It turns out a one-day hunger strike staged by protester James Russell was really just a contrived media stunt after all.

When the Toronto resident held a hunger strike at the Niagara Baptist Church Burial Ground in April, he locked a 10-pound gold chain to his wrist and secured it to the historic plaque on the site.

He vowed not to leave until the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake agreed to unearth 19 headstones believed to be buried on the property.

He told the media that only his wife had the combination to the lock.

However, it all appears to have been an elaborate stunt. 

Yvonne Bredow, who joined Russell at the cemetery that April night, said he had the combination the whole time and even unchained himself to sit in his car with her to warm up in the middle of the night.

She said he also went to the nearby Tim Hortons the next morning to get food.

The Lake Report repeatedly tried to reach Russell for comment on Bredow’s allegations but he did not respond in time for publication. 

He has refused to speak to this newspaper since shortly after his hunger strike when we published a story in which critics called his protest “misleading” and a “publicity stunt.

Bredow said when she heard the 76-year-old Russell had chained himself to the plaque, she felt she had to go and be with him so he wasn’t alone.

She also thought she was doing the right thing, she said.

And she wishes more people in town had supported her in 2020 when she staged a large Black Lives Matter rally after writing a front-page opinion piece in The Lake Report about racist attitudes in NOTL

However, what Russell did during his hunger strike didn’t sit well with her.

“I’m thinking, if this is what you’re doing on your hunger strike here, did you do it at all your other hunger strikes?” she said.

After that April protest, Russell said he would hold a large rally in June to force the town to uncover the buried headstones.

The June 18 rally attracted only a small group of supporters.

During the planning stages for the protest, a stage one archeological assessment was completed by the town and the resident-led committee working to restore the burial ground, the Friends of the Forgotten.

Bredow thought completion of the assessment was a good first step but she was never told it was finished.

“For me, not letting us know that the first step was completed is holding back information (and) holding back information is the same as lying to me,” she said.

She said she told Russell it takes time to implement change but he didn’t want to hear it.

Bredow said integrity and character are important to her and she felt he wasn’t being straight with the community.

“I feel like I got used as an in (to Niagara-on-the-Lake). And I didn’t like that feeling,” she said.

So she decided she didn’t want to be a part of Russell’s protest.

She said she supports the cause, which is unearthing the headstones, and would have backed him if he was honest and truthful.

“The way he went about it through lies and holding back information, and going against what he said he was going to do, which was the hunger strike and locking himself in, it just removed any credibility he had in my mind,” she said.

“If you don’t do something with a pure heart, and for the right intentions and tell the truth while you’re doing it, it can’t work.”

By Somer Slobodian, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jun 28, 2023 at 17:36

This item reprinted with permission from   The Lake Report   Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
Comments are Welcome - Leave a reply below - Posts are moderated

Comments are Welcome - Leave a reply below - Posts are moderated