Barbara Kay: Christie reached readers’ hearts, minds and guts. That’s why they loved her

Feb 13th, 2020

She was mush at the centre, but mush surrounded by steel. She wrote without filters. She wasn’t afraid

BARBARA KAY
Justice Centre Board Member

When you write regularly for a newspaper, people assume you know your colleagues personally. Christie Blatchford’s fans would ask me, “What’s she like in person?” I had to explain that I hardly knew her at all. She was in Toronto, I live in Montreal, most writers work in solitude — I certainly do — and so our paths crossed only twice.

The first time it was at an informal pub gathering to wish Stephen Meurice well after his departure as editor of the National Post. I was nervous being introduced to her, as is always the way when you meet your heroes. I would have liked to have had something dignified to say to her, but instead I blurted out, “You’re shorter than I imagined.” She took it well, with a grin, and we went on to chat about this and that, although I can’t remember a word of our conversation, so fixated was I on not making a further fool of myself.

The next time we met was last June, when she was the recipient of the Freedom Award at the annual gala dinner put on by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) to honour the memory of another great loss to the National Post and Canadian journalism, George Jonas. The award is given to a Canadian who has demonstrated courage in the service of freedom of speech.

“I was nervous being introduced to her, as is always the way when you meet your heroes”

I sit on the board of the JCCF, and I recall our discussions about who we wanted as our honouree. Christie’s name came up quickly, and although other deserving candidates were mooted, it was really no contest. We all wanted Christie, and we were thrilled when she accepted. She delivered a knockout address — mordantly funny, trenchantly insightful and bullishly Christie. She wore a charming black dress, very feminine, but nobody got to see much of it, because she wore a leather jacket over it the whole time. Very Christie. The sweet girl obscured by a patina of biker moll.

The gala is always held on Jonas’s birthday in Toronto, but the recipient is also asked to attend a smaller gala in Calgary in November, because so many supporters of the JCCF live out West, and can’t travel all the way to Toronto for the big evening. Last spring, Christie readily agreed to attend the Calgary event. Throughout the early fall, she was on the road for the federal election campaign. The dinner was to be held shortly after the election. At the beginning of November, JCCF president John Carpay sent our board members a confidential note, telling us that Christie could not come to the dinner. He told us in confidence that she had discovered she had a grave “health issue” and had to start treatment immediately. That was how I found out. I won’t forget that hard moment. It was a gut punch. Three months and a bit was all she had from diagnosis.

Journalist Christie Blatchford is seen in a photo from 2005. Postmedia News

I can’t help thinking — I’m sure many other Canadians have the same thought — how ironic it is that one of the big trending national news stories are blockades by Indigenous Canadians and their supporters of rail lines, roads and port. What wouldn’t she have done with that, one has to wonder. Her scathing litany of responses to the scandalous Caledonia crisis, and her eventual book on it would have made her a contender for the Pulitzer Prize in journalism if she were American. When she was subjected to protests and de-platforming and accusations of racism for practicing the actual freaking craft of journalism, which to her mind meant a refusal to genuflect at the altar of identity politics, I achieved a rare peak of rage on her behalf.

Although I was never in Christie’s league, we shared some common niche topics. One was our mutual irritation at the marginalization of men in society, the dismissal of their particular sufferings, and the systemic acceptance of misandry in our culture, notably in the court system, which was her briar patch. But where I have always worked from the outside in — researching, interviewing, following reported news — then producing evidence-based arguments, Christie worked from the inside out.

Christie Blatchford shares a lighter moment on Nov. 21, 2007, with local soldiers during one of her tours of Afghanistan. Supplied

She was *there* in the courts. She could hear the tonal discrepancies of a false accuser, she could see the expression on the face of a father whose honest pleading for equal time in his child’s life was waved away by a judge steeped in feminist doctrine. So many men worshipped Christie (I know, they have told me). She “got” men. She admired manliness without apology, without imposing purity tests. That’s something nowadays.

I appeal to my readers’ minds. Christie appealed to their minds, hearts and guts. I cogitate on what other people have experienced, then I write about it. She went to the hot spots — Caledonia, Afghanistan — experiencing everything alongside the players. Then she wrote, getting all the facts right, but also conveying her torment at what she had just seen.

“I loved that she wasn’t afraid of being thought sentimental”

I am informed through filters. Not Christie. I loved that she wasn’t afraid (as I am) of being thought sentimental. “Tender” was a word she applied often to the expressions on the faces of boys and men who she saw being disrespected in real time. She frequently, unabashedly confessed to “weeping” at injustice, especially to children. Christie’s columns, or series of columns, devoted to the tragedies of children betrayed by their depraved parents or negligent social services, were stunning in their impact. People told me they literally couldn’t read them because they made them too sorrowful to function.

Being unreadable for conveying horrible truths is sometimes high praise for a journalist. Christie was mush at the centre, but mush surrounded by steel. The lacy dress underneath the biker jacket.

Sometimes a reader will say I remind them of Christie, but they say that because I write on similar themes. Of course I am not “like” Christie. Nobody is or was or ever will be. As we say in my culture, may her memory be for a blessing.