Thursday, August 19, 2010

The exclusionist rhetoric of Toews

On Wednesday, 24 May, 1995, Vic Toews rose in the Manitoba legislature to make his introductory speech and said this:
Having been influenced by the social concerns articulated by leaders in the social democratic movement and by my late father, Reverend Victor Toews, a minister of the Mennonite Brethren Church in Rossmere, my political philosophies may not square in all respects with what political scientists consider to be within the mainstream of Progressive Conservatism.
Anyone could presume that what Toews meant by that was that he was less right-wing than the average conservative - something which, as demonstrated by his actions, would have been a mistake. In that same speech, he also said this:
In 1990 I ran as the Progressive Conservative candidate in Elmwood, which was subsequently won by the current member. I then pursued a career in the private sector and was later approached to run in the constituency of Rossmere, which is, in my opinion, the most unique constituency in the province. It is the people and the community within its boundaries which set it apart.

It is populated by two major influxes of immigrants, the first immediately following World War II and those who have come in recent years. Many immigrants arrived from war-torn countries of Europe, including the Dutch, Germans, Mennonites, Poles and Ukrainians. They looked to Canada to re-establish their lives. It is truly amazing what they have accomplished. Many arrived in Canada with very little money and few possessions. They struggled to find gainful employment and to learn a new language. As I grew up among them, their fierce determination and pride was a constant source of inspiration.

Interesting. Especially the linkage Toews makes between himself and the Mennonite post-WW2 immigration. You see, in the groups he mentions, most were refugees. While the war in Europe had ended there was a massive resettlement problem. The Mennonites were essentially ethnic Germans who had been displaced from their Russian homes by the fighting. During the war they had migrated out of Russia and into Germany. While they did not necessarily sympathize with the government of Adolf Hitler, the doctrine adopted by the largely pacifist Mennonite community was one of non-resistance. A good number of the men ended up inducted into the German armed forces. There was no place for them in a post-war devastated Germany and to go back to Russia was a likely death-sentence.

And Canada, the destination of choice for the Mennonites, wasn't willing to take refugees until it had demobilized its armed forces and realigned its economy to put massive numbers of discharged service personnel back into the civilian workforce.

The displaced Mennonites had another possible destination - the Mennonite colonies in Paraguay. The Mennonite Central Committee started to make arrangements to move refugees to Paraguay - as a temporary measure until Canada relented.

At the same time, in Canada, the Mennonite Brethren had instituted a Bible college in Winnipeg. It was in its second year of operation when the 2nd World War came to an end. Outwardly intended to train theologians to support the Canadian element of the Mennonite Brethren churches, it was the preparatory training for missionaries and church workers to be deployed outside Canada. It was also where two of its students, sometime in 1945, Victor Toews and Anne Peters, met.

As the M.C.C. was working to have conscripted surviving Mennonite men released from PoW camps (on the basis that they were inducted for "political" reasons and were not loyal to Germany) they also prepared a mass immigration to Paraguay.

The Mennonite Brethern churches in Paraguay had not had a "good" war. A large number of the Paraguayan Mennonites openly approved of Hitler early after his take-over of power. They felt he would bring an appropriate discipline and strengthened morality to Germany. They also hoped for citizenship in the greater Germany being touted by Hitler. Beyond the Mennonite doctrine of non-resistance, large elements of the Paraguayan Mennonite Brethren community vocally supported Hitler and tried to steer the Mennonite Brethren churches in Paraguay to make that support official. The result was a church body that was split between pro-Hitler "Voelkische" and opposition "anti-Voelkische" groups. It took the intervention of American Mennonite workers, some of whom were viewed as spies, to re-unify the Mennonite Brethren churches. Subsequent study of the matter suggested that the pro-Hitler "Voelkische" element may have been as large as 70 percent of the male members of the Paraguayan Mennonite Brethren congregation. (The method of determining this was based on contributions to papers and newsletters of the time. It was not scientific and actually proves nothing.)

It was to Paraguay, and a congregation trying to heal itself from the rifts created during WW2, that Mennonite refugees came, most with the intent to eventually find their way to Canada.

The Canadian Mennonite Brethren church dispatched workers to Paraguay to assist in the preparation. In 1947 and 1948, as refugees arrived from Europe, several North American workers became prominent in the Paraguayan communities. One of them was named Victor Toews.

The workers and preachers sent to Paraguay encountered a devastated people. The refugees, in order to qualify for immigration anywhere, had to prove to the International Refugee Organization that they were neither Soviet nor German. As difficult as that was for many, another prominent factor stood out - a huge number of the refugee families were led by women alone. The men had either been lost during the war on the side of Germany or, more commonly, had been "disappeared" into the Soviet system of labour camps and gulags, never to be heard from again. The Mennonite women fleeing the Soviet push westward through Europe then endured the institutionalized policy of the Red Army in dealing with women and girls of conquered territory - rape.

The patriarchal Mennonite church congregations were less than accommodating according to Marlene Epp, author of Women without Men: Mennonite Refugees of the Second World War. Female-led Mennonite families were viewed by relief workers as "weak" (Schwache). Further, because the women could not provide evidence of the survival or death of a long vanished husband, they were castigated by congregations for establishing relationships not sanctioned by the church.

While the work of the missionaries in Paraguay was to "fix" the many problems of refugees, (not the least of which was an ever present cynicism toward church doctrine), a primary goal was to weaken Canadian government resistance and move as many refugees as possible to Canada.

By the mid-1950s large numbers of refugees had left Paraguay for various locations in Canada, and in 1956 Victor and Anne Toews left Paraguay with their family, including a pre-school aged Victor Toews jr.

This is the family our current Public Safety minister claims had so much influence on his thinking. A missionary father who was directly involved with desperate people fleeing the ravages of war. Did the Rev. Toews suggest that the Mennonite refugees arriving from Europe were Nazis, or Communists? There's no evidence of that.

Apparently our Public Safety minister has another problem. He might speed things up and just come right out and say it. Apparently what Vic Toews learned from the experience of his parents left him with the belief that there are two classes of refugee. Those he chooses to like and those he doesn't. "Refugee status for my kind; not yours."

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