Thursday, March 21, 2013

"Resisting the State" ... More

So, yeah, more about Scott Neigh's Talking Radical: Resisting the State.

In Chapter 2, Neigh talks about the transplanted Trinidadian, Toronto lawyer Charles Roach.

Neigh begins with an in-depth explanation of how the cultures of other lands filter into a locale via the process of immigration and migration. He does this to show how Roach brought to Toronto a different understanding of the British Empire than that understood by Anglo-Canadians (and others of the white-ish persuasion).

Roach's first activism in Canada was in the anti-nuclear weapons movement that tried to support Prime Minister Diefenbaker's attempts to keep US nuclear warheads off of Canadian soil. He was arrested and charged with unlawful assembly at one protest but was thankfully aquitted. Roach kept his head down after that, since as an immigrant and not a citizen, his future in Canada was always tenuous.

Later, Roach would have to fight efforts to force lawyers to swear an oath of allegiance to the monarchy in order to practice law. He would never become a Canadian citizen, fighting up to his death last year at age 79, to have to swear allegiance to the crown to be a citizen.

The chapter involves a discussion of the role of the law in regulating lives and maintaining order, but also as a forum for struggle. The longest story involves Roach's legally unsuccessful efforts to help Jamaican domestic workers in Canada to keep their jobs and not be deported. In the 1960s, as the supply of domestic workers for middle-class and wealthier families began to dry-up, the federal government initiated a program whereby Jamaican women could come to Canada to work on a temporary basis. Their stays could last for years, but it was always understood that they could not stay in Canada permanently through this program. Only Jamaican women without children could apply for these jobs, to alleviate any government fears that they would somehow get in the country, exploit some as yet unnoticed loophole, become citizens and drag their whole black brood in behind them. In what might have been some fishing expedition to expose "cheaters" and thereby show the Jamaicans who was boss, but what was certainly a bit of bureaucratic sadism, officials approached these women and informed them of a program whereby they could gain landed status and sponsor their children to join them in Canada. Falling for the bait, a number of these women registered, only to be told that they had lied on their applications for the guest-worker program and would therefore be deported.

Charles Roach had started out with a well-paying job working for the Ontario government but had soon decided he wanted to do something more with his life than what he was doing. He'd reasoned that while the sort of advocacy for the oppressed wasn't a path to riches, he'd certainly be able to support himself doing it. The domestic workers' case was on of the sorts of things he took on. He argued repeatedly, and unsuccessfully in court on their behalf, but he also campaigned and built alliances outside of the court room. It was the combination of these two tactics that eventually forced the government to relent and let the women stay (in such a way as to absolve the feds of conceding anything to them).

It was many battles such as these that changed things a bit at a time, says Neigh.

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