grant Witness Immunity

The Commons finance committee meeting behind closed doors has voted to grant immunity to witnesses at We Charity hearings. MPs adopted a New Democrat motion to ensure “there will be no consequences or retribution” for whistleblowers: “There have been a number of We Charity employees who have indicated they want to testify.”

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Gov’t Relief For Pot Dealers

Cabinet yesterday approved millions in pandemic relief to marijuana dealers. The Department of Health deferred payment of annual licensing fees, though cannabis stores showed the sharpest year over year sales increase of any class of retailer: “Sales are very positive.”

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Grant Kept Titanic Note Here

A Titanic farewell note dubbed a national treasure is now preserved by the Public Archives of Nova Scotia after a federal agency blocked the artifact’s sale to a foreign buyer. The Department of Canadian Heritage subsidized the archives’ purchase with a federal grant: “I just got on board. She will sail in a few minutes.”

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Weak Security At Safety Dept

Auditors fault the Department of Public Safety for lackadaisical security including “limited controls” on confidential records stored on USB keys. The latest investigation follows a series of audits that found weak security in other federal agencies including one incident that cost $17.5 million: “There is no formal tracking of IT security incidents.”

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Feared Flak Over Carbon Tax

Staff in a secret 2018 memo to the Prime Minister warned of “negative media coverage” of federal advertising of carbon tax rebates. The $1,253,011 ad blitz timed before the 2019 election found few Canadians understood the rebate program: “There are risks.”

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Covid Curbs May Last Years

Pandemic controls may continue “for some time” into 2021 and as late as 2023, the Public Health Agency said yesterday. The Agency in a document noted researchers are still trying to develop a vaccine for a Mideast coronavirus identified eight years ago: “We need to temper people’s expectations.”

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Titanic Letter A Nt’l Treasure

A hastily-scrawled letter by a Halifax businessman drowned on the Titanic was blocked from export as a cultural treasure, a federal agency disclosed. The Cultural Property Export Review Board called the haunting note an “outstanding” piece of Canadiana: “She will sail in a few minutes so I am writing this in a hurry.”

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