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We should say 'merci' to a local hero

Harassed mayoral candidate performs CPR on woman

Posted: 07/3/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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It's been two weeks now since a First Nations man and civic-politics neophyte named Robert-Falcon Ouellette did something that outraged the bigots who lurk in our midst.

He spoke French.

In fact, he spoke exclusively in French during the brief time allotted him at a forum of declared candidates for mayor that was sponsored by the St. Boniface francophone chamber of commerce.

Are we surprised?

I mean surprised racists would rant under the cover of the Internet after an aboriginal man honoured his hosts by speaking French at a public event in St. Boniface.

We shouldn't be.

'In this day and age of social-media posts, smartphones and "selfie" photography, it would have been easy to use this near-tragic incident for his own personal benefit, but he didn't. I think this shows really good character we don't see much of these days'

But Ouellette -- who spent 18 years in the military and works with aboriginal students as a University of Manitoba administrator -- said he was "very surprised."

Two days later -- after reading the hate mail directed his way -- the 37-year-old Cree with two master's degrees and a PhD decided he couldn't and shouldn't keep silent.

He issued a news release.

That led to an appearance Monday on the CBC national radio program The Current, where they read some of the comments and then asked Ouellette why he decided to shine a light in such a dark place by issuing a news release.

"Well," he said, "I think in 2014 someone shouldn't have to endure such injury to the self-esteem. Even just hearing those comments said brings tears to my eyes."

Essentially, by going public, Ouellette was standing up for all the voiceless First Nations people -- particularly the young -- who are targeted in both obvious and subtle ways with messages that tell them they are lesser.

I didn't see the news release when it was issued. And I only bring it to your attention now because of something that happened later that same Wednesday two weeks ago. Something Ouellette didn't issue so much as a tweet about. That story finally arrived Saturday in an email from a woman named Angela Fey.

"Robert's wife, Catherine, is a good friend of mine," Angela wrote, "and in a conversation we had that started with, 'You'd never believe the week we had... ' she told me about a remarkable event that involved an interrupted date night and saving a life."

It happened during the jazz festival, just hours after Ouellette's afternoon appearance at the St. Boniface candidates forum. That evening, Ouellette and his wife had hired a babysitter to look after their five young kids and headed off to the King's Head pub to listen to a blues band. It was there, as the band was playing, a woman who looked to be in her 50s collapsed near where Ouellette was seated.

As a soldier, Ouellette had served in combat and medical units. His training kicked in.

"Robert checked her pulse," Angela continued. "And upon finding it had stopped, began CPR while Catherine called 911. Robert continued CPR until the paramedics arrived. Catherine and Robert left only when the woman had been revived, was sitting up on her own and under the care of the paramedics.

"He saved her life."

Then Angela added this thought: "In this day and age of social-media posts, smartphones and "selfie" photography, it would have been easy to use this near-tragic incident for his own personal benefit, but he didn't. I think this shows really good character we don't see much of these days, especially in public figures. I think Robert Ouellette was a hero that day."

I reached Ouellette on his cellphone after dark on Canada Day. He was standing in the cemetery in front of the St. Boniface Cathedral, and I could hear his kids in the background. He said they were playing around Louis Riel's grave.

Initially, Ouellette was reluctant to talk about the story. But he confirmed what happened and said there was a nurse who was also involved and later, after her pulse was restored and she began breathing again, a doctor arrived.

"So it wasn't just me."

The woman he helped save doesn't know the name of the man who used 60 to 80 chest compressions to bring her back to life.

"I didn't give her my card or anything," Ouellette said with a laugh.

Aside from wondering whether the woman will vote for Ouellette when she finds out who saved her life, there's something else I wonder. What would the bigots have said if Robert-Falcon Ouellette had saved one of their lives?

I'm thinking "merci" would be a good place to start.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 3, 2014 A2

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