A Quebec lawyer and TV personality has caused shock and outrage among literary types after accusing a Canadian author of terrorism and another of lying in her book, during an appearance on the popular CBC literary contest Canada Reads.
“Carmen Aguirre is a bloody terrorist. How we let her into Canada, I don’t understand,” said Anne-France Goldwater about the Vancouver-based author of the memoir Something Fierce.
Ms. Goldwater, described by Canada Reads as “Quebec’s Judge Judy,” was speaking Monday during the first round of the contest, which airs on CBC Radio One and CBC’s documentary channel, and features Canadian celebrities defending Canadian books in a Survivor-like contest, where one book is voted off each day.
Ms. Goldwater also took on Prisoner of Tehran, which recounts the author’s arrest and imprisonment in Iran at the age of 16.
“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,” continued Ms. Goldwater, who is defending John Vaillant’s The Tiger.
“It was like being punched in the gut,” said Ms. Nemat from her Aurora, Ont., home late Monday.
In an e-mail sent to the CBC on Monday, Beverley Slopen, Ms. Nemat’s literary agent, called the accusations against both authors “very disturbing” and inaccurate.
In the message, which Ms. Nemat shared with The Globe and Mail, Ms. Slopen suggested Ms. Goldwater herself be voted off the panel, “but I fear that would spread the libel and take the discussion away from the fine books.”
During the debate, hip-hop artist Shad, who is defending Ms. Aguirre’s memoir, told Ms. Goldwater: “If you consider her a terrorist, you have to consider Nelson Mandela a terrorist.”
Ms. Goldwater responded in the affirmative: “Damn straight. Blood on his hands.”
After the show, Ms. Nemat took a tearful call from Dragons’ Den personality Arlene Dickinson, who had been defending the memoir before it was eliminated.
“She told me to forgive her,” said Ms. Nemat, who later called the result “very disappointing and irresponsible” in her Facebook status update, and urged supporters to express their concerns on the Canada Reads website.
CBC’s head of media relations, Chuck Thompson, acknowledged that things “definitely got heated” during the segment, but he said that comes with the territory.
“Canada Reads is a debate and like any debate there’s bound to be some spirited exchanges,” Mr. Thompson said late Monday. “Each panelist is expressing their own personal opinion and I can’t emphasize that enough - opinion - and while we may not agree with what everyone has to say, we certainly respect their right to say it.”
This is the first time the public broadcaster’s literary contest has taken on non-fiction books and with that, said Ms. Nemat, comes a special responsibility.
“People are putting their souls on the line here,” said Ms. Nemat. “You cannot go in non-fiction at someone who’s been tortured or who’s been a revolutionary in South America, who’s invested everything into something that’s of value to them.
"Imagine if a Holocaust survivor had been treated this way. Imagine if [Shake Hands with the Devil author]Roméo Dallaire had been treated this way. ... I love Canada Reads, but something went terribly wrong today.”