at the Hanoi 3 Seasons restaurant:
Last Thursday evening an old Canadian Liberation Movement (CLM) comrade and I enjoyed dinner at the Hanoi 3 Seasons Restaurant in Toronto's east end. Our 37 year rendezvous was within a block of one of our old CLM storefronts at 1107 Queen Street East.
Judy has been busily reconnecting with former comrades. I've remained distant and cautious friends with a handful, but she's been dutifully making the rounds, gathering news, updates and anecdotes: Nancy died recently from an illness, Jim B. is in an institution - a sad punchline, as those of us who knew him had always intuited something was askew, and active membership on the 'fringe' left could easily act in negative ways on anyone's mental health and stability.
Judy was as ebullient and enthusiastic and politikally committed as she had been 37 years ago. We had barely sat down when she barraged me with questions: 'What did we do wrong with CLM? Could we have done better/differently?'
I replied with the stock answers, which I believe are also the most accurate and truthful, 'We became increasingly sectarian and social fascist. We became adventurist and the Canadian public just wasn't ready or interested in our Maoist/Stalinist agenda. Finally we even managed to isolate ourselves and our key cause for Canadian independence from the Amerikan empire.'
Judy's rapid fire conversation turned to comrade Jon Penner. Apparently my poem (at the end of this reminiscence) on Jon's mysterious death in police custody had inspired Judy to research his death in the mid 1980s, about a decade after it had occurred.
Back then, coroner's juries were required for suspect deaths occurring in police custody. Judy had even managed to track down the jury foreman, an engineer who lived in Bancroft, Ontario. The foreman had told Judy their jury's inquest had been "inconclusive" - no decision had clearly been reached on whether Jon Penner had been murdered by the rural police of the Ottawa Valley, or if he had committed suicide by hanging himself in a jail cell.
Jon Penner's ghost hovered still, watching us enjoy chopstick after chopstick of delicious Vietnamese delicacies. A progressive Canadian martyr, his murder/death still a mystery, unresolved, almost four decades later.
Judy and I hugged, said goodbyes, then ventured into the January cold of Queen Street East.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
IN MEMORY OF JON PENNER
Strange death even the half-tamed winds
off Lake Ontario moan through Toronto ...
Leaves in High Park are telling stories
how trapped hours in your rusting car
the police took you to jail
instead of hospital.
They say you hanged yourself in the night!
You who were a semi-pro fighter
not fighting for glory
but for the peace of a needle in your arm.
This fighter hanged himself?
Cat burglar who clung to life on frozen sills!
You defeated the needle
and forsook the city's catspaw money
to live miles down a deserted road -
alone - in a house so haunted the moon
glowed through cracks at midday.
Strange they feared your politics
of democracy while you lived alone
writing novels and making magic
with your silver chloride half-tones.
T he wind which you now haunt
tells strong tales ...
the leaves are redder this fall.
Your murderers twist and turn
and don't know why
the full moon on the Ottawa Valley
glows brighter than the sun.
- Chris Faiers (circa 1981)