This came about following yet another article about the possibility of dividing Ontario into two separate provinces. I asked myself “what if…?” and got this for an answer. There are two more parts, which will follow over the next two Sundays. Cat
The partition of Ontario in 2015 had been agreed to primarily because those in the north were truly fed up with the way those in the south – read “Toronto” – ignored their complaints and problems and decided they wanted self-government. In a monumental case of political bungling, the boundary had been set up by some clerk laying a straightedge across a map of the province in the area south of Highway 17 and drawing a line.
A note to the effect that this was only a suggestion for an area where the province might be divided, subject to local geographic conditions and the desires of any communities affected was attached and the package was passed up the ladder. Naturally, as the map made its tour of Parliament Hill, the note became separated and the map eventually arrived unaltered on the desk of the chair of the Royal Commission charged with dealing with the partition, accompanied with ever more powerful signatures and minus the note. The politicians at Queen’s Park had bridled at the suggestion the province be split and, in a rare show of solidarity, had devised the proposal to take the southern part of the province out of Canada if Ottawa did in fact accede to the northern request.
The man sighed as he looked out the window. Try as he might, he could never avoid comparing this view with the one from his old office window, the one that overlooked the Ottawa River. He turned away and looked out the opposite window. Another sigh escaped him as he looked out at the bland building that now was the seat of government. The coat of arms on the front of the building and the big Maple Leaf flag flying from the staff did not, in his opinion, make it an impressive structure.
He thought about the negotiations that had taken Southern Ontario out of Confederation and how the major sticking point had been the desire of the federal government to remain in Ottawa. Queen’s Park had been adamantly opposed to ceding any territory to Canada. So, the federal government had sifted through offers from the other twelve provinces and finally accepted the several hundred square miles Northern Ontario (although he supposed it was just “Ontario” now) had offered northwest of Sault Ste. Marie.
Much to the distress of the rest of the country, Southern Ontario’s boast that it was the economic engine that drove Canada had proved to be true. The dollar had fallen from its end of the century level to fifty cents US at the end of trading that very day. Meanwhile, the new currency of Southern Ontario, (although he should start thinking of it by the name chosen by the citizens in a plebiscite, “Yorkland”) the Simcoe, was at par with its American counterpart. Part of that naturally was because Canada had lost access to Lakes Ontario and Erie, as well as most of Lake Huron, with their port facilities. The automotive industry was based in the south as well, and all that revenue was now lost to Yorkland. The man sighed as he realized that about all Ontario now had was the mines at Sudbury, the steel mills in Sault Ste. Marie, and timber. There was also Thunder Bay, which had the Bombardier plant which manufactured rail cars and the port, but even the port wasn’t doing well as grain growers on the Prairies weren’t shipping much through the Great Lakes any longer. And, as if things weren’t bad enough, Newfoundland and Labrador, flush with the petrodollars from the Hibernia oilfield, was making noises about following Yorkland out the door.
He found it funny in an odd way. The question of Quebec had finally been settled, in large part due to Queen’s Park’s intervention. A pro-federal Premier in Quebec and a fiery Premier in Ontario had been able to hammer out a deal that addressed most of the issues on both sides of the table. The two had held some private talks at the summer house of the Quebec Premier in the Laurentians. Nobody ever repeated anything from these meetings except what was in the final written agreement and, surprising even the most optimistic parliamentary observer, the agreement was accepted not only by the governments involved, but a majority of the population as well. Within a year of the Laurentian agreement, Southern Ontario was making the same sort of fuss Quebec had been up to in the late twentieth century.
But, unlike Quebec, Southern Ontario had not bothered with increasing demands. They simply presented Ottawa with a list of requirements; an accurate accounting of their share of the federal debt (with a series of postdated cheques attached), and a request the feds move the Government of Canada elsewhere. In typical Canadian fashion, there was some compromise made, with only the demand Ottawa vacate the premises being nonnegotiable and in the end, the Cornwall Articles of Secession were approved by House, Senate and the Governor General. (The GG, he thought. Thank heavens she had been from the Maritimes and not Ontario. That could have made things really sticky.)
Canada’s plan had been simple. They offered to buy most of downtown Ottawa, then planned to annex it to Quebec. But Queen’s Park baulked at having a Quebec enclave on the west bank of the Ottawa River. Under implied threats of civil (and provincial government) disobedience, Parliament relented and was given five years to pack up and move. Queen’s Park had also negotiated successfully with Quebec’s National Assembly and, by waving a cheque containing many zeros at them, convinced Quebec to surrender all lands west of the Ottawa River to Ontario.
The final nail driven into the coffin of the “old” Canada had been Washington’s quick acceptance of Yorkland as a separate nation. That was followed swiftly by Great Britain and Japan acknowledging that Yorkland was a sovereign nation and not just some secessionist enclave. The man sighed again as he continued that line of thought. Yorkland’s flag also now flew proudly in its proper place outside the UN building in New York.
Another effect of the birth of Yorkland was that the St. Lawrence Seaway Commission was now trilateral. Since the Welland Canal and some of the other locks on the Seaway were in Yorkland, it had been a logical conclusion that they also be represented on that body. So far, they hadn’t been unusually disruptive or awkward during the meetings, at least according to reports he had received.
He stood before the map of the “new” Canada and read aloud the names of the provinces and their capitals, the three territories having been given provincial status at the time of the separation:
Newfoundland and Labrador – St. John’s
Prince Edward Island – Charlottetown
Nova Scotia – Halifax
New Brunswick – Fredericton
Quebec – Quebec (although it always seemed as if Montreal was)
Ontario – Thunder Bay
Manitoba – Winnipeg
Saskatchewan – Regina (good old “Pile of Bones” he murmured to himself)
Alberta – Edmonton
British Columbia – Victoria
Yukon – Whitehorse
Western Territory – Yellowknife (they changed the “Northwest”, why won’t they drop the “Territory”)
Nunavut – Iqaluit
and overseeing the whole lot, the Federal District of Ottawa.
The changes in government caused by Yorkland’s leaving had been tremendous. Not only had Commons been reduced by close to 100 seats, the Senate and the Supreme Court had also been affected. “Turmoil” best described the situation. The Prime Minister and the leaders of two of the opposition parties had been from Southern Ontario and the secession meant they were without ridings, so they either had to move and run elsewhere, or be replaced. The same problem had cropped up in the Supreme Court and Senate. Other than the elected representatives, the civil service was most affected.
Many members of the civil service, especially those based in Ottawa, were from Ontario. The federal government quite correctly stated they could not allow foreign nationals to work in the Houses of Parliament or directly within various Ministries of the Government of Canada. Union officials found themselves powerless, since most of the members lived in what was now Yorkland and their own headquarters were mostly based in Toronto. The Canadian Minister of Labour refused to deal with what she termed “foreign-based unions attempting to infiltrate the national government of this great country.” The move to Northern Ontario broke the unions’ stranglehold for good. Most of the workers had refused to transfer to the northland and the sudden loss of so many members dues through the loss of positions effectively bankrupted the unions.
Now the problem was finding enough people to staff the various departments in New Ottawa. Not many people had been willing to relocate from the Ottawa/Hull area to this new location in the middle of nowhere. Discussions with some of these people led him to the conclusion that it wasn’t the weather, for the winters weren’t that much worse than Ottawa’s, but the isolation. And a few had expressed concerns over the very real possibility of forest fires. And many of those who had transferred were now asking for transfers to other offices in the more “civilized” parts of the country.
The forests on Northern Ontario had long been the scene of vast fires, the toll of which could be measured in thousands of square miles (he had never become accustomed to thinking in metric.) These appeared to have a greater bearing on some decisions than did the isolation. Granted, some people had chosen to leave Southern Ontario and keep their jobs, but these were too few to make much difference. What made it worse was that most of the senior civil servants, those that really understood their jobs, were the ones who didn’t move.
Studies, or to be more accurate, informal surveys, had shown that many of these people chose to live in more established centres like “the Soo” or some of the smaller centres along the shore of Lake Superior and drive the 100-mile round trip each day. The latest numbers had shown that the population of New Ottawa was actually decreasing. If many more left, the government would collapse under its own inertia.
Many suggestions had been put forth, most of them too expensive to consider. These included free housing for government workers, and operating a free shuttle service from Sault Ste. Marie airport to Charest International in New Ottawa. This one was considered only slightly less foolish than the very well documented suggestion to retake Ottawa by force.
That suggestion had been accompanied by reams of paper outlining the necessary troop strength; plan of attack, and estimated losses. One major oversight in this plan, not submitted by a military man he recalled, was that the origin point was Quebec, who most certainly would not allow that many federal troops in the province, so any force would need to fight their way from northern Ontario to Ottawa before they could lay siege to the city. Department of Defence analysts who examined this proposal submitted a three-hundred page report that, stripped of its qualifiers, boiled down to three words “No bloody way!”
The chime of his intercom interrupted his thoughts. “Anna Milton is here, sir.”
He straightened his tie and strode to the door. “Anna, so good to see you. How was your trip?”
“Hello, Teddy. The trip was good. I never realized how big this province used to be until I started coming up here.” Anna Milton was the special representative for the Prime Minister of Yorkland, Vanessa Anderson, and was known as the person sent in to defuse trouble. She was also a long-time friend of both Prime Ministers. At one time she had been a federal employee but the day the Cornwall Articles had become official, she left Parliament Hill and took a position at Queen’s Park. She had been given responsibility for negotiating the Canadian railways compensation on behalf of Yorkland and had been fair to both sides according to all reports.
“What brings you to our neck of the woods, Annie? Your call sounded both urgent and mysterious. And requesting that nobody from the government meet you at Charest really got me wondering, I’ll admit.”
“I’m here strictly unofficially Teddy, but with the PM’s knowledge and blessing.”
“Uh oh, sounds ominous. Better tell me about it.”
“Our sources tell us there is a lot of discontent among the people right now and some very eloquent speakers are only stirring things up more. The theme these people are hammering at is that Yorkland would be better off being part of a larger nation and urging that the government give up, to use their term “this foolish dream of being a country” and open talks with both Canada and the States about either becoming part of the States or rejoining Confederation. There have been several demonstrations in favour of what they’re calling “re-Confederation” that turned quite violent when opponents showed up.
“Teddy, for twenty years now, Yorkland has not only survived, but prospered. If you don’t mind me saying so, Yorkland has done better economically over that period than has Canada.” She paused and walked over to the window, then continued “As I said, I’m here unofficially. Actually it would be more accurate to say I wanted to hear what an old friend would have to say if we requested help. You know we don’t have any armed forces to speak of other than the renamed OPP, and they’re still basically traffic cops, so if this situation were to deteriorate into an armed conflict, do you, Teddy Johns, friend, not Edward Johns, Prime Minister of Canada, think Parliament would consent to sending troops to help quell any such uprising?”
“Anna, Annie, if it were my decision alone, I’d send all the military personnel and equipment I could lay my hands on – RCAF, army, hell, I’d even get frigates into the Great Lakes for you. But, as Prime Minister, I have my doubts such a request would be considered. There are too many people in Parliament who remember The Cornwall Articles. Some of them weren’t very happy at being uprooted and forced to seek re-election elsewhere. Some of them are still here, in both Houses and I’m afraid they may adopt a “screw the bastards, they wanted independence, they got it” attitude and block any request for assistance.
“What I will say though, is that if things really fall apart, I’m prepared, both as a friend and as PM, to offer asylum to you, the Prime Minister and any other member of your government who chooses to come. If necessary, we’ll designate a part of New Ottawa as Yorkland territory, in addition to the embassy, that is. But from what I’ve seen on the news, I don’t think things will deteriorate that far. Hell, Annie, despite the fact Yorkland is now independent, we’re still all Canadians in our attitudes. Some compromise will be reached.”
Anna considered his comment, then laughed briefly. “I suppose I should feel insulted at that last comment Teddy, but it’s true. In our attitudes and temperament, we’re just the same as when Yorkland was Southern Ontario. Thanks, dear friend, I’ll relay your offer to Herself.”
“How is Vanessa? Well, I hope. The millstone of government hasn’t ground her down yet?”
“She’s well. I think it’s more a case of her grinding the millstone down with some of the things she’s been able to accomplish.
“You know, I think that’s part of the problem we’re having. Even though we’re half way through the twenty-first century, some people still have problems with a strong female and they resent what Vanessa’s doing.”
“Well, she’s been around long enough to know that she’ll never please everyone. I think you’re probably right in what you say. There are people in Canada who have the same problem, only they aren’t as vocal as some of our citizens appear to be.
“Let me bounce the idea around a bit with some trusted advisors – don’t worry, they won’t say anything – and we’ll see if we can come up with any ideas. Do I contact Vanessa directly, or work through you?”
“For now, I think it would be better if Teddy Johns called his dear friend Anna Milton once in a while, just to ask how she’s doing and talk about old times. I can relay anything important to the PM.”
The return flight to Toronto was uneventful and Anna spent the time studying papers from her briefcase. Shortly before they were due to land, the pilot approached her. “Ms Milton, the tower tells us there is some sort of demonstration taking place at Pearson. They are asking if we can divert to Munro instead.”
“Pearson”, or to use its full name “Lester B. Pearson International Airport” was the main airport for Toronto, in fact it was the largest in Yorkland. It had been named after a previous Prime Minister of Canada, a local boy from Newtonville, just north of Toronto and a winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace. “Munro” referred to John C. Munro International Airport, located in Mount Hope, just south of Hamilton and named, once again, after a local resident who had done well in national politics before the separation. Landing there would mean an hour longer out of her office.
“Ask the tower if the demonstration is peaceful. If it is, I’d prefer to land here.”
The pilot nodded and returned to the cockpit, only to re-appear a few minutes later. “They tell me it is peaceful so far, but are concerned that may change.”
“Okay. I think I’ll take my chances with Pearson.”
The plane landed without incident and taxied to the private craft terminal where Anna Milton disembarked. Clearing customs, she entered her limousine, the front seat as was her custom unless formality required otherwise, for the ride to Queen’s Park. During the ride, she tuned the radio to a news station, just in time to hear a report regarding the events taking place behind her at the airport.
“The demonstration at Pearson International appears to be dispersing. This has been odd. According to a spokesperson for the airport, it started forming about an hour ago on the arrivals level of Terminal One, then after standing around quietly, broke up without anything happening.
“No-one from this group was willing to speak with us, so the reason for it isn’t known at the moment. Passengers from commercial flights arriving during this period weren’t bothered by the crowd, so we are unable to determine any reason for it. Information obtained from the tower indicates the only other craft to land was a government jet, which went directly to the private aircraft terminal. It is not clear who was on that flight. We’ll report more details as they become available. Now, back to the studio.”
“Thank you Robert. In other news, there are rumours circulating in Queen’s Park that Anna Milton, the Prime Minister’s special aide made a trip to New Ottawa today. Sources tell us … “
Anna switched the radio off. “Damn! That trip was supposed to be secret. I’ll …” She broke off as her cell phone rang. “Anna Milton.”
“Oh, hi Vanessa… Yes, I just heard on the news… No, I have no idea how they found out, but if I find the leak, I’ll plug it with someone’s head… Okay… I was going to go to my office… All right then… I’ll see you there… About half an hour… We’re just pulling onto 401 from the 409… Goodbye.”
Anna turned to her driver, who was a trusted member of her staff and had followed her from Ottawa to Queen’s Park. “Change of destination, William. We’re now going to the Prime Minister’s residence.”
She sat quietly for a few minutes, studying the traffic. Then, “Do you think you could do a bit of detective work for me?” After receiving assent, she continued, “I’d like you to find out who told the press about our little jaunt today.”
“Yes, Ms Milton. Do you want the leak plugged, or do you just want the identity?”
“For now, just the identity. Once I know who it is, I’ll decide what to do.”
“Of course. One final question: Can I involve some friends, or would you rather this was ‘hands on’?”
“Your usual friends? Or third party?”
“Probably my usual.”
“I really don’t want this traced to us, so use your usual men.”
Traffic began clearing and, as he moved forward, he responded “Very well. I’ll advise them of the request after I drop you at the Prime Minister’s residence.”
“Thank you, William. Don’t wait for me at Vanessa’s. I’ll call a cab to get home.”
Anna stared out the window, thinking as William smoothly guided the government car through the rush hour traffic. The only people who knew of her visit to Teddy were on her staff, and the crew of the aircraft. She trusted her staff. William had done his own background checks on them once they had passed government scrutiny and pronounced them all clean. So, unless one of them had turned traitor, the only options appeared to be someone at the either Pearson or Charest airports or the aircrew. That it had just been a fortuitous sighting by some other party didn’t even warrant consideration. There was no such thing as coincidence in the politics of the new nation of Yorkland.
William stopped smoothly before the mansion the Prime Minister of Yorkland used as her official residence. Located on a quiet cul-de-sac in the fashionable Rosedale area of Toronto, it blended in with the neighbours. Even the additional security required by the head of state didn’t seem out of place in this area.
Anna spoke. “Don’t bother opening the door for me William. Vanessa doesn’t stand on ceremony outside Queen’s Park and you know I certainly don’t. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Very good Ms Milton. I’ll have at least a preliminary report for you by then.”
“Thank you, William.” She stood there until the official limousine drove away, then climbed the steps to the front door. The Prime Minister herself opened it.
“Anna, you’re at it again. Trying to be just an ordinary person when you’re probably the second most powerful person in Yorkland. Are you ever going to stop?”
“Hi Vanessa. I’ll stop when you do. I remember what it was like to be the one opening doors for someone else. It can be a thankless job, so I try to be as courteous and accommodating as I can.”
“Well, it must be working judging from the number of people who want to work for you. Come in and tell me how your visit with Teddy went.”
For the next hour, Anna Milton gave her report to her friend and employer. She finished with “so, if anything happens, Teddy Johns will call his dear friend Anna Milton to talk over old times.”
The two most powerful women in Yorkland sat quietly, sipping their coffee for a few minutes. Then the Prime Minister spoke “Well, I suppose I should have expected that. The separation did really screw a few of them and now it appears some of them will get a chance for revenge. But, thanks Anna, for trying. Let’s hope we needn’t call upon Teddy officially.”
Anna thought for a few moments. “I just had a thought. Suppose we were to approach the Canadian government officially? Suppose we were to ask for assistance in training the OPP – sorry, the army? Or maybe invite them for some joint exercises with our troops? Do you think Teddy might send a battalion down for such “exercises”? That would give us some additional, not to mention well-trained, troops for at least a short term. And perhaps that might buy us enough time to defuse the situation.”
Vanessa stood up and began to pace. She had always found this helped her when she needed to marshal her thoughts and this occasion was no different. “Can you stay a while longer? I want to call the Army Chief of Staff and ask him to stop by..”
“Vanessa, I’m in no rush. I’ve only some plants waiting for me at home and I watered them this morning.”
“Great.” Vanessa Anderson reached for the telephone.
“This is Prime Minister Anderson. Please locate General Meaford and ask him to come to my residence as soon as possible. Thank you.” She turned to her friend.
“There. Was that courteous enough?” she asked with a smile on her face.
“Not bad. Not bad at all for the Prime Minister” Anna replied, also smiling.
“Right, while we’re waiting, can I interest you in some food?”
“Gladly. It’s been a long time since lunch with Teddy.”
Unlike some heads of state, Vanessa Anderson preferred to cook for herself. She had always been an excellent cook and saw no reason why leading a country should interfere with that enjoyment. She found there were occasions when something as simple as stirring a sauce was just what she needed to relax. “Come join me in the kitchen. We’ll talk some more.”
Anna, who knew Vanessa’s cooking from experience, not just reputation, gladly accepted the invitation. And, if she were honest with herself, she would admit that she felt much more comfortable in a kitchen. The sitting room at the mansion was far too much “Prime Minister” to be comfortable, while the kitchen was pure “Nessa Anderson.”
When the food was prepared, Vanessa looked across the table at her friend. “Okay Annie, spill. What’s really happening?”
“Well, as I said, Teddy will do what he can to help us if we need it. He can make no guarantees because, as you stated, there are still Members of Parliament and the Senate who are angry with Yorkland because they had to relocate in order to get re-elected. I think he’d go for the ‘joint exercise’ idea though.
“There was some sort of demonstration at Pearson that broke up just after I landed. Can’t say if I was the reason for it, or if the demonstrators had some other bug in their ear, but the timing of the end of it is suspicious. I’ve asked William to find out if someone in my office is leaking my itinerary to outside parties.”
“Oh, my. You do think you were the target of the demonstration then?”
“Yes, Nessa, I’m afraid I do. And if that is true and someone in my office has leaked the information of my trip to Canada to someone else, I’ll see that person pilloried. They won’t be able to get a job as night clerk at a gas station when I’m done with them.
Their talk was interrupted by the door chime. Excusing herself, Vanessa answered it.
“General Meaford, thank you for coming. Anna Milton and I are in the kitchen enjoying a late dinner. Would you care to join us?”
“No thank you Madame Prime Minister, I’ve just eaten.”
“Of course. You’ll join us for coffee though?”
“With the reputation your coffee has? I’d be a fool to decline.”
As he finished, they arrived back at the kitchen. General Meaford nodded at Anna.
“Ms Milton, glad to see you again.”
“And I, you, General. How are your wife and family? Well, I hope?”
“Yes, very well.”
General Meaford had previously been the Chief Superintendent of the Ontario Provincial Police and his bearing still screamed “cop”. He looked ill at ease in the new army uniform.
Anna poured coffee for the three of them. Although it was known that Vanessa Anderson didn’t stand on ceremony in her kitchen, the presence of the Chief of Staff made Anna’s action seem natural.
“Thank you Anna. You didn’t have to do that. You know that when it comes to the kitchen, I’m not the Prime Minister of Yorkland, I’m just Nessa Anderson.”
Turning to the general, she carried on. “Gregory, as you are aware, there are certain factions who would like to see Yorkland fail and rejoin Canada. You are also aware that some of these factions are resorting to civil disobedience and violence to see that happen.” She paused.
Nodding, Gregory Meaford spoke. “Yes, Madame Prime Minister, I am aware of those facts. As you know, the army is still basically the OPP in new uniforms and some of the ranks are having difficulty in adapting to the more militaristic role required of us.”
Nessa glared at him. “‘Madame Prime Minister?’ In my own kitchen at that. Gregory, you know I don’t stand on ceremony, especially when I’m in my own home.”
“I apologize Mada … Nessa. Force of habit.”
“That’s better. Okay, now. Anna has just returned from a trip to New Ottawa to talk to Teddy Johns. I mean no insult to the army, but as all three of us are aware, they are still basically a police force. Part of the reason for Anna’s trip was to see if Canada might be able to help us if this civil disobedience gets out of hand to the point where our own forces can’t handle it. No, don’t get upset,” she held up her hands as she saw the top soldier bristle, “as I said, and you yourself admitted a few minutes ago, the army of Yorkland is still adapting to their new role. A lot of the officers would still be more comfortable handing out speeding tickets.”
“You’re right, they would. And it’s been difficult getting them trained as army personnel in some ways. Many of the functions of an army are similar to those of a police force, but, well … Nessa, some of those police officers have never had to draw their sidearms on duty. They are having problems with the thoughts they might have to use arms against citizens. I can’t blame them. In all the years I spent as an OPP officer, I think I only drew my weapon perhaps five times while on duty and I never had to fire at another human being. The only time I discharged that pistol was on the range.”
“Okay, I fully understand. Would it help with the training of the men and women if we could arrange a joint exercise, held here in Yorkland, with the Canadian army? Or perhaps Teddy could send a regiment here as trainers for our troops.”
General Meaford took a sip of his coffee. While fine china was used in the dining room for the formal dinners, Vanessa Anderson preferred a proper mug in the informal setting of her kitchen and the mug, which looked enormous when held by her and Anna, looked normal in his hand. “Yes, that might help. It would give our troops some much needed training and a joint exercise would give us an idea of how far we still need to go. Oh, I know that some of our men were Canadian army regulars before the partition, but they constitute a small percentage of the forces. I’ve a policy, with which you concurred, of making those ex-Canadian regulars officers and non-coms where possible, just to take advantage of their experience. Many of them had been in Afghanistan and have experience in a hot zone. That is invaluable to us, but unfortunately not all of them are good instructors; they can’t pass on what they’ve learned.”
Vanessa looked at Anna and gave a slight nod. “Greg, Nessa and I have been discussing my meeting with Teddy and,” she paused and looked at the Prime Minister, who nodded again. “Teddy Johns doesn’t think Parliament would authorize the deployment of Canadian troops on the soil of Yorkland to help put down a civil uprising should one occur. But, if we were to ask officially, nation to nation, if Canadian troops would stage a joint exercise with our troops, that wouldn’t need to go through Parliament. The Army Staff could decide that on their own.
“Now, my sources tell me that the situation with the protests and disobedience is reaching the boiling point and could erupt any day. We thought that if we had Canadian troops here to augment our own forces, we could put down such an uprising and save this country.”
Vanessa spoke up again “Think about it Gregory and let me know tomorrow. If you think this plan is workable and the Canadian troops can help train our own army, fine. If not, as long as you have good reasons, you know I’ll listen. That’s all I ask.”
“Of course, Madame Prime Minister, I’ll give it honest thought tonight. Now, if there’s nothing else, I’ll get my staff started considering all the ramifications.”
“Considering you were responding to an official, if informally phrased, request I’ll forgive the ‘Madame Prime Minister’ this time. Finish your coffee before you go rushing off to save Yorkland.”
“I apologize again for my formality Vanessa.”
After the Chief of Staff left, Vanessa and Anna spoke of general matters. There would need to be a by-election soon in one riding, as the sitting member had resigned to avoid conflict of interest charges. Their talk revolved around the timing for calling this event as the riding was known to be home to some very vocal opponents of the government.
General Meaford had wasted no time in speaking with his Canadian counterpart and that worthy individual had seen the sense in such proposed exercises. The current political situation in Yorkland wasn’t discussed, but that Canadian troops may become involved in countering any uprising was tacitly understood. Before Anna had finished her visit, he called the Prime Minister.
As usual, Vanessa Anderson answered the telephone herself.
“Madame Prime Minister, General Meaford speaking.”
“Yes, Gregory, what can I do for you?”
“Sorry, Nessa, again, force of habit. I’ve spoken, informally of course, with John Dell, the Canadian Chief of Staff, and he’s agreeable to joint exercises. In the morning, I’ll send confirmation from my office.”
“Greg, is he aware of the problems that might arise? Does he know that his men – and women – may be forced to defend themselves against civilians?”
“We didn’t explicitly discuss that, but he is aware of the situation here and hinted that his troops would be ready for ‘anything’, to use his word.”
“Great, thank you Gregory. Have a good evening.”
Vanessa sketched the conversation for Anna. “So, Annie, if things continue on their present course, we may, may mind you, have the assistance of Canadian troops in this. I really hope it doesn’t come to that, but…”
“I know Vanessa. Neither of us want to involve Canada in our internal problems, but unfortunately, the timing isn’t in our hands.”
Shortly afterward, Anna Milton took her leave of her friend and Prime Minister.
While she slept, events were occurring that was to force the government’s hand.
The trouble began early the next morning. When it started, it came not from the cities, where there had been demonstrations and therefore would seem the likely sources, but from the old “United Empire Loyalist” area of eastern Yorkland. This area had a history dating back to the late 18th century, the original settlers having fled the American Revolution to settle in British North America and remain loyal to the Empire.
Analysis in the aftermath seemed to show the trigger had been a routine traffic stop. Someone with more exuberance and horsepower than brains had been clocked at twice the posted limit on 401 in the Belleville area. Much as parts Canada used the national police, the RCMP, as provincial forces, in the rural areas of Yorkland, the new army still performed the functions of their former title, using the designation “military police”..
When the speeder saw himself being stopped by a military police vehicle, he had contacted someone on his cell phone. Within minutes of the cruiser rolling to a stop, the sergeant found himself surrounded by a hostile group. Being greatly outnumbered, he retreated to what he felt was the relative safety of his vehicle. That proved to be a fatal error. While he radioed for assistance, he suddenly found himself showered with glass as someone smashed in his windows. Angry hands dragged him from the cruiser and he found himself punched and beaten to the ground, where feet took the place of fists and other weapons. Unconsciousness and death quicky followed. The mob threw his body back inside the cruiser, then set the vehicle on fire.
Response teams found only the burnt out shell of the vehicle when they arrived. Using the information the sergeant had radioed in when he made the initial stop, two men called at the home of the speeder, only to be met with gunfire. They fell back and called for reinforcements. Waiting for the arrival of the extra men, they tried to talk with the occupants.
The homeowner, one Albert Johnston, rebuffed each attempt with more shots and obscene tirades. From his rambling, the two officers were able to determine that Mr Johnston objected strongly that Ontario, as he insisted upon calling Yorkland, was no longer a part of Canada; and further that the army, which he described in colourful scatological terms, had no right to impede the lawful pursuits of Ontarians.
The sounds of gunfire had attracted the attention of neighbours, and one kind soul saw fit to advise the local radio station. A reporter arrived within minutes.
The ensuing live broadcasts from what this reporter described as “an armed stand-off” were picked up in larger cities, and stations there sent their own crews to the scene. Within the space of an hour, Highway 401 between Toronto and Belleville was crowded with various remote studios from the television stations and army vehicles moving at high speed.
Among the first military personnel to arrive was Captain Gerald Monaghan. Capt Monaghan had been career Canadian Army and had joined Yorkland’s forces with his rank intact. He was also a veteran of Afghanistan. Sizing up the situation rapidly – a skill learned under fire in Asia – he detailed the two original responders to keep the press at a safe distance. One of his first calls to his base, using a secured cell phone, not a radio, was for more troops and a negotiating team.
While this was going on, the television crews arrived and began setting up. As is usual, when the situation is stagnant, the reporters cast their nets for someone to interview. Through these interviews, they learned of the murder on the highway; the resulting visit on Albert Johnston by two army police, and his response to their appearance. Filling in the blanks with conjecture, the reporters broadcast live to air from the scene. Each member of the electronic press of course first made certain there were views of army personnel in the background. The more enterprising stations also sent their news helicopters to Belleville. These were quickly chased away by official aircraft, some still bearing OPP markings. Surveying this media circus, Capt Monaghan again contacted his base and requested a press officer join them.
Most stations in Toronto cut into scheduled broadcasting with these reports and many of their affiliates also followed suit. Consequently, the entire nation, as well as parts of Canada, was aware of the stand-off in Belleville and the reasons for it. Among those watching were other people not happy with the existence of Yorkland. Some of these decided this was the moment they’d been waiting for and mobilized their own members.
Capt Monaghan was being advised of these other uprisings and was determined to end this siege quickly. Glancing at the hordes of media personnel, he suppressed a shudder, for he knew that unless he could end this peacefully within the next hour or so, Yorkland was going to go up in flames of discontent. He also knew, or suspected, that Albert Johnston was not going to come out quietly, but was determined to take soldiers with him. Mindful of the media circus the Branch Davidian affair at Waco had turned into, he was determined not to have the same thing happen at Belleville.
More and more troops were arriving, among them some, like himself, seasoned veterans of foreign action. Using these troops, and some authority he claimed but did not actually have, he moved the press back a mile. When questioned by the reporters, the men responded to the effect that the occupant appeared to be using a high-powered rifle, which had an effective range of over a mile, therefore the move was for their own safety. Most bought it.
Back in Toronto, Anna Milton was awakened by her telephone. Answering it, she heard Vanessa’s voice “Annie, turn on your television! Then call me back.”
“What’s going on Vanessa?”
“Just turn on the TV. It’s all going to hell right now!”
Turning on her set, she was stunned to see live broadcasts from the siege in Belleville as most of the stations were calling it, on all channels. Interspersed with this coverage were reports of riots in some of the major cities.
Calling her driver first, Anna smiled when, in response to her request, she heard “I’m already on the way, Ms Milton. I started as soon as I heard the news reports.”
“Thank you William. I’ll be ready.”
While she dressed, she called the Prime Minister back. “Nessa, it’s Anna. What the hell happened there?”
“According to the reports I’ve received, the military police stopped some meathead doing 200 on 401. We’re not quite sure what happened there, but the officer was killed and his vehicle burned. Based on information he’d radioed in, two sergeants paid a visit on a home in Belleville and were met with gunfire. That’s about all I know for certain right now.
“How soon can you get here?”
“I called William before I called you back and he’s on his way here; in fact he was on his way before I called. Say, twenty minutes tops?”
“Sounds good. I’ve got a call in to Greg Meaford and the Minister of Defence as well and he’ll be here shortly.”
Anna hung up the phone just as the doorbell sounded. Answering it, she found William standing there, surveying the area. “Good morning Ms Milton. I think you should ride in the back seat today.”
William gestured at the vehicle. “This isn’t the same car we had yesterday. I picked up one of the armoured ones and you’ll be safer in the rear.”
“Do we need the protection that much?”
“‘Fraid so. According to reports – not the newscasts, my sources – there are demonstrations at Queen’s Park; The Prime Minister’s residence, and just down the street from here and while the ones here and the residence are relatively well behaved, Queen’s Park is being attacked.”
“Okay, you know best. I’m going to the PM’s by the way.”
There were no incidents as they left Anna’s home, Along the trip, William briefed her on what his men had learned about the demonstration the previous day. “The leak came from New Ottawa. An airport ground worker spotted you and made a phone call to Toronto. I’ve had the situation corrected.”
“Thank you, William.”
As they arrived near the Prime Minister’s residence they were met with a roadblock manned by security forces. Powering down the window, William flashed some identification at the sentry. In return, he received a salute and the barrier was hurriedly moved to make a path for the limo.
“What was all that about? Are things that bad?”
“No Ms Milton. The dissidents are on the main road. I came along a secondary route that leads to the rear of the property. The guards managed to get the barricades up before the crowd got too close.”
Arriving at the rear of the residence, Anna spotted the erect figure of Gregory Meaford. He noticed her vehicle arriving and waited for her. As William glided to a stop, the general gallantly opened the door and offered her his hand.
“Thank you General. That was most gracious of you.”
In response, the man bowed slightly. “I’m sorry we couldn’t be meeting under better circumstances Ms Milton.”
“I agree. Well, let’s see what Vanessa wants.”
As they approached the door, it was opened by the lady herself. “Oh good. You’re both here. Come in, come in. I’ve got the coffee ready. The Minister’s here already. ”
Once again the trio gathered around the kitchen table, mugs of coffee at hand, joined by Neal Haddon, the Minister of Defence. “I’ve given orders, so we won’t be disturbed by anyone except my secretary.
“Now, what are we going to do about this problem?”
Anna spoke first. “All I really know is the little bit you’ve told me and what I gleaned from the newscasts on the way over here. Can you or General Meaford fill me in a little more?”
The military man spoke, “If I may Madame Prime Minister?” Receiving assent, he continued, “About five this morning, a military policeman on traffic patrol on 401 in the Belleville area clocked a vehicle at double the posted limit. He stopped that vehicle and while he was speaking with the driver, one Albert Johnston, several other men appeared. They overpowered the sergeant, beat him to death, then burned the cruiser with the body inside.
“Acting on information the sergeant had radioed in at the time of the initial stop, two other officers attended at a residence in Belleville and attempted to apprehend the resident. As they approached the house, they were met with rifle fire. At that point, they called for reinforcements. At the moment, the army has the house surrounded and are attempting to negotiate Mr Johnston’s surrender .
“From what I understand, the media coverage of this event has sparked demonstrations of other dissidents in other parts of Yorkland. We’re keeping an eye on them as well but will act if they get violent. I hope it stays quiet, for we’re being stretched pretty thin right now.”
Anna shook her head. “Damn! Too bad we don’t have Canadian troops here now. They’d certainly be a great help. General, according to what my driver said, Queen’s Park is under attack by these mobs.”
“Perhaps ‘attack’ is too strong a word to use at the moment. There have been stones and other objects thrown at the main doors, but that’s all. And I agree, having the Canadians here now might help.”
“I know, but we can’t deal with what might have been. We have to go with what we’ve got and what we know.” Vanessa paused as her secretary entered the room.
“Excuse me Prime Minister, but there’s a telephone call for General Meaford from General Dell.”
“If you’ll excuse me Madame Prime Minister. I think I should take this call.
”Mr Haddon, would you care to join me? Your advice may be necessary.”
While the two men were absent, Vanessa and Anna continued their discussion. “Anna, what do I do? I can’t allow this to continue. If these other groups unite, they’ll tear Yorkland apart. We’ve got to stop this thing in Belleville before that organization can take place. Any ideas?”
“Yeah, but none of them will win us any support.”
“Look, Annie. There’s just the two of us here. Let me hear them and get them out of the way before Gregory returns.”
“Well, my first instinct is to tell the army to get this guy any way they can. If that means bulldozing the place, so be it. But then, I think back to all the press coverage when the FBI stormed Koresh’s compound in Waco; and I don’t want that. I doubt the government would survive. Other than that, continued negotiation; and that hasn’t proven effective so far.”
The door opened and the general returned. “General Dell has offered to speed up the combined exercises and send troops beginning today. They’d land at Pearson and, acting in concert with our own troops, take command of the airport. They’d also help provide security for the Cabinet. I’ve told him that, subject to your approval of course, his men should start packing.”
Vanessa was silent for a moment. “I was really hoping we could avoid using foreign troops -and Canadian troops are foreign troops – internally, but if we’re as thin as you say Gregory, I can’t see any way around it. Okay, tell him to proceed.
“Anna, do you want to call Teddy and let him know what’s going on here? This will be an official call.”
“Yes Prime Minister” as Anna rose to use a different phone.
A short time later she returned. “Teddy will speak with General Dell about these ‘exercises’ and make certain he knows exactly what his troops may face. And he’ll be calling you officially later today.”
Turning to Gregory Meaford, she continued, “General, Prime Minister Johns advises me he’s going to recommend General Dell send a battle experienced regiment.”
The military man nodded. “Good, but I hope we don’t need to call upon that experience against our own citizens.”
“You and me both, Gregory, you and me both.
“Now, while you were on the telephone, Anna and I discussed the situation in Belleville. We both feel it needs to be defused quickly, before the fact this Johnston is holding the army at bay emboldens some of the other dissidents.
“Anna made some rather bloodthirsty suggestions which, I must admit, are beginning to sound more acceptable each minute.” She paused as the secretary opened the door and stood aside as a couple of aides wheeled a television set into the room.
“I hope you don’t mind Prime Minister, but the kitchen is probably the best place right now and you need to see this.”
“Not at all Peggy.”
The secretary turned the set on and, placing the remote on the table, left the room. The quartet watched in fascination as the news showed the continued stalemate in Belleville and scenes from various cities of the demonstrations.
Vanessa muted the sound, then spoke to her companions. “Okay, this has gone far enough. It has to be stopped now.
“General, who’s in charge in Belleville?”
“A Captain Monaghan is Madame Prime Minister.”
“Tell me about him.”
“Captain Gerald Monaghan was career Canadian army before the Cornwall Articles and joined Yorkland with the same rank. He has combat experience in Afghanistan, as well as peace-keeping duties elsewhere as part of the UN forces. He also understands the importance of media and their influence. If I had to pick a man to head that operation, Gerry Monaghan is the man I’d choose. As it was, it was just happenstance that he happened to be duty officer at the time.”
“If I were to send Anna to Belleville with carte blanche to end this, would he have any problems in taking orders he may consider distasteful from a politician?”
“No, ma’am. He swore an oath to uphold the Constitution of Yorkland and accept orders from its legal representatives, of which Ms Milton is one. May I ask why?”
Vanessa looked at her friend. “Ms Milton, tell General Meaford what your idea was – the nasty one.”
“From the way you phrased that, I take it as a direct order from the Prime Minister.
“Mr Haddon, General Meaford, my bloodthirsty idea, to use the Prime Minister’s description, was to make one last attempt at negotiation and, if that fails, flatten the place.”
Both men looked astonished. The Minister spoke first. “Ms Milton, that’s outrageous! We can’t go around annihilating Yorkland’s citizens willy-nilly! Think of the reaction!”
The Prime Minister glared at her Minister of Defence. “Minister,” her voice cold, “this so-called citizen has already murdered three of your soldiers.”
“Three madam? I understood only the man on the highway was killed.”
“Three. In addition to the sergeant on highway patrol, two of the men at the house have been killed by rifle fire.
“Good God man! This maniac is holding a good portion of the army at bay. And doing it on international television! And you expect us to walk up and say ‘pretty please, Mr Johnston, would you put down your rifle and surrender quietly? Don’t be an ass!”
The Minister had the grace to look embarrassed.
“I apologize Prime Minister. I was not aware of the other casualties.
“General, what’s your opinion on this? You’re the military man.”
Gregory Meaford took a few moments before replying. “Madame Prime Minister, Ms Milton, Mr Minister, based on the reports I have, I must agree with Ms Milton’s assessment and suggestion. This man is not going to surrender quietly. Our negotiating team has been there for hours and the only result has been, as Ms Anderson said, two more Yorkland soldiers killed.”
“Fine. Thank you General Meaford.” Turning to Anna, she continued “Anna, I want you on the ground in Belleville as soon as you can get there. I want you to give negotiation one final try. If it fails, turn Captain Monaghan loose.
“General, can you arrange a helicopter for Ms Milton?”
“Yes Madame Prime Minister. I can arrange for her to be picked up here.”
The secretary opened the door again. “Prime Minister, turn up the volume.”
Vanessa did as requested and the foursome turned their attention to the news once again.
“We repeat. We have just received information that three other men, allegedly members of the mob involved in the highway killing have just been arrested at their homes. All arrests are reported to have been accomplished without violence. As details are received, we’ll pass them on. Now, back to Belleville.”
The Prime Minister spoke first “Well, that may help you Anna. If Johnston knows his buddies are in custody, it may make him unwilling to keep fighting.”
General Meaford, who had left the room to arrange for the helicopter, returned. “The flight is all arranged Ms Milton. The chopper should be here in about ten minutes.”
“Thank you General.”
“General, while Anna is in transit, could you contact Captain Monaghan directly and inform him of what we’ve decided here this morning“glancing at her watch, she corrected herself “or rather afternoon, and let him know that Anna speaks with the full authority of the Government of Yorkland?”
“Certainly. Do you wish me to tell him what the plan is? That Ms Milton will attempt to negotiate once again and that if it fails, he is to take the objective?”
“It sounds so cold put into military terms, especially when we’re talking about destroying a man and his home.” She sighed. “Yes, please make certain he knows exactly what may happen.”
The secretary knocked on the door again. “Ms Milton, the helicopter has arrived. It’s on the front lawn.”
“Thanks, Peggy.” Turning to the other three, she continued,
“Well, by tonight the four of us will either be Yorkland’s greatest heroes, or its greatest villains. Wish me well.”
“You’ll do well Anna. I’ve not seen your negotiating skills fail yet.”
With that Anna Milton left for the short flight to Belleville.
Vanessa Anderson turned to General Meaford, ignoring the Minister of Defence. “General, I know you’ve been keeping an eye on the more obnoxious groups or dissidents for months now. Do you know who the key people in each group are?”
“Why, yes, of course. We’ve got dossiers on them all.”
“Good. When we get word from Anna on the outcome in Belleville, I want you to round up those leaders.”
Neal Haddon started upon hearing those instructions” Madame Prime Minister, I must protest! You can’t use the army as your own private police force. These people are just exercising their right of free speech!”
“Mr Haddon, I’ll try to explain this to you in words without too many syllables. ‘These people’ as you call them, are attempting to overthrow the duly elected government of Yorkland. They are not doing this because of oppressive policies or actions on the part of that government, but because they wish to bring about the dissolution of Yorkland. I agree with free speech, but what these ringleaders are engaged in is sedition, not free speech.” Pausing, she pointed at the television. “Haven’t you been paying attention to the news lately? And do you know what another word for ‘sedition’ is, Mr Haddon? TREASON!” Vanessa screamed that last word at the unfortunate Minister of Defence.
“These people don’t care that Yorkland has a booming economy, in fact a better economy than Canada. They don’t care that they have a high standard of living. What they do care about is that Yorkland, the former southern Ontario, is no longer part of Canada. Most of them are screaming for what they’re calling ‘re-Confederation’, or if that isn’t possible, becoming the next state in the Union.
“As you know, ever since September 11, 2001, Canada enacted anti-terrorism legislation. What you may not know, and should, since homeland security falls in your bailiwick, is that Yorkland copied that legislation. ‘These people’, as you called them, are advocating terrorism and treason!
“And you would have the government just tell them ‘Naughty, naughty, mustn’t do that’?
The Minister of Defence sat quietly for a few minutes, weighing Vanessa’s words. Finally, “Madame Prime Minister, I feel I have lost your confidence in my abilities to perform my duties as Minister of Defence. You will have my resignation on your desk within the hour.”
Vanessa softened a little. “Neal, it’s not that I don’t have confidence in your abilities, I just don’t think Defence is the proper portfolio for you. I need your skills in Cabinet. Don’t resign, please. Let’s get this settled, then I’ll shuffle posts so you’re in a Ministry more suited to your talents. Okay?”
“Okay, I won’t resign now. Let me think about your offer and I’ll consider it. In the meantime, I don’t think I can contribute anything else to the meeting. Madame Prime Minister, if I may be excused?”
“Certainly Neal. Be careful.”
The Minister left without a backward glance.
Gregory Meaford looked at his friend and leader. “You know Vanessa, I think Anna is right and by tonight we’ll be either heroes or monsters. We’ll be hailed as the saviours of Yorkland or the people who destroyed the country. In any case Yorkland will never be the same.
”And, if I may make a suggestion? If you replace Neal Haddon, find someone more supportive of the military. Mr Haddon means well, but he hasn’t a clue what we need.”
“I’ll do that. I have a feeling we’re going to need a strong military in the future. Now, what else can we do? If we do nothing, anybody with a grievance against anything will take to the street and kill our people. If Anna fails with the negotiations, we’ll make a martyr out of Albert Johnston.”
“No, I don’t think we’ll make a martyr of him. We will make an example of him. People will see that we take the murder of our soldiers very seriously and deal with the culprits severely. That in itself will deter some of these dissenters. Vanessa, if my troops have to rase the complete town of Belleville, Albert Johnston will pay for murdering that sergeant, as will his cronies.”
The landing of the helicopter carrying Anna stirred the media from the lethargy that had set in as they waited for some action at the scene of the siege. The waiting game made for terrible television and the arrival of some personage by helicopter promised to liven things up. Speculation among the reporters, some of it on air, had Vanessa herself arriving. Some had General Meaford arriving. Guesses covered the complete Cabinet, but all were foiled. Anna was taken in a closed vehicle to the command post to meet with Captain Monaghan.
“Ms Milton, welcome to my nightmare.” When he saw Anna’s shocked expression, he continued, “Sorry to sound so flip, but General Meaford spoke with me and explained the plan. I realize the army of Yorkland is still basically a police force, so I must admit to a certain misgiving deploying troops against my own citizens. Don’t worry though, it won’t stop me from carrying out my orders, Ms Milton.”
“Thank you Captain Monaghan. General Meaford assured me of your co-operation. Can you fill me in on what’s been going on here?”
“Sure. First of all, one of the other men involved in the murder of Sergeant Williams had a change of heart and turned himself in and identified the others. We have them in custody now. Sergeant Williams was a good man and will be missed.”
Anna interrupted. “Thank you. This is the first time I’ve heard his name.”
“Bob Williams was one of my men. That’s one reason I won’t have a problem dealing with Mr Johnston.
“Now, as I was saying. We attempted to apprehend Mr Johnston early this morning and my men were driven back by rifle fire. Since then, we’ve tried negotiating with him and lost two more men. Head shots, both of them. They were wearing body armour, so it seems Mr Johnston can be a crack shot when he chooses. I moved the press back a mile. Because of the layout of the neighbourhood, this area is out of their sight and the trees block the view of their cameras. I’ve had all air traffic banned from the area and the former OPP traffic helicopters and planes are enforcing that ban. I was able to bully the telephone company into giving us his number and we’ve been trying to negotiate by phone rather than risk any more personnel. I have to say, Ms Milton, my men are getting hot and cranky just sitting around waiting for something to do.”
“Well, Captain. That’s the reason I’m here – to make something happen. You are aware, are you not, that I’ve been given full authority to act in this? I’ll try negotiating again, and if that doesn’t succeed, your men will have something to do. Where do you have the negotiations set up? I may as well get started.”
“We’ve been working from behind cover. We’re well within range of the house and, as I said, Mr Johnston has proven extremely accurate. I’ll take you there now. It’s a rather roundabout route, but it keeps us away from the windows of the house.”
Arriving at the location, set up behind a sedan, Anna made herself comfortable. Noting the telephone was equipped with a speaker, she flipped in on, then called the house. After five rings, an angry voice answered. “I told you no more fucking phone calls!” she heard.
“Mr Johnston. I’m Anna Milton and I’d like to talk with you to see if we can resolve this situation.”
“Well, well, the bitch who destroyed Ontario herself. Doesn’t matter what you say bitch, I’m not coming out.”
“Mr Johnston, I’m sure you are aware we have enough men and supplies to just wait you out. You can’t last forever in there.”
“I’m doin’ okay. I’ll just wait until your little toy soldiers get called home by their mommies.”
While he was speaking, Anna scrawled a note to Captain Monaghan “have you cut the power and water?” and received a nod in response.
“Mr Johnston, you’ve already learned we’ve cut the power and water to your place. How long do you expect to survive without water and lights?”
“I can outlast you, bitch. Now get off my line and get off my land!” The last was punctuated by several shots, all of which came uncomfortably close to the sedan.
“Mr. Johnston. This is the last time I’m going to ask. Put down your weapon and come out.” More shots greeted the statement.
“You know we have the others who were involved in the murder of Sergeant Williams. They’re all saying you did it.”
“You’re lying! You don’t have shit!”
“Mr Johnston, do you recognize these names?” Anna read the names of the arrested suspects. More gunfire was the response.
“Screw you bitch! Those guys wouldn’t give me up.”
“What do you say Mr Johnston, want to come out peacefully?”
Silence greeted the question.
Anna waited a few minutes, then turned to Captain Monaghan. “Well, Captain, it appears that for the first time I failed in my negotiations. Now comes the part neither of us wanted.”
She turned away. With her back to the military officer, she said, “Captain Monaghan, please effect the capture and arrest of Albert Johnston.”
Captain Monaghan saluted her back and said simply “Yes, Ma’am.”
He strode off to set up the operation, leaving Anna alone. Pulling out her cell phone and fumbling with the keys through her tears, she called Vanessa Anderson’s private line. “Nessa, it’s Anna. I failed. I’ve ordered Captain Monaghan to effect the arrest of Albert Johnston.” Anna was weeping as she said the words.
“Thanks Annie. I’ll relay word to Gregory. After you left, I told him that once Johnston was in custody – somehow – he was to round up the ringleaders of the more rabid dissident groups. I told him to use the anti-terrorism legislation as grounds. Annie, Annie, as Gregory said, Yorkland will never be the same after today. I think I understand how you feel.”
“Thanks Nessa. I’ll come directly to your place from here. But, I’m not going to leave until this is finished. I gave the order, I’m going to stay and see it through.”
“Okay dear friend. Be careful.”
Retracing her steps, she returned to the observation post, where she found Captain Monaghan barking orders.
During a lull, she approached him. “Captain, with your permission, I’d like to stay with you during this.”
He looked at her, but before he could speak, Anna continued. “I gave the order for this. I want to see it through. I won’t interfere, I promise.”
The captain nodded. “Let me explain what I’m hoping to do. I’ve got marksmen with their weapons trained on every window. Johnston has been wandering about the house every so often, checking the windows. I’m hoping one of my men can get a clean shot at him. If so, the man will advise me he has a shot, but won’t fire until I give the order. Otherwise, the sound of a shot could start a major battle.
“I’ve set up a forward observation post. You can watch from there. Depending upon which window he appears at, we may see nothing.”
Anna nodded. “I understand. God, I really wish it hadn’t come to this.”
“You and me both Ms Milton, you and me both.”
They made their way to the observation post. Once there, Captain Monaghan checked with his men to see if they were all in position. Receiving conformation, he turned to Anna. “Now we wait for Mr Johnston to get careless.”
The wait wasn’t long. About five minutes after they arrived, the radio whispered the words “Two. I’ve got a clean shot. He’s standing near the kitchen window.”
Captain Monaghan picked up the microphone. “Two. Take the shot.”
A single shot rang out.
Thirty minutes later, when no movement had been observed, a man crept to the kitchen window and using a mirror, peeked in. Albert Johnston was dead, sprawled over the kitchen table with most of his head missing.
Again the radio sounded. “Johnston is dead sir.”
Captain Monaghan turned to Anna. She looked pale. She shook her head and whispered, mostly to herself. “What have I done? Why couldn’t I negotiate a different ending?”
Gently, the captain spoke. “Ms Milton, Albert Johnston effectively sealed his fate when he murdered Sergeant Williams. Everything since then was just leading to this moment. If you hadn’t given the order, I’d have gone to General Meaford. He’d have checked with Prime Minister Anderson before agreeing. Either way, the end would be the same. A murderer has received his just punishment.”
“Thank you for that Captain. I appreciate your meaning, but I’m still going to have nightmares about this for a long time.”
“Ms Milton, if you didn’t, I’d wonder if you were human. Without meaning any insult, I strongly suggest counselling. The man that took that shot will be doing just that, even though he’s been trained to do exactly what he did. There’s no weakness in admitting you can’t handle everything.”
Anna smiled. “Thank you Captain. I’ll look into it. Now, I suppose I better get back to Toronto and report to the Prime Minister.”
Captain Monaghan escorted her back to the helicopter himself. On his return to the command post, he was intercepted by the press officer he’d requested. Briefing the man, a lieutenant, he told him to fill in the media on what had transpired, and told him to leave out the name of Anna Milton.
The helicopter again landed on the front lawn of the Prime Minister’s residence. Vanessa was waiting for her at the front door. “Annie, glad you’re safe. Come in. Gregory’s still here.”
“Thanks Nessa. I could use something strong to drink. Hope you don’t mind me asking.”
“Not at all dear. I think Gregory and I could use something as well. It’s been a hectic day for all of us.”
They sat once again in the kitchen. Although they had all expressed a desire for strong drink, all three were drinking coffee once more.
“All right, when you’re ready, tell me about Belleville” Vanessa consoled her friend.
Anna Milton took a deep breath. “Oh God, Vanessa. I hope I never again have to issue such an order. I’m going to have nightmares about this day for a long, long time.” She paused and took a sip of her coffee while she gathered her thoughts. “Okay, just let me run through it without interruption, if you don’t mind. If I stop, I’ll never start again.” Another deep breath.
“When I arrived, I was introduced to Captain Monaghan – he’s very nice, by the way. Captain Monaghan took me to the spot they had been negotiating from; it was a safe area and negotiating was being done by telephone. I tried to convince Mr Johnston to surrender and was met by gun fire.” She paused and looked at her friend, then “Vanessa, that son of a bitch was shooting at me!” Looking at General Meaford, she said, “Pardon my language General, but I’ve never been shot at before.”
“No need to apologize Ms Milton. Worse things get said when the bullets start flying.”
Anna continued “All attempts at negotiation failed. The last words he spoke were ‘screw you bitch, those guys wouldn’t give me up’. I asked him again to surrender and he didn’t respond.
At that point, I gave Captain Monaghan orders to effect the capture and arrest of Albert Johnston, then I called you, Nessa. After that I rejoined Captain Monaghan. I felt that as I had given the order, the least I could do was be there to see it carried out. When everything was ready, Captain Monaghan explained what the plan was and about five minutes after that, one of the soldiers reported he had a clear shot. Captain Monaghan ordered him to shoot.
“We waited about half an hour, then someone peeked in the window and reported Johnston was dead. Then I came back here.”
She drained her coffee cup, took a deep breath, then continued. “Vanessa, as I said, I hope I never have to give such an order ever again in my life and I certainly hope you never have to do it either. That applies to you as well, General. Knowing that words you’ve spoken resulted in the death of another human being is a tremendous burden.”
Silence for a few moments, then Gregory Meaford spoke up. “Ms Milton, don’t look at it like that. Albert Johnston effectively signed his own death warrant the second he resisted the sergeant on 401. Every action he took from that point on, from murdering Sergeant Williams, to killing the two negotiators, to shooting at you seemed designed to lead to his death. If you hadn’t given that order, Captain Monaghan had the authority to make the decision on his own. No, Anna, this man was dedicated to the overthrow of the government of Yorkland – according to what Captain Monaghan told me, he kept referring to it as Ontario – which is treason and the punishment for treason is execution.
Before Anna could respond, Vanessa’s secretary knocked on the door. “Excuse me Prime Minister, I think you should turn on the news.”
“Thanks Peggy.” Vanessa reached for the remote and adjusted the volume.
“We’re live at Belleville and we’ve just been informed the army will have a statement in a few minutes. Gunfire was heard about an hour ago – several bunched shots, followed a short time later by a single shot.
“Here’s an officer now”.
“Good afternoon members of the press. My name is Lieutenant Shaw. I have a brief statement to make and will take a few questions afterward.
“At 1430 hours this afternoon, that’s 2:30, Albert Johnston was killed by an army marksman after lengthy attempts at negotiation failed. Included in these attempts were several by a government negotiator as well as our own team. Mr Johnston was wanted in connection with the murder, early this morning, of Sergeant Robert Williams on Highway 401 near Belleville.
“We currently have four other men in custody who are also charged with Sergeant Williams’s death.
“Mr Johnston had faced a long list of charges, including three counts of first degree murder.
“I’ll take questions now.”
“Lieutenant Shaw, you said ‘three counts of murder’. I understood only Sergeant Williams was killed.
“No sir. Mr Johnston shot and killed two of our negotiating team earlier today.”
“Lieutenant, can you tell us who the government negotiator was? Was it an experienced negotiator?”
“I will not identify the negotiator, but yes, they were experienced in negotiation.
“Thank you gentlemen, that’s all for now. As more information becomes available, we will release it.”
Vanessa muted the sound. “Well, that was well handled. General, please thank Captain Monaghan for keeping Annie’s name out of it.”
She turned to Anna. “Now, while you were gone, we weren’t idle. After you left, I gave Gregory instructions to round up the more radical dissident leaders as I told you on the phone. Once you called me, I told him to proceed with that. According to reports he’s already received, most of them have been detained already, and the remaining few won’t be free long.
“Anna, I hated doing it, but these groups were taking advantage of the situation in Belleville to attempt an overthrow of the government. They’ve attacked other government ministries and facilities including Queen’s Park. I couldn’t allow that to happen for many reasons.”
The secretary returned at that moment. “Prime Minister, we’re getting calls both here and at Queen’s Park asking for comment from you on the arrests. What shall I tell them?”
“Give me a few minutes Peggy. I’ll let you know shortly.”
Vanessa looked at her Chief of Staff and her friend and advisor. “Well, you both heard Peggy. What do I do?”
The three sat at the kitchen table, discussing what the Prime Minister should do in light of the situation and the reaction. Various ideas were put forth and dissected. Finally, all was ready. Vanessa picked up the phone. “Peggy, can you arrange network time for me tonight, say eight? And I’d like to do it from here.”
Shortly afterward, the secretary knocked on the door. “It’s all arranged Prime Minister. The crews will be here in about an hour to start setting up.”
“Thanks Peggy, you’re a gem.” Turning to her companions, she continued, “I’d like you to both be there – off camera, but there. One thing we didn’t discuss was whether I’ll take questions. Comments?”
Anna shook her head “I don’t think that would be wise at this point Vanessa. We still don’t have the full story, so they could trip you up.”
Gregory Meaford nodded. “I agree. Once we know the full story, we can put out a proper press release. But until then, I’d stick with what we’ve already discussed.”
“Thank you both for your opinions. Now, I must start preparing to meet the press.”
The next few hours were hectic ones at the Prime Minister’s residence with the camera crew, who would cover the speech for all the networks and any local channels that chose to carry it, setting up lights and cameras and checking sound levels; the staff hustling about in the usual performance of their duties; and Anna and Gregory trying to maintain low profiles.
Finally, a few minutes after eight o’clock, the announcer spoke up “We are at the residence of the Prime Minister, where she will shortly make an announcement regarding the events of today. We’ve been told it’s a comprehensive speech, so questions will not be entertained at this time, but full details will be released once they become available. Now, The Right Honourable Vanessa Anderson, Prime Minister of Yorkland.”
Vanessa took the dais, placed her notes in front of her and smiled at the cameras.
“Good evening, citizens of Yorkland. This has been a sad day in the short history of our nation and I fear we will never be the same again.
“As you all know, early this morning, army sergeant Robert Williams was murdered at the side of Highway 401 in the Belleville area. Four of the men believed responsible for this atrocity are in custody. The fifth member of the mob is dead. I will not identify the four suspects, as they are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
“The fifth member was one Albert Johnston of Belleville. Mr Johnston was a known opponent of Yorkland’s separation from Canada and had been involved in previous acts of sabotage. Today, along with several other men, he brutally beat Sergeant Williams to death and later, when officers went to apprehend him, fired upon them. Over the course of the day, Mr Johnston also killed two members of the negotiating team. Finally, after a government negotiator was unable to convince him to surrender, and he fired upon that negotiator, an army marksman shot him dead.
“Concurrent with the events in Belleville, and, in our opinion designed to take advantage of them, several other groups attacked government personnel and facilities in other Yorkland locations.
“Under the National Security and Anti-Terrorism Act, the leaders of these groups have been placed in custody, and are facing charges of, among other things, sedition and treason for their actions.”
“All people arrested today, both in Belleville and in other locations will begin appearing in courts across the nation tomorrow.
“Thank you and God help us.”