By Malin Jordan
The B.C. Catholic
As protests go, the recent jig danced by a handful (and that’s being generous) of protestors at Holy Rosary Cathedral last week didn’t amount to much.
Their main message was: it’s time for the Church to say sorry, recognize the injustice of residential schools, and finally listen to survivors.
One woman, who was noticeably drunk, was swaying to and fro – between her shouts of “racist” at passing Asian parishioners – and shouting a multitude of other obscenities.
One young fellow (identified as Dean Harper by sources close to the protest) marched up the steps and pushed Gary Baxter, a Knights of Columbus grand knight (who also happens to be First Nations). As Harper saw Baxter stumble, Harper chose to fall down to cover his belligerence, and then claimed he’d been assaulted.
The mechanics of his slapstick tumble were straight out of a Charlie Chaplin film and would’ve been funny if it wasn’t so blatantly devious. (Later, Harper expressed regret about being swept up in the ridiculousness and said he was wrong and ashamed.)
Chanting “Sinners! Sinners! Sinners!” the angry activists were the first ones to cast stones at would-be worshippers. And yes, the irony was lost on them.
But the whole charade was more theatre than action.
Another man, who seemed to be leading the charge with righteous indignation, jumped and bounded about like the court jesters of old.
His was more an exercise of buffoonery than of political activism and righteous protest.
And, the fact that Vancouver’s resident eccentric, Kevin Annett, was behind the whole charade shouldn’t surprise anyone.
The real shame of the event was in the obfuscation of truth and fact.
The assertions by protestors that the Church hasn’t acknowledged or apologized for the injustice of residential schools are untrue.
But what kind of positive outcomes can the lies of the protest offer?
As one long-time employee in our building always notes in his Beantown accent, “There is always a teachable moment.”
And this minor debacle, if only to thwart would-be worshippers from entering the cathedral to practise their rights under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms – the right to worship – offers a teachable moment.
What is happening surrounding those deep wounds over the sorrowful history of residential schools?
The protestors, shouting that nothing’s being done, contribute to lies and misinformation.
They shouted that the Church needs to apologize. But (on Page 1 of this paper) Rennie Nahanee, the archdiocesan First Nations Ministry coordinator, noted the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as the “best avenue for dialogue.”
Also of note was former First Nations chief Phil Fontaine’s visit to Vancouver a couple of years ago to launch the program Moving Forward Together. At that press conference Fontaine acknowledged the CCCB’s apology for the schools and said, “After the apologies, we forgive.”
It was a strong statement from the then representative leader of many First Nations people in this country.
The group has promised more protests in the coming weeks by “infiltrating” Masses all over Vancouver, but anyone can shout along with a crowd and promulgate hurt and negativity. It takes courage to acknowledge truth and work in a positive way toward a greater good.
Phil Fontaine’s final move as Grand Chief brought us Moving Forward Together. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is doing just that, and anyone who tries to occupy our churches needs to be told that – very charitably of course.