Saturday, August 14, 2010
The Mayor was an anti-Semite
Today I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with Bernie Farber of the Canadian Jewish Congress: no official recognition for Charlotte Whitton, please.
Whitton was best known as the eccentric Mayor of Ottawa in days of yore, who once brought a cap-gun to a Council meeting and fired it off at councillors. She was also lightening-fast with a well-placed quip. At a gathering of mayors all wearing their ceremonial chains of office, the Lord Mayor of London noticed that she was wearing a rose on her chest. "If I smell your rose, will you blush?" he asked her. "If I pull your chain, will you flush?" she responded.
It was only when I read None is Too Many that I discovered a darker side to this woman, which Farber has rightly noted. Whitton played an instrumental role in barring Jewish refugees--children, in fact--from Canada when they were fleeing the Nazi gas chambers.
B'nai Brith, playing the contrarian, disagrees with Farber--a little to my surprise, I must say, since they are well-known these days for finding "anti-Semitism" under every bed. Says Ruth Klein, of BB's League of Human Rights, "the very fact that she had these prejudices is something that has to be remembered. It has to be noted, and it has to be commented on."
Something to be remembered, certainly--but surely not to be commemorated.
I'd call for a little consistency here. A once-respected and decorated aboriginal leader, David Ahenakew, lost his honour, his reputation and the Order of Canada because of a few poisonous words uttered when he didn't know a microphone was on. But nothing he ever did or said led directly to the deaths of the people he disliked.
Whitton's biographer Patricia Rooke refers to her virulent anti-Semitism as a "foible." That seems rather the wrong word to describe a hatred running so deep that Jewish children died because of it. She has her place in history: let's leave her there and move on.