Is God a Racist? The Right Wing in Canada

by Stanley R. Barrett
372 pages,
ISBN: 0802057586

The Riot at Christie Pits

by Cyril H. Levitt and William Shaffer
305 pages,
ISBN: 0886190932

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Gathering of the Klans
by Cary Fagan

Stanley Barrett's preface to his comprehensive and deeply considered study of the right wing in Canada describes the author as a liberal humanist who found himself depressed for days after interviews with racists and antics. While the work, as Barrett writes, may not have been a labour of love, it deserves the highest praise for the thoroughness of its research and the clarity, even elegance, of its presentation. And if Barrett himself provides no solution to the spread of racism, he provides information that is essential for informed judgements.
While all of the groups Barrett describes (he compiled data on 161 racist societies) stretch beyond what is considered the acceptable far right, he divides them into radical and fringe. The former are openly racist and advocates of violence, while the latter more often submerge their views beneath more sophisticated presentations of issues such as anti-Communism and foreignaid reform. Radical groups with small numbers, like the Edmund Burke Society of the sixties and the Ku Klux Klan of the eighties, have managed to manipulate the media and receive extensive coverage. Barrett provides telling portraits of the more important leaders, some of whom, such as the Nationalist Party's Donald Andrews, he sees as modestly tragic young men who had the talent and intelligence to move in more positive directions.
Barrett, an anthropologist and sociologist who has spent years in northern Africa, was originally interested in prejudice against blacks. What he found, however, was the old idea that while the extremist right wants blacks in their place, they want Jews eradicated. This vicious anti-Semitism at the heart of their belief appears as the usual denial of the Holocaust and a conviction of the international Jewish conspiracy, beliefs largely inspired by their Christian fundamentalism, and merely the current manifestation of a long history of Christian anti-Semitism. Among the study's most important findings is that right-wing extremists often do not match their portrayal as uneducated and lower middle class. Mary are university graduates and hold whitecollar positions proof, writes Barrett, that belief in education as a cure for racism is too simple. Radical activists, however, often pay for their beliefs by losing jobs and often their wives (most are male).
Barrett devotes special attention to the recent sensational trials of Ernst Zundel and James. Keegstra. The case of Zundel, a major publisher of neo-Nazi material, revealed the Jewish community's own division on whether hatred is best prosecuted or ignored. In the chapter on Keegstra - a former teacher and mayor of Eckville. Alberta - Barrett wonders whether a racist and anti-Semite can also be a good citizen and neighbour.
Is God a Racist? is not alarmist - these groups are small and infiltrated by informers and RCMP agents. That does not mean they are not dangerous, especially as a sign of more muted but real attitudes of general society. By including a chapter on institutional racism (with sections on employment, law, immigration, education, the police, the media, and the state), Barrett briefly but convincingly points to the network of racism that new immigrants, blacks, and others must face every day. (The chapter also shows that while Jews are the right's main target, they are at this time less vulnerable than other groups.) And Barrett borrows from Marxism to argue that as a kind of power structure racism has its firmly established place in capitalist society.
As a Toronto native, I have long had the impression that unlike the Jewish communities of Montreal and Winnipeg, Toronto Jews have a less vivid sense of their own past. But the 1933 riot in the west-end park called Christie Pits, in which thousands of young Jewish men battled against a contingent of Gentiles, is still remembered. Levitt's and Shaftir's book is a re-creation, mostly through newspaper accounts, of the infamous event.
The riot was preceded by a controversy in the Beaches district of Toronto on the other side of town, where a shadowy organization known as the Swastika Club formed to protest against the influx of immigrants to the boardwalk every weekend. While the club members were undoubtedly antiSemitic, they weren't Nazis, but the Toronto Jews already associated the swastika with the reports of violence and terror being inflicted upon the laws of Germany.
The young gang members who unfurled a large Nazi flag after a baseball game at Christie Pits (played between predominantly Jewish and Gentile teams) weren't connected to the Swastika Club but no doubt knew what effect the symbol would have. The gang was rushed and the riot began, lasting late into the night as Jews piled onto trucks and (with some Italian friends) roared up Spadina Avenue to assist their brethren. Years later the Jewish men would still express pride at having defended themselves.
While the Toronto politicians reacted to these events with admirable concern, the police are shown in a less flattering light. A substantial part of this book, however, deals not with these events directly but with the reporting of Hitler's rise in Germany in the Toronto newspapers. What is remarkable is just how much was reported. Papers carried front-page stories almost every day. A journalistic war developed between the Telegram, which implied that the Jews were at fault for their own misfortunes and insisted that reports of German atrocities were false, and the Star, which had an extremely able reporter named Pierre van Paessen whose reporting deserves a book of its own.
The point for Cyril Levit and William Shaffir is that Toronto Jews, frustrated by their inability to help the suffering Jews of Germany, went wild when they saw a swastika unfurled in Christie Pits. Unfortunately, their book suffers from a plodding style, poor structure, excessive repetition, and for the most part an inability to make the period come alive Nevertheless, the authors deserve praise for recording an important moment in Toronto history.

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