Renowned journalist Marie Colvin’s bravery well documented but none hold a candle to the woman she was

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Marie Colvin is the journalist I wish I could have been.

Utterly fearless, stubbornly rebellious, committed to recording the suffering of civilians in conflict zones. And God she had style: Always wore La Perla lingerie underneath her combat fatigues.

Hard-drinking, chain-smoking, swore like a sailor. But wrote beautifully.

Yet here I am, on a Sunday afternoon in Toronto, in front of a keyboard. And Colvin is . . . a dead legend.

Targeted and murdered amidst the ruins of Homs seven years ago by the Bashar Assad regime after crawling through an abandoned storm drain below the city, intent on putting the lie to assertions that Syrian forces weren’t indiscriminately bombarding civilians.

A U.S. federal court judge in Washington recently found the Syrian regime guilty of murdering the London Sunday Times war correspondent, awarding her family $302 million (U.S.). Judge Amy Berman Jackson found President Assad had deliberately targeted Colvin, in an “extrajudicial’’ murder, to silence her reporting from the besieged enclave of Baba Amr in Homs during the frenzied first year of that brutal civil war.

“Officials at the highest level of the Syrian government carefully planned and executed the artillery assault on the Baba Amr media centre for the specific purpose of killing the journalist inside.

“A targeted murder of an American citizen, whose courageous work was not only important, but vital to our understanding of war zones and of wars generally, is outrageous.’’

Investigators assembled their lawsuit from interviews with witnesses who’d fled Homs and defecting Syrian officials who provided a trove of internal government documents. The Centre for Justice and Accountability, which helped to fund the case, noted it was a landmark ruling, first time the Assad regime had been held legally responsible for war crimes.

Read more:

Marie Colvin’s final piece on Syria

Early on the day that she was killed, Feb. 22, 2012, Colvin had emailed her editor: “No other Brits here. Have heard that Spencer and Chulov of the Torygraph’’ — what “Private Eye’’ dubbed The Telegraph — “and Guardian trying to make it here but so far we have leapfrogged ahead of them. Heavy shelling this morning.’’

Relentlessly competitive, you see. Get the story first, eyes-on. Never could resist a front line. Even as she railed against what the profession was becoming during a merciless war left largely to civilian journalists uploading videos because Assad had banned reporters from entering the country.

“How do I keep my craft alive in a world that doesn’t value it?’’ she told a close friend, as recounted by Marie Brenner in a Vanity Fair article three months after Colvin was killed.

“I feel like I am the last reporter in the YouTube world. I am inept with technology.’’

Colvin had snuck over the border with photographer Paul Conroy. She’d heard, while in transit (in Beirut) that the army was under orders to kill journalists. That didn’t dissuade her.

It may be that, by turning on her satellite phone to communicate with the office and send her dispatches, Colvin inadvertently led the regime to pinpoint her location — a two-room makeshift media centre in a building where the top floors had been sheared off by shelling. The bombing was a direct hit, killing Colvin and esteemed French photographer Remi Ochlik instantly, Conroy severely wounded.

Was it worth it, taking such risks? Colvin posed that question rhetorically at a 2010 church service honouring reporters killed in killing zones. “We always have to ask ourselves whether the level of risk is worth the story. What is bravery and what is bravado?”

But Colvin couldn’t abide any other way of doing her job, despite having a “bad feeling” as she left for her final reporting assignment, against the advice of colleagues and humanitarian agencies monitoring the carnage in Syria.

Twice-divorced Colvin also sent an email to her lover at the time.

“My darling, I have come back in to Baba Amr, the besieged neighbourhood of Homs, and am now freezing in my hovel with no windows. I just thought, I cannot cover the modern day Srebrenica from the suburbs. You would have laughed. I had to climb over two stone walls tonight, and had trouble with the second (six feet) so a rebel made a cat’s cradle of his two hands and said, ‘Step here and I will give you a lift up.’ Except he thought I was much heavier than I am, so when he ‘lifted’ my foot, he launched me right over the wall and I landed on my head in the mud! . . . I will do one more week here, and then leave. Every day is a horror. I think of you all the time, and I miss you.’’

Colvin, a Yale graduate who made her bones on Fleet Street, was a highly complex person, driven by a yearning for truth, the thrill of the scoop and the adrenalin rush of danger. She suffered from PTSD — the real thing, not the lazy diagnosis so common today but the psychosis of witnessing more slaughter than most soldiers — and panic attacks and alcoholism.

At age 56, long in the tooth for a combat correspondent, Colvin could have slowed down, mentored younger colleagues — always generous-hearted. Instead, she kept on going, pushing herself even harder. She’d survived aerial bombings in Chechnya and a daring escape over a 12,000-foot mountain range, spent nine weeks sleeping on a medical clinic floor during the siege of Misurata, stayed behind in East Timor to help fleeing civilians, raced across the “Green Line” in West Beirut in the midst of the Lebanon-PLO conflict, under fire, to report from inside a refugee camp, and fended off the advances of Moammar Gadhafi during an exclusive interview.

I crossed paths with Colvin in East Timor in 1999 — she still had two eyes back then, later losing the left one when struck by shrapnel from a rocket-launched grenade in Sri Lanka while embedded with the Tamil Tigers, ever-after wearing a black eye patch that only furthered her rakish repute — and in Afghanistan and in Libya and in Iraq, where she infamously fell asleep with her sat phone still on, racking up a $37,000 bill. That only burnished her bona fides.

It is unlikely the Colvin family will ever see a penny of the awarded multi-millions — which her sister says would be put toward a memorial foundation. But, even symbolically, with Assad now the clear victor in the Syrian war, having crushed the rebels — at least 400,000 killed — the judgment resonates.

The Committee to Protect Journalists identified 54 journalists who died violently last year alone, 34 of them murdered in direct retaliation for their work, from Mexico to Yemen, more than a dozen in Afghanistan, which remains the most dangerous place on earth for correspondents. Reporters Without Borders puts the figure at 80, if citizen journalists and other media employees are included. None died more gruesomely than author and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, assassinated and dismembered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Khashoggi, Colvin and Austin Tice — a former U.S. marine turned freelance reporter who disappeared in Syria after being kidnapped in 2012 — were honoured in a 60-second commercial broadcast during the Super Bowl, paid for by the Washington Post and narrated by Tom Hanks. Afterwards, Donald Trump Jr., tweeted that media could avoid paying millions for a commercial to “gain some undeserved credibility . . . how about report the news and not their leftist BS for a change.’’ Because repugnant behaviour runs in the family.

Colvin’s adventurous life has been told in documentaries and books and in A Private War, a movie released last month, based on Marie Brenner’s article, with Rosamund Pike delivering a ferocious performance as the heroic and deeply traumatized journalist, with all her physical and emotional scars. But none of it can hold a candle to the blood-and-flesh woman she was.

The Star doesn’t cover wars anymore. Too costly and few reporters willing to go anyway. Easier, sadly, to just piggyback on the Washington Post and the New York Times. And maybe the data metrics show no significant audience for it. I hate news judgment in thrall to readership analytics.

Colvin’s own words, spoken when she accepted an award for her work in Sri Lanka, provide the most poignant epitaph for the greatest war correspondent of our era.

“Bravery is not being afraid to be afraid.”

Rosie DiManno is a columnist based in Toronto covering sports and current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno

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This journalist needed a voice-operated camera, but there was ‘nothing’ on the market. So he made her one

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As a trapeze performer, Carolyn Pioro made flying and flipping through the air look easy. Movement, she once said, was her life.

That changed forever in September 2005. Pioro was training for a performance with a Toronto-based circus when a mid-air flip went terribly wrong. She fell 40 feet, landed badly in the safety net and severed her spinal cord. In a painful flash of blue, she thought her life was over.

Journalist Carolyn Pioro gets a voice-activated camera mount engineered by Toronto Star visuals editor Taras Slawnych at the Star library in Toronto on Friday. The mount responds to voice commands to move up, down, left, right and capture a photo.
Journalist Carolyn Pioro gets a voice-activated camera mount engineered by Toronto Star visuals editor Taras Slawnych at the Star library in Toronto on Friday. The mount responds to voice commands to move up, down, left, right and capture a photo.  (Steve Russell / Toronto Star)

It’s hard to imagine what life as a quadriplegic is like, or the strength and courage needed to get through the day. A milestone for Pioro occurred seven years ago, when she moved to her own apartment downtown with her cat and the help of daily attendants. Another happened this year, when she enrolled in the contemporary journalism program at Centennial College and planned to shoot a photo essay of students at local schools for acrobats.

“It will be interesting to see if I emotionally fall apart during the shoot or whether I can see it all through the lens of a working journalist,” Pioro said in an interview.

So she looked for a camera she could operate using the only mobility she still has — from the shoulders up.

“I did an exhaustive search, looking for adaptive equipment that was already out there. And there was nothing,” Pioro said. “Now, had I wanted a rifle mounted to my chair that I could use, that would have been easy. There were multiple companies that would have kitted me up.”

Her professor, photographer Tyler Anderson, mentioned the problem to Star photographer Steve Russell, who in turn mentioned it to the Star’s visuals editor — and technological handyman — Taras Slawnych. Two months later, Slawnych presented Pioro with a sleek contraption he made in his basement.

It’s a black rectangular box that mounts to Pioro’s wheelchair and holds a camera that swivels and shoots to her voice commands. A microphone clipped to her sweater and attached to the device allows her to turn the camera on and off, move it from side to side, up and down — and shoot.

When the first picture snapped, Pioro’s mouth and eyes were wide with excitement.

“It’s pretty cool, and useful and awesome,” Pioro said after the test in the Star’s library Friday, when Slawnych presented her with his device.

“Trust me, I’m more thrilled than anyone else,” Slawnych said.

(Russell joked he’s just glad Slawnych is “using his powers for good,” not evil.)

The device weighs less than a pound. Slawnych made the black casing with a 3D printer. Inside that, he placed an Arduino, a tiny processor he connected to a device that identifies voice commands. He hired a freelance computer programmer to help write code for the system’s servo. Slawnych also included an adapter to reduce the 24 volts from Pioro’s wheelchair battery to 12 volts for the device.

“Carolyn’s mom asked me, ‘Why are you doing this?’ Slawnych recalled. “I said, ‘Because I can.’”

“I’m quite surprised how much Taras got into such a small item,” Pioro said.

Pioro earned a degree in semiotics and environmental studies before her accident. She works as a freelance fact-checker for design magazines and decided the time was right to get further into journalism.

“So many people now disregard journalism as one-sided and not true, and journalists have become almost underdogs,” she said, noting the “fake news post-truth environment.” And since I always root for the losing team, I thought it was important to support the profession and get involved more.

“And I want to provide the best life I can for my cat,” she added, smiling. “So more work would be awesome.”

Slawnych showed his device to Canon Canada, and says their engineers are interested in tinkering with it so that Pioro can also work the zoom with her voice.

“That would be cool,” she said.

Sandro Contenta is a reporter and feature writer based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @scontenta

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Life coach, free speech champion, Messiah? A Swedish journalist tries to understand Jordan Peterson through the lens of his fans

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“I feel an unbelievable optimism. Yes, I am almost high, thinking of all the things one would be able to do when the old, false society has been swept away,” he says in his calm rural dialect.

His optimism can primarily be attributed to one person: Jordan B. Peterson.

“I believe he is some kind of John the Baptist. Someone who acts as a spark, waking up people’s thinking,” he tells me.

“I’ve always thought if people really noticed what I was teaching there would be Hell to pay,” Peterson writes in 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. Now, nine months after the book was published, that is just what there is, Hell to pay.

It may seem paradoxical. In his writings, Peterson often reverts to the danger of polarization and dogmatism. He warns of simple answers, stresses the importance of open conversations. Yet, there are few issues as polarizing as the opinion of Peterson.

For a long time, the 54-year-old was a relatively anonymous psychologist and professor at the University of Toronto. In September 2016, he left his first public footprints with a series of videos where he protested against the proposition that gender identity was to be made a basis for discrimination in Canadian law.

A threat against freedom of speech, Peterson thought. His much-debated interpretation was that he could be prosecuted if he refused to address a student with the pronoun the student preferred.

He is being cheered for his new thinking in spiritual matters, but he is also being called a misogynist and “the leading influencer of the alt-right” — a white nationalist movement.

The debate brought him fans, antagonists and voluntary donations. He used the money to employ a team that started filming his lectures for posting on YouTube.

Two years later, Peterson arrived in Stockholm a world-famous star. Tickets to his speaking events there were sold out in half an hour. His YouTube channel has 1.5 million subscribers. 12 Rules for Life, which was published in English in January and in Swedish in May, has sold more than two million copies. He has been mentioned in the New York Times as “the most influential intellectual thinker in the Western world right now.”

He is described as a role model for young men. International media are constantly paying him attention. At the same time, many stories have headlines such as “Is Jordan Peterson the stupid man’s smart person?

So, how are we to understand the Peterson phenomenon? What is it that he is arousing? What is his mission?

I decided to speak to some people who really ought to be able to explain this: his fans.

“Well, that depends…” Anna-Karin Wyndhamn writes in answer to my request for an interview. “What is your attitude toward Peterson? Which of his writings have you read and which courses have you been on?”

When we meet at the Faculty of Education at the University of Gothenburgh, Sweden, she says she doesn’t want to be portrayed as an ultra-conservative.

“Nor be freakified: ‘here is someone who is obsessed with Peterson,’” she says.

“I have broadened my thinking by listening to him, started to question things in a new way, but that does not mean I embrace everything he says.”

Wyndhamn is 42, with a Ph.D in educationalist work. At the university, she works with matters concerning equal treatment and equality. In 2017, she hosted the Swedish version of the TV show Super Nanny, where she helped confused parents raise their kids.

“I believe that I was, if not the first, at least among the first in Sweden to listen to Jordan Peterson,” she says.

It started with a video, of course. Peterson is part of the YouTube intelligentsia sometimes called The Intellectual Dark Web, a heterogeneous bunch of controversialists, among them the brain researcher Sam Harris, TV host David Rubin and the economist Eric Weinstein. What they have in common is the fact they talk a lot about freedom of speech (which they like) and political correctness (which they dislike) and that they have built a large following outside of traditional media channels.

Peterson is the opposite of being a conformist and is, in that way, a role model.

In the spring of 2017, Wyndhamn stumbled upon a clip where Peterson argued compassion is being used as a tool to promote “postmodern and neo-Marxist, anti-West doctrines.” Interesting, she thought. That summer she was biking a lot, with Peterson almost always in her ear.

“It gave me a new way of thinking about what I had been doing myself, what the academy is today and as what it could serve. What happens if the perspectives that become dominant in certain fields are more driven by ideology than coming from verified science? What does that do to those who are drawn to the universities? Will they become capable of reading advanced texts and of writing independent, critical texts? Or are they turned into puppets for a political dogma of what is right and wrong?

“This is a central idea of Peterson’s: postmodern theories have created ideologization and value relativism. Morale and truth have been turned into a question of subjective experience. Peterson — who has spent much time studying Stalin, Hitler and Mao — does not only reject the scientific value of, for example, gender studies and critical studies of whiteness, but also claims that they can lead to a new totalitarian society.”

For Wyndhamn, his thoughts supported objections she earlier had on, for example, norm criticism.

“People are being sorted into fixed groups and being told ‘here is our idea of who is superior and who is inferior. Now go out into the world and see to what extent you can be critical of that.’ For me it is a way of locking one’s view rather than opening it.”

Peterson inspired her to see the problems and to dare expressing them.

“Somehow I came to a point where I thought ‘why should I not tell that I am critical of certain things?’”

What does she see as the gist of his message?

“A call to the individual to constantly be moving the limits of one’s thinking and, through that, what is possible to achieve in one’s life.”

As a woman, academic and previous chairperson of the department’s committee for gender perspective, Wyndhamn is otherwise almost as far as you can get from the cliché image of Peterson’s audience. He likes to speak about all the boys and men who have thanked him for helping them to overcome destructivity and bitterness and points out that only 10 per cent of those who watch his videos are women.

His image smacks of male role models from times gone by. The stern father. The well-dressed, eloquent teacher. The cowboy, “the small-town Peterson from the Alberta hinterland” as it says in 12 Rules for Life. A simple man standing steady on the soil and standing up for himself. And whose only food is beef, salt and water. Men do not have to apologize for their masculinity in order to have a better life.

In spite of the many references to Nietzsche, Jung and Solzhenitsyn, his bestseller is also basically a self-help book, designed to usher people out of the chaotic meaninglessness that is living in modernity.

Life is suffering, Peterson declares. We are all capable of atrocious things, and we have a calculator inside of us that all the time is keeping track of our status. Dominance hierarchies have existed longer than trees have. Trying to abolish them is impossible. The only thing you can do is take responsibility for your own life, striving upward in a disciplined way, not seeking happiness, but virtue and dignity.

Some of the rules: stand up straight with your shoulders back. Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient). Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world. Tell the truth — or, at least, don’t lie.

The ideal is the strong self-sacrificing hero. Both men and women want men to become tougher, according to Peterson. If men are pushed too hard to be more like women, they will become more interested in a hard-fascistic ideology.

In Sweden, he has inspired controversialists such as Alexander Bard and David Eberhard.

“He empowers disillusioned men and shows that responsibility, not blaming others, is the way forward,” Benjamin Kalischer Wellander writes in the magazine Liberal Debatt. “Men are not obliged to apologize for their manliness in order to find a better life. They do not have to cry their eyes out at ‘boys’ dinners’ arranged with the consent of feminists.”


“I read your piece on fatigue,” says Alexander Sopov, laughingly. “We have a thing, we the second generation immigrants, that we use to joke about: that fatigue is a Swedish invention. If I had called my mother and said that ‘I am too tired to work’ she wouldn’t understand what I was talking about. My parents never had any alternative. Work or starve to death.”

His one-room apartment is on the top floor of an 11-storey building in Sweden’s Hisingen area. A bed in one corner. Leather sofa in another. In a cupboard there are the cups from his years as a heavyweight boxer.

Sopov is 28 years old and a self-employed web developer. Very fit, self-assured. When asked to describe his upbringing in an Orthodox Christian working-class family, he says everything always went his way. There are many people out there who are in deep waters, nearly drowning. He can help them.

“I was like King Midas. Everything I touched turned to gold. It was evident that I was the one who was going to lift the family. I was good at school, ambitious and driven. Then it was like God grew tired of me.”

As a teenager he denounced his faith. He quit boxing and for many years it was all about parties, working as a bartender, giving a course in dating inspired by the book The Game. At the age of 25, he was on sick-leave after knee surgery and he says he received no benefits. At the same time his father fell ill and died.

“I couldn’t help my father financially because I had no money, and I couldn’t help him mentally because I was too weak. For a while I couldn’t even fake a smile. One could see tragedy screaming from my face. I knew I couldn’t say to Mum ‘I am broke, I have lost the will to live’ and receive support. So, I started working towards the only future I could consider: being self-employed. I was tough, but slowly I dug myself out of it. I have gone from being burdened by invoices to buying gold watches and owning a BMW. A symbolic achievement. Today I can smile again.

“Nowadays, many people have the wrong expectations,” Sopov says. “We believe that life is supposed to be comfortable just because tigers no longer eat us. ‘What excuses do we have for not being happy,’ we say, when we should be saying ‘what right do we have to be happy?’”

The turnaround in his life happened before he discovered Peterson, but the professor’s ideas have had a big influence on him.

“There are many people in deep waters out there, close to drowning. He can help them. His most important contribution to my life is the importance of guiding principles.”

A constant point of reference with Peterson is the Bible. Not because it speaks to a real God, but because it conveys a collective wisdom in the form of archaic stories and principles which, according to him, have survived for so long because they express something true.

For Sopov, this has made many pieces fall into place. Nowadays he wears a cross and prays every day.

“We live in times when we know enough to know that literal interpretations of religion are wrong, but if you look at it metaphorically there is no end to the wisdoms. Just because a magician has put a rabbit in the hat, that doesn’t mean that there actually isn’t a rabbit in the hat.

What does he see as the gist of Peterson’s teachings?

There is a catastrophe waiting around the corner and the only guarantee to avoid being obliterated is to live as it has already happened. Lift the heaviest stone you can lift and move it to a better place. Again, and again. Survival mode, constantly.

Is Peterson, in fact, a religion in himself? That may seem to be too simple a thought. Most movements that engage people are habitually accused of being “sects” where leaders are “being worshipped.” But, in the case of Peterson, the parallels are more than him having devout followers and resembling a preacher when he speaks.

Already in the foreword of his book 12 Rules for Life, psychiatrist Norman Doidge compares the rules in the book to the Ten Commandments. It has been claimed Peterson has had plans to buy a church where he wants to speak every Sunday. His arguments for the need for rules for life start with how a common faith system gives meaning and makes the world understandable. He writes that maybe there is nothing more important than to preserve this institution.


“Here is this summer’s harvest,” says Barbro Liberg.

Six-metre-tall Yuca palm trees are standing on the floor in this second home outside of the small town of Skövde. It was previously only used as her summer house but now it is her annex surgery.

“Sometimes,” she says, “when a patient has given up hope, I say ‘look at these trees. A short while ago they were just dry sticks, and look at them now!’”

She is 74 years old and had been planning to retire a long time ago but her work as a psychiatrist was too meaningful. She says colleagues have called her “a wise old lady” and “one who knows how to deal with spiritual issues.”

Last spring, when Svenska Dagbladet published the article “This is why young people are attracted to a guru who despises weakness” by Carl Cederström, an associate professor at Stockholm University, there was a flood of emails in support of Peterson. In working on this piece, I went through the emails. The senders formed a long list of male names — and one woman.

In her email, Liberg says she has listened many times to Peterson’s lectures: “It takes quite a big mental effort to understand his thinking, but for those who are not frightened by his special style, but are really listening in earnest, there is, I feel, much to embrace in his analysis and synthesis of old truths in a new light. His earnest pursuit of honesty and his wish not to dissimulate leaves him sometimes emotionally stark naked in front of the listeners.

“Long before I began listening to Jordan I had thought ‘thank you, dear church for the evangelists!’”

My experience says evangelists are a tremendous treasure for humanity, particularly their hopeful message that every human being can mean something, that there is something good to strive for. But I have experienced an incapacity for tying together the church’s message with people’s existential needs.

In the Christian sphere, some who have embraced Peterson are astounded by the fact someone has succeeded in getting young men to start Bible study circles. Others have pointed out that he is rather far from the Christian message of love.

Because for Peterson it is the individual who is divine. Redemption is reached through development of the self.

But the archetypal death of Christ exists as an example of how to accept finitude, betrayal and tyranny heroically … and not as a directive to victimize ourselves in the service of others.

Alright then, perhaps God does not exist, he more or less confesses, but, contrary to the neo-atheists, he does not want to substitute the Lord with science or humanism but introduces a middle road; a belief system where you don’t have to believe in anything but yourself.

Liberg is smiling as she describes how Peterson usually answers the question of whether he believes in God.

“I think it is so lovely, because he is writhing like a worm on a hook. He does not want to answer.”

What does she think is the gist of his message?

“That he is his words. How you live must be consistent with what you say. If there is anything that I have learned, from my profession, that is life-giving, it’s self-knowledge. People who dare to be themselves are role models.”

Is Peterson a political thinker? No, is his own answer. At the same time, it is not hard to understand why opinion-makers on the left, right and centre perceive him as their opponent.

When he brings up that the 85 richest people in the world own as much as the 3.5 billion poorest people, it is not a criticism of inequality, but an expression of the opinion that hierarchies are a natural part of life.

Where some people see a champion for free speech seeking an open debate, others see a reactionary, even fascistic, agitator.

When he writes about the liberalizing of divorce laws in the 20th century, it is to question whether the children whose lives were destabilized thought that was a good thing.

He goes on to say fear and terror are lurking behind the walls that wise ancestors put up for us and that we tear them down at our own risk. We are unknowingly skating on ice with deep cold water underneath, water where unimaginable monsters roam.

What monsters is he talking about? What does he mean when he says fear and terror are better than the alternative, or when he expresses concern that children might fare badly from having same-sex parents?

However subtle he is in his writing, there is also another Peterson who, in debates and on Twitter, is making drastic remarks on everything from climate research to connections between race and IQ.

Bernard Schiff, a psychology professor, wrote an article in the Toronto Star with the headline “I was Jordan Peterson’s strongest supporter. Now I think he is dangerous.”

Schiff, who used to be a colleague of Peterson’s — for a period their families even lived together — describes him as something of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde figure: charming and considerate but also aggressive and paranoid. To draw conclusions about who he is based only on the good and thoughtful Peterson, not the evil one, becomes misleading and potentially dangerous, according to Schiff. He accuses his old friend of using the same methods as the authoritarian demagogues he has been studying. His opposition to rights for transgender people cannot be reduced to a question of freedom of speech but is a way of baiting the masses against a minority, Schiff claims. He feels Peterson is driven by fear that the LGBTQ movement and the dissolvent of the nuclear family creates chaos and is threatening the whole order of society.

In a conversation between the two men in 2016, Peterson reportedly said his wife has prophetic dreams and that she has dreamt that doomsday is near. According to Schiff, Peterson seems to believe this — and looks upon himself as the saviour who must prevent the end of the world.

The recurring accusation that Peterson is an alt-right philosopher seems to be a case of guilt by association. If the extreme right is pleased with his thoughts, it is more because of what they read into his writing than what those words actually say. At the same time, if they do, isn’t there something important in that as well?

“It is understandable that liberals, cultural Marxists and actually everybody leaning to the left, turn a deaf ear when Peterson is talking,” the Nordic alt-right says on its site.

In “Samtiden,” a newspaper loyal to the far-right populist party Sverigedemokraterna (SD), editor-in-chief Dick Erixon sees a connection between Peterson and the SD leader Jimmie Åkesson: both are an example of the new kind of leadership that is needed in the cultural struggle against the leftist liberal hegemony.


I join the Facebook group Jordan B. Peterson Sverige, which has 2,200 members. When one person asks the others what party they are going to vote for in Sweden’s general elections, 60 per cent put an X either for Medborgerlig Samling, Sverigedemokraterna or Alternativ för Sverige (all very small and conservative). Out of 300 answers, not a single vote is given to the parties in the coalition government: the Social Democrats and the Green Party.

Of course, this does not necessarily mean a majority of those who like Peterson are sympathizing with the anti-establishment parties. But it should probably say something.

I find Johan Karlsson through the Facebook group. He is among the most active, writing about whether Peterson’s world of ideas fits with Confucianism, and which thoughts he has borrowed from Jung. And, of course, PC as in political correctness.

Over the phone, he explains to me how the changes happening in society can be explained by the boiled frog metaphor.

“A frog that’s cooked slowly doesn’t notice that the water is getting warmer. You don’t notice what is going on as society is getting a little more crazy all the time.

Karlsson lists examples.

“We distort human nature forcing boys to be like girls. We import grown-ups to Sweden, pretending they are children.” In the election he voted for Alternativ för Sverige. He finds the more established Sverigedemokraterna too nervous.

One of Karlsson’s latest YouTube videos is called “Election results likely to have been manipulated and why that can be something good.” I ask him what proof he has.

“There are as many reports as you could wish about ballot papers being hidden away and so forth. No doubt about that. Then I find it wrong to say that we have to have proof. I don’t think that the politicians we have are particularly honest people so how can you believe in a result that is simply presented to you? They should prove that there was no fraud.

“For example, I made a video where I am saying that voting rights for women weren’t such good idea. When you do such things, you earn respect for yourself.”

His video has 54,000 viewings and has been liked 1,400 times on YouTube.

Karlsson does not want to appear in a photo. While I look for his phone number, I learn the average monthly income in his area is SEK 14.700 ($2,150) and that nearly half of the population vote for the Social Democrats.

He tells me he has brain damage from a blow to his head when he was 3 years old. After that incident, his memory is weak and his mental energy low, which has made it hard for him to get a job. He has been out of work or on sick leave for depression for most of his grown-up life.

But things have changed since he discovered Peterson. Inspired by his hero, he started a YouTube channel. The result: self-esteem, drive and a feeling of being able to make a difference.

In one video, Karlsson says he thinks Peterson has been chosen by history and that it is not a coincident that he is white and male. “He is like Satan to the politically correct, but to us normal people he is the archetypical wise man or even Messiah, or at least a prophet.”

Peterson’s philosophy, he explains, represents a whole new way of thinking at the same time leaving much room open for interpretation. I think there is some kind of allure in that. That you do not quite understand what he means, or what it leads to, while at the same time the things you do understand are so bewildering.

Somewhere here I begin to see at least part of an explanation as to why Peterson strikes a chord in large groups and causes rage in others. He has so many opinions, some of them contradictory, on such a wide range of topics that one can choose where to put one’s emphasis and interpretation.

Champion of free speech, life coach, authoritarian reactionary or Messiah? No wonder his critics and supporters cannot hold a discussion in a calm manner. They can’t even agree on who he is and what he is saying.

I ask everybody I interview where they see Peterson in five years’ time.

“I think The Intellectual Dark Web will merge into some kind of secular organization, a religion 2.0 for the modern human being,” Sopov says.

Wyndhamn is hoping Peterson will be able to make certain academic areas a bit more open and less self-confirming. Karlström is looking forward to a time where there’s opportunity to form new thoughts.

“Democracy, for example, is it really that good? That is one of many self-evident things that must be questioned as people start thinking in a critical manner.”

“Hope,” says Liberg as we step into her Toyota. “Peterson can give people hope. I see much earnest, disorientated searching, both in men and women.

“Today there are not any ready-made moulds really, for good or for bad. I believe that Jordan stands for a forceful, honest wish to have a responsible masculinity.”

She gives me a ride to the station.

I tell her about the vote in the Facebook group and I ask her if it is obvious that a responsible masculinity is stern and heroic rather than permitting and caring.

“I am thinking that if Jordan’s message that one must pull oneself together could be conveyed in a friendlier manner, masculinity would not have to be an armour but more like a walking stick. So that searching young men have something to hold on to. And if he is attracting extreme people I hope they take all of his message to heart. That might just be what they need.”

She turns silent. There is a high wind outside. She says:

“I tend to turn everything to something positive. I hope that Jordan will be able to bring hope, that it will actually turn out well.”

This article originally appeared in Swedish daily newspaper Svenska Dagbladet on Oct. 19. It has been translated into English for the Toronto Star.

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Trudeau has ‘real concerns’ about disappearance of Saudi journalist Khashoggi

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today he has real concerns about allegations linked to the disappearance of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a man who has written extensively about human rights abuses by the oil-rich kingdom’s ruling royal family.

Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey more than two weeks ago, prompting fears that he may have been killed inside the diplomatic post. Turkish officials say they believe the columnist and former news executive was murdered there, dismembered and later disposed of, according to a Reuters report.

« We have real concern about the reports coming out on the situation of this journalist. We’re very much working with our allies in the international community to try and bring forward a concerted, or at least an aligned, response as we learn more about this situation, » Trudeau said during a ‘fireside chat’ at the Fortune Global Forum in Toronto.

« Obviously, this is something that has highlighted real concerns for an awful lot of people and let’s just say I’m glad we’re having these conversations in the open. »

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said she told her Saudi counterpart Monday that she wants to see a « thorough and transparent » investigation into Khashoggi’s fate.

« I emphasized that those found responsible must be held to account, » she said in the House of Commons. The two spoke by phone earlier Monday, she said.

Freeland, who had been criticized by the NDP for not issuing her own statement on the matter (she instead retweeted one by the French, German and U.K. foreign ministers), read a statement to reporters in the foyer of the Commons after question period.

« I’d like to reaffirm our commitment to defending freedom of expression and protection of the free press, » she said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke about Jamal Kashoggi after Monday’s QP 1:38

« Canada remains very troubled by the disappearance of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and calls for a thorough, credible and transparent investigation into the serious allegations about Mr. Kashoggi’s disappearance. »

Khashoggi’s alleged murder at the hands of Saudi operatives — something the kingdom has vehemently denied — is just the latest in a series of events raising the temperature of the kingdom’s diplomatic relationship with many Western nations.

In August, Freeland sent a tweet condemning Saudi Arabia’s decision to jail prominent women’s rights activists Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah.

Badawi is the sister of Raif Badawi, a Saudi dissident blogger who has been imprisoned by the Saudi government since 2012 on charges of apostasy and « insulting Islam through electronic channels. » Raif Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, and their three children have been living in Quebec since 2015 after fleeing the desert kingdom.

Freeland said she was alarmed by Badawi’s imprisonment and called for the release of « peaceful » human rights activists — a statement that prompted the Middle Eastern kingdom’s governing monarchy to virtually sever all ties with Canada.

In this Feb. 1, 2015, file photo, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks during a press conference in Manama, Bahrain. (Hasan Jamali/Associated Press)

Saudi’s Foreign Affairs Minister Adel al-Jubeir said a restoration of relations would not be achieved until Canada apologizes for interfering in the country’s internal matters.

« A mistake has been made and a mistake should be corrected, » al-Jubeir said in August. « Canada needs to fix its big mistake. »

Trudeau has said Canada will do no such thing.

Speaking in Toronto Monday, Trudeau said Canada will not be silenced by human rights abusers like Saudi Arabia and its leader, Mohammad Bin Salman — the young crown prince who has sought to modernize his deeply religious country but has bristled at criticism from abroad.

« Canada will always be very firm, and we’ll try to be polite, because it’s not just a cliché, about standing up for human rights all around the world. Canadians expect it of our government. The world expects it of Canada, » Trudeau said.

« We don’t take kindly to having people try to punish us for what we believe in. »

Freeland was asked if, in light of unanswered questions about Khashoggi, Canada should consider cancelling its contract to supply the kingdom with Canadian build LAVs (light armoured vehicles). She indicated the contract would not be revisited.

« When it comes to existing contracts, our government believes strongly that Canada’s word has to matter and it’s important for Canada’s word to last longer than one particular government, » Freeland said.

Canada’s former ambassador to Saudi Arabia Dennis Horak joined Power & Politics Monday to discuss the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the current state of Canada-Saudi relations. 9:32

Canada’s former ambassador to Saudi Arabia Dennis Horak told CBC News Network’s Power & Politics today that even if Saudi Arabia can be linked with the killing, the Trudeau government should continue to engage with the kingdom.

« Minister Freeland talked with [Saudi Foreign Affairs Minister Adel bin Ahmed] Al-Jubeir today as I understand it and I think that’s exactly the right approach, » he said.

« You’re not going to be able to isolate Saudi Arabia. They’re just too important a country, and the reason they are too important a country is world oil markets. We can’t isolate them in the way we think we can. »

Canada’s former ambassador to Saudi Arabia Dennis Horak joined Power & Politics Monday to discuss the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the current state of Canada-Saudi relations. 6:30

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This Canadian clan owes its extraordinary origin story to a shy Toronto teen, a crusading journalist and a Connecticut dad

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Through the sunny afternoon of July 12, 1968, Lina Preyra and the eldest of her eight children, ranging in age from 2 to 15, were busy packing trunks. So they’d be out of the way, the younger ones had been sent off with a few rupees to buy cane-sugar drinks from the vendors near the Bombay house the family had rented for the months leading up to this day.

Lina, then 40, had arranged for a friend, the principal of a local Catholic girls’ school, to drive them all to the airport. By nightfall, the travellers were hurtling over the Indian Ocean en route to Paris.

Cecil Preyra with wife Lina and eight of their children in 1968. He was turned down for 75 jobs after he immigrated to Canada, even though he had a university degree. Prospective employers said he was overqualified.
Cecil Preyra with wife Lina and eight of their children in 1968. He was turned down for 75 jobs after he immigrated to Canada, even though he had a university degree. Prospective employers said he was overqualified.  (Graham Bezant / Toronto Star file photo)

Now adults living in Canada, Lina’s children recall the emotions that marked the journey: fear and awe inspired by that first plane trip; regret at leaving behind friends; and relief at having escaped their precarious situations — both domestic and political.

Following a night with London relatives, and the novelty of a hot bath, the Preyras embarked on the final leg of their exodus — a flight to Toronto’s Malton airport. Upon arrival, they were reunited with Cecil Preyra, Lina’s husband, a lawyer with an Indian railway company who had come ahead some weeks earlier to find work and line up a place for his large family to live.

“It was dark when we arrived” in Toronto, recounts Cecilia Preyra, a St. Thomas, Ont., goat farmer and retired psychology professor. At 12, she was the fourth of the couple’s children. She spent the journey trying to help Lina, who was very pregnant, and praying the plane wouldn’t crash. As the family drove to a downtown hotel, Cecilia’s first impressions of Toronto remain etched in her memory: the smooth roads, the absence of crowds, the fresh air.

“I remember,” she says, “how clean it was.”

It was July 14, and Toronto seemed like a world away from the tumultuous life they had left behind just 48 hours earlier.


Anyone who has met returning friends or relatives at Pearson airport’s international arrivals gate will have observed the emotionally charged scenes at the end of such journeys. Weary travellers emerge into the over-lit concourse, pushing carts laden with luggage, their faces marked by fatigue, excitement and apprehension. Some are greeted by joyful relatives while others orient themselves, scanning for ground transport or emissaries carrying signs.

Many are in the midst of an unforgettable day — the turning point on a life’s calendar that sharply divides what came before and what came after.

In a region where every other resident was born abroad and thousands more grew up with immigrant parents, such poignant experiences connect many communities, providing a point of commonality in a city defined by difference.

“This is the stuff of literally millions of immigration journeys to this country,” observes Ryerson University political scientist Myer Siemiatycki. Immigration narratives are driven both by “push” and “pull” factors: forces at home that drove out individuals or families, as well as enticements in receiving countries. Research shows that immigrants, more than anything else, are motivated by a desire to provide better lives for their children, he adds.

Siemiatcyki also notes a paradox: while so many immigration tales have similar elements, each family’s experiences are distinct. “One never knows, when one gets on a boat or a plane, whether one has made the right decision.”

On the 50th anniversary of their arrival, the Preyra clan, including two more children born here, is no exception. While Cecil and Lina died in the 1980s, their 10 offspring Carmel, Claire, Leonard, Cecilia, Cathy, Jeffrey, Ron, Alan, Colin and Ian have succeeded in a range of professions: education, law, health care, media, politics.

From left Ian, Carmel, Claire, Ron, Alan ( front row) Jeff, and Colin (right blazer), adult children of Lina and Cecil Preyra, 50 years after the family immigrated from India to Canada.
From left Ian, Carmel, Claire, Ron, Alan ( front row) Jeff, and Colin (right blazer), adult children of Lina and Cecil Preyra, 50 years after the family immigrated from India to Canada.  (Rene Johnston)

Overcoming initial stares and stigma, the Preyras built families, businesses, homes and an ever-expanding circle of close friends. (Full disclosure: I count myself among the latter group, having first met Jeff, a television producer, at Carleton University’s journalism faculty in 1987.)

These days, such stories have added relevance. With mass flows of global migration, populist or nativist politicians from Donald Trump to former Tory MP Maxime Bernier have sought to whip up anti-immigrant sentiment to justify closing borders to migrants accused of being “illegal.”

Such headwinds serve as reminder of just how fraught these departures can be. Indeed, the Preyras’ journey from Bombay (now Mumbai) to Rexdale could only have occurred because of a curious alignment of post-independence politics in India and post-centennial politics in Canada. Their saga also pivots on an improbable confluence of actions taken by three individuals — a crusading Toronto Star journalist; a shy North York teenager; and a Connecticut father of eight who had become fixated on the needs of large American families.


Lina Mesquita and Cecil Preyra met at a Catholic church in Mumbai, and married on Oct. 28, 1951. Years later, Lina would tell her daughters that the best way to meet a suitable life partner was to look in the pews of a church.

Cecil was charismatic, dutiful and hard-working, the music-loving eldest son in a large family. Lina, for her part, was reserved, cerebral and athletic — a high school teacher and an avid reader.

“My dad was a terribly handsome fellow,” says Carmel, a retired high school principal and the oldest of the 10 siblings. Cecil, she adds, was smitten by Lina’s intellect, as well as the fact she could beat him at table tennis. “He was fascinated by this woman.”

“Fundamentally,” adds Cecilia, “they shared the same qualities.”

Lina’s family came from Goa, an Indian state colonized by the Portuguese in the late 15th century. Portuguese and later British missionaries sought to convert Hindu and Muslim Indians both through coercion and inducements, such as access to government jobs. The proselytizing provoked resentment and violent backlashes as early as the mid-19th century.

Both the Mesquitas, who were Goan, and the Preyras came from this background. As English speakers with western customs, the families enjoyed a mainly middle-class lifestyle with economic and professional privileges. After Indian independence, in 1947, state officials clamped down on Christian conversion campaigns, according to Chad Bauman, a religious studies scholar who has written about Hindu-Christian conflict. Indian Catholics increasingly found themselves targeted by Hindu nationalists, facing discrimination and blocked careers.

Cecil and Lina’s first son, Leonard — a former political scientist and Nova Scotia cabinet minister who was 13 when they left — says his parents’ social circles included Hindus and Muslims. Still, he recalls how the nationalist demonstrations near their home generated a growing sense of unease.

Away from these broader currents, Lina’s family had never been happy that she married into the Preyra clan, who had, as Leonard puts it, a “rough and tumble” reputation in Dadar, the district in Mumbai where they owned a small compound.

The land had been in the Preyra family for years, but they had sold most of the street frontage to a Jain congregation that built a large temple there. By the 1960s, all that remained was a 1,200 sq.-ft, one-floor house with no running water and an outhouse. Accessible via a narrow alleyway, the five-room dwelling was known as “Caroline Villa,” after one of Cecil’s grandmothers.

Around 1960, Cecil took Lina and their growing brood to live at Caroline Villa. His own father widowed, Cecil felt an obligation to move back into the family home and look after his younger brothers, three of whom suffered from drug and alcohol addictions. “He thought he might be able to get them straightened out,” Carmel says.

Yet in that overcrowded house, tempers often flared when Cecil’s brothers would return late at night, inebriated and violent. “I never felt safe in that house when they were around,” says Jeff, who was 7 when they left for Canada. Those uncles, he adds, “frequently threatened to kill” Cecil. Other siblings recall incidents when police were summoned.

On many occasions, Lina and her children huddled in the one 12-by-12 room they all shared, barring both sets of doors while Cecil’s brothers raged and fought in the home’s main room, sometimes wielding knives. One became fixated on Jeff. “He believed I could see into his soul,” Jeff says. “Whenever he was around, I had to run and hide.”

Some of the Preyras speculate that Cecil’s brothers had turned to drugs and alcohol because of anti-Catholic discrimination. “My uncles couldn’t move up anywhere because all the jobs were being given to Hindus,” says Carmel.

Whatever the cause, the domestic chaos they created was becoming untenable. “I remember the last year as being extremely scary,” says Leonard. “My dad was pretty frustrated by the situation. But he had a strong sense of duty, not just to his family but also to us.”


In the early 1960s, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was preoccupied with family planning. India’s population was surging toward 500 million, and people were starving. In the 1950s, government demographers and other experts had sought ways to persuade Indians to have fewer children. Gandhi, through a series of “five-year plans,” upped the ante, setting ambitious economic growth targets accompanied by strategies to slow population growth.

The government established family-planning campaigns featuring education, contraceptives and access to thousands of new clinics offering free sterilization. While 1.5 million people underwent sterilization by the end of 1966, these measures barely dented the birth rate. By 1966, Gandhi’s government began looking at coercive measures, including forced sterilization for all men with three or more children. As Dr. Sripati Chandrasekhar, the health minister, told the New York Times in late July 1967, “a drastic situation requires a drastic response.”

The threat of sterilization didn’t sit well with Cecil and Lina, who both felt having a large family was a matter of religious freedom, Cecilia says. Cecil’s bosses pushed him to promote contraceptives and sterilization to his division’s employees, who faced the threat of sanction if they didn’t comply. When he refused to co-operate, Carmel says, he was harassed and had his work duties curtailed.


On the other side of the world, during this same period, large families had become a preoccupation of a very different sort.

In a modest clapboard house in Norwalk, Conn., Stanley and Eleanor Borner were raising eight children. One night in the early 1960s, on a Boy Scout camping trip with his sons, Stanley began chatting with a few other fathers about the demands — financial, emotional, logistical — of bringing up so many kids.

As he would earnestly confide to a reporter in November 1963, “I wasn’t sure if I was being a good father. If I let myself be warm and affectionate towards one child, would another feel neglected? If I disciplined one child, would he feel rejected? Did I have enough affection to go around?”

Borner had set up a support group, Parents of Large Families. Early meetings attracted curious and mainly middle-class parents. Newspaper coverage followed. A 1963 feature titled “Kids, Kids, Kids” noted there were 2.1 million families in the U.S. with five or more children. The story, which first ran in a newspaper in Bridgeport, Conn., was widely syndicated, appearing in newspapers in Texas, California and Arizona.

The coverage attracted thousands of members; many, though not all, were Catholic. Borner, who had asked federal officials about supports, even received a note from Robert F. Kennedy, the U.S. attorney general who with his wife Ethel had 11 children.

“Your idea of developing mutual answers to mutual problems in such an organization sounds like both good sense and good fellowship,” he wrote.

Former Star journalist Sidney Katz with Carmel Preyra. Katz's column played a key role in the family's journey.
Former Star journalist Sidney Katz with Carmel Preyra. Katz’s column played a key role in the family’s journey.  (Beaty, Keith)

In mid-June of 1965, word of POLF’s activities reached Sidney Katz, a Toronto Star reporter. An activist journalist in the mould of June Callwood, Katz brought an interest in hot-button social issues, such as gay rights and racism.

On June 12, 1965, Katz penned a piece in the Star about POLF and Borner’s efforts to create bulk-buying groups for large families. But he also wrote an accompanying column, inveighing against couples opting to have more than two children. “Serious social irresponsibility,” he opined, citing the global population explosion.

In the next few years, POLF generated more media attention and found audiences beyond North America. I came across one Associated Press story about the group in the Sydney Morning Herald, in Australia.

Back in Mumbai, at some point, Lina Preyra became one of the thousands of people around the world who learned about Borner’s work, likely in Reader’s Digest, to which she subscribed.

In July 1967, with talk of forced sterilization cresting and the domestic chaos at Caroline Villa boiling over, Lina wrote to Borner, asking his group to help her family leave India.

Borner replied with a letter full of concern. “Our hearts go out to you,” he began. While his group didn’t have the money or clout to assist the Preyras directly, Borner wrote that he’d sent Lina’s letter to the Toronto Star, which had covered POLF’s work two years earlier. Her missive ended up on Katz’s desk.

By then, Katz had a regular help column entitled, “What Should I Do?” Readers sent in dilemmas, and Katz ferreted out answers on topics ranging from marriage conventions to big-city living. In one article, he fielded a question from a recent Indian immigrant who wanted to know if she could wear a sari to work.

The headline on Katz’s Aug. 10, 1967, column read: “How can an Indian family of ten come to Canada?” He quoted a letter he’d received from Lina, talking about India’s coercive sterilization policy and the hostility facing families like the Preyras. Noting her children’s dim prospects, Lina said she and her husband were prepared to do whatever it took to leave.

“You will perhaps consider me presumptuous but a drowning person will clutch at any straw,” she wrote. “Can you help us to emigrate, as a family, to Canada?” Katz didn’t disappoint, and used the rest of the column to give Lina precise instructions on whom to contact to get the process moving.

One of the Star readers who saw Katz’s column was 15-year-old Donald Drutz, who lived with his divorced mother and brother in a walk-up on Bathurst St., near Eglinton. It was the summer of 1967, and the young man was paying close attention to social issues, including the civil rights work of the Freedom Riders in the U.S. South.

While he couldn’t go to Alabama to protest segregation, he thought he could assist the Preyras. Without consulting his mother, Donald (who later changed his name to Mark) contacted Katz and asked for Lina’s address. “Reading their human interest story just sort of clicked for me,” he says. “I thought, ‘here’s my way to help somebody.’ ”

A few weeks after posting his letter, Carmel, then also 15, replied.

Mark Drutz and Cecil Preyra made for unlikely roommates in 1968.
Mark Drutz and Cecil Preyra made for unlikely roommates in 1968.  (James, Norman)

Mark Drutz, retired from a position as a Vancouver college administrator, doesn’t recall the exact sequence of events, but at some point he revealed his correspondence with Carmel to his mother, Evelyn. She agreed to sponsor the Preyras.

To this day, he can’t account for her decision: after all, she was single, with two teenage sons and no money. What’s more, Mark says, she was “wary of strangers.” Still, he adds, Evelyn’s parents were Jewish immigrants who came to Toronto in the 1910s. He recalls her as socially progressive.

Over the coming year, Mark and Carmel exchanged about 20 to 30 letters. “I must have been a weather nut,” he chuckles. “Carmel reminded me there was a lot in the letters about weather.” In the background, Evelyn had taken the necessary bureaucratic steps to set herself up as a sponsor for Cecil.


That they could even contemplate such a move reflected very recent changes in Canada’s immigration policies. A set of reforms that began in 1962 under Conservative prime minister John Diefenbaker and concluded in 1967 under Liberal Pierre Trudeau repealed explicitly racist immigration restrictions dating back to 1908, and the “Continuous Journey Regulation,” a measure designed to keep out Asian migrants. William Lyon Mackenzie King, the architect of Canada’s policy, felt immigrants should not alter “the character of our population.”

Under Trudeau’s centennial year policy, prospective immigrants were to be judged according to a point system, not their race or country of origin. Those colour-blind rules opened the doors to developing-world families, including the Preyras.

In Mumbai, Lina and Cecil absorbed the news from Canada and made the decision to leave. As their children all say, it must have been a wrenching choice for Cecil, because he felt a strong obligation to look after his troubled siblings.

Yet Lina insisted, warning that a similarly bleak future awaited their own children if they didn’t extricate themselves. As Cecilia says, “My mother understood that in order to make a life for ourselves, we had to get away from that house.”

What helped, adds Claire Preyra, a Mississauga psychotherapist and the second-eldest of the siblings, is that some of their parents’ acquaintances had already left for places like Australia and North America, among them two of Lina’s friends, who had settled in Quebec. “They wanted us to come to Montreal to be with them.”

In the spring of 1968, Cecil cashed in his company pension and other savings to buy plane tickets and finance the transition. He would fly to Canada on his own to get established. To avoid the vengeance of Cecil’s brothers, Lina and the children moved from Caroline Villa to a friend’s house while they waited to join him.

When Cecil arrived in Toronto, he moved in with the Drutzes, sharing a bedroom with Mark, who describes himself then as an awkward teen who could scarcely muster a reply to the formal Indian man who had become his roommate.

Mark recalls that his mother was nervous about how long he would be living with them. She also asked Cecil point blank how he planned to support so many children. “The conversation she often had with Cecil was, `How are you going to provide for this big family?’ And he would say, `Mrs. Drutz, God will provide.’ She was always so scornful of that.”

Carmel Preyra with Mark Drutz, who was instrumental in helping the family come to Canada.
Carmel Preyra with Mark Drutz, who was instrumental in helping the family come to Canada.

Within a month or so, Cecil found a job in the juvenile courts, using his legal skills. He had met a few other Indian families in a Catholic church where he began attending services. In preparation for his family’s arrival, he arranged for them to stay at the Anndore Hotel, on Charles St. near Yonge.

A few days after they landed, Mark came to the Anndore for his first nervous meeting with Carmel and her siblings. Lina, Mark and the older Preyra children walked up Yonge St. to the hippie scene unfolding in Yorkville during the summer of 1968. Carmel remembers the “mind-blowing” counter-cultural vibe vividly. “For the older kids,” adds Leonard, “it was exciting. But for my parents, it was pretty scary (and) antithetical to what they believed.”

That clash — between socially conservative immigrant parents and offspring eager to absorb the ways of a new country — is a drama that continues to play out in countless newcomer households.


In most ways, the balance of the Preyras’ tale is filled with familiar and oft-repeated elements: a series of moves to what became the family home in Rexdale; the parents’ struggle to find suitable work and their enormous sacrifices; their children’s embrace of the liberal enticements of Canadian society; the acclimatization to everything from winter to foreign customs to road hockey; and the family’s determination to succeed educationally, socially and professionally.

Sidney Katz continued to write about the Preyras’ progress and maintained a lifelong friendship with the family.

Fifty years later, the Preyras all say that the improbable story that began with Lina’s letter to Stanley Borner turned out exceedingly well. Leonard, however, stresses that their experiences don’t differ markedly from the countless immigrant families that risked all to make a new start in a foreign land.

A picture taken during the presentation of a quilt that a friend made specifically for the 50th anniversary of the Preyras' arrival in Canada this past summer.
A picture taken during the presentation of a quilt that a friend made specifically for the 50th anniversary of the Preyras’ arrival in Canada this past summer.

Canada’s 1978 immigration bill

In the mid-1960s, only a trickle of South Asians settled in Canada each year, and the bulk of those were Sikhs or Punjabis. After 1967, the numbers began to rise, with annual East Indian immigration reaching the 23,000 range by 1974, according to a 1978 study in Canadian Public Policy.

In Toronto and Vancouver, those increases prompted a xenophobic backlash, with a spike in attacks dubbed “Paki-bashing.” As that 1978 study notes, East Indians “bore the brunt of the racist animosity” aimed at Third World newcomers.

In 1967, 80 per cent of immigrants to Canada came from Europe. By 1974, that figure had fallen to 40 per cent. The Trudeau government knew it had to address the unrest. Immigration officials closed a loophole permitting newcomers to apply for landed immigrant status while visiting Canada. Ottawa, notes Myer Siemiatycki of Ryerson University, also released a “green paper” and set up a joint Senate-House of Commons task force to travel the country, collecting feedback.

Dozens of East Indian organizations and individuals made deputations to the task force, marking one of the first instances of a newcomer community mobilizing politically. (Chinese-Canadian groups had also pushed for the repeal of the Exclusion Act, a 1920s law that blocked family reunification.)

The 1978 study says these lobbying efforts fell on deaf ears. Nonetheless, the task force members realized they had to defuse an evidently volatile situation.

Siemiatycki points out that the result — a law passed four decades ago this year — established three formal categories of newcomers (economic, family, and refugees) and the use of annual target immigration levels, all of which remain pillars of Canadian policy. The initial target was about 100,000 people. Canada today accepts about 300,000 newcomers a year, equivalent to 1 per cent of the population.

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Trudeau names journalist, Indigenous activist and diplomat to the Senate

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has named three new independent senators to the Red Chamber: a journalist, an Indigenous activist and a diplomat.

« These three new independent senators bring a wealth of experience with them to the Red Chamber, » Trudeau said in a media statement.

« Whether working as a community educator and researcher, a journalist, or an ambassador, all three have gained a deep appreciation and understanding of this country. I have full confidence that they will be excellent representatives for their regions and for all Canadians. »

Edmonton Journal columnist Paula Simons, who won the National Newspaper Award for column writing in 2017, will sit as a senator from Alberta. 

Paula Simons of the Edmonton Journal accepts the award for columns at the National Newspaper Award ceremony in Toronto in May. (Galit Rodan/Canadian Press)

Patti LaBoucane-Benson, also from Alberta, has « dedicated her life to helping Indigenous families » and working to improve « opportunities for vulnerable youth » in her province, says a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

The third new face in the Senate will be Peter Boehm, a career diplomat who most recently served as the deputy minister for the G7 Summit and personal representative for Trudeau.

All three were recommended by the Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments. Trudeau then passed on those recommendations to Governor General Julie Payette, who will formally appoint the new picks. 

Trudeau has made 43 Senate appointments since his election.

Like the other Trudeau appointees, each of the new picks is expected to sit as an Independent or non-affiliated senator — part of the prime minister’s stated campaign to eliminate partisanship from the chamber over time.

The Independent Senators Group (ISG) now constitutes the largest bloc in the Senate and holds a plurality with 47 seats, followed by 31 Conservative senators and 11 Liberals.

There are still 10 senators that identify as Liberal, even though Trudeau brought official Senate affiliation with his party to an end while still in opposition. There are also eight non-affiliated senators and six empty seats.

Author and Indigenous activist Patti LaBoucane-Benson with her book The Outside Circle, which won the 2016 Burt Award. (CBC)

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