Two Sad Events

Two Sad Events: When People and Events Remain With You

There have been two sad events recently in my life. One of those was very personal and the other was in the public eye. The personal one was the passing of my father-in-law, Lou Stillman, who died at 94 years of age. The other was what occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia, when a group of racist protesters gathered with tiki torches, chanting amongst other things, “Jews will not replace us”. This resulted in the death of one young woman, who was killed when a car rammed into a group of people protesting against the white supremacist rally.

There is a connection between these two events that I will come to. As a personal injury litigation lawyer for the past 30 years, I have had the privilege of representing people from all walks of life, all races, all religions and all sexual orientations. They all have something in common and no it is not that they have been injured, it is that they are all human beings. I have never thought of myself as being better than anyone else. The fact that I am a lawyer does not make me better than anyone else. Unfortunately, there can be bad people in any cultural, religious or sexual orientation group. But they are the minority and should not be the basis upon which to judge any group.

It is very easy to sit here as Canadians and point our fingers to the south and say, thankfully that is just the craziness of the United States, we’re all good Canadians. Unfortunately, we need to point the finger at ourselves first. We have bigots, racists and people who discriminate against others based upon their race, religion or sexual orientation too. In fact, there were Canadians who attended the Virginia white supremacists rally. The verbal assault on a First Nations woman by another group of white supremacists who were actually members of our military and the senseless murdering of people from a Mosque and the defacing of Synagogues and graveyards, all happened here in Canada.

Recently, while preparing for trial, I learned that my client’s biggest concern was that she was a black woman from Jamaica and how a jury might perceive her, not based on her injuries, but rather based on her skin colour.

When going through my father-in-law’s possessions, as my wife and I began the sad job of clearing out his condominium, I found a diary that he had kept from his time in the military, fighting in the Second World War. He was part of the Canadian forces that liberated Holland from the clutches of the Nazis. I recalled very vividly one of his stories that he told while he was in the army and training in Canada. On a march, he and a few other officers stopped as they entered a park in Brampton. The reason that they stopped was there was a sign up at the entrance that said, “NO DOGS, NO JEWS ALLOWED”.

I would like to think that we have come a long way from those days, but seeing what goes on in the world, and yes even here in Canada, I am saddened that we really haven’t.

I have heard lawyers say, “Over my dead body”, that they would ever allow a woman to become a partner in their firm. I have had a client whose own mother disowned her because she is transgendered. I have had clients tell me about the discrimination they’ve faced because they are Homosexual, Lesbian, Black or First Nations. I have seen hatred towards people because they are Muslim or because they are Jewish.

Interestingly, when people are asked about lawyers, they generally view lawyers in a very negative light, except for their own lawyer. That is because they have had a personal interaction with that lawyer, as an individual. I wish that people, before they made any judgments about others, had an interaction with them. To find out that they are in fact, in many ways, the same as they are and trying to do their best in life.

I wish that we could all accept people and not pass judgement based on their colour, cultural backgrounds, sexual orientation or religion. I remain saddened, both by my father-in-law’s passing and by what happened in Virginia. The difference is that the passing of someone, although sad, is expected and is a part of life. The latter is something that should not be expected and should not be a part of life.

Among my father-in-law’s possessions, I found a hand written note he had copied and kept…

“I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.” – William Penn

Nigel Gilby

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