OTTAWA—Ever feisty but compassionate, idealistic yet realistic, and never afraid to call a spade a spade, distinguished journalist and social crusader Simma Holt inspired her fans with spirit and punch at the launch of her memoirs in Ottawa on Thursday.
The last six and a half decades have seen Mrs. Holt building successive accomplished careers as a journalist, politician, public servant, political advisor, and author.
The common threads have been caring about others and creating justice, as chronicled in Memoirs of a Loose Cannon.
“I was born to care,” said Mrs. Holt, now 86, at the book launch at Library and Archives Canada. She was born in 1922 in the small town of Vegreville, Alberta to a Jewish family that immigrated from Ukraine in the early 1900s.
She explained that her philosophy of life is known in Jewish tradition as tzedakah.
“It’s charity. You give without people knowing you give, and you don’t look for credit. You do what is humanly right, and you have to care about other people, no matter what they are, what their skin, what their problems.”
“The one thing I will not tolerate is injustice. I fought [for justice] my whole career in journalism,” she said.
Respectfully Called a ‘loose cannon’
After graduating from the University of Manitoba in 1944, Mrs. Holt began her career with the Vancouver Sun.
In the newsroom of that era, “being a girl in a man’s world… sexist and everything, that was the toughest part,” she said.
Yet it made Mrs. Holt more determined, or “more arrogant,” as described by Toronto Sun founder and columnist Peter Worthington, who wrote the introduction to her book and spoke at the launch.
Calling Mrs. Holt “the only octogenarian teenager I’ve ever met,” he recalled that “Simma gave as good as she got” and “she used to dig up stories that nobody else could match.”
She was given the tough jobs, such as the labour beat and then the crime beat, where she saved three convicted murderers from the gallows. Their sentences were commuted after she uncovered evidence and contacted the minister of justice,
After 30 years in journalism, Mrs. Holt joined the Liberal Party and served as a Member of Parliament in the Trudeau government from 1974 to 1979.
She was Canada’s first female Jewish MP and first female vice-chair of the House of Commons Justice Committee.
Not a “yes” person, she never hesitated to criticize her own party or the prime minister when necessary, and Mr. Trudeau “always recognized he would get the truth from Simma,” said Mr. Worthington.
From 1981 to 1985, Mrs. Holt was a member of the National Parole Board. From 1987 to 1988 she served as a researcher and writer in the presidential campaign of George Bush.
In addition to the Vancouver Sun, she wrote for the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Business, Reader’s Digest, Maclean’s, and other publications, and was a talk show host and frequent guest on radio and television.
Between 1964 and 1983 Mrs. Holt wrote four books. For Terror in the Name of God, about the Sons of Freedom Doukhobors, she established herself as an expert on the use of terror to achieve goals, and received the Woman of the Year award in Canadian Arts and Letters.
She never ceased to use her writing to raise awareness about injustices in society. Her many successful initiatives include the opening of the first shelter for young street people in Vancouver, the Vancouver Indian Centre, Vancouver Crisis Centre, and the March of Dimes campaign.
It was Mr. Worthington who suggested the title of Mrs. Holt’s memoirs.
“To me, in this age of conformity and political correctness, being something of a ‘loose cannon’ is a term of respect,” he wrote in the introduction.
Urging Media to Tell the Facts
In 1996 Ms. Holt was inducted into the Canadian News Hall of Fame for her outstanding contribution to journalism in Canada.
That same year she was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada for her “lifetime commitment to assisting those suffering from injustice, persecution and poverty.”
Today, she is impassioned toward stopping the Chinese communist regime’s persecution of the Falun Gong meditation and spiritual practice.
The persecution has extended to Canada, yet the Canadian media is not reporting on it and is even self-censoring and giving in to pressure from the regime, she said.
In 2007, the CBC, Canada’s national public broadcaster, first pulled and then re-edited “Beyond the Red Wall,” an independent television documentary on the persecution of Falun Gong.
Then last month Radio-Canada, CBC’s French-language television network, aired a documentary that portrayed the group as a destructive force in Montreal’s Chinatown.
At the same time, the documentary gave sympathetic treatment to a Montreal newspaper man who has repeated Beijing’s defamations of Falun Gong and called for its eradication in Canada.
The media is a major pillar of freedom but it is “losing our freedom,” and CBC has displayed “cowardice,” said Mrs. Holt.
“The media should be reporting on what the Chinese communists are doing in Canada,” she said, and journalism should show justice, fairness, and give the facts, not propaganda.
“Tell [people] the facts and let them decide what’s right and wrong,” Mrs. Holt said