Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.
– Master Yoda, P.C., C.J.C.
In this award-winning 2006 film produced in cooperation with the CBC, Steel Toes tells the story of a neo-Nazi living in Montreal. He viciously attacks an Indian immigrant without provocation, mistaking him for a Muslim, with serious injuries that resulted in death.
He is frustrated, angry with the millions of immigrants who come to Canada and reproduce in large numbers. They supposedly take jobs away from working-class whites like him and are changing his white way of life in Canada.
The young man, who stopped his education in high school, is forced to confront his racial ideology within himself, discovering that if he takes the stand with his racial rhetoric he will likely never be released.
But another man is also on trial in this film – the Jewish lawyer assigned to defend him, despite having his client tell him to his face,
In an ideal world we would have you eliminated.
But his client’s paradox is that he also says,
In this world, I need you more than anyone.
Derided by his Jewish family and friends as a super liberal humanist Jew, the lawyer also struggles with advocating on behalf of someone who despises the multi-racial society – it’s multicultural, the lawyer corrects him – which they live in.
His friends ask him if he has forgotten what his people have gone through, what his family has gone through. But it is actually his family that provides him with the conviction to move ahead.
He thinks back to his childhood and his father telling him that he should give people a chance, especially those who want you dead. When the son responds that it sounds “soft,” the father replies that it is the toughest thing of all to do,
Soft? It’s the hardest kind of right there is. Otherwise the killing won’t stop. Somebody has to stop the killing and that’s you and that’s me. “Thou shalt not kill.” It’s the basis of our entire civilization.
You don’t have to have the slightest interest in practicing criminal law to enjoy this movie, which is essentially about compassion for someone who is different. The neo-Nazi overcoming his guilt and prejudice towards the accented immigrant, the lawyer overcoming his anger towards the criminal, and even the victim who forgives his killer before he dies.
But it’s the transformational ability of advocacy that really makes a difference in the story. The young man finally comes to the realization that the Jewish lawyer who so selflessly helps him at the expense of risking his career, family and personal life could hardly be a devil.
Only by overcoming this fear and hatred can the young man accept the possibility of rehabilitation, and eagerly seek to re-educate himself by reading new materials and embracing new ideas.
It’s an inspiring story and a reminder of the reasons why we love and uphold the justice system.
Cross-posted from Slaw