A Short Autobiography
I was was born in 1951, the fifth of eight children, in Hearst, Ontario, a mostly French-speaking town about 150 miles south of James Bay on a northern leg of the Trans-Canada Highway.
One of my first memories is of a man crying. I had played with the crying man's son in a sandbox that afternoon. It was not a real sand box, just a pile of sand dumped in the middle of a muddy driveway. The boy's father, who was in the gravel hauling business, came home at the end of the day, unaware that his son was still playing on the pile of sand, and drove over him.
My older sister took me to my friend's house to see him one last time. I was standing in front of the open coffin admiring how good he looked in his tidy little suit and tie, his black hair combed back all slick and shiny, when the tiny coffin started rocking back and forth and a voice started to shout.
I looked up and noticed a man with his hands resting on the open end of the coffin, jerking it back and forth and yelling “wake up, you're not dead, wake up!” (Réveille toé, t’es pas mort, réveille toé) over and over again. The man was crying, with big tears running down his face.
It was the first time I had seen a grown man cry. I promised myself I would never do that when I got older. It's not that I don't get all emotional, an unexpected kindness can bring on the outset of tears, but that's just me.
Six or seven years later I would suffer a similar mishap as my childhood friend but survived thanks to the quick action of a priest.
In 1967, my parent’s lifelong business selling logging and farm equipment was forced into bankruptcy. The year before, the family home and much of the family’s belongings had been destroyed in a middle-of-the-night fire.
Having to start over again with next to nothing, my parents decided to try their luck out West. On a cold Sunday afternoon in late November, in a scene reminiscent of The Grapes of Wrath, with a snowstorm threatening, my mother at the wheel, we set out on a journey of more than 2,000 miles to begin again.
My parents found a business they could afford in Ashcroft, a small town about 50 miles South-West of Kamloops, 3 miles or so off the highway to Vancouver. How welcoming would a town which catered to miners, ranchers and cowboys be to people who spoke English with an accent and were responsible for that foreign language on cereal boxes? But welcoming they were.
After my mother suffered, what I think was her fourth or fifth heart attack, her first since we moved to Ashcroft, it became imperative that we move to a larger urban center and find a business that was less taxing. The good people of Ashcroft made Kamloops possible.
After completing grade 13 at Kamloops High, I attended university for a few years. A professor at Simon Fraser who introduced me to Jane Austen and Jonathan Swift said that, if I applied myself, I could became a decent writer.
After abandoning my studies, I went to work for a finance company in Kelowna. Industrial Acceptance Corporation (IAC) provided private sector experience that would prove invaluable when I later joined the federal government.
I may have been born in Ontario, but I had never been to Ottawa. In 1972, on the spur of the moment, I decided to visit the National Capital and perhaps find work there for a year or two before returning to B.C.
A few months after arriving in Ottawa I took the public service exam and was invited to join the federal government.
Twelve years later I was terminated for alleged insubordination.
During the two years it took for the appeal of my dismissal to be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada I developed a ground-breaking software application.
The Boreal Shell opened the door to consulting contracts in both the public e.g. Indian Affairs, the Ottawa Heart Institute and private sector e.g. Bell Canada Enterprises in Canada and the United States and ventures in Europe.
The government's drawn out rejection of a solution that a client, Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation (OFNTSC), and I had worked on for so many years and which would have made life on many reserves, especially remote communities less of a precarious existence, got me thinking about what I wanted to do next; that, 9/11 and serendipity. I abandoned computer consulting and writing computer code to write prose.
Calgary Herald columnist Les Brost warned his readers not to read The Fractured Nation Interviews, my first book, unless they were “prepared to think -- really think -- about tomorrow's Canada”. The Interviews were nominated for The Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic.
The Interviews brought me face-to-face with the brave new world of post 9/11. A well-established television producer expressed an interest in a mini-series but without the conversation with the Ayatollah (a sample). “I don’t want to open my front door one morning and be confronted by a guy with a bomb” is how I remember him expressing his reluctance.
The Prophet bragged that he had been made victorious with terror (Bukhari 52.220). This would prove more than just an idle boast as the fear induced self-censorship described here gave way to governments censoring and even criminalizing criticism of scriptures which advocate violence as a means to an end; a tacit acknowledgement of the effectiveness of terrorism.
In 2006, I registered the Boreal Books trademark and obtained from Library and Archives Canada the right to issue ISBNs under that name.
It was while I struggled to make it as a writer that I learned that the person largely responsible for my dismissal from the Federal Public Service on bogus insubordination charges had received a substantial bonus on retiring for what Ambassador Chrétien described as taking a bullet for the Department. This travesty was largely the impetus for writing Shooting the Messenger.
Then followed in 2005 the first edition of Pain, Pleasure and Prejudice. Seven years later my wife and I accomplished, to my knowledge, a world first: a layperson's guide to the Koran which contains the entire book.
In 2012, I published Alice Visits a Mosque to Learn about Judgment Day, a one act thought-provoking, often brutal (it could not be otherwise) sometimes funny play/script about an important concept in Islam on which the Koran expounds at length.
In October of 2013, thinking that time was not on my side, I stopped working on Going Swimming Fully Clothed, a comprehensive introduction to Islamic law, to concentrate on a less ambitious manuscript about what the Prophet Muhammad said and did that informs the decision of Sharia tribunals to this day. In approximately four weeks, I assiduously read 6,275 of the hadiths collected by the celebrated Bukhari, and a few thousand others by lesser luminaries about what the companions of the Prophet, and his child-bride, Aisha, remembered he said and did.
I thought Pain, Pleasure and Prejudice was the most important book you could read about Islam. After completing 1,001 Sayings and Deeds of the Prophet Muhammad, I am not so sure.
Within the house of Islam, the penalty for learning too much about the world—so as to call the tenets of the faith into question—is death.
While the Koran merely describes the punishment that awaits the apostate in the next world, the hadith is emphatic about the justice that must be meted out in this one: “Whoever changes his religion, kill him.”
Given the fact that [hadiths are] often used as the lens through which to interpret the Koran, many Muslim jurists consider [them] to be even a greater authority on the practice of Islam.
Sam Harris, The End of Faith - Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason, 2004, W. W. Norton & Company.
My next book on the Koran explored a surreptitious concept, that of abrogation. The Verse of the Sword which nullifies any pretense to compassion for those who refuse to submit to the Will of Allah is its most momentous violent manifestation.
Of all the incongruities that devotees of a religion steeped in incongruities have to accept, the concept of abrogation has to be the most outlandish. For the rational mind it is inconceivable that a god, in a book in which He lays claim to infallibility, has to retract, annul, abolish, modify… what He said earlier. Welcome to Let Me Rephrase That!
What may be my last book on the Koran promises to be the most controversial and epoch-making should it reach a large enough audience.
Children and the Koran is a comprehensive argument against exposing children to the hate, violence and brazen sadism until they are old enough to decide for themselves if unbelievers are deserving of the Koran's merciless animosity. I hope it will be received in the spirit it was intended, which is to make our world a more peaceful place and avoid ISIS-like atrocities on a scale not seen since World War II.
I have been asked, on more than a few occasions, why I write about the Koran, and the alleged illiterate tasked with acquainting mankind with its content knowing the consequence of a one wrong word, a typo or a misspelling... let alone a book-length challenge to orthodoxy.
The danger is there, but it is nothing compared to the risk we ask our young people to take when we send them to fight religious extremists like the Islamic State, the Taliban, Al-Qaeda... And, unlike yours truly, they jeopardize lives not yet lived in what many have to know is a forlorn battle because of what is happening at home.
With the new race and religious hate laws coming through [after the London bombings] it could be considered illegal if Pain, Pleasure and Prejudice is deemed an attack on a person’s religious belief.
A publisher expressing his regrets.
Words, the most effective weapon against an advancing darkness are being rationed in a futile attempt to appease an intractable foe who lives, murders and dies as per the instructions contained in an inviolate book whose provenance and error free status is vouched for by the Book. "Epistemological black holes of this sort", writes Sam Harris "are fast draining the light from our world."
The darkness cannot smother the light on its own. It requires our complicity, our collective willful ignorance of what is behind "the draining of the light". I will not be an accomplice, the reason for my books and my postings.
When writing about Islam you are always concerned that you will not get to finish what you started because someone will take exception to what you wrote earlier. Therefore, you tend to rush the next thing you are working on, and that is unfortunate.
If you find any errors – and by errors I mean typos and malapropism, the bane of writers expressing themselves in a language other than their own – after my passing, you can correct them and publish, post them or do with them what you will for I have in my last will and testament instructed my executor to transfer all my published and unpublished material, including cover art, into the public domain. Just give credit where credit is due.
On a sunny October day in 2013, sitting on the front porch of our wonderful, if somewhat dilapidated nearly century-old home, I gave my first lengthy on-camera interview about that old whistleblower's tale of mine.
In the interview, I mention that one of my most treasured accomplishments was getting a hearing before the Supreme Court of Canada. Having said that, should this interview be shown after my passing, please remember that I would much rather be remembered as the man who wrote Pain, Pleasure and Prejudice.
To that end, and leaving nothing to chance...
My name is Bernard Payeur. I was born on February 16, 1951.
Shortly after 9/11, I decided to get to know the Koran, the inspiration, it would seem, for what happened that mournful day. It’s not that I was a slow learner, but it turned out to be a ten year odyssey culminating in Pain, Pleasure and Prejudice – The Koran arranged by topic and explained in a way we can all understand.
Those who have read it say it was time well-spent; those who have not have been less kind.
I hope you will not think me foolish for wanting to explore the document which, to quote Columbia Professor of Humanities Mark Lilla slightly out of context, “inflames the minds of men, stirring up messianic passions that can leave societies in ruin” and letting you know what I found.
If there is a supreme being who wrote a book to mess with our lives, and if Paradise is my final destination, and not that other place, I will attempt to come back with the proof; not the actual Koran, but a reasonable facsimile. I have to assume that God will not want to part with the original Arabic edition which He keeps close at hand:
43:3-4 We have made it an Arabic Qur’an that perchance you may understand. And, indeed, it is in the Mother of the Book, with Us, lofty and wise.
Love you Lucette
March 22, 2018
It’s been a tough winter for her. I could not afford to make our home more comfortable with my pleas dismissed or ignored and lackluster sales. Pierre Burton was right, self-publishing is for losers as is whistleblowing, whether it be about preachers of death and destruction or crooked diplomats.
But, we soldier on, easily disappointed, not easily discouraged.
She will not survive another unforgiving season and now she may not survive the summer. At this summer’s end we, I, her will leave our home of more than 30 years, compelled to sell to a developer who will obliterate it along with the memories, cut the trees down, ripped out the scrubs, the rose bushes... to make way for an infill.
Now she hopes death calls sooner rather than later and I can’t blame her, I blame myself and I blame them. I never thought I could develop such a visceral contempt for people I have never met. And that is not like me.
May 12, 2018
She does not want me to write about these things, but I think it is important.
We got the call at the beginning of the week. Lucette's respirologist wanted to meet with both of us. Never a good sign. Her latest CT scan had revealed that her cancer has returned.
A biopsy was called for, but the damage to her lungs caused by her emphysema made such a procedure riskier than usual. Since it was not a small-cell carcinoma, the most virulent form of lung cancer, treatment might not extend her life but actually have the opposite effect by causing more damage.
An option was to wait and see, and if the cancer became a greater threat than the emphysema to then act aggressively to stop it.
We have opted for a biopsy, and are now awaiting a decision. The prognosis has definitely taken a turn for the worst, and the worst may happen in the middle of a momentous move. The Honourables could have made it unnecessary, Freeland and McKenna in particular, but chose not to.
When we got back home, I asked her if she felt well enough to read my latest Uzza draft. Nothing like changing the subject. Absolutory she said.
In the seven years since she was first diagnosed with both lung cancer and an emphysema-like disease my study of Islam has proven a godsend. It has brought us closer together and giving us a sense of purpose at this time in our lives, for which we are grateful.
May 16, 2018
We have the most wonderful family doctor. For almost two years now she has visited Lucette at home not wanting her to come to a doctor’s office or have to go to a clinic for flu shots and such and risk a life-threatening infection. Yesterday her receptionist called to let us know that Dr. M... would be coming to visit us later that morning.
I quickly made sure the place was as spotless as I could make it and the front entrance free of clutter. Wouldn’t you know, she showed at the backdoor with her bike. Yes, she is my age, but when the weather is nice she bikes over.
We knew what she wanted to talk to us about. I served them coffee and cookies and joined them around the kitchen table. After listening to what she had say and asking a few questions I left them alone. There were no tears.
One of the issues we had not clued into during our visit with her respirologist was that the cancer had metastasized and any aggressive treatment, because of her severely damaged lungs, would only add to her discomfort and probably shorten the time she had left.
Today is our 37th wedding anniversary. Thirty-seven years ago I placed a ring on her finger I told her I loved her, but that I also liked the person I became when I was with her. The past few years as her primary caregiver I have grown to love her even more; the why should be obvious.
July 5, 2018
On a day when Quebec reported its 18th death from the heat wave that has been blanketing our region, my wife, who suffers from lung cancer, COPD and chronic emphysema, and who was diagnosed during her stay in the hospital has having suffered a heart attack, was left in a wheel chair at the entrance to the Ottawa General Hospital. That morning, I had argued over the phone, to no avail, to wait until the following day when the heat wave would have broken to release her. They supposedly needed her "funded" bed. There were plenty of empty beds in nearby nearly empty rooms.
The night before we had gotten an unexpected visit from a doctor who signed off on her discharge during a heat alert. She talked at length about a cause which left me with the distinct impression that something else was going on here.
They offered to send my wife, who could barely walk, anywhere I wanted in a taxi. I made other arrangements; otherwise it was her spending even more time outside during a heat alert waiting for a cab.
She was released from the General on a day not fit for men or beasts. In those crucial inevitable few minutes out in the open she could not avoid breathing in life-threatening, because of her illness, hot moist air.
Lucette may have survived an unnecessary ordeal, but her condition has not improved.
August 5, 2018
Lucette is back in the hospital. The paramedics had to carry her down the stairs. This time, she's not coming home.
August 9, 2018
Today was the abandon all hope day. We knew it was coming but it still took us by surprise.
This morning we met with the wonderful specialist who has been Lucette's godsend since she was first diagnosed with the incurable disease that will now sooner rather than later take her life. Over the deafening noise next door of a drill biting into concrete (he apologized, but the hospital insisted on drilling during consulting hours) told her there was nothing more he could do, and that later in the day she would be visited by the hospital palliative care team who would be taking over.
Over the constant interruptions of the drilling they spent more than a few minutes talking like old friends.
The palliative care people were considerate and kind in spite of a disagreement with what our family physician of more than thirty years advised as to the type of care my wife will need. They too, I have to assume, labour under the same budget constraints that compelled others, only a month earlier, to release a person with severe breathing difficulties during a heat alert.
Her opinion may not matter and there is a good reason for that. When taken into palliative care the patient agrees to consult only with the palliative physician in charge as to their care.
When they, the palliative care people decide that Lucette only has weeks to live they will find her a fully funded bed in a hospice if that is what she wants. In the meantime, it was up to me with the assistance of a social worker to find a place that can look after her needs as they see it and administer the medicine they will prescribe.
August 10, 2018
I’ve come to the conclusion that the solution proposed by the palliative physician in charge is probably the best one under the circumstance for it provides the greatest certainty that I will be there with her when she passes away. Now, if they will only give me time to make the necessary arrangements. We should know by Tuesday of next week.
August 14, 2018
Meeting went well. Everyone tried to be helpful. It is about saving money I am sure; but it is also about a good thing, about quality time, about helping people spend what time they have left in other than a now largely useless expensive medical facility where they can't share a bed and the night with their significant other.
One last evaluation by staff of where we hope to go and Lucette and I will be moving into a small apartment in a pleasant part of town where she may be able to do some of the things we used to do, even if it is just sitting together on the couch with no one else around enjoying a favourite television show.
Lucette's 50th (video)