A  college professor said to his student, “They say history repeats itself. In your case that would be next semester.”

The other day I came across a piece of Canadian history that I had never heard about before. A representative from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg said, “Very often our story is that enslaved peoples from the U.S. fled and Canada was hospitable and welcoming through the Underground Railroad. But I think Viola Desmond’s experience disrupts people’s conception of Canada, helping to understand that segregation did exist here.”

If you’re like me, you’re likely asking, “Who was Viola Desmond?” She was a black entrepreneur who ran a beauty salon in Halifax that catered to black women. The story goes that Viola was out of town when her car broke down, and a mechanic told her the repairs wouldn’t be completed until the following day. So she walked over to the Roseland Theatre to watch a film, bought a ticket, and sat down in the downstairs seating area.

Before long an usher informed her she should be sitting in the balcony and was told that “you people” aren’t allowed to sit downstairs. Viola offered to pay an extra ten cents for a new ticket, but was denied, so she returned to her seat downstairs. Soon the manager and a police officer dragged her to the street, and she sat in a jail cell for 12 hours for her defiance, and later went to court but lost her case.

Her story is featured at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Much later Viola was recognized on several occasions, and the Bank of Canada featured her on its new $10 bill in 2018, as the first Canadian woman and the first person of colour to grace national currency. However, Viola didn’t live to see the full impact of her actions, as she was recognized seven decades after her arrest, and is often referred to as Canada’s Rosa Parks.
Viola’s sister, Wanda Robson, dedicates most of her time to sharing Desmond’s story with people across the country, hoping to promote human rights to the next generation of Canadians. “It’s awe-inspiring to me to think that one simple act of defiance is still at work today,” she said. “There is lots to be done, but there are so many people out there putting forward the message of equality between all people.”

Now let’s look at more recent history, on April 7th, 2017, when a Canadian woman named Arianna was murdered. She was nine months pregnant, however the killer was only charged with one count of murder. There was only one charge because under Canadian law, a pre-born child is not recognized as a human being. The murdered woman’s heart-broken mother said the lone conviction was wrong on so many levels.

Yes, there are many people putting forward messages of equality between all people, but what happens when we’re talking about the pre-born who aren’t even recognized as human beings? Is this Canadian law that states pre-born children are not human beings acceptable to you? Would it be acceptable if it was your pre-born child or grandchild who had been brutally murdered and was cradled in her mother’s arms in a coffin?

Much like Viola Desmond, people putting forward acts of defiance to advocate for the rights of the pre-born are silenced, dragged into court and fined or jailed. Is history repeating itself? Will those individuals be honored decades from now, not living to see the full impact of their actions? It’s something to think about.

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