Balancing defiance and dignity, onetime Montreal student radical Roosevelt (Rosie) Douglas returned to Canada on the weekend for the first time in 24 years -- this time as the new Prime Minister of the tiny Caribbean island of Dominica.
He used the occasion to call on Canadians to forget his controversial past.
He appealed to Ottawa to stop classifying him as a national security risk and to increase aid to his impoverished nation, where a banana-based economy is reeling under new international trading rules.
But he refused to apologize for his role in the 1969 riot at Montreal's Sir George Williams University, which led to his arrest, conviction and deportation.
"Time has passed. I'm here asking the Canadian government, 'Let bygones be bygones,' " Mr. Douglas, 58, said yesterday in Toronto.
Asked if he would apologize for the incident, though, he flatly said no.
"That would mean saying I'm sorry for standing up for human rights," Mr. Douglas said in an interview, adding that his Toronto lawyer, Clayton Ruby, has suggested he apologize to clear his security status.
"I don't want to tell thousands of young black Canadians that I did not mean to stand up for their rights."
As an agriculture major, Mr. Douglas was among more than 100 students at Sir George Williams, now Concordia, who staged a two-week sit-in at the university's computer centre to protest against the treatment of six black students who allegedly received failing grades because of their skin colour. The protest turned violent on Feb. 11, 1969, as police tried to barricade the centre, and scores of students went on a rampage, smashing windows and destroying the school's main computer.
A jury found Mr. Douglas guilty of obstruction of justice in April, 1971, and sentenced him to two years in prison. He served 18 months and was later deported, in handcuffs and leg irons, he said, to his homeland, Dominica.
Liberal Senator Anne Cools was among the protesters who was later charged and jailed but eventually pardoned, after she apologized publicly.
Mr. Douglas suggested Canadians should celebrate what he and the other students did to challenge human-rights abuses.
He plans to ask former solicitor-general Warren Allmand, who in 1975 signed the certificate designating him a national security risk, to appeal on his behalf to the federal government to have his status changed. Mr. Allmand now heads the Montreal-based International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, and helped Mr. Douglas gain a visa this year to the United States.
After travelling to Montreal today, Mr. Douglas is scheduled to visit Ottawa tomorrow to meet federal officials, including, he hopes, Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy, whose department has been cool to the Dominican leader since his election in February.
In 1980, Mr. Douglas went to Libya as head of the World Mataba, a Libyan-funded group that trained and armed guerrilla movements around the world. He now presents himself as a moderating force in the movement, saying that he persuaded Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to begin negotiations with the British government for the trial of suspects in the Lockerbie bombing, and to recognize Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress.
While Mr. Douglas fears his image as a former radical is hurting the international prospects of his nation of 80,000 people, he said he also wants to rebuild his name in Canada for the sake of his children.
His son Cabral, 30, a Concordia graduate who is an account manager with Rogers Cable in Toronto, said "the stigma remains" for the Douglas family. "In Montreal, the legend lives on," Cabral said. "Now that he's Prime Minister, hopefully we can put that behind us."
The elder Mr. Douglas wants Canadians to see him as an international statesman and a spokesman for the Caribbean. He plays up his connections, as a socialist, to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, but says little of his close ties with Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Colonel Gadhafi. He notes that his current trip will take him to Wall Street and the World Bank in Washington.
During his five-day visit to Canada, which he once called "the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie," Mr. Douglas wants to drum up private investment for his troubled country, which he describes as a "shambles" suffering from 20-per-cent unemployment.
Mr. Douglas also wants the Canadian government to increase development spending for roads and airports to attract more tourism, and help Dominica cope with its nearly $200-million (U.S.) debt load, which is almost equal to the island's economic output for one year.
He warned that Dominica, and many other Caribbean islands, will become havens for international narcotics and terrorist organizations if their economies continue to falter. A previous government opened the doors to hundreds of dubious immigrants from Russia and China who were able to buy Dominican passports for $50,000 (U.S.), a policy that Mr. Douglas cancelled when the U.S. and Canadian governments complained it was becoming a haven for organized crime.
Although he once denounced the United States for what he called "economic imperialism," he said he has come to recognize the realities of a global economy in which other formerly socialist countries such as India have become leaders in new industries such as computer software. He was astonished on a recent visit to the United States to see the extraordinary wealth among many black Americans, who he wants to invest in his country and lobby for the Caribbean in Washington -- "the way Israel did with the Jews in the U.S."