Abbey takes the ‘Timeless Lessons’ of Shakespeare
“The great thing about
Shakespeare,” says Graham Abbey, “is that you always have something
to learn.” The young actor, who is currently playing Macbeth at the
Stratford Festival said that he is “always humbled in the face of
these great roles” and challenged by “these great parts.”
had a profound effect on the Abbey’s life. He got a political science
degree at Queen’s University, and was about to enter law school at
Osgoode Hall, when Shakespeare’s words called out to him. “I knew I
had to get out there and tell stories. People love a great story, and
Shakespeare’s stories are epic,” he said.
Abbey makes it
his mission to spread Shakespeare everywhere
– even to the business community. He believes that the plays
empower people, with a new sense of vision, and self-understanding.
and several of his fellow actors, voice and movement coaches, have been
conducting workshops for business leaders, at the Festival Theatre in
Stratford, and around southern Ontario, since 2000.
that the “Timeless Lessons” workshops, organized by Janus Global
Consulting Inc. of Kingston Ontario, are forming a bridge between the
artistic and business communities. He calls these twice yearly sessions
“bonding experiences” for the actors and the executives. “We know
so little about each others worlds,” he said. “We’re learning from
Abbey has been very much an asset in the delivery of the programs,”
Janus president, Gerry Duda, commented. “Shakespeare had a lot to say
in his plays about human nature – things that you won’t get out of a
business textbook – deeper lessons about how to build alliances, how
to understand people, and how to grow, change and adapt. He teaches
people to think outside the organizational box.”
Timeless programs were developed in consultation with Richard Olivier,
the late Sir Laurence Olivier’s son, who delivers similar seminars at
the Old Globe Theatre. Janus’ Felicity Somerset met with Olivier’s
colleagues in London, England, to discuss the seminars he runs, in
conjunction with the Cranfield School of Management.
700 senior managers, and 37 companies have taken Duda’s Shakespearean
workshops over the past four years. “We prefer no more than 50 at a
time, but a year ago we had 200,” he said. “That required three
facilitators and two actors.” The sessions run anywhere from 3 hours
to three days depending on the needs of the company.
is currently attempting to arrange a workshop for 40 to 50 CEO’s from
across North America, in Stratford, in 2005. “We could really reach a
lot of people through the CEO’s,” he said.
In the year
2001, Abbey took a central role in the “Timeless Lessons” by
exploring with the business executives, the process Prince Hal went
through before he became King Henry V – both roles Abbey played at the
Festival that year. The participants became Henry’s army, inspired by
his call to arms before the battle at Agincourt – the one Winston
Churchill used to rouse the troops during WWII.
said that actors and business leaders may have more in common than they
must be taught how to overcome stage fright, in the same way that a
young actor must learn to control their anxiety, and present a strong
front. Leaders and actors must learn how to connect to people in a
physical sense, how to have an authentic presence, and how to engage
their bodies in their work.
and actors both need to engage their audiences in authentic and truthful ways,”
Duda commented. “Actors need to find their character in themselves
otherwise their performance may ring hollow. As one participant
said at one our Timeless Lessons sessions ‘If leaders are not
essentially truthful, others can smell the BS factor’. This is a
lesson for all leaders especially political leaders.”
“Leaders like actors have many roles to play,” Duda said.
“In Daniel Golman's 1995 best selling book, Emotional
Intelligence Golman argues that human competencies like
self-awareness, self-discipline, persistence and empathy are of greater
consequence than IQ in much of life. Golman's argues that
Emotionally Intelligent leaders are called upon to exercise
different roles in a truthful and engaging way depending on
the situation - sometimes effective leaders are tough minded and at
other times compassionate. Shakespeare knew something about this
over 400 years ago.”
This is witnessed in
Shakespeare’s famous “all the world’s a stage” speech, Duda
continued, from As You Like It, 2.7, where he says “all men and women
merely players: they all have their exits and their entrances; and one
man in his time plays many parts."
Both actors and leaders must
be credible, a factor Shakespeare noted as the music in ourselves. In
the Merchant of Venice 5:1, Duda cites, that the bard reveals that no
man should be trusted who does not have “the music in himself”, or
in other words, doesn’t ring true.
an actor and an executive, must learn to understand the ways in which
they present their ideas, and to find new and innovative ways of clearly
communicating, in order to break away from the pack, receive proper
recognition, and make it to the top.
inner factors did Prince Hal have that would make him a good model for a
21st Century leader? “He made himself one of the group,”
Abbey said, unlike Macbeth, who stands alone. “Macbeth was a real
loner. You have to go down a dark tunnel to play him. It permeates into
my outside life. It isolates me. He’s a model of how not to lead.”
So how did
Abbey himself, make it to the top, and land the coveted role of Macbeth,
at the tender age of 33? He is years younger than the actors who played
Macbeth before him at the Festival.
is there about this man that caused him to be chosen above more seasoned
actors? Abbey has clearly transformed the role of Macbeth, and director
John Wood, must have seen the freshness he would bring to the part.
softens Macbeth. He makes him human. He creates a character that people
care about. He presents a talented, intense, insane creature who is more
sick than evil - more
schizophrenic than manipulative – fragile, horrifying and wonderful.
is a modern man – a feeling man –who is pressured to get to the top
- forced to stand alone - having to let go of relationships to reach the
pinnacle of power and success - surrounded by people who want to
congratulate him or kill him, and he doesn’t know which. It is lonely
at the top of the hierarchical pyramid, and Abbey conveys this
brilliantly - an overwhelming sense of alienation, loneliness, of
softens Macbeth into a schizophrenic wonderland of images and shadows,
only he can see. He is the man next door, who has worked too hard, and
made terrible decisions. He is the man who spent his whole life on the
commuter train talking to himself, and never reaching his destination.
He is the hollow man of T. S. Elliot - lost, disconnected, driven -
in a landscape where nothing is solid and secure.
is a man living with fear, as a pulsating entity – that he has shaped
into witches and ghosts. He becomes disheveled, like the wardrobe he
wears, into tatters and wrinkles. No one has entered the character of
fear, and darkness, and Macbeth, more deeply than this gentle man. He
walks bravely, deeply into the heart of darkness.
play is like an hour glass,” Abbey said. “It starts with the sand up
top, and grains keep pouring through. From the third scene on, it’s
downhill all the way.”
off stage, is not like Macbeth. He resembles King Hal: intelligent,
gregarious, great sense of humour, well-spoken. He knows when to be
silent and when to speak. He listens well. He is well-liked by his
fellow artists. He is gentle and kind, and has a certain sense of
humility. He is the kind of guy you could trust, with a sincere interest
in other people.
heart,” Abbey advises those considering acting as a profession. He
loves to go into schools and bring his love of Shakespeare to the
students. “You have to take the academia out of Shakespeare,” he
said. “These plays are meant to be heard, not read. The best teachers
have their students act out the roles.”
will always come back to Shakespeare. I may not always be performing
Shakespeare, but I will always come back. The magic is in the words.
These are epic stories, and they have the power to transform.”
Do these epic
stories have the power to transform the business world? The man with the
mission believes they do.
Macbeth is on at the Festival Theatre until October 30th. Graham Abbey will also play King Henry VIII in King Henry VIII (All is True) from August 14th to October 29th. For more information contact the Stratford Festival at www.stratfordfestival.ca or 1-800-567-1600.
is one way of drawing people to Cambridge’s downtown.
How are live
theatre companies born? Through years of artistic trial and error?
Dreams? Lofty imaginings? Think again. Theatre Cambridge was the
brainchild of two marketing executives from the Strategic Committee of
looking for other ways to bring people into town,” Ken Wright, a
retired marketing executive for The Financial Post and Telemedia said.
“I wasn’t so much committed to theatre. I was committed to the
town,” he said.
The Shaw and
The Stratford Festivals have brought millions of dollars into their
relative economies,” he said. “In Stratford, it’s a factor of
12,” he stated. “For every dollar spent in ticket sales, another $12
goes into the town. Theatre
Cambridge last year used a factor of 2. This year we’re hoping for 3
And Niagara on
the Lake’s commercial real estate now rents for $100 a square foot,
the same rate as Toronto’s,” he said. Cambridge’s rate is
currently only $25 pr $30 a square foot – a factor he is hoping
Theatre Cambridge will improve.
“There was a
200% increase in restaurant revenues in the downtown area during the two
weeks that Theatre Cambridge ran last year,” he stated.
The other half
of the dynamic duo who founded the company, is the Director of Sales
& Marketing for the Holiday Inn in Cambridge, Tiziana Fathers. The
two have called Cambridge home for several decades, and have known each
other for many years.
realized there was virtually nothing going on in theatre in the summer
in the region,” she said. Initially we thought we could attract a
professional theatre company, but then we realized we had to develop
“We did a lot
of market research and presented it to The Cambridge Downtown Business
Improvement Association,” Fathers said. The body decided Theatre
Cambridge was a worthwhile venue and was the first to donate money
targeted toward improving the downtown. The city followed.
Very early on,
the dynamic duo brought in Market Force Communications, a local
marketing firm, to create an image and identity for the company. Fathers
said she is thrilled with the outcome.
Wright approached George Joyce, a retired Cambridge high school drama
teacher and part-time professional actor and director. He
enthusiastically accepted the challenge of setting up a company, and
brought in his friend from Toronto, fellow actor and director, Walter
Young. They are currently the only year-round paid employees, in the
role of co artistic directors.
four formed the board, then a full board was brought in, and the four
remained as a management group reporting to the board. Wright and
Fathers are currently volunteer Presidents/Chairmen of the Board/General
were in the making for last summer’s opening a year and a half before
it happened. There was a year spent in strategic planning, and then six
months in actual preparation for last year’s only show – “The Man
Who Came to Dinner” in which Joyce played the lead role, and Young
played a secondary role.
“I thought it
was important that Walter and I get our faces out there – so people
could see we have some talent, Joyce said. “And I wanted to make a
splash with a big show that would say there’s something important
here.” The show used 19 actors to play 37 characters.
actors auditioned from all over North America.
wanted to hire some people from Waterloo County, so that we didn’t
come across as a bunch of professionals from Toronto coming down to show
the local yocals how to do it,” Joyce stated. “I’ve been connected
to the community for 30 years.”
Fathers and Wright were working the bar and concession, and introducing
the shows, for every performance of the run. “We moved mountains last
year. We were running literally on adrenaline. That’s what dreams are
made of,” Fathers commented. “There was a resolve among the four of
us that was unwavering.” Due to Herculean efforts, the shows were 92%
the summer of 2004, the season will expand to four plays: Barefoot in
Wrong for Each Other, and Over the River and Through the Woods – all
reasonably light entertainment. “We’re not Shaw and we’re not
Stratford but we’re not farce either. We’ve found a nice niche
somewhere in between,” Fathers stated.
is loose,” Young said. “We haven’t been around long enough to see
what the demographic is going to be like.” Each season will have a
theme, with this summer’s being “Matters of the Heart”, he said.
Young plans to
take charge of the educational programs the company plans to launch in
the near future – classes for kids, teenagers, and adults, playwriting
workshops, and a reading series.
for only two and a half weeks last year, the season will run from June
28th to August the 28th – for nine weeks.
“Eventually we’d like to run from April to October,” Fathers said.
The company is currently in search of an Assistant General Manager.
They are now a
member of ASTRO – the Association of Summer Theatres Round Ontario –
an invitation only association that has a contact list exceeding
looking to draw on the whole of southern Ontario, and to the border
United States – Buffalo – Ohio,” Fathers commented. Seven bus
tours have already been booked from Upper New York State. The company is
offering shopping and show packages with an overnight at the Holiday
On May 8th the company is holding a $100 a plate, silent and live auction
fundraiser which will include jazz renditions of show tunes.
plans to move from its current 228-seat theatre into a larger venue as
soon as it can. “We have put in an offer to buy a building from the
city – the old Woolco building that’s been vacant for a long time,
with 67,000 square feet, and escalator – located right downtown.
We’ll need to raise millions. It’s a long uphill struggle.”
doesn’t scare the phenomenal fundraising team of Fathers and Wright.
get back what you put in. I can’t believe we did what we did. We’re
exciting!” Fathers enthusiastically proclaimed.
You can reach Theatre Cambridge at 519-740-9820 or online at www.theatrecambridge.com.
What makes a live theatre company financially viable? Government
grants? Individual gifts? Corporate Sponsorship? Often it is a
combination of all three. But most people in the theatre would agree
that the future of funding for live theatre in Canada lies in the
knows that better than Theatre & Company, K-W’s 15-year-old
amazing success story, that recently built its own performing arts
facility in downtown Kitchener. Although KW has had an amateur theatre
company for decades, and has seen university-based productions, this was
KW’s first professional theatre company.
was the brainchild of Producing Artistic Director Stuart Scadron-Wattles,
a man with a background in fundraising for Cornell University.
More than 15 years ago, he convinced professional actors from all
over North America to come to KW to build a theatrical base. At first,
the ensemble players were not paid. Actors solicited support from
friends and benefactors back home, who backed them in the same way as
missionaries are supported in overseas missions. Only recently, have
they begun to receive a salary for their full-time commitment to the
were the actors willing to work full-time on this project for nothing?
It had to do with the nature of the theatre they were performing – a
type of theatre Scadron-Wattles calls “Necessary Theatre”. All of
the plays have a message. They’re not proselytizing but they all give
their audiences something to think about – call it values education of
the theatrical variety.
such as “Einstein’s Gift” about the possible negative consequences
of scientific invention, and “How I Learned to Drive” about
childhood sexual abuse have been on recent playbills. This is theatre
that makes you think.
the actors' amazing contribution certainly helped the Head of the
Fundraising Committee and Board Treasurer, Jim Wideman, to gain a good
head start on the capital campaign, his team still had to raise 3.7
million in a time frame of eighteen months. With a dynamic spirit and an
impressive marketing campaign, the group managed to bring in 4.2 million
– 92% of which is already in the bank.
75% of that money came from Foundations and Corporations. The rest came
from individual givers. In comparison, only 21% of the Stratford
Festival’s Annual budget came from the corporate arena.
But what does a business gain by giving to the theatre? Martha Buchanan, the Stratford Festival’s Sponsorship Manager, said that she believes the Festival is “helping companies build their businesses. We both benefit from the relationship. The businesses are using the theatre for marketing purposes. We give members of our Star Program (companies who have donated more than $1,000), up to 50% savings for their employees to designated performances at Stratford.”
Karen Lehtovaara, Corporate Development Associate at the Shaw
Festival, also believes that corporate sponsorship is often marketing
driven. “Corporate sponsors receive advertising in our theatre,
inserts in our bulletins, and signage, and discounts on tickets for
their employees to selected shows.”
But although Theatre & Company offers many of the same perks,
Jim Wideman does not think that companies give to the theatre because of
the perks. “These issues (perks) are not that important. They’re a
side benefit. It’s nice to be thanked, but that’s not why they
said that he thinks corporate philanthropists “want to give something
back to a community that’s been generous to them. That’s the core of
philanthropy. Theatre & Company is so successful (at corporate
fundraising) because it has launched a ‘face to face’ campaign.”
give money to people,” he said. “That’s why we are successful. And
we lead by example. Nobody goes out and solicits money for Theatre &
Company that hasn’t given their own. Nobody should go out and raise
money unless they’ve given their own.”
a former General Manager of a K-W agricultural company for 25 years, and
a current business owner, was in charge of contacting foundations and
small corporations for the capital campaign. Jonathon Spaetzel, Board
Chair, and President of Spaenaur Inc., contacted large corporations,
often accompanied by Scadron-Wattles. Despite his business background,
the Producing Artistic Director prefers not to see the company as
primarily a business or a building, but instead as an artistic
expression of a dream, and “a place where the imagination has free
the King Street Theatre Centre’s official opening in September of
2001, Scadron-Wattles said that “the theatre is not a building. The
theatre is not a story of economic success, or downtown renewal, or
cultural coming of age. The theatre is a place of the engaged
imagination, a place where we physically come together and, on a good
night, are enabled to explore the marvelous and terrible territory of
Wideman has put a lot of his heart into raising the funds to make
Scadron-Wattle’s dream come true. With Theatre & Company’s
$800,000 annual budget, Wideman’s committee and the company’s
fundraisers will have to come up with $330,000 this year. The rest will
come from ticket sales.“In the long haul, that’s not sustainable,”
he said. “But at least now we have the seating capacity to make it
need to see 80 to 85% of our revenue coming from ticket sales. Stratford
and Shaw are in that area. Theatre & Company averages 55 to 60% of
its revenue from ticket sales currently.”
that the building has been built, has Wideman cut back on the campaign?
Not on your life. He is hot at work on upping the theatre’s endowment
from its current half a million to 2 million, so that Theatre &
Company’s programs such as its acting school, playwriting workshops,
and backstage programs can be expanded.
dream that Stuart Scardron-Wattles began 15 years ago is growing into
full fruition with the support of the Waterloo Regions’ generous
corporations, foundations, and individuals, and the hard work of
fundraisers who believe in the personal approach and the “face” of
Empowering everyday people
leadership to the community
all need to be leaders, regardless of the roles we may be in, says
Kitchener's Jim Clemmer. His sentiments seem to be catching on.
over Canada, leadership programs are springing up that are based on
empowering, not just educated executives, but everyday, ordinary people.
The Community Leadership Program began in Philadelphia in 1960, and came
to Canada in 1991, first settling in Vancouver.
are now 18 programs in Canada, each one averaging 25 to 30 participants,
every program year. The six programs running in Ontario are:
Hamilton/Burlington, Windsor-Essex, Waterloo Region, Peel Region,
Thunder Bay, and Ottawa. Dryden and Whistler, B.C., have programs in the
developmental stage. Internationally, there are about 1,500 programs.
annual programs last for nine months. They start with a three-day
intensive training session, continue with monthly Community Learning
Days, and end with a three-day workshop or retreat. Although the content
differs slightly from region to region, there is a universal emphasis on
identifying personal values and strengths, studying current leadership
practices, and building community awareness.
only are corporate employees taking part in this grassroots leadership
movement, the not-for-profit, government, and social sectors are jumping
on the bandwagon as well. More than 500 people are participating
annually in community leadership programs across Canada. They come from
labour, business, government, not-for-profit, volunteer and academic
sectors, and are being developed to serve as board members and
volunteers, to work on governmental task forces and commissions, or even
to run for public office.
are creating a community leadership network for the region," says
Anne Lavender, executive director of Leadership Waterloo Region,
"so that the entire community will have a voice." Lavender's
marketing material for the program states that "everyone is called
to personal leadership...leadership is not 'a place'...leadership is
about how we see things. It is moving from the inside out, from
self-awareness to external action."
seven regional mayors and the regional chair of Waterloo Region, the
chief medical officer, the police chief, the heads of the local school
boards, all come in and introduce the participants to their areas of
expertise, and explain how they all work together," she said. All
of the trainers are volunteers.
the 46 applicants who applied for the September 2004 session, 32 have
been accepted from the three sectors of business, government and the
not-for-profit sector, she stated.
based on experience
has more to say on leadership, based on his own experiences.
"Before I can lead others, I need to lead myself with
self-discipline, self-awareness, self-motivation and
self-initiative," Clemmer stated. The best selling author,
facilitator and keynote speaker said that "you can't build an
organization different from yourself. You can't take someone somewhere
you haven't been yourself."
the past 25 years Clemmer has delivered over 2,000 keynote speeches, and
conducted workshops and retreats internationally, training people to
take control of their attitudes, values and choices. He believes that
"the deepest and most lasting leadership comes from the inside out.
It's authentic. It's real. It's genuine."
knows what he is talking about. A high school drop-out who eventually
became the general manager of Culligan Water Conditioning, Clemmer
learned from practical experience how to exercise personal discipline
and time-management - a system he calls "Practical
from a few university courses, Clemmer has never had academic training.
He learned from doing.
the story of a lot of successful entrepreneurs," he said.
"They got restless. They had to get out there and get going.
Leadership is an action. It's about making things happen."
clients all over the globe
has made a lot of things happen - five best-selling books, two workbooks
filled with self-assessment exercises, and applications that he uses in
his international workshops and retreats for senior managers. He has a
solid ongoing relationship with major business clients all over the
is the owner and operator of The Clemmer Group - a thriving business
consulting firm, based in Kitchener, with six full-time employees and
work is very popular and it's 98 per cent internal. He only gives two to
three public workshops a year. "Our vision, value, and purpose, are
at the centre of our being," Clemmer wrote in his book Growing The
Distance: Timeless Principles for Personal, Career and Family Success.
are also the wellspring from which our energy flows... our work becomes
a contribution to making this team, this organization, and this world
just a little better because we passed this way. That's when what we do
becomes a meaningful expression of who we are."
Johnson, a Mississauga-based leadership and business consultant,
believes that "group training sessions are far less effective
without mentoring. A person may come away from a workshop feeling
empowered, but when they re-enter their workplace, they often go right
back to their old patterns, if they don't have one-on-one support."
and his business partner, Chris Cuciurean of Oakville, each mentor up to
15 individuals one and a half hours per week.
fee is $3,000 per quarter - soon to go up to $5,000. They say it can
take up to three years for the mentoring process to be complete. Their
business is doing well enough for them to consider employing more
from Within's target market is employees over 40 from small to
only requirement we have of someone who works with us, is that they be
willing to change," Johnson stated. "The people at the top of
the corporate ladder are the most broken - they have the highest walls
built up. They are usually the most resistant to change."
most participants come from the professional or business arenas,
volunteers from a wide variety of backgrounds are encouraged to apply.
more information about Community Leadership Programs visit the web site
For more information on Jim Clemmer's workshops, retreats, or books, or to receive his monthly e-newsletter, visit his web site at www.clemmer.net
by Judy Robinson
have the right to live as human beings,” says twenty-year-old Marcela
Vega, a refugee from Colombia whose family has been living in St.
Andrew’s-Norwood United Church in Montreal since July 17. “We will
find death in Colombia. We will be tortured,” Vega continues. It was
those fears that prompted the family to seek sanctuary in the church
they had been attending for two years, after they were informed Canada
had rejected their application for refuge and was about to deport them
back to Colombia.
emotionally taking its toll on the family and the congregation,” says
the Rev. Rosemary Lambie-Bromby, Congregational Officer for Montreal
Presbytery. “We’re trying to create as many celebrations as we can
to make life bearable for them. We had 70 people for Thanksgiving
is something the Vega family has not had much of in recent years. In the
spring of 2001, Alvaro Vega, a professor of finance at the University of
Bogota, was abducted by army-backed paramilitary and tortured, after he
spoke out publicly about human rights. He escaped, was hospitalized,
recovered, and returned to work for three months before the harassment
and threats began again. He left the country and made his way via the
United States to Canada where he, his wife, Mireya, and daughter,
Marcela, claimed refugee status. But the claim was denied and the family
was notified they were to be deported back to Colombia in mid-July 2003.
United Church of Canada argues that Canada should implement an immediate
moratorium on the deportation of refugees to Colombia, whether directly
or via United States channels, because of the highly violent human
rights crisis taking place in the South American country. Meanwhile, the
congregation of St. Andrew’s-Norwood, with the assistance of
Lambie-Bromby, has pledged to continue supporting the Vegas until they
are legally accepted into Canada as “protected persons.” They all
believe offering and taking sanctuary is justified when the law does not
offer adequate protection.
is a safe place, a place of protection and security. Since ancient times
pilgrims, sojourners, or even fugitives, have sought “holy” or
sacred places such as churches or monasteries, where the laws of the
state did not have dominion, and they could be safe from oppressive
to now we have not intervened in a place of worship,” states Robert
Gervais, spokesperson for Citizenship & Immigration in Quebec. “We
are waiting for them [the refugee families] to leave the churches, and
when they do they will be subject to the law.”
and Immigration Canada] Minister Coderre may view this as civil
disobedience, but it really is obedience to a higher authority,”
asserts Heather Macdonald, United Church staff person for refugees.
“The action of granting sanctuary is in essence our responding to
God’s call to love and seek justice, to love mercy.”
agrees. “This is where we have to stand up,” she says. “This is
what Jesus was talking about: ‘love your neighbour,’ love each
other, and care for each other. That’s what it’s all about.”
part of us”
Andrew’s-Norwood is not the only United Church in the Montreal area
prepared to offer sanctuary. Two years ago, Union United took in a
family from Zimbabwe that had been ordered deported. Three days later,
the Canadian government imposed a moratorium on deportations to
Zimbabwe, in view of the generalized risk to all people travelling
months later, the congregation offered sanctuary to a Muslim family from
Algeria. “The government was telling Canadians it wasn’t safe to
travel to Algeria but they were going to send this family back,”
explains the Rev. Darryl Gray, the minister of Union United. After 11
days in the church, the federal and provincial governments decided to
open a 90-day “window of opportunity,” during which people who were
about to be deported back to Algeria were given a chance to have their
cases reviewed. Refugee advocates such as Janet Dench, Executive
Director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, believe media coverage of
Union United’s offer of sanctuary may have played a part in the
government’s decision. Concurs Heather Macdonald, “Darryl knows how
to work with the media. He knows how to get attention.”
United Church is now offering sanctuary to a third family. Menen Ayele
and her children arrived from Ethiopia in 2001, after she had been
jailed and tortured for her activities in the All Amhara People’s
Organization, a political group calling for democratic reforms. Shortly
after her release from prison, Ayele’s husband was disappeared and she
fled to Canada. A Canadian doctor has since found that Ayele suffered
psychological trauma as a result of her experience in jail. Yet the
Immigration and Refugee Board concluded that her claim to have been
tortured in Ethiopia was not plausible, and rejected her application for
refugee status. Ayele and her three children Bethel, Meron, and Beruk,
aged six, 12, and 13, moved into Union United Church, where they are now
being cared for by members of the congregation.
Ayeles attend church services and Sunday school. They often share common
meals with members of the congregation. “They have been very good to
my children,” says Ayele. “They're part of us,” responds Union
United board member Gwen Husband.
not everyone is so welcoming. “There's a post 9-11 phobia of everyone
who’s not like us,” comments Gray, a follower of Martin Luther King
Jr.’s social gospel, who came to Canada from South Carolina and joined
the United Church to do the work to which he felt called. “People are
saying to me, ‘What are you keeping those people for? Don’t you know
about bin Laden?’ And I tell them, ‘Don’t you know about Jesus?’
People are seeing terrorists everywhere. But we have a moral
responsibility to do what’s right.”
system endangers lives
United Church believes serious errors in the refugee determination
process resulted in the rejection of the Vega and Ayele claims for
refugee status. In June 2002, new legislation reduced the number of
decision makers on the Immigration and Refugee Board panels that hear
refugee claims. Under tremendous stress, claimants now appear before a
single decision maker. That change caused “a serious problem,” says
Macdonald, who worked for two years as a refugee liaison officer with
Canada Immigration in the early 1980s but left because she identified
with the church’s stance on refugees and migrants. “A refugee had a
much greater chance of being accepted when there was a second
opinion,” states Macdonald. “A single decision maker is not
appropriate for what could be a life-or-death decision.”
yet, there is no way to catch or correct an error, since an appeal
mechanism, promised by the government in June 2002, has yet to be
implemented. “We are being asked to balance management efficiencies
against justice,” says Macdonald. “The delay in the implementation
of the appeal is…being excused as a resources problem.”
organizations like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and
the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have criticized Canada for
failing to fulfill its international legal obligations to provide
refused refugee claimants with a merits-based review. Macdonald
encourages congregations to “stand for justice” and write letters to
Immigration Minister Denis Coderre (a sample can be found at
www.united-church.ca/jpc/migration) asking for immediate implementation
of a meaningful appeal process. In its absence, some continue to see
sanctuary as a faithful response, even though helping families
contravene the Immigration Act carries a potential punishment of two
years imprisonment or a $50,000 fine.
would never counsel a congregation to make the decision to give
sanctuary to a refugee family,” says Macdonald. “It is an act of
civil disobedience and as Canadians, we rightly revere the rule of law.
But there are times we need to improve and correct the law. I would
say…can you afford to help? If [congregation] have worked through the
issue judiciously and faithfully, the question sometimes evolves into,
‘Can they afford not to help?’”
Andrew’s-Norwood has been contributing $300 a month toward the Vega
family’s mounting legal bills. “They are thinking of leaving the
country and applying to be immigrants,” says Lambie-Bromby.
“Normally you have to leave the country for a year to apply but their
lawyer is filing a petition to the United Nations Committee against
Torture, in the hope that he can speed up the process. Because Alvaro
was a university professor, there may be good grounds for him to be
admitted as an immigrant.”
Vega cannot say enough about the support offered by members of the
congregation, many of whom are Spanish-speaking and take turns looking
after the needs of the family. “It’s wonderful what they have done
for us,” says Vega. “They’ve been so good to us.”
at Union United, Menen Ayele has a heartfelt plea: “Please ask your
government to let us stay. Our hope is with you people.”
Robinson is a freelancer writer in Burlington, Ontario
2004 @ Judith I. Robinson