A Q&A on Exceptional Circumstances

A Q&A on Exceptional Circumstances

Posted on May 18 by James Bartleman
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Tell us a bit about your book.

Exceptional Circumstances, set in the late 1960s and early 1970s, is a story of love, espionage, and intrigue. Luc Cadotte, the metis protagonist from Penetanguishene, a small town on Georgian Bay, is at heart of decent person, someone the reader can bond with. He feels compassion for the poor but lets ambition to get the better of him.  He joins the prestigious Department of External Affairs and serves abroad in Colombia and Cuba as an undercover spy. He becomes the government’s expert in international terrorism and is a member of the team managing the FLQ crisis of October 1970.  He makes friends with one of Latin America’s most charismatic guerilla leaders but inadvertently betrays him to the notorious Colombian security authorities. He befriends a terrorist but delivers her to the Colombian secret police. He meets three women each of whom attract him for different reasons. In the end he does his best to set matters right.


That's quite a lot happening, is there an overarching theme that you aimed for? 

My book is more than a stand- alone adventure story.  It is also a metaphorical exploration of the post 9/11 and ISIS jihadist terrorist world of diminishing civil liberties – exemplified by the rush by the Canadian government of today’s rush to exploit public fears to give CSIS, RCMP and CSEC unaccountable powers to pry into the private lives of Canadians in Canada and to run paramilitary operations overseas hunting down suspected Canadian terrorists.

I felt compelled to write the novel when the minister of Public Safety sent letters to CSIS and the RCMP authorizing them to use in their work information derived from torture by notorious foreign security services. Even though use of information obtained through torture is contrary to Canadian  and international law, there was no outcry from a stampeded and uninformed public. I wanted to use a novel to promote public debate before it was too late. For that reason I included an extensive “Conversation with the Author” section at the back of book to probe the substantive issues.


How did you research Extraordinary Circumstances?

As a member of a Native community (Chippewas of Rama First Nation) I know the aboriginal world from the inside.  I served as a diplomat in Colombia and Cuba and am intimately familiar with conditions in those countries. I was also the Canadian government’s expert on international terrorism and a member of the task force managing the FLQ October crisis of 1970.


Where did the title Exceptional Circumstances come from?

It comes from the letters sent by the minister of Public Safety to the heads of the RCMP and CSIS.


Do you have a specific readership in mind?

Anyone who would like to dig deeper into the balance between the security of the state and civil liberties in an era of international terrorism.


What was your first novel?

I wrote a social justice novel called As Long as the Rivers Flow from point of view of a Native woman who is abused by a priest while attending residential school in northern Ontario. It has sold more than 15000 copies, been translated into French and put on the curriculum of high schools and universities.

James Bartleman

Posted by Dundurn Guest on December 6, 2014
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James Bartleman

James Bartleman is the former lieutenant governor of Ontario and the bestselling author of the novels As Long as the Rivers Flow and The Redemption of Oscar Wolf. A member of the Chippewas of Rama First Nation, he is also a retired ambassador, an officer of the Order of Canada, and winner of the Aboriginal Achievement Award. He lives in Perth, Ontario.