Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 4, 2004
I came, I saw, now let them eat cake
Heckled, jeered at and taunted.That was how journalists described Gov. Gen. Adrienne Clarkson's visit in Vancouver's notorious downtown eastside, Sept. 21.
People expressed their displeasure and mocked the queen's representative in Canada. A woman was reported to have asked Ms. Clarkson to buy her a $2 lunch. An anti-poverty activist called the visit a "degrading walk all over" the poor of Vancouver eastside.
Clarkson, according to journalists, kept her composure, maintained a steely smile, and didn't show any sign of being troubled by the heckling and unregal comments made by the angry denizens of the poorest urban neighbourhood in the country.
But why would people be so unwelcoming to her? Why would people not receive a visitor in a decent and friendly way, especially if the visitor was the governor general? Why such display of rage?
This is not the first time Clarkson visited poor and depressed urban areas. In fact Vancouver was the last stop of the six Canadian cities she toured since 2003.
Clarkson told reporters it is her job to visit every nook and cranny of Canada.
"This is what the governor general should be doing," she said. "Being with the people. No matter who they are. No matter what they do. And living and witnessing what their lives are."
With such statements, why would people's hearts not be touched? With such intentions, why would people not take this as an opportunity to engage the governor general in a dialogue that hopefully would change their lives?
"Living and witnessing what their lives are," according to Clarkson, this is what the queen's representative should be doing.
But such sweet sounding words would not fool those simple people whose immediate wish everyday is just to have something to eat, some place to sleep and some blanket to keep them warm.
Autumn has just begun. And winter is on the doorstep.
Soon people will start trying to find a spot in the crowded emergency shelters in different cities.
Soon we will see them huddled in bus stops. Soon even the streets - their so-called home - will not be a welcoming spot as the bitter cold settles in.
Clarkson visited six cities in two years. The media recorded these visits in words and photos. And perhaps some at some point were impressed that she was doing this - being with the people, witnessing who they are, as she said.
But in six years the number of homeless people did not go down. The situation of Canada's poor did not improve. The disgraceful and alarming rate of violence and crime continues to escalate.
Perhaps these are the reasons why Clarkson did not receive a regal and warm welcome from the poor of Vancouver.
Perhaps for these people, she represents something they are not and will not have. She reminds them of something society and the government do not permit them to have.
She represents the power that can potentially make a difference in their lives, but a power that is not making such change.
Clarkson may be witnessing who the poor are, but witnessing that does not translate to positive change for their lives. Such witnessing is futile.
It is a witnessing that will be recorded in pages of archives in the cities she visited, but it will be forgotten because it failed to change the lives of the poor.
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