His latest feature Anti-semitism, in Saturday's Globe (for paid online subscribers only) goes back 50 years to his thoughtless treatment of some Jewish classmates. He asks some guys he went to high school with what he was like. The answers are a little unsettling for someone whose coverage of anti-apartheid struggles in South Africa was exemplary and insightful.
There are no Jew beatings in his past, but he realizes that he adopted the anti-semetic attitude of 1950s Canada, and did his part to ostracize his classmates with, "Our jokes about lampshades and melting our classmates into bars of soap and screaming 'Jew!' down the hallways of Point Grey and Magee High School."
Valpy uses this personal and humiliating realization of his past behaviour as a jumping off point to examine the prevalence of anti-Jewish sentiments in Canada before, during and after the Second World War. People were aware of the atrocities committed in Europe against Jews, but that didn't move them to change their attitudes.
Valpy cites Holocaust historian Michael Marrus (University of Toronto) on the doublethink that allowed Canadians to oppress an already oppressed people in the face of documentation about European death camps:
The operative issue is not how much information was available. There was plenty of information available. Rather, it was what people wanted to know. I would make the point that, not only did general society not want to know, but Jews did not want to know very much.
In his thoughtful essay, Valpy makes the point that we are all capable of willful blindness. By unearthing his own complicity in Canada's shabby treatment of one people, he raises the warning that similar behaviour can today be disuised as patriotism and visited upon a racial group, "notably Muslims at the moment."
It is a brave piece of writing for a dedicated social reformer. And in keeping with updated disclosure standards, the veteran writer acknowledges research assistance from Rich Cash and Amanda Valpy.