On Political Economy; or, The Ballad of Viola Desmond


It's impossible proof! The ten-dollar

Bill sporting her face demonstrates "Crime pays":

But, first, the heroine has to holler;

She has to be jailed while ass-like Law brays—


Because she didn't pay the penny tax

Required to sit where Caucasian folks sit

In that segregated cinema. Blacks,

In 1946, were deemed unfit


To share the same seating at the Roseland

Theatre in New Glasgow, and were told,

"Some rows are 'Whites Only.'" Who could withstand?

Voila! Viola—worth her weight in gold.


Desmond was a beautician, but her Change

Wasn't cosmetic. She wouldn't give

Two cents to back racism. That was strange:

It wasn't how most "Coloureds" had to live.


So Nova Scotia swiftly saw her jailed,

Tried her, declared her Guilt: Not for breaking

Racist rules, but only because she failed

To pay one cent the Province was taking


To support 'Whites Only' rules a-plenty

(As if New Scotland were South Africa).

Viola, convicted, was fined twenty

Dollars. That's her beauty spot, I tell ya.


Her two cents made a real Difference, made

Change begin to happen, nine years before

Rosa Parks sparked the Civil Rights crusade

States-side, a century past Civil War....


As an entrepreneur, she sought Value

And Profit in Beauty, Sis Desmond did.

But she strove for Justice because it's true--

Beauty turns ugly where Justice is hid.


Her bill is "disappointingly smooth," eh?

One can't feel her scars, scrapes, and scabs, that she

Suffered to bring about a "better day,"

Whose dawn would usher in Equality.


Still, she's the first Canuck femme and person

Of colour, to see her face integrate

Canadian currency. Partisan

Of Justice, ponder her interest rate—


From two cents to ten dollars, an increase

Of 50,000%.  Also

Note her Royal Pardon:  Miracles ne’er cease!

Royal Mint is Viola Desmond now.



[“On Political Economy; or, The Ballad of Viola Desmond.”  Recited into the Parliamentary Hansard by Hon. Wanda Thomas Bernard, Senator.  Debates of the Senate.  1st Session, 42nd Parliament, 150. 103 (Wednesday, March 8, 2017):  2519-20.]