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7 must-see moments from CBC's online human library

Categories: Canada, Community, World

CBC Community show host/moderator Lauren O'Neil, children's author Robert Munsch and CBC producer Andrea Bellemare pose in Toronto's Barbara Frum Atrium following Munsch's 30 minute live chat about coping with addictions and mental health issues. (Fabiola Carletti/CBC)

The power of prejudice can be dismantled one conversation at a time, say the Danish activists who started the very first Human Library project.

The founders launched the initiative, which facilitates in-person conversations between people from different walks of life, after their friend was stabbed at a Denmark nightclub. Their hope was that dialogue between living "books" and interested participants could help fight violence motivated by prejudice.

The idea has since spread around the world and, on Saturday, CBC News partnered with the Human Library organization to host an ambitious Human Library Day in Canada.

The event was mostly held in its original one-on-one format in 15 different cities across Canada -- but, for the first time ever, CBC News also presented an online adaptation of the idea, featuring seven well-known Canadians, in an attempt to reach a broader audience.

The guests appeared one after the another in a marathon webcast run by and hosted and moderated by the community team's own Lauren O'Neil.

Here are seven must-see moments, one from each book, clipped from the webcast and presented in order of appearance. 

1) Susan Ormiston on her pants-dropping moment in Afghanistan

CBC News Foreign correspondent

In response to a question about cultural misunderstandings, Susan Ormiston explained how her pants fell down right in the middle of an interview with the mayor of Kandahar in Afghanistan.

But she also explained how an Afghan women turned those same problematic pants into a moment that Ormiston will "remember with poignancy forever."


Ormiston is an award-winning foreign correspondent for CBC News who has spent more than 25 years reporting from conflict zones and global hot-spots.

While many reporters avoid high-risk assignments after they become parents, Ormiston has continued to follow the story wherever it leads.

2) Measha Brueggergosman on the richness of Canada's North

Opera singer

Measha Brueggergosman answered a pre-recorded YouTube question from another Canadian who "checks a lot of boxes" in terms of identity.

Jennifer McCreath asked about the value of getting out of one's own region and travelling across the country. Brueggergosman, who has seen much of Canada and the world, responded by praising the richness of Canada's North.


Measha Brueggergosman is an award-winning opera singer from New Brunswick, has been internationally hailed as one of the great sopranos of the 21st century

So much more than a pretty voice, she's also a mother, a heart-attack survivor, a style icon, and a boisterous media personality, outspoken about her relationship, her drastic 2006 weight loss, and her iconic hairstyle.

3) Robert Munsch's heartfelt rendition of Love You Forever

Children's author

When asked how he came up with the tune for Love You Forever, one of his most celebrated books as well as his personal favourite, Robert Munsch said "I just made it up one night out of thin air."

He then closed his eyes and sang his rendition of the song for Alison Smith of Victoria B.C.

Robert Munsch is a prominent and beloved children's story teller. He writes, he performs, he speaks, and he gives kids an opportunity to be heard. But it's more than his work as an author that makes Munsch such a fascinating person to speak with.

He's also been diagnosed with bipolar and obsessive-compulsive disorders, and has struggled with addiction in the past.

4) Shad on listening to hip hop empathetically

One of the most pointed questions for Canadian rapper Shad came from Ronni Abergel, one of the founders of the original human library.

He asked Shad, who has been described as the thinking man's rapper, to comment on perceptions that hip hop is all about smoking weed, womanizing and committing acts of violence.

Although his own lyrics steer clear of such content, Shad did not disparage rappers whose expressions differ from his own -- instead he made the arguments that the causes, not just the commentary, need more scrutiny.


Shad, or Shadrach Kabango, is a Canadian hip hop artist who has been described as "the thinking man's rapper."

In a musical genre known for boasting and tearing others down, Shad is humble and gracious, rapping about everything from his Rwandan heritage to how much he's learned from women

5) Grace Park on her conservative Korean family 
Television actress

Dilys Grace wanted to know how supportive Grace Park's Korean family was of her acting career, especially given the notion that Asian families see creative professions as unstable or unprofitable.

The television actress, who normally describes herself as very private, opened up about her family, overcoming insecurities, and how a "temporary" pursuit became her full-time career.

Grace Park is a Vancouver-raised actor best known for her death-defying roles on television dramas like Battlestar Galactica and Hawaii Five-0.

Her role in the former established her as a strong female icon in the male-dominated worlds of sci-fi and geek culture.

6) Margaret Trudeau's exchange with a thoughtful young man

Mental health advocate

Margaret Trudeau seemed to connect well with a young man named Matt who joined the chat on his webcam and asked about the gap between the medical understanding and the social understanding of mental health problems.

Trudeau and the viewer, who shared his own diagnosis, talked about how to prevent one's own mind from becoming a prison.

In 1971, at a time when paparazzi culture was rising and "Trudeaumania" was at its peak, 22-year-old Margaret Trudeau captivated the Canadian public as Pierre Elliot Trudeau's bride, the youngest Prime Minister's wife in our nation's history.

In 2006, Margaret announced that she had been suffering from bipolar disorder for most of her adult life, though her official diagnosis didn't come until decades after her tumultuous time in the spotlight.

7) Tammy Marquardt on 'fighting for her life' in jail

Wrongfully convicted mother

Wrongfully imprisoned mother Tammy Marquardt opened up about the nearly 14 years she spent in jail, offering viewers a sense of the challenges she faced both inside and outside prison.

The power of Marquardt's interview was often in what she didn't say.

Her long pauses, facial expressions and body language indicated how difficult it was for her to share her story. Still, despite being told before the interview that she could skip questions, Marquardt answered every single one with bravery and candor.  

Tammy Marquardt is an Ontario woman who was wrongfully imprisoned for killing her two-year-old son Kenneth based on the testimony of now-disgraced pathologist Charles Smith.

Smith testified that the boy was strangled or suffocated, and Marquardt spent nearly 14 years in jail after being convicted in 1995. Her two younger sons were adopted out through Children's Aid.

Tags: Canada, Community, World

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