Two effective nude protests

against oil dependency

Getting naked for a worthy cause is all the rage these days. Or is it the other way around — a worthy cause is a convenient excuse to get naked?

Frankly, I think it’s a bit of both. To participate in the World Naked Bike Ride, you’ve got to yield to your inner exhibitionist. If you don’t have an inner exhibitionist, you won’t be among the participants.

nude protestOn the weekend of June 11-12, 2005, according to, naked cyclists took to the streets in more than 50 cities worldwide. The purpose was to register a protest against Western dependence on oil.

(image originally uploaded by justinphilpott).

Note that no one in the UK was arrested or registered as a sex offender: “Although indecent exposure is a criminal offence in the UK, the Metropolitan Police viewed the ride as a political protest, and no arrests were made.” Good for the Bobbies, I say!

I think this protest works better than the “Breasts Not Bombs” events (see my previous post).

It’s the bicycles that make the difference. Getting naked in public has nothing to do with decreasing Western dependence on oil. But riding a bike does!

These protesters didn’t stand around holding banners and chanting, “Stop indecent exposure to automobile emissions!” They hopped onto their bicycles, thus encouraging people to consider alternative means of transportation.

In my opinion, that’s the missing element in the “Breasts Not Bombs” events. They need to devise a “bicycle” — a symbol they can use to divert attention away from the nudity toward the cause they espouse.

The World Naked Bike Ride advocates using an alternative means of transportation. What exactly does “Breasts Not Bombs” ask people to do? Does it have something to do with breasts?

I must admit that I enjoyed researching this subject. Some time when you’re bored, I encourage you to google “topless protests” and see what turns up.

pro cunnilingusYou have to know that PETA — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — is going to come up repeatedly.

PETA is known for the memorable slogan, “I’d rather go naked than wear fur.” This is the same issue, once again — trying to segue from the medium (nudity) to the message (end cruelty to animals).

PETA is also known for their outrageous stunts. No surprise, then, that they came up with the funniest of the protests in my google search.

The cause:  “the persistent and invidious male failure to lick pussy.” “Animals get eaten more than we do,” is their complaint. (Click on the photo for the story.)

I think this is a successful protest:

  • Nudity makes sense in this context;
  • So does tiger makeup: tiger = pussy, see?
  • And the cage? … well, that’s a little harder to explain.

How about this?: going too long between orgasms can make you feel like a caged animal.

Awwww, the poor dear!

The medium overwhelms the message

topless protest 1
“Breasts Not Bombs” was in the news earlier this month. Two women were arrested for exposing their breasts as part of an anti-Schwarzenegger protest on the grounds of California’s state Capitol. If convicted of committing lewd acts, they may be registered as sex offenders! In my opinion, that would be a ludicrous overreaction.

The leader of the movement, Sherry Glaser, explains that the tactic was inspired by the infamous Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction”:

The “Crass and deplorable stunt” that occurred during the half-time show of the Superbowl over took National Headlines. The fact that George Bush Lied to the World and the American People about Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction didn’t even make the paper that day. I guess Janet’s Breasts bounced it right off the front page. Am I also to believe that her breast exposure is more horrifying than the death of another six US soldiers and who knows how many Iraqi children and women? Or more indecent than the fact that people are being detained and tortured without any constitutional rights in Guantanamo Bay?

I understand that The FCC is going to order a probe into the Breast situation. They are going to probe the breast exposure. … Isn’t it more in the best interest of Americans for there to be an investigation into Dick Cheney’s ties to Halliburton and his secret meetings with the energy taskforce? …

What I have to surmise from this obsession with Janet Jackson’s breast is that the Breast is mightier than the sword. It seems as though we women have a secret weapon we knew nothing about. The power of the breast. Like any super hero, underneath our everyday clothing lay our true identities. With the slip of some leather and the revelation of a little bit of flesh we command the front page.

I agree with Ms. Glaser to a point. I think the American reaction to the merest flash of Janet Jackson’s breast was bizarre. The degree of outrage suggested a certain sickness in the American psyche. Millions of Canadians watched the same half-time show, and the Canadian equivalent of the FCC received fewer than 100 complaints.

But I think Ms. Glaser is misguided to make breasts a vehicle of political protest, as I will explain.

There are three topless people in the photo at the top of this post. (Of a different protest, not the one at California’s state Capitol.) Let’s consider each of them in turn.

topless protest 2Beauty is a very subjective concept, but I assume we can all agree that this woman is physically attractive.

Maybe too attractive. The medium (breasts) threatens to overwhelm the message (not bombs). I can’t help thinking of the line from the James Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies:

Admiral Roebuck: With all due respect, M, I think you don’t have the balls for this job. [Note: M is a woman.]

M: Maybe. But the advantage is, I don’t have to think with them all the time.

It’s pathetic, but true:  men tend to “think” with their balls. When a man is in the presence of a beautiful, topless woman, all the blood rushes out of his brain and settles in his groin.

I freely confess that if this woman asked me to sign a petition, I would not hesitate. I would sign in hope that she would direct that warm smile at me. Then I would wander aimlessly for the next couple of hours in a happy erotic haze.

But I would be no more of a pacifist than I was before. Throughout our encounter, the medium would have more of my attention than the message.

topless protest 3This photo may offend some folks, but it doesn’t have much impact on me one way or another. (source) I understand that some men are convinced they are really women trapped in a man’s body. Some such men resort to hormone therapy and radical surgery to become the other. And some, like this fellow, are content to stop half way and be a bit of each.

I’ve never had a transsexual friend, so I’m sure I’m not as sympathetic as I might otherwise be. But I can’t help but wonder about this person’s motives. Is s/he here, sans shirt, primarily because s/he believes so deeply in the pacifist cause? Or is the cause primarily a pretext to expose his/her breasts and flaunt his/her transgendered state?

In the final analysis it probably doesn’t matter too much. We all suffer from the same syndrome:  even when we do the right thing, we never do it 100% for the right motives.

But I know this much for sure:  the medium is once again overwhelming the message, even more powerfully than in the case of the first woman.

topless protest 4
Meet Sherry Glaser, the driving force behind the “Breasts Not Bombs” movement. She says it takes real courage for a woman with a body like hers to disrobe in public:

I must confess, as I did before I disrobed, that this act was terribly frightening. Not just because there were police ready to arrest me and media surrounding me, not to mention registered sex offenders, but because my breasts are huge, I know. I don’t have to tell you that.

I do not fit into the acceptable, popular culturally desirable body type. I’m more like every woman. Every woman who has doubts about her body. Every woman who is afraid to undress with the light on for fear that her flaws will overwhelm her beauty. Everywoman who blossoms at middle age into her full power and voluptuous sexuality. Every woman who is afraid some man will judge her as ugly or fat. Every woman who is afraid that she’s just not right. So it took a mountain of courage for me to do this act.

I find Ms. Glaser’s first-person account very moving. And her fears have been realized:  some men are infuriated because Ms. Glaser isn’t young and gorgeous:

I receive e-mails that are downright stunning as to what my body looks like to them. “Beastly” HUGE TITS” “Disgusting” “hideous” — things like that. People calling me a moron, suggesting I should go to a mental hospital. …

My favorite interaction came from a retired Army Sargeant who served in Viet Nam. His e-mail began, “Do you have any “members with a DECENT HUMAN set of tits? All I have seen are OINKERS. Now I know the meaning of pornography. Put your shirts on Mothers.” Our correspondence began that way and went on for a couple of weeks with a total of about five messages to each other. We came to realize that we were both angry and it wasn’t really about each other.

If Ms. Glaser is willing to put up with such crap, she is obviously deeply committed to the pacifist cause. It’s hard to criticize a woman who is willing to pay a deeply personal price for her convictions. But, in the final analysis, I still think she is misguided.

It’s clear from the hate mail Ms. Glaser receives that the medium is, once again, overwhelming the message. I think it’s appalling that people attack her for not having smaller, perkier breasts. But clearly that’s the only impression the protest makes on many observers.

Aside from the tendency men have to think with their balls, there is another reason why such protests are doomed to fail:  there is no natural connection between breasts and pacifism.

Ms. Glaser and her colleagues try to establish a connection in people’s minds. They cry out,

Breasts Not Bombs, Titties Not Tanks, Nipples not Napalm, Mammaries not missles. The issue is SOFT TISSUE!

I admire that last phrase, “the issue is soft tissue” — it’s very clever. But even if we set the sexual response to one side, the first subject (breasts) does not provide any kind of segue to the other (the carnage in Iraq and elsewhere).

The medium seizes our attention, quite effectively. But then Ms. Glaser and her colleagues struggle in vain to shift our attention to the message. What remains is only the base sexual response, which leads either to arousal or disgust, depending on the beauty of the woman and the maturity of the onlooker.

I have a short follow-up post in mind — no more than a post script, really. But here’s my advice to Ms. Glaser and others who stage similar protests involving public nudity. To achieve your goal, you’ve got to find an intermediary step to shift attention by stages from the medium to the message. I have an example in mind which I’ll share tomorrow.

If the women readers have a different perspective, I’d be very interested to hear it. I know I’ve discussed the issue entirely from the perspective of the male response.

Race riots: coming soon to your neighborhood?

First, an update on the rioting in France. Since Wednesday, forty municipalities have imposed curfews on minors. In Paris, according to the Globe and Mail,

police banned public gatherings that could “provoke or encourage disorder” from 10 a.m., local time, Saturday to 8 a.m. Sunday. It was the first such ban in the French capital in at least a decade, said police spokesman Hugo Mahboubi.

Rioting has weakened in intensity since the curfews were introduced. Nonetheless, police counted 315 cars torched across France yesterday night.

Europeans are nervously monitoring events in France, wondering if they soon will be facing a similar crisis. The Washington Post reports:

The burning cars and social fury exploding across France have transfixed the rest of Europe, where countries with sizable and growing immigrant populations are confronted by some of the same underlying tensions but are cautiously hopeful that the violence won’t spread. …

While politicians and police chiefs in other European nations with substantial immigrant populations — notably Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands — say they have seen no visible signs of unrest, they acknowledge that the French riots have grabbed their attention and reminded them of what could happen if they don’t do more to address problems at home.

One phenomenon cries out for an explanation. The discontent in France and elsewhere is traced not to recent immigrants, but to the children of immigrants. In other words, visible minorities who were born in Western cities. The issue first came into focus when it was discovered that some of the perpetrators of the London bombings had been born in England.

An article in yesterday’s Globe and Mail offers an interesting perspective. Recent research

shows an emerging population of Canadian-raised daughters and sons of visible-minority immigrants à la France whose accents and cultural reference points are as Canadian as maple syrup, but who in many respects feel less welcome in the country than their parents.

“Their parents came to improve their lives,” says University of Toronto sociologist Jeffrey Reitz, one of Canada’s foremost academic experts on immigration and multiculturalism.

“They can make comparisons to where they were. They can [move] on. But for their children born in Canada, they don’t have the option of going anywhere else. And they expect equality. Therefore their expectations are much higher.”

I don’t know that this is the full explanation, but it’s the first analysis that makes any sense to me.

(an idyllic photo from Citizenship and Immigration Canada)

Visible minorities born in Western cities have higher expectations than their parents. Westerners boast about equal opportunity for all, and they take those comments at face value. When they discover that a lot of doors are closed to them it comes as a rude shock.

Are the doors closed because they are visible minorities? Or do they face the same kinds of obstacles as those who are not visible minorities?

We all start out with some characteristics that work to our advantage and others that hold us back. For example, some studies have shown that income is related to height, with each inch adding about $789 to one’s yearly income. If this is true, the fact that I’m vertically challenged (5’6½”) holds me back economically.

On the other hand, if you’re Paris Hilton, you can become rich and (in)famous despite having neither talent, brains, nor anything else that should qualify you for success in a meritocracy. Equal opportunity for all doesn’t work out quite as advertised.

Still, you can’t argue with people’s experience:

Listen to the voice of 22-year-old Rahel Appiagyei, a third-year student in international relations attending Toronto’s elite bilingual Glendon College at York University.

“No, I don’t feel accepted,” she says. “The one thing I don’t understand — me, personally, and for blacks in general — is why we’re still seen as immigrants.”

In the Canada of her experience, she says, “the word ‘immigrant’ is used to mean coloured and the word ‘Canadian’ is a code word for Caucasian.” Her parents emigrated from Ghana in 1988, when she was 5. Immigrants from Ghana — along with those from Ethiopia, Somalia and Afghanistan — have the highest rates of poverty in Canada, between 50 and 80 per cent. She, her parents and five siblings live crowded into a three-bedroom apartment.

Ms. Appiagyei, whose idiom and accent with trademark raised ou diphthong are flawlessly Canadian, says with pride that her family has never needed a penny of welfare, that her father has steadily worked since he arrived, and that she is the first in the family to be accomplishing what her mother and father brought their children to Canada to do.

She cites the Toronto school board’s policy of zero tolerance for violence and points out its targets are overwhelmingly black students. Something can’t be right with a policy that winds up being aimed at a single racial group, she says. “It gives me a lot of messages.”

Ms. Appiagyei tells the story of living one summer in Quebec with a family to learn French. The father made clear that he associated blacks with poverty and one day commented that he had never thought blacks attractive until he met her. “It was a compliment and insult at the same time.”

The Ethnic Diversity Study found 37 per cent of Canada’s visible minorities report discrimination, and for blacks alone the figure is 50 per cent.

Ms. Appiagyei says the more engaged and involved in Canadian life she becomes, the more she encounters gaps between her expectations of what Canadian society should be and the reality she encounters.

She tells of being often asked: “‘You’re from Africa, how come you know English so well?’ I feel I’m always being assessed with lions and tigers, with remoteness. Why is it we’re not allowed to feel we belong here?”

I accept that visible minorities face an additional obstacle to success. And maybe it’s a big obstacle — there’s no way for caucasians like me to evaluate it.

Nonetheless, as I explained in my previous post on the riots in Paris, I think the social problem is particularly acute in France. Citizens of other European nations evidently feel the same (returning here to the Washington Post article):

European lawmakers and analysts also pointed to evidence that the French riots were being fueled by conditions that were not mirrored elsewhere. While there is widespread dissatisfaction with the pace of integration and assimilation throughout Europe, they said, segregation, unemployment and social alienation seem much more pronounced in the suburbs around Paris and other French cities. …

Friedrich Heckmann, a professor of immigration studies at the University of Bamberg in Germany, said studies show that it is more difficult for second-generation French to move out of the slums or segregated neighborhoods and find jobs than for people of the same age and background in Britain and Germany.

That’s my impression, too — that conditions here in Canada are not what they are in France.

But maybe I’m unduly complacent. What is your opinion? Are similar riots likely to break out in Canada? Are they likely to break out in the UK or the USA?

French nationalism and the Paris riots

No doubt most of you are aware that Muslim youths have been rioting in Paris, nightly, for nearly two weeks now. A 61-year-old man was beaten to death. A woman in her 50s, on crutches, was doused with a flammable liquid and set on fire. The rioters are burning more than 1,000 cars per night.

I would like to draw a connection between the riots in Paris and an event here in Canada ten years ago.

1995 referendumOn October 30, 1995, residents of Quebec nearly voted to separate from Canada. According to Wikipedia, the final vote was 50.58% against to 49.42% in favour of separation. English Canadians watched the returns with our hearts in our throats:  we had no say in the decision as our nation was very nearly torn in two.

But what is the connection between this event and the riots in Paris? The answer is, French nationalism.

Someone who was being interviewed on CBC radio tried to explain the alienation of the Muslim youths who are rioting nightly in Paris. He said that the majority of the population does not regard them as “really” French. Even Muslims who were born in France are up against that prejudice.

When I heard those comments, I thought of the 1995 referendum.

Let me step back and provide a little historical context. There was a time when the Francophone population of Quebec had good reason to resent English Canada. Mordecai Richler explains,

[French Canadians] can recall when they weren’t welcome in the higher reaches of Quebec’s leading law firms, brokerage houses or banks. In 1961 French Canadians, though they made up something like a third of Canada’s then population of nineteen million, held somewhat less than fifteen percent of responsible federal jobs. A survey showed that while four fifths of the directors of 183 major companies in Canada, were Canadian born, less than 7% of these positions were held by French Canadians.

But those days are long past. The sea change began in the early 1960s with the Quiet Revolution, which profoundly redefined the role of Quebec, and Quebeckers, within Confederation. Quebeckers have assumed their rightful place in the boardrooms of the nation and at the highest echelons of government. It is often pointed out that Canada’s Prime Minister has come from Quebec for 32 of the past 33 years.

Thus it is hard to understand Francophone Quebeckers’ continuing alienation. At a time when the United Nations repeatedly chose Canada as the best nation on earth in which to live, Quebeckers seriously considered leaving Canada to found a separate nation.

The impulse is attributable to French nationalism.

When the result of the 1995 referendum was clear, the leader of the separatist cause offered an infamous explanation of the result. Then Premier Jacques Parizeau said:

Let’s stop talking about the francophones of Quebec. Let’s talk about us. Sixty per cent of us have voted in favour.

We need to pause here just for a moment. Who is the “us” to whom M. Parizeau refers? The answer is, “real” Quebeckers. These folk sometimes identify themselves as pur laine (pure wool) Quebeckers — those whose ancestors came from France and who settled in Quebec many generations ago.

M. Parizeau was dividing Quebec voters into “us” and “them”. They may be francophones insofar as they speak French, but they are not to be mistaken for us. He continued:

… It’s true we have been defeated, but basically by what? By money and the ethnic vote. All it means is that in the next round [i.e., the next referendum], instead of us being 60 or 61 per cent in favour, we’ll be 63 or 64 per cent.

This notorious phrase, “money and the ethnic vote”, continues to resound ten years later. It is true that allophones (those whose first language is neither French nor English) voted against separation en masse (see the Wikipedia article sited above). But all residents of Quebec were entitled to participate in determining their fate. M. Parizeau’s remarks suggest that he bitterly resented allophones for scuppering his pet project.

Paris burnsNow let us return to those Muslim youths in Paris — the ones who doubt they are accepted as “really” French. Is this scenario plausible? I think so.

By no means do I condone the rioting in Paris. All around the world, Muslims are responsible for acts of violence and the murder of civilians, just as we are now seeing in France. Evidence continues to mount that there is something in contemporary Muslim culture which lends itself to such acts.

But surely we should still consider whether the Muslim youths of France have just cause to feel alienated. Timothy Smith, described as a specialist in French history, offers this opinion:

Whereas Toronto has small pockets of self-segregated ethnic communities (which tend to disperse over a generation or two), Paris has entire suburbs, with hundreds of thousands of immigrants living in almost complete isolation from the mainstream, decade after decade.

The French government refuses to recognize ethnic communities as legitimate actors — it would prefer that they simply disappear quietly into the mainstream. North Africans are expected to jettison all their cultural and religious baggage at the border, and pretend that their ancestors are the Gauls. Multiculturalism is dismissed as a dangerous Anglo-Saxon import. … The French believe that multiculturalism would only privilege individuals by association with their ethnic, religious or racial roots.

Smith believes that France could learn a thing or two from Canada’s example:

There is no such concept as Algerian French. By contrast, one can be Chinese Canadian and still be considered a full citizen. Before immigrants to Canada become equal in the economic sense, their culture is already considered equal in the theoretical sense. The one helps lead to the other. …

Most Canadians see immigrants in a positive light — they add diversity to the cultural scene, they spice up our cuisine, they make important economic contributions, they will help pay for the boomers’ pensions. …

Obviously, racism exists in Canada, but where is the equivalent of France’s unabashedly xenophobic National Front party, which received 5.5 million votes in 2002? Which political party in Canada is led by a man who plasters city walls with election posters vowing: “When he [this leader] comes, they [the immigrants] are going?”

Even in Quebec, multiculturalism has been embraced as a social good. Jacques Parizeau’s offensive remarks on the night of the 1995 referendum marked a high-water mark in bitterness directed toward “ethnics”. The new generation of separatist leaders actively courts the allophone vote. They hope to hold another referendum some day, and they want immigrants to feel that there is a place for them in an independent Quebec.

France can, indeed, learn a few lessons from Canada’s example. The article by Timothy Smith concludes:

Amazingly, there isn’t a single member of the National Assembly from mainland France who is a visible minority, even as 9 per cent to 10 per cent of the population is Muslim. If there were one such politician, perhaps he or she could visit the suburbs and deliver a message of hope.

Escaping gravity

All of us have dreams in which we are flying. I wonder why that is. Why do we all dream about doing something that none of us has ever done?

In my dreams, people are always amazed that I can fly. I explain that anyone can do it, and I show them how.

When I was younger, I used to fly higher than I do now. I would start running, and somehow get in sync with the wind, and then I would lift off the ground. I would fly high above the trees, cutting great swooping arcs through the sky like a kite. I would feel it in the pit of my stomach, like you do when you drive over the crest of a steep hill.

I didn’t flap my arms to fly. Not like the old joke:  I flew in from Miami yesterday … and boy, are my arms tired.

It was just a matter of escaping gravity. As long as my feet were on the ground, gravity had me in its grip. But once I lifted off just a little, I was free:  the sky was the limit.

And why not, I ask? Scientists tell us that gravity is a weak force:

Although it may be hard to believe after you have helped a friend move a sofa up to a third-floor apartment, gravity is by far the weakest of the fundamental forces. The reason it dominates our lives the way it does is that we spend our days on the surface of a huge mass (the earth) that functions as a gigantic generator of gravitational force. However, the fact that you can pick up a nail with a magnet shows that even the entire earth pulling on one side cannot counteract the magnetic force exerted by something that can be held in your hand. (James S. Trefil, The Moment of Creation.)

I still fly in my dreams, just as I did when I was twenty years old, but now I stay much lower to the ground. I’ve put on a few pounds in the intervening years. Maybe gravity has more of a hold on me.

Or maybe the explanation is psychological. As a kid, I was sure I would grow up to be a pro hockey player. As a teenager, I dreamt instead of being a rock star or a renowned actor. Then, as a young adult, I developed a bit of a Messiah complex:  I was going to save the world, or at least rescue many individuals from their unhappy circumstances.

Much to my surprise, it didn’t work out that way. These days, my ambitions are much more modest. I am grateful to have a decent job and provide for my children’s financial needs. Mary P. and I bought a house together last June, and I’m relieved that we can make the mortgage payments.

My ambitions are much more modest; and in my dreams, I fly much lower to the ground. Coincidence? I think not.

But I still believe that anyone can do it. Gravity is a weak force. And the human spirit is designed to soar.

Why it’s better to be a boy

A colleague at work forwarded a jpeg image to me, which sparked an amusing dialogue. Here’s the image:

I’m not taking this warning very seriously; maybe if I was another ten or fifteen years older it would hit closer to home. But naturally, I had to respond to the sender.

The dialogue is colour-coded so you can keep the characters straight. Hint:  blue is for boy.

Every pre-pubescent boy’s fantasy! (I don’t know what little girls do for entertainment. They’re at *such* a disadvantage.)

I am not going there!

… can’t even write their names in the snow.

Yet can write novels at a very young age.

Hah! You call that *fun*?!!!

And that’s where the dialogue ended. My last point was so compelling she turned off her computer and left work early.

Stanley Cup winning coach reveals he is illiterate

Jacques Demers, now retired after achieving great success as a coach in the National Hockey League, has just revealed that he is illiterate. He managed to hide the fact from his colleagues and even from his children until now.

demersDemers coached more than 1,000 games in the NHL; he won the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year twice; and he capped off his career by guiding the Montreal Canadiens to a Stanley Cup victory in 1993.

The story is very moving. Demers’ father, who was an alcoholic, physically abused him. CanWest News Services quotes Demers:

“My young life was so negative, I developed a positive side to hide everything from people. By not telling people what my Dad was doing to my mom and me, I developed a positive side to hide the ugly truth.

“It was my way of surviving, but I developed anxiety,” said Demers, who eventually sought professional help to deal with his personal torment.

“Going to a doctor two years ago helped me understand that when your father says, ‘You’re a no-good SOB,’ you don’t go to sleep at night and you can’t function or learn at school.”

In the 1960s, Demers assumed responsibility for three younger siblings when his parents died a few years apart. He was only sixteen when his Mom died.

A new biography reveals Demers’ secret for the first time:

In Jacques Demers:  Toutes En Lettres, a biography written by Mario Leclerc of Le Journal de Montreal and released yesterday, the 61-year-old former Canadiens coach divulges that he never learned to adequately read or write, and shrewdly masked his embarrassing deficiency by getting others to do his paperwork. …

“Everywhere I went, in Detroit or St. Louis, the trainers or someone would always fill out the lineup without knowing my secret,” Demers said yesterday.

“I would always tell them, ‘You’re the best, you know who’s playing, you know the sweater numbers in the room.’ Eddy [Palchak, the Canadiens trainer] did it for me every single game here and then I’d have an assistant coach look it over.

“No one ever knew my secret but my wife Debbie. In 1984, we were sitting in our kitchen in St. Louis and I asked her to pay some bills. She finally said, ‘Look, I’m not your damn secretary.’ So I had to tell her and we both kept it a very dark secret.

Even then, Demers continued to hide his illiteracy from his children. According to the Globe and Mail, he told the eldest of his four children only on Tuesday. As of yesterday afternoon, he still had not told the others, who live in the USA.

Demers feared exposure throughout his coaching career and even later, when he became a television commentator for a Francophone TV station:

“Nobody can ever hurt me again. Nobody can fire me now,” he said in an interview yesterday.

“But for all those years, I always had at the back of my mind that I could be fired, I could be embarrassed, I could be humiliated.

“I coached five teams, and there’s no way the National Hockey League would have given me a chance.

“There’s no way they were going to hire someone who says he’s an illiterate.” …

Former Canadiens star Serge Savard said he only found out the truth about Mr. Demers at the end of their time together with the Montreal Canadiens, in the 1990s.

“He fooled everyone,” Mr. Savard said. “He always had notes with him and he looked like he was writing something.”

Demers says he learned his survival skills from his mother, who also endured bloodied beatings at the hand of her husband.

When his Canadiens won the Stanley Cup, Demers thought of his Mom. “She was my hero and would have been very proud of me.”

Demers plans to donate 60 cents from each sale of the book to Le Chainon, a Montreal shelter for battered women.

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