April 20 update: listen, via public radio, to the story of Raymond’s passing and the local community’s compassionate reaction; click here.
Here at the Shambhala Sun Foundation offices, we’re currently preparing for a sukhavati for our dear friend and co-worker Raymond Taavel, who was killed early Monday morning. A sukhavati is a type of funeral ceremony; officiant Barry Boyce (who wrote about the ceremony in “Bon Voyage,” on page 59 of our current issue) explains that we’ll hold today’s “to heal our own sense of loss and trauma and to give Raymond a proper send-off to whatever lies ahead.”
Meanwhile, the tributes to Raymond’s life and work continue — on the streets, on the web, and now, in government. Yesterday, the premier of the province of Nova Scotia, and all three of our party leaders offered tributes to Raymond, and held a moment of silence, in the Nova Scotia legislature. Here’s what they had to say, followed by another reflection that we wanted to make sure you’d see.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Premier.
HON. DARRELL DEXTER (The Premier): Mr. Speaker, I rise in my place today to talk about Raymond Taavel. Last night hundreds attended a vigil for Ray on Gottingen Street here in Halifax. The vigil, in fact, grew so large that police shut down the street. Someone there pointed out that Ray lived the kind of life that brought all these people out last night. His co-worker from the Shambala Sun, Barry Boyce, called him “a compassionate activist, without anger.” That is the description of a fine person by anyone’s measure.
The 52 members of the House represent all Nova Scotias. I’m sure I speak for all of us, as well as the people of the province, when I extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Ray Taavel. Nova Scotia has suffered a tremendous loss. We lost a person who chaired Halifax Pride and was an editor of Wayves Magazine. We lost a person who devoted his life to fighting discrimination, violence and intolerance. We lost a person who made Nova Scotia a better, more open and more inclusive place for everyone and on behalf of my colleagues, the member for Halifax Citadel-Sable Island and the Minister of Health and Wellness – both of whom Ray worked on campaigns with – you can imagine that this loss is felt very deeply.
Mr. Speaker, I read an article today from Wayves Magazine. It read:
“It’s tempting in this day and age of legislated liberties to think that a personal or collective vigilance is no longer required. It’s easy to lull ourselves into complacency, thinking there’s nothing more left to fight for, or nothing more to achieve. Fighting back comes in many forms: reaching out, building bridges, educating and, if need be, defending ourselves from physical harm.”
Ray wrote those words in 2010. Mr. Speaker, Ray was right. We are not done yet.
We must continue to sharpen our collective vigilance. There is more to fight for, more to achieve, more bridges to build. This is not a time for complacency. It is tragic and so sad that it takes the brutal killing of someone like Raymond to remind us all of what he so clearly understood.
Mr. Speaker, the facts of this tragedy are not yet confirmed. It will take time to discover what happened that Tuesday morning and why. In this House and in this province we must all reaffirm our support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and we must also reaffirm our support for the many other communities that have been the object of hate and misunderstanding, including those who suffer from serious mental illness. Fear, misunderstanding and hate – that was not the way of the compassionate activist Raymond Taavel.
I would like to close with a quote that Ray posted on his Facebook page, a quote that I’m sure many of us have heard before but I believe shows Ray’s great character and wisdom and will serve as sound advice long after his death: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” I think we owe it to Ray to seek answers and define ways to protect ourselves, not through revenge but in the same manner that Ray would have, by understanding, by building bridges, by reaching out, and by educating.
Mr. Speaker, I would ask that we have a moment of silence in honour of Ray Taavel.
MR. SPEAKER: Certainly.
[A moment of silence was observed.]
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Official Opposition.
HON. STEPHEN MCNEIL: Mr. Speaker, I’d like to thank the Premier for an advance copy of his statement today in celebrating the life of Raymond Taavel. Yesterday the North End Halifax community, and indeed the province, was the unintended host of fear and tragedy. It was also the host of love and hope. Upon learning of the death of Raymond, Nova Scotians were lost in a fog of sorrow and incomprehension. Yet as the day went on, flags and improvised memorials sprung up in windows, on fences, and on rooftops along Gottingen Street. By evening, hundreds of people had showed up to the vigil celebrating Raymond’s life, his struggle against discrimination, and his efforts to bring people and communities together. This is how we fight back against violence which ended his life, by coming together through understanding.
On the anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Raymond’s words are especially poignant: “It’s tempting in this day and age of legislated liberties to think that a personal or collective vigilance is no longer required.” The Charter grants equality under the law, but it does not protect anyone unless it is us who will protect them.
While the Charter is a correct step forward in our collective history, we have far to travel. We need to understand mental health better. We, as a society, have left mental health issues unattended for far too long. We need to understand each other better – not simply tolerate our differences but embrace and celebrate our differences. So today we, as legislators, Nova Scotians, and Canadians, must take up this challenge which is before us, to push forward and address the serious deficits we have with the treatment of mental health.
We must commit to ensuring that those Nova Scotians struggling with mental health issues get the care they require when they require it. We must continue to reach out and embrace all communities and groups who are still fighting against discrimination. We must work harder and longer in our struggle for compassion and achieve more for our province and for future generations.
Mr. Speaker, in closing I want to pass on and extend my condolences to Raymond’s family and to his friends.
MR. SPEAKER: Thank you.
The honourable Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party.
HON. JAMIE BAILLIE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I would also like to thank the Premier for an advance copy of his remarks. I do appreciate that we are taking a few moments out from the proceedings today to talk about what has happened in the City of Halifax over the last two days. It is a sad and tragic time for the family of Raymond Taavel and for all Nova Scotians, and, I would add, a sad and tragic time for all of those who value peace; who value diversity; who value the freedom to express yourself no matter who you are as a Nova Scotian; who value a province where all who are here are free to be themselves, to represent their community, to join in the great cause of building a modern and diverse and exciting and dynamic and progressive Nova Scotia.
That, Mr. Speaker, is what I believe, and I am sure all members believe, the vast, vast majority of Nova Scotians aspire to for our City of Halifax and for our province. So I just want to affirm, as others are doing, the support that we all need to provide to those who still live in fear of being able to express their own individuality, whether they be straight, whether they be gay, lesbian or transgender, whether they be Black or White, whatever their background is I know that the vast majority of Nova Scotians, and all members of this House who are in a leadership position in our province, want to affirm that Nova Scotia is a place where all are welcome to be all that they can be.
Richard Florida, Mr. Speaker, once wrote a book about the value of a modern, dynamic, progressive society; a creative society that used the energies, talents and ambitions of every single one of its citizens. He pictured the perfect city as a city that would be approximately 500,000 people, that had a great creative underlying dynamic, and that drew on all of its citizens.
That is what we all want Halifax to be in this great Province of Nova Scotia. That is what we need to affirm today as we contemplate the meaning of the death of Raymond Taavel. I did not know Mr. Taavel, but from what I have learned in the last two days, I know that we can conclude that Halifax is a much poorer city because of his loss.
I do also want to say, just briefly, that I am very proud of the family of Raymond Taavel who spoke out today to point out the tragedy of his loss but also took a moment to point out that in some ways this system has let down the accused and all those who are patients of the mental health system. It got me thinking, Mr. Speaker, of an important quote from Robert F. Kennedy, who once said that it is our duty “. . . to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed . . . with an effort to understand, compassion and love.” I am reminded of that quote today as we contemplate what has happened in Halifax over the last two days.
Mr. Speaker, to conclude, the best way to honour the memory of Raymond Taavel is twofold. First of all to reconfirm all that we want Halifax and all Nova Scotia to be that great, modern, diverse, inclusive society that Ray and others argued so strongly for; and second, to learn the lessons of this tragedy – and I do acknowledge that the government is launching a review of what happened and I am glad they are – to learn the lessons in public safety, to learn the lessons from the memory of Raymond Taavel and all that he stood for, to learn the lessons for those who are in the care of our mental health system.
On that note, Mr. Speaker, I will conclude with a quote from Aeschylus, who says:
“. . . even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
Let us all recommit to that great truth today. Thank you.
GOVERNMENT NOTICES OF MOTION
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Premier.
RESOLUTION NO. 250
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas Raymond Taavel, past chair of Halifax Pride, editor of Wayves Magazine, and assistant circulation manager of Shambhala Sun magazine, devoted his life to fighting discrimination, violence and intolerance aimed at people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity; and Whereas Mr. Taavel’s many contributions to the community helped make Nova Scotia a better, more open and inclusive society; and Whereas Mr. Taavel was brutally beaten and killed on Gottingen Street in the early hours of April 17th; Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House join together to send their deepest and most sincere condolences to the many friends, family, and colleagues of Raymond Taavel who are mourning this great loss.
Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice and passage without debate.
MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.
Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
Lastly: as we’ve said, we’ve been very grateful to have your many messages of support and condolence, and we thank you. The comments about Raymond and his life and work have been helpful, and often quite moving. Here’s one we’d especially like to make sure you get a chance to see. Left here on SunSpace by a reader named Kenny Marstons, this is Raymond Taavel in a nutshell:
I come from a very old fashioned place in Nova Scotia, where the word “gay” is a four letter word. When I first moved to Halifax in 1997, it was the first time I was ever knowingly exposed to homosexuality.
I moved to Halifax go to school at CompuCollege, where Raymond was a teacher at the time. Instantly classroom rumours spread about the “gay teacher”. I’ll admit, although Raymond was kind and very professional, the rumours combined with my stereotypical opinion of what it meant to be gay consumed my mind and it was distracting…..at first.
Only a couple months after starting school, my girlfriend and I were having drinks at Gatsby’s, when were approached by Raymond and his male companion. I instantly felt awkward, never before having been exposed to this type of social interaction. Raymond knew it too. He instantly talked to me asking me if I was felt awkward and would respect my space if it was too much for me. I told him his respect was all I needed and it wash’ necessary to leave the table. Raymond sat at our table we began joking and having a great evening. He was very candid and open about his lifestyle. After some time that evening I thought “What the hell am I intimidated about?!!!!!!!”
It was Raymond Taavel, who in a single night, dismissed every stereotype and misconception I had about what I thought it meant to be gay. Its because of him I opened my mind and now some of the best friends I have are gay.
I’ll never forget that night. He was a great teacher, a kind person, and a strong rights activist. But most importantly to me, he helped this country bumpkin realize how wrong it is to judge people. He will be missed. My wife and I are going to miss him dearly. RIP Raymond.
Alan McGinty says
Raymond Taavel was an articulate force for good – both for the gay community and society at large. I met him only a few times about ten years ago when he visited Toronto and he made a strong impression on me. I was shocked and saddened to read of his passing but at the same time pleased – and proud – that he is being honoured with such widespread and heartfelt support. Bon voyage Raymond.
Blaine Mitchell says
I learned of Raymond's death last Tuesday on CBC radio here in Toronto. I could not believe what I was hearing. The shock of this terrible news was too much for me to take in. Raymond was many things to many people. To me, he was just my friend. A very loyal, good friend for about 30 years. We came out at the same time here in Toronto a long time ago. We shared so much history and meaningful times together – thousands of hours of deep conversation. I feel like I've lost a piece of myself. Thank-you, everyone, for mourning my good, sweet friend in such a peaceful, loving, meaningful, and dignified fashion. You have honoured him so well.
I read the article in this month's magazine…i am so sorry for the loss to your organization, to his family and friends….and to the world. Each person brings something to the universal table. He will be missed (I can feel it). Many prayer wheels spinning……many.