The 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 Hurricane


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.

In his DVD commentary, director Norman Jewison claims that these incidents were described in Lazarus & the Hurricane.

He's wrong. The Canadians' only encounter with an American cop in the entire book is excerpted below:

 Welcome to the USA

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.

An officer was just getting out of the vehicle, his gun prominently on display.

"Oh, shit!" 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.

 Who's Racist?
Don't try this at home!

The Canadians 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....

The Canadians 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 ability....

Wait Just a Cotton-Pickin' Minute

According to 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.

Earl Martin, 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 him.

"Earl Martin" is nowhere listed in any biographies of the doo-wop singing group, which is still in existence and still touring.

Note: some of this material
originally appeared in

Hurt by
the Hurricane
-- the Canadians learn
what goes around, comes around

The Canadians 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' Minute).

They also 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 him.

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 Evening Post about going up to Harlem and shooting some cops.

Then thereís 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 prison?

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 them.

What goes around comes around

Three years 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."

The release 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 Canadians' book.

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.

Even Lesra 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, either.

"[N]one of the Canadians' investigative efforts played a role in the final outcome [of Carter's legal battle]."
Lewis M. Steel, The Nation, January 3,2001

Red Herring:
the "forged" time card

The 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.

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 time: 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 cabdriver alibi.

Accusations of forgery: It's 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."

Graphologists analyze personality based on handwriting samples. Real forensic handwriting experts don't call themselves graphologists.

Come On, Gang!

"When 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 meddling kids.'"

-- Dallas Observer

[ The cabdriver alibi | Polara or Monaco | Carter's credibility ]

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