Open letter to Bill Blair

February 13 2020

Attn: The Honourable Bill Blair, PC, COM, MP

2263 Kingston Rd, Scarborough, ON M1N 1T8

Dear Sir:

 

 

 

 

Via Mail

 

Re: Railroad blockades

As you are aware, over the past weeks there have been a number of large scale blockades conducted by various groups, often nominally in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.

These blockades have impacted roads, rail, port terminals, downtown streets and legislative offices. They have received a great deal of national and international press.

The blockades often appear to be prima facie illegal. If you are aware of any reason why people can trespass on CN property in the manner they are currently doing near Belleville, Ontario, for instance, and render the rail tracks inoperable by their presence, I would be interested to hear it.

The right to protest is enshrined in the Charter, the supreme law of Canada, and is something that has great value to me, and I think all Canadians. However there are bounds to the way in which protest may be carried out legally. These bounds appear to have been breached.

Across the country people are wondering, ‘why aren’t the police doing anything about these illegal protests?’ We watch police on the sidelines, as the protests cause our railways to shut down, and otherwise disrupt the lives of citizens, including through physical assault. Citizens who pay taxes to use highways, roads, and other public areas. Citizens who expect responsive policing and safety.

In the past I did practice criminal law. I understand that you are in a tough position, having to balance competing interests with limited resources. You cannot arrest and prosecute every jaywalker, so to speak. You must be cautious about public perceptions of your actions in removing protesters, and you must minimize the risk of violence in volatile situations.

I worry that the cost of doing nothing in the face of these protests is becoming larger than the cost of acting. People are asking fundamental questions about the nature of our nation, to what extent we are still a nation of laws.

There are a number of police agencies involved in these protests, including the RCMP including its’ provincial divisions, OPP, and city police agencies. This raises its’ own complexities, however I think the RCMP, with it’s national presence and federal jurisdiction over ports, railways etc., is in a good position to set the tone.

The news broke today that CN Rail was shutting down its’ Eastern Canada rail operations, and Via Rail is shutting down their operations nationwide.

Surely this is a sign that these blockades have gone on too long, and that it is time for the police to act. In your capacity as Minister of Public Safety, responsible for the RCMP, I ask that you please do so.

Yours truly,

 

Sean van der Lee

 

Music

The first music I remember is kids music. Raffi, Baby Beluga, The Cat Came Back, Teddy Bears Picnic, Sharon Lois and Bram. Music for a quiet house after preschool. A nap a game show.

The radio in the car. Ours was always on 66 cfr, the oldies station. The Guess Who, Chicago, Lighthouse, Paul Anka. Tinny Andrew’s Sisters type stuff from the early 50s or the 40s even. We drove to hockey, out to the country looking at land or just looking around, look for arrowheads and buffalo bones at Hogg Park. Drive back late ‘he loves his damned old rodeo, as much as he loves me’

We got a cabin. It came with records the previous owners adult kids couldnt bother to take. A rainy summer. We pored over these, addicted to Thriller, the Pretenders ‘Precious’ for the attitude and to hear ‘fuck it’, Steve Martin A Wild and Crazy Guy. One radio station, The Network, serving Sorrento Shuswap Salmon Arm.

We drove to Washington DC. We had a new suburban with one tape Roy Orbison, still evocative of that trip. On the way back we got A Bridge Over Troubled Water on an Indian Reservation in North Dakota. For this reason I thought they were native, plus the El Condor Pasa vibe of the tape. Breaking through restless 9 year old boredom into zen stillness somewhere near Rugby North Dakota, or maybe it was Havre Montana. Staring out the window, or just at the interior of the car.

I somehow got into Elvis. Then the Beatles. I would play my Beatles CD on repeat, my first love. Ticket to Ride, over and over again. My friends and I karaoked She Loves You at the Grade 6 talent show and bombed. We sucked. What a feeling. Mortifying. The cool kids did Smells like Teen Spirit and slayed.

Moist Creature. The first album you could call your own that was current and credible. Canadian alt rock in full effect. Zuckerbaby, I Mother Earth on MuchMusic. Oasis. Chemical Brothers. Sharing cds on the bus, long track trips on the prairies. Big Shiny Tunes 1 and 2.

Napster. No more walking to HMV in big beautiful old bank downtown with 20 bucks. Full flow. Hip hop. Jazz. GZA, Charlie Parker, Debussy, Sun Ra, Fela Kuti. University library get a stack of books, flip through read, think of something move down a floor repeat.

Working at Lake. Steely Dan. Corb Lund. Merle Haggard. Drive forest service roads after work, hike, fish, swim. Watch Dules of Hazzard. Gordon Lightfoot. Drink beer whiskey straight. Like one girl, never clicks hook up with friend, blow it all to heck. End of summer mornings cold. 10 degrees and getting colder Gordon Lightfoot, basement is cold, nobody around.

Corb Lund. Canadian Finals Rodeo road trip marathon session. A country girl I loved or maybe I loved the idea of her. Swaying, dancing close, you and me going fishing in the dark, lying on our backs and counting the stars where the cool grass grows. Yeah we were falling in love in the middle of the night, in some dime a dozen country bar, but we never got down to that river in the middle of the night did we. Though sometimes you would notice a beautiful tree, the chinook wind talking to you, snow melt iron smell sort of like coming rain in your nose, hoofing it back to wherever you were crashing.

Later in law school quit drinking entirely. Bach Mozart while studying. Anything with a voice trips a different level of concentration in brain. Exception for Daft Punk Discovery. Cold black February Edmonton outside window not that different from space.

School done. Work in silence. Into new wave, Joy Division, hipster stuff Edmonton friends like, The National, Chad Van Gaalen. Curated jazz on Sirius satellite radio Sunday afternoon’s as not many radio stations in westlock. Frank Ocean

Leave job. American road trip. Alice in Chains ‘and we die young… the faster we run’ I liked their clothes. Crosby Stills and Nash Wooden Ships! On the water, very free and easy, just like me, at least for moments, Southern Oregon, Moscow Idaho, Gaviota facing golden Pacific. So few moments though.

Back in town, barely listen. Stuff from the 50s dropped from radio, sounds so dated, artifact of my dad’s youth, an optimistic country. Audiobooks more. Guns n Roses. WASP. The stuff I used to love so often brings me back to summers that least in my mind eye were so golden. Nostalgia everywhere, not good. New stuff so often unintelligible, so dead.

Late at night, a real guitar and a voice. ‘Like two desperados waiting for a train’

The definitive guide to Beer League hockey

Friends, over the years I have played hockey in a number of illustrious beer leagues.

From the Linaria-Dapp Commercial League to the Calgary Jewish League, I’ve seen it all.

Here I offer a few tips on how to get the most out of your beer league experience. Enjoy:
1. Sharpen your skates once every three years to ensure your gear is in tip top shape

2. Empty mice nests and mice out of bag at beginning of season (not in dressing room please).

3. It is important to develop nicknames on your team. You cannot force this but it will happen naturally.

Acceptable nicknames include: Rooster, Dutchy, Frenchy, Newf, Two Two, Elsie, Perps, Hags, The Swedish Meatballs, Tex, Killer, and The Axe Murderer.

4. Extra points for smoking or chewing on the ice

5. Extra extra points for two smokes and chew in all at the same time. (This is elite level stuff, pro contract to follow)

6. Every year you must go in a tournament where you play something ridiculous like 4 games in one day. Don’t ask me why. You must go and spend the time between games in the lounge eating pickled eggs.

6. For this tournament you must have at least one ringer who played at least Juniors/NCAA. This will counterbalance every other teams ringer they thought they were super clever about. More than one ringer is a little much though have some dignity.

7. Always watch the worst player on the ice, no matter what team. They are always a good guy but could slide into you from the weirdest of angles, because they really can’t skate. I almost had a guy blow out my knee doing this once. A terrible player slid right into me at the point, long after I had dished the puck. Good players will never ever do this.

8. Contrast this with the best player on the ice. 90% of the time they are an absolute gentleman and play with real sportsmanship because they are most aware that this is a beer league, and most in control of their body and stick. 10% of the time they have a chip on their shoulder so feel free to give back as good as you get. With any luck they get tossed for fighting early, and you steamroll their totally deflated team.

8. There are no scouts in the stands. If somebodys dad/wife/kids are in the stands try and get that guy a goal. Other than that you are not going to the bigs, you are 41 and work at a bank. I tried to get my friend a goal so hard through a whole tournament because his three month old twins were in the stands. He said it didn’t matter because they were likely sleeping and can kids that young even see what’s going on on the ice? I said it’s the principle of the thing my friend.

9. If you wash your jersey in the season go home you’re off the team, maybe take up baking or something that smells good. Your bag should smell like a rotten camel or you’re doing it wrong.

10. When choosing a team name, you should always associate with the smallest town that you or anyone on your team have a tangential connection with. Ideally, this will result in a town that no longer exists outside of a curling rink and a hockey rink (google Linaria, Alberta). Example, if half of your team lives in Crossfield, but one of you lives by Dogpound, you are officially the Dogpound team (obviously the “Dawgs”). If you can go even further and wind up with the name of a town that only exists as a historical plaque, pat yourself on the back. We used to play against a team from Moose Wallow. I have driven past where Moose Wallow allegedly is located a number of times and can confirm that no such place exists – except as a state of mind.

 

Don Cherry

I try to see things as they are. I am human and sometimes fail at this, jump on outrage brigades, make mistakes, and have biases.

When the Don Cherry story broke I didn’t even pay attention. Ever since I’ve seen him he’s been subject of controversy, be it his pro fighting stance, or his dislike of european players, so controversy is baked in. (Besides, my controversy bandwidth is consumed by the slow moving disaster that is Canadian federal politics.)

The controversy got worse and I ignored it. Days passed and Don was fired. I listened to what he said and it did seem to contain anti-immigrant sentiment, which is crass and unfounded, but also appeared clumsy. It seemed like something that could be clarified as misspeaking, which Don has tried to do since.

I think, broadly, employers have a right to demand certain conduct from their employees on company time, and terminate them if these standards are not met. This is what I think of kneelers in the NFL, this is what I think of Don. If a terminated employee has an issue they can file a grievance with their union or otherwise seek a remedy from the courts.

I think terminating his employment on Remembrance Day was not the way to handle this. It leads me to believe that this was not a well considered decision. They are reaping the consequences of that decision as the backlash mounts

The backlash is a much bigger problem than anticipated. It seems they, along with a large number of journalists on twitter, do not understand his appeal. Let me help.

This is the source of Don’s appeal.

His show is called ‘Coach’s Corner’.

Don is not just any coach. He is the archetypal Coach. If you have played team sports you will hopefully have had such a Coach. That Coach would die for his players. His players would die for that Coach. This is not hyperbole when speaking of the military. This is why Don has always made time for the military, and the military has always received him well. This is why, when everyone abandoned him, his player Bobby Orr stood up for him.

The people who watched him on tv connected with him. They see in him the archetypal coach. In him I see one of my favourite coaches ‘Sotts’, a rough and tumble, smiling, guy who took time from his wife and career to coach a bunch of hormoned up teens in competitive hockey, going to bat for them with parents, the League, other coaches, etc. I still love Sotts to this day. The people who see Don Cherry in this way are his players. They are cancelling subscriptions and writing angry letters en masse. I don’t blame them.

At the end of the day where are we at? A mob has got an 85 year old man fired. A counter mob is trying to fire a young tv host whose comments were just as ill-considered. The counter mob perceives that there are only consequences for conservatives like Don, and with a serial blackface wearer as PM, who can blame them, that is frightening.

The antidote to the mob, to the fear, is the Coach. Finding the warmth and courage within. Finding your team, small as it may be, and having each other’s backs to the bitter end.

Electability isn’t everything…

It’s the only thing.

Watch Zuckerberg’s most recent testimony from Washington. Watch Question Period at your local legislature.

Are you impressed by the quality of the questions?

Are you impressed by the abilities of the people asking the questions?

The people you elected to be there.

The core competency of a politician is getting elected. That condition must be fulfilled before they can go on to the secondary competency, governing.

In an ideal world, electability and ability to govern would largely overlap. You would vote for someone with qualities that boil down to integrity, judgment and values that you respond to and work in a democracy. Someone who can think, speak, listen, and make tough decisions, and would present themselves as such to you in their campaign. This person could ask incisive questions of expert witnesses to help evaluate policy, respond quickly and comprehensively to all manner of questions from other parties or the press, or citizens at the doors, debate and pass laws to protect society and help it flourish. A competent adult.

How much of this are you seeing?

Electability is not driven by competence.

It is driven by party. It is driven by projecting a warm feeling out to the less involved voters, which is why smiling headshots/family pics are everywhere. It is driven by money which enables all this and is often the reason for the inane questions. The inane questions aren’t real questions but designed to headline a fundraising email.

The results are Trudeau, AOC, and Trump.

I’m not saying this is a bad thing, or that it hasn’t always been this way. Many have said how politics changed with the rise of tv and the internet, towards superficiality, you be the judge.

But do you get a sense of gridlock when you look at North American politics? Could this be partly why? The House of Representatives is in constant election mode and budgets are out of control. Nothing can get built in Canada and regions are played off against each other continuously for votes.

Comments welcome!

Omen

I hung up the phone and stood there a second collecting myself.

My Dad told me that my uncle had been moved into hospice to begin end of life care. It was something that was not a surprise but was still upsetting. It was a Saturday in May. I could have gone to the office but felt like getting out, so drove West of town. I thought I might hit a few golf balls but kept driving past the golf course. The day was warm with a ferocious dry wind out of the South.

Not too much further down the road I saw a plume of black smoke. It seemed way too big  and black for your average spring yard cleanup fire, besides, who would burn on a day as windy as this. Intrigued, I kept driving towards the smoke. It seemed to be coming from behind a farmhouse, just on the other side of the Pembina. I pulled off on the next range road and looked at the fire. It was burning in someone’s farmyard all right. Another driver had pulled off and was looking at the fire with concern. We talked about whether it was a controlled fire, when something like a snowmobile gas tank exploded in a burst of flame. I turned around and raced to the farmyard. A few others had pulled off the highway and we grabbed shovels from the barn and began fighting the fire.

We started where the fire was starting into a grove of aspens at the back of the combine shed. Losing the combine would be a huge blow and if the trees took off the shed would too. We beat the fire back by digging up the burning ground and flipping it over, tamping fresh dirt down on the flames. When that area was controlled we followed the edge of the fire in a ring, digging furiously. I remember the skin on my arms was singed red like a sunburn.  We more or less closed off the loop of the fire and turned our attention to the hotspots inside the ring. The most memorable of these was a strange shed that had been built from old electrical pole crossarms, with the old glass insulators screwed on all over the outside, some sort of weird farm art project. Some of the glass insulators were cracking in the heat, until finally the shed collapsed with the sound of ten thousand wine glasses shattering at once. Soon the fire department arrived and hosed everything down till it was a wet black muddy mess. The farmer came and said something to the effect I can’t believe this happened how could this happen. In my head I was thinking, well it’s a windy dry day and your farmyard is full of weird old junk, including a shed covered in magnifying glasses it doesn’t take a rocket science to see what happened, but I kept my mouth shut.

Crisis averted, we put the shovels back and left. I sat in my truck and looked at my phone. I had two missed calls from my Dad, which I hadn’t even heard in the rush. I called him but knew what had happened. My uncle had passed away.

That was not the only fire whipped up by that hot windy day. Further North, another fire erupted, burning about half of Slave Lake to the ground. I remember the front page of the Edmonton Sun, with the roof of the Slave Lake courthouse, where I had appeared a few months prior, on fire, and viewing it with utter shock.

At some level I know that this is a case of ‘fooled by randomness’. But I feel there is something more. If you’ve read any ancient history, you will know that the ancients were always on the lookout for omens. Sometimes the omen would be cynically manipulated to gain a desired result but the power of the omen was in those cases seen in the effects on the masses.  There are many such examples of generals having entrails read to them to give the desired result so they could embolden their troops. Sometimes the omen would be too obvious to ignore – a classic example is when the bronze statue of Nero (whose behaviour couldn’t have failed to anger the gods) at Pompeii was struck by lightning and melted into a puddle. He spat in the face of nature, the order of things, and was struck back, clearly.

The ancients lived in close contact with nature, and accurately reading and understanding nature’s signs was key to their survival. Even into the 20th century, as Bernard Moitessier recalls, sailing vessels in Southeast Asia had a type of navigator, a taicong, who sat on his own and absorbed the signals the ocean, the sky was sending him:

‘The crew never spoke to him, because the taicong needs all his peace to communicate with the gods and read on their faces.’ Bernard Moitessier, The Long Way

This, in the days before gps, weather reports, accurate naval charts, even more so in the days before the chronometer, compass, sextant, was everything. You needed to pay attention to nature or you were sunk.

So too, we, statistical, analytical, computerized, should not ignore clear signs from nature, despite our learned impulse to ignore.

The novel I set free

You may know from this website that years ago I wrote a novel.

I was reluctant to show it to people because I felt that it was good to keep certain parts of yourself private. This was especially so as at the time I was variously trying or totally abstaining from various forms of social media, and gauging how much of myself I wanted to share, how, and with whom.

In time, I started to like twitter, and really liked the idea of having my own website, and using the two in tandem to explore ideas. In time, I decided that, in a throwback to 19th century novels, I would put out the chapters weekly on this website, like a serialized book.

After all that time, it was liberating to get the novel out there. I also re-read it again, a chapter at a time, for the first time in years, and was happy to discover that it still got me excited. Its good to be excited about your works, even after the passage of years of growth.

On a whim, I decided to see what publishing it on kindle was like. That was a simple process so I did it. I then got a goodreads author page and put a link to it on the Books and About pages of this website.

And that was it.

I never felt like promoting it, having had my fun.

A funny thing happened.

I sold a copy. The copy was bought by a friend of mine who saw it on goodreads and is a novelist. My friend read it and told me in so many words he liked it.

We met up recently to talk about the beauty of the novel, a perfect art form, offering total freedom, the traditional publishing industry, amazon publishing and a million other things besides.

By letting the novel free, I connected with another wonderful person, had a great talk, and felt good about the whole thing.

And that is just from one copy sold!

As a result, I’ve decided I am going to promote this novel, share it. Starting here.

The novel is called ‘Children of the Rockies’.

It’s about the fine things in life. Fly-fishing, Stampede, hockey on the outdoor rink. Cousins, lovers, cutthroat trout. Rockies, Purcells, Prairie. A journey through time, into imagination, into bedtime stories.

There are no literary trends. This wasn’t written to get a grant, to build a resume to be a professor or writer in residence, or win an award. It was written from a place of total freedom, a place where I grew up and had to leave, at least some of the time.

You can get a copy here.

I hope that you do and humbly enjoy our journey together.

Thank you

Sean