When a 22-year-old Japanese college student launched an online campaign against the powerful Tokyo Olympics chief and the sexist remarks he made, she was not sure it would go very far.
But in less than two weeks, Momoko Nojo’s #DontBeSilent campaign organized with other activists and gathered more than 150,000 signatures, galvanizing global outrage against Yoshiro Mori, the president of Tokyo 2020.
He quit last week and has been replaced by Seiko Hashimoto, a woman who has competed in seven Olympic Games.
The hashtag was coined in response to remarks by Mori, an octogenarian former prime minister, that women talk too much. Nojo used it on Twitter and other social media platforms to gather support for a petition calling for action against him.
“Few petitions have got 150,000 signatures before. I thought it was really great. People take this personally too, not seeing this as only Mori’s problem,” said a smiling Nojo in a Zoom interview.
Her activism, born from a year studying in Denmark, is the latest example of women outside mainstream politics in Japan taking to keyboards to bring social change in the world’s third-largest economy, where gender discrimination, pay gaps and stereotyping are rampant.
‘Good opportunity to push for gender equality in Japan’
“It made me realize that this is a good opportunity to push for gender equality in Japan,” said Nojo, a fourth-year economics student at Keio University in Tokyo.
She said her activism was motivated by questions she has often heard from male peers like, “You’re a girl, so you have to go to a high school that has pretty school uniforms, don’t you?” or “Even if you don’t have a job after graduating from college, you can be a housewife, no?”
Nojo started her nonprofit “NO YOUTH NO JAPAN” in 2019, while she was in Denmark, where she saw how the country chose Mette Frederiksen, a woman in her early forties, as prime minister.
The time in Denmark, she said, made her realize how much Japanese politics was dominated by older men.
Keiko Ikeda, a professor of education at Hokkaido University, said it was important for young, worldly people to raise their voice in Japan, where decisions tend to be made by a uniform group of like-minded people. But change will come agonizingly slowly, she said.
“If you have a homogeneous group, it’s impossibly difficult to move the compass because the people in it don’t realize it when their decision is off-centre,” Ikeda said.
Proposal dismissed as PR stunt
Nojo dismissed a proposal this week by Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party to allow more women in meetings, but only as silent observers, as a poorly-executed PR stunt.
“I’m not sure if they have the willingness to fundamentally improve the gender issue,” she said, adding that the party needed to have more women in key posts, rather than having them as observers.
In reality, Nojo’s win is only a small step in a long fight.
Japan is ranked 121st out of 153 countries on the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Index — the worst ranking among advanced countries — scoring poorly on women’s economic participation and political empowerment.
Activists and many ordinary women say drastic change is needed in the workplace, and in politics.
“In Japan, when there’s an issue related to gender equality, not many voices are heard, and even if there are some voices to improve the situation, they run out of steam and nothing changes,” Nojo said.
“I don’t want our next generation to spend their time over this issue.”
The International Olympic Committee may have set into motion a series of events to help convince Japanese organizers it would be best to delay the Tokyo Games by one year.
“Given the subtleties and the coy nature of the IOC, I wouldn’t put it past them to have planted some seeds in order to create this wave,” Michael Naraine, an assistant professor with Brock University’s department of sport management, said Tuesday.
On Sunday morning the IOC said postponing the 2020 Olympics was a realistic possibility due to health concerns due to COVID-19. In a statement, IOC president Thomas Bach said a final decision would come in four weeks but cancellation “is not on our agenda.”
By Sunday evening the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) and Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC) said say they wouldn’t send athletes in Tokyo unless the Games were postponed for a year. On Monday Australia became the second nation to formally announce its athletes would stay home.
WATCH | Canadian IOC member discusses Tokyo 2020 postponement:
Canadian IOC member Dick Pound tells the CBC the Tokyo 2020 postponement will have a big impact on the international sports calendar. 8:50
Dick Pound, a Canadian member of the IOC, said reading between the lines Bach was sending a message.
“In IOC speak, if you’ve been around long enough to know what that is,” he said. “They leave all options open like most politicians. But basically, you’re not going to cancel . . . so the P word is suddenly out there.
“By the time the COC, to take that as an example, made their decision they already knew the IOC had effectively pulled the trigger. So, it was easier for them than it would have been if that hadn’t happened.”
A Canadian Olympic Committee spokesman said in an email the COC did not know in advance of releasing its statement the IOC was postponing the Games.
IOC says Tokyo Olympics must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021. 3:16
Pound said the IOC was concerned over the growing infection rates of the coronavirus. The IOC had been working with the World Health Organization (WHO) to convince Japanese organizers delaying the Games was the right decision.
“What was important was to build a relationship between the WHO and the Japanese,” Pound said. “It has not always been an easy relationship to maintain. It (was) important to get the Japanese to understand this was a realistic possibility.”
Naraine said having the Tokyo organizing committee on board with the decision was important so the IOC couldn’t be accused of breaching its contract.
“At the end of the day, this was a decision about money, about the IOC making sure that they will not be liable for damage to the organizing committee,” he said. “And that they were able to maintain the relationship they have with their broadcasters and their top sponsors.”
WATCH | Canadian athletes weigh in on postponement:
Now that the IOC has pushed the start of the Games, athletes took to social media to respond 1:00
The decision by the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) to follow Canada’s lead was interesting, said Naraine.
John Coates is the AOC president. He is also the head of the IOC’s Coordination Commission for the Tokyo Games and a close ally of Bach.
“John Coates would not let the Australian Olympic Committee come out with a statement like that if they didn’t already know that this was the directive coming from the IOC,” Naraine said.
Not having countries compete at the Games made Japanese organizers realize they would have an inferior product.
“So now the IOC is able to go back and negotiate with the organizing committee and say, ‘let’s mutually agree to postpone, therefore no one is liable for damages,'” he said.
Pound said it was a difficult decision for the Tokyo organizers.
“I think they had more skin in the game,” he said. “They’ve been preparing for a decade and investing heavily in all this. I think they are more concerned with the matter of face than perhaps other cultures would be.
“That said, they’re not stupid and they’re not unmindful of what’s going on all around.”
As Canada grapples with its first cases of a new strain of coronavirus that has infected thousands of people in China, officials at one Toronto-area hospital say it is well prepared to deal with the prospect of an outbreak.
That’s because North York’s Humber River Hospital was designed and built just after the SARS outbreak of 2002-2003 — and designers learned many lessons from that ordeal, hospital president and CEO Barbara Collins told CBC News.
“We are so much more prepared this time,” she said.
SARS, a strain of coronavirus that spread through much of the world in the early 2000s, killed hundreds of people, including 44 in Canada, and sickened thousands more.
That’s why the hospital’s designers concentrated on pandemic and hazmat situations when working out plans for the building in 2005. Construction started in 2010, and the hospital opened in 2015.
The innovations start in Humber River’s ambulance garage, which can hold up to eight vehicles at a time.
At first glance, it seems like a pretty average concrete structure. But the garage can also be quickly turned into a pandemic centre in cases of mass emergency, Collins said — though health officials are not expecting such a scenario from this strain of coronavirus.
The garage is outfitted for showers, if needed, and also boasts water containment units underneath the floor, so that potentially contaminated wastewater is kept away from the rest of the hospital’s water system.
Right off the hospital’s garage is another area that staffers have dubbed the “hazmat room.” It too contains a shower, and it has no soft surfaces like a mattress or bedding, making it easier to clean and disinfect.
It’s in that room, away from the general hospital population, that properly outfitted nurses and doctors with disposable gowns, and masks with plastic eye shields can examine a patient, take their history and assess their symptoms.
If it’s decided that a patient is showing symptoms of something like coronavirus, that person can then be taken directly into what’s called a “negative pressure room.”
Negative pressure rooms help contain the spread of infection, said Humber River Hospital’s chief of staff Dr. Michael Gardam.
“What it means is that the air is actually flowing in from the hallway. So if I was in here coughing, none of my germs are going to get out there, because the air is blowing [inside],” he told CBC News.
Staffers are able to set up 85 of the hospital’s rooms this way, he said.
“The other thing is it has a very high number of air exchanges — typically at least 20. So if there is any virus in the air, it’s being whisked out of the room.”
It’s easy to hear the whir of fans when standing in the middle of one of these rooms. The outgoing air is being sent right out to the roof, Gardam said.
Collins also says Humber is the only hospital in North America that boasts almost entirely fresh air, with no recirculating air or rebreathing (inhaling previously exhaled air or gases) outside of these rooms.
“So the air that might have a contaminant in it stays within [the] room, where people are properly dressed and properly garbed to protect themselves,” she said.
The hospital is also set up to allow for patients that don’t come in by ambulance. If someone was to show up at Humber’s triage area, the first staffer they speak to is behind a screen, Collins said. Any staffers who are out in the actual triage area would also wear a mask and protective goggles.
“We recognized the trials and tribulations during SARS, and we designed a facility that very much can manage that,” she said.
1 confirmed case in Canada, 2 others ‘presumptive’
So far, three cases of the new strain of coronavirus have been reported in Canada. A Toronto man in his 50s was infected during a trip to Wuhan, China. His wife is also presumed to be infected, while another presumed case was reported in British Columbia on Tuesday.
The cases are officially considered “presumptive” until Winnipeg’s National Microbiology Lab confirms the results.
Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer, said Monday that the “vast majority” of the 19 people tested were in hospital under “appropriate” isolation measures.
The official number of confirmed coronavirus cases in China rose to 4,515 on Tuesday, with at least 106 deaths. Several governments — including in the United States, France, Belgium, the U.K. and Japan — are planning to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan, the locked-down city at the centre of the outbreak.
Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said Tuesday the Canadian government will provide consular services to all Canadians trapped in the coronavirus-affected region of China due to commercial travel restrictions.
Interpol issued a wanted notice Thursday for former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn, who jumped bail in Japan and fled to Lebanon rather than face trial on financial misconduct charges, in a dramatic escape that has confounded and embarrassed authorities.
Lebanese Justice Minister Albert Serhan told The Associated Press in an interview that the Red Notice for the ex-automotive titan was received earlier in the day by the prosecution. Red Notices are requests to law enforcement agencies worldwide that they locate and provisionally arrest a wanted fugitive.
Serhan said the Lebanese prosecution “will carry out its duties,” suggesting for the first time that Ghosn may be brought in for questioning, but also said Lebanon and Japan don’t have an extradition treaty, ruling out the possibility that Beirut would hand Ghosn over to Japan.
The Interpol notice is the latest twist in Ghosn’s daring escape, which spanned three continents and involved private planes, multiple passports and international intrigue. Turkey made several arrests Thursday as part of an investigation into how he passed through the country.
Ghosn skipped bail and fled before his trial on financial misconduct charges. He issued a statement Thursday that said his family didn’t play a role in his escape.
“There has been speculation in the media that my wife Carole and other members of my family played a role in my departure from Japan. All such speculation is inaccurate and false,” the statement read.
“I alone arranged for my departure. My family had no role whatsoever.”
Ghosn, who is Lebanese and also holds French and Brazilian passports, was set to go on trial in Japan in April. He arrived in Lebanon on Monday via Turkey and hasn’t been seen in public since.
In a statement released Tuesday, Ghosn said he left for Lebanon because he thought the Japanese judicial system was unjust, and he wanted to avoid “political persecution.” He said he would talk to reporters next week.
A Japanese court had granted him bail — despite prosecutors fighting against it — with conditions he be monitored and could not meet with his wife, who is currently in Lebanon, according to media reports. The court previously allowed them to speak by video calls.
Ghosn’s $ 14-million US bail, which he posted on two separate instances to get out of detention, is being revoked.
A hero in Lebanon
Ghosn, who grew up in Beirut and frequently visited, is a national hero to many in this Mediterranean country. He has close ties to senior politicians and business stakes in a number of companies. People take special pride in the auto industry executive, who is credited with leading a spectacular turnaround at Nissan beginning in the late 1990s and rescuing the automaker from near-bankruptcy.
Even as he fell from grace internationally, politicians across the board mobilized in his defence after his arrest in Japan in November 2018, with some suggesting his detention may be part of a political or business-motivated conspiracy. Lebanon’s foreign minister repeatedly called for his release.
Serhan said prosecutors will summon Ghosn and listen to him, and “at a later stage if there are any measures to be taken, then the precautionary measures will be taken.”
“We are a country of law and respect the law and … I can confirm that the Lebanese state will implement the law,” the justice minister said.
At the same time, Serhan said that Lebanon has not received an official extradition request from Japan, and he noted that the two countries do not have an extradition treaty.
“Mr. Ghosn arrived to Lebanon as any ordinary citizen.… Lebanese authorities have no security or judiciary charges against him. He entered the border like any other Lebanese using a legal passport,” he added.
Turkey detains 7 as part of investigation
Earlier Thursday, Turkish police detained seven people — including four pilots — in an investigation into how Ghosn transited through Istanbul en route to Lebanon after fleeing Japan, a police spokesperson told Reuters.
The spokesperson said the other detainees were two airport ground workers and one cargo worker and all seven were expected to give statements before a court on Thursday.
Media reports said Turkey’s Interior Ministry had begun an investigation into Ghosn’s transit.
It is unclear how Ghosn avoided the tight surveillance he was under in Japan and showed up in Lebanon. Ghosn’s lawyers in Japan said they had no knowledge of the escape, and they had all his passports. Ghosn has French, Lebanese and Brazilian citizenship.
However, Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported Thursday that authorities allowed Ghosn to carry a spare French passport in a locked case while out on bail, shedding some light on how he managed his escape to Lebanon.
A plane carrying Ghosn arrived at 5:30 am local time Monday at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, Turkish news website Hurriyet reported, adding that prosecutors ordered the arrests after widening their investigation.
Flight tracking data from that time suggests that Ghosn used two different planes to fly into Istanbul and then on to Lebanon.
Hurriyet, citing an interior ministry official, said Turkish border police were not notified about Ghosn’s arrival, and neither his entry nor exit were registered.
The businessman was smuggled out of Tokyo by a private security company days ago, the culmination of a plan that was crafted over three months, Reuters has reported.
The Lebanese minister for presidential affairs, Selim Jreissati, told the An-Nahar newspaper that Ghosn entered legally at the airport with a French passport and Lebanese ID.
Japanese prosecutors raid Tokyo home
Japanese prosecutors on Thursday raided Ghosn’s Tokyo home, but prosecutors and police did not immediately comment as government offices in Japan are closed this week for the New Year’s holidays.
Japanese media showed investigators entering the home, which was Ghosn’s third residence in Tokyo since he was first arrested a year ago. Authorities have now searched each one.
Ghosn, who was charged in Japan with underreporting his future compensation and breach of trust, has repeatedly asserted his innocence, saying authorities trumped up charges to prevent a possible fuller merger between Nissan Motor Co. and alliance partner Renault SA.
In Beirut’s affluent residential neighbourhood of Ashrafieh, several security guards stood outside Ghosn’s rose-coloured mansion Thursday along with about two dozen journalists. Since news of his arrival, journalists, including many from the Japanese media, have flocked outside the building, trying to capture any proof of his presence.
At one point, a Lebanese lawyer who said he worked for Nissan appeared, claiming the building belonged to the auto company, not to Ghosn.
One of Ghosn’s neighbours, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they are “split as to whether they are with or against his return.”
Pete Frates, a former college baseball player whose determined battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease helped inspire the ALS ice bucket challenge that has raised more than $ 200 million US worldwide, died Monday. He was 34.
Frates died peacefully, surrounded by his family, they said in a statement.
“A natural born leader and the ultimate teammate, Pete was a role model for all, especially young athletes, who looked up to him for his bravery and unwavering positive spirit in the face of adversity,” the family said. “He was a noble fighter who inspired us all to use our talents and strengths in the service of others.”
The ice bucket challenge began in 2014 when pro golfer Chris Kennedy challenged his wife’s cousin Jeanette Senerchia, whose husband has ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease after the New York Yankees great who suffered from it.
ALS patient Pat Quinn, of Yonkers, N.Y., picked up on it and started its spread, but when Frates and his family got involved, the phenomenon exploded on social media.
The process was simple: Take a bucket of ice water, dump it over your head, post a video on social media and challenge others to do the same or make a donation to charity. Most people did both.
Thousands of people participated, including celebrities, sports stars and politicians — even Donald Trump before his election, and cartoon character Homer Simpson. Online videos were viewed millions of times.
“The ALS ice bucket challenge represents all that’s great about this country — it’s about fun, friends, family, and it makes a difference to all of us living with ALS,” Frates said at the time.
‘The man upstairs has a plan for me’
The challenge has raised about $ 220 million worldwide, including $ 115 million alone for the Washington-based ALS Association.
“Pete Frates changed the trajectory of ALS forever and showed the world how to live with a fatal disease,” the group said in an email. “He inspired everyone he met, and his efforts to lead the ice bucket challenge had a significant impact on the search for treatments and a cure for ALS.”
Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or motor neuron disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that leads to paralysis due to the death of motor neurons in the spinal cord and brain. There is no known cure.
Frates, a native of Beverly in the Boston suburbs, was a three-sport athlete at St. John’s Prep in nearby Danvers. He went on to play baseball at Boston College. He played professionally in Germany after graduation and in amateur leagues upon his return to the U.S.
He was playing for the Lexington Blue Sox in 2011 when he got hit on the wrist by a pitch and noticed that it wasn’t healing properly. After months of testing, Frates was diagnosed with ALS in 2012.
“The man upstairs has a plan for me,” he told the Salem News in 2012. “I’m not having too many issues with this, mentally. This is the hand I’ve been dealt and I’ve made my peace with it. There are people out there that don’t have my support system or my advantages, and I want to help them.”
Helped research around world
As the disease progressed, he became paralyzed and had to use a wheelchair, lost the ability to talk and had to be fed through a tube.
With the help of funds raised by the ice bucket challenge, significant investments in research on the causes of and potential treatments for ALS have been made. Dozens of research institutions around the world have benefited from the money raised.
The ALS Association said it used to spend about $ 4–$ 6 million US per year on research, but that has grown to $ 17–$ 19 million US per year since the ice bucket challenge exploded.
The challenge has also been used to raise awareness for other charitable causes.
Frates’ father, John, said targeted research led to advances in treating other diseases.
“When I was a young kid, we were worried about polio. When Magic Johnson got AIDS, it was a death sentence. If we get money flowing into ALS, things will get better,” he told the Salem News. “Hopefully, Pete can be that spokesman that sparks that.”
MLB announces charity auction
The death was announced just hours after Major League Baseball displayed Frates’ BC baseball cap at a news conference to announce a charity auction to benefit ALS research. ESPN announcer Jon Sciambi said Nancy and John Frates wanted to be at the winter meetings in San Diego for the announcement but stayed home to take care of Pete.
“Pete continues to fight strong and inspire everyone today,” Sciambi said. “I wish Pete could be here — and, Pete, if you’re watching, we love you. Keep fighting, pal.”
Baseball commissioner Robert Manfred Jr. called Frates an inspiration.
“The courage and determination of Pete Frates inspired countless people throughout the game he loved and around the world,” Manfred said. “He galvanized ALS awareness for a new generation and honoured the memory of a fellow ballplayer, Lou Gehrig.”
Frates maintained close ties to his alma mater. The school will name a new 31,000-square-foot baseball and softball training centre scheduled to open next summer the Pete Frates Center.
Frates is survived by his wife, Julie; daughter Lucy; parents John and Nancy; and siblings Andrew and Jennifer.
A funeral mass will be held Friday at St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish, next to the Boston College campus. The family also plans a celebration of his life closer to their home at a later date.
As the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo nears the one-year mark, one of the Canadian scientists who helped design a vaccine for the deadly disease says there isn’t enough of the precious preventive tool.
In 2016, the drugmaker Merck, which manufactures the vaccine, entered into an agreement with the Vaccine Alliance in Geneva to maintain a stockpile of 300,000 doses in case of an outbreak.
But “300,000 doses is not enough anymore,” said microbiologist and researcher Gary Kobinger, who has been tracking the outbreak from the Centre for Research in Infectious Diseases at Laval University in Quebec City.
“You would need to reach a million, if not two million [people].
“You cannot just offer it and say, ‘That’s it, we’re done, we don’t have anything anymore.’ You need to make sure you have enough to cover 100 per cent of the people if 100 per cent of the people ask for it.”
Merck confirmed Friday that it met with the World Health Organization and the Vaccine Alliance in June to discuss supply concerns.
Merck spokesperson Skip Irvine said the company decided to nearly triple the stockpile within the next 18 months.
“We’ve amplified our commitment now to this greater number of around 850,000 [doses],” said Irvine.
He said they arrived at the figure after consultations with WHO, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and “other interested parties as to what they believe will be needed in the event that the outbreak continues.”
Irvine said Merck has another 250,000 doses ready to ship.
Outbreak began in August 2018
Congo’s health ministry first declared the new outbreak on Aug. 1, 2018. WHO reports nearly 147,000 people have received the vaccine since then. But demand is high and growing as health workers try to treat those who have come into contact with people who have been infected.
The rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine was partially developed by a team in the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg and showed promising results when it was used in 2015, during the largest Ebola outbreak in history in West Africa. The vaccine is now manufactured by Merck and takes nearly a year to produce.
Ebola is highly infectious. To contain it, health workers use a ring vaccination method. First they vaccinate the immediate circle — those who had direct contact with an infected person. Then they move out, offering the vaccine to everyone in contact with those in the first ring.
Trish Newport, a nurse with Doctors Without Borders who hails from Whitehorse and is currently based in Geneva, said medical professionals “don’t see the outbreak diminishing at all.”
“We see still these high numbers of cases every week. And so with every new case, you have another ring, you have more people to vaccinate.”
Newport witnessed the demand for the vaccine firsthand when she worked in Butembo, the epicentre of the outbreak.
“It’s clear that we need to have more vaccine and those 300,000 doses are being used very quickly,” she said. “It’s such a great, huge tool, and I can’t imagine the outbreak if we didn’t have it. So it’s scary to think about what happens if we run out of it.”
Supply not the only problem
According to the World Health Organization, nearly 2,400 people have been infected and more than 1,600 have died from the hemorrhagic fever in Congo. There are new worries it could spread into neighbouring countries, after an infected woman arrived near the Ugandan and South Sudanese border last week.
The woman travelled more than 460 kilometresfrom her hometown of Beni, Congo, to the busy border hub. Upon falling ill, she disclosed that her children had all recently succumbed to Ebola. She then died herself in what’s called the Ariwara Health Zone, which shares a border with Uganda’s Arua district.
A supply of the vaccine isn’t the only problem health workers face. Lack of trust in the region has been a big issue, Newport said. The area was rocked by ethnic violence in December when the United Nations said at least 890 people were killed over a three-day period.
Newport said that violence has hindered trust between foreign health workers and the local population, and made it difficult to get complete lists of who infected people have come into contact with.
“Can you imagine? You don’t trust the government. You have a history of massacres and you don’t necessarily know who was responsible,” Newport said.
“Then you get sick with Ebola and either someone from the government or someone from a foreign organization comes to you and they say, ‘Everyone that is really close to you in your life, I’m going to make a list so I can follow them closely,”‘ Newport said. “I understand completely why they wouldn’t give me that list.”
Newport said in the last week, 40 per cent of the new confirmed cases were not listed as having had any contact with known cases of Ebola.
“This is extremely extremely concerning, because it means that there are cases that are not being identified,” Newport said. “It’s one of my most serious concerns, because it means there can be a spread of the disease. It means it can go across provinces, across health zones, even across country borders.”
He said about 72 per cent of the population needs to be immunized to block the spread of the infectious disease.
“You can have a vaccine that is 100 per cent effective, but if you only vaccinate 10 per cent of the population that is susceptible to get the disease … you cannot expect the vaccine to have a strong impact.”
While Allied troops were still preparing for one of the largest military operations in history, a 20-year-old woman parachuted into occupied France under the cover of darkness — and injured her back and shoulder.
It was a flawed rendition of the four practice jumps Sonya d’Artois (originally Butt) had under her belt before undertaking the riskiest assignment of her life.
But given the rumours she’d heard about others being shot or captured the moment they landed, her jump on May 29, 1944 — nine days before D-Day — was still a success.
D’Artois’s assignment as a secret agent behind those lines was never going to be easy: there were setbacks, mishaps and near misses that nearly cost her life.
But her subsequent accomplishments in helping the French resistance sabotage German efforts, along with the clandestine work of hundreds of other female agents, helped the Allied forces make their the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944, and ultimately win the Second World War.
CBC special live coverage:
“Never before had so many women been so closely involved in one of the great operations of a major war,” said British historian Marcus Binney, author or The Women Who Lived For Danger: The Women Agents of S.O.E. in the Second World War.
“Their support for the D-Day landings, in advance of them and after them, was enormous, and was recognized by [Dwight] Eisenhower, by [Winston] Churchill — by everybody.”
‘Set Europe ablaze’
D’Artois was one of 3,000 secret warrior women of Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE), founded in 1940 at Churchill’s request.
The organization, which also employed thousands of men, including many Canadians, was intended, in Churchill’s words, to quietly “set Europe ablaze.”
At 19, D’Artois was one of the youngest recruits, but she ticked many boxes: she was fluent in French, fit and willing to take risks.
By evading capture and ultimately surviving the war — eventually growing into old age as a Canadian mother and then grandmother — d’Artois had displayed inordinate skill and determination.
They are traits that d’Artois displayed early in life.
After her parents separated, d’Artois lived with her mother in southern France.
When the war erupted, she was a teenager and alone at school while her mother happened to be visiting the U.K. She had no passport or money, and yet she made her way alone across an international border all the way to the U.K.
Reinventing her story
When she returned to France a few years later as a British agent, she once again had to improvise when the container carrying her clothing was discovered by a German patrol in the Le Mans area, likely alerting them to the arrival of a female agent.
She had to reinvent her story — which had her working in the couture business and visiting from Paris.
“We decided once they knew there was a woman there, she’d probably be hiding,” she said in an interview for a documentary back in 2002.
“So we tried to fool them by not hiding.”
That meant she would frequent black market restaurants and socialize with German soldiers. All the while, the rest of the time, she was co-ordinating ambushes against them.
She was among several examples of women who proved that they were better suited than men for the task of clandestinely operating inside enemy territory.
“If you were in occupied France and you were a young man, they’d say, ‘Why aren’t you doing your military service, why aren’t you doing work service in Germany?’ ” said Binney.
“Women could travel more freely and they could be couriers. They could be radio officers or indeed weapons officers.
“They were very courageous.”
At one time or another in 1944, D’Artois wore all those hats.
Trained at the SOE as an explosives expert, she would prove an effective instructor for French resistance fighters on the ins and outs of destroying rail lines and communications lines. She also covered countless kilometres on bicycle as a courier, recruiter, co-ordinator and intelligence gatherer.
“This was the job that we were there to do,” she said in the 2002 documentary Behind Enemy Lines: The Real Charlotte Grays.
“We knew the reason for it. It was to harass the Germans and break up their lines of communication and troop movement. Just obstruct them as much as possible.”
Her code name was Agent Blanche (or sometimes, Madeleine), but her fake papers identified her as Suzanne Bonvie.
More than once, she would have to run a gauntlet of German checkpoints, hoping they weren’t on to her.
Once, she said in one interview, she narrowly escaped an assassination attempt meant specifically for her when she decided to avoid a resistance meeting — purely on instinct.
She also once dropped her purse, which contained a pistol, on the floor of one of the restaurants she frequented, risking blowing her cover.
In the chaos of liberation in 1944, she and a colleague, Sydney Hudson, were shot at, and while he was shot in the shoulder, she escaped unscathed — though her jacket was riddled with bullets.
“I never saw her not have a cool head,” Hudson, who was her team leader in France, said in the 2002 documentary.
“Whatever the situation was, she remained perfectly calm.”
As a young woman, “she was a rabble rouser,” Nadya Murdoch, d’Artois’s daughter, said in an interview in Montreal.
“She liked to get into trouble and she did all sorts of things with her brother that got her into trouble.”
She learned how to handle explosives. She learned how to make bombs. She learned how to blow up bridges.– Nadya Murdoch
But in extensive and arduous training in the U.K., where she was treated no differently than the men, she matured quickly, said Murdoch.
“She learned how to handle explosives. She learned how to make bombs. She learned how to blow up bridges. She learned how to pick a lock. She learned how to attack somebody. She learned how to do silent killing.…
“She learned a lot.”
Falling in love
It was also during training in early 1944 that she met Guy d’Artois, a French-Canadian member of the SOE.
Both had decided to specialize in explosives. They were then paired up to go on a mission together and soon became inseparable. They had fallen in love.
They decided to get married just before being deployed to France.
“Then they separated us, we couldn’t go on the same mission,” d’Artois said in that 2002 interview.
Superiors were concerned they would be liable to spill secrets if one of them was captured and tortured in front of the other. So they were deployed to different parts of France hundreds of kilometres apart.
They each did their part preparing for D-Day. In preparation for her mission, d’Artois was issued with a pistol and a suicide pill. She landed in France nine days before D-Day — exactly two weeks after her 20th birthday.
‘Quite a lot of damage’
When the parachutes started raining down on Normandy, d’Artois stepped up her team’s efforts to sabotage German efforts to move towards Allied troops.
“Because we knew the Allies had landed, we had a lot more confidence to do what we had to do. It was open warfare and we managed to do quite a lot of damage.”
D’Artois was lucky to avoid capture — unlike some of her colleagues who were imprisoned and killed.
When American soldiers came in as liberators in August 1944, she was taken away to have her head shaved to mark her as a collaborator — until her colleagues intervened and vouched for her identity as a British agent.
It would be several more months before she would be reunited with her husband Guy in France.
After the war, they moved to Canada and after relocating repeatedly to follow her husband’s military career, they settled with their family in Montreal. She preferred to stay out of the limelight, out of deference for her husband, who served with the Royal 22nd Regiment, and was a decorated war hero in his own right.
Little did many know she had been made a member of the Order of the British Empire for her contributions to the war effort.
Seventy-five years after she jumped into France, she’s remembered on the beaches where all those young men landed in her footsteps.
Some of her belongings, including a compact and a cigarette case, are included in a special exhibition, Great Women During the War 1939-1945, at the Juno Beach Centre, developed by the Canadian War Museum, about women who participated in the war.
Both she and her husband Guy have passed away — Sonya d’Artois died in Montreal in 2014 at age of 90.
But members of their family, including Murdoch, have come to Juno Beach from Canada to revive their memory.
D’Artois is depicted as a daring, gutsy agent, but is known to her family only as a loving mother and grandmother.
She was “very humble and just soft and gentle,” said granddaughter Michaela d’Artois, 28. “And I think that’s really beautiful to be both: To be very strong and brave. But the most brave thing is to be gentle and soft”
Murdoch said of her parents: “Their courage and their bravery was pretty incredible.”