Requiem, No. 5: Talking Basics and Mortal Coils

A Weekly Column published by Kevin D. Annett

January 17, 2016

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If a plant cannot live according to its nature, it dies; and so a man. - Henry Thoreau, Civil Disobedience, 1849

I turn sixty in less than a month. I was tempted to wait until the Big Day to share this little ditty with you all but, being the Hundredth Cheeky Monkey that I am, I couldn’t wait.

I’ll spend that birthday alone, in a hotel room under close protection. That part doesn’t bother me, for it’s a consequence of the life I’ve chosen, and that chose me. Tolstoy called his solitude the only sweet comfort he had as an aging man, knowing as I do something of the Great Cosmic Shrug.

I drank long from that sweetness today, as I passed all the other searching souls on soggy streets.

One old fellow especially stood out: a regular at the downtown public library. He was bearded, sad, and poorly dressed, someone used to being a shadow. The guy tried the door of the library and saw that it was locked up for something ironically called “Family Day”. He shook his head, swore, and wandered off, imagining, I assumed, what he could do for the entire day to make watching the end of his cigarette burn down something more than his sole preoccupation.

I’ve never found it possible to hate anyone, or even resent them for very long even when I have just cause, simply because none of us are that different from the poor sod turned away from the library today. Like sparks thrown off from the one fire, each one seeking its own salvation, according to the war film The Thin Red Line. And any glimmer of self- reflection shows us how quickly our own individual coal is burning down to that final edge of extinction that terrifies us. I guess that’s why we don’t know how to really appreciate being alive.

I don’t remember my own moment of physical birth, as a matter of fact. I’ve been told it happened around seven in the morning when I was lifted from my mom’s sliced belly and thereby not birthed so much as hoisted, or hijacked, depending on how you see it. My first conscious memory is lying on my back inside a plastic tent trying to breathe. Nobody was around; not even a nurse. I must have been thinking, So this is life, eh? I like to trace the gestation of my rebellious nature to that moment.

Of course, what counts is what happened next. When I try to put the six decades of my life into perspective, it’s like attempting to herd a multitude of rampaging wildebeests, or asking a warlord how many times he’s counted coup against his enemies. And yet what I’ve done with my years has impressed at least a few people who occasionally still call me up uninvited to say hello, but who also keep asking me two very odd questions, like Job’s Challengers:

What has this work cost you, Kevin? And how has it affected your spirituality?

The first interrogatory is the easier one to answer: It has cost me everything. 

There’s to be more said about all that, obviously, even though my recounting of the droll facts of treachery and death will not explain anything. Then again, such details will no doubt titillate some of my readers, to whom I would not deny the experience. So here you have it: 

Since 1995, my various hard knocks have included, but as lawyers say not been restricted to, the following assaults:

1. Hit on my head with blunt objects and threatened by a knife wielding assailant;

2. Nearly suffocated by another attacker;

3. Received a broken rib and muscle damage after being beaten and kicked severely by two other men with hard-toe boots;

4. Received countless and continual death threats, by telephone, email and face to face;

5. Been expelled without cause, due process or compensation from my livelihood, and thereby rendered penniless and homeless;

6. Had my marriage destroyed and my two daughters kidnapped and estranged from me by court orders;

7. Been permanently blacklisted and made unemployable, and targeted for unceasing and organized public defamation, character assassination and lies; 

8. Been subjected to constant monitoring, surveillance, gang stalking and harassment; 

9. Denied basic civil liberties including freedom of speech, dissent and the right to assemble;

10. Issued threats of arrest and lawsuits;

11. Been arrested and detained on three occasions without charges being laid; 

12. Had my car’s brake lines cut on two occasions, narrowly averting death;

13. Had bullets, excrement and dead animals left on the doorstep of my homes; 

14. Had those homes vandalized and my belongings, laptops and research files stolen or destroyed; 

15. Had close personal relationships sabotaged and destroyed by unknown “influences”; 

16. Seen the continual subversion and destruction of all of my work and public efforts, including radio programs, publications, grassroots organizations and public inquiries; 

17. Had six close friends murdered;

18. Been arrested, jailed, brutally interrogated and deported from England without just cause or explanation;

19. Had three separate careers including a doctoral studies program destroyed; and, most dearly,

20. Lost my innocence and trust because of betrayal.

Thankfully, those who ask me this first question have not also inquired whether I think all of this nightmare has been worth it. For obviously, it has not been. But that’s not something anybody can really accept, least of all me, even though it’s true.

The second question is harder to answer, but I’ll try anyway, of course, with something I call:

The Inner Stuff

When I do right I feel right; when I do wrong I fell wrong. That is the extent of my religion.  – Abraham Lincoln, 1861

People routinely inquire about my “spirituality” like they would about what hockey team I prefer. I’m especially irked when they inquire how my “sense of faith” has sustained me through the various levels of hell I’ve endured, since they somehow assume that it has.

For too long I made my interrogators and me stupider by trying to answer them with something they could understand. But it never worked, of course, since as my old mentor Joe Hendsbee the Communist Longshoreman always told me, “Talking don’t do shit”; and especially, I might add, God Talk.

I do catch a whiff of the Eternal sometimes, wholly unexpected and randomly. It might come on the soft edge of the evening sunlight glancing through the trees, as each tiny leaf waves serenely at me in greeting and farewell; or in a look in the eyes of a stranger, and in the one you thought you knew. But the infinite never hangs around for very long, nor should it. Watch out if it does.

I spend more of my time now trying to make sense of the moment I am in, as well as the years behind me and the ones that may lie ahead, and I always come up with an ultimate blank. But there’s an odd serenity that comes with such a void of answers, like the way the stars will gaze down on me tonight when I search once more for a response from the universe that never comes. Learning the maturity to see things as they are is never the easy part of life.

I’ve finally discovered that everything in what we call reality is just a passing sideshow, including love and wonder and the crushing injustices and crimes through which we spin like a perpetual merry-go-round in the stuck note called human history. But realizing this final futility of life somehow makes every experience in it all that more sweetly sacred and essential.

Knowing that it is all futile, yet persisting as if it wasn’t, as if our best hopes will one day be requited: that alone is the valor of being human that transcends any Olympian grandeur. So the ancient Greeks were right, after all: the gods do look down on us mortals with envy because, being dust, we surpass them in courage and love.

I sensed this glory in each one of us early on in my life, which is why I never thought of Jesus as being some heavenly being who deigned to wander briefly among us scum of the earth. He could never be anything more than utterly human to me, as destitute of answers as the unreplenished souls he so loved and embraced. And so when my formal entry into God Study at the Vancouver School of Theology required that I assess myself as a “spiritual being”, sometime around my thirtieth year of life, I used to tell my confused and amused pious colleagues that I wished for nothing else than to share the fate of the poorest person, starting with Jesus himself. Things wouldn’t have felt right to me, otherwise.

Naturally, I got my wish. And now that I dwell in the destitute obscurity of prophets and beggars, I get curious sometimes about why I ever wished for this kind of life; and why I ever desired anything else.

Crucifixions notwithstanding, living so ignored and vilified by those around us is torture and death enough for those with gentle heart and purpose. And every ruler in history has known this, especially the Roman occupiers of two millennia ago, who were the best at their trade, which was killing.

The Imperial Caesars weren’t stupid. And the proof of their genius is that they fabricated the world’s first and most successful corporation – themselves. Being the penultimate corporate thinkers, they knew that the last thing you do with revolutionaries and their message is immortalize them into martyrs by snuffing them out. Instead, you erase them by re-inventing them, and diminishing them to an icon.

In reality, the Empire dealt with the systems-busting Jesus by obscuring him to death and then morphing him into itself, otherwise known as Christendom. But first it had to snuff out any memory of the real man to make it all happen. Search for a single independent record of Yeshua Ben Yusuf in the Roman record and you’ll do so in vain. The real man might get in the way of the Icon.

That whole process makes total sense to me and to a lot of other obscure nobodies whose real story is as hidden now behind fear and distortion as when divinity sometimes walks among us.

Once, we briefly grabbed your attention through our own try at smashing up and unseating the Temple. Tonight, as exiled rebels, you may notice us on the bus and under street lamps, more alone now but no less armed with that truth that has become our very flesh and marrow.  But then or now, you’ll be sure to look away from us once the nails and crosses come out again. It’s always been that way in this world as presently constituted.

So how could I have wished this life for myself? And how could I have not?

As illusions go, people, life is surely one of the best.


Celebrating the Republic of Kanata, one year later: A Notice from Kevin Annett ,

 Tomorrow, January 15, marks the first anniversary of the public proclamation of our own Republic here in Canada. To honor the event and future battles we’ll be posting a series of cheeky articles and you tube broadcasts designed to provoke, tickle and outrage. Maybe they’ll even compel some of you sorry bastards to take something more than a pot shot at the nearest drone wearing a crown emblem on his shoulder patch.

We begin the festivities today with an excerpt from one of my upcoming books entitled “1497 and so on: A History of White People in Canada, Or, The Caucasian Healing Fund”.

Enjoy, and be revolting.


In the Way of a Preamble: An Apologetic, which we’re so good at making

Canadians are a strange people, and I should know, being one myself: strange, I mean. I’m not really a true Canadian, since I’m daring to write this stuff.

Canadians apologize when they’re the ones being bumped into. And even while engaging in political protests, they will dutifully wait for traffic signals to turn green before they cross the street. And they tend to turn away with embarrassment whenever voices are raised or a dispute breaks out, even when they agree with what’s being argued.

That impudent Yankee Billy Bob Thornton once observed that “Canada is like mashed potatoes without the gravy”. Mmm hmm. The world thinks Canadians don’t exist, except as idiotic clichés like bright coated Mounties. And that’s for a very good reason, because we’re too insecure in ourselves to dare to actually be. After all, when was the last time your spouse said to you,

Honey, let’s go have some Canadian food tonight?

Well darn it, eh! There’s a heck of a good reason for being so vacuous, and it’s rooted in that past we’re never taught about because if we really knew where we came from and what little insipid spalpeens conceived us, then sacre bleu! We might have to actually do something like revolt, but only of course after checking to see if it’s legal to do so.

Regardless, herein lies an antidote to ourselves: precisely that hidden history of what brought about Johnny and Susie Canuck. My learned tome is replete with juicy historical goodies you’ve probably never even heard of, like the fact that John Eh MacDonald, the boozy corporate lobbyist and first Canadian prime minister, used to throw up in public all over his political opponents.

So hold on to your hockey stick boyo, and read on. But be warned! For to quote a gay Irishman named Oscar Wilde who definitely wasn’t like a Canadian,

Whoever looks beneath the surface of things does so at his own risk.

Well shit, now I’ve done it: I said “risk”. Most of you Canucks won’t read any further now.



Chapter Four: Staying Becalmed and Carrying On

Being Superior

As the twentieth century dawned, Canada’s official Anglo-Saxonism made it a hot spot for weirdos in white sheets and pointed hats. The Ku Klux Klan swept local elections across western Canada during the teens and twenties, proudly hanging Union Jacks alongside their burning crosses at their regular bake outs. But of course most white Canadians didn’t go to that extreme. They didn’t need to, since by then the land had already been ethnically cleansed and drained quite pale.

Still, even with its entire legacy of race killing it still likes to call “assimilation”, White Canada was suffering from a profound identity crisis as the 20th century dawned.

Oddly enough, something irked inside we ostensibly loyal Imperialists when we snuggled too close to the British monarchy, as if another spirit bobbed around our psyches, trying to worm its way out. The writer Pierre Berton said that’s because all Canadians (his kind, at least) are burdened with the heart of a Gaelic bard and the mind of a Scottish banker, and can’t decide who the hell to be. (Well speak for yourself there, Pete)

It could be. Or maybe we’re just too banal to overthrow anything or anyone, starting with ourselves.

After all, we had our one kick at the revolution can, back in 1837, and we missed. A single volley from some dead beat Tory Trash, and Little Mac’s army fled back up Yonge street! Poor old William Lyon MacKenzie, sitting out his life south of the border after the brief farce, once commented on the lethargy of his fellow Canadian insurrectionists, who “even while fighting the enemy, they seemed more concerned with their estates and cow pastures”.

Okay, so maybe we were boring little chicken shits most of the time. But all was not lost. For in 1914 a big bloody war came along to make up for all that failure, and help us pale Canucks recover our balls and find an identity, of sorts. But naturally we did so somewhere else and through the ritual killing that alone seems to satiate the gods of history. For we came of age as a people, goes the story, in the mangled fields of Flanders, in that first global war that all my uncles are still so bloody proud of because, to quote one of them, “It’s what gave us our first sense of national unity”. (Ouch).

Funny that, eh? How it took twenty million more corpses for Canada to come into being in its own mind?

Oddly enough, all those World War One dead enemy people weren’t even Indians or Chinese, but solid German folks. Many of them might have immigrated to our land and become our good down-home neighbors, if only that evil Kaiser Wilhelm of theirs hadn’t have personally raped so many Belgian nuns and boiled up and eaten those tiny French babies like he did, that evil Hun bastard! He probably beat his own wife, too!


The War that didn’t End a Single War

As part of the 54th Canadian Battalion, my grandfather Ross Annett was gassed and shot in the hip when he was twenty, won a permanent limp and even lost his horse Zambuk to the war by the year 1915. By then, Gramps had finally enlisted and made it over to France to discover that all of his friends who’d signed up before him were as dead as the Pope’s nuts and the King’s brain.

Grandpa once told me that life in the trenches was worse than anyone could ever describe, and he never tried to. Nevertheless, I’m proud to say that Grandpa personally participated in the Big Canada Formulating Event known as the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917. And I guess that makes me more of a Canadian than all of you losers whose forbearers stayed at home shoveling horse shit and banging the neighbor’s daughters.

Vimy Ridge made Canada: isn’t that what you got crammed into your bored and vulnerable little brains when you were at school? So how come we got made then? (Hold that expression). Well, because soldiers like my Grandpa served there for the first time under a Canadian General, and their own real live Canadian officers!

Now, when you think of it, that wasn’t such a big accomplishment, since none of our guys would ever obey the order of a British officer if they knew what was good for them.

The Brits have always used us “colonials” as bullet catchers on impossible missions, like in August 1942, when that moronic child rapist Louis Mountbatten told our South Saskatchewan Regiment boys to go scale a German-held cliff in France called Dieppe that was crammed with enemy machine gunners, from a beach bracketed on three sides by artillery and barbed wire.

Brilliant move, Mounty. That IRA bomb in 1979 was the nicest thing that ever happened to you, you degenerate pomy schmuck!

But back to WW No. 1: we got made all right, at Vimy Ridge. That’s what the Mafia call it when individual goombahs get officially accepted into the inner circle of the Family after loyally whacking whoever the Big Boss tells them to, without any scruples or hesitation: the mark of a true soldier.

So after we stormed Vimy Ridge and took it in a few hours after the Frenchies had tried and failed for months (nah nah!) and we slaughtered every German lad in sight, and we did it not under the duress and command of some inbred Limey moron but willingly, and bearing our own Flag, well, guess what?

We had been made.

Now I get it.


1919: We Try another Brief Revolt

Lots of pissed off and unemployed soldiers who are crippled by wars tend to ignite revolutions. Trust me. It happened in Russia, and it nearly did in Germany, Italy and lots of other places impoverished and traumatized by the War that Didn’t End Any Wars. The potency of the mixture even made Canada boil over for a minute or two with some radical impulses, on the streets of Winnipeg in the summer of 1919.

Winnipeg again eh? So what is it about that place that incites otherwise placid Canucks to take up arms?

It’s not too big a mystery, really. I grew up on those streets, so I know that trying to navigate Portage and Main on a Friday night is enough to piss off anybody.

But back in the hot days of 1919, some printers in the ‘Peg went on strike for better wages, and that somehow morphed quickly into a General Strike, because – if you believe the government and churches of the time – a bunch of no-good-nik Russian Bolsheviks infiltrated the Printers Union and made them all speak Slavic and hate the monarchy and join up with hordes of hungry ex-soldiers yearning to overthrow the state.

“Let’s string up the King, comrades!” whispered the Outside Agitators, and whammo! All the workers of Winnipeg walked off the job quicker than you can say Karl Marx. I guess their unpaid overtime, starvation wages and lack of union rights had nothing to do with their decision.

Low and behold, our Boys in Red showed up just then, fresh from killing off remnant Indians, and they smashed the strike to pieces. The RCMP galloped up and down Main Street and managed to courageously shoot to death two strikers and a little kid who was nine years old. And then all the strike leaders were called the criminals and received a one way trip to Stoney Mountain Penitentiary courtesy of what called itself the law.

In fact the strike ringleaders stayed only a few years before leaving the slammer. After receiving such unfair lumps, some of them went on to remain (by Canadian standards) pissed off enough to form Canada’s first quasi-socialist party, the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF): a sort of tepid “let’s be fair” Canadian version of Britain’s Labor party, minus all the angry red flag-waving Miners and Dockers.

One day, the CCF would become something even milder called the New Democratic Party (NDP), a funny concoction of cautious “liberals in a hurry”, to quote one derogatory Prime Minister: a sincere group of nice Canadians who are still trying earnestly to make Canada an even nicer place, without much success.

It goes to show you that even beating up Canadians doesn’t seem to be enough to make them want to change.

Next InstallmentJesus Murphy! Not another Trudeau! Plus, Coming of Age, Kind of, in the Great White North


Requiem: A Weekly Guide for Perplexed Pilgrims – Vol. 1, No. 4

A Column Published every Monday by Kevin D. Annett

January 11, 2016

   Into the Cauldron: Learning all about God, the Street and Lard Ass

One Goldfish to another: Of course there’s a God! Who do you think changes the water?

“Woe to you, teachers and Pharisees, hypocrites! You cleanse the outside of the vessel, but inside you are full of plunder and every evil thing! – Jesus of Nazareth, Matthew 23:25

The recent news that my old Alma Mater, the Vancouver School of Theology, has just been sold off to become a wing of the Economics Faculty at the University of British Columbia strikes me not only as highly appropriate, considering the spirit of the place, but a definite kind of poetic justice. It also prompted me to compose the following fond remembrances of my life as a budding young theologian there, in the late 1980′s.



The first day of school was always a thrill for me, but seminary was different. The wall of smiling blank faces that met me in the assembly hall that morning didn’t bode well. Nor did the saccharine niceness that dripped from the walls of the Vancouver School of Theology (VST).

“Hi!” exclaimed one of the clean faced denizens with an affected pleasantry.

“Hi” I replied.

“Welcome!” he continued, resembling a college fraternity President circa 1958.

I nodded and returned his smile, an automatic gesture that everyone at VST did compulsively. Unconsciously I started imitating the expression so much that my jaws actually ached by the end of every school day.

“I’m Brian” he exclaimed, extending his hand.

I took it reluctantly and said my name.

“I’m so glad the Lord has brought us together!”

“Uh huh” I replied, wondering if he was hitting on me.

“Our prayer circle is every night, downstairs in the lounge!”

He’s a Pentecostal, I thought.

When I was a kid in Winnipeg, our neighbor was a Pentecostal who kept trying desperately to get my family to leave what she not inaccurately called the “spiritual jello” of the United Church of Canada and come over to the Real Christians: her group.

We declined, especially my Dad, who did however get a few well placed digs in to her about removing the crap from your own eye first, or something like that. So the neighbor, whom Dad appropriately nicknamed “Tartuffe”, didn’t talk to us after that, which was a shame, considering how cute her only daughter was.

But on that first day at VST, I was tempted to lambaste my newly acquired evangelical associate in a similar manner. Unfortunately, besides lacking my Dad’s barbed capacity to insult, I labored back then under a low spiritual self-estimate based not surprisingly on the fact that I didn’t actually have much Christian faith. That deficit hobbled my capacity to challenge the pomposity around me, which meant that I mostly kept quiet and smiled a lot to keep the VST mob at bay.

The lunchtime buffet was quite delectable, however, which partly made up for all the crap that day.

After a whack of prayers and a long-winded oratory by a suit named Bud Phillips who passed for the school Principal – whose homily to we hushed crowd of fifty fresh fish reminded me, by its astounding self-congratulation, of the pep talk I had received on my first day at the campus law school – our saintly crowd of novice seminarians retired to the hog fest spread out for us like some latter day Loaves and Fishes, minus Jesus, of course.

And that’s where I first encountered Lard Ass.

The guy was a legend at VST, and not just because of his massive girth. Reverend Jim McCullum ran the place like it was his own private cabana, partly because he was drinking buddies with the aforementioned Principal Phillips and had dirt on the guy, consisting of certain missing school funds used to refurbish El Presidente’s private residence. But in that first encounter, all I knew about Reverend Lardo was that his prodigious bulk stood between me and the mountainous smorgasbord like a No Go sign in Belfast.

Everybody called Jim “Lard Ass” behind his considerable back, his faculty colleagues included. Jim’s behavior only served to cement the appellation. For after the obligatory invocation delivered by a proud and loud first year student, Lardo clearly forgot the proverb about the first becoming last, and made a direct beeline for the food like it was Christ Incarnate, shoving his way in front of everybody else to be at the head of the chow line.

I was as shocked as the rest of the crowd, but none of us said anything, being Canadians; and so we all politely stepped back to let the Hulk wade into the feast, which he did like his life depended on it.

Lardo sort of reminded me of my Uncle Lloyd, who wasn’t nearly as fat as Jim but had the same compulsive need to gulp down anything that had once moved; especially at smorgasbords.

Uncle Lloyd had more of an excuse for his piggishness than Lard Ass, of course, being a child of poverty during the Depression and a survivor of a German prisoner of war camp where he was rarely fed. Lloyd had also come close to being shot by a Hitler Youth company soon after he’d been taken prisoner by them at Juno Beach in June of 1944, and so he ate the way other veterans booze. But Lard Ass was merely a greedy pig, and not just about food.

On that memorable first day, Reverend Hulk actually loaded down two full plates with everything in sight before lumbering off to the nearest table. Even worse, the slob wore a stupid self-satisfied smirk that reminded me of the kid who rips off a chocolate bar from the local grocery and crams it in his mouth before anyone can catch him. Jim McCullum then started filling his maw like a dog in heat.

And that wasn’t the worst part. Stuffed to his gills and belching like a longshoreman, McCullum had the gall to stand up later, before any of us had finished our meal, and proceed to lecture us about that day’s reflection from some Pauline epistle concerning, you guessed it, on the need for restraint, moderation and kindliness towards fellow believers.

Uh huh. Pass the pastries.

In truth, the incident was a remarkably fair and accurate introduction to life at VST and in Church World. Amidst all the ponderous prayers and pretensions of doing “the work of God” you could hear lots of belching going on, including a constant stream of talk of “competency in the ministry”. After all. we were being trained as professional maintenance men in the Temple, and woe betide the clergy person who didn’t competently keep their own piece of the cash cow operating smoothly.

The funny thing was that I never felt very competent as a parish minister, despite all of my grinding preparation for the post: not in the face of the daily unpredictability and chaotic mix of grief, death and banality that falls upon even the least engaged pastor. The ministry has nothing to do with being “competent”, except from the viewpoint of the church number-crunchers and bloodless little twerps who occupy head office and equate true spiritual witness with the balancing of the annual church budget.

But all in all, VST and the church in general were a strictly learn as you go operation, and I discovered quickly what it all boiled down to: Follow the rules, don’t laugh at Lard Ass, and for God’s sake, keep smiling!

I never did get the routine, remaining thankfully incompetent and generally unsmiling.


Jesus wept. – John 11:35

During those years, I hung out on Vancouver’s skid row quite a bit, no doubt to wash off the VST crap by adorning myself with the halo of a “liberation theology Christian”. I fancied myself a “priest on the side of the poor”, not tarnished by the corporate greed and hypocrisy (to say nothing of the genocidal crimes) of the institutionalized church. That way, just like any spin-doctoring Pontiff, I could have my pension and sainthood, too. But I also got a thrill hanging out with all the young hookers in the downtown east side neighborhood, if the truth be known.

I was kidding myself, but at the time it seemed virtuous. Serving both God and Mammon is a subtle maneuver, after all, but a necessary prerequisite for any successful cleric.

Despite that, I learned a lot about the real score from East Hastings street; and the more I did, the greater became the turmoil building in me about what the hell I was even doing in the church.

My best teachers were all the anonymous souls who came and went on those lean streets. One of them was Carol, an aging prostitute who kept up her looks behind a mask of make-up and seasoned appeal. The woman was a grandmother three times over with a crazy sense of humor, and she took to me right away when I started showing up on Friday nights with coffee, free condoms and “bad trick sheets” describing particularly violent johns to watch out for.

Carol called her work “keeping an open heart on the stroll”, which she always did. Her poetry, which she eventually showed me, cut through crap as easily as it did through me.

I was with her one night when I ran into Doug Graves, one of my VST professors: a senior United Church clergyman who was a big shot in the local religious establishment, and known for his elegant sermons.

“That’s him” remarked Carol as Doug drove by in his Volvo. “A regular little circle jerk”.

“Who, Doug?” I asked, incredulous.

“You know him?”

“Yeah, he’s supervising my internship” I said.

Carol laughed uproariously.

“He’s down here a lot. Never stops. Just drives around all night, whacking himself off. You can always tell by the way the car moves”

I never thought any less of Doug Graves after that. What pissed me off was that professional Christians like Doug would never let their own halos slip, even after getting off with strangers.

When a whole institution lies to itself like that, watch out.

But meanwhile, back on the street, I became known.

Oppenheimer Park is a two block-wide patch of grass and cement where free speech and union protests were routinely smashed up by cops back in the Thirties, and where today the dealing goes on non-stop, rain or shine. It soon became my new workplace, and it still draws me, three decades later, not just by its memories but from the tug of old friends who breathed their last and continue to die off there.

Carol herself disappeared forever one night, not too long after our comical encounter with the Reverend Graves. She never returned to the neighborhood that was her only home, and nowadays it’s assumed she was just another statistic at the hands of whoever likes to kill Vancouver prostitutes, or gets paid to kill them. But many others like Carol came forward to show me the ropes.

They all thought I was working some angle, naturally, since all of them were. And of course I was, although I didn’t see it that way back then. I didn’t have a name for what I was doing because I didn’t know what that really was, which simply made me stupid. But the folks of that neighborhood saw through me and my own mental fog.

“I had you down for another candy pusher” a young male hooker told me once, referring to the Union Gospel street missionaries who routinely shelled out sweets and soda pop and other healthy things to all the street walkers.

“But you ain’t that” the guy continued. “You like, shit man, you searchin’, ain’t you?”

Searching, yes, I suppose; although what I went through often felt like the two guys I spied one night trying to work their way into a Sally Ann clothing drop-off box on Cordova street.

It was unusually cold for Vancouver that evening, and snow even covered the ground. The shelters were as crammed as Jim McCullum’s gut, and the two ragged fellows by the clothing box were clearly seeking a home for the night. The only problem was, there didn’t seem to be a way in.

They were persistent, however, which happens when you’re about to freeze to death. One of them worked at the lock on the back entrance to the box for some time, but it wouldn’t yield. So then they started bashing the thing with their boots and screaming at it like it was some personal enemy. But after awhile they seemed to lose hope, swore a little bit more, and slumped to the ground.

I was about to go over to them with what remained of the coffee I bore when the taller of the men stood up and motioned to his companion. And then with a push he began hoisting the other guy slowly through the front slot of the donation box.

Things were proceeding okay with the operation until a snag occurred, and the inserted fellow got stuck on something. For a few moments he hung suspended with his top half inside the box, his legs dangling and kicking as his muffled voice bellowed something no doubt unrepeatable from inside the container.

Unfazed, the big guy outside responded to his buddy’s shouts by actually shoving him even harder, but that only made the trapped one scream all the louder. And then the pusher seemed to give up, and he stepped back to consider his handiwork.

A cop car turned the corner just then, slowing like some circling crocodile, and the man on the outside of the box must have panicked at the sight of the vehicle: for suddenly he slammed himself into his companion’s legs, and the snagged guy went toppling no doubt thankfully into the space that would be his sanctuary for the night, even though he had no apparent way out of the box.

Thinking that two was a crowd, perhaps, the man on the outside actually patted the container and said something inaudible to it and his ensconced buddy, who didn’t seem to reply. And then the pusher stumbled away into the night.

I always envied the guy who made it inside.

Requiem: A Weekly Guide for Perplexed Pilgrims – Vol. 1, No. 3

A Column Published every Monday by Kevin D. Annett

January 4, 2016

Stranger in a Stranger Land: Two Tales of Three Exiles and the Disappeared

It seems that one’s old neighborhood and all that it remembers holds the sort of promise that stands like a slightly parted door that never opens. That’s why it was strange and familiar to be outside First United Church again the other day, in the heart of darkness called Vancouver’s downtown eastside. 

The congregation evaporated years ago, leaving an administrative husk for tax write-off purposes; but the Hastings Street crowd was still and always the same. Gazing at their bleary and untamed faces reminded me of a startling encounter I had there more than a decade ago – and how it helped me remember that I too can never go home again.


April 2003

His name was Les Guerin, and his eyes sought me out through the crowd of misery that shuffled around Gore and Hastings street.

“We gotta talk” is all he said, after introducing himself. Les knew of my new radio program called Hidden from History, but it had taken him awhile to find the courage to speak to me.

The two of us quickly made our way through a Vancouver downpour to an obscure coffee joint on Powell street where there was less of a chance of prying eyes or ears. It was past dinnertime but Les only wanted a coffee.

Without any explanation, the tired looking aboriginal man removed a thick file folder from his satchel and shoved it at me.

Les was a maintenance man at the Musqueam Indian reserve in south Vancouver. For several years he had been gathering evidence that human remains were bring buried on the reserve by Dave Pickton, brother of the eventually-convicted “lone gunman” serial killer of west coast native women, Willie Pickton.

The evidence Les held was pretty convincing, including a professional forensic report that showed that some of the unearthed bones that he’d seen Dave Pickton bury were indeed pieces of the skull and humerus of a young woman. Les had given the report and his statement to the Vancouver police and a half dozen media outlets. None of them ever responded.

“Why Musqueam?” I asked him.

“It’s Eddie John’s territory, that’s why” Les said, his voice lowering.

Ed John is the wealthiest Indian in Canada, and one of the bloodiest. I first heard of the guy when someone claiming to represent him shoved me into a corner and grabbed my neck, and insisted that I stop investigating missing Indian residential school children.

Ed’s a long time inside man with the federal government, and every corporation that offers him a cheque. As “Chief” of the Carrier-Sekani Tribal Council in Prince George, British Columbia, Ed muscled out or killed off the opposition, bribed judges, and forced many of his own people off their lands and trap lines at the behest of resource hungry corporations like Alcan and Interfor. He also runs the local child and drug trafficking network, according to fellow council members Helen Michel and Frank Martin.

“Eddie’s been getting rid of bodies for years, and his word is law at Musqueam. The cops’ll never dig around there without his okay” Les explained. 

“So Ed John knows the Picktons?” I asked. 

Les smirked and replied,

“Willy and Dave are just the disposal crew, they’re nothing. It’s the Mounties who are doing the killings. Them, and some pretty wealthy dudes.”

Les never did speak on my radio show. He knew better than I did back then that public disclosure changes nothing when the killers are in charge. And like anyone with his finger on a vital nerve, Les Guerin simply vanished one day, along with his file folder.

I still have copies of some of his best evidence, but the sad pages remind me of single embers flung off from a fire, and slowly dissipating. And yet I’m told that a single spark can ignite a conflagration.


Prequel: September 1974

I met Peter Sanchez when I was eighteen years old, a year after the Coup, on the mail sorting floor of the Vancouver Post Office. His small Chilean frame made him meld into the cacophony, and so we didn’t speak to each other at first, especially since he kept to himself. But after we’d joined forces to yell epithets at a visiting union bureaucrat at a raucous local meeting, we started talking.

“Your picket lines here are very strange” Peter remarked to me early on. 

“Everybody just sits around on lawn chairs during the strike. In Chile, we had to picket from the backs of trucks so we could escape when the Carabineros showed up and started shooting everyone.”

Peter didn’t talk about the military Coup very much, or the torture he’d suffered for months in a dank prison cell. He’d been a Socialist Party official and a union leader, and therefore high on the junta’s hit list. Somehow, he had escaped from prison and made it to Mexico, but he never told me the gruesome details, nor did he have to. For his eyes bore it all, and they never relinquished anything.

While my comfy young radical friends and I spoke endlessly of abolishing exploitation and class privilege, Peter and many like him had actually tried to do it. They had lost, as the world judges these things. And yet somehow, as they fought and died, they had found a new kind of freedom that I could only imagine. Their spirit had hovered over burning shanty towns and bombed factories, drifting over the land they had claimed for the poorest among them, to finally descend from fiery winds onto new soil, seeking other lives in which to breathe and complete the dream.

They found me.

I was still in high school when it happened, but just barely, having learned that nothing would ever have meaning for me while I lived alongside other people’s misery. My own heart and those other winds blew me to the crumbling parts of the city where I was told never to go, to demonstrations, beer halls and late night socialist meetings. And it was in these forbidden places that I met even more survivors like Peter.

They were quiet men and women who took in everything with deep, brooding eyes that were enigmas to me; for they bore a mystery that I felt I could never know, even if I was to live one hundred years. Some of the Chilean refugees had children, and one day at a union picnic in Stanley Park all of them ran and hid under tables at the sound of a helicopter. 

Years before as a boy in a United Church Sunday school, I had offended Reverend MacKay by asking why he wasn’t giving beggars our best seats in church on Sundays, like Jesus told us to do. But in Chile in the fall of 1970, a new government had actually tried enacting this heavenly command of making the last first, and the first last. And while some say that Jesus survived his crucifixion, most of his people in Chile did not. When I befriended those who had, men like Peter, everything changed for me.

Whenever I came home to our quiet west side neighborhood after such an encounter, my mind reeling with stories of pure hope betrayed and soaked in blood, my mother would cast ever more worried looks at me. Perhaps she could see that I was discovering not just another savage truth behind the world’s polite mask but the reality of my own little world, and the killing it required. The break with all that I had been a part of was swelling in me, and it terrified her. 

“But you’re throwing everything away!” she exploded at me when I tried explaining my politics to her. 

“You’ll never get a job or have a good career if you mix yourself up with all of that radical business!”

My eyes were my answer to her alarm. She and I have had nothing very meaningful to say to each other ever since then.

Something on the wind and in me had combined to make strangers of my family and a possible future world my only home. Suddenly, every moment bore a surging responsibility to something greater than me. To try settling down amidst the status quo abattoir that had reddened Santiago’s streets was just not possible for me.

I was free.

Forty years and more have passed since that turning moment. So much has been learned and lost, so much fought for and so little won, but my freedom remains.

Only one other veteran of that time dwells any longer in my life. We tend to avoid each other, as veterans do. For whenever Larry and I meet, our burden is too large, and our eyes say more than can be said, and only to each other. And so finally, I have learned the mystery that I saw in the gaze of the Chilean exiles when I was so young. 

Larry and I will chat and remember our old times and even laugh about all the battles, but with the agony of a dream still unfulfilled, as we bear the fate of those who dwell alone in the solitude of their freedom and its terrible ecstasy.

Remembering the Chilean bloodbath that had brought us together, I asked Larry recently,

“Did they ever stand a chance? Do we?”

“Does it matter?” he replied.