by Ann Diamond
A young United Church minister, hired to bring the word of God to a remote community on Vancouver Island, startles his white congregation by reaching out to native people in the community. Opening the doors of his church to them, and listening to their stories, he begins to stumble on graves of murdered children. The church elders order him to stop. He fails to heed their warning. He follows his conscience, and the trail of proof. Within a couple of years, he reaps the whirlwind, loses everything, wife, children, reputation, career, prospects.
Soon he has nowhere to go but downtown to Vancouver’s Lower East Side, where Canada’s victims gather. There he becomes a street corner pastor; his flock are the prostitutes and drug addicts of Pigeon Park, the same residential school survivors who helped him open the Pandora’s Box that nearly destroys him.
Kevin Annett’s UNREPENTANT: DISROBING THE EMPEROR is a sequel to his earlier memoir, LOVE AND DEATH IN THE VALLEY. Beautifully written, both memoirs make gripping reading. Readers may notice haunting echoes of Russell Banks’ novels: opening scene of small-town innocence in a pristine wilderness/ quick dissolve/ descent into hell.
Both are well worth reading, especially if you’re considering a career in the church, or wondering whether to become a whistle blower in Canada.
The list of people Annett has come up against amount to a Who’s Who of Canadian wealth and power. As he has evolved from a defrocked priest, into a one-man Inquisition, Kevin Annett has never let himself be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the crimes committed by the pillars of Canadian society against aboriginal peoples.
The most surprising, least Canadian thing about Annett is his unwillingness to compromise. The United Church fathers have only themselves to blame for his ascent as an increasingly influential human rights spokesman – and gadfly – on the international stage. They left him no choice but to become a thorn in the side of the high-placed people who wanted him gone. His self-defense started a ball rolling, which gathered force with every revelation of abuse in Canada’s residential schools.
Stepping down from the pulpit, Annett reinvented himself as a street preacher, organizer of rallies and protests and petitions and committees and commissions of inquiries. From there he went to issuing summonses against church authorities, right up to the Pope and Queen Elizabeth, both of whom he holds responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of aboriginal children.
According to his view of Canadian society, pedophiles, child traffickers, drug dealers and murderers occupy the highest positions in the land, and are involved in lucrative land and mineral deals, cross-border sex trading, and systematic murder of aboriginal people who stand in the way of the total pillaging of our natural resources – and in this sweeping judgment, he’s probably generally correct.
At times he has been a target of ridicule. Some have dismissed his public actions and press releases as the antics of a man obsessed with his own treatment. By protesting his ostracism and defrocking, he seems to doom himself to recurring cycles of the same treatment, ad infinitum. There have been plenty of attacks, some by journalists working for the Old Boy cabal that Annett claims are in collusion with the churches.
The attempts to label him a psychiatric case are perhaps the most blatant examples of how our colonial rulers underestimate this country and its people. Rather than deal with evidence of systematic abuse and even mass murder at its residential schools, the church tried to get rid of a minister who would not shut up. They attacked him with the aim of not just silencing him, but totally destroying him. They had obviously never seen a Kevin Annett before.
Kangaroo justice, blatant falsifications, absurd personal attacks — United Church officials stopped at nothing, stooped to anything to silence Annett, even brokering a deal with his wife that led to their divorce. Thinking they were invincible, they overreached in ways that strongly suggested foreknowledge and guilt, both in furthering state-sponsored genocide and the cover-up that ensued.
Some of the most recent, physical attacks on Annett and his followers came after he published an article in a Vancouver paper exposing the connections between the RCMP and Vancouver’s political/ business elite in the murder of Vancouver prostitutes at convicted mass murderer Robert Pickton’s pig farm in Coquitlam.
The question is how long he can keep on drawing Canadian society into his personal vision of Armageddon. The next step seems to be to found a movement – not a political party but something more akin to a millenarian movement, the kind that rocked Europe in the Middle Ages.
Perhaps his greatest discovery was how Canada operates sub rosa – with power concentrated in the hands of a secretive club. Certainly, the people who defrocked him were a tightly-knit group with friends in high places right across the country. Without their expertise and collusion, this popular minister could not have been kicked out of the church – or, later, silenced by the university (UBC) where he attempted to prove his research.
The underhanded tactics used on Kevin Annett so systematically – character assassination, ostracism, psychological harassment – were the same ones the CIA teaches its operatives around the world, and that have been used for centuries by oligarchies against their critics and enemies. In this remarkable case, they seem to have backfired.
Kevin Annett’s message resonates like that of an Old Testament prophet: Canadian society must answer for the deaths and disappearances. The Federal government’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission does little to heal the wounds of survivors, but only bandages them with rhetoric. The battle for our minds is really a battle to control the future by controlling what we know about our past.
Whether we choose to hear him or not, the simple facts of this man’s story have altered Canada’s landscape beyond recognition.
Ann Diamond is an award-winning Montreal writer of fiction, poetry, and journalism.
Her story collection Evil Eye won the Hugh MacLennan Prize for fiction in 1994. A book of poetry, A Nun’s Diary, was adapted for theatre by director Robert Lepage. Other titles include Snakebite (stories), and the novels Mona’s Dance, Dead White Males, and Static Control.
Her work has been published in Best Canadian Stories and The Thinking Heart: Best Canadian Essays, as well as numerous periodicals and anthologies. A memoir, Roads to Freedom, won the 1991 Event Magazine Creative Non-Fiction Prize.
You can read Ann Diamond’s blog at: www.readingmontreal.blogspot.com