Friday, June 22, 2007

Canadian Women of Courage

When Winnie Mandela was denied an entrance visa to Canada recently, it made international headlines. For a small group of artists and social activists in Toronto, however, it was a very personal disappointment. On June 6, Mandela and her daughter, Zindzi Mandela-Hlongwane, were the guests of honour at a private dinner celebrating "the spirit of women with passion, courage and influence," along with noted Canadian journalist, author, and rabble-rouser Irshad Manji, in Toronto. The dinner also marked the opening of an opera entitled The Passion of Winnie, composed by Bongani Ndodana-Breen and performed as part of the recent Luminato festival. It was hosted by Women's Post and Finer Foods Limited.

Despite her absence, or perhaps in some measure because of it, the dinner party was an extremely intimate affair. Actor and activist LeVar Burton took her place, as he had done the previous night when addressing the premiere audience of the opera. During the dinner, roughly 25 guests were captivated while both Burton and Manji spoke eloquently on the subject of courage, both political and private. A beautiful piece from Bongani's opera was performed by its leading lady, who charmingly interrupted herself mid-song to describe the scene.The evening was in large part about voice.

Chef Ray Bear flew in directly from Halifax with Clearwater lobster for the event. At the pre-dinner cocktail reception, under the dying sunlight on a private terrace in Rosedale, the discussion centered on a woman and a country half a world away, but in abstract terms only. Courage, they said, does not recognize justice – only injustice, wherever it may be.

Another kind of courage was celebrated recently as well. The White Ribbon Campaign is hailed as the "largest effort in the world of men working to end men's violence against women." The annual fundraising concert drew a healthy number of Canadian alt-rock and folksy talent to the stage of The Phoenix Club. In a bizarre turn-around, host Jian Ghomeshi looked better than he sounded, as he stumbled and rambled through some very poignant sentiments. Performers including Ron Sexsmith, Jim Bryson, Jill Barber, and Melanie Doane sang tunes by Neil Young. The hip venue and clever promotional material, along with an extremely dedicated set of volunteers, helped to raise awareness and money for a very worthy cause. Strangely though, the VIP room was empty. Sometimes the most important of causes can also be the least glamorous.

Published in the Women's Post, June 22 2007