MARGOT VAN SLUYTMAN: I just walked right up to him and he said you must be John Glyndon Flett? He said yes. We just hugged each other and he said I'm sorry. He was crying and I was crying he said I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I said I know it's OK.
ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: How do you get to the place where it's OK to hug the man who murdered your father? Where it frees you to meet and then work with the person whose single swift act on a Monday back in the ‘70s snuffed out the life of a man who was so protective of his children that he and his wife moved you all to Canada because it seemed so very safe. And if you're the man who pulled the trigger what do you have to go through to get to the point where the victim's daughter is willing to see the good in you? In a moment our project “The Disruptors” brings you one woman's personal moment of disruption. A remarkable story of friendship and understanding.
AMT: Also today, tough love and even tougher resolve.
ALEX MCDONALD: It's about drugs. It's about you know I'm against drugs in the community. It sucks that you have to pick people up out of your community but sometimes it has to happen. Other communities have done it and they had good results.
AMT: One Nova Scotia First Nations community is considering following the lead of reserves in Saskatchewan and Quebec and banning suspected drug dealers from their community. They point to drug sales to children saying it's time to make a choice. In an hour we're looking at the implications. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The CurrentBack To Top »
Part 1: How one woman came to forgive, and value, the man who murdered her father
Guests: Margot Van Sluytman, Glen Flett
[Music: The Disruptors theme]
AMT: We have received a lot of mail here at The Current with our call out for personal moments of disruption and one letter stopped us in our tracks. And it came from the woman sitting across from me. Hello.
MARGOT VAN SLUYTMAN: Hello Anna Maria.
AMT: Tell me your name.
MVS: My name is Margot Van Sluytman.
AMT: Margot, Could you please read the letter you wrote to us?
MVS: Yes. Meeting the man who murdered my dad disrupted my life. At the time about disruption, I was told to trust. Trust what happens when authenticity of the heart guides your choice. Ten years later, that disruption has become an aspect that infuses my relationship to my family with deepened respect for each other and also shifts how we can talk with each other even when we do not always agree.
AMT: There is a very big story in that short letter.
AMT: Meeting the man who murdered my dad you write. That man is Glen Flett.
AMT: And you know him well now.
MVS: I sure do yes.
AMT: Hello Glen.
GLEN FLETT: Good morning.
AMT: What's it like for you to hear Margot read those words?
GF: Well, it's difficult to listen to that. You know it's emotional for sure. It sort of touches me deeply.
AMT: The two of you now work together speaking in prisons about your experience. What exactly do you do?
MVS: We share our story of how my dad and Glen met and then how Glen and I met. And we speak with people that are imprisoned. And we also speak with staff encouraging both of them to remember shared humanity.
AMT: And Glen, how important is working with Margot for you?
GF: Oh, it's been amazing. And like she says, it brings hope. It really changes people's perspectives of what's possible and how you can turn tragedy into triumph if you just keep hoping and keep believing.
AMT: And bridging a great big gap?
AMT: And we're bridging time and geography right now, Glenn is in our Vancouver studio. Margot, take us back to that day March 27, 1978. What happened to your father?
MVS: That was Easter Monday. It was my father's day off. My father's name is Theodore by the way. So my dad it was his day off he went in. He worked for The Hudson’s Bay Company in Scarborough. He went in to get ready for a “Bay Day” sale. He was a salesperson, a very good salesperson, and a commission salesperson. So he went in just to make sure that everything was in place for that sale. And he was leaving and I remember saying to my dad I'd like to go with you. And he said oh you a little pest. I’m going to be back in a couple of hours, you know. And so we hugged and then my dad left and several hours later, I was in the basement of our house, my mom did home daycare. And there was a knock on the playroom door and I opened the door. There were two very tall people standing there, a man and a woman and I asked them what they were doing there? And they said we have some bad news. And so I said was my dad in a car accident? And they said no he was killed in a robbery today. And that was the beginning of a very painful time. That's an understatement, but yeah, it was brutal.
AMT: All these years later it's still so painful?
MVS: it's painful Anna Maria, but there's a reason why I cry. I did work once with Sister Helen Prejean and she said something to the audience when I started to cry. She said she is not crying because she's weak and sad. She's crying for strength. And part of the reason I cry is the paradox of being very good friends with Glen, who I respect and love very deeply and I loved my father very deeply. And the paradox of that is what makes me cry. To be honest with you, it's so huge. But it's true.
AMT: That's a very profound thing that you've just said to me. How old are you Margot?
AMT: Glen, what do you remember of that day?
GF: Well, I remember everything that day. It was the day in spring day kind of sunny. And we went there at about 2:00 o'clock in the afternoon the robbery took place. We hadn't planned on anything like that happening. We thought we had it all covered. I was with a crew of guys who'd been pulling robberies before and so we had some experience. And we said everything was going to go according to plan, but it didn't. We left. We got away. I still have a hard time forgetting the actual moment. It's there all the time.
AMT: It was a Brink's robbery, am I right? You were robbing that truck that came to pick up the money?
AMT: And you shot Theodore?
GF: Yes I did.
AMT: Did you realize that you had shot and killed him?
GF: I didn't know I killed him, no. I did shoot him I thought I'd shot him in shoulder and I didn't know if he was dead. I mean to be honest, it did occur to me. I mean I hoped he wasn't dead, but I was in panic at that moment to really consider whether or not he was dead. I was just trying to get away.
AMT: Margot, how did your mother react and cope with your father's murder?
MVS: My father was 40-years-old when he was shot and killed. My mom was 36 and she had four of us. They had four children and we were only in Canada well that was nine years. But I will tell you after I asked those two police officers what had happened and they told me, I ran up the stairs. And my mom was sitting on the stairs and my little sister and my brother, who is little, he's the only boy. They were hugging my mom and they were crying but mom was just sobbing and extremely sad. And she looked at me and she still has her Guianese accent and she had it then, but I remember her exact words. She says Margot, Daddy dead. And her life it was horrific and it was horrible. And about two years later, she sort of managed and managed and then all of a sudden she just had a huge breakdown. They didn't know what it was. She was in hospital for a year. And my older sister took over the show. So it was very, very, very difficult. It still is for my mom. She misses my dad every day. She's happily married to a marvelous marvelous person, Steve. And Steve knows that Mommy loves Theodore and that is ok.
AMT: Not long after your father died you convinced your mother to talk to a journalist. Tell me what happened?
MVS: I was a young woman journalist that came to the door and the journalist said to my mom will you ever be able to forgive the man who murdered your husband? I'm not sure if that was a wise or fair question two days after you know your love is killed. But I will most remember what my mom said. And Glen, I remember you telling me you remember this. Mom said I forgive them so I can live and there is a higher power that will take care of the rest. But I need to live. I have four children. And she was 36.
AMT: And it was two days after that?
MVS: I'm almost 56 and I still can't believe my mom said that.
AMT: You remember that Glen? When do you remember hearing about that?
GF: It was actually in the newspaper. They ran a big two page spread and it really touched me at the time to. I realized the impact that I had on their family because of the trial. It came all out. Every detail of the misery we’d caused. And so for her to say that I don't know I didn't make me feel any release or anything. I was guilty and in fact, I was denying guilt at that time. But I kind of admired her and I thought wow how could I have done that to somebody that feels like that?
AMT: Now you are found guilty. What was the charge?
GF: Second degree murder.
AMT: And you end up in prison where?
GF: First I was in Kingston and Millhaven in Ontario and then I came out here back home. That's where I'm from out in B.C here.
AMT: How much time did you serve?
GF: Fourteen years all together before I got full parole.
AMT: You make the point that at one point you were in denial and in fact, I was looking at the news reports from around then and when you were sentenced you told the court I feel the criminal justice system and due process of the law has not been seen here I stand by my not guilty verdict. You were quite defiant at that point.
GF: Yeah I was.
AMT: When and how did that change?
GF: Well it all changed actually in about 1982. So it was four years of being just the creepy, defiant bastard that I was. And I finally had had enough of myself and my life was just crap. And a friend of mine, he was a Christian, invited me to come down to the chapel and meet people that were coming from the outside. And that sounded like a good idea. So I had no intention of becoming a Christian, but I went down there and I had an experience. And it changed the way I looked at myself and life and it saved me.
AMT: Because you had spent much of your life in crime or charged with a much more minor offenses, am I right?
GF: My first police contact was when I was seven years old.
AMT: Wow seven. You had a tough life as a kid too?
GF: I had wonderful parents, but I was pretty messed up kid.
AMT: Margot as Glen was being sentenced you are now in your late teens I guess. What impact did your father's murder have on you as you got older?
MVS: Well, I left home three months after my dad was murdered. And I did not leave home for sex, drugs and rock and roll. I left home because I couldn't breathe. Being there it was really strange to be you know we were a very close family and it was just strange to be in the environment. I just had to disappear. So I left home and I worked during the summer as a security guard in College Park at 16. I struggled very hard, but I managed. And I was going to quit school but at that time I was going to Notre Dame High School in Toronto, an all-girls Catholic school, and the principal I will say her name because I think Sister Lucille Corrigan saved me. Because I was going to quit school and she says no and I said well I can't afford it. And she said we will get you a bursary. And so I stayed in school. But when I was 18, I did try to take my life. And then when I felt my body just shifting I called a family member an uncle of mine and just told him what I had done and he picked me up and took me to Scarborough General emergency. My mom came to the hospital and she says Margot, I have lost Daddy, I cannot lose you too. So yeah that was that was probably maybe the darkest and then years later, I became bulimic. And but through the whole thing I will tell you what saved my life - besides a few amazing people. But it was language.
AMT: You started to write.
MVS: I disappeared into books. I've always loved reading and writing and that's what we do that in the jails to. I actually do that with the men and women and the staff there. We write so we can still rise.
AMT: So let's jump forward about I guess 29 years or so. You're now a mother. You're a published author. You're a poet, which is again the writing that there's a thread here. There's an online fund raising appeal. What happens?
MVS: Well, I've got a micro poetry press it's called Palabras Press. Palabras means words in Spanish. I just had a donation button on it because I fund my own stuff. But one day I received a donation to Palabras from a woman by the name of Sherry Edmonds-Flett. And I saw the name and I'm just like ah. And one of my daughters, my Jessie, she was in the living room with me and I said Jess, I think I just got a donation to Palabras from the wife of the man who killed Grandpa Theodore. She backfliped off the coach and she says holy beep mom, what are you going to do? And I mean I was crying and I said well I don't want to upset granny and Auntie Lor and Auntie Karen and Uncle Jerry, but I'm going to email him and I'm going to ask for an apology and that's precisely what I did.
AMT: So you write an email and say are you who I think you are?
MVS: That's what I did.
AMT: And she writes back?
MVS: She did write back she did write back almost immediately and she said we saw the work you do and we didn't mean to cause any trouble, but we just wanted to support you. And many thoughts ran through my mind many many thoughts. But I said to her you've not upset me you've not caused me harm, but would you mind terribly asking your husband if he could give me an apology please.
AMT: And what happened?
MVS: Well, she e-mailed back and she said Oh my goodness he's been waiting for this for so many years. And then I e-mailed back and I said wait, wait, wait, wait wait. This is just for me. This is not for my family. I'm not my family spokes individual it's not like that it's just for me. And then I woke up in the morning to a very authentic, clear, beautiful letter from John Glendon Flett.
AMT: Glen, how long had you been thinking about reaching out to Margot or her family?
GF: Well, I think it happened just shortly after he became a Christian. I think that's when it started. The desire I had to somehow not just say I was sorry, but to show I was sorry to the people I’d harmed. In 1992, when I did get out on parole I was given a contract to help support people getting out of prison. My wife helped me with that and we started to really look at victims in general and how we were trying to find ways to show that we could acknowledge that. People from prison could acknowledge the pain that victims feel too, right. In 2006 I guess it was we were doing a speaking engagement. I had a couple of victims with me and afterwards they asked me how come I never talked to my victim about it because they knew I was how I felt? And I told them that I had kind of reached out a couple of times, but had heard that I shouldn't do that so I backed off. I accepted that I would never be able to do that. That was part of the punishment sort of. So bottom line is that one of the ladies that talked to me came up then later to my wife and got a hold of her by e-mail and said that she'd located Margot. So my wife phoned me and told me about that and I guess she got a little excited and she sent this donation which she thought was anonymous. She didn't know that Margot was going to realize it was coming from us.
AMT: So the two of you finally meet. You fly out to Abbotsford to meet Glen, Margot.
AMT: What are you thinking as you get on the plane?
MVS: Oh my God. I'll tell you what I was thinking when I sat on the plane when the plane took off because I remember. Sitting on the plane the plane is taking off and I'm thinking heavens I need this to be honorable. I need my family to know that I'm not doing this to denigrate them or dad. And then when the plane landed, Sherry came to meet me and I saw Sherry and we hugged. There was already a warmth that developed. My main concern was that I just wanted to know to remind myself that I had and have a voice and I always had and have a need and it has to be done. I have to see the man. The last human being who saw my dad alive I was terrified but I had gratitude because it was going to happen then I could die in peace.
AMT: And Glen, you know she's on her way out. What are you feeling as it gets closer to the time that you're going to meet Margot?
GF: Well, I was quite anxious, but we had communicated intensely through e-mails. Oh I sent I don't know how many e-mails.
MVS: Lots. We both talk lots.
GF: So every day we were sending e-mails each other. sometimes two or three emails a day. But I was from the very moment that my wife sent the money and I realized that she knew I was just terrified that it was going to cause her more harm than we'd already caused and pain. I didn't want to I didn't want to cause anybody more pain.
AMT: You're crying Glen.
GF: I know I’m just emotional.
AMT: Margot Van Sluytman and Glen Flett, we have to pause for just a moment, but I want you to stay with me because I have lots more questions about your meeting and how you work together. Now I am speaking to Margot Van Sluytman, she's here in our Toronto studio. Glen Flett is in our Vancouver studio. This is The Current on CBC Radio One stay with usBack To Top »
Part 2: Margot Van Sluytman and Glen Flett continued.
Guest: Margot Van Sluytman, Glen Flett
AMT: Hello I'm Anna Maria Tremonti and you're listening to The Current.
AMT: Still to come:
AMT: it's a toxic combination: small communities and drugs. And that's why a First Nations community is considering a controversial tactic that's already been used elsewhere: banishing drug dealers from the reserve. That's in half an hour. But first our story of disruption continues.
AMT: For the past half hour we've been hearing a remarkable moment of disruption from Margot Van Sluytman. If you missed the first part of our conversation you can find it on our website: www.cbc.ca/thecurrent. Margot Van Sluytman’s moment of disruption happened when she met the man who had murdered her father. That would be Glen Flett and he is with us as well in our Vancouver studio. Margot is with me in our Toronto studio. Margot, you finally meet. What is that moment like when you actually see him, meet him. What happens?
MVS: It was incredible. It was incredible. We pulled up to the Abbey and before the car stopped I just said to Sherry is that Glen? And she said yes and the car had basically not even stopped and I opened the door and I just walked out and I just walked and walked and I was watching Glen and I just walked right up to him and I said you must be John Glendon Flett? And he said yes. I said I am Margot Van Sluytman and we just hugged each other and he said I'm sorry. He was crying and I was crying. He said I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry I said I know it's OK. And it was very powerful and it was very very real and it was I will tell you this. You know we are speaking with you at this time Anna Maria, but I has said to Glen we did not go through any formal restorative justice process. We did our own due diligence, which we did. But I had also said to Glen I want to meet you, but I do not want to have media. I don't want to have anybody involved just you and me and we had already done our safety checks to say it this way. So the gift, because it is a gift, the gift is simply have time with Gllen just meeting human to human and then something funny happened. Because then he said to me so, would you like to go into the Abbey and say a prayer? And I'm like what is wrong with you? I have questions like da. And then we spoke and we walked and we spoke and yes my main question my main question was what were my father's last words Glen? And Glenn told me that if there was beauty and authenticity and a deep respect and I could feel it. And I treasure it and I will always treasure it.
AMT: What did you tell her Glen?
GF: The last thing that her dad said to me was give it up son. It's not worth it.
AMT: You remembered that all those years?
GF: Oh yeah, I remember that.
AMT: What else stayed with you? Because you know you make the point that your first contact with police was at the age of seven, but you had never killed a man before?
GF: No although I'd committed some violent acts before. So it wasn't like it was anything really new. And I had been in prison where there was a lot of violence around me and I'd committed violent acts there too. So I was kind of desensitized at that time in my life to violence I think.
AMT: But you remembered his words to you?
GF: Yeah, I do remember those words.
AMT: What else do you remember about that first meeting with Margot?
GF: Well, it was it was an amazing day. Like Margot says, and just hugging her and just feeling that there was a connection there. It was it was inspiring and I thought it would never ever ever happen I'd given up on the idea. So it was like a miracle and almost too good to believe.
AMT: What were you hoping would come out of that meeting, Glen?
GF: Well, I hoped Margot would go away feeling better and feeling empowered by meeting her me and hopefully being able to get over the grief that she had been feeling for years. And I just hoped that that that she'd see that it is not just words I was writing on those e-mails.
AMT: Did either one of you think this would become the friendship, the connection, that it has become?
MVS: No, what I thought because we did we spoke about this at one point. What I thought would happen that maybe, maybe, we would give a talk or two together give a little hope to folks and then just say goodbye. No never. I mean we are friends; I do care for Glen and his daughter and his wife and his grandchild and his children. No, but it's absolutely its natural. I'm a really tough customer and Glen says that’s a good thing. But it's true because it's like no and even as my siblings, ask anyone who knows me. I have a very big heart, but I have very strict boundaries and no one can cross those boundaries. And I adored my father. There's no two ways about it. Therefore every step in our work together or apart I honor my father and I honor my mom. So no, I never suspected but this beauty of possibility would occur but that's exactly what it is.
AMT: How did your mother react to the idea of you going out there?
MVS: I didn't actually tell my mom she guessed. Because what had happened was after that e-mail came, the donation, two days later, I was giving a a therapeutic writing workshop at a center in Calgary. And therapeutic writing is very challenging for people because of course it's probably some of the toughest work you will do. You go into your soul, your heart and all of this. So people were not writing it was a full room, but people weren't writing. And so lo and behold I said to them when I tell you that writing your voice can give you your life back perhaps even save it. I'm not lying to you. Two days ago, because of reading about my work the man who murdered my father e-mailed me. There was a woman sitting in the back and she said she put her hand up and she said I have to talk to you and I was very scared, Anna Maria. I thought that could be any content at any rate. I said at the end of class so she said I do programming at the Calgary Remand Centre would you please come there and write with the fellows? So I went home and my mom and my stepdad were just going on a trip and I just phoned mom and I said you know Mom, I've received this award. And I just wanted to tell you about that. And there's something else, Mom. I'm going to go and do some writing with some fellows in a jail. This is my mom. She says no, you've met him. I said no Mom, but I'm going to. And she said why child, why? And I said because I have to Mom for me. She said why? He's already cause you and us so much grief. Why would you do that? I said because I need to she says all right Marg. What if he's lying? This is what I said to my mom. And keep in mind I have a very very deep faith, but I don't like the politics of religion. But this is what I said to my mom. I said if he is lying, he will have to carry two crosses and then my mom said all right, you be safe.
AMT: And you weren't lying were you Glen?
MVS: No, he was not.
GF: No I wasn't lying. I think that that I kind of knew it was going to be bigger than just meeting her. And in fact, the first indicator was when we had dinner the first night. And when she went to the washroom, my nine-year-old daughter said Oh Daddy, it's so weird she just like you. We’re pretty intense the two of us. And so I guess that's what impacted on my daughter. But there was also when I was going through that restorative justice stuff and in the ‘80s I ran into something about Japan and how in Japan people who kill people sometimes don't go to jail, but rather they take over and start to look after the damage they’ve done and that's what I hope I can do.
AMT: Daddy, she's just like you. There are a lot of people who wouldn't understand like I've looked at Margot's face when you said that right and she's pleased by that. That your daughter would say that, but a lot of people processing being victims of a crime wouldn't be able to process that. Helped me understand what that means and help us understand how you got to that place?
MVS: You know it is really funny. I have thought about this and I thought about this because when we first met each other and we started to give talks people were angry with us because we didn't fill out the correct restorative justice forms. We didn't follow a pattern that was supposed to happen. So there was some of that then there was you know I've been interviewed and people have posted things like she's nuts, she's a stupid idiot, she doesn't know what she's doing or she's a bleeding heart for those stupid Christians. Which I mean I was raised Christian I don't care what I believe, but I more believed in than I believe. But at any rate for me it's natural. Like it is not it's not proscriptive. Nobody tells me what to do. Nobody tells my heart what to do. Nobody tells me be this way. You've got rose-coloured glasses well maybe I do. Well some days I don't have, I have darts. It just feels authentic and it's natural and at the bottom I guess at the bottom line of what I think is I believe that it is not actually unnatural. I don't think that it's unnatural I think it's more natural if we have our health meaning our sanity our everything you know, which we don't get to choose. I mean anyway if we have that I think it's natural to be able to sit and to be authentic. Authenticity does not mean you have to walk your life together as friends. We do it because it is real for us. But you can still be gracious, but you can still be angry and walk away say you know what? I don't like you. You have harmed me. I hope no harm comes to you, which is what I thought I might at one point I thought if Glen isn't who I think he is then I would just bow to the universe and say universe protect this man and his family protect me and my family, but we will not. So there is something authentic about it. It is a mystery and it's a beautiful mystery that no one can eradicate or beat out of me. Because I've heard I've heard some of the nastiest things said about you know Glen and I being friends. I've heard vile and ugly things and I’ve thought about the fact that you do not know because you are sticking with a particular languaging and an idea of who you're supposed to be.
AMT: How has this changed how you see justice? How you see restorative justice?
MVS: Well, I will tell you something that is so beautiful and so true, Anna Maria. when my dad was killed half of me died. The right side of my body was black and I was dead. I was pretty good. I had a pretty good brain, but I could not study any longer. So you know yes I eventually got a couple of diplomas. I did not finish my undergrad until I was 38-years-old. I finished a masters when I was 50 years of age. That is five years ago and that masters is called “Sawbonna” or justice as a lived experience and I did write that paper to talk about the fact that justice is not simply the proscriptions and the rules that we follow. It is a lived experiencing of how we treat each other as humans. So I have been involved, I've been in consultation with our Justice Minister's office. I've talked about the importance of our shared humanity even if we don't like each other. And in my masters I write about the fact that no one should tell you who you are and what your voice is. And if someone puts me into a category and say you're a victim that's who you're supposed to be. I will say I'm a survivor and I'm a human being. Glen is also a survivor and he's also a human being. You don't have to like what I do. But if you dishonor justice, if you dishonor my voice, you are dishonoring yourself. I do not support brutality inside of jails and I don't support brutality for victims or for survivors. So I'm very involved in articulating and re-articulating our justice system. It matters to me profoundly no matter what anyone says: she is a fool. She doesn't know what she's doing. OK. That's OK.
AMT: I would imagine a lot of people think you're anything but a fool. Glen, how old were you when you went to jail for this?
GF: I was 27.
AMT: And how old are you now?
AMT: OK. And you met your wife while you were still in jail?
GF: Yes, I met her when I was in Ontario in Millhaven.
AMT: How instrumental was she in helping you move forward?
GF: Oh she's my soul mate for sure. God put us together because we've been doing stuff for helping people since we first got together. We’ve been married 30 years. I've known her for about 38 years or so. And bottom line is that when we get together people I don't know something happens. We are able to connect with people and help them connect with each other and so that's why we started our little program called “Linc” here. When I got out of jail was that's what we do best.
AMT: What does link stand for?
GF: Long Term Inmates Now in a Community. But the idea is to connect people up with other people. The reason I was successful is because I was connected up with people before I got out. And while I got out and a large part of that is my wife, she's a very outgoing person who hits the send button really fast. And that's just who she is. And so that's pushed me out of the shell I guess that I've been hiding in when I was a kid and everything. I shamefully wasn't living up to my potential, I was being an idiot and a monster really. And She's forced me out of that shell and got me out and meeting people. And I think that Margot and I, our relationship is special but it’s because we are kind of alike. We're very committed to what we believe in. We have a passion and we believe in social justice. She did that before she met me and she she's you know again we just have a lot in common. The word forgiveness, I remember when we first started talking and we didn't like using that word too much…
GF: Because it's not really what we are talking about exactly. We are talking about moving forward and you know letting go, but we're not talking about you know saying gee it's OK. It's never going to be OK.
AMT: I'm glad you brought that up because you know that like Margot tells the story of the reporter who comes and asks that. And I've never understood how anyone can ask that of somebody? It's sort of like this one little phrase and then it's supposed to just like change. So what does it mean to forgive or be forgiven? Or what does it mean to move on without using that word?
GF: Well to find the gold. There's gold there and in every life situation. And you know even tragedies there's things there that we can find to honor life. And I think that's what Margot and I are trying to do is honor life.
AMT: When you speak to inmates in prison. What do you want them to know? When the two of you go together what do you want them to know?
MVS: For me the first thing that I want is for them to realize that it's not them and us, so we share this story. I want people to feel comfortable. I want them to feel comfortable because you know I know people are in jail for many many different reasons. I know that, but you know the victim word also applies to many of people that are in jails. I've just come back from Pollsmoor and their are young young men in there in South Africa. I want them to feel OK for a moment about who they are. And and just remind them that they're OK even if they're sitting in hell about what they have done, about what they feel or about what's been done to them. And often it's both. You know I just want them to just feel OK. The other thing that I like to remind is that I say this to crime survivors I'm quite good friends with a couple of people who have lost children to brutal crimes. But you know what they say to me, which is the greatest compliment to me? The greatest compliment, the greatest gift to me, is they say Margot, you never say you have to forgive and you have to step into circle and you have to do restorative justice or mediation. You always say just be kind to yourself.
AMT: Glen, what do you want when you go with Margot?
GF: Well, I know we get the message through that there's hope. That's what we're trying to or at least that's what I'm trying to tell people in prison. I realized today that that's what got me through prison that I found hope. And without hope you can't change you can't face your life or your past if you don't have hope for the future. If you just you know kind of hiding from what you did you're never going to get clear. You’re going to be imprisoned even when you're out of prison. So I hope that when we go to prison that people hear the story of you know what happens when you're accountable. When you're when you actually do mean you're sorry and try to make a difference and then connect with people who you've harmed and try to make amends. Even if it's impossible just the effort to try to care is so important.
AMT: In prison even if you're out of prison and Margot right away looking like you were writing something down. You spent time in South Africa, Margot. Nelson Mandela said that when he got out he said if I if I if I hang on to that if I stay angry at the people who put me there for decades, I will still be a prisoner on the outside.
MVS: Yes, if I may tell you two things. A book that I wrote a few years ago, it's called “The Other Inmate” and that's another thing that Glen and I, so we have inmates and survivors have in common. We're both in jail. We're both in jail. And the second thing I will tell you is last year I met Desmond Tutu and we had a two hour conversation. And that happened not because of anything except for serendipity and beauty. But he told me something that relates to that. He said you know, I did my walk my way. Margot do your walk your way. By which I mean we get to choose to inspire and infuse life with possibility. Even if people think that I'm an idiot to be friends with Glen or people think oh he's just like you know kissing up or sucking up. If we listen to the views of other people telling us what our authenticity and our voices then we are in prison. Then we are in prison. And the beauty yes Nelson said it, sometimes we choose to stay in our prisons and die. I'm grateful that I'm not dead. But I chose it even before I mean it's just meeting Glen was expansive and we offer that to people: hope and possibility. You know we hope.
AMT: One of the reasons we're talking is because this is not an everyday occurrence. A lot of people are killed. We don't hear about these stories that often. And you have both talked about the story together. What makes that possible? What do we need to think about as we say goodbye to you and think about you after all you've told us today?
MVS: I would like to say something that I think is extremely important, Anna Mraia. Not everybody can, should or needs to do what Glen and I are doing. We do not do it to be a sales pitch. It's not like that. What I think everyone can do is know that they matter. Just know that you matter. You know when I first met Glen, I was interviewed and we were interviewed a couple of times. I was so terrified because I thought people are going to think that's what they have to do. And we've been faulted on that like oh my God. I've written about this and meditated on it and thought about it. No, Glen and I don't tell our story to say Anna Maria, somebody harms someone you love. That's what you have to do. No, we do it because we're sharing our story - a very simple story of hope. You know an old nun friend of mine said to me why if you want to know where God wants you to be look at your feet. So I think that looking at your feet and knowing that hope can accompany you is OK and you don't have to. You don't have to forgive. You don't have to be bigger than big. Stand in a place of love towards yourself and if you can't love anybody else than just love yourself that's OK. Just be helpful to yourself because murder and rape and brutality are horrible things. But just remember life is not horrible. The acts are horrible. The acts are horrible, but not our humanity.
AMT: Do you want to add anything to that Glen?
GF: Well, how can I add anything to that? That's amazing Margot.
MVS: Thank you. Thank you. I learned a lot from you Glen. Thank you.
AMT: Glen Flett in Vancouver. Margot Van Sluytman in Toronto, thank you both.
GF: Thank you Anna Maria.
MVS: Thank you.
AMT: If you want to share your personal moment of disruption send us an e-mail by going to our website: www.cbc.c/thecurrent and click on the” Contact” link. While you're there check out other stories of our project “The Disrupters”. There are other dramatic heartfelt personal stories as well as stories about disruptions in science, politics and history. Stay with us in our next half hour, a controversial approach to dealing with drug dealers on First Nations reserves: Banishing them. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current.
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Part 3: Indigenous communities across Canada move to banish drug dealers
Guests: Tina Roache, Bobby Cameron, Hadley Friedland
AMT: Hello I'm Anna Maria Tremonti and you're listening to The Current. It was 2:00 in the morning earlier this month, when Alex McDonald was awakened to quite a scary sight in his driveway. His truck had been attacked.
ALEX MCDONALD: The fire was right here on the on this side and it was a plastic bottle with a rag and the fuel had gone on both sides of the vehicle and down below. It was burning up the wheel wells, right?
AMT: Someone had thrown a Molotov cocktail at Alex MacDonald's vehicle and he thinks he knows why. The former chief and long-time band council member of the Sipekne Katik First Nation, in Nova Scotia, has been vocal about the community's drug problem calling on police to crack down. He says he's in favor of a controversial tactic to deal with the problem. He wants to banish drug dealers from the reserve.
AM: It's about drugs. It's about you know I'm against drugs in the community. You know I'd like to see people clean up. It sucks that you have to kick people out of your community. But sometimes that has to happen. Other communities have done it and it had good results.
AMT: Well Alex McDonald says banishing dealers is something other First Nations communities have done, though implementing it can be challenging. He was speaking there with the APTN the Aboriginal People’s Television Network and APTN’s Atlantic correspondent is Trina Roache, she's been covering this story. She's in our Halifax studio. Hi.
TRINA ROACHE: Hi Anna Maria.
AMT: Does he know or does he think he knows who is responsible for firebombing his truck?
TR: He doesn't know the individual who did it. He sort of has an idea of the larger picture and who the players are. And the police are investigating that particular incident. And there's no there's no details yet or no one pinned down to say who did that. But he but he sort of points to a larger picture and points to people in the community that he knows or that he says are pushing drugs and causing problems in the community and he wants them out.
AMT: And that's why the violence or the attack on his truck because they know he wants them out?
TR: Yeah,and you know when I when I went into the community. Alex McDonald you know he's outspoken and he speaks up, but he's one person. So you know we took the time to go into the community and sort of spend time you know hanging out at the Band office and talking to people just leaning on the vehicle or the car and just chatting off camera because most people do not want to talk on camera. There's a fear. People are scared because they'll say and sometimes even with humor because it's become a bit normalized they'll say well, I don't want my tires slashed. Or my car windows broken. And so I've heard it from other people as well. This idea that talk talking could come back on them.
AMT: How big is the community Trina?
TR: I think the Band membership is over 2000. Not that many live on reserve. Maybe between 12 to 15 hundred people live on the reserve. So for Mi’kmaq communities in Nova Scotia - it's the second largest Mi’kmq community. But still a small place to live.
AMT: And it's mostly around Indian brook, am I right?
TR: Yeah, Indian Brook is another name that the community goes by but Sipekne Katik is the Mi’kmaq name for the community.
AMT: OK, so people would talk to you but not too much because they feel that people might overhear them?
TR: Yeah, they don't want to go on the record. And so you know you hang out at the convenience store, people inbox me on Facebook and tell me things are or you know comment on Facebook. But they didn't want to go on the record. Even some of the other counselors didn't want to didn't want to go on the record. You know maybe they'll talk to you on the phone or just chat. But they don't want to speak out. And they talk about that fear and you know I don't want to paint a picture of Indian Brook. I mean I know a lot of really good people that I really admire and respect in Indian Brook. And even when I talk to the police officer Darren Sylvester, who's a Mi’kmaq RCMP officer, I mean he likes working in that community you know he says it's a great community. But is there a drug problem? Yes there is a drug problem. Are people walking around in fear for their lives? Well no, but are they going to speak out about it? Maybe not because that's the fear. So I'm just trying to paint with sort of a real picture of the community.
AMT: Now you mentioned law enforcement. What might law enforcement practices be there? If there's a problem with cracking down on drug dealers why is it a problem for law enforcement?
TR: When we talked to the officer, you know he's Mi’kmaq, but he's not from that community. But he's worked there for over five years. And so his sense was that from a policing perspective you know it hasn't gotten any worse, but it hasn't gotten any better either. And part of the challenge in small communities, and I think any small community, is that people don't want to go because they're going to be labeled as a rat. And so it's you know sometimes there's stories. There's posts on Facebook and he says that we need good information. We need people to come to us with good information.
AMT: Or they can't prosecute?
TR: Or they can't prosecute. Yeah. And I was just going to say because when you all of a sudden have this intimidation and threat. When people are charged they come back. Sometimes the case I think can fall apart because there's that intimidation factor of violence in the community.
AMT: So Alex McDonald has said people charged with drug crimes should be banned from the reserve. How might that work?
TR: From his perspective what he said and he was fairly adamant as soon as they're charged, they're out. And if they're found innocent down the road they can come back. Now legally and even he said they have a legal team looking at that because I don't know if they could if they could do that? They are looking at what options are available to them because I mean it has to be something that that can be enforced. So you know he was like maybe we just have to have you know an MOU with the RCMP or amend our residency by law. You know in terms of in terms of housing and the rules around housing. Or you know behind the scenes the council is talking about you know do we have to take this to a referendum for it to really stand up and be something you know they have to get community support then. So I think right now they're sort of looking at how they would enforce it and what? Like would it be just you know if you're found guilty of drug dealing? if you're just charged? Like I think right now they have a lot of questions and they're trying to sort it out right now.
AMT: And when we talk about their homes it's not so simple right? You can't just take someone's home away. There are other people in the house.
TR: Well when I talk to people in the community I mean because it is a tight knit community and everybody knows everybody, a lot of people are related. So I mean in Indigenous communities there's a housing crisis and there's a big long wait lists. And sometimes you have multi-generations living in the same house and so some people were sort of questioning that. They were saying how would that work? I mean if this one person was charged, but they're maybe they're living with their sister and their mother. Do they have to leave? Like how would that how would that work? So it becomes a little bit complicated I think in the follow through. And especially just emotionally like legally maybe there's complications, but emotionally in a community where people are tied together how do you how do you do that? And how do you sort of go after and what kinds of charges? And I think there's a lot of questions.
AMT: Right. And what if they come back what do you do? Are you supposed to tell everyone that they're back? But you know in your reporting you've also looked at where else this has gone on, he mentions it to. There have been bans. What can you tell us?
TR: He was referring to the First Nation in northern Quebec that's recently made the news because they did this. Now they did it through a referendum. So that's how that's how they did it. And I'm still sort of looking into this so I don't have all the answers in terms of in terms of the technicalities. But I know that you know that community was in crisis. Maybe around 2011-2012, there had been a rash of suicides they just felt like you know the drugs were a huge problem. And so there was sort of this coordinated effort between the RCMP, chief and council and like the health services and health programs and organizations in the community to tackle it. So it was like a multi-thronged approach. But the housing is part of that and doing drug raids on known dealers and then you know coming up with the charges and then taking the house. And when I talked to Darren Sylvester, he said you know he's the RCMP officer. He has worked in the detachment for you know some shifts he said here and there. And he's been in there enough to say from his point of view, it has made a difference. I think a big part of that too is that connection between the RCMP and chief and council for them to have a good relationship. And that's something I heard in Indian Brook that's really important and I think that in the other comunity they sort of had to work to have that relationship so that they were working together on this. And you know it for Darrin's Sylvester, in Indian Brook, part of what he would like to do is build that build that trust. Not just with chief and council, but with youth in the community and sort of take that proactive approach to try to develop a relationship of trust that people can come and talk to him.
AMT: It is really interesting. Thanks for bringing us up to speed on that.
TR: You're welcome. Thank you.
AMT: That is Trina Roache, she is the Atlantic correspondent for APTN “National News”. She joined us from our Halifax studio. The province with a lot of experience in banishing drug dealers from Indigenous communities in Saskatchewan Bobby Cameron is the Chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous nations and he's joining us from Saskatoon today. Hello.
BOBBY CAMERON: Morning.
AMT: How many communities in Saskatchewan have turned to banishment?
BC: I'd say roughly nearing 10 first nations. However, that being said, there are many more who have begun the discussions and you know whether it's a community referendum or Band council resolution within chief and council there are many more that are discussing it and I have to say this; banishment is not new. Banishment has been with the First Nations people of these lands for hundreds of years .Long before any government set foot on these ancestral lands. There was banishment.
AMT: So It's a traditional way of dealing with problematic members?
BC: Yeah, that's one of the ways right. I mean there are different angles and perspectives on how we can how we can heal? How we can live in harmony within our community and our families and our homes? That's what it's about. We look at the aspects of rehabilitation, education, awareness. Banishment is just one of those options.
AMT: So why are they choosing banishment as a tactic? How bad is it in some of these communities?
BC: Well, some communities for sure it's escalated to the point where gangs and drugs and alcoholism because alcoholism is just as damaging as drugs are. It has impacted here in some of our First Nations in our region. It has directly impacted our youth and the tragedies and crisis we’ve faced in the last couple of months.
AMT: So how old are the kids that are being targeted by some of these dealers?
BC: Well the youngest was 10 and anywhere from 10 to 22-years –old. I mean they are under the influence of drugs. And where did they get those drugs? From drug dealers.
AMT: So when someone is banished how do you enforce that? What do you do?
BC: Well, there’s different components. some First Nations they have bylaws which are enforced by the local RCMP. They have other means of implementing it, but that one is probably the most utilized in ensuring that it's implemented is utilizing the local RCMP.
AMT: Are there any people who would be opposed to the idea in these communities?
BC: It's a sensitive subject and, of course, there's always going to be opposition. In all honesty it's all making our First Nations communities a better place to live in - a safer place. And I mean you ask anybody coast to coast what's more important? Building a quality of life for our youth or selling drugs to our youth?
AMT: You need to do this because you're thinking of the kids coming up?
AMT: Have they made a difference in these communities by banishing?
BC: You know in some instances there have been some improvements, but that being said, the drug dealers and everyone else even the bootleggers you know the get more… I don’t know what the word is? They get sneakier. This is where the RCMP have to have a huge role in how to implement the First Nations recommendations. Our people in our communities know the drug dealers are. They know the bootleggers or and the RCMP have been told time and time again here is the house, here is the vehicle and here is the license plates. Here is when they're selling drugs and here is when they're selling drugs and here’s when they're bootlegging. This is an opportunity for you to go and stop at the house or stop the vehicle in a random check. In some cases it's not happening. The RCMP are contributing in some cases to the devastating impact on our communities because they're not doing their job.
AMT: Can I ask you as well if someone is banished, is that permanent? Is it for a certain period of time? I've heard like a five year period or is there?
BC: It is whatever the First Nation wants. We can't enforce anything or tell a First Nation you've got to do this or you've got to do that. It's each First Nations directives the chief and council’s recommendations. Some are saying five years. And within that five years you’ve got to prove yourself. you've got to rehabilitate. You've got to get education and awareness about the impacts of alcohol and drugs. You know that's one of the stipulations of sentencing circles. Whatever each First Nation is looking at is what they're looking at and that's what they have decided on.
AMT: You know some people say banishments don't get to the root of the problem you really need treatment for addiction. You need other resources for your communities. What do you think?
BC: Absolutely, but that's just one aspect. Banishment is just one aspect and I'll say it again. We have to have rehabilitation. We have to have education and awareness. We have to have elders involved in sentencing circles or whatever counseling services that need to be offered.
AMT: And you're also making the point you need to have more control over your own Indigenous justice system.
BC: Absolutely I mean it's you know I said it time and time again that long before any government or settlers set foot on these lands, we had a justice system and that justice system worked fine because the elders and the whole community and each family was involved. If somebody stepped out of line was addressed.
AMT: Bobby Cameron, we have to leave it there, but thank you for your perspective on this.
BC: OK. Thank you.
AMT: Bobby Cameron the Chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations. He joined us from Saskatoon. Well communities that want to banish drug dealers may meet legal hurdles. It's definitely happened in the past. Manitoba's Norway House First Nation was told by the federal government that it could not enforce a by law that banished troublemakers because it was outside the First Nation’s jurisdiction. There are concerns that banishments could be challenged under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Hadley Friedland is a professor of Law at the University of Alberta specializing in Indigenous Law and she joins us from Edmonton. Hello.
HADLEY FRIEDLAND: Hello.
AMT: What do you think of these kinds of banishments?
HF: Well, I think what Bobby is saying makes a lot of sense. it's a tool and it needs to be used in a way that is considering it one of several tools to address a really pressing problem.
AMT: And apparently one of these banishments laws was struck down in 2009, are they legal or something changed since 2009?
HF: Right in 2009, so there's various sources for enacting these laws. And one of them is using the bylaw power under the Indian Act. And without speaking to the details of that particular case, in 2014, there was a change in the Indian Act. Where the ministerial veto where the minister could say no, I don't like this bylaw was amended. So First Nations now have more say over their bylaws. They don't have have a minister saying yea or nay, although they're still subject to the Charter of Human Rights and every else.
AMT: I was just going to ask you know if we're talking about people who are alleged to be dealers as opposed to convicted. Would this violate the charter?
HF: Right and it's really going to depend on the circumstances and how the law is worded and how it's being implemented. One of the differences would be if it has to do with punishment before necessarily a conviction or if it has to do with land management and residency, who's living where?
AMT: If we look at the bigger picture does the practice of banishment say anything about Indigenous law versus Canadian law?
HF: Well, I think Indigenous communities and Indigenous Law has been around, as Bobby said, for hundreds if not thousands of years. And it's been developed in the context that Indigenous communities are in. So I think it makes sense that it would be more effective in those contexts than law developed in a city or in England or somewhere that that doesn't take into account those complex emotional and relational aspects.
AMT: And how well are those laws reconciled now in our system?
HF: I think there's a lot of work to happen. The TRC or the Truth and Reconciliation final report was really clear that's for reconciliation and for peace and stability for all Canadians reconciling and recovering indigenous laws that inheritance of authority is a is an essential aspect of reconciliation. We have similar calls from the UN Declaration on Indigenous People. So there's a lot of work to do and I think taking these steps for safety and health within communities is one of those steps.
AMT: There are critics who've argued that a ban would send the problem to another community. The drug dealer would just go somewhere else. What do you think?
HF: Right, I think that's always a possibility and I think we need to look the other way as well and say how what have we created that makes drug dealers find First Nations such an enclave to go to? And we don't necessarily want First Nations carrying that load for all of Canadian society.
AMT: It's interesting because Mr. Cameron was pointing out that some that there are a lot of communities now that are choosing some variation of this. And clearly the non-Indigenous law isn't helping them enough in their view.
HF And I think that's a perpetual problem and I thought he put that well where sometimes people are asking for enforcement. Are asking for help from non-Indigenous law sources and it's not happening. And that that resource and enforcement is a key aspect for either non-indigenous law or Indigenous law.
AMT: Do you expect to hear more about this as the months go by?
HF:I think so, I think as it starts being implemented we'll start seeing challenges but we'll also start seeing successes and it will be a great springboard of conversations about implementing indigenous laws and making Indigenous communities safe, healthy, peaceful places that Indigenous people want.
AMT: It'll be an interesting thing to watch then as this goes forward. Hadley Friedland, thank you for your time this morning.
HF: Thank you.
AMT: That is Hadley Friedland a professor of Law at the University of Alberta specializing in Indigenous Law. She joined us from Edmonton. We’ve got of a little bit of time to tell you about a story we have coming up tomorrow on The Current. This is a largely untold story of the so-called “Empire Children”, starting about a century ago. Children from Britain some as young as four were put on ships and sent to various corners of the British colonies as cheap labor. Canada took in more than 100,000 of these children and now a public inquiry in the U.K. is looking into allegations of physical and sexual abuse by some of the institutions that were meant to protect them when they arrived in places like Canada and Australia. Tomorrow, we'll hear the voices of former child migrants to Canada and their families.
GUEST: My first impression is yes, it was a beautiful sight going through those gates. They had lined up all the boys and girls who were already there to cheer for us. When we got off the bus, and I'm sure most of us just thought we'd landed in paradise.
PATRICIA SKIDMORE: And understand that this wasn't one family feeling their child or their children. This was quite a remarkable actually a 350 year program of Britain shipping their children to the colonies. And I realized that my family was directly affected by it and I knew so little. It made me realize that if I knew so little then what are chances that very few people know the story? And that's what I found. People don't know the story.
AMT: Well those are the voices of Patricia Skidmore, the daughter of a child migrant him before her Roddy Mackay, a former child migrants to Canada. We'll tell you more about the “Empire Children” tomorrow on the current. That's our program for today stay with radio one for “q” Tom Power is joined by Canadian born musician Paul Shaffer. He's the former Late Night with David Letterman bandleader. He's got a new album and he'll join Tom to talk about his career in show business. Remember you can always take The Current with you on the CBC Radio app free from the App Store or from Google Play. After our moment of disruption feature today a remarkable story of forgiveness. We're going to leave you with some music. This is Morrissey with his song “Forgive Someone”. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti, thank you for listening to The Current.
[Music: Forgive someone/rock]
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