That beautiful young woman was Olivia Chow, and the couple were married three years later. She wore a red silk gown that Layton's father had brought back from Hong Kong years before.
They were the perfect political couple.
It's a charismatic partnership, which has had an impact Toronto civic life for two decades. In 1986, when most people were in denial over AIDS, Layton, as chair of the board of health, and Chow, as a school trustee, persuaded their boards to place condoms in school washrooms - a highly controversial program which probably saved lives. They used that same one-two punch to champion affordable housing, gay rights, bicycle lanes and revitalization of Toronto's waterfront, latterly with Chow also as a city councillor. (1)And Jack Layton was the perfect enlightened male, claiming to have acquired his sense of gender equality from his parents, an engineer and a school librarian who were church leaders. And when Olivia joined the Bloor Street United Church in the 1980's, inspired by a liberal preacher who had installed a female crucifix; Layton followed her.
And in 1989, when 14 women were massacred at Concordia University, mourners gathered around that crucifix, which had been moved to the University of Toronto. Deeply disturbed by the tragedy, Layton co-founded the White Ribbon Campaign as a way for men to protest violence against women. It has now spread to 30 countries.
And according to Gendercide Watch:
Toronto city councillor Jack Layton co-founded the White Ribbon Movement in 1991 to remember the victims of the massacre and protest against violence against women. "Until Montréal, most of the discussion was introspective," Layton recalled in 1999. "Then the massacre happened, and it got us off our butts. My head exploded that year. 'What must it be like for women?' I thought. It was time to speak out and own up to this behaviour." "Eight years later," writes Hurst, "the cause has spread to a dozen countries around the world. Its comprehensive curriculum on gender violence -- taught at public, junior high and senior high school levels -- is used in 100 schools across Canada, 1,000 in the U.S." The movement has also attracted criticism from those who believe it makes unwarranted generalizations about the attitudes and behaviour of men. (2)And yet this man filled with so much compassion for those women killed in the Montreal Massacre, and was so inspired that he started a white ribbon campaign to draw attention to violence against women, is now turning his back on one of the most important pieces of legislation of our time.
If the long-gun registry is scrapped next month, NDP Leader Jack Layton doesn't want Canadians blaming his party. At least 12 NDP MPs have previously supported the Conservatives' efforts to kill the registry, as did eight Liberals at second reading of Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner's private member's bill to scrap it.That's a cop out Jack, and you know it. What happened to you? What happened to the man who was so inspired in 1991 that he set in motion an international movement to raise awareness for violence agaisnt women?
But unlike the Liberals, Layton isn't whipping his members to vote against the government, allowing them instead to "represent their constituents." Our members are in constant touch with their constituents," Layton said Friday. "Our members represent their constituents, and always have, and have brought their views forward." If enough of the NDP MPs side with the government, the bill could pass without any Liberal or Bloc Quebecois support. But Layton doesn't want his party held responsible if the registry dies. (3)
Maybe you need to go home and look at the photos of your bride in that beautiful red silk dress, and remember who you used to be, and why you entered politics. And if I, or that, can't shame you into doing the right thing, maybe this will:
1. The Balance of Power The dynamic duo of Jack Layton and Olivia Chow share the secrets of their democratic success, by Sylvia Fraser, Scarlett Communications
2. Case Study: The Montréal Massacre, Gendercide Watch
3. Layton: Don't blame NDP if long-gun registry dies, By Bryn Weese, The Beacon Herald, August 26, 2010