Merlyn Kinrade has passed away. He was one of the heroes of Caledonia, who, through persistence and dedication, managed to reverse a seemingly hopeless situation of lawlessness and despair and give hope to the local people abused by criminals and abandoned by their government.
I wanted to make this tribute more personal, without going into political issues, but it was impossible to do so. His personal life was so closely interwoven with his activism, that it would be impossible to separate them.
It was a difficult fight and it certainly took its toll on Merlyn’s health, which deteriorated rapidly. I got to know him during the last year of his life and I am sure he didn’t regret the price he paid to be a part of that struggle for justice.
I hesitated which one of the many pictures of him to choose for this short tribute, but of course the most natural thing to do was to show him in the environment, which gave the meaning of the last years of his life, the site of the illegal occupation of Caledonia. That was on February 18 of this year. Merlyn found enough strength to overcome the pain and attend the protest, which turned out to be a good event – our group managed to walk the road far inside the land, until Gary McHale got arrested, but the OPP also arrested for the first time a violent native woman.
That’s how I will remember Merlyn – standing tall for justice, with his somber expression of toughness and resilience, which conveyed the message that he would be standing there no matter what they try to do to him.
I met him for the first time in a similar situation just over a year ago, on May 28, 2011. There was a short-lived native occupation of a part of High Park in Toronto (complete with tents, Six Nations’ and Mohawk flags and a video by the Toronto Police falsely promoting the idea that this was an Indian burial ground). Most Torontonians were not familiar with the possible consequences of such an occupation.
It took a few activists from Caledonia to turn the things around. When they announced that they were coming to High Park to protest the racial segregation on public property, the wheels of the city administration started to spin frantically. When the group showed up, the tents and the flags were gone. Two employees of the parks department tried to explain that everything was about rejuvenation of an area used by bikers for their races. It was obviously damage control – their stammering wasn’t very convincing.
They were watched carefully by a skinny but energetic old man. Later I learned that his name was Merlyn. He had that intense gaze, which was creating the impression that he was scrutinizing you and he might have made many people feel uncomfortable because of it. It looked like his piercing eyes were telling you: “Don’t try to fool me, I can see through you.” It seemed to me that he was a difficult guy, but when I got to know him, a caring and compassionate person emerged behind his stern look.
He already knew that he didn’t have much time left – the cancer was advancing. That didn’t slow him down. Every time he took part in a protest, it cost him dearly – he had to recover for weeks from the pain and exhaustion.
I covered in my blog the High Park event, but I wasn’t prepared for the reaction – none of my previous posts had ever received such a barrage of hate mail and vile and hostile comments. It made me realize that Merlyn and his friends were exposed to slander and abuse, which was probably ten times worse, just for their attempts to convince the government to treat everybody equally.
Many people would’ve retreated, but he didn’t. That’s the way he was – from his service in the Navy, which in 1956 took him all the way to Egypt as a peacekeeper, to his years in Caledonia, where he served his community and coached sports teams.
It was always about something bigger than him. When the Caledonia assaults and occupation started, he got engaged to help the town solve the problems. He could’ve enjoyed his comfortable retirement and move somewhere else for the sake of his wife and young daughter, but that wasn’t an option for him. He never ran away from problems – he needed to solve them, because he didn’t think that he could help his family without helping everybody else.
I saw him for the last time on March 30, when he showed up in Toronto again to help somebody else – the Jewish people at an event against the Muslim anti-Semites.
The law and the moral values were the most important issues for him. In her book “Helpless” Christie Blatchford shares a story about Merlyn. As many times before, two OPP officers came to his home to talk about an upcoming rally. Such talks inevitably used to turn into heated debates. On that day, Olivia, his little daughter, was at home sick. Merlyn refused to let the officers inside and explained to them that he didn’t want their arguments to shatter Olivia’s trust in the police as protectors with morals and scruples.
And that happened during the time when the cowards from the McGuinty government were using the police as a tool to cover up the lawlessness in Caledonia. Even in that situation his faith in the democratic institutions of Canada didn’t diminish. He was confident that despite the ignorant and evil politicians, our values would not only survive but thrive in a long term. Of course, you need to fight for that and be willing to take all the blows that come your way.
I think this is one of the most important lessons we can derive from Merlyn Kinrade’s remarkable life.
Rest in peace, Merlyn, you’ll never be forgotten…