This next segment of the novel will probably have to be broken down into several parts, as the exposition is all over the place.  But there’s a lot going on to make it worthwhile.  What’s about to happen here is that Douglas Bland will let the mask slip, and speak for an extended period of time with what sounds like his own voice. That in itself is worth wading into the swamp of bad dialogue and wooden delivery, but what’s particularly fascinating is the character that Bland elects to use as his chosen surrogate.

He basically speaks through the character of PM Jack Hemp.

I was actually halfway through dissecting this 15 page scene when I realized this, which forced me to double back and re-examine the whole section. It seems to defy belief but Bland actually created a straw man liberal only to use him as a mouthpiece to deliver a shockingly ignorant diatribe.

I’m honestly not sure what to make of this. Is he trying to present his conclusions about Canadian/First Nations relations as so obvious that even the liberals secretly agree? Is he trying to mitigate his own ugly opinions about natives by pretending that they are shared by Canada’s left wing as well?[1]

Chief Onanole and his ever-present, strikingly beautiful executive assistant, Martha Kokohopenace, walked in off Wellington Street, up the dark steps, and through the wooden doors of the Lagevin Block to the commissionaires’ desk. 

We resume our narrative with Grand Chief Al Onanole on his way to a meeting with PM Jack Hemp at the Langevin Blcok. He enters through the front door, passes through security, is ushered into the PM’s office, exchanges brief pleasantries with Hemp’s personal secretary before meeting with the man himself.

This is not an official meeting, but I don’t see that as a problem in a novel like this.  ‘Politics makes for strange bedfellows’ is a lot more true than people might think, and all sorts of people whom you’d think would never get together might nevertheless reach out to each other in times of crisis.  Deputy Minister for Indigenous Affairs Harry Swain wrote about meeting with Aboriginal colleagues and acquaintances during the Oka Crisis which bordered on the clandestine:

There were all sorts of these back-stairs conversations going on at the time, especially involving those not at the official tables; I for one did not want to see any avenue for a peaceable solution left unexplored because of Justice [Ministry’s] strictures about which Mohawk group was legally in charge.  [After the departure of his security detail at 10pm] The Mountie departed, since in Ottawa all assaults happen by ten, and shortly afterward the Confederacy men, who had been waiting at the corner, came to call.  And to smoke-they were the only people my wife, Julie, ever allowed to smoke in our home. [2]

Although it might be a bit unusual for a Prime Minister to be the one hosting a secret meeting like this, the notion that there would be secret meetings all up and down the governmental food chain is to be expected.  At a time like this, with a man already dead[3] and battle lines being drawn across the country, people everywhere would be reaching out to anyone they knew in hopes that something could be done.

This is why a later scene with members of an RCMP detachment in Northern Manitoba getting surprised by the uprising will ring so false.  The idea that these Mounties had no inkling that something was going down in their small northern community?  Right.  Tell me another one.

Normally a writer would skip over routine scenes like this, preferring instead to home in on those segments which will either advance the plot or develop the characters. Still, it’s possible to do both these things with a routine description, depending on what details the writer chooses to include or omit.

Consider: A small fidgeting man in a cheap, off-the-rack suit fumbles with an enormous ring of keys while trying to balance a paper bag of groceries at the front door to his house. Do you have a mental image of this man? Good.  Now what if I add that the car he pulled up in was a Ford F-150 pickup truck a chrome brush guard, a gun rack (empty) and truck nuts?  Does that change your mental image of the man?  Does that change the scene for you?

We all have to do routine tasks. How we do them – or how a character is described as doing them – can provide a kind of common language that allows the reader to relate to a character who might otherwise not warrant a detailed description.

So let’s have a look at Chief Al Onanole.

Chief Onanole and his ever-present, strikingly beautiful executive assistant, Martha Kokohopenace, walked in off Wellington Street, up the dark steps, and through the wooden doors of the Lagevin Block to the commissionaires’ desk.  Even though they knew Chief Onanole by sight and addressed him by name, they walked Al through the security routine.  The Manitoba legislature wasn’t the only place in Canada where the appearance of security mattered more than the reality.

Yup.  The fourth wall break in that last sentence sets the tone for the rest of the section.

This scene mocks the Commissionaires for their going through the motions even though they should just know Chief Onanole is not a threat.  Security theatre is a problem.  Often procedures are employed because they will be noticed by those in authority rather than the fact that they might be effective.  This can lead to misplaced priorities, and mis-allocation of limited resources.  Although it’s kind of hard to muster up the expected level of contempt when you remember that just four days ago one of their own became the first casualty of the uprising.[4]

graphic-outlining-1995-break-in-at-24-sussex-drive
Graphic from CBC describing the path taken by André Dallaire during his break in of 24 Sussex.  Source.

So…here’s a story from recent history, in the category of “It’s funny only because no-one got hurt:”

On 5 Nov 1995 a man named André Dallaire (who suffered from pretty severe schizophrenia) broke into 24 Sussex, the official residence of then-Prime Minister Jean Chrétien.  Armed with a knife, he made his way to the bedroom where Jean and his wife Aline were sleeping.  Luckily for the Chrétiens, Aline was a light sleeper and woke up to investigate the noise of Dallaire’s approach.  Opening the door to the hallway she came face to face Dallaire, which proved just as shocking for the intruder as it did for her.  She recovered first and slammed the door in his face, locking it before going to wake up her husband and then raising the alarm.  As his wife spoke on the bedroom phone, Jean armed himself with an Inuit soap stone carving and parked himself by the door to brain anyone trying to get in.

As he was less of a killer and more just a generally messed up individual, Dallaire made no effort to enter the bedroom.  Locked out, he remained in the hallway, and surrendered to the RCMP when they found him there a few minutes later.[5]

Now back to Uprising.

Appearance of security? They stop an individual, have him walk through a metal detector, then ask him for ID? If you want to call this ’security theatre’ then maybe you should show us how security doesn’t seem to be doing it’s job because-in my books at least- making a public figure respect protocol instead of sweeping through the checkpoint without having to show ID would be the true security fail.[6]

Following his guide through the familiar passageways, the grand chief made his way down the wide, blue-carpeted halls into the prime minister’s outer office.  Jack Hemp’s private secretary, Heather, stood up to greet him, offtering to take his buckskin jacket.  Al declined.  He knew today was a day for buckskin, not Harry Rosen.  “Please have a seat, Chief Onanole.  The prime minister will be with you in a few minutes.  Coffee?”

The first thing we learn about Al Onanole today, even before we learn he’s going to a meeting with the PM in a buckskin jacket, is that his executive assistant is ‘strikingly beautiful and ever-present.’ I’m trying to decide if I should cringe over the fact that yet another female aid is described by her looks and not much else, or if I should be relieved that this woman (as opposed to Maggie the intense blonde in the ITAC) actually has a full name and position title. In a few moments we’ll discover that Jack Hemp’s private secretary is named Heather and no last name is given, so this is…good news?

Before [Al] could answer, Jack Hemp, hand extended, strode briskly out of his private office.  “Grand Chief Onanole, Al, thanks for coming in.  Beautiful fall day, eh?”

Martha smiled, accepted a lingering handshake from the prime minister, then sat down as Onanole and Hemp walked into the prime minister’s spacious inner office.

If I thought Bland was capable of a more profound level of writing, I’d think that this was a clever bit of characterization.  Jack Hemp, the image-conscious progressive, still has some (probably unconscious) regressive attitudes towards women.  Particularly the younger, hotter ones.  That would actually be both some good character building, and a pretty sharp insight about the state of progressive movements today.  Or maybe he just wants to make all liberals look like icky perverts.

The thing is, while this scene in isolation could be read in a number of ways, taken in the context of the rest of the novel it gets a bit uncomfortable.  Outside of Molly Grace herself, most of the female characters in this novel have been lucky to even get full names, let alone detailed development.  There’s also been the really questionable assertions earlier on, where the Movement is described as pimping out underage native girls as a means for blackmail and extortion.

So…this is going to be another case where recent, real life developments make this scene more than a bit uncomfortable.

madeleine-redfern
Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern.

So Madeleine Redfern is the Mayor of Iqaluit, the capital of the Nunavut Territory.  Like most of the far North, Nunavut is populated primarily with the Inuit (commonly – and inappropriately – called ‘Eskimos’).  In September of last year, she had the opportunity to give some remarks at a meeting of the House of Commons committee for the Status of Women.  She only had a few minutes to speak, and as it turns out, she had some things to say:

“When our Inuit male leaders travel with their female staff, they think it’s a benefit and a perk that they can actually sexually harass, sexually assault or have relationships with women on the road,”

Source.

She would later qualify that this wasn’t all male leaders she was talking about, but emphasized that this was a much larger problem than most people would want to admit. Although she didn’t name any names in her remarks,[7] she nevertheless received death threats for having spoken out.

So yeah…some shit really doesn’t age well.

I’ll be turning forty two in a couple of months.  As a person who grew up in the 80s and early 90s, I can relate to the flash of novelty that comes from meeting a young, attractive woman in a place of authority.  Although it becomes less and less of a novelty every day. When I was growing up, most of the female authority figures I was dealing with were teachers, and therefore impossibly old.  As a young man, especially in the army, a young woman was likely a peer and therefore someone I might flirt with, whereas authority figures were still noticeably older.

Now, in my forties, a young woman might be a subordinate whom I am responsible for, or a superior if she’s an officer.[8] In the latter case, it can be momentarily jarring to salute someone who could potentially be my daughter. These are things I have had to adapt to.

Things change.  We all need to adapt.  Beats the alternative.

***Featured image is from the CBC story about the 24 Sussex break-in.  An RCMP constable patrols past the front door of the residence.***

__________________________

[1] In the latter case, I suspect most of left wing Canada would probably tell him to eat a bag of dicks.  Then again, most of left wing Canada probably doesn’t read speculative fiction about race wars in Canada so this conversation is going to have to remain forever hypothetical.

[2] From Harry Swain’s 2010 memoir ‘Oka: A political crisis and its legacy.’ I especially like the personal detail about his wife not speaking up about guests smoking in the house.  For those not familiar, tobacco is sacred in a lot of North American Indigenous nations, and smoking persists even as it grows increasingly unpopular with ‘white’ people.  Julie Swain must be a sharp and formidable woman.

[3] Fred McTavish.  In memoria.

[4] This went way beyond a basic security fail since the event came literally the day after the assassination of Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin.  There was absolutely no connection between Rabin’s assassin and André Dallaire, but it’s generally considered a good idea for security raise the alert status when such an event happens.  The killing of a prominent individual (particularly a controversial statesman) can have a knock-on effect of “inspiring” random disturbed individuals to carry out similar acts.

[5] It also looks as though these Commissionaires haven’t been authorized weapons, and there’s no mention of an armed security detail being present.  While close protection is always supposed to be nearby in the PM’s office, if either of these guests did have weapons, the Commissionaires would be largely helpless for several crucial seconds before the Mounties could arrive.

[6] Also, they know his name but he doesn’t seem to know theirs?  So they’re not friends or anything?  Hmmmm….so maybe they’re using his name because they were expecting his arrival and have seen his picture?  In which case, if they don’t know him personally it might be a good idea to do a security check anyway. You know, maybe in case this guy was an imposter or being held hostage by the woman who appears to be his assistant?

[7] She did later cite an already public case involving a Member of Parliament, and others have since come forward in support.  See the source linked in the image credit.

[8] Plus I’ve come to appreciate the attractiveness of so-called ‘older women.’

3 thoughts on “56-Jack & Al have a meeting

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