There is nothing to indicate the power of this senior citizen walking down Dalhousie Street in the afternoon rain, umbrella in hand, raincoat buttoned up tight.
Underneath that raincoat, however, lies Memorial Man, latest addition to the Justice League of America.
Well, not quite, but Barry Padolsky, a soft-spoken 76-year-old Ottawa architect, appears to have brought justice to the controversial Memorial to the Victims of Communism – or at least to have moved it far away from justice.
It is a battle that has waged in the nation's capital for more than a year: a plan, fully embraced by the now-defunct Harper government, to construct a massive memorial next to the Supreme Court of Canada.
The $5.5-million monument – ironically, described as "Stalin-esque" by critics – has been criticized for its proximity to the nation's judicial precinct, for its sprawling size, for its potential cost to taxpayers, for taking space that had been long-intended for a new Federal Court of Canada, even for its dubious aesthetics.
The people of Ottawa don't like it. The mayor, Jim Watson, doesn't want it there and thinks it should be downsized if it goes anywhere. The riding's previous member of Parliament, Paul Dewar of the NDP, wanted it moved, as does the new MP for Ottawa Centre, Catherine McKenna, now Minister of Environment and Climate Change in the new Justin Trudeau government.
The previous government, however, thought it a splendid idea. Then-minister of multiculturalism Jason Kenney solidly backed the efforts of the group known as "Tribute to Liberty" to construct their memorial within a slapshot of Parliament Hill.
The memorial, one government statement put it, "will honour the more than 100 million lives lost under Communist regimes and pay tribute to the Canadian ideals of liberty, democracy and human rights. In Canada, over eight million people trace their roots to countries that suffered under communism."
The government was backing it, people said, only because they saw potential votes. With then prime minister Stephen Harper taking a tough stance against Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine, supporting the memorial was politically advantageous. There wouldn't be eight million votes in it, of course, but perhaps enough to sway a few ridings.
The critics howled. Of course there have been millions who suffered terribly under tyrannies of all kinds – but why must Canada forever be apologist to the world? If this, why not a Memorial to the Victims of Christianity? Victims of Capitalism? Some public servants even called for a "Victims of the Harper Government" monument.
Barry Padolsky, at first glance, would seem to be the most unlikely foe of all. He was born to Jewish parents in Winnipeg's North End. Both sets of grandparents – from Poland and Ukraine – had suffered under communist regimes and escaped to Canada.
He worked his way through school setting pins at a bowling alley owned by former NHL star Bill Mosienko, also a Ukrainian-Canadian, graduated in architecture and later studied urban planning in Edinburgh, Scotland.
In 1961, Mr. Padolsky came to Ottawa to join the Canadian Government Exhibition Commission, a highly creative group of artists and designers tasked with presenting Canada to the world at international fairs and exhibitions. "It's what gave me my love for public spaces," he says.
Later, in private practice, he became an activist, fighting against one plan to widen Metcalfe Street to create a Champs Élysées approach to Parliament Hill and another that created a doomed bus mall along Rideau Street.
When the National Capital Commission, which oversees federal lands, held an event to showcase possible displays for this upcoming memorial, he went along out of curiosity. Mr. Padolsky encountered a long-time friend, high in the NCC, and naturally asked how he was doing. "I'm depressed," the man whispered "We're being bullied into this thing."
When Mr. Padolsky realized where the location was – chosen despite several NCC interventions to place it elsewhere – he was shocked.
He spent an anxious weekend soul-searching. His work had been so tied to the NCC and government projects – recently spending eight years refurbishing the Museum of Nature – that his work could conceivably dry up.
"I had no choice but to speak out," he says. "This was egregious."
He wrote a letter to Mr. Harper detailing the arguments against such a location and then quietly circulated the letter to people he knew and trusted in the public service and NCC. The response was universal: "We can't say anything – but please go for it."
Mr. Padolsky's campaign began slowly and met with immediate resistance – "I was said to be a card-carrying communist myself," he laughs – but gradually it gained support and media attention.
Other key architects came on-board to protest: Heritage Ottawa joined in. Past presidents of the Canadian Bar Association jointly wrote a letter protesting the site being so close to the Supreme Court. The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada protested, suggesting any such monument could go in the Garden of the Provinces and Territories, a distance away from the judicial precinct.
"There was a national coalition," says Mr. Padolsky. "It was fantastic."
In June, Mr. Padolsky and others, including the Royal Architectural Institute, launched a lawsuit alleging that the NCC had violated its procedures for public consultation and had acted against the National Capital Act. The legal action bought time – time enough, it turned out, for an election.
Mr. Padolsky has been informed by NCC, government and city insiders that a decision is coming and that he should be confident that the decision will meet with his approval.
On Thursday afternoon, Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly stood with Mayor Watsonand announced she will decide "promptly" about the scale and location of the controversial project.
Mr. Padolsky believes the slight delay is necessary in order to ensure an alternative location will not run into another controversy. "It's about location," he says "I leave it to the others to challenge the idea if they wish."
But then he adds one more thought: "You know, one of the real victims in all this was the public service. Canadian Heritage, Public Works, the NCC itself … "
And then he turns down Dalhousie, a slim senior citizen walking off into the rain, past strollers who haven't the slightest idea of the powers beneath that raincoat.