Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 08/12/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0
Last Modified: 08/12/2014 7:49 AM | Updates
We've all heard the comment in its various vile forms.
"Drunken native guys."
It's the shameful talk of the town, spat out in mostly private moments that are thought to be safe.
But four years ago, an obviously angry Lorrie Steeves made the mistake of posting those words -- and more -- on her Facebook page, following what she has since suggested were frightening downtown run-ins with harassing panhandlers.
"... Drunken native guys in the skywalks," was how she labelled them.
Now, it's Lorrie Steeves who is the shameful talk of the town.
And -- in what some see as guilt by association -- so is her husband, mayoral candidate Gord Steeves, who was a city councillor when his wife let slip her view of aboriginal street people.
City Coun. Dan Vandal, who is aboriginal, told me Steeves was supportive of First Nations initiatives when they served together on council.
Vandal also said he's never heard Steeves utter a racist remark.
Yet, whether the guilt by association is valid or not, it's bolstered by the timing of the anonymous Twitter message that captured a screen image of Steeves' wife's racist rant posted the same day as Steeves made a campaign announcement.
"No person who is drunk or high will be allowed to linger downtown," Steeves said Friday as he stood downtown.
Then, he added something that hasn't been as talked about since, but should be. "No person struggling with mental illness will be left to their own devices."
What Gord Steeves appears to be suggesting is the mentally ill aren't welcome downtown, either. That comment the candidate owns himself.
In the interest of context, those remarks came while he was saying he wanted 20 more police cadets to patrol downtown. Maybe I missed it, but has the Winnipeg Police Association announced who they're backing for mayor yet?
But we were talking about Lorrie Steeves' shameful remarks, which included the added descriptor "sorry asses on welfare" and the oh-so-charming "so shut the f--- up and don't ask me for another handout."
As I was suggesting, that's typical talk-of-the-town stuff among a social class that has none.
So is Lorrie sorry? Well, she said she was on Friday, when the news broke and her husband was suddenly speechless.
Five days later, Gord Steeves has scheduled a news conference for today. Of course, no matter what he says, only he knows what's in his heart.
We already know what was in his wife's heart when she thought only her Facebook friends were listening. What stood out to me -- even more than her foul-mouthed lack of humanity -- was where that comes from.
Ignorance and a lack of empathy. As evidenced by this line about the "drunken native guys."
"We need to get these people educated so they can go make their own damn money... "
Apparently Lorrie Steeves has no concept of the power of addiction, or the painful history of the First Nations peoples of Manitoba that has placed so many on the streets that are more a danger to them than us.
It was 23 years ago today a document was delivered to the provincial justice minister of the day that laid out that history in a 789-page volume that put the "drunken native guys" she seems so fearful and loathsome of in a human context. You don't have to read every page of the report on the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry to get the message of why First Nations people, massively abused culturally and sexually as children, are our most impoverished and powerless citizens. Just turn to page 9 of Volume 1 and read the words of one Winnipeg aboriginal man who spoke at the inquiry.
"When I look around me and see it is there, the human misery that afflicts my people, the agony of hunger etched on our children's faces, the blank look in the eyes of our young people, the despair of adults growing old before their time, the bewilderment of old people cast aside. All of these afflictions are a reality with my people. All of these afflictions are consequences of the radical prejudice and discrimination that my people must contend with on a daily basis."
That's the irony of Lorrie Steeves saying the panhandlers need educating. She's the one who needs educating.
As for her feeling "terrible," she would be wise to seek out those panhandlers who so frightened her and say she she's sorry. Lorrie might be surprised how good that would feel. And how forgiving they would be.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 12, 2014 B1
Updated on Tuesday, August 12, 2014 at 7:49 AM CDT: Corrects number of days to five
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