Former Prime Minister John Turner talks about the IMF and Shah of Iran

Young Turner

John Turner, you handsome babe & political SOB.

Last week I saw former Prime Minister John Turner at Hart House. Given the current state of Canadian affairs, it only seemed natural to listen in. Besides, attending Socialist, Leftist or “anti-establishment” events exclusively isn’t all that healthy. You need a little dirt in your system. At least from time to time.

The talk promised to be “a phenomenal opportunity to learn from some of the greatest minds and practitioners in Canadian economic policymaking,” and it delivered the goods, albeit in unexpected ways. My expectations weren’t much, I imagined a stuffy environment with overly ambitious, awkward undergrads whose hopes were so high not even Starbucks could sober them. And naturally, naturally, it would be a predominantly White crowd. Guess what? In a room full of Neocon babies and old world Capitalist fat cats, I was on the money.

picture of John Turner

John Turner

The babies were fine; relatively harmless. In the back, a few older Lefties loomed (I love when they do that), and so I took my seat and the little chat began.

Mr. Turner came on and everyone clapped. His infectious joviality was evident from the start and I wondered what fuelled it. As he got comfortable, he suddenly shifted gears and appeared quite serious. It was then that he launched into an important topic, one so great, some may call it the topic of our times: democracy.

Well, what I really mean is, “Democracy.”

“Democracy,” he said with dramatic flair, “does not happen by accident.”

Indeed, I mused, it doesn’t. My head started filling up with dusty images of Afghanistan and its rocky terrain, boots on the ground, Iraq. No, Democracy definitely, definitely doesn’t happen by accident. It’s planned and plotted for. It’s hacked and heaved and hoisted onto people like an old rug. It’s an external, Western import, sprung from the antiquated forehead of Greek philosophy, but without the Athenian grace or wisdom. Today’s Democracy is full of Big Macs, guns, terror and white supremacy; schooled under the shadow of Imperialism, but made colder with technology.

Shouldn’t everyone know that by now?

Well, I can tell you who does know that. The Iranians.

picture of Mohammad Mosaddegh

Mohammad Mosaddegh

Ask anyone of Iranian descent to tell you about Mosaddegh and I guarantee that most times you’ll hear a sad sigh followed by a tale so important, many have passed it down, generation to generation, like the legend of Ferdowsi. They will tell you, the open truth, that Iran had a democratically elected leader, one who was both beloved and brave, a man my friend’s mom calls, “the grandfather of the Iranian people,” only the CIA and MI6 got rid of him.

That, my friends, is Democracy. It has nothing to do with political philosophy or freedom, and absolutely everything to do with greed and hegemony.

Needless to say, you can imagine my intrigue when Mr. Turner dove into the “oil question.”

He told us of the good old days before he was Prime Minister, when he was Minister of Finance, living it up with the IMF. Ah, the IMF. In any case, it turns out that due to the heady conundrum of high oil prices (sound familiar?), the IMF needed a bit of cash. So, to paraphrase Mr. Turner, they asked him to get out there and get it. Turner and his wife, Gelis, were put on a government plane and flown to the Middle East. He was under strict instruction to visit each of the capital cities within the region and it was imperative that he not return, empty-handed. In his own words, his last stop was Tehran.

At this part of the story, Turner chuckled and slyly told us, “The Shah was what John F. Kennedy called his kind of Shah”. With a sneaky wink he looked over at us while people laughed. I laid back in my seat and wondered if there could have been any other type of Shah than a subservient one?

picture of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and John F. Kennedy in vehicle

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi with John F. Kennedy

When a government rids another of its very own democratically elected leader, what other kind of Shah could there possibly have been, Mr. Turner? He certainly wasn’t the Iranian people’s kind of Shah.

Rest assured, upon his arrival in Tehran, Turner was met with typical Middle Eastern hospitality. Mrs. Turner, we were told, even presented Empress Farah with a real Canadian parka—a piece the Empress apparently cherished for many years. I wondered how Mrs. Turner might have explained the heritage behind the garment. Would she have told the Empress how its pieces were cut and sewn with deft hands and careful craftsmanship or anything at all about the people who had created this new symbol of Canadian diplomacy?

This is how we, as Canadians, protect ourselves from the cold. No, it is not a European creation, though it certainly is beautiful, and will be a stunning addition to your collection.

In any case, Turner told us the Empress loved the parka, which was undoubtedly beautiful, and he and his wife had a splendid few days in Tehran.

Picture of Empress Farah Pahlavi

Empress Farah Pahlavi

Now here’s the interesting part. Near the end of his stay, Turner explained that the Shah turned to him and with good humor asked why he had come. Turner explained, in a matter of fact sort of way, that he had come, rather simply, for money. Let’s be honest, it could’t have been for the booze and nightlife alone. When the Shah then asked how much money Turner had in mind, he smiled and said a cool 5 billion dollars.

Now at this point everyone in the room was laughing and enjoying the feel good vibes. What a funny story. But for me, my lady-like gravity was eroding under my inner punk sensibilities. Five billion dollars, I thought, 5 billion dollars at a time when Iranian peasants lacked adequate infrastructure and the urban poor were virtually voiceless. Five billion dollars from a country enforcing the sort of “Western freedoms” that could get you thrown in jail for being in possession of the Communist Manifesto. Five billion dollars in the Seventies? My god, I thought, that is vulgar.

I winced when Mr. Turner then said the Shah reached for his chequebook and asked to whom he should write the cheque.

“And I told him, I said, make it out to the International Monetary Fund, Washington D.C. and that’s 5…0…0…0…,” at this point the room erupted into laughter. Oh, that caricature. That royal, loyal servitude.

The truth is, the 5 billion dollars that was forked over with the ease of a clipped receipt belonged to the Iranian people. The fact that decades later I can sit in a room with the former PM of Canada and listen to him describe that scene so lightheartedly is absolutely wild.

Turner said many more things that night. Somewhere in there was talk of the Magna Carta, a shared currency between the US and Canada, and the Keystone Pipeline. His response to the Keystone Pipeline was that he believed in it because it served our “best friend,” down south, and would be “good” for at least 50 years. Maybe the problem with politicians like Turner is that they’re natural gamblers never thinking about the long-term impact of their decisions when immediate gratification is a signature away. The silenced Aboriginal worldview would invite the consideration that we, as a collective, ought not to think of a mere 50 years ahead, but seven generations.

Anyway, like I said, Turner covered a lot of ground that evening, but perhaps his most notable statement, the one I came back to again and again as I strolled home under the tall shadows of a particularly frosty, moonlit evening, was also one of his very simplest slogans: “We, Canadians, have to get off our butts and change Democracy”.

Yes, Mr. Turner we do. We most certainly do.


Take Back the Night 2014

A couple of months ago I presented a speech for Take Back the Night. It was hosted by the organization of my heart, Toronto Rape Crisis Centre/Multicultural Women Against Rape. What I liked most about the evening was that I saluted the sky and as I did it literally poured rain on my awe-stricken head. I share this piece now because it speaks my truths as a feminist and with regard to the future of my country, but most importantly, it demonstrates the importance of intersectionality. How can we address the devious Harper government any other way? To acknowledge the oppression of Palestinians is to acknowledge the oppression of our very own Indigenous women. And so on.

Take Back the Night

Take Back the Night – Decolonizing Feminism Globally: From Turtle Island to Palestine
Speech – Parmis Mirabdolbaghi, September 2014

In the simplest language, the term decolonization refers to a process whereby a state withdraws from its colony thus leaving it independent.

Today we don’t ask nor do we even demand, but we take back our independence.
We take back our rights as women.
And we take back the night.

Under this living sky who has swallowed the cries of so many women we come together, as a community and as a global tribe, to say that we have heard the cries and are here to answer them. Like the sky who has borne witness to the ruthless murders of indigenous women while Stephen Harper’s government has not; the rupturing of the Earth through the industrialization of the tar sands while Stephen Harper’s government has not; and, the broken bodies and hearts of Palestinians in the recent siege at Gaza, while Stephen Harper’s government has not; we bear witness. We bear witness to the suffering of our sisters and rise in resistance against governments and systems whose legacy of violence toward women is as abominable as their legacy of destruction towards the Earth.

And to this government who represents not the people, but acts in solemn servitude to the dictates of American imperialism—the very same that keeps wages low, erodes public services, threatens healthcare, denies childcare, refuses education, imprisons its students, enslaves migrants and impeaches on every kind of human rights imaginable through its merciless and mercenary corruption, including endless violence toward women —I say this: now is the time to withdraw. Withdraw from the bodies of women, withdraw from the wars you have created, withdraw from the occupation of the lands, and withdraw from the lives of the people. Because our suffering is more than your oppression. Our suffering is ancient. It is the collective pain of people united as allies against tyrannical regimes. Against judgement. Against control. And against inequality.

It is the suffering that will fight for the people to live as they choose, love who they will, and be who they want in the existence of freedom and independence.

It is the suffering that, in the words of Palestinian performance poet and human rights activist, Rafeef Ziadah, is a collective birth as “the old world is dying – but the new is struggling to be born”.  It is the suffering that feminist activist Audre Lorde told us knows that while differences exist among us there is no hierarchy of oppressions. It is the suffering of a united people. And the suffering we feel is as old as our bones, the stones, the mountains, the Earth, and the sky we take back.

It is the suffering of people who come together and take back the night.


Little Things

A purse can mean so many things.

Walking through Toronto’s financial district after the first few snowfalls I was caught on one of those moody, bleak and windy urban nights I’ve come to appreciate. Still, it’s not every day I pass through this part of town, and having spent most of the morning on public transport through Rexdale—first, lecturing at a local college then working with urban youth—it’s safe to say the hermitess in me was pining for her book-filled room. And yet, here I was shivering and considering the promises I had to keep. Destination? The Spoke on King Street. Operation? Attend the Toronto Art Foundation’s talk on the Art of Good Governance. Why? A long story to be revealed gradually. Suffice it to say I trudged on, dressed in black and longing for warmth.

“Capitalism? Ha ha! You can’t be serious. Organized crime isn’t always a bad thing, you know.”

A sharp glance revealed what I had already guessed. A young man, evidently of the business class, had noticed my humble little pin, the garish cartooned yellow disk meekly stating, “Capitalism is organized crime,” that garners so much haranguing attention it’s practically become a social experiment. I acquired it during the August 10 Toronto march for Palestine, an event that apparently attracted some 7 000 protesters, but was barely featured on any of our news outlets.



“Oh, I don’t know…organized crime is, well, kinda bad.”

I really didn’t know how else to respond—logically.

“Yeah okay, but what are you trying to say? I mean what is that? A new fashion?”

I looked at him. The f-word stung. Fashion. The radical in me kinda wanted to tell him off, but then in Fiona Apple’s words, he looked at me as sincere as a dog, and I was compelled to be kind to this stranger.

“No, no. This isn’t fashion like the Che Guevara t-shirts you see everywhere, and I’m aware of a more traditional capitalism you may be interested in, but I’m just, well, I’m just being genuine. I don’t believe in this system and I think it’s time for a change. I believe in making changes”.

We walked a couple of steps. I looked straight ahead while the wind howled between us. Silence.

“You could say I make changes too. I’m an investment banker. But you know what? You’re right. Even I know things are getting bad. The system is getting worse and worse. My colleagues see it too”.

What could I say? I smiled.  He politely asked me for a drink. I even more politely declined, but not before he gave me directions to The Spoke.

On cold nights such as we’re having in Toronto we’re often left feeling a little nostalgic. For me it always comes down to Art and its inextricable link to Truth. I left the art-infused fashion world because I could no longer stomach its corporatism, but not before I’d re-envisioned my activism. Yet somehow everywhere I go, whether it’s the social services sector, or even the Art world, pure and simple, I am followed by a looming shadow in the night reminding me to trudge just a little more.

Baroness, Yellow and Green


‘Dispelling Myths & Stereotypes About Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women’ with Lee Maracle & Suzanne Stewart

Native Womens Resource Centre

Sisters in Spirit Week Teach-In Dispelling Myths & Sterotypes About Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women



Because the Sun has Gone – North Albion Collegiate Institute and Why this is a Canadian Issue

“If you cry because the sun has gone out of your life, your tears will prevent you from seeing the stars”.
-Rabindranath Tagore

Given the proximity of my work to North Albion Collegiate Institute it should come as no surprise that the recent death of Hamid Aminzada was no mere tragic news item to me, but a rupture in my heart. I will not go over the details, nor will I disclose aspects of my closeness to the case, instead I will share a few words from the eyes of a not-yet-weary counsellor working in a neighbourhood too many Torontonians nonchalantly call the “ghetto”.

To say what has happened is a tragedy would be a gross understatement, but to deny the reality of the manageable systemic issues at play would be another. In recent years, the community of Rexdale has lost just that–a sense of community–and has become a sort of urban camp for newcomers, many refugees. While moving to a new country in a state of emergency is challenging enough, many of the refugees I’ve met are caught in socio-economic times that force them to choose between entrapment in our eroding social welfare system or labouring overtime at any menial job possible just to scrape by. Needless to say, the youth are generally expected to not only absorb the cultural shocks of poverty, alienation and a weakened educational system, but to do so with enough grace to satisfy the all too common sentiment that they should be happy they’re here. After all, Canada is a safe country.

North Albion Collegiate Institute - September 23, 2014

North Albion Collegiate Institute – September 23, 2014

In truth, Canada still is a safe country. But as the gap between rich and poor widens and the effects are rendered noticeable in communities like Rexdale, it will not serve to take a sleepy page out of Harper’s book and write the incident at N.A.C.I. off as just another urban crime, but to see it for what it is: an intersecting sociological problem stemming from irresponsible government.


Take Back the Night 2014 – Decolonizing Feminism Globally: From Turtle Island to Palestine

When we look into the roots, the rich heritage of Take Back the Night, it’s hard not to consider it in the light of historical feminism. Initiated during the tumultuous Second Wave that later followed the ebb and flow of political time until the present, it has proven its capacity to move forward with feminists.


Photo Credit – Rachele Clemente, 2014