- Debating Dissent: Canada and the Sixties ed. by Lara Campbell, Dominique Clément, Gregory S. Kealey
The long-awaited collection Debating Dissent: Canada and the Sixties brings together a host of established and emerging scholars to create what should become the de facto guide to understanding social movements during that tumultuous decade. Avoiding the pitfalls of some edited collections, the editors have crafted a book that is greater than the sum of its (already considerable) parts. Exhorting readers to consider the 1960s as more than just a decade, but rather as a “social, political, cultural, and economic phenomenon” (1), Debating Dissent should find considerable uptake as both a course reader and a scholarly introduction to the period, and appeal to both a general readership and experts in the field.
I was skeptical when I first read in the introduction that “Debating Dissent is far from a disparate collection of chapters: it is a deeply integrated account where each of the essays speaks to the others” (5). Yet it achieves this lofty goal. Each essay contains signposts connecting it to other chapters and pointing it toward a central argument. A notable example is José Iguarta’s essay on the sixties in Quebec, which takes this practice to a new level, drawing out in his own piece themes found in other essays and, where relevant, fleshing out the Québécois perspective in the work of other contributors.
The topics are well selected and cover a wide range, notably on the theme of policing. While some deal very well with familiar sixties topics, such as Roberta Lexier’s chapter on English-Canadian student [End Page 634] movements and Marcel Martel’s take on the Sir George Williams riot, other chapters deal with new subjects. Catherine Carstairs takes an expansive, long-sixties view of the rise of health food consciousness and nutritional awareness. Erika Dyck provides fascinating insight into the “psychedelic sixties,” drawing on provocative evidence to reassert the significance of several Canadian (especially Saskatchewan-based) clinical drug researchers. Catherine Gidney looks at the efforts of faculty members and the Canadian Association of University Teachers to advocate for greater power in university governance. Michael Boudreau addresses the 1971 Gastown riot, providing invaluable insight into Vancouver in the 1960s, including the causes that led to the police riot and its tumultuous aftermath. (Similar themes emerged in Vancouver some four decades later, after the final Stanley Cup game in 2011.) Scholars Steve Hewitt and Christabelle Sethna address how the rcmp struggled and ultimately failed to understand the women’s movement, which proved particularly difficult for the white, all-male force. Taken together, these chapters help expand our understanding of the sixties.
Other topics deal convincingly with how identities were awakened and transformed during the period. Peter McInnis’s take on wildcat workers is a laudable inclusion in the book; thanks to him and Bryan Palmer’s earlier work on a similar theme, the importance of young working-class men to the decade (previously almost unknown) has now been convincingly demonstrated and incorporated into the narrative. James W. St G. Walker’s essay on Rocky Jones and the Black United Front in Halifax makes clear that Canada’s Black Power movement needs to be included in our narratives of the sixties, as does the important role played by Atlantic Canadian activists. As Atlantic Canada still struggles with legacies of its history of black segregation and removal, this essay is important. Those seeking to understand the contemporary Idle No More movement should read Bryan Palmer’s insightful essay on the birth of Red Power, which takes us through the story of a curiously understudied phenomenon. Rounding out the book are three more chapters. There is an insightful elucidation of English- Canadian nationalism by Stephen Azzi, and an exploration of linguistic rights and constitutional debates by Matthew Hayday, who shows how the lack of consensus on and eventual rejection of the proposed Victoria Charter laid the groundwork for constitutional debates in the 1970s and...