Is it Nothing to You? A Message from Bingo Dawson and all the other Fallen

I hadn’t walked the desperate streets of Vancouver’s downtown east side for months, until yesterday. Nothing has changed there, besides the absence of many familiar faces. Like any battlefield, the death rate is always high along East Hastings street, and my friends there have always been in the ranks of the most vulnerable.

I first arrived in the neighborhood in the fall of 1985, just before I entered seminary and began working as Outreach Director at First United Church. Thirty years and countless lessons later, the war continues, summed up, perhaps, by the inscription on the nearby World War Two Cenotaph that asks an indifferent city,

“Is it Nothing to You?”

The rain was falling yesterday when I disembarked on Main street, and glanced fondly over at the corner where Bingo Dawson always sat during the years before three Vancouver city cops beat him to death in an alley a block away.

Bingo knew everyone, and in his calm manner used to adopt the younger and more vulnerable homeless kids into his extended street family, watching out for them and passing them whatever food he had. Some of them stood beside Bingo and the rest of us that spring morning in 2009 when we tried occupying St. James Anglican Church on Gore street, asking in our naivete for the killers to tell us where they’d buried so many little brown children.

Bingo and his buddy Frank had held our banner that day – “All the Children Need a Proper Burial” – and together, they had eluded the church security goon before he slammed the church door on us, slipping into the sanctuary and displaying the banner to a shocked pew crowd and angry bunch of priests. We heard all hell breaking loose inside the church, and we yelled to be let in and for our friends to be let out. And eventually Frank and Bingo did emerge from the church, two smiling coup-counters, laughing and holding up the banner to our cheers and applause.

The cops were there by then, in their lumbering and stupid manner, and they “warned” us not to try “disrupting” the church service ever again: to which Bingo had replied with an uncharacteristic severity,

“We’ll stop doing it when they give us our dead children back!”

The cops had no answer to that, and we marched away from them with that rare kind of joy and fulfillment known by those who have lost their fear, back to the Sweet Grass Centre for soup and bannock.

After the police had killed Bingo, having said to his face (and I heard it) “Shit disturbers like you end up going missing”, we held his memorial service outside that scene of his victory, on the steps of St. James Anglican, and we all spoke of the Bingo we had known, and what he had died for.

Frank was in tears that day, but he managed to tell us how Bingo had stood bravely against the priests who had tried grabbing our banner from them after they’d displayed it to the congregation, years before.

“You may be praying today, okay, but now hear my prayer!” Bingo had yelled to the church goers, as from the Great Spirit. “Give us back our children! And arrest those who killed them!”

And recalling that day, Frank had then turned to the cops who surrounded our funeral procession, and he cried out to them,

“How can you be part of this? You killed my brother Bingo! Even if you didn’t do it yourself, you know who killed him! And you stand here and treat us like we’re the criminals! You’ve got to do the right thing!”

I never saw Frank again, after the funeral. Nor have I come across any of the dozens of people who had once rallied and risked and eaten together when against every conceivable odd we forced Canada to face its own genocide.

Tears came to me yesterday, like the rain, when I stood on Bingo’s corner and touched the wall where, briefly, some anonymous fellow mourner had scrawled,

“Bingo: friend forever, in earth and heaven”

I touched the wall, now as wiped clean of those final words to Bingo as is Canada’s memory of its own crimes. And from somewhere, unasked, I heard Bingo’s voice in that heart of mine that doesn’t seem capable of breaking anymore. And he said to me,

“Kev, did I die for nothing?”

The dead, unlike the living, require only the truth, since neither Bingo nor the 50,000 children he died for care that much about our fears and rationalizations and vested interests. So in that truth, I had to answer him,

“Yes, brother. You died for nothing. Because all of the crime carries on, and on”

Bingo could have lived with that answer, for it is the truth: and being the truth, cuts through our lives and lies like the sword of God that the prophet Ezekiel says that once drawn, can never again be sheathed. And that same implacable sword has separated me, and perhaps you, from our old lives, as completely as it did Bingo, when it chose him to bear that special burden.

Bingo Dawson died for nothing, as this world measures things. Children are still traded like bottles all over Vancouver. No-one has ever gone to jail for the murder of an Indian residential school child, or for Bingo’s own murder, nor will they ever, in what we know as “Canada”.

And yet, those who are struck down in their innocence are always restless, and like the truth seek to break into all the sanctuaries of evil and bring them crashing down, the way Bingo did. But to make the promise real, first the lost, like the truth, must find a worthy soul to inhabit.

Is it nothing to you? Or perhaps, everything? And if so, then what will you do, now?

The Hard Truth about the Crime called Canada

Margaret Sepass was raped and then beaten to death by an Anglican priest named John Warner on December 5, 1969, at St. Michael’s Indian school in Alert Bay, British Columbia. Margaret was nine years old. Her burial site is unknown and John Warner was never charged.

On January 5, 1938, Albert Gray was beaten to death by Reverend Alfred Caldwell of the United Church of Canada when Albert took a prune from a jar without permission. Albert was eleven years old. His body was buried in secret behind the Ahousat Indian school and Alfred Caldwell was never charged.

On April 3, 1964, Richard Thomas was sodomized and then strangled to death by Catholic priest Terence McNamara at the Kuper Island Indian school. Richard was buried in secret in an orchard south of the school, and Terence McNamara, who is still alive, was never charged.

Elaine Dick, age 6, kicked to death by a nun, 1964;

Daniel Kangetok, age 4, infected with tuberculosis and left to die, 1971;

David Sepass, age 8, pushed down stairs and left to die, 1958;

A newborn Cree baby, burned alive by a priest at the Catholic Muscowegan Indian school, in May of 1944;

Susan Ball, age 5, starved to death in a closet, 1959;

Agnes Bernard, age 6, gang raped to death at the Shubanacadie school, 1958;

Pauline Frank, age 8, died from medical experimentation, Nanaimo Indian Hospital, 1972;

Albert Baptiste, age 9, died from electric shocks from a cattle prod wielded by a catholic priest, Christmas 1951;

Nancy Joe, age 14, died from involuntary drug testing, Nanaimo Indian hospital, 1967;

John Charlie, age 8, died from a blow to the head by a chain wielded by a catholic priest, 1964;

Lorraine white, teenager, gang raped by United Church school staff and left to die, Port Alberni, 1971;

Eighteen Mohawk children, all under the age of sixteen, shot to death by Canadian soldiers outside Brantford, Ontario, summer of 1943;

Johnny Bingo Dawson, eyewitness to some of these crimes, died of injuries from police beating, Vancouver, December 2009;

Ricky Lavallee, witness to Bingo’s murder, died of a blow to the chest, January 2012;

William Combes, eyewitness to the abduction of ten children by Queen Elizabeth from Kamloops Indian school, killed by lethal injection, St. Paul’s hospital, Vancouver, February 2011;

Harriett Nahanee, first witness to a residential school murder to go public, died after mistreatment in a Vancouver jail, February, 2007;

Nora Bernard, the first aboriginal in Canada to sue the catholic church for residential school crimes, murdered December 2007.

And more than 50,000 others, all of them children.

No-one has ever been charged or tried under Canadian law for any these killings. And the criminal government and churches responsible for this mass murder have been legally absolved of any responsibility for them under Canadian law.

Nothing has been healed. Nothing has been reconciled. Justice has been exterminated as completely as these innocent victims.

Stop the criminal conspiracy known as Canada! Join the Republic of Kanata and bring these genocidal institutions down! Simply, for justice. /

In the Asylum, all you can do is Laugh: Preparing for the Great Debate, or Some Such Thing

Decades ago, during my first sojourn to the Emerald Isle, my backpack and I ended up on the steps of a strange establishment called “The Walnut House”, on the outskirts of Limerick. I was exhausted and broke, and not especially picky about where I’d rest my head, so I ignored the odd look in the proprietor’s eyes and paid for a night.

I should have known better, especially after an especially impudent Irishman, clearly some local wag with inside knowledge, guffawed at us through the open front door,

“Is this the Nuthouse?”

It was, indeed.

The owner of the place, Peter Fitzgerald, was a complete lunatic, even by Gaelic standards. When he wasn’t talking my ear off about his latest ecstatic vision of a virgin, Pete somehow was able to hang images of the latest pope and various papist martyrs every foot or so on every wall in his humble inn of five cluttered rooms. And I’ll spare you the details of what he served me for breakfast the next day on a cracked ceramic platter bearing the curious words,

“I’ve been to Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico”

Peter Fitzgerald is shuffling up from my memory these days as I prepare to travel to the land he hated so to engage in a public debate whose title, I kid you not, is this:

“Be it resolved that the Roman Catholic church is a force for good in the world.”

Welcome to the Nuthouse.

I trust that all my gentle readers will know on what side of that proposition I will fall, when on April 24 I stand up at the oldest debating society in England and in the world, the Cambridge Union, and wrestle with that mad suggestion, face to face with some pious wanker of an opponent who thinks he can buy insurance in heaven with enough payments to the papacy.

Well might you ask why I’ll even debating such a ridiculous notion that the biggest criminal racket on our planet is “doing good”. Wading though the muck and mire of other peoples’ fallacies like that is about as pleasant a prospect to me as sitting with Peter Fitzgerald for another hour.

But naturally, I’m going to do it. I am part Irish, after all.

Far be it from me to spill the beans of what I’ll be arguing in Cambridge in a few weeks, but to employ one of Carol’s appellations for me, being pretty impudent and “cheeky monkeyish” myself , I can’t resist shooting a few of my arrows at the advancing enemy, even if it does give away some of my position.

Bumpy Johnson was a compassionate sort of killer who had this penchant to feed the hungry kids in Harlem with free turkeys every Christmas, back in the seventies.

The corpulent mobster would personally hand out the big stuffed birds to all his poor and adoring fans from the back of a flat truck off Lexington Avenue. Of course, Bumpy was able to garner the loot for such charitable works by first wiping out all the local drug dealers – his preferred method being to burn offenders alive with kerosene – and cornering their heroin trade in that part of the Bronx. But most people didn’t want to talk about that, even when their own relatives were overdosing and dying from Bumpy’s trade.

For New York City loved Bumpy Johnson with the adulation of True Believers, and the hordes of politicians and judges and media moguls who no doubt also drank from Bumpy’s trough mourned him greatly when he finally left this mortal coil.

Was Bumpy Johnson a force for good in the world?

Or how about Pablo Escobar, the Medellin drug cartel’s “robin hood” gangster who routinely funded housing projects and free medical clinics for Colombia’s poor families? Was Pablo a good guy? Is Monsanto Corporation a positive power on earth because it constructs schools for the kids of the third world farmers whose lands they’re adulterating?

The Mafia hoods are all good catholics who give routinely to charity and make all those church-sponsored charities happen, when they’re not whacking someone or laundering their stolen wealth through the ever-compliant Vatican Bank. And the Mob really must be good guys, after all, since “Pope Francis” himself hung out with them recently in Rome and taught them how to be nicer people. Or something.

Of course, you can engage in any degree of lies and hypocrisy when you’re a “pope” and your business pulls in a few trillion bucks a year. You can even traffic and kill kids and have Presidents have tea with you.

During my first year as a clergyman in Port Alberni, I learned quickly who was the worst child sex offender in town, mostly from his victims or their families. The bastard was an elder at the nearby Anglican church. He was also the head of the local Rotary Club and led their charitable fund raising campaign every year. He was the buddy of the Mayor and a “good Christian”. Nobody wanted to hear about what he did at night.

Yes indeed, this world is such a Two Faced Janus that it’s hardly surprising when the top worldly power, the Vatican Incorporated, embodies the madness of benificient monstrosity to such an ultimate degree that all one can do, apparently, is laugh.

Now, I assume that just smirking at my Cambridge debating opponent and tossing poignant barbs of irony and ridicule at him, or her, will not cut the mustard on April 24. The university crowd will want a good show that day, and being scholars, will clearly need to dissect and discuss and minutiae their moral substance out of existence. And yet some basic, disgusted part of me feels that there is little else to be done in the face of the organized mass insanity we are confronting, than to guffaw at it all.

Another mick, the writer George Bernard Shaw, prescribed exactly such a course a century ago, when he was asked for his reaction to the outbreak of another lunacy known as the Great War to “end all wars”. (Remember?)

George calmly said to the reporter,

“Soldiers on both sides should shoot their officers and go home”.

Later, the cheeky Irishman commented that the best way to bring down the rich and mighty was to laugh at them. For it is undeniable that something is shaken loose by doing so: not just the stupid and unwarranted air of legitimacy surrounding the psychopaths who rule us and tell us what to believe, but that thing within ourselves that plays along with the great dissociation and believes that yes, might must make right, and the butchers do have a good side, after all.

The next time someone insists that “There are also good people in the church, you know”, I plan to shove a ripe melon in their face. Or something worse.

“As sick as a plane to Lourdes”: Memories of Reverend Bud, or Why we need not fear rulers

He was an odious little creep, even by church standards. But in his immaculate suit and “I can sell you anything” smile, he obviously had just the right stuff to head a seminary: specifically, as Principal of my Alma Mater, the Vancouver School of Theology (VST).

His name was Bud Phillips, and he dropped among all the pious bunnies a year after I had enrolled there.

VST’s gaggle of resident theologians were enamoured with Bud, for some reason, despite the fact that the guy’s background was in chartered accountancy and public relations. Conveniently, however, a Master of Divinity degree had found its way onto Bud’s curriculum vitae, much in the same way that the hand picked Medici or Borgia popes of the middle ages were given honorary ordination into the priesthood the day before their bought and paid for elevation into the spot of Top Papal Gun.

Alas, things are more banal, if no less corrupt, in these, humanity’s final days. For with barely a by your leave, The Reverend Bud kicked off his tenure among we, his erstwhile flock, by sacking several long time VST staff members in order to free up the cash needed to redecorate his fancy residence next to the school.

I knew one of the sacrificial lambs who had to face the knife so that Bud could lounge in a sauna: a single mom with two kids named Hanne who worked as a secretary in the school’s Development office. She was in fact the friend and co-worker of my wife back then, Anne McNamee, so from both of them I got all the gory details of what had come down.

Hanne elaborated,

“That bastard called all of us into his office and told us that two of us had to be laid off for fiscal reasons, but he wouldn’t say who. Then he tortured us by waiting a week before doing it.”

“Yeah” said Anne. “Then we heard confidentially from Jessie in Accounting that Bud had been told right when he got here that there wasn’t available the $100,000 to fund the renovations he wanted on his house.”

“Well, I guess he’s found the money” I remarked.

Hanne burst into tears at that point, and Anne turned her “Well Kev, what are you going to do about this?” look on me.

Anne generally didn’t like me causing a stink over something that might affect her personally, as she demonstrated with deadly effect some years later; but at the time, she was about to quit her job at VST anyway, so I guess she figured she could afford to have me fight for Hanne’s job – which I did, of course. And in the process, I nearly got bounced from the church even earlier than I eventually was.

Out of that experience, I learned a lot about the fibre, or rather lack of it, of my fellow clergy-in-training, and the whole church crowd. A more circumspect fellow might have grown cautious from the conflict. But all I could see at the time were Hanne’s inconsolable tears – and Bud’s swanky new abode.

So I put out a leaflet, naturally. It was dispatched anonymously, which was unusual for me. It laid out the facts of the debacle and asked, naively, where the justice of Jesus was. And as it appeared like an unwanted mustard seed plant on the walls and tables of VST, the effect my epistle had was comparable to my depositing a pile of excrement on the chapel’s communion table.

The school exploded.

It was fun to watch the normally austere and pretentious veneer of all the god-groupies fall apart as a sort of paranoid McCarthyism swept the school. And Reverend Bud was furious. Within a day of the leaflet’s appearance, he called an assembly and demanded, before the gathered, cowed crowd of all the holy folk, to know the identity of the leaflet’s author.

Bud wanted blood.

It was understandable, from a realpolitick point of view. After all, in his greed, Bud had made himself look like a complete ass hole in front of his entire, new constituency: the kind of guy who would (to quote my Irish relations) “take the eye outta your head and come back for the eyelashes”. And so, like any Emperor caught with his pants down, Bud Phillips needed a scapegoat – you know, like, to distract everybody. And so the witch hunt was on.

Fortunately for my future and short lived career as a clerical caretaker for the United Church of Canada, no-one but Anne and Hanne knew that I had written the offending tract. Yet my visible lack of ecstasy for our new Principal made me an immediate and prime suspect to Bud and his gang of saintly sycophants, which by then included most of the VST faculty and students.

And so, gentle readers, in a not-so-oddly-similar scenario to what would come later, when I broadcast even greater crimes and hypocrisies by the church, the general consensus among the local Christians was that Kevin Annett was clearly to blame.

They had no proof, of course, but that’s never bothered the church officialdom all that much. Overnight, I became a seminarian to avoid: a condition not helped by my tendency to regale anyone within earshot with hitting quotes from Monty Python’s Life of Brian – my favourite one being, of course, “Alright, I AM the Messiah. Now fuck off!”.

Hanne never did get her job back. And oddly enough, two years later, I graduated from VST into the comfy ranks of the United Church clergy.

I suppose the church overlooked my little “indiscretion”, and Bud’s bigger one, for the same reason: the institution had to carry on. Now as then, they have a deficit of clergy people, and practically anyone will do. Besides, the Temple money changers probably didn’t imagine that I would be back again for an even more impressive table-overturning performance, at a little place called Port Alberni.

It just goes to show you that rulers of whatever denomination tend to exchange not only their ethics but wisdom and reason itself for a new sauna and nicer wall panelling in their private studies.