SPEAKER: We were peppered with glass that years after, you were still picking glass out of yourself. You’d scratch your face or feel something sharp. You’d dig around at it and it would be you know a piece of glass.
ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: A survivor of the Halifax explosion. So many people stood at their windows, watching fire from a ship in the harbor that day. They had no idea it was a munitions ship. When it blew, thousands died, thousands were injured, so many blinded. It was a catastrophic event with a legacy that would reach into the future, informing those making the atomic bomb, advancing ophthalmology, creating pediatric surgery. Today, we will hear from two people — one Canadian, one American — who have painstakingly researched the back story of the Halifax explosion to expose tragedy, treachery, and heroism. And there were six newspapers in Halifax back then, we've got the story of the reporters who scrambled to tell the world what happened 100 years ago today. That begins in half-an-hour. Also today,
DONALD TRUMP: We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people: Jerusalem.
AMT: Donald Trump is not the first U.S. president to pledge a powerful U.S. Embassy in the most disputed city in the Middle East. Could this move undermine the peace process or force momentum? We will hear differing opinions on that in just over an hour.
AMT: And a New Brunswick man buys beer in Quebec. He's not alone.
SPEAKER: I think it's ridiculous. We're living in Canada, why can’t I go and get a dozen cases of beer if I want? You can buy 12 cans there for $17, and there it’s $27. It’s a big difference.
AMT: What began as a local fine for unlawful lager has now reached the Supreme Court of Canada, with implications that may go beyond beer to the very idea of what we can buy beyond provincial borders. We're starting there. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti, this is The Current.Back To Top »
Part one: Unlawful lager, banned bullfrogs and more: 5 provincial trade restriction that might surprise you.
Guests: Sandra Oldfield, Howard Anglin, Kerri Froc
DAN ALBAS: If we can free the beer by removing internal trade barriers. We can also create jobs and create growth in our economy without adding debt. Mr. Speaker, will the government raise the Comeau Decision to the Supreme Court and free the beer?
AMT: well, "Free the Beer" is a message that's easy to get behind for many Canadians. That was Conservative MP Dan Albas, from British Columbia, in the House of Commons last year. The case he referred to has, indeed, made it to the Supreme Court. Starting today, justices will hear the story of a fateful beer run. Five years ago, a New Brunswick man, Gerard Comeau, was returning home from Quebec where he'd purchased 14 cases of beer, and three bottles of liquor. He was caught in a police sting, and fined exactly $292.50 for bringing more alcohol into the province than he was allowed. Mr. Comeau fought back, and now those cases of beer, could be the crux of game-changing legal case — potentially upending Canada's interprovincial trade restrictions. Businesses and consumers across the country are watching this one closely, including Sandra Oldfield. She's the founder of Tinhorn Creek, a British Columbia winery, and she's with us from Ottawa. Hello.
SANDRA OLDFIELD: Hello.
AMT: You've gone all the way to Ottawa to see this go to court.
SO: Well, we've been waiting a long time. So I figured it was good to get a good seat.
AMT: Why is it so important?
SO: You know really it has to do with having access to the consumers in our own country basically. And we don't have that currently. As British Columbia wineries, we have, obviously, great access to our home market, but we can't ship directly to consumers across Canada.
AMT: So tell me a little bit more about why with these interprovincial trade barriers what restrictions they have on Canadian wineries?
SO: Yeah, I mean we certainly can go through liquor boards — that's what they're there for — many, many wineries do. And I don't think this precludes that from happening. It’s just that typically in Canada, liquor boards are looking for larger volumes. And the majority of all the wineries in B.C. are quite small, and they can't supply that amount. But what they like to do is to meet people that come in their doors who are tourists, forge a bond with them, those people typically want to join a wine club, and then they want to be able to have that relationship with those consumers for two, three years, as long as they decide to be in that wine club. And I think that is an important thing that we would like to gain out of this.
AMT: So in other words, if I'm visiting your winery and I want to then order a case of wine later I can't do it if I live in Ontario or New Brunswick?
SO: That's right. Except British Columbia changed its rules a few years back, and allows for that to happen coming into B.C. And it hasn't done anything negative to our industry.
AMT: You're talking about relationships with your customers. You're talking about a wine culture. How does that affect your relationship then?
SO: You know for me, it's hard to get Canadians to appreciate what we're doing in the vineyards across Canada. You know be it in Quebec, or Nova Scotia, or Ontario, or B.C. if they don't have access to those wines, it's very hard to say you know here's your local food and here's your local wine if they don't have access to those wines. And that's what I mean by you know creating a Canadian wine culture. It has to start with access to the product.
AMT: So what do you hope comes out of this case?
SO: Well, I mean personally for me, you know I'd love to see at least at the minimum B.C. wineries be able to ship their wine direct to a consumer’s door you know who’s ordered it, either when they were at the winery or online. Anything else that comes out of this is really unclear to me how far it can go, and I think it is to many people. So I think the intent is that they've always wanted the borders to be open. It shouldn't be more difficult for a winery to sell its wine across its own home country than it is you know across its border as an export.
AMT: And so do you see it having broad implications for other goods?
SO: Well, I guess it's all in how they define it. I'm probably not a good one to ask that question. But I mean initially, we've always seen it from an alcohol perspective because that's where a lot of the restrictions were put back in the 1920s.
AMT: But the alcohol restrictions if they change could really change the whole institutionalization of the way alcohol is sold?
SO: It's very possible, although I'm not necessarily a big believer that us gaining direct sales to the consumer is going to necessarily cause a problem with the liquor boards. If you see it as one pie, and they see it as us taking a piece of that pie, possibly, but you know that's not the case in the United States — the pie grew. You know I've always said if people were to order a case of chardonnay say from Tinhorn Creek and they liked it, they're not going to go on line and order another case. They're going to go to their local liquor store and they're going to buy the chardonnay bottle that they want that night. So you know, for me, it's not one versus the other, it's growing the pie.
AMT: Did you think it would go all the way to the Supreme Court something like this?
SO: You know I was watching it when it first happened, and I really did not think it was going to go this far. And when it did, I was pretty surprised and pretty elated.
AMT: OK, well thank you for speaking with me today.
SO: No problem.
AMT: Sandra Oldfield is the founder of Tinhorn Creek, a winery in Oliver, B.C. She joined us from Ottawa. Well when it comes to interprovincial trade, it's not just wine and beer that face restrictions. Everything from fish to dairy products, liquor to eggs, even financial services face trade restrictions. And that's even after a Canada Free Trade Agreement came into effect on July 1st. There are also a few surprising provincial trade restrictions still on the books. Consider yourself warned...
[Sound: Medieval carnival music]
SPEAKER: According to current inter-provincial restriction, non-residents are prohibited from doing the following things:
SEAPKER TWO: You cannot harvest fur in Nova Scotia.
SPEAKER THREE: You cannot sell or barter bullfrogs in Ontario.
SPEAKER TWO: You cannot get a commercial fishing license in Saskatchewan.
SPEAKER THREE: You cannot be a funeral director in Quebec. You have to have lived there for one year before earning that privilege.
AMT: Howard Anglin is the executive director of the Canadian Constitutional Foundation. It has been supporting Gerard Comeau's case as it has gone through various steps in the legal process. He joins us from Ottawa. Hello.
HOWARD ANGLIN: Hello.
AMT: What are the broad implications of this case?
HA: Well, as Sandra just said, it's a case about alcohol fundamentally. And alcohol is the most restricted product when it comes to inter-provincial trade right now. And that's a holdover from the Prohibition-era. Quite narrowly, the courts tend not to want to go much further than the facts of a case. But even a narrow victory on consumer transport of alcohol would set in motion, I think, both a public awareness of these broader interprovincial trade barriers. And also set the stage for future litigation over a whole host of other restrictions, some of which you mentioned in the lead up to my segment.
AMT: So in other words, even if it's a narrow ruling, it creates that little wedge for others to look for other narrow rulings?
HA: It does, and that's because the case is based on a constitutional provision from 1867, which says very clearly that all the articles of goods produced in manufacture of one province shall be admitted free into every other province. So if that applies to alcohol then the logic would be that it also applies to other products.
AMT: So on the surface it looks like a fine for $292.50?
HA: It is. It’s a wonderful case in that way. It's an illustration of just a very average Canadian trying to save a few bucks on beer. And yet, it carries with it this huge constitutional baggage that goes back to our founding, the vision of what Canada was meant to be as one country with one market, and it really shows the problems that have grown up, particularly since prohibition. This whole thicket of laws and restrictions on the transport of goods across the country, which was never intended, and that's what we're really asking the court to do is go back to the original founding vision of Canada. And, paradoxically, bring our laws into the 21st century.
AMT: Now presumably, a lot of people have wanted to change this for a while, so why this one case? what was it about Gerard Comeau and his case?
HA: Well, he fought back. It's that simple. Sometimes it just takes a normal Canadian exercising common sense. I mean he was stopped, as you said earlier, in a RCMP operation that was targeting cross-border shoppers between Quebec and New Brunswick. And that day, we assume that there were dozens of other people who were caught and just paid their fine. But Gerard Comeau thought this makes no sense, we are one country, I should be able to buy a legal product in one part of the country and bring it home to my home in Canada. And so he stood up and said this makes no sense! I want to fight this! And that's when the Canadian Constitution Foundation got involved. And we partnered with two excellent lawyers — Ian Blue and Arnold Schwisberg — and they won his trial.
AMT: Well, as Canada moves to legalize marijuana and work out how that will be sold across the country, marijuana producers and sellers are concerned that inter-provincial trade barriers could stand in the way of their businesses. I've got a clip here of Jody Emery, the owner of Cannabis Culture, which has intervener status in this case.
JODY EMERY: If the Supreme Court of Canada sides with Comeau, we believe that the federal government will be forced to modify the Cannabis Act so that the provinces do not have control over retail and distribution. And it will also force all of the provinces, hopefully, to throw out the cannabis legislation that they're proposing, all of which are very restrictive and carry harsh penalties and punishments for those operating outside the government system.
AMT: So Howard Anglin, she sees real tentacles and implications for this. How do you read it?
HA: I think fundamentally she's right. I don't think this case alone would automatically require changes, but it would certainly set the groundwork for them. The logic that we're asking the court to apply in the Comeau case, which is people should be able to transport or ship a legal product within the country, that should apply to any other legal product. Now it might take another case to get governments to actually apply that to cannabis, but there's no reason why the same logic wouldn't apply in theory.
AMT: Now, we actually looked around for people willing to defend the barriers to come to talk to us today. We did not hear back from the Attorney General of New Brunswick when we asked for an interview. But I do notice in my notes that every Attorney General federal, provincial, territorial, with the exception of Manitoba and Yukon, are interveners in this.
HA: I think Nova Scotia as well.
AMT: But why do the others see this is so important then?
HA: I've been struggling to actually understand why the provinces are so adamant in protecting these liquor monopolies, and specifically, the restrictions on shipping into their provinces. And I've just concluded it's a lack of imagination. It's a failure to appreciate the opportunities that could come with change, and that's a bureaucratic and legal inertia. But every other Federation whether it's Australia, or the United States, or even the EU between sovereign countries has managed to allow this free movement of alcohol. And nowhere have we found an example of where any jurisdiction has lost any tax revenue as a result. So I think it's just protecting the status quo, it's a failure of imagination, and just a “small c” conservative fear of change. But we really think this would be a huge jolt in the arm for consumers, producers, and the national economy.
AMT: OK, well Howard Anglin, we'll have to see how it plays out. Thank you.
HA: Well, thank you very much.
AMT: Howard Anglin, executive director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation. We reached him in Ottawa. Well, when the Supreme Court justices hear the case of Gerard Comeau today, they'll be looking in part to legislation that's as old as confederation itself to help guide them to their decision. Free trade between the provinces is outlined in the Constitution Act of 1867, you heard Mr. Anglin mention that, as it used to be known, the British North America Act. But just what it's authors meant and how it applies to the world today is what’s up for debate. And it takes us into a school of legal thought known as "Originalism." Kerri Froc is an assistant professor at the University of New Brunswick's Faculty of Law, and she's with us now from Fredericton. Hello.
KERRI FROC: Good morning.
AMT: First of all, what is originalism?
KF: Well originalism is not just one thing. It's a family of theories about how to approach the interpretation of the Constitution. So what originalism is all about, and what all originalists agree upon, is that the original meaning of the Constitution is authoritative for interpretation, and that that meaning is fixed. And it's fixed at the time that the constitution is drafted and then is ratified. So those are the two aspects that originalists agree upon: that it's authoritative, and that that meaning is fixed. It's contrasted with the conventional approach to constitutional interpretation in Canada, which we call that “Living Tree Approach”, the idea that the meaning of the constitutional text evolves over time as conditions in Canada change, as society changes. So the difference between an originalist approach and a living tree approach is originalism is more interested in the history of how people were using language at the time. They're more interested in ensuring that the meaning that we're attributing is connected with the text. And living tree constitutionalists would be more interested in how the court ha interpreted provisions over time.
AMT: So how does that concept fit into this case?
KF: Well, what some people are saying is that the trial judge used an originalist approach to this case because he was looking closely at the text, and how it was drafted, and how it went through a number of drafts. And he was looking at the history before the Section 121 was included in our British North America Act. So one thing that he thought was very significant, for example, is the fact that the free trade reciprocity with the United States ended in 1866, just one year before our Constitution Act of 1867. So that was one of the reasons for confederation is provinces were looking to come together and have free trade amongst the provinces.
AMT: So that section of the Act talks about, I’ve got in front of me here, all articles of the growth, produce, or manufacture of any one of the provinces shall… be admitted free into each of the other provinces. Admitted free is that is not the point of contention then?
KF: Exactly. It's a question of does free mean free? And you know the Supreme Court decision around 1921 called “Gold Seal” said no, it doesn't mean exactly free. It means free of customs or tariffs, so you can't have little borders between provinces where you exempt customs and tariffs. And what the plain meaning is is that it means free. It means free of all barriers, and the history simply confirms what the plain meaning says. And that's how the judge used it in the case. He wasn't going off on a frolic of his own. He was just investigating. Well, it says free in the text. Is that how they were using the time? Did free mean free? And he found looking at history that yes, indeed, free did mean free. The drafters could have put in free of duty.
AMT: Or free of taxation.
KF: Exactly. In other statutes, they had some draft wording that narrowed that a little bit and they took it out. So that's really what the expert witness at trial he took that evidence and said yes, free does mean free.
AMT: So is that going to be the crux of the argument today?
KF: I think so. And it's going to be because we have this previous case of the Supreme Court, which frankly, had very short reasons about Section 21, didn't delve into any of the history about it. Should we follow that decision, even though we're faced with a contrary decision from a trial court that takes a meticulous and detailed look at the evidence versus a higher court decision that really didn't take such a careful look at it.
AMT: So if this is originalism, a court decides or a people decide that what was there originally was misconceived for today's time? Can you change it? Does originalism force you to go back to exactly what it was believed they intended?
KF: Right, and that's a lot of what the debate is. You know do we have the dead-hand of history sort of coming back from the grave and trying to control us? And if you take a look at what originalism — what contemporary theorists are saying about it today — is that we should treat it as authoritative. But you know when we're dealing with a constitutional text that doesn't give us all the answers because you know the text is in general terms. So we have to interpret that. And we have to start from the basis of original meaning, but how we construe it and how we develop tests so that a court can apply that we can take into account how the Constitution has worked since the time of drafting. Or you know you know other developments in society as well.
AMT: But before I let you go, what are you hoping for?
KF: Oh, I'm hoping for you know the court to say that taking into account history is the right approach to the constitution. They've done it in a couple of previous cases, and I'm hoping they carry on down that track.
AMT: So that would mean free? That would mean cross the border?
KF: Exactly, free means free.
AMT: And what does that mean? I guess you’d get more wine?
KF: Yes, I'm looking forward to that — to having a better selection in New Brunswick — particularly of B.C. wine, which we don't get a lot of.
AMT: We're going to leave it there. Kerri Froc, thank you.
KF: Thank you very much.
AMT: Kerri Froc assistant professor at the University of New Brunswick’s Faculty of Law. She joined us from Fredericton. Stay with us, The CBC News is next. And then we're talking about the Halifax Explosion 100 years ago today. I'm Anna Maria Tramonti. This is The Current.Back To Top »
Part two: ‘It’s part of the DNA of Haligonians’: 100 years after the Halifax Explosion
Guest: Ken Cuthbertson, John Bacon
AMT: Hello, I'm Anna Maria Tremonti, and you're listening to The Current.
AMT: Still to come, U.S. President Donald Trump plans to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel with commitment to move the U.S. embassy there — a real estate move that would upset decades of foreign policy on the status of the disputed city. What it all might mean for the people of Israel and for Palestinians coming up in half-an-hour. But first, the great explosion.
SPEAKER: It was a beautiful morning. A December day just like today.
SPEAKER TWO: On the morning of December 6th, 1917, in Halifax, the downtown streets were full of workers hurrying to shops and offices. In the residential areas, thousands of children were getting ready for school and some were actually on the way. A French munitions ship, the Mont-Blanc, and a Belgian relief ship, Imo, collided in Halifax Harbor. A few minutes after 9:00 in the morning, the Mont Blanc — loaded with 2,500 tons of explosives — blew up. Two thousand people were killed, ten thousand people were injured. Twenty five thousand people lost their homes.
SPEAKER THREE: I was a pupil at school, which over this way. First, there was the jar of this slate bed on which the city is built. And then came the air blast a few seconds later — a terrific crack. All that saved us was that we were on the south side of the school.
SPEAKER FOUR: I was blown into this stove — the ash pan of the stove. And there’s where I must I kept warm.
SPEAKER FIVE: We were so peppered with glass that years after, you were still picking glass out of yourself. You’d scratch your face or feel something sharp. You’d dig around at it and it would be you know a piece of glass.
AMT: Memories of a horrible day in Canadian history, from our CBC archives. it was 100 years ago today —December 6th, 1917 — that the city of Halifax was devastated by the explosion. And a century later, the shock waves are still being felt and written about. I'm joined by the authors of two new books about the disaster — one American, one Canadian. Ken Cuthbertson is the Canadian. His book is “The Halifax Explosion: Canada's Worst Disaster December 6, 1917. Ken Cuthbertson is in Kingston, Ontario. John Bacon is the American. He's written “The Great Halifax Explosion: A World War One Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism.” He's in Philadelphia. Hello to you both.
AMT: Ken Cuthbertson, let's start with you. Give us some idea about Halifax and the role it played in the First World War?
KEN CUTHBERTSON: Halifax, 1917, was a city of about 50,000 people. It was a regional economic center for the Atlantic region. Actually, the 50,000 population estimates is really a guesstimate because, although the Census said there were 50,000 people, there were probably a lot more there because people were coming from all over the province seeking work. It was Canada's chief wartime port on the Atlantic coast and the rail line, which extended across Canada, had its eastern terminus there. So it was a marshaling area for the troops heading overseas. And also, some of the convoys that were going across to Europe would stop there. The Royal Navy were inspecting ships coming across the Atlantic. This is where the main port was for them.
AMT: John Bacon, how did these two ships collide in the harbor?
JOHN BACON: A lot of very aggravating mistakes by the captains involved. Mainly, of course, the captain of the Imo, who had no idea what the Mont-Blanc was carrying. Basically six million pounds of TNT and nitric acid, which is about 13 times the weight of the Statue of Liberty, which gets your attention, of course. So the Imo had no idea what Mount-Blanc was carrying. And it was in a rush to leave the harbour on the morning of Thursday, December 6th, because it was late for its route to New York to grab supplies and go back to Europe to help those who had been bombed. So in the process, the Imo keeps on passing ships to the left, which is against nautical convention. Much as you would on a rural road passing the left and sooner or later, you keep on passing cars in left, you’re going to find one in your lane, coming your way. And that ship in this case was Mount-Blanc. At the last second, Mount-Blanc realizes Imo is not going to back off — it's a game of chicken. So Mount-Blanc decides at the very last second to veer to the left — the port side — just as the Imo's bow also ends up going to that same side in the middle of the harbour. The two ships Bump at 8:46 in the morning, which is not a big collision. But it does knock over the barrels of benzoyl fuel — airplane fuel — on the bow of Mont-Blanc. That is enough to start a fire.
AMT: Why was a ship full of explosives allowed to go into a crowded, narrow harbour in the first place, John?
JB: It’s World War One, the Russians had just backed out of the war thanks to the Bolshevik Revolution. So the Allied powers: France, Great Britain, of course, Canada, and the U.S. are terrified that the Germans will now plough through the western front. So they, basically, overdo it in this case. And they’re not worried about people in Halifax. They're worried about people in the trenches, of course, of Europe. So a lot of the rules that you would hold did not hold anymore in Halifax. So it was a case of a lot of safety nets being pulled away.
AMT: Now Ken Cuthbertson, you pick up the story here. So the crew abandoned ship. Because they knew what was on this ship, they actually had their lifeboats ready to go, did they not?
KC: Yeah, they were coming out of New York. They were terrified. And, in fact, the crew had loosened the divots that hold the lifeboats in place. So they were ready to abandon ship at the slightest provocation. They believe that if there was a collision or if anything happened to the ship, it was going to explode immediately. When they had the collision, as John said, it seemed like a minor crash. Just two ships coming together. It happened all the time in a harbour. But the benzoyl having leaked down into the hold and the fire that started were the complicating factors. And as soon as the French saw this, they immediately gathered on the deck and they wanted to abandon ship. And they did because really there was no way to put that fire out. And they knew that if they stayed on board they were all going to die.
AMT: So Ken Cuthbertson, did any of the crew of the Mont-Blanc try to warn the citizens of Halifax that the ship was actually a floating bomb that could devastate the town?
KC: Well, that became a subject of great controversy after the fact. The pilot on the ship, Francis Mackey, who was from Halifax, says that he yelled to some of the other boats — the first responders who came out to help put out the fire — and that was later disputed by some people. And it's not entirely clear if in fact they did. The French — if they yelled — wouldn't have been understood because, obviously, they spoke French. At that time actually — because there was a general election campaign underway and conscription was the big issue — there was a great divide in Canada between French and English. The people in Quebec were anti-conscription. And a lot of people in English Canada condemned them as cowards. So the French weren't very popular in Halifax. So even if they had tried to warn the other ships, people probably weren't paying much attention to them.
AMT: OK, now John Bacon, take us to the next point. Tell us what happens at the moment of the blast?
JB: What's incredible is this ghost ship it managed to slide perfectly into Pier 6 at the base of Halifax, the most popular part of the town, sadly. And, of course, kids are walking to school, guys are walking to work. The stoves are still burning, of course, in the homes from breakfast. And at 9:04 a.m. with 35 seconds, it blows up in one-fifteenth-of-a-second. Five times faster than it takes to blink. And in that split second, the epicenter of the ship rises to 9,000 degrees Fahrenheit — 6 times hotter than molten lava — and the blast shot outward at around 3,400 miles per hour, which is four times faster than the speed of sound. This is a gigantic explosion. You've also got, basically, a gas bubble typical of atomic bombs themselves, which you know moves invisibly through the city, just busting houses in front of it. Houses, schools, stone structures just blow up seemingly unseen. So that happens next. Then you've got the tsunami because it went down and exposed the seabed floor. That generates a 35 foot tidal wave, which washes up of course, to shore of the Richmond neighborhood in Halifax, and draws survivors down into the water and drowns them. And then comes the fires, of course, because all those stoves were burning from breakfast. And now, the whole city is a fire.
AMT: The explosion in Halifax was the biggest manmade explosion up until the first nuclear bomb. How does this explosion compare to the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima?
FB: J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb, determined that the explosion how Halifax was one-third to one-fifth the power of the atomic bomb. And consider that for a second. This is 28 years before atomic. Oppenheimer’s got a billion dollar budget — the best scientists in the world. By accident, they’ve basically created a mini atomic bomb as far as the power of it goes. So it is a stunning thing. And it's stunning to me in America, of course, that no Americans know about this. But it's an amazing cataclysm.
AMT: Well, and there is so many stories that come out of that disaster. Let's start with this one. It is part of a Canadian Heritage Minute. Listen to this.
[Sound: An explosion]
SPEAKER: Oh my god! Look at that!
SPEAKER TWO: Thank god she's a half a mile away, huh?
SPEAKER THREE: She’s loaded, boys. You got to get out of here. It’s full of explosives!
SPEAKER FOUR: Children, come on.’
SPEAKER TWO: Explosives? Oh no! Please get these children out of here. That ship is going to blow. Now! People get out of here. It’s going to blow!
ANOUCER: Halifax was devastated. 9,000 wounded, 2000 dead, including Vince Coleman, dispatcher.
AMT: Pretty powerful. Ken Cuthbertson, there's actually even more to this story Vince Coleman. He was sending Morse code signals. What was he doing, first of all?
KC: Well, Vince Coleman was an average guy. 45-years-old, family man, four kids, and his job was in the rail yards. He sat in a little shed and he was a train dispatcher, so he was akin to an air traffic controller for the railway. So he would sit there with his telegraph and tap out messages saying it was OK to come into the rail yards with your train. Or he would say the train is coming out. And on the day of the explosion, he had just come into work, he was seated in his shed talking to his supervisor, and that's when somebody came and banged on the door and said you guys have got to get the hell out of here. The companion ran off — the supervisor — and Vince did sit down to tap out his message. Now, there is some debate about what he actually tapped out. If you look online or if you read any of John's book or mine, you'll probably see the messages: “hold up train.” “Ammunition ship a fire in harbour.” “Making for Pier 6 and will explode.” “Guess this will be my last message.” Then, newspapers reported that he had added “Good goodbye boys”, which is kind of a neat little summation of his message. And certainly adds to the image as a hero. In fact, the train that he was messaging was the number 10 overnight train from St. John, New Brunswick. The explosion went off, rocked the train on its wheels back and forth on the train tracks, smashed some windows, and there were some injuries on the train. But, certainly, if Coleman hadn't sent that message, there’s was a very good chance that the train would've been passing the sight of his little shed in the rail yards. And there would have been a lot of people on that train absolutely decimated.
AMT: OK, well let's go back to that message then. Even if we don't have the “Goodbye boys”, for sure he said “Guess this will be my last message”, he knew he was going to die.
KC: He did. And Charles Bronfman — the Montreal businessman and philanthropist who financed those historical minutes — said “Vince Coleman was the Canadian paradigm of a hero. He was an ordinary guy, who when extraordinary circumstances came along, did the right thing that he was supposed to do. That's what Canadians are all about.” That says it well.
AMT: Ken Cuthbertson, tell us about the part of Halifax that was destroyed?
KC: That area was called Richmond, and it was primarily a blue-collar area. A lot of industry located there. And the rail yards were in that area as well. People from the north and the south ends did not mix all that much socially. The north end was an area with a lot of big families, a lot of Irish families in particular. There was one called the Jacksons. 66 Members of that extended family lived in the Richmond neighbourhood. In the explosion, I think it's 46 or 47 died. One woman in particular that's really a tragic story, Mary Jean Hinche, lost her husband and all ten of her children. And she was badly injured herself. So she was the worst case scenario in terms of what happened in the north end. But it was simply a lot of working-class, blue-collar people who suffered in the explosion and who died.
AMT: Tell us what it looked like after? Like what did that area of Halifax look like?
KC: An absolute desolate wasteland. A reporter for the Toronto Star who was dispatched to Halifax reported in one of his stories that usually when he went to a disaster area there was something to describe. In this case he said there was nothing to describe. It was simply acres and acres of burning wood and rubble. There was nothing to describe. And, of course, it snowed the day after the explosion. One of the worst snow storms in many years in Halifax. And that coated everything in snow, so it put some of the fires, but it also meant that those poor individuals who were trapped under wreckage —sometimes burning wreckage — were covered in snow. So it was extremely difficult for the first responders and rescuers who went out looking for victims.
AMT: John Bacon, how did the city deal with so many bodies?
JB: Quickly. Amazingly, for a town that was really utterly unprepared for this, they responded with great efficiency. First, went to the curling rink because, of course, they've got ice. But they eventually set up shop with the morgue at the school not too far away. And 90 per cent of the wounded were treated within 24 hours, which is an amazing feat.
AMT: And the actual dead bodies. The person overseeing that was…
JB: John Henry Barnstead, so you've got stories upon stories. Arthur Barnstead was the coroner in Halifax in 1912, when they brought in about 300 Titanic victims. And, of course, more of them are buried in Halifax than anywhere else. And his son, John Henry Barnstead, took over five years later. And his dad worked for him in a nice little twist. And that had basically innovated with body bags, with artifact bags, and with toe tags, which were all new for this massive effort. And they had many of those left over and made more for the Halifax victims. So it was a fairly organized effort, despite the fact that you had no communication. Almost everything, as you said, is blown up. So they did a pretty amazing job of working with both the dead and the wounded.
AMT: And John, the explosion caused many Haligonians to lose their sight. Why is that?
JB: Everyone walked to the windows of their homes, of their schools, of their places of business to watch the ship burn for 18 minutes. It was probably the most unexpected part of the whole saga is that it did not ignite immediately, which would have been safer for everybody in the middle of the harbor, versus Pier 6. So you've got 18 minutes to come down there and watch this thing happen. So the number of facial wounds and eye wounds was extraordinarily high — hundreds. And in the process, the practice of Ophthalmology was advanced because the doctors coming in from Montreal, Toronto and Boston all happened to learn a lot about the process during this horrible recovery period. But many of them are quite brave I must say. Eric Davidson was a 2-year-old kid playing with his car by the window when the blast occurs and he's blinded. This guy ended up being a renowned mechanic — a car mechanic — in Halifax who loved to tell his friends whenever he's talking to them. I see. I see. So that is a man who was quite resilient.
AMT: Ken Cuthbertson, so what was the hardest part of living in Halifax for those who survived this blast?
KC: There was an immediate problem after the explosion of people seeking medical attention. They simply weren't set up for it in those days. No other city had ever experienced a disaster of this magnitude or of this sort. So that was the immediate problem, but then, of course, after the dust had settled, people in Halifax got back to work. Actually, within two days the port had reopened because it was a priority to get that port back functioning again. And within four days, the banks and stores in downtown Halifax were back in business, and mail service that resumed. So life began to get back to some semblance of normal — it would never be normal ever again really. But life began to resume. But quite apart from that there was the issue that came up of Haligonians after the initial shock had worn off, anger began to set in. And they began looking around to try and figure out who was responsible for what had happened? They wanted some answers, as did the government. That's another aspect of the whole story that I find utterly fascinating. And it's so archetypically Canadian as well is that within two hours of the explosion happening, people in Ottawa — the deputy minister of the fisheries and marines who is in charge — is immediately looking around to try and figure out how they can deflect blame from the prime minister. Because, as I mentioned earlier, they’re are in the midst of an election campaign. And Borden — who is the Prime Minister, the Conservative prime minister — his home is Halifax. So it looks really bad that the prime minister's home port has had such a devastating disaster.
AMT: In the midst of all this. First of all, Ottawa does send money, do they not?
KC: Oh, yes.
AMT: And the provinces respond as well?
KC: Well, the province of Nova Scotia aid poured into Halifax from all around the province. Places like Truro and New Glasgow and Sydney. Trains headed for Halifax, emergency workers, doctors, nurses, anybody who knew anything at all about healthcare immediately raced there. And as well people began to donate money. Not everybody in 1917 could afford to give money, so there were actually wagons and truckloads of produce — farmers who sent food into Halifax. I'm not sure it was distributed in an efficient way, but they certainly made the effort. And other provinces sent money as well. The Canadian government pledged money. I think altogether there was about 21 million dollars that was pledged for relief. Doesn't sound like a lot of money now, but in those days, of course, you know a loaf of bread was a penny or two. So 21 million went a lot farther than it does today.
AMT: 21 Million dollars in 1917 money, yes. And so John Bacon, Boston steps in as well. And what role does the city of Boston and the state of Massachusetts play in all this?
JB: At 10:13, the Massachusetts Governor, Samuel McCall, gets the telegraph partly from Vince Coleman, thank god for that, and within an hour at Faneuil Hall, the famous building where John Adams spoke and Frederick Douglass spoke, they got together 100 people and set off two trains, two ships, food, clothing, bedding, motor trucks with gas, and drivers, medical supplies, 100 doctors, 300 nurses, all without being asked, and that arrives about two days after the fact, on Saturday morning. And when they do arrive, a guy named Kapper Cheskey hands his Canadian counterpart a letter from the governor, which assured him I need hardly say to you we have the strongest affection for the people of your city, and that we are anxious to do everything possible for their assistance at this time. And the official who received that letter, a stoic Canadian of course, says under his breath as the tears rolled down his face, “Just like the people of good ole Massachusetts.” And 80 years later, that's what the survivors were talking about amazingly was the help given by Boston. Every year, Halifax and the province of Nova Scotia spends $180,000 to identify the best Christmas tree in the province. They have a tree cutting ceremony, they set it up in Halifax on a truck, and send it on down to Boston where they will light it in the middle Boston Common — the nation's oldest park.
AMT: When did the tradition actually start? Did it start right away?
JB: It started in 1918, almost exactly a year after the explosion. But it was lapsed, of course, until 1976, when Nova Scotia again started giving the tree based partly on America's bicentennial. And they've been doing it ever since for 40 years, so that's a very impressive show of gratitude and generosity.
AMT: Ken Cuthbertson, what were the long term effects on the survivors of this blast?
KC: So the long term effects for Halifax were not only the physical injuries, but also the psychological and mental injuries. And the Halifax explosion really has become part of what Halifax is all about. It's part of the DNA of Haligonians. And today, I think most Haligonians and most Nova Scotians look back on those terrible days with a sense of pride that they were so resilient and so tough and were able to overcome what really was a devastating blow at the time.
AMT: There were other legacies related to this as well, are there not? John Bacon, paediatric surgery actually moved forward with this?
JB: In fact, it was basically invented due to Halifax. A guy named Dr. William Ladd from Boston came up to Halifax and stayed for more than a week working with other doctors. And that's when it occurred to him that paediatric surgery is not just basically performing surgery on smaller adults. It has to be conducted differently, especially with burn victims, of which there are many. He came back to Boston and set up his own little 3 bed clinic, and that grew to a whole wing. And that is the basically the genesis of pediatric surgery in the world.
AMT: Well, you both found stories of goodness, and kindness, and advancement in a story that was so horrific. Thank you both for the work you've done in bringing this story to us 100 years later. Thank you.
JB: Thank you.
AMT: Ken Cuthbertson, his book is “The Halifax Explosion: Canada's Worst Disaster December 6th, 1917.” He's in Kingston, Ontario. John Bacon's book is “The Great Halifax Explosion: A World War One Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism. He joined us from Philadelphia.Back To Top »
Part three: How reporter James Hickey broke the Halifax Explosion story, 30 minutes after the blast
Guest: Michael Dupuis
AMT: Hello, I'm Anna Maria Tremonti, and you're listening to The Current. Still to come,
SPEAKER: I hope he would understand, or somebody would tell him this is so reckless, so dangerous, so bad for the United States and its future the he would retreat from doing such a thing that is Palestinian politician Mustafa Barghouti calling on US President Donald Trump to refrain from recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel today and moving the U.S. embassy there.
AMT: That's Palestinian leader Mustafa Barghouti, calling on U.S. president Donald Trump to refrain from recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and moving the U-S embassy there. But that's exactly what the president is expected to do today. Coming up later this half-hour we'll hear from different sides of the debate. But first, we've been looking back at the Great Halifax Explosion. One hundred years ago today, nearly 2,000 people died in the accident. One of the explosion's best known survivors was Viola Desmond. She became a civil rights icon after challenging racial segregation at a Nova Scotia movie theatre. She is the first woman to be featured on a Canadian banknote, the 10-dollar bill. But when the Halifax Explosion happened, she was just 3-years-old. That day became part of her family lore. Her youngest sister, Wanda Robson, who’s now 90-years-old, vividly remembers family conversations about the disaster and their survival.
WANDA ROBSON: Our family, when we all got together, every now and then, the subject would come back to the Halifax Explosion. Well, Emily, who was four, she remembers being in the kitchen having her breakfast. Viola, who was three, was sitting in a high chair against the window. My father was taking care of them. My mother, she was on a train. Her father had passed away, and she was going to the funeral. The train stopped. And she found out there was a massive explosion in the north end of Halifax. My mom found out with these two children with her, and her three children to be left behind with my dad. Oh my! She said. So she hired a horse and buggy to take her back to Halifax. Meantime, my father was dealing with the explosion, which fortunately, only broke windows in their home, but did not destroy their home. My oldest sister, Helen, she would go to school with her friend downstairs. They were in the hallway, and the force of the blast knocked them off their feet. And they dropped to the floor. My father went into the kitchen. Emily was on the floor picking herself up. You are all right? Yes, Daddy. Yes, I'm all right. And then in the corner was the high chair — was Viola. The blind had fallen in on viola. And the window the glass had fallen in. And my father saw no movement. And he said oh dear lord, the child is dead. What am I going to tell her mother? What am I going to tell Gwen? That I'm caring for our daughters and one of them died while she wasn't here. And he said I went to the high chair and I picked up the blind, which had fallen in on Viola's body, on her head. And he said Viola, Viola he said she was sitting there with her fist clenched and her eyes closed. And he said Viola, are you all right. And she looked at them and she said Papa, those bad boys throw stones at me, you know? And he laughed because if she hadn't had the blind fall on her first that glass came in. She has one little scratch, but she was safe because the blind came in first. So he grabbed her up, grabbed Emily off the floor.
WR: He said I put on my coat and I had Viola in my arms. He was going up to Gary Street where his mother lived. He said when I went through there was bodies rolled up in the gutter. The bank had exploded. There was money in the air. There was somebody injured up here. People wandering around like not knowing who they were, but I ran through. My mother's door I didn't have to open. It was hanging. He said was hanging like this. And he said when he went in my brother was on the kitchen floor — my brother Will — and he said my mother, who was a tiny little 90 pound woman, the force of the blast had blown her up into her open cabinets where she kept dishes. She was up there sitting on one of the shelves. She had glass stuck in all of her. He said Mom, come down, come down. She said James, pick William up. Pick up. Up after 4:00 pick him up off the floor. This is the way she spoke. Don't lie to me I'm fine. Picking Will up off the floor. Don’t mind me, I’m fine. Pick him up off the floor. Didn’t see what’s wrong with him. He held his mother and set her down on a chair.
WR: So he said I have to go back home. He goes back to where he lived, comes in, and my mother, in the meantime, showed up. And she got down on her knees. She passed people who were dead in the street. There were so many children who were dead. And she said there was mine alive. And she saw that her children were safe. My mother she told me she said I got down on my knees and thanked god.
AMT: That's Wanda Robson from Sydney, Nova Scotia. Many Haligonians like Wanda can still recall stories and anecdotes about the explosion of 1917. One can only imagine the story of a similar disaster and how it would be told today in the age of 24-hour news, up to the minute coverage on social media. Reporters would travel in from around the world. Photos of survivors would go viral online. But the news media was a very different beast in 1917. As part of our occasional eye on the media, we’re looking back on how reporters covered that explosion with Michael Dupuis. He's the author of a new book called “Bearing Witness: Journalists, Record Keepers, and the 1917 Halifax Explosion.” Michael Dupuis is in Victoria, B.C. Hello.
MICHAEL DUPUIS: Hi, good morning.
AMT: You're on the other side of the country.
MD: Yes, I am.
AMT: Who was the first reporter to tell the world that this disaster was engulfing Halifax?
MD: His name was James Hickey. He was a Halifax Chronicle editor. He was also the brand-new superintendent of the Canadian Press Bureau Halifax. And a third job was that he was the Halifax correspondent for the New York Times. When the explosion happened, he was in his office. The door blew off the hinges. He was rocketed out of his chair. He had cuts on his arm. He was on the floor. He got to his feet, and his first instinct was to find out what had happened. So we went outside. I mean if you're a journalist and a reporter you want to find out the news, so he started walking looking for a telegraph wire. He had some information. He went to the C.P.R. telegraph office, but it was in a shambles. And he bumped into a gentleman he knew that operated a cable company downtown. They went back to his office — Mr. Hagen. And they scrambled through the ruins of the of the room. And Hagen said look, I've got a live wire here. Before it goes dead, let's get a story out.
AMT: So they literally had to send it over like a telegraph?
MD: Yes, that was the only way that news could get out of the city, and, in 1917, one of the major ways that news was communicated.
AMT: he sent it to the Associated Press.
MD: He did. It was about a hundred words. It was a flash bulletin. And it is in a later recounting of it, he explained that it was done within 30 minutes of the blast, which is quite remarkable to be able to get that out in half-an-hour.
AMT: And he had just been made the bureau chief of the Canadian press. And the Canadian Press was brand-new.
MD: Yes, 1917 — beginning of September — is when Canadian Press started operations nationally. And there was a bureau — a very small one — started in Halifax.
AMT: Journalists will be interested to know — lot of people will be — that there were five dailies in Halifax at the time, and a weekly.
MD: Amazing for 50,000 people — five dailies in Halifax, and then a Saturday weekly on the Dartmouth side.
AMT: There's another reporter, Jack Ronayne. He worked in the Halifax Daily Echo. Tell us about him?
MD: Well, he was a marine reporter. He was a young guy — he's 23-years-old — sort of new to the business. He was at home. He lived on North Street, which is almost technically where the North End started. He was going to go to work and then he learned there was a ship burning in the harbour. It was the Mount-Blanc at Pier 6. So he phoned his boss and said listen, there's a story I'm going to chase it. I'm going to go there instead — fateful decision. So he and a friend they make their way to the north end. And in those days there was a railway footbridge across from the bottom of Duffus Street to the head of Pier 7. And so he crossed it, on the bridge perhaps as many as 150 bystanders were watching this burning ship completely unaware you know that it was a floating time bomb. He crosses the bridge and just as he gets on the other side the blast happens. It just knocks him down. As a matter of fact, it flies him over the bridge onto Barrington street now — it’s Campbell Road — where his friend finds him on the side of the road, moaning, half of his face is burned off because that was the side of his face that was facing the blast. He’s fatally wounded, he dies, and then later in the day, his mother identifies him in one of the morgues.
AMT: They said in the paper that he died in the line of duty.
MD: That's right. They eulogize him two days later in the in the paper: the young man who died in the line of duty. And this is why, Anna Maria, I dedicated the book to him.
AMT: I mean so much of Halifax was flattened. It looked like a war zone that morning. What was the hardest thing for reporters trying to cover that disaster in that kind of environment?
MD: Well, the infrastructure was damaged. Also, if the paper itself was trying to get out a regular copy — a regular edition — it was next to impossible the gas lines had been ruptured and then turned off. And so the line of type machines couldn't work because they needed the gas to heat the little metal slugs. So in the case of the Herald, we know for sure that they used a hand press. So they hand-set an edition on December the 7th — the next day — and 400 copies were rolled off. It was just a one-sided sheet with the with the banner headline “Halifax Wrecked” — a very famous story.
AMT: And so they all showed up to work. The ones who could, huh?
AMT: In the midst of all of that.
MD: Yes, they had to do their jobs.
AMT: This happened during wartime. did censors play any role in how the story was told to Canadians and the world?
MD: Certainly, Canadians had censorship in both wars. But in World War One, the chief press censor was Lieutenant Colonel Ernest Chambers in Ottawa. And he was in Ottawa that morning, and around 10:30 in the morning, he received a telegram from one of the papers in Nova Scotia saying we'd like to report on this horrible disaster. And, of course, this is the first one he knows of it. So it takes him twelve minutes to make a decision. And wires back and says yes, you can print all the facts, but the facts. So in a sense what he did is he made a decision for freedom of the press as opposed to restricting the information. He then communicates with Canadian Press in Toronto at the headquarters, and tells the manager your guys will help you facilitate getting the news out. But remember that it is wartime and they can’t show pictures or describe military installations.
AMT: What stays with you after going through the reporting from all of that?
MD: Well, I'm amazed at what they did. After I wrote the book, I started thinking you know they were first responders. And there were a lot of heroes, Vince Coleman, firemen — many of whom perished — average citizens. But the journalists in a sense, without their communicating this news to the outside world, I don't think the relief and recovery effort would have been so rapid. We've talked about Boston. What happened was that the information started falling in, and of course, as your previous guest had said, they responded magnificently.
AMT: Michael, really interesting to talk to you about this angle. Thank you.
MD: Well, you're most welcome.
AMT: Michael Dupuis, author of the new book “Bearing Witness: Journalists, Record Keepers, and the 1917 Halifax Explosion.” He joined us from Victoria, B.C.
[Music: Electro pop]Back To Top »
Part four: Trump’s plan to move U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem divides Israelis and Palestinians
Guests: Shimon Fogel, Nayrouz Abu Hatoum
AMT: This is The Current on CBC Radio One. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti.
DT: We will move the American Embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people: Jerusalem.
AMT: U.S. President Donald Trump on the campaign trail last year. He was not the first presidential candidate to make that promise. He may yet be the first to keep it. Later today, he's expected to make an announcement officially recognizing Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel. He is also expected to expand on his plan to move the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv. While Jerusalem is the seat of the Israeli government, it is a disputed city. In deference to that, almost all governments keep their embassies in Tel Aviv. Real estate matters in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And so the news is being welcomed by many Israeli Jews and others around the world. But it's the hope of the Palestinian people that East Jerusalem, which was annexed by Israel in 1980, would be the capital of a future Palestinian state. The fate and status of the Holy City is a hot-button issue in the region — key to any peace deal. Shimon Fogel is the CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. He's in our Ottawa studio. Hello.
SHIMON FOGEL: Good morning, Anna Maria.
AMT: What's your view of President Trump's plan to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel?
SF: Well, it's not entirely clear exactly what context he's going to provide for an announcement expected later today. But I think at the very basic level independent validation of what the Jewish people have felt for well over 3,000 years will be welcome. And will give a sense of confidence in looking towards the future.
AMT: And is it the actual stating of that? Or is it the intention to move the Embassy there that is the biggest thing for those who want him to do this?
SF: Well, I think, fundamentally, it's the recognition of the connection between the Jewish people and the City of Jerusalem. The Embassy issue is really a corroboree. It would logically follow from that. But nobody is expecting it to happen tomorrow.
AMT: And why is it so important to Israelis that the international community and the U.S., especially, recognize Jerusalem as the capital?
SF: Well you know Russia did it six months ago. It didn't really attract too much international attention. I think that one of the unique features of Israel's history since ’48, and even going back a little earlier, is the struggle for recognition and validation of the Jewish peoples connection to the Land of Israel — to them serving as, in effect, an Aboriginal people that were seeking to return to their homeland. And this kind of declaration provides that kind of independent third party validation that I think is so important for the Jewish people.
AMT: You know that President Clinton signed a law in 1995 stipulating that the U.S. relocate its diplomatic presence to Jerusalem, unless the commander in chief issues a waiver on national security grounds. This has been playing out for a long time.
SF: It has and in Jerusalem, as you suggested, is a very, very complicated issue. And it's not a large piece of real estate. There are competing claims. And I think all of that has to be recognized in the context of how do you move forward towards peace? Because, ultimately, that's the real question — it's not so much what President Trump announces today. It's how does that fit into a larger vision of how you move from chronic confrontation and conflict to a path of peace?
AMT: And so given that I mean Palestinian leaders today are saying the peace process is finished with this that this is not a way to move forward toward peace. How would anyone see it as moving forward?
SF: Well, I do know. You know I've been fortunate to have ongoing consultations with Jordan, with Palestinians, and certainly with Israelis. I do know that Trump has had direct consultations and conversations with all of the key stakeholders over the last couple of days. And I really do think it would be a mistake for us to look at this particular announcement in isolation. I think that it's part of a larger vision. He talked about the deal of the century in typical Trump-esque kind of hyperbole. But I do think that the efforts of everybody who's been engaged over the last number of months has been towards a much more comprehensive and regional approach that is really going to deliver on stability and peace for the region more broadly. Not just the narrow issue of Palestinian-Israeli relations.
AMT: So in other words, you think this is one piece of a bigger puzzle that he's planning to unveil?
SF: Well, I do think that's the case. And you know it can offer a couple of suggestions as to why that would make sense. You know there's a saying that the only pressure Israel can never resist is a strong embrace. Since Israel will have to take some very difficult, decisions offers some meaningful concessions, as they have over a number of peace offers made over the last 10 years. But they have to feel a degree of confidence that others will have their back. That they won't be left to hand out and dry. So I think this kind of symbolic move offers Israelis, particularly the Israeli government, a sense that there is a recognition of their perspective. That things like UNESCO's efforts to erase the Israeli and the Jewish and by extension Christian connections to the land will be pushed back against. That the need for Israel to engage with Palestinians fully will be done in a broader context. And so that offers Israel some degree of certainty about how they move forward.
AMT: OK, Shimon Fogel, we'll have to wait and see how it plays out. Interesting to hear your perspective, thank you.
SF: Thank you.
AMT: Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. He joined us from our Ottawa studio. My next guest is Nayrouz Abu Hatoum. She is an adjunct professor at Ryerson University, and a visiting scholar at the City Institute at York University. She is a Palestinian. She's a citizen of Israel. She has ongoing research in Jerusalem, and spends part of each year there. And she joins me in our Toronto studio. Good morning.
NAYROUZ ABU HATOUM: Good morning.
AMT: What were your first thoughts when you heard what Mr. Trump is about to announce today?
NAH: Well, it's not new news, as the previous guest said. The Russian government have also stated something similar. And also, around 1995-1996, the U.S. Congress has also voted unanimously to announce Jerusalem as the capital of the Israeli State. And also, the facts on the ground, which is something that often the Israeli government like to impose on the city, actually to show that the full rule in terms of administration, in terms of police, in terms of military is that of Israel. So de-facto the facts on the ground Israel actually does rule the whole area of East and West Jerusalem. And I would agree that, in fact, the gesture like this from the American administration is a kind of symbolic gesture. It's also a reminder who controls that idea on one hand. And also a reminder of something that many that the international community, and many Palestinian, and many people in the Arab world have been saying that they are increasingly suspicious of the U.S. role as a mediator in the negotiation between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Especially because Jerusalem and right of return of Palestinian refugees is often where the negotiations stop.
AMT: Well, in fact, that's the crux, right? They started negotiating years ago, and they were supposed to get to Jerusalem because they were trying to get them to get along on all those other issues. And that just hasn't happened. What you're saying that the de-facto Israel controls anyway all of Jerusalem. But how does that change? Palestinian leaders are upset today.
NAH: Of course, so yes, at the level of discourse, at the level of the media or are what's called “the street”, Palestinians are angry. And some Palestinian authority you know kind of also losing a lot of legitimacy among the Palestinian people. But, in any case, they're also expressing their frustration with a decision like that. And different factions of the political Palestinian scene are actually declaring Friday as a day of anger against this call. So in some sense, yes it does kind of create a situation in which perhaps brings back Jerusalem into the international debate and rational discourse. But for Palestinians, it's actually kind of a frustrating statement. Even though, as I mentioned, the de-facto facts on the ground Israel does actually control military, and police, and administration does control the whole city. Now in 1967, with the occupation of the West Bank, and Gaza the Golan Heights…
AMT: That’s right, the city was divided. The East side of the city Old City was the Palestinian side.
NAH: Yeah, and the West was the Israeli.
AMT: Your most recent research looks closely at one particular neighborhood in Jerusalem, Kaff’Aqab, what's the situation there?
NAH: So, basically, after the construction of the separation wall in 2003-2004, in Jerusalem Israel built the wall actually inside its borders. Even though its kilometres east of the Green Line, which is the cease fire line, in any case, leaving almost 150,000 Palestinian Jerusalemites outside access of the city — outside the wall. They have to go through checkpoints to access the downtown of the city or to access the centre. So in some sense that leaves about a third of the Palestinian Jerusalemites living inside Jerusalem are actually living outside the walls that the Israelis constructed. So Jerusalem itself has never been more divided. has never been more segregated, even though Israelis celebrate 50 years of unification of the city.
AMT: So how would this affect people in that specific neighborhood?
NAH: Palestinians living outside the wall, but part of the Israeli Jerusalem municipalities they will basically perhaps have less access to Jerusalem if Jerusalem is completely finished and becomes like administrated only by the Israeli State. Because up until now, it's still a contested territory internationally, and in some sense it's interesting. If Trump thinks that West Jerusalem is the capital of the Israeli State. Or West and East Jerusalem is the capital? And that’s unclear.
AMT: Right, because the Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of the Palestinian State.
NAH: Yes, correct.
AMT: That’s the contentious issue. And East Jerusalem also contains all the Holy Sites.
NAH: Yes. Yes, it does. And also it contains thousands of Israeli Jewish settlers who are living there. Because since the past 10 to 15 years, there was an increase acceleration of settlements, so East Jerusalem over a third is actually Israeli Jewish.
AMT: Before I let you go, we heard our last guest say that he thought that this could get some momentum going in great concessions on the Israeli side. Do you think it could have involve settlements?
NAH: Yeah, the U.S. administration in all its past few years have kind of supported the settlements in the West Bank. Sometimes they would declare otherwise, but they actually de-faqto did support. And also, it's interesting that the previous guest actually mentioned recognition of Israel — recognition of the Jewish people. No mentioning that actually the one who has been not been recognized are the Palestinians, since 1948 to be more precise, and the Palestinians actually their ties to the city of Jerusalem has been actually recognized internationally.
AMT: So much more to work out. Thank you for coming in.
NAH: Welcome. Thank you for inviting.
AMT: That is Nayrouz Abu Hatoum, she is a Palestinian. She is a citizen of Israel. She's an adjunct professor at Ryerson University. And she joined us in our Toronto studio. That is our program for today. Stay with Radio One for “q”. Tom Power is joined by Canadian writer Katherena Vermette, her latest project is a graphic novel called “Pemmican Wars”. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti, thank you for listening to The Current.
CBC would like to acknowledge the support of the Broadcasting Accessibility Fund.