Column: should government name things for a neo-Nazi?

Should the governments of Canada and Nova Scotia name something after a neo-Nazi?

It’s not a hypothetical question.

Fall River, Nova Scotia (pop. 11,526) is a little community in Halifax’s regional municipality.  By all accounts, it’s a lovely spot, and the locals are nice.  If you go hiking on a trail in the area, you may spot a bear or a bobcat or the occasional coyote.

Tillmann Brook runs alongside such a trail.  According to Natural Resources Canada, who oversee such things, Tillmann Brook’s name is designated as “official.” The decision apparently goes back to 1999, and would have been made by something called the Geographical Names Board of Canada, with some participation by Nova Scotia’s government, too.

Tillmann Brook is a river, basically, that flows from Soldier Lake into Miller Kale.  There’s a little waterfall on it, and people are known to regularly hike there to take a look.  What’s less known, however, is whether any of the visitors – or even locals – are aware of the origins of Tillmann Brook’s name.

Because there’s a problem with its name – and John Mark Tillmann is the problem.  He’s proud of Tillmann Brook’s name change, and he has even been known to pose beside a Tillmann Brook sign for a photograph.

Making a Nazi salute.

He’s a notorious sort of fellow, John Mark Tillmann is.  You may have even him on TV.  He’s perhaps better known for being a very successful art thief: in January 2013, police arrested him for just that.  Interpol, Homeland Security, the FBI and the RCMP and the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary were involved in the case – and found more than 10,000 artifacts at his home, including a letter written by George Washington, valued at more than a million dollars.

He thereafter pleaded guilty to charges of fraud, theft, possession of property obtained by crime, possession of a forged document, obstruction of justice and providing a false statement.  And he was granted full parole just three years later.

Born in Halifax in the Sixties, Tillmann was a handsome, charming fellow.  He grew up in a relatively affluent family.  He obtained a degree in marketing, and travelled to Russia, where he learned to speak the language.  While there, he married a beautiful Russian university student, and the two of them were a veritable Bonnie and Clyde, travelling all over Europe and the Americas, swiping art and artifacts.

Tillmann mainly stole valuable things, the police say, for kicks.  CBC’s Fifth Estate and American media have paid a lot of attention to his art heists.  Less attention, however, has been given to his political views.

That’s unfortunate – because John Mark Tillmann is a self-admitted Nazi fan.

When the cops finally showed up, they found Nazi paraphernalia all over his impressive waterfront home in Fall River.  There was a framed photo of Adolf Hitler in a window, which Tillmann called “a special spot in my home.” Tillmann says Hitler is “a great man – one of the greatest men in history.  A decent man.”

There were Nazi armbands and insignia and whatnot, too, all carefully maintained.

Asked about his Nazi leanings by the Fifth Estate in 2016, after he got out prison, Tillmann said: “I stand by that. I stand by that today.”

Oh, and there’s a Nazi flag that he’s position over a railing, too, where neighbours could see it.  Maybe he wanted them to see it.  In Fall River, in fact, there is a widely-held view that Tillmann – aided and abetted by his mother – successfully lobbied to get the brook’s name changed to Tillmann, to emphasize his German antecedents.  To make Jews feel uncomfortable.

“There’s a Jew who lives near there,” says Tillmann in a self-made 2011 home video.  “It’s an appropriate name to put near him.”  He then gives dark laugh.

So, how did all that happen?  How did a proud Nazi supporter get a name change – to, as he admits, make Jews feel uncomfortable?

The folks at the Geographic Names Board of Canada know all about the Tillmann Brook problem, but they say they can’t talk about it.  They refer a writer to Nova Scotia, who they say initiated the name change.

Nova Scotia’s Geographic Information Services, meanwhile, said a “support Specialist” would respond.  Days later, they still haven’t.

So: how was a known and notorious Nazi enthusiast allowed to pull a fast one on two levels of government – so he could upset Jewish Nova Scotians?  And, now that they know, will they clean up their mess?

Many questions.  In the John Mark Tillmann case, answers remain elusive.


Kathleen Wynne is the luckiest politician alive

Here’s why:

• Andrew Horwath’s New Democrats have been in a witness protection program for months – and, when they finally start to show signs of life, they lose their Chief of Staff to allegations he was indifferent to complaints about sexual harassment

• Caroline Mulroney is revealing herself to be completely unprepared for the top job – she looks and sounds uncertain, she’s nervous and she’s clearly out of her depth – and increasing numbers of worried PCs are saying Wynne would eat her alive in a leader’s debate

• Christine Elliott is doing again what she did in 2009 and 2015 – she’s phoning it in, and giving an entirely new dimension to the Trumpian epithet, “low energy”

• Doug Ford is amazing and charming PCs everywhere – he’s being disciplined, strategic and working his tail off – but he’d still be easy for the Libs to demonize in a province-wide vote

• Oh, and for good measure, the last thing the PCs needed – for Patrick Brown to start doing the rounds in the media, and demonizing those young women who came forward – is, incredibly, actually happening

At this point, I am hearing from many, many senior and experienced Progressive Conservatives that Doug Ford may well win this thing. Incredible, I know, but he is doing what he should be doing: working. Elliot simply isn’t – and Mulroney is decidedly not up to the job.

Like I say: Kathleen Wynne is the luckiest politician alive.

Adler-Kinsella Show: in which I defend Trudeau on personkind, and on all kinds of pipelines

Every Thursday, I have a radio-via-phone encounter with my great friend Charles Adler.  This week, the encounter took place by luggage rack two at Calgary’s Airport (said airport having received more snow than the North Pole before we started wrecking the planet).

I valiantly defended the Prime Minister on personkind-gatewhich shows no signs of abating, and may be getting worse – because I actually believe him when he said he was trying to make a dumb joke that fell flat.  But you only get so many of those “it’s just a joke” mulligans in this business.

I defended him on the growing Alberta-B.C. spat, too.  I said to him what I have heard from so many partisan Conservatives and Liberals here in Alberta: they admire Rachley Notley’s intelligence and guts.  She may still lose to Jason Kenney, but there’s a lot of admiration for her here – particularly for how she’s taking on the nation-wrecker Horgan.

Anyway, here it is.  Me, I’m now off to many hours of lectures at the Faculty of Law!

Is Ms. Mulroney a lawyer? (With shocking update! And important question!)

She has said in multiple interviews that she is.

Fine.  But then there’s this:

She practiced 13 months, apparently, then stopped.

I know that if you don’t pay your fees in Ontario, where I am called, you can get suspended.  Other provinces are mostly the same.

But can you still call yourself a “lawyer” if you aren’t paying the relevant regulatory body the fees when every other lawyer does?

Comments are welcome.

P.S. “Lawyer” or no, being called to the New York State bar is really, really hard, by the by.

SHOCKER UPDATE: She’s been re-instated! Her people saw it coming!  New spin:  SHE’S BEEN SECRETLY RUNNING FOR THE LEADERSHIP FOR TWO YEARS!

OH AND THIS QUERY: Why would she quietly re-instate as a New York State lawyer in THE SAME WEEK she became the PC candidate in Ontario?

#MeToo: Kristin’s story

[Ed. note:  just over two weeks ago, a brave young woman named Kristin told her #MeToo story.  It was national news, and culminated in the resignation of a federal cabinet minister.  But Kristin’s story doesn’t end there.  Today, we are offering her this space for to tell her story, in her words.  Please read it. WK]

Two weeks ago I waded into the national #metoo debate.

Before I talk about my experience, I want to highlight the inherent privileges that accompanied me and allowed me a platform to be heard in the first place.

I grew up in a middle class family. My grandfather worked in politics, my mom worked in politics, my brother worked in politics and I worked in politics.

I have friendships and connections across the political spectrum and with that comes media connections.

My initial tweet went viral mainly due to the support of Warren Kinsella. A high profile journalist and former Liberal party strategist, and a very vocal supporter of #metoo.

Those are not privileges afforded to the majority of Canadians fighting to have their voices heard and fighting to shed light on their experiences with sexual harassment and assault.

The #metoo movement needs to continue to be inclusive of the LGBTQ2S and Indigenous communities, inclusive of people of colour, inclusive of those struggling with poverty, addictions or mental health struggles. This movement needs to reflect all of our lived experiences, not just those with the privilege I took for granted when I spoke out.

When I sent out my tweets I did so with the hope that it would contribute to a much-needed debate on sexual harassment and assault in Canadian politics. Instead of contributing to a story, I became the story and it was not a position I was at all prepared for, or comfortable with.

Often when people come forward, the first critique lobbed at them is that we are coming forward for attention. This was a constant theme of the abuse I endured online. What I can only assume is that people making these comments have no idea what that “attention” actually looks or feels like.

I walked into work the day after posting my Tweet having no idea what was about to happen.

My work phone and email blew up with messages from reporters. My Twitter messages were either media requests or people telling me I was an awful human being. Within an hour of getting to work I had to leave because I couldn’t take it. It felt as if all my safe spaces were gone. I walked to a friend’s office and burst into tears.

On my way home, my dad called me to tell me reporters were calling his house asking for my contact information. Initially having no idea what was going on, he gave it to them. Thankfully, he is also 75 and depends on a never-updated list of important numbers so he gave them the wrong one.

The impact of my twitter disclosure on my family goes well beyond calls to family members. What I didn’t realize is that in the absence of any other picture, that media would use my Twitter profile picture and screen cap my tweets. My picture featured my four-year-old niece. Not one media outlet even attempted to blur or cut out her image. I made a choice to speak out, but my niece didn’t ask to have her picture plastered everywhere.

The vitriol on Twitter is something I only ever witnessed in passing before. The day the story broke, a woman I consider a mentor and certainly a seasoned vet of Twitter awfulness told me to stay off for a few days. I didn’t listen. I still checked. In the days that followed I received messages that were beyond awful and hateful on Twitter and on Facebook. The argument can be, and has been made, that I should have expected it. But I don’t think anyone is ever prepared for a random stranger telling you that they hope you get killed.

One of the biggest weights I feel as a result of all of the media attention around the threats I received is a great sense of responsibility not just to this issue, but most importantly to the survivors. I’ve advocated for survivors of sexual violence for a long time, and I would never want to be the catalyst that pushes more survivors into silence. That’s why I’m writing this post. Because as scared as I feel to put myself back out there, I know there are many people who need to believe that speaking up is worth it.

I’ve wavered back and forth about this core belief. I sat in my best friend’s parents basement, hysterical, just repeating again and again that I just wanted the abuse to stop. I also finally gained the strength to check my messages and to find my inbox overflowing with messages from others who felt empowered to speak out because I did.

To paraphrase Bruce Cockburn, “sometimes you have to kick at the darkness to begin to bled daylight.” A light needed and still needs to be be shed on the pervasive abuse of power that exists in the politics of our country – politics at every level and in each party.

Every voice that feels empowered to contribute to this movement makes a difference. This movement stands on the shoulders of decades of people who were disbelieved, silenced, and had their careers sidelined. People who could only have dreamed of a time where instead of diminishing our voices, we see those voices finally being championed and believed.

Remember – as you decide for yourself, when and if you want to share your experiences – that together we are paving the way for the future generation, and demanding that things be different for them.

You matter. Your experience matters and I can promise you one thing: it might not feel worth it today, tomorrow, next week or next year, but in every way we choose to use our voices it is worth it.

To paraphrase an Alberta political commentator: let’s burn it to the ground and work together to rebuild a system worthy of all of us.


Vice is right

That little fellow at Vice who got mad at me a long time ago – I criticized him for thinking that the torture and murder of Luka Magnotta’s victim was funny, and he never forgot it – is still mad at me.  This upsets me a great deal, as you can well imagine.  Sorry, Justin.

As a public service, then, I offer the following links about the place where he worked for so long (and, I stress, there are some really good folks there – including a couple who have told me Justin was a workplace monster, and who have taken concrete and positive steps to clean the place up in the new era).  It’s revealing and informative about Justin Ling-era Vice (although he’s now working out of the Globe’s offices in Toronto).

This little guy who was at Vice apparently thinks #MeToo – and guys like me, I guess, who support it – are a joke.

Except we’re not the joke, Justin.  You are, for working alongside a gang of pigs and criminals for years, and saying precious little.

And still taking their paycheques.

Ten language commandments or compersonments: take your pick

So, about the little exchange captured below. Was it a dumb thing to say?  Yes.  Will conservatives treat it like a war crime for months to come, which is also dumb?  Yes.  Naturally.

So, ten things.

  1. Language changes all the time. 
  2. Language changes because society changes.
  3. Language evolves as people evolve.
  4. Language changes because no two people experience stuff the same way.
  5. We changed the anthem last week to make it gender-neutral.  No one died.
  6. But: society shouldn’t have changes in the lingo dictated to them by the powerful. Ask indigenous people about that.
  7. And: changes to the language shouldn’t be passed along in a patronizing, condescending way. And: MEN, STOP INTERRUPTING WOMEN!
  8. Also: don’t let language do your thinking for you.  Ever, ever.
  9. N.B.: imposing arbitrary language changes tends to divide people, not unite them.
  10. His noster maximus anxietas, et bene facis. Which (I think) is Latin for: “If this is all we have to worry about, we’re doing okay.”