This man, Mandela
I was among the thousands gathered on the lush, green lawns of Queens Park to catch a glimpse of Nelson Mandela, newly released from his South African prison cell and in Toronto for the first time.
I left work early that day so I could experience what I knew to be a momentous occasion. Not just in a global sense, but something far more personal. I wanted to see in person, this man, Mandela. A man who endured some of the worst racism and discrimination imaginable, on a scale that made my own negative experiences around my race and colour seem small and insignificant.
Yet he was able to transcend anger, hatred and resentment, in a way I had yet to achieve, to come to a place of forgiveness, to reach out to his oppressors, clasp their hand and offer a new way of seeing the future. A future for the country he loved and a world that had yet to believe in him.
I climbed the tree I stood beneath, just so I could see his face, fewer than 100 metres away, to see if he truly could leave his bitterness behind. Because if he could, maybe, so could I.
I wish I could say that day changed me. That it melted away my own anger, hatred and resentment. But it didn't. At 23, my immaturity kept my heart bound.
It is only now, 20 years later, that his words have taken a hold within me: "There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death."
The world has lost a good and noble man.
Anne-Marie DeSouza, Victoria
Without the political courage of F.W. de Klerk, Nelson Mandela would never have been released from prison. And, once released, Mr. Mandela rarely spoke publicly against the policies of Robert Mugabe, which turned the breadbasket of southern Africa into an agricultural wasteland.
John Beamish, Mississauga
In the summer of 1993, I was in Johannesburg and was invited by African National Congress lawyers to a small gathering to celebrate Soweto Day. It was a relatively restrained and muted affair.
Then, an older man entered. The room simply erupted with dancing, chanting and raw emotion. There was an emotional outburst the like of which I have never experienced before or since. The excitement and electricity generated could have lit up a large town.
That man, of course, was Nelson Mandela – he was a unique lightning rod for hope and progress. To be in the same room as him was a humbling privilege.
Allan C. Hutchinson, Toronto
Canada in Ukraine
Re In Kiev, Baird Expresses 'Deep Concern' Over Violence (Dec. 6): Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird in the Ukraine publicly promoting an alliance with Europe in defiance of Ukraine's government should be compared to Charles de Gaulle's infamous "Quebec Libre"speech of July, 1967.
The Ukraine should be raising diplomatic hell in Ottawa. Such behaviour is beyond the pale.
John Anderson, Ottawa
Danger on the rails
Re Derailed (A Globe Investigation, Nov. 30 - Dec. 5): The Globe and Mail has done an outstanding job in detailing the dysfunction that exists in this country when trains carrying hazardous materials are allowed to roll through unsuspecting communities with impunity.
Your series paints a dark picture indeed. Two-kilometre-long trains hauling highly volatile North Dakota crude oil while many are kept in the dark about the danger is a recipe for disaster.
The Lac-Mégantic tragedy is the accident that was bound to happen.
Here, in Saint John, where much of this dangerous North Dakota crude is headed to the Irving Oil refinery, I see these long crude-oil trains every day. I watch and I worry because I know the danger they represent.
I believe that every state, province and municipality where these trains pass should be given the very latest information on what is being transported. This would enable effective emergency planning to be at the ready. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities' actually having to fight to get quarterly and yearly reports from the railways underlines the absurdity at hand. Such a lack of information is too little and, as we have seen, too late.
One can only hope that with more citizen awareness and pressure, we can convince railways their high-handed approach serves no one – and puts at risk everyone.
James Turnbull, Saint John
Troops need help
Re Mentally Ill Soldiers Fear Being Discharged (Dec. 6): One can only be sympathetic to the many sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder and fervently hope they get the help they clearly need.
However, considering the relatively small number of military personnel participating in recent conflicts and the limited prolongation of their tours of duty as compared with earlier world wars, why the frequency of PTSD?
Could it be the nature of war itself? Formerly, it was up front and personal, whereas it seems much of the violence is now perpetrated remotely or at sufficient distance to mitigate the effect on the minds of the protagonists.
Or is it just that we do a poor job of desensitizing our young military to the consequences of their chosen profession?
P.B. Coote, Brampton, Ont.
If the powers that be in the Armed Forces are not willing to accept that PTSD is a living hell, if they cannot recognize that deaths by suicide within the military are steadily rising, then they are not "a genuinely caring organization." How could they be?
In a country where mental health organizations and campaigns are leading the way toward further awareness and understanding, why is it that the Canadian military continues to bury its head in the sand?
Lynn Keane, Oakville, Ont.
Re Ontario's $1.5-billion Kindergarten Hoax (Nov. 30): The study Margaret Wente refers to measured the development of students enrolled in full-day kindergarten, compared to those who participated in traditional kindergarten programs. In every area, students enrolled in full-day kindergarten improved their readiness for Grade 1.
Her contention that special education kids did better in non-full-day kindergarten is taken from a sample of students who participated in only one year of full-day kindergarten. If you review all of the data available, it is quite clear that kids who had two full years of full-day kindergarten were better prepared for Grade 1 in all circumstances.
Liz Sandals, Ontario Minister of Education
Re Reality TV (Letters, Dec. 5): I probably won't tune in to see Toronto Mayor Rob Ford being interviewed by Conrad Black, but perhaps Zoomer TV can get the Baron of Crossharbour to interview Chris Mazza, the ex-CEO of Ornge, Ontario's air ambulance service. They could call it Ornge is the New Black.
Ian Kamm, Toronto