“In Case Of Emergency”

 

Inside the building,

signs in English and French

direct me to First Aid stations,

fire extinguishers,

defibrillators.

 

By the boardroom,

bilingual copies of

Evacuation Plan

on display.

 

In each floor,

emergency exits and

fire safety doors

clearly marked.

 

English and French.

 

It’s been a long day.

I’m last to leave.

 

On my way out,

the cleaners.

 

They smile, greeting me

in Spanish.

 

I smile back.

 

(Editor’s note: poet Shai Ben-Shalom, an Israeli-born biologist, writes for Blacklock’s each and every Sunday)

Review: Zombies

Canada’s last military conscription was popular. Resisters were scorned as weaklings who failed the tests of manhood and citizenship. Perceptions of the draft today are coloured by unpopular American wars – even deserters are treated as heroes – but facts are facts. Our conscription experience is a uniquely Canadian story, and Professor Daniel Byers of Laurentian University tells it well.

“The impacts of conscription and the National Resources Mobilization Act were largely forgotten in almost every way after the Second World War,” writes Byers. “For almost five full years the country had been mobilized to an extent that Canadians had not experienced before, nor have they since. Dozens of training centres and military camps stretched across the country. More than a million men and women served in the armed forces, over 150,000 of them as conscripts.”

Canadians voted for conscription in a 1942 plebiscite; 64 percent supported it outside Québec while opposition ran to 85 percent of Québec francophones. The conflict was more nuanced than the votes imply.

Volunteers from the Gaspé suffered alongside Winnipeg Grenadiers in the first combat action of Canada’s war, at the disastrous 1941 Battle of Hong Kong. Professor Byers notes some French districts in Québec actually topped their enlistment quotas, while a few English districts in Ontario and British Columbia did not. Well into the 1950s, Québec populists like Social Credit MP Réal Caouette articulated the anti-conscription argument in terms any family could grasp: “You think your children belong to you, but not in wartime,” he said. “In war your children belong to the government.”

Yet the contempt was real. Conscripts were scorned, and the Prime Minister who waited till 1944 to send them overseas was personally unpopular. The soldier vote cost Mackenzie King his Commons seat in a 1945 election. “His refusal to take a stand frustrated not only some of his fellow Canadians but also British leaders who were looking for some sign of the Dominion’s intentions,” write Prof. Byers.

Zombie Army recounts this whole vivid clash through a crisp narrative and meticulous research. “Zombies” was among the more polite terms for conscripts. Prof. Byers quotes one commander of B.C.’s 13th Infantry Brigade who recalled the “taunts and jibes” against draftees: “westypoofs,” “women’s home companions,” “pantywaists,” “poltroons,” “lily livered” and “other unmentionables.”

Who were the Zombies? Byers examines newly-released archival records in compiling a statistical profile of the typical conscript: under 25, single, a farmer or factory worker, Roman Catholic – boys, really. Four thousand of them ran away rather than fight overseas, and remained unaccounted for when cabinet declared a deserters’ amnesty in 1946.

Zombie Army tells the whole arresting story with an even hand and smart commentary. It is as compelling as the subject.

By Holly Doan

Zombie Army: The Canadian Army and Conscription in the Second World War, by Daniel Byers; University of British Columbia Press; 344 pages; ISBN 9780-7748-30522; $34.95

House Probes Phone Tracking

The Commons ethics committee yesterday voted 10-0 to examine federal monitoring of 33 million Canadian cellphone users in the name of lockdown enforcement. Conservative MP John Brassard (Barrie-Innisfil, Ont.) accused cabinet of using Covid as cover for “massive overreach.”

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Firefighters Oppose Vax Rule

A British Columbia labour adjudicator has rejected firefighters’ appeal to suspend a mandatory vaccination order. A firefighters’ union local in Richmond, B.C. challenged the program as intrusive and heavy-handed: ‘They must choose between getting a vaccine they do not want or giving up on their careers as firefighters.’

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Bible No Documentary: Judge

The Bible is no documentary, Ontario Superior Court has ruled. A judge rejected a filmmakers’ claim for an 85 percent “documentary” tax credit for a TV series depicting readings of Scripture with images of the Rocky Mountains: ‘This is just a Christian thing.’

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Want First Nations At Capital

Most Canadians surveyed want more representation of Indigenous cultures on Parliament Hill, says a Department of Public Works survey. It follows a cabinet proposal to address “colonialism, patriarchy and racism” in historical commemorations: ‘Parliament Hill should reflect the values and aspirations of all Canadians.’

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MPs To Probe Cost Of Living

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland yesterday was summoned by the Commons finance committee for questioning on the cost of living. The committee voted unanimously to conduct lengthy hearings on inflation and rising house prices one MP likened to a big balloon: “Our economy has become a gigantic inflated balloon.”

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Vax Tax Is No Answer: NDP

Taxing unvaccinated Canadians is no substitute for education in raising immunization rates, the federal New Democrat health critic said yesterday. A Québec proposal to impose a medicare surcharge raised unsettling questions, MP Don Davies (Vancouver Kingsway) told reporters: “We believe passionately in universal access to our health care system without financial barriers.”

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One Climate Flight At $10,843

A deputy minister who called climate change a “massive issue facing humanity” billed nearly $11,000 in first-class airfare to attend a climate conference, records show. Cabinet has yet to detail all expenses for Canada’s 277-member delegation to the October 31 United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Glasgow: “It is important to make a positive contribution to what I think is a massive issue facing humanity, climate change.”

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Privatize It Says Fed Supplier

A $300 million national stockpile of pandemic supplies should be privatized, says a subsidized federal contractor 3M Company. The submission to the Commons finance committee follows a similar 2020 proposal by the Canadian Medical Association Journal: “These types of events will continue to happen.”

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Fed Law Disallows Vax Tax

Québec Premier François Legault yesterday said he is “working on” the legality of imposing the nation’s first medicare surcharge on unvaccinated residents. Federal law states all residents of a province are entitled to health care on the same terms: “We are working on the legal part of it.”

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