In Memoriam: Trinity Alumna Audrey Tobias

Posted Dec 20, 2016 9:18 am

Trinity alumna Audrey Tobias passed away on December 1, 2016. In 2014, she penned this article about her experience for Trinity Magazine Spring 2014 (pdf) — the column is reprinted below.  The Toronto Star recently published this article: Audrey Tobias, activist arrested for refusing to fill out 2011 census, laid to rest. She will be missed by the Trinity community.

Civil Disobedience: How my quiet protest became front-page news

Trinity Magazine Spring 2014 Alumni at Large | Audrey Tobias

By Audrey Tobias ’47 and ’48

Why did I refuse to fill in the 2011 census?

I did not make this decision out of the blue — rather, it followed from a natural evolution, over a lifetime, of concern about the issues of peace and good government.

I am a veteran of the Second World War, having left Trinity College after one year to join the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service. During my latter months in the Navy, our commanding Officer, who was responsible for our well-being and our work at Jetty #5 at the Halifax waterfront, arranged to show us certain films — because as the end of the war approached, there was little for us to do and he tried valiantly to keep us interested.

I recall the great pain of watching the destruction in Hiroshima. However, we were told (in hope) that never again would an atomic bomb be detonated and never again would there be a holocaust against the Jews or any other group.

Returning to St. Hilda’s after the war, I was overwhelmed by the wonderful welcome and dedicated efforts of Dean Kirkwood to find me a place in residence. An old friend, Diana Goldsborough, had an extremely large room and graciously invited me to stay with her, and we had a great year.

We learned much from Dean Kirkwood. One by one, we were summoned to Head Table for dinner. Some students dreaded this occasion. Others relished it as a golden opportunity to participate in a discussion about critical current issues. Dean Kirkwood drew us carefully into discourse with each special guest, so that no one was left out. We had to do our best intellectually and socially, as it were, and we did indeed grow as our vision was broadened and our grasp of the courtesy of including everyone in the conversation was deepened.

After university, what was I to do? I had no idea. Eventually, I became a high school teacher of business-related subjects. This was appropriate, given my degree, and it worked well for many years.

No matter what else I did, I always tried to keep abreast of the peace movement, both here and abroad. I rejoiced, as did many, when in 1968 the five nuclear powers — U.S., Russia, U.K., France and China — signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in the United Nations, stating that they would negotiate in good faith the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons. To this day they meet approximately every five years.

Yet only two decades later, in the 1980s, I was shocked to witness a renewed push to develop nuclear weapons. Our southern neighbour, the United States, was the worst culprit.

Happily, in response, a variety of international peace-activist groups sprang up across Canada: Science for Peace, Physicians for Global Survival, Lawyers for Social Responsibility, Canadian Voice of Women for Peace (VOW), countless youth groups and Veterans Against Nuclear Arms, where, of course, I belonged. Jointly, we urged Ottawa to negotiate agreements within the United Nations rather than build up armaments. I think we were modestly successful.

In 2011, Prime Minister Stephen Harper chose Lockheed Martin to handle our census technology. Having dedicated myself to the peace movement for so many years, I was appalled. Why would our prime minister sign a contract with such a company for our census? Why ignore our capable Canadian high-tech companies?

Who is Lockheed Martin?

Lockheed Martin began humbly enough in 1916 and has risen to become the largest weapons manufacturer in the world, using bribery, cost overruns, unsavoury dealings and pork barrel politics. William Hartung in his Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Industrial Complex, opens up Lockheed Martin for us beautifully. I paraphrase his descriptions:

“Lockheed desperately needed a $130-million contract for its L-1011 Tristar aircraft with Japan, around 1959. To effect the deal, Lockheed sent its President, Carl Kotchian, to Japan, where Kotchian was put in touch with Yoshio Kodama.

“Kodama had spent three years in prison after World War II, for war crime charges such as looting diamond and platinum from areas conquered by Japan —but the U.S. occupying authority set him free. Kodama became the intermediary between Kotchian and the new Japanese Prime Minister, Tenneco. With a sevenmillion-dollar ‘gift’ to Kodama and 1.7 million dollars to the prime minister, a Tristar contract was put in place. This is the mode of operation time and time again.”

Having lost respect for Mr. Harper, and having had no respect for Lockheed Martin, I could not bring myself to complete the census form. I was charged with committing a criminal offence under the Statistics Act for refusing to fill it out. My friends were very worried and kept pointing out the dangers: that I might be fined or even sent to jail. However, this did not concern me. I would deal with those issues if they arose.

For me the important matter was: Did the average Canadian know what our prime minister had done? Did he take us in the right direction in commissioning Lockheed Martin? I think not. If my predicament meant that his act would reach the ears of the general public, any discomfort I might experience would be worth it.

To my surprise, I received countless messages of support and well wishes, through conversations and cards — indeed, from strangers who came up to me in the grocery store. I am glad that because of the publicity, many Canadians learned much about Lockheed Martin. I do think we all need to know what our government is doing. Quite by accident, the act of opening up the census issue made my not completing it, worthwhile.

I do wish, however, that people had talked to me about the issues at hand rather than focusing on how I stood up for my beliefs. Why are people more interested in my personal courage than in government behaviour?

I was astounded at the huge turnout of friends, relatives and supporters at the trial. A very sensible, intelligent judge considered every aspect of my case before finding me not guilty. Perhaps he decided he could not send a poor old thing to jail. All charges were withdrawn and I was sent home. Thank goodness. Being left with a criminal record probably would have curtailed any possible travel abroad.

I believe that all of us may continue to take worthwhile steps to improve our governments and our society — in the various ways that we perceive — as long as our strength holds out.