This article first appeared in the National Post.
Our hearts are heavy on the occasion of the death of Christie Blatchford, perhaps our most celebrated contributor at the National Post. She was truly unique in the profession, the best reporter we had and a superlative columnist, too.
The talents of “Blatch” cannot easily be matched. But what made her truly admirable can be emulated, which was her courage. She told the truth in a profession where that should be the default position. Instead, too many journalists are inclined to bleach their copy until it is comfortably bland. Blatch never bleached.
The first time I met her in the Post newsroom, she was clearly delighted to offer her irreverent and provocative — a good description of her columns, come to think of it — sense of humour, to the local clergyman. She had returned from some trip and was submitting her expenses that day.
(In those happier days, the Post authorized rather generous expenses. Blatch flew the Concorde soon after the Paris crash of July 2000, to report on how the fleet was recovering).
She loudly announced that she had covered the expenses of the young male photographer along for the trip and faux-lamented — for my sake especially — that he did not reciprocate in, what in previous times might have been the, er, customary manner.
“He was perfectly chaste!” roared Blatch in my direction, challenging me to respond. “What do you think of that?”
“On chastity, I am in favour,” was the best I could reply.
While the benefit of the digital age is that I can live in Kingston and write for a newspaper in Toronto, it does mean that over the years I have had little personal contact with my Toronto colleagues, including Blatch. But I felt that I knew her, as she was not shy about sharing her large heart with her readers.
I would consider myself more a reader than a colleague, as it was rather intimidating to put oneself in the same professional category. I always read her, on whatever subject. It did not matter so much what she was writing about as it did that she was the one doing the writing.
This past week, independent of the news of her final illness, I was thinking about her, wondering what she might say. We are in Kingston, as in various parts of the country, having Indigenous blockades. Here, it is the rail lines. Via Rail has been down between Toronto and Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal, for four days with no end in sight. Canadian National has obtained an injunction against the protesters, but the police are customarily dilatory in enforcing it, as they usually are when it comes to Indigenous blockades.
What makes this particular blockade surreal is that protesters near Belleville are objecting to the RCMP enforcing injunctions in British Columbia on illegal Indigenous protests against pipeline construction. So while the police in British Columbia enforce the law in a relatively remote area, those in Belleville protesting the enforcement of the law elsewhere are apparently exempt from enforcement, even as they block rail traffic in the most populated part of the country.
Blatch would have seen what others saw about that, but would have seen more clearly and expressed herself more vividly. Indeed, she did just that in regard to the massive fiasco of the 2006 protests in Caledonia, where protesters from the Six Nations reserve occupied the Douglas Creek Estates subdivision, then under construction, eventually issuing “passports” for those who wished to enter. The Ontario Provincial Police proved totally impotent in the face of violence to property and threats against people, castrated — Blatch would approve of that word — by their political masters.
Given the sensitivities on the matter, most commentators were loathe to rush in where officers feared to tread, but not Blatch. She wrote an important book on the whole ignominious travesty Helpless: Caledonia’s Nightmare of Fear and Anarchy, and How the Law Failed All of Us. It is not unusual that reporters and columnists, when trying their hand at book length, run out of steam. Not so with Blatch, whose books only left the reader wanting more.
There will be no more now. Newspapering is a sort of disposable profession; at day’s end the old paper gets thrown out and the new paper laid out. The internet has changed that technologically, but our work is fundamentally fleeting.
There are only a few exceptions to that. Blatch was one of them. Requiescat in pace.