Guest Commentary

Peter C. Newman

The Ham Sandwich

(Editor’s note: editor and author Peter C. Newman in the 1960s established himself as a leading investigative journalist in the Parliamentary Press Gallery. A Jewish refugee from Czechoslovakia, Newman immigrated to Toronto as a schoolboy. In an October 7, 2009 interview with Blacklock’s publisher Holly Doan, Newman described those early years. Following is a transcript of his remarks)

I went to Upper Canada College. To be accepted in Canadian society in those years, you really had to be Scottish.There was nothing subtle about it. You knew if you were Jewish, you were not allowed to do anything. So, you pretend you’re not Jewish!

It had to do with the prevailing ethic. I got it two ways: I was Jewish, and I was a bohunk because I was from Czechoslovakia. Whenever I got together with friends, as soon as we’d sit down to a meal with other boys or somebody else’s parents, I immediately ordered a ham sandwich. That meant I wasn’t Jewish.

That was my disguise. “Oh, he’s eating a ham sandwich; he can’t be Jewish.” That’s how bad it was. The only thing most Canadians knew about Jews is they don’t eat ham. So if you ate a ham sandwich – well, okay, come on in.

It was that kind of society. Everything had rules and you couldn’t break them. It was a WASP country that was asleep. It was only when people with strange names suddenly appeared with PhDs and as experts in their field that the thing had to break, and it did break.

Looking back, the 1950s was the first breakaway decade. It was an important decade. We started to break away from all the established customs. It suddenly became okay to have a personal code of behaviour, and follow it.

It was alright to follow your feelings. Before that we just had rules. The freedom to have feelings, and express them, was a revolution.

I remember when Prime Minister John Diefenbaker introduced the Bill Of Rights in 1960. He couldn’t run a government, but all of his instincts were wonderful.

Diefenbaker had those instincts, and the Bill Of Rights expressed them. It was a very important document – not because it had much executive power, because it encapsulated his feeling for Canada, and our feeling for Canada, that all Canadian citizens have rights. It was the first time it was put on paper.

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