An outspoken Canada Reads panelist is standing by controversial comments she made about two Canadian authors – calling one a “bloody terrorist” and accusing the other of being untruthful in her memoir.
“When you’re in a debate, I think it’s gloves off,” Anne-France Goldwater told The Globe during a lengthy interview on Tuesday. “You can’t apologize for taking a position in a debate because otherwise you would never take a position in a debate.”
The Montreal family lawyer hosts the TV program L’Arbitre, and is described as “Quebec’s Judge Judy” by the public broadcaster.
She’s one of five panelists on the current instalment of Canada Reads, a Survivor-like contest where each panelist champions a Canadian book, debating its merits on several episodes airing on various CBC outlets. This is the first time Canada Reads has tackled non-fiction.
Goldwater has been defending John Vaillant’s The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival. On Monday, she also lashed out during the contest’s opening round at authors Carmen Aguirre (whose book Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter tells the story of her teenage years in the Chilean resistance movement) and Marina Nemat (whose Prisoner of Tehran chronicles her time in Iran’s infamous Evin jail).
“Carmen Aguirre is a bloody terrorist. How we let her into Canada, I don’t understand,” said Goldwater during the show.
“Marina Nemat – and it’s known to other prisoners; other prisoners who shared her experience – tells a story that’s not true and you can tell it’s not true when you read it,” she continued.
Goldwater, 51, said she has no regrets about calling Aguirre – who now lives in Vancouver – a terrorist, and pointed to the sympathies Aguirre expresses for controversial groups and to the transportation from Bolivia to Chile of “goods” left unnamed in the book.
“Let her tell us that it was just pound cake or bottles of tequila,” she said, “and then I will happily apologize publicly and say ‘you love the terrorists, but you’re not yourself a terrorist.’”
Goldwater says she stands by her assertion that Aguirre should not have been let into Canada. “Once a terrorist, always a terrorist, that’s for sure,” she added: “We have to be careful who we let into this country; we really do. It’s not funny any more.”
Aguirre, in Ottawa preparing for the premiere of her one-woman play Blue Box (whose subject matter overlaps with her memoir), declined to comment on Goldwater.
But Nemat, who heard Goldwater’s comments on the show on Monday, said. “It was like a bad dream ... It was painful.”
Prisoner of Tehran recounts Nemat’s arrest at the age of 16, after she spoke out against the Ayatollah Khomeini regime, and the imprisonment and torture that followed.
“There are parts of this book I just don’t believe,” Goldwater told The Globe. “I’m not calling her a liar. I just don’t buy her story.”
The author is now calling for a public apology, but Goldwater has no plans to issue one.
“I’m really sorry she’s hurt, but that’s part of what life is in Canada,” said Goldwater. “If you put your book out there, if it’s chosen to be in a debate – which is what this is, a literary debate, after all ... you’re a free agent, withdraw your book. In this country what we don’t do is we’re not going to imprison you, we’re not going to torture you, we’re not going to bomb you and we’re not going to assassinate you. In this country there is a tolerance for a difference of opinion, and if somebody just doesn’t buy your story, they don’t buy their story.”
Nemat’s agent, Beverley Slopen, meanwhile sent a letter to the CBC on Monday (which Nemat forwarded to The Globe), charging Goldwater of “slandering” both Nemat and Aguirre.
"[Goldwater] has no proof whatsoever to call someone a liar, to deny someone's experience," Slopen told the Globe on Tuesday.
But Slopen said she does not plan to take legal action. "The best way to spread a libel," Slopen said, "is to sue for libel."
She called Goldwater's words "reprehensible."
“Bully for her,” said Goldwater. “I’m sure she’s trying to draw more attention to the book and that’s the job of the agent.”
Goldwater predicts both books will enjoy a spike in sales as a result of the controversy (and mused on whether Aguirre, as a “staunch communist,” would keep the proceeds).
Nemat has also been vocal on social media about what went down, urging followers on Facebook to comment on the Canada Reads website. “Their system doesn’t work!” she wrote.
“Don’t be a sore loser,” Goldwater offered Tuesday, shortly after The Tiger was voted off the literary island. “My book lost in debate. I’m sure John Vaillant isn’t crying or isn’t saying my book was slandered because the four other panelists criticized character development in the book.”
Vaillant, reached in Vancouver on Tuesday, said Goldwater was “bending over backwards [on the show] today to be conciliatory and supportive. She got the message from the masses that that wasn’t a successful method or approach.”