Racist Grandmother Jailed for Assault in Nova Scotia, CanadaJOE O'CONNOR
Justice Ted Scanlan, of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, has spent 20 years on the bench presiding over a grab bag of cases featuring an array of people accused of doing bad things.
Murderers, drug dealers, robbers and rapists, con artists and creeps. He had seen, as they say, it all, and then along came Katherine Feltmate, a 51-year-old grandmother with no prior criminal record, raising her three grandkids in New Glasgow, N.S., and charged with assault and criminal harassment.
“This is one of the most difficult sentencings that I have ever presided over,” Judge Scanlan wrote in a decision released last week. “This case stands out.”
It stands out, both the case, and the judge’s poetic meditation upon it -- which reads like a combination Canadian history lesson, civics text and sermon on the perils of racial intolerance and the values embodied by Canadian citizenship -- because of the disturbing nature of the crime.
On May 29, 2011, Feltmate was at a Walmart in New Glasgow. She had been drinking. She approached Alizah Khan, “a complete stranger,” a university-educated mother of two, a doctor’s wife buying diapers. Ms. Khan is of Pakistani descent and was raised in Illinois. She was wearing a pashmina headscarf.
Feltmate touched Ms. Khan, asked her whether it was uncomfortable to wear a headscarf and why she would wear such a thing on “such a hot day.” Other people in the mall were wearing coats and sweaters. Ms. Khan replied: “I don’t comment on what you are wearing. Why are you commenting on what I am wearing?”
Feltmate exploded, calling the victim an “Iraqi bitch, whore, Muslim bitch,” shoving her against a wall, raising her hands and tossing around a shopping cart. Brian Jarvis, a Walmart greeter, rushed to Ms. Khan’s aid. Feltmate accused him of being a racist before screaming at Ms. Khan to “go back to her own f—— country.”
It was an ugly flare in a small town in Nova Scotia, a province with a troubled history of race relations and a reputation, in its most backward moments, for being the Mississippi of the North.
“Everybody else that was in that shopping mall saw what happened,” Judge Scanlan wrote, “and this community, this province, this country is worse off for this incident having happened.”
The judge praised Mr. Jarvis for intervening and said that Canada would be a “better” place if more people did. The judge heard the case in late August at a moment when Canadians were remembering the sacrifices of an earlier generation on the beaches of Dieppe.
“Over the last couple weeks I watched as a number of very elderly gentlemen walk down the streets of Dieppe,” he wrote. “Men who were taken prisoner, one of whom I knew spent many years in a German prisoner of war camp.
“Why? Because he was fighting for — and those men sacrificed, or were willing to sacrifice their lives for other people whose rights were not being respected. People who did nothing. People who were innocent victims.”
People like Alizah Khan. In a victim-impact statement, Ms. Khan said she didn’t “feel” safe anymore, was scared to be out alone with the children and scared to be home alone at night when her husband was working at the local hospital, “saving lives.”
She said that she would heal. She said that it would take time.
The hijab, much like the turban once was, has somehow become a bogeyman in the reasonable accommodation debate. Little Muslim girls were banned from wearing them in soccer games in Quebec because of, ahem, “safety concerns,” a ludicrous rule the Quebec Soccer Federation finally, after five years on the books, abolished in July.
Now this, in Nova Scotia, another head-scratcher over a headscarf, a simple piece of fabric, a religious costume — no different than a cross dangling from a Christian’s neck — but something that, in some narrow minds, looms as a suicide vest strapped about our national identity.
And what is our identity anyway? Judge Scanlan addressed his own heritage, a mixed bag of French, Scotch, Irish and Native American blood.
“They all went to war with one another at one time or another, but I am Canadian,” he writes. “No better than Ms. Khan, no better than Ms. Feltmate.”
No better than the famine Irish, who limped off the boats in the 1850s and were spat upon for being dirty, disease-carrying Micks; or the Italians and the Greeks who were spat upon a few generations later, or the Chinese a few generations after that.
We are a mixed bag that keeps on mixing. What has changed, in most corners — on most days — is our collective patience for the Katherine Feltmates of the world. The accused expressed remorse for her crimes, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 60 days in jail and 12 months’ probation.
“Racially motivated crimes are indicative of a lack of respect,” Judge Scanlan wrote. “The respect of which I speak is the essence of Canadianism. A country where we foster diversity, we recognize diversity. We do not require that every Canadian be the same, whether you are from Newfoundland, Nunavut, British Columbia, or any place in between.
“We do not require of people in this country that they forget where they came from when they arrive, no matter how far they have moved.… We don’t ask them to leave their clothes behind; we do not demand of them that they leave their religion behind.
“About the only thing we ask them to do is respect other people when we tell them racial intolerance in this country is not acceptable.”
Not acceptable. Not ever, not here, where the essence of being Canadian is being free to be whoever you are. It is a noble experiment, a work in progress, an idea worth fighting for that gave a judge, who had seen it all, pause.
[Courtesy: National Post]
September 5, 2012
Conversation about this article
1: Sarbjit Singh Kang (Surrey, British Columbia, Canada), September 16, 2012, 8:11 AM.
Bravo! Proud to choose Canada as my country. Thanks, Judge.