Canadians: are a group of people who dedicated
years of their lives and hundreds of thousands of dollars to helping
Rubin "Hurricane" Carter contest his sentence for triple murder.
They wrote a book about their experiences, and one of them was married
to Carter for a time. Three of the Canadians -- Sam Chaiton, Terry
Swinton, and Lisa Peters -- are portrayed in the movie, The
A most disturbing
aspect of the movie is the way that the Canadians are shown as being
threatened by an evil detective and his shadowy accomplices.
In a "based
on a true story" movie, we see their car being sabotaged.
his DVD commentary, director Norman Jewison claims that these
incidents were described in Lazarus & the Hurricane.
The Canadians' only encounter with an American cop in the entire
book is excerpted below:
In the movie,
the Canadians are threatened by the evil detective. In their book
Lazarus & the Hurricane -- Sam, one of the Canadians,
nearly pees himself at the sight of a cop on the beat.
was just getting out of the vehicle, his gun prominently on display.
mumbled Sam. The ground seemed to sway underneath him and his heart
was in his mouth. He was certain that the old woman [they had tried
to question] had called the cops and that they were about to be
arrested.... They left [Paterson] unmolested, but it took Sam hours
to come down from the adrenalin rush.
Don't try this at home!
explain Carter's style based on his ethnic (?) background:
Rubin answered (the Canadians' questions) in a characteristically
roundabout, African way; he wrote in the same way he spoke....
decide that a teacher is prejudiced against a little girl. Here's
the evidence: (Dorothy's) teacher was African American,
very light-skinned, almost yellow, with freckles. Dorothy was very
dark-skinned. Her teacher had a low opinion of Dorothy's scholastic
Just a Cotton-Pickin' Minute
a letter Carter sent to the Canadians, which was quoted at length
in their book, Carter and his siblings were shipped down to Georgia
every summer vacation to work in the fields from sunrise to sundown,
picking cotton. But in his autobiography
The 16th Round, Carter says he never went to the Deep
South in his life 'til he joined the Army at 17. And even if Carter
had gone to Georgia during summer vacation, there would have been
no cotton to pick. According to the Georgia Cotton Commission, harvest
time for cotton is from September to December.
For an authentic
account of growing up poor and black in the cotton fields, read
John Lewis' book, Walking with the Wind.
the father of Lesra Martin, the African
American boy the Canadians "adopted," told the Canadians that he
(Earl Martin) was the lead singer for the Del Vikings. They believed
is nowhere listed in any biographies of the doo-wop singing group,
which is still in existence and still touring.
Note: some of
appeared in www.crimemagazine.com
the Canadians learn
what goes around, comes around
first met Carter in the pages of his autobiography, then wrote
to him in prison. They were excited about contacting a man who
was a living, breathing, symbol of Amerikkkan racist injustice,
and Carter didn't disappoint them. He spun them a tale about his
childhood days toiling in the hot Georgia cotton fields from sunrise
to nightfall. This set the tone for what was to follow -- the
Canadians opened their hearts and their wallets to the incarcerated
Carter. (See sidebar, Wait Just a Cotton-Pickin'
got a strange thrill out of Carter's "legendary" reputation
for being a scary dude: "He had only to open his mouth in
displeasure [in the prison] and the most drastic
things would ensue." Lisa in particular became obsessed
with the ex-boxer, spending all day on the phone talking with
How long did
it take before the Canadians noticed that Carter was, shall we
say, an inveterate storyteller? Carter claims to have been a political
activist who attracted the ire of
J. Edgar Hoover himself (hence the frame-up for murder). He
claims he marched in Washington in 1963 to hear Martin Luther
King and was invited to join the March
from Selma to Montgomery for Southern voting rights. Did the
Canadians notice that there is no evidence to back him up? Although
Carter has been the subject of four sympathetic books, not a single
quote, photo, or article has surfaced to indicate that he ever
spoke out on race relations, except for a frequently misquoted
remark in the Saturday
about going up to Harlem and shooting some cops.
Carterís claim (in The 16th Round
) that Arthur Dexter Bradley (of Dylan ballad fame), actually sent Carter a letter
in prison outlining the "how, what, and why of my being in jail,
and also reported the method that the state intended to use to
make sure I never got out again." At no time during the trials
and appeals was this written confession
of a police frame-up, from one of the witnesses supposedly
bribed for his testimony, presented to the courts. Did the
Canadians have the courage to ask Carter what became of this letter,
whose existence, if real, would have spared him twenty years in
It might have
been their convictions about the nobility of blacks and the venality
of whites that blinded them Carter's credibility
problems. That is, as long as the State of New Jersey and
the policemen, prosecutors and witnesses were the targets of his
fabricated accusations. In fact, they willingly joined in, shading
some facts, hiding others. In their book, they were contemptuous
about Det. DeSimone, Patty Valentine and the prosecution team.
But, after they succeeded in getting Carter out of prison, Carter
gave them the same treatment in the pages of his biography.
Too bad the Canadians, who are avid astrologers and casters of
the I Ching, didnít see the heartbreak that lay ahead of
goes around comes around
after Lazarus and the Hurricane was published, Carter left
the Canadian commune for good and hasnít looked back. In
Carterís 2000 biography, it was the Canadians who came under
attack. Carter told biographer James Hirsch the Canadians were
incapable of treating Carter like an equal. He felt like a "trophy
horse to fill their coffers," and he felt like they were his new
jailers. Furthermore, he charged, they were bigoted, smug homophobes
with disdain for almost everyone but themselves.
Suddenly, the Canadians were willing to acknowledge
that Carter was capable of a less than scrupulous adherence to
the truth: ``There are so many untruths in the book,'' one of
the Canadians sighed in an interview for the Toronto Star.
``This is not a pleasant thing to talk about. It's distasteful.''
In another interview, Sam Chaiton said, "All the allegations
and the accusations in that book are totally unfounded, and they
are totally outrageous, and we donít subscribe to them at all."
of the movie should have been the culmination of the Canadians'
efforts. Instead, their book and their story was overshadowed
by the release of Carter's new biography. As journalist Tom Cohen
reported for the Associated Press, "while the film is based on
Carter's jail house book The 16th Round and [the Canadian's
book] Lazarus and The Hurricane, Carter is promoting the
Hirsch book while ignoring the re-release of [Sam] Chaiton's account
written with Terry Swinton." The Hirsch book competed with the
Canadians' book in the marketplace, and to add injury to insult,
the Hirsch biography uses many anecdotes and incidents from the
And -- unkindest
cut of all -- Carter claims that Lisa, the Canadian he married,
tried to force him to get a vasectomy, which he refused, and that
he married her only to get legal residency in Canada.
Martin, the ghetto urchin they raised and home schooled so he
could have a better chance in life, became estranged from the
Canadians, reuniting with them only to promote the Lazarus
book. For many years, Martin and Carter didn't speak to each other,
The first police
report was drawn up the same day as the murders, before any
"frame-up" occurred, before any policeman had a chance to investigate
where Rubin Carter was and at what time. That report states
that the estimated time of the murders was 2:30 and the police were
notified by 2:34 p.m. Alibi
Carter testified that he gave a ride to Catherine McGuire and Anna
Mapes, then went back to the Nite Spot by 2:30. This is in his official
statement, given by his lawyer and in his trial testimony. In their
book, the Canadians uncover a taxi driver (who alas, won't come
forward) who says Carter was back at the Nite Spot when the shootings
took place. The Canadians are convinced the murders happened at
2:20 a.m. or earlier. So that means Carter gave the ladies a ride
home and was back at the Nite Spot by 2:20 a.m. or earlier. However,
that's not what he or the ladies said in court. Catherine McGuire
was certain of the time because she kept checking her watch, she
testified. (Bonus round: this whole debate is thoroughly
bogus, as Carter's alibi fell apart by the second trial. The prosecution
team obtained a letter, written by Carter, laying out the alibi
times and the details for his alibi witnesses. In the letter he
asks them to read it carefully and "remember." Another detail you
won't find in the Canadians' book.) Carter was seen at the Nite
Spot by Elwood Tuck, at 2:15 a.m. He has no reliable alibi until
2:40 a.m., which is when his car was pulled over for the first time
by Sergeant Capter. For more on alibis, see The
of the Canadians' investigative efforts played a role
in the final outcome [of Carter's legal battle]."
M. Steel, The Nation, January 3,2001
the "forged" time card
Canadians find "proof" that the evil detective forged
evidence to frame Rubin Carter for murder --
or did they?
In the movie,
a telephone record is forged by evil detective Della Pesca,
which alters the time of the call to the police, reporting
the murders, from 2:28 a.m. to 2:45 a.m., a 17 minute difference.
In their book, Lazarus and the Hurricane, the Canadians
state the original "call ticket" about the shooting was
marked 2:28 a.m. and the call ticket entered in court was
marked 2:35 a.m. -- a seven minute difference. The Canadians
suggest that the ticket must have been forged by Det. DeSimone
to mess up Carter's alibi. But they're grasping at straws.
one thing to say the police were sloppy. It's a serious charge
to say they were racist. It's also a serious charge to say they
deliberately falsified evidence. But that's the conclusion of
Linda Pitney, graphologist (handwriting analyst), as reported
in Lazarus and the Hurricane. She agreed that the call
ticket was forged by Vince DeSimone, the lead detective on the
case. But how reliable is her science? The evidence of the so-called
forged call ticket has never been presented in court.
The fine people at the BC Skeptics Association had this to say about
Ms. Pitney: "In 1988 [Linda Pitney] started out on a cross country
tour, stopping in just about every city [in Canada] with a radio
station to say she was going out to Vancouver to be tested by
the BC [British Columbia] Skeptics. After cashing in on the publicity
and initialling a protocol for an experiment presented to her
by Lee Moller and Dale Beyerstein, she returned to Toronto and
refused to do the test. This raises the question whether we should
continue to give publicity and credence to pseudoscientists by
offering to do controlled experiments."
analyze personality based on handwriting samples. Real forensic
handwriting experts don't call themselves graphologists.
the three kind, polite, patient Canadians start probing the
mystery, the movie veers dangerously close to Scooby Doo territory.
You half expect the rotten detective who framed the Hurricane,
played by Dan Hedaya, to shake his fist at them and say, 'I'd
have gotten away with it too, if it hadn't have been for you