Canadian Racism On Trial

fingers-pointed-at-the-different-one

Because I’m a black man who isn’t living under a rock I’ve been forced to think a lot about racism lately. Most days I feel relatively lucky to live in Canada where cops don’t regularly shoot unarmed folks who look like me, or anyone else, for that matter. A year ago, we turfed our former Prime Minister, whose dalliance with race-baiting chauvinism cost him the election.

That said, every time an unarmed black man gets shot in the US my social media newsfeeds are littered with articles posted by Canadian white guys, almost always Baby Boomers, flatly denying the possibility race had any part to play in the incident. They unwittingly re-post videos and “news” clips fashioned by media organizations they may not realize are fronts for white supremacist groups or organizations funded for the specific aim of racism-denial.

These folks should be deeply concerned they are in league with avowed racists. They would be appalled to learn they are instrumental in the propaganda campaign waged to taint the backgrounds of the deceased and sustain the narrative that black men deserve to die in the street because they are thugs. Even if Canadian whites are unaware the messages they champion are crafted by racist organizations, the very idea they watched a video or read an article compiled by a white supremacist and said “Yeah!” should give them reason to pause for self-reflection.

carla-williams-scooped-up-and-sent-to-denmark

Carla Williams, “scooped up” from her parents as a child and shipped off to “more suitable” parents in the Netherlands.

Crimes committed by individuals whose parents are from a Muslim country are immediately touted as “Islamic terrorist” events by the media. Such a rendering by what is supposed to be an authoritative source of information makes it easy for many white folks to adopt this narrative as truth. For the next several days moderate Muslims are forced to unleash a media and PR campaign to appease suspicions that all Muslims are terrorists in waiting. Whenever these attacks happen my newsfeeds are festooned with bogeyman caricatures far too many sub-urban white North Americans believe reveal something axiomatic about all Muslims.
These narratives randomly pilfer the last fifteen years of world history to not so subtly suggest all the responsibility for the violence in the world rests at the feet of Islamic terror organizations and Muslims alike. In so doing, they have conveniently forgotten the centuries of history right up to the present, or the proxy wars in the decades during the Cold War. They missed the memo about the warplanes and bombs we and our allies have dropped all over the world.

Here is the bad news: people die when the high-tech fighter jets and cruise missiles, which are the toys we Western folks fight with, deliver their mega-tonnes of explosive ordinance. Women. Children. Arabs. Muslims. Human beings. Dead. At the hands of “Christian bombs” if you will. Death can’t be stopped where bombs are concerned. I am not arguing here about the foreign policy merits of these actions. I am arguing the belief that only Muslims have killed people in the last fifteen years is absolutely ridiculous.

ms-st-louis

The MS St Louis arrived at a Canadian port of call in 1939 with 908 Jewish passengers fleeing the Holocaust. They were denied entry, sent back to Europe and, it was later learned, a quarter of them died in German death camps during World War II.

Every time a Canadian news agency publishes reports on crimes involving blacks or Aboriginals, after about two hours they have to close the comment threads. Some news organizations have simply stopped allowing comments on these stories. Why would that be, one wonders? Here’s a hint, it’s not because their servers are overwhelmed by shows of support from sympathetic trolls.

But our cops are not shooting blacks. We’ve been relatively nice to immigrants of colour since we began letting them in about twenty five years ago. This followed a period of racist immigration legislation that allowed only Western European immigration. Muslims who wear the hijab haven’t been harassed or subjected to random attacks like they have in the US. We let in 30,000 Syrian refugees, which is a drop in the hat given the four and a half million languishing throughout Europe and the Middle East. We don’t have cretins like Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen in our mainstream politics. All true. So, racism isn’t a problem in Canada.

Bullshit.

Let us not forget, our Prime Minister did try his hand at bigotry in the last election. He knew that would play with a large segment of Canadian society, just like he knew his snitch line for “barbaric cultural practices” (code for “living like a Muslim” ) would be a hit with the same segment. Thankfully, it was not a large enough segment – just. During that same election, the campaign signs of candidates with Muslim-sounding names were defaced in one of the WASPiest communities in Southern Ontario.

More recently, a leadership candidate in the same party of the ousted Prime Minister posited a solution to appease what she accepts at face value are rational fears of would-be immigrants. Smart folks aren’t supposed to be inclined to this sort of rhetoric, but she is a medical doctor. The intelligence required of her profession makes her race-baiting a little more difficult to dismiss. When uttered from a person of her stature the air of legitimacy is cast upon what is clearly a racist idea, and bigotry becomes normalized.

The good doctor has written a prescription to rid Canada of “undesirable” immigrants: she proposes they pass a “values test” – whatever that is. Surely she should have run some more tests of her own, in particular to identify the underlying causes of this widespread illness for which “fear of others who don’t look like us” is a symptom. I think she would find a case of mass hysteria and would do better to hand out buckets of Ativan to calm everyone  down.

komogata-maru-arrivals

In 1914, the SS Komagata Maru landed arrived on the west coast of Canada carrying 376 passengers, all British subjects from India of Sikh, Hindu, and Muslim backgrounds. Of these, 26 were allowed to enter Canada and the others were sent back. They were treated by the British as political agitators upon arrival back in India and arrested for the entirety of the First World War. Canada has officially apologized for this incident.

Canadians are a little too quick to blow their wads while mentally masturbating to the image of our post-racial Shangri-La. This delusional narrative is so easily maintained when we have countless vulgar, crass Archie Bunkers to the south to wield as our benchmark. Certainly, we have never had characters like Donald Trump gaining much political traction. Our political class hasn’t fashioned countless racist dog-whistles to divide disenfranchised whites from blacks and passed them off as legitimate political discourse. But why should the country where so many wish to simply forget slavery ever existed be heralded as the Canadian standard?

We dress our racism up a little nicer because our establishment, which is still one hundred per cent white, are the progeny of the tee-totallers across the pond. England was far more refined in institutionalizing racism. They had an aristocracy and class system that is only now loosening its ability to determine social outcomes. They shipped soldiers to loot the planet for Mother England in far-flung places like the near east and south Asia, wielded their guns at the brown, black, and Asian mobs for centuries, and plundered the lands of their tin, rubber, spices, gold, lumber, and free labour. They banned slavery because they didn’t need it; they had naval fleets who could subjugate the dark hordes and noble savages without having to cart them like chattel back to England. There wouldn’t have been the room to put them up, anyway.

We Canadian colonial upstarts tore a page right out of the English playbook. We didn’t proceed like the Americans: gunning down, marching, and starving the Indigenous people to kill them off and steal their land. Instead, we sent them off to reserves in the middle of nowhere – where it was easy to forget about them – and launched a campaign of cultural genocide upon their young’uns. Those are not my words, but that of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which studied the issue of Residential Schools. One assumes that this solution seemed like a perfectly legitimate, naturally laudable, resolutely Canadian passive-aggressive way of rooting out the “Indian problem.”

In Canada there are First Nations reserves that have not had running water for twenty years. Many others living on reserves have to boil their water most of the year. We are only now learning more of the sordid details of another systematized attempt to eradicate Indigenous people by way of the “Sixties scoop.” Beginning in the 1960s and continuing on through the nineteen eighties indigenous children were seized by government social workers from their “unfit” biological parents and placed in foster or adoptive homes of whites who, one presumes, were obviously fit because they were white. In recent revelations, we have learned some of the “scooped up” indigenous children were sent to adoptive parents in the United States and Europe, and that some of these parents paid fees to adoption agencies. It was effectively the Canadian government trafficking in indigenous children to offset the costs of social welfare.

chinese-head-tax-receipt

Through the 1880s thousands of Chinese labourers were brought from China to construct the Canadian Pacific Railway. They were paid a third of what their co-workers were paid, and when the job was done, the Canadian government ensured they would not stay by imposing a head tax to immigrate, which they couldn’t pay because they were paid exploitation wages. A formal Canadian apology and redress for survivors was made in 2006.

We did not teach several generations of Canadians – mine included – a goddamned thing about any of this treatment of indigenous people. I can see why. It’s a bloody national disgrace. When my child was seven, he had already learned more about this country’s indigenous peoples than I or the generations before did in our entire public school tenure. He shakes his head at the truculence of my generation and those before in resisting genuine measures to remedy decades upon decades of tacit wrong-doing.

These shameful tales are the putrefying cherry on top of a festering bowl of racist history, Canadian-style. Historical incidents like the Komagata Maru, the Chinese head tax imposed to bar the Chinese labourers who built this country’s most vital engine of economic growth – the Canadian Pacific Railroad – and the lowest acceptance of Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust of any nation in the world, are tragic examples in the sordid legacy of Canada’s racism.

As a black man I can attest to countless hurtful experiences of overt racism directed at me because of my skin colour, especially in my youth, when I was emotionally ill-equipped to deal with them. Every once in a while something happens to dredge up these experiences and it is leaving a bad taste in my mouth. Lately, it isn’t the incidents happening in the United States picking at the wounds. These are terrible events to witness, but they do not speak directly to racism in the Canadian context. Obviously, this has tempted countless white people here to dismiss the racial antecedents of these tragic events. It is that tendency, and the way it is enacted, which does speak to racism in this country.

This deplorable phenomenon has re-opened some of  my own racial wounds, especially in the past two years. I have been subjected to an unceasing campaign of denial of the role race played in countless media stories of the day where non-white “others” are victims of crime. Such strident denials without having any apprehension of facts points to the bigotry within anyone who touts them, whether they are aware of this or not. The sharing of racist media publications veers very close to propagating hate speech. Anyone engaged in it should consider that.

The articles suggesting the unarmed black men gunned down by police in the US deserved to die, which some of my white social media friends have been posting on their pages, incite hostility and violence toward me in their excusing of that conduct. In so doing, they perpetuate the idea that I and those who look like me are incessant thugs, a stance which is deeply offensive. It is irrelevant if that is not what was intended. It is the consequence. People should consider that possibility before they share fake media stories about racially-charged events, lest they be mistaken for a racist.

I understand many people who aren’t minorities do not see the racism in their views or remarks; many don’t intend to espouse racism. For many of these folks, I believe their desire to not intentionally spread bigotry is genuine. I grew up a white guy with a black man’s skin. I know exactly how it is. When I was a kid, I went out for Hallowe’en in black face, for crying out loud!

This Western culture of ours, for a long, long time has incessantly touted itself as superior to everyone and everything else in the world. This isn’t to suggest we’re the only ones hailing our exceptionalism. Tribalism, pride, and vainglory are the most irresistible of human frailties. But I didn’t live in those other places, and can’t comment on how they executed their brand of chauvinism. I am only experienced in the dodgy end of white, Western bigotry. What I saw was how we lampoon and demean other races and creeds for the sheer fact of their difference alone. Most often, the sub-text is that otherness in itself is something to be feared and derided; it is never to be taken simply as a sociological fact, it is always in need of our judgment as to the degree of its implied inferiority.

This is why, if you are a white person living in a Western country, and genuinely desire not to be a racist, when a minority tells you something is racist, don’t argue that point as if you could possibly know what you’re talking about. Just listen. If it’s your words or deeds, stop being so defensive, own up, and say you’re sorry. To point it out isn’t to posit myself as a paragon of morality; I am no less likely to possess my culture’s chauvinist, oppressive biases than anyone else. It isn’t to suggest white folks are the spawn of Satan. It is merely to suggest the obvious; that white people can, at times, say or do something that is racist without realizing it because they’ve never really had to endure it – not in this society. They grew up in the dominant group.

The way many other race-baiting ideas are casually shared by some makes it obvious that a certain segment of white folks simply don’t give a shit because, let’s face it, they’re among the dominant group, right? These are the unabashed bigots who are tired of the political correctness police; they don’t want to have to stop and think about what they say or do in respect of those who are different. They don’t want to be called out for blurting out bigoted comments that spring into their mind. It’s too tiring to have to care about that; the others should adapt to our ways because they’re better anyway. If minorities don’t like it they can go back to where they came from. Fair enough, but I was born here, as were many black, brown, and other folk. HERE is where we came from.

To the regular Joes who are unabashed bigots I suggest that, since the option of deporting minorities or harassing them until they leave isn’t going to bear fruit, your energy is best directed at finding the real source of the insecurity and fear beneath your racism, and deal with that. Here’s a hint: the filthy rich, corporate guys in suits. They are messing with your mind.

On the one hand, they tell the regular Joes they are all entitled to the American Dream embodied in the wealth and privilege they and their corporate buddies enjoy, while on the other, they are doing everything behind closed doors to stack the system against Joe’s efforts to do just that. Instead, they reap all the spoils and point the finger at the minorities, the socialists, or the Muslims when Joe is struggling in the system they created to screw everyone except themselves. Racism is just another oligarch’s ploy to have Joe steeped in fear so his eyes are off a ball he never gets to touch, which helps Joe to buy into the lie that the game isn’t rigged. He’s been duped by his so-called white brethren.

Because the charlatans who have you hoodwinked are white like you, the fables they tell about how the black, brown, and heathen hordes have their hands in your pockets – how it is their presence which threatens your way of life – are impossible to resist. There is no pagan idol better than xenophobia and racism to keep the corporate courtesans enriched and empowered to everyone else’s detriment. With the serfs divided, fighting among themselves, fighting foreign ghosts, fighting everything but the system created to completely disempower them, the aristocrats are free to plunder from the coffers of the white tribe indefinitely.

The whole thing is sad and infuriating. It is the elephant between the lines that few are willing to acknowledge exists as the sub-text to many political divides in my country. It does temper my optimism for the future; makes me a little less inclined to believe my efforts to succeed will bear fruit in a society where pointless, atavistic, disenfranchising racism abounds. Such is the psychological torment systemic racism inflicts. It is hard for some minorities attuned to this ugly facet of their existential reality, to “pull up their socks” when, confronted with a racial slur here or a racially-motivated roadblock there, it seems like so many are intent on pulling them down.

There is plenty of evidence to disabuse anyone of the idea there is cause to celebrate Canada’s post-racial social order; that we’ve ascended the heights of a racially harmonious Pollyanna. The xenophobic, bigoted articles written by and posted by white Canadians on my social media feeds, the continued indifference to the plight of indigenous Canadians – despite all we now know about their lot – and the earnest propagation of racist dog-whistles by educated, well-esteemed white Canadians gives the lie to any claim this country is without a racism problem.

The one positive light going forward is that the bulk of those who champion the chauvinist ideas endemic in Western culture, the ones that fuel full-fledged racism, are a dying breed. These ideas, even if still prevalent, are not the only ideas the youth in our culture have been exposed to. Because they are fortunate to live in a world where technology gives them access to a plurality of ideas, they are less likely to be so strongly conditioned to racism, at least in its Western form, which gives me hope.

My wish would be that this problem fizzles out with those who were responsible for further instilling, or doing nothing to deter, these racial toxins in our culture; that those among my generation who continue to wave that flag will soon be outnumbered and marginalized by the more open-minded among the generations below. One can dare to dream. That said, we mustn’t rest on our laurels because too much damage has already been done, and we need to start healing ourselves of our racism now, so there are no more victims.

secret-path-gord-downie-cover-art

This is the cover art for Secret Path, a project by Tragically Hip front man Gord Downie. It is a multi-media telling of the true story of Chanie Wenjack, a twelve-year old boy who died in 1966 while trying to walk home from the residential school to the home he had been snatched from 400 miles away.

Bu-Bye Harper, From a Beleaguered Civil Servant

(Written in November 2015)

Lord Harper, er Vader, and PMO minions

Ousted PM Harper and a couple of big-headed, small-minded minions from the PMO trailing behind.

Canadians from all corners of this vast country voted last fall to oust Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and gave the Liberal Party of Canada and Justin Trudeau a clear mandate to govern. The election results included a large swath of votes that went to the New Democratic Party and Green parties, and clearly signaled a widespread desire for government to play an active role in bettering the lives of Canadians. For many years we watched Harper and his clowns publicly engage in projectile vomiting toward the bureaucracy; we saw him toss a steady-stream of scapegoats under the bus to titillate the spectators of their three-ring circus who came with a blood-lust.

There isn’t much room for interpretation of those fall election results. It is a clear repudiation of the angry, divisive style and tone of the former Prime Minister. It was a rejection of his empty platform – if banning burqas and rallies with Rob Ford are rightly called parts of a ‘platform.’ Canadians demanded a plan that was more specific than “tax cuts” which, in Harper’s final term of office, seemed to fuel the belief he had a free hand to do anything he pleased so long as he cut a per cent off the GST – proroguing parliament three times, introducing bills amending twenty-six pieces of legislation without study by committee, passing unconstitutional laws, firing scientists from the bureaucracy for discussing science, and so on, and so on. Maybe Canadians want to pay less tax, but they also want a government to outline its agenda and be transparent in its actions; they want to be given something by which an informed decision about whether to give them a mandate can be made.

I say that not as a partisan, but as a civil servant who, like the vast majority of my public-sector peers, have made a career implementing the laws, plans, and priorities of government, hopefully for the betterment of the lives of Canadians. I don’t think it would surprise anyone to hear a public servant suggest that, under the tutelage of the former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the last several years were totally demoralizing. It wasn’t just the cuts to thousands of colleagues, it was vitriolic way by which the public service as a whole was slandered to justify the deed; a mode of attack sustained well after the slashing had been done. It revealed the Harper Conservatives not as good governors or earnest policy-makers but as petty, vindictive human beings.

PM Trudeau - aka The Count of Monte Cristo

The man who saved the citizens of Canada from the evil reign of Lord Vader, the Count of Monte Cristo, er, I mean Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau

The relationship between the elected government of the day and the Canadian public service is grounded in the Westminster system of government inherited from our great- great- grandparents in the United Kingdom. In this model, there is a clear separation from the Prime Minister and Cabinet on one side, and the non-partisan government Ministries that administer the laws, regulations, policies, and plans attached to each of the portfolios of the Cabinet on the other.

The Cabinet Minister with portfolio is politically accountable for the activities of his Ministry. However, the person responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Ministry is the Deputy Minister. The relationship is much like that of a Chief Executive Officer and a Chief Operating Officer in a large, publicly-traded company. The former is accountable to outside stakeholders, the latter is responsible to run the place and keep the CEO informed.

Under this arrangement, Cabinet ministers are not expected to be expert in their portfolios. As avatars of the will of the people they are there to provide clear mandates to the Deputy Ministers (DM) who must implement the plans of government. As elected officials, it is the Minister’s job to engage stakeholder citizens to canvass their issues and incorporate them into directives their DMs must achieve in operating the department. It is also the role of the elected Minister to remain abreast of the progress of his Ministry in effecting the agenda, and to communicate progress to the stakeholders.

The role of the Deputy Minister and the bureaucracy is to take what can be very broad, vague instructions of their Minister and, as experts in the area, find effective ways to implement these plans with the resources provided to do so. Sometimes that means recommending new laws or policy to ensure that plans are undertaken in a fair and procedurally transparent fashion. Determining the best way to execute an idea or plan is a process, but relies on the expertise and resources of the public service to carry those plans through effectively.

On paper, it seems so simple. Except, imagine how hard it must be for a newly-elected Minister who was a pig farmer by vocation to suddenly find himself politically responsible for the day-to-day operations of a department like Foreign Affairs. The urge to interfere and micromanage to allay anxieties about being politically accountable for something way beyond your grasp is understandably strong. The new Minister doesn’t know his DM, the Ministry, or the Public Service from a hole in the side of his barn.

This is why the bonds of trust and respect between the elected government of the day and the Public Service is essential right at the outset. For the Prime Minister and Cabinet, this is where Deputy Ministers (and the Privy Council Office) make their bread. They are accustomed to working with people who do not know their portfolios in depth and they have dozens, hundreds, or thousands of public servants in their Ministries to do the necessary work in rolling out plans, monitoring progress, and reporting on accountabilities.

There is a reason Canada is a relatively centrist, middling country whose progress tends to be slow but steady. The day-to-day functioning of government Ministries is mandated by the laws of Parliament and as such cannot be subjected to political whimsy or interference. If that happens, then laws become meaningless paeans to corruption. At the same time, ideas that express the desires of the people, even if whimsical for their lack of specificity, cannot be flatly dismissed by stolid bureaucracies. That is why there needs to be mutual respect, discussion, and trust between the sides. They may start at opposite ends of how ideas translate into programs and policy and must, from there, arrive at a measure of what can feasibly be accomplished.

This is why the public service must not be partisan. It is expected to give the best advice possible no matter who is in power. Certainly, public servants have political views – they are citizens – however they take their cues from the will of democracy as exemplified in the elected government and focus their efforts on gaining expertise in the machinery of government. This allows Deputy Ministers to provide the most candid advice without taint of political machinations.

It is clear, the former government of Prime Minister Harper did very little to respect the Westminster model of government – either on the political side where he prorogued Parliament, introduced omnibus bills and the like – or in respect of the bureaucracy, which he politicized to a degree unprecedented in recent Canadian history. He took the premise of prioritizing government austerity and transformed it into a campaign to discredit and impugn the integrity of the public service in the eyes of the Canadian public. In dismissing the competence of the public service outright and attempting to reach far into the day-to-day functions of the Ministries he also undermined the very essence of a functioning government which relies on a partnership of elected ministers and a non-partisan bureaucracy.

For the most part, I dismissed Harper’s electioneering as the necessary bluster of politics. It was meant to give the public something of putative substance to spice up the most unimaginative political platform for a nation imaginable: “tax relief.” In my mind, that was a clever evasion; a bit of mental laziness for failing to outline one’s policy choices. It still shocks me that Canadians or any citizen of a democracy falls for such nonsense, but such is the tenor of the times. If Canadians wanted to believe that public servants are demons, fair enough, but no rational group of elected officials given a mandate to actually govern could possibly have believed that nonsense, I reasoned. How truly wrong I was.

In the beginning, Harper slashed and razed publicly funded programs like the Court Challenges Program on strident, ideological grounds and justified it by saying the electorate had given him carte blanche to cut as he saw fit. Toward the end of PM Harper’s reign, the PMO went rogue all over the public service, truly believing their own fabulist tales about how bureaucrats were devoid of competence or irrelevant to running a government. The Globe and Mail story about how the PMO requested refugee files of fleeing Syrian migrants to do their own audit of the immigration department’s file management was the most insidious reflection of this. What expertise lay in the PMO that would have outflanked that of seasoned bureaucrats whose careers had been spent assessing immigration and refugee applications? What kind of audit could a non-experienced political staffer have done that would have been qualitatively better than, say, one done by a senior executive within the immigration department?

I have to confess in the end, I took much of this very personally as a public servant because of the systematic attacks we were all subjected to for so many years. To this day, the mere utterance of the name Tony Clement makes me want to drive my fist into the nearest wall imagining his smug, self-satisfied, corrupt face as a target. But then I was heartened to have such strange bedfellows in my career woes: Harper’s most prominent Cabinet ministers began to drop off like flies before the last election. Backbench MPs were kicked out of caucus, senior Cabinet members were muzzled, party discipline turned grown adults into cheerleaders for Harper’s cynical agenda. I barely knew the names of a vast majority of Conservative MPs or Cabinet ministers until the press releases announced their departures. ‘Ah, so that’s who the so-and-so Minister was. Good to know,’ I found myself saying repeatedly.

Tony Clement his PMO minion and bureaucrat

Tony (Jabba the Hutt) Clement, his little minion/lackey, and a hapless bureaucrat enslaved for calling in sick one too many times for Jabba’s liking.

It became clear, the former PM believed he needed neither a public service nor an effective Cabinet and party caucus to govern this country. In retrospect, it is harrowing to think that the Conservative Party was so totally emasculated that it could do nothing to protest such iron-fisted rule, or rein in unilateral decisions that everyone in caucus must have known would be wildly unpopular with the electorate. It makes me shudder for Canadian democracy to think how close we were to having elected a dictator.

In any case, from the perspective of a public servant, Harper’s reign is so tragically peculiar. It is unbecoming of a man of Stephen Harper’s obvious intelligence and genuine desire to serve the public interest to have harboured such clear delusions about what could be achieved all on his own; to think he didn’t need a civil service to implement his plans. Not only is it idiotic but it is petty to the extreme. I think there are lessons in this for any party leader. His legacy is the cautionary tale of what happens when over-wrought ego and hubris combine not only to rob a party of its moral tether but to deprive a nation of a well-functioning government.

I make these points not in the interests of supporting a particular party, so much as to offer a lone voice from the public service to counter the repeated sermons demonizing civil servants Canadians heard from the bully pulpit of the previous government. I am also speaking out as just one of the thousands of public servants who get up every day and try their hardest to do their jobs to the best of their ability with the tools – and the orders – given them. Imagine going to work at your company and everyday seeing your boss on television or in the papers disparaging you, suggesting you’re over paid, under-worked, incompetent, undeserving, entitled, expendable, and mostly unnecessary. And then imagine that boss coming to you every day with a new plan, priority, or mandate and castigating you publicly for being unable to steer a teetering ship in seventeen different directions. Imagine.

In the end, Canadians were able to see through the vitriol and to the character and integrity of a man so easily capable of lobbing such relentless invective at the very people he needs to help him govern. I am glad collective wisdom prevailed. Not only has it maintained my faith in my fellow citizens, but so too has it restored my faith in democracy and re-invigorated my desire to serve the public.

Despite the number of Canadians who voted against the message of negativity in our Canadian election, there is still a sizeable element of the Canadian public who still lack faith in the integrity of the public service, who seem to doubt on a fundamental level the utility in spending a dime on public services. The former PM and a few of his ministers focused much of their effort on painting a picture of federal public servants as abusers of certain entitlements such as sick pay. They felt so strongly about the issue they fed the Canadian public misinformation about the cost and nature of sick leave in the public service. They passed legislation to impose a new sick-leave regime which violates the collective bargaining rights enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I would ask, what are citizens supposed to take away about their rights as employees across all sectors if its own federal public servants and their employer, the Government of Canada, are flouting the constitutional foundations of Canada’s labour laws?

Trudeau-Brazeau

Then-MP Trudeau rightly pointing out the douchey speedo worn by the Conservative Senator. The skinny guy won the boxing match, the speedo can never be un-seen, regrettably.

At some point this type of dialogue simply marks those who utter it as stupid, ignorant assholes. I don’t know why, but it is conservative ideologues in Canada and the US that seem to monopolize these ranks. To be blunt, this isn’t conservatism at all; it is libertarianism, the right side of a continuum that ends in anarchism on the left. David Hume, Edmund Burke or Michael Oakeshott would recognize nothing in the movements passing themselves off as conservatism these days. The political discourse their proponents tout resembles a bowel movement, rather than a legitimate body of political thought.

In any case, many so-called conservatives tout specific policy priorities that only governments can implement, which makes their avowed desire to see the death of government through tax starvation really peculiar. For example, conservatives typically view military intervention as the preferred stand-in for real diplomacy in foreign relations. Person for person, the military is the most expensive of government operations a nation undertakes – each soldier comes with a huge price-tag in training and equipment that consumes tax revenue far more rapidly than other programs. To the degree right-wing ideology informs an over-reliance on military solutions, it posits a far more profligate use of the public purse than any number of items on a typical socialist agenda.

After the 2008 housing and financial sector crash, what would the US economy look like today if there were no government to intervene? That bailout was tax money, in case anyone was wondering. It’s interesting, when the government expenditures benefit corporate interests the reliance on such schemes upon buckets of tax revenue, or their deprivation of the public purse with preferential tax policies, which is effectively a tax subsidy, are completely downplayed. Make no mistake, these rely upon a government that collects taxes; in some cases lots of taxes.

Suffice it to say there will never be a state of affairs where a government collects little or no taxes and is then able to respond to the needs of its citizens with effective policies; yes, even if “conservatives” are elected. So, this line of rhetoric about zero taxes and the perfunctory role of government should no longer gain any traction politically. Taken to the extreme it benefits only those who would see our democratic nations turned into Corporations which are, by virtue of their purely economic nature, primarily fascist organizations. Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, and Pinochet are what happens when oligarch industrialists, teeming with ennui at the mere monopolization of a nation’s wealth, aspire to monopolize the political power as well; their zeal for propagating  disenfranchisement as they fatten their wallets knows no bounds.

Given that reality, Canadians are best served by parties offering something other than business priorities or tax policy; who do not tout cynical notions that undermine democracy and care little for social goods like education or health care. Citizens are best served by plugging their ears to demagogues who spew old albatrosses about “evil government” and “lazy public servants” as institutions that aren’t worth sustaining with tax revenue. It’s a great song and dance, but if taxes are cut the services and the government go with them. I shouldn’t have to spell that out, but there are throngs of people who support perpetual tax cuts without thinking about what will step in to deliver public goods – Corporations. It is a clever, elegant delusion which, if it continues to be believed, will destroy the foundation that makes Canada a global economic and political leader – an educated, healthy, and well-governed society.

I take the 2015 federal election as a clear sign Canadians want to get back to reality. We can’t deny the nation-building role of government – hospitals, schools, universities – these were planned, built, and continue to be operated by government. Those who say they don’t want to pay taxes are essentially saying they are in favour of letting the schools, hospitals, police detachments, and universities crumble. Any party that pretends to offer “savings” by gutting the ability of a government to deliver on its mandate, and slanders their key partners in governing – the public service – should be chased off the political stage as the disingenuous frauds and hucksters they are. They are selling snake oil to gain power.

I say that as a citizen foremost, and as a public servant eager for a government who proceeds with a vision and a plan to make Canadian lives better. I am glad last fall most Canadians put their votes toward parties that decided to run on actual policy issues. In order for the Westminster model to work as intended, it needs elected officials with a clear mandate who are eager to work with their mandarins to implement their priorities. The Westminster model needs elected officials who believe the reason they stood for office is to actually govern the nation.

Trudeau and Pandas

Let’s get some pandas, some bamboo, some civil servants and do this governing thing gangsta-style.

To Prime Minister Trudeau I say my colleagues and I are here with knowledge, experience, and eagerness to work as partners with the government of the day to implement its plans. I say the same to the next Prime Minister, be it yourself or another. We are here to serve our fellow citizens because that is what we do – we work for Canadians. True enough, we are less able to massage hollow partisan agendas into workable laws and real policy because, in their contempt for reality, they don’t translate into feasible, measurable results. We have dedicated our careers to advising elected officials in how to turn lofty political ideas into practical, executable plans. Now that the politicking is over, let’s rise above the platitudes to rouse a political base, dispense with scape-goating the public sector to feed the knuckle-draggers, and collaborate to effect real, meaningful changes to better the lives of Canadians. That is why we both sought to be where we are, after all.

 

Words Fly Up, Thoughts Remain Below

Janus-FaceIn my first few years of university I was a business major and had plans to become a wealthy debutante, or something of that ilk. I was academically gifted and came of age in the eighties, when the foundations of the unabashed materialism we take for granted today were first laid out. In my first year of business school, the student council had t-shirts made with “GREED” strewn across the front, in large block letters. On the back of the t-shirt was the remainder of Gordon Gecko’s notorious speech from the movie Wall Street.

We proudly wore our obnoxious t-shirts each day for the first weeks of that semester. We were smug and self-assured for a bunch of twenty year-olds who had achieved nothing in our own right to warrant such bluster. We were cashing-in early on what we expected would be the glory achieved in the years ahead. With youthful zeal we goaded and pissed off social work majors, feminists, sociology professors, and everyone else who had come to university for an education. Eventually the Dean of business got squeamish when news of our antics spread beyond the faculty walls and sparked criticism the school was cultivating a bunch of insensitive money-grubbing jerks. He suggested the shirts be worn at the country club only, and not on campus.

In my second year of business school I decided to take a political science course for my Arts elective. I was exposed to the writings of Rousseau and others of the French Enlightenment. Most importantly, I was introduced to the act of political and philosophical thought. I read Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality in one sitting, from evening until the next morning. I did not fully grasp what I had read, but the concepts I was exposed to resonated with me deeply, despite my intellectually un-curious upbringing. Rousseau’s Discourse still profoundly shapes my thinking on the subject of inequality, an issue more relevant today than it was in 1992 when I first read it.

I had been raised in a fairly secular materialist family of corporate executives and merchants. Politically, people in my family were die-hard conservatives. The political “discussion” – if it can be so-called – was a mix of sermons against the Liberal government of the seventies and included corporate fatwas issued by my CEO grandfather against every union in existence. These were phlegmatic spectacles where cauldrons of vitriol simmered, fuelled by gallons of the left-wing lunacy that seized my working-class town at the time. At no time did the political discourse attain the loftiness of Rousseau’s line “man is born free and everywhere he is in chains.” The oratory from my grandfather was more of the variety “those goddamned union thugs are gonna be the death of me, Jackie”

Without any thought to the consequences, I transferred out of business school and became a political theory student the following year. I dug into Plato, Aristotle, Burke, Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and all the prognosticators of secular, magical thinking we call “ideology” these days. I fancied myself an urbane young gentleman, as all of us philosophical types did. The idea of wealth acquisition seemed a quaint, trivial pursuit and was quickly dismissed for loftier aims.

Deep down, I knew my destiny was that of low-paid, academic vagabond living a nomadic, hand to mouth existence, leaving in my wake flowery philosophical tracts nobody could really understand. But I and other humanities-loving romantics seized our generational rite-of-passage as young-uns with the right prescriptions to save the world from the blight left by the generations before. We strutted  with an air of superiority to the ingrate business and engineering students willing to squander their youth in boredom to acquire marketable skills. What a bunch of Philistine losers for choosing a life of wage-slavery to corporate masters, so it went.

As an earnest political philosophy undergrad oodles of the post-modern jargon cascaded from my mouth. Had I not denounced religion as the opiate of the masses, I’m certain my friends would have thought I’d become a Seventh Day Adventist and was speaking in tongues. But I was enamoured by the prospect of something as simple as a word to encompass such elegant, noble ideas so succinctly. I remembered my pre-Enlightenment years, when I was a “Philistine business student,” how the word “Greed” had been wielded as the blunt instrument to profess ill-will and launch polemic; how it simultaneously asserted a misanthrope’s worldview as it kicked others to the curb.

As a budding philosopher, I was exposed to words brimming with intellectual heft, but which also lent an air of gravitas to the ego uttering them. I grew to love big, conceptually-rich words that left others clueless in their wake. Foucault, Derrida, Lacan, and Merleau-Ponty were masters of pretentious word-porn that got me off again and again. My idelogical zeal was a reflection of my relief to have been liberated from the stultifying prison of early indoctrination at the family dinner table. Those wily Frenchmen had a flair for rhetorical embellishment, and the rest of us passed it off as a systematic philosophy.

Fast forward twenty years later. Life did its thing: it buried my insufferable ego under mounds of humble-pie. I messed up so many of the things that really mattered, despite how clever, loquacious, and learned I thought myself to be. All that learning and education was so bereft of practical wisdom when it came to the real-world problems in my own life, and was totally irrelevant to the lives of others I encountered in my career in law enforcement. It makes me realize I invested much too heavily in the hype – the corporate hype, the left-wing intellectual hype, the ideological hype.

I understand how exposure to ideas can expand a mind – so long as the mind is inclined to remain open through that process. However, what I’ve learned in spiritually unraveling my ego for the past near decade is the peculiar cultural tendency in our mode of discourse to use ideas to close a mind rather than to open it. I grant there are remnants of Nietzsche and the French post-modernists in this observation. However my ideas about this depart from Western critics by the insight that the foundational cultural bias, which posits mind and body as separate spheres of our humanity, is as much responsible for our susceptibility to dogma as our belief in “rationalism.” All our Western critical movements – Marxism, feminism, post-modernism – blossom from minds rooted in the same ego-obsessed gardens as the Canons they criticize.

These inclinations have combined to make us more certain of the truths generated in our rationalizing minds than, say, from our intuition or inherent wisdom about the realities before us; bellwethers which can only be found by looking into our bodies. When it comes time to solve vexing problems, the habit is to foreclose access to these other parts of ourselves to gauge the options we are considering. We look to that so-called rational mind alone, without seeing how ideologically tainted, and emotionally-charged our perception of things has become. Our belief-systems are a balm for deep-seated emotional ailments, which is fine if you’re debating at the dinner table. However, to the extent they render us susceptible to wholesale distortions of reality – which they inevitably must – they can spell disaster. Real-world problems call for a mind that perceives reality with the wide-open lens of wisdom rather than through the blinkers of dogma.

In no arena is this psychic danger more evident than that of politics. There’s an election in my country right now. A man with a graduate degree from one of this country’s leading universities is trying to keep his job as Prime Minister by race-baiting, fear-mongering, and attacking rivals as gutter-mates with disenfranchised segments of our society – drug-addicts and sex workers. He has implied his political rival is a “brothel-operator,” which may score with people whose lives happily avoid that seedy reality, but it does so by directing scorn toward the socially and economically marginalized citizens whose lack of choices  pushes them into sex work. Suggesting a rival isn’t fit to hold office because he’s a “druggie” seems to condemn the millions of people among us struggling with substance abuse and addiction.

No political candidate in a developed nation should affix himself to such tactics in his campaign; no man should vie as leader of a democratic, pluralistic nation who holds such open contempt for such large segments of the citizenry he deigns to govern. I suspect his “rational mind” is incapable of seeing the implications of his tactics in quite these terms, because his mind is locked in its ideological prison. In this, he would be no different than many who engage in politics; who believe stridency is the prime virtue, and dread accusations of “flip-flopping” in their views when realities change, or when their ignorance about an issue decreases. 

I want to flatly condemn the purveyors of such tactics, but I can’t. I lampooned the opposing philosophical extremes of my youth to show how fully I can relate to the lure of ideology and its propensity to stir adherents to polemics. I am aware of how our political affinities endow us with feelings of heightened intelligence and superiority in respect of those with opposing views. Such distortions heighten our sense of self-regard and justify provocative behaviours that de-humanize for political advantage those outside the narrow bounds of our rhetorical interests. Since we are righteous, we can do no wrong, so the thinking goes. One cannot make an omelette without breaking some eggs. And so on, and so on.

I understand how easily hooked a man is to the ideological bait cast in front of him at an age when he’s accomplished nothing in his life and is desperate for the golden egg to make his mark. That is when most of us first put on these ill-fitting ideological clothes to help us through the confusion, doubt, and anxieties about the unknowns that lie ahead. The delusion of certitude ideology provides not only allays our fears but rationalizes whatever ethical shortcuts we deem necessary to achieve our objectives.

The divisive tactics in today’s politics wouldn’t be used if they weren’t so appealing to those impulses. I am not willing to condemn so many fellow citizens for succumbing to those habits and fears, because I have been there myself. Certainly, it is troubling how few political actors seem willing to exercise more self-reflection about their conduct; to make efforts to curb their ideological excesses. I feel compassion and sadness for the genuine fear and insecurity that propels this behaviour, and wish we were less inclined to search out and extol political remedies for crises in the psychological health of the collective mind. 

It is clear to me the people who cross the line of decency in their discourse – oddly, it always seems to be those on the political right – are beset by emotions that compel them to cling to abject, ignorant ideas to alleviate feelings of insecurity. It is heartbreaking to witness successful, highly achieved, and otherwise intelligent adults so caught in the throes of such deep-seated emotional affliction. How else could they see no wrong in lying, in wilfully distorting facts, or in slandering and scapegoating swaths of their fellow citizens to win an election? It is so far beneath the privilege of being elected to serve one’s people.

My advice, having suffered the pitfalls of ardent ideological affliction myself, is to examine the fear that stirs belief in nonsensical, delusional hype. The process of de-programming the mind from its faith in the unqualified truth of such ideas – elegant and soothing as they may seem – is a greater source of wisdom than the straw man of ideology could ever be. Ideology taints the heart and renders the mind, possessed of infinite capacities when we are born, as small as the books and rhetoric that enclose it with fear. It makes us ignorant to the extent of cruelty in the politically-charged words we cavalierly fling in the air, and oblivious to the damage inflicted on others when they land.

Black History in Canada: A Slave to Athletic Success?

Canada BHM Athletes Poster Here is the first thought that came to mind when I saw the above poster to celebrate Black History Month in Canada:

Lookey, lookey at them fine, fine specimens hee-yuh,’ said the plantation owner.

I grant, the poster’s not that bad. The achievements of blacks in sport in Canada and across North America can’t be denied. It’s me, I guess.

Growing up as one of the six black folks in what was, in the 70s and 80s, one of the ethnically whitest, most racially non-diverse enclaves in the country, I confess to being a little sensitive about the issue. I often felt people were summing me up and reacting to me as if I was a linebacker for the Pittsburg Steelers. I’m in my early forties now, so it doesn’t happen so much anymore, but the poster picks the scabs of many battle scars endured fighting against the blinkered image.

Measha Brueggergosman. Opera Singer. Descendant of Black Loyalists in New Brunswick.

Measha Brueggergosman. Opera Singer, musician. Descendant of Black Loyalists who settled in New Brunswick in the late 1700s.

Not that I’ve got an issue with linebackers. It’s just that I never was one and never wanted to be one. I’ve always been a nerdy, bookish, academically gifted, artsy-fartsy kind of guy more than I was ever a swaggering super-jock. If you’d met me at anytime in my life and actually listened to the things coming from my mouth you’d be an idiot to mistake me for a jock unless that’s what you were intent on seeing.

I don’t think it’s controversial to say there’s a fairly strong existing stereotype about blacks and athleticism, which the poster merely reinforces. There are worse things to be viewed as than “athletic,” I suppose. But the propagation of a stereotype seems out of touch with the intention of widening Canadian consciousness about the smattering of blacks among them.

Historically, blacks in Canada traced their roots to one source: escapees from US slavery. The first blacks to arrive in any numbers were the Black Loyalists from the time of the US Revolutionary War in the late 1700s. Others came during the mid to late 1800s in the underground railroads fleeing fugitive slavery laws in the US. The next wave of black migrants to Canada consisted of economic or political émigrés from Caribbean island nations such as Haiti, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago. Many were themselves descendants of slaves brought by the French and British over the previous centuries. In the past twenty-five years migrants fleeing instability from post-colonial African nations have rounded out the community of blacks in Canada.

It’s a proud Canadian legacy for blacks; our presence is explained by the refuge from slavery, persecution, or economic insecurity this country afforded. The narrative of Canadian blacks on the whole is largely devoid of the ugly, systemic, political, and culturally-ingrained racism that remains a facet of black life in the United States today. Identifying blacks with sport as a way of highlighting their collective achievements strikes me as a decidedly American thing to do. Given these ideas originate in slavery, racism, and disenfranchisement those are some sordid coat-tails to be riding for a celebratory gesture in Canada.

George Elliott Clarke. Poet, playwright. Descendant of African-American refugees of the War of 1812 who settled in Nova Scotia.

George Elliott Clarke. Poet, playwright. Descendant of African-American refugees of the War of 1812 who settled in Nova Scotia.

In the western Canadian city where I grew up, I was always the only black person in my social setting – including within my own white, WASP family. Neither my African-American biological father nor any of his family were a presence in my life. The community of blacks, or of any other visible minority, was virtually non-existent. Black communities of any size were all in eastern Canada – New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Southern Ontario; places far afield from where I was. The non-existence of black people in my community meant the US media was instrumental in shaping local perceptions of blacks, including my own.

It’s a sociological fact in the US: disenfranchised blacks haven’t had the opportunities that would have encouraged a focus on non-athletic pursuits. I think it’s fair to say their desire to ingratiate themselves to the descendants of the former slave owners has been hampered by countless examples of racism they are still subjected to. The playing field has never really been level when it’s time to choose among equally qualified white or black prospects to fill the rosters of “Team Law Firm,” “Team Investment Bank,” or “Team Fortune 500 Company.”

Disenfranchised American black kids with any athletic talents have wisely made sports their main focus. It has proven to be the most viable avenue out of poverty than other pursuits, at least up until very recently. Even if it goes against their true desires, white sports franchise owners exclude blacks from their teams at their peril. Winning is profitable. It’s a milder form of modern slavery – let’s face it, black asses are still owned – but at least the property gets to share in the wealth they create. In USA Inc. the acquired wealth of professional black athletes really does change their powerless, disenfranchised social status. For those with the abilities, athletics has been the great equalizer.

K-OS. Kevin Brereton. Singer, songwriter, music producer. Roots in Trinidad and Tobago emigres residing in Southern Ontario.

K-OS. Kevin Brereton. Singer, songwriter, music producer. Roots in Trinidad and Tobago emigres residing in Southern Ontario.

All that is to say, there are obvious reasons blacks are highly represented in sport in the United States that should easily undermine lingering stereotypes about blacks being genetically made for physical pursuits and nothing else. The problem is these ideas are programmed in the US cultural DNA thanks to slavery and racism. It’s difficult to compete against such endemic prejudices infiltrating our collective minds with the explosion of US mass media and culture, which has been a dominant force in Canada for decades.

As a kid, I was curious about what the black side of me was all about. I consumed whatever I could about blacks from American culture to fill in the gaps in my first-hand experience. I was privy to a horribly unflattering impression. Black men were depicted as jive-talking, pimping, gang-banging, hyper-macho, deadbeat dad, ghetto-living, hyper-aggressive, super-athletes. As I grew older I understood the narrative as radically flawed, but for a long time it left me ambiguous about connecting with my black identity. I was so consumed by the disparaging impressions it seemed hardly worth the effort to identify with something so apparently disreputable.

Dionne Brand. Poet, author, essayist. Immigrated to Toronto from Trinidad and Tobago.

Dionne Brand. Poet, author, essayist. Immigrated to Toronto from Trinidad and Tobago in the early 1970s.

The constancy of the same negative, reductionist narrative is compelling when you live in a place that doesn’t have real, regular black folks to offset them. Where I lived, neither the blacks of US cultural lore, nor real live blacks – janitors, lawyers, bus drivers, or doctors – were among us. You don’t need to be Margaret Mead to know how stereotypes work in a Western mind prone to simple categorizations; in the absence of real contact with the phenomenon you’re trying to understand, the caricatures you’re exposed to will stand in as a substitute.

My white, establishment grandfather was among the city’s corporate elite. He had CEOs, politicians, old and new money friends in his social network. At our country club, he would tout my latest academic achievements, my grades, or my brilliant future as a doctor, lawyer, or CEO. All his white upper-crust friends could say in response was  “Cripes, the kid’s built like a brick shit-house Don. He’s gonna tear up the gridiron.” I endured that scenario dozens of times, and I blame it for my knee jerk disdain for golfers and corporate white guys, even though I count both in my immediate family.

Imagine what it does to a young man’s outlook and motivation when he fears his talents will not be enough to win the approbation of those whites with the power of deciding his future; when he has first-hand knowledge they see him as nothing more than a gladiator on a football field. This is precisely how even mild racism can deflate self-esteem and motivation among those directly targeted by it. I can’t say this is the experience of blacks in parts of Canada where their numbers in the community were abundant. Where I grew up, this mild aspect of prejudice was my experience and it was demoralizing because of its persistence.

I begrudgingly admit it. I am built like a brick shit-house. I look like what everybody believes a black man ought to look like. Through adolescence and into early-adulthood I had little fan clubs of what I call “jungle-curious” white girls and women with daddy issues pursuing me like a pack of wolves to a wounded Elk. They weren’t seduced by me personally as much as by their fantasies of me as the hyper-sexual, hyper-physical, devil-may-care black man imprinted in their minds by their magazines, movies, and television sets.

Malcolm Gladwell. Journalist, author, speaker. Like me, half-black. Black roots from his Jamaican mother.

Malcolm Gladwell. Journalist, author, speaker. Like me, half-black, but unlike me, could pass for white if pressed. Black roots from his Jamaican mother. Resident of Southern Ontario.

As an adult with brains, abilities, and credentials it is infuriating to have those elements subsumed beneath another’s idea of me as an object, either of pleasure or derision. My experiences as a black man seem eerily similar to the grievances I hear of women trying to succeed in male-dominated environments. I know how frustrating it is for a woman to have her abilities, credentials and achievements undone by the dysfunctional physical energies her presence unleashes in others, how adverse inferences about her qualities are affixed by strong biases others employ to distort her actions.

You feel as though whatever you say or do, whoever you are, is being dismissed beneath another’s culturally-influenced projections of what they believe you to be. It becomes impossible to convey what you intend because the privilege of crafting your message was never in your hands. It feels as though you are constantly overlooked, even if you possess talents that surpass those of the white guys enjoying the pecuniary rewards in whatever domain you happen to occupy.

White men have no idea the relative luxury they enjoy by having a modicum of control over others’ perceptions of them. When it comes to shaping others’ impressions, it is most often theirs to lose. It’s a courtesy not extended to black men or women of any colour across most social spaces in North America.

Michaëlle Jean. Journalist, Governor-General of Canada, International Stateswoman. Arrived in Canada as a refugee from Haiti, settling in Quebec.

Michaëlle Jean. Journalist, Governor-General of Canada, International Stateswoman. Arrived in Canada as a refugee from Haiti, settling in Quebec.

In Canada, having people dismiss my intelligence because they assume I’m a dumb, cocky, sexually predacious meat-head is not as bad as being mistaken for a thug and being shot, as is too often happening to my brothers in the US. I am glad in some ways to have the relative luxury of whining about being misunderstood than fearing death at the hands of law enforcement. That is what makes me want to celebrate as a black man in Canada. I feel safe and relatively free, even if at times I am unfairly summed up.

It’s why I wish a poster for Black History month would have steered clear of shining another bright, white light on the athletic achievements of blacks, as if it said something seminal about the black community in Canada. It’s kind of lame and underwhelming given the nature of what our presence in this country symbolizes.

In the end, I don’t think it is just me. I think it’s a blunder. When I see this poster I imagine the ghosts of my ancestors lamenting the fact their descendants are viewed like the slaves they once were; that our collective success in athletic pursuits has encouraged a new generation of plantation owners to look upon us as purely physical specimens.

The idea doesn’t leave me in a celebratory mood.

Les Sacred Cows du Canada

Margaret Wente, a columnist for one of Canada’s national newspapers, wrote an article about seven sacred cows that she deemed were untouchables for media criticism. She parenthetically assailed medicare, Margaret Atwood, the Group of Seven and David Suzuki, among others, as cultural icons too sacred to skewer.

Yawn.

Wente’s article was pretty pedestrian as far as attempts at iconoclasm in Canada go. It’s true, medicare is a sacred cow, but a lot of regular Joes wouldn’t be offended if you said to them “Alias Grace sucked, eh?”. Nobody would really care if you had a picture of David Suzuki at the bottom of your bird cage, or if they saw you toss a finished can of Coke in the trash bin. At best they’d think maybe you’re a little insensitive. Most Canadians wouldn’t be able to name a single one of the Group of Seven, let alone think you’ve blasphemed a god if you said you thought landscape paintings suck. I know I wouldn’t care.

I think there are some cows more sacred than “recycling” to Canadians that, if you dissed them at a dinner party where I live, you’d probably have buns, Doritos, and chicken wings thrown at you. That would be followed by a hockey stick being shoved up your arse and half-emptied beer bottles with cigarette butts poured over your head.

I thought it would be interesting to say “bafungu” to some red herrings that I think are held a little more closely to the hearts of Canadians. So here I go with mud in hand. If you find yourself in the grip of seething rage, give your head a shake: your brain has been mashed by reams of the Canadian drivel you’ve been spoon-fed. Buck up, it’s all in good fun, eh?

Hockey: It’s Just a Stupid Game

Hockey is just a silly little game that makes millionaires of grown men for playing a game where they often break out in fist fights like school children. That’s it. Hockey won’t create the conditions for world peace, it will not discover a cure for your niece’s cancer, it won’t eliminate global poverty or tackle the Canadian debt. And yet Canadians of all persuasions swoon over the game and those who play it, like moths to white light.

Hockey players are the some of the most thin-skinned professional athletes alive, and the least sportsmanlike. Their cockiness and macho bravura is betrayed by so many instances of on-ice brutality, having lost their shit because they can’t take being out-played fair and square to a better athlete. Instead of schooling their betters by upping their play, they beat them with a stick, or take a running start and smash their heads into the boards hoping to take them out of the game – or their careers.

You can’t really blame them for their behaviour. They were sequestered from civilization at a very young age, and discouraged from attaining a proper education. Instead, they were inculcated with a sociopath zeitgeist that taught them to swing their fists and hockey sticks at the most fleeting of slights in order to win. If hockey hadn’t panned out for these guys they’d be serving at Red Lobster or bouncers at a night-club for all the off-ice skills they were given.

Here’s the thing hockey fans: if your team wins the Stanley Cup, you had nothing to do with it; not your cheering, not the grand you spent on tickets to see them play, not the hours of neglecting your family as you drank beer and ate buckets of chicken in front of your tv. If your team sucks, you have nothing to do with that either, but you will look like an asshole for wearing their jerseys and gear all the time, painting their logo on your face or flying their loser flag on your car through town all hockey season. Either way, you will be the fool for absconding with your own identity and exchanging it for that of a bunch of rich, douche-bag jocks.

For all the hockey dads out there verbally abusing their children, picking fist-fights with opposing team coaches at pee-wee matches, and mortgaging your financial futures on the slim chance you will vicariously live your shabby dream through your child: get a life, and lay off your kid.

The great Canadian hockey commentator himself. A lavender suit to make a dandy green with envy.

Don Cherry, who somehow claimed for himself the mantle of hockey sage, is a CBC blowhard whose diatribes about the game are often interlaced with senseless barbs about Canadian politics and culture thrown in for good measure. He sometimes seems to be a little too macho by half for his dandy duds. His ideas about the game of hockey are as passe as his unusual taste in suits and homoerotic rants about how much he loves big, burly defencemen from Sudbury. Whenever I see Cherry dissing Swedish pussies and trying to turn the NHL into an MMA feeder league I sometimes say to myself “methinks the man in the lavender suit, pristine kerchief, spray tan, and perfectly manicured hands doth protest too much.”

Tim Horton’s Sucks in Every Way Possible

Tim Horton’s coffee is total, unabashed sewage. Their doughnuts are greasy, sugar-coated lumps of turd, the muffins are road-apples, and their uniforms are putrid. Their marketing scam is to jerk on your heartstrings with corny feel-good commercials that are meant to bamboozle you into suspending your judgement about the low-rent product they’re selling. In this, they stole a page out of the Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints putsches from the eighties, and which still send me to the bathroom for a tissue to dab my tears, just before I hurl from the false sentimentality I’ve just been force-fed.

There’s a Tim Horton’s commercial where an Asian grandfather shows up to his grandkid’s hockey game. The back story is granddad was a tyrannical jerk because he made his son do silly things like homework instead of letting him watch a bunch of goons skating around slapping a piece of rubber around the ice.

He also didn’t go to watch his kid play hockey, it’s never clear why, but I’ve filled in the blanks: because he was an immigrant working in a country of xenophobes that didn’t feel obliged to pay the guy a fair wage. He had to work six jobs to send that kid to hockey camp where he had to endure “Hey Fu Manchu” epithets whenever he schooled one of his teammates. What a stupid jerk, right? Later, it’s all made better because he shows up to his grandkid’s game bringing crappy “double-doubles”, as if this makes him such a mensch. It’s nauseating, as are the other “true story” commercials, even if they do send me reeling for my box of facial tissue.

In the end, no matter how heart-warming the commercials are, the coffee is still sewage, but with a dollop of specious sentimentality and a dash of crass jingoism thrown in for good measure. If I were in a jam, I’d rather scoop up puddle water and heat it up than drink their coffee, because it really sucks, even with a half litre of cream and pound of sugar to cover up the dodgy taste. No “double-double” for me, thanks.

We Are Living on Stolen Land for Which Nothing Can Make Amends

Here’s the sacred cow many Canadians have with respect to our First Nations: what’s past is past, let’s move on. Except, we are living in a country stolen from Canada’s First Nations, and we didn’t have the guts to go to war and win it fair and square. No, we just were lucky benefactors of guile, measles, tuberculosis, shrewd business practices, legislation, and residential schools which were used to rob the First Nations of their land and their dignity. In that sense we are all living off the avails of our mobster historical forebears, every one of us. For our First Nations, the past is present.

There’s no amount of money or official apologies, or legislative redemption that will ever morally absolve the injustice and cultural genocide done to Canada’s First Nations throughout our sordid history. Most of us don’t really know that history because we were taught the Disney version of how it was that our colonial forebears related to Canada’s First Nations. It was a history written from the lens of the winners trying to put a positive sheen on a disgusting legacy so their children would not think ill of them for their ethical depravity. As a counterfactual exercise, talk to a First Nations elder, and see what history she tells.

There are things that can be done to try and make amends; to make things better for their grand-children and great-grandchildren so their future won’t be as horrifying as the past their ancestors had to endure. Except there is deep-seated, almost unanimously shared political resistance to the making of amends among non-First Nation Canadians. Today’s Canadians allege they “weren’t the ones responsible” for the wrongs of the past. Maybe so, but antipathy toward policies aimed at redressing historical wrongs and open hostility toward the grievances aired by First Nations guarantees they are perpetuated.

Canada is an Ungrateful Groupie Riding the Coat-tails of its US Superstar Best-Friend

This is where I agree with Wente. Canadians seem to love to loathe Americans. We talk about how fat they are, how dumb they are, how racist they are, and how brash they are. We snicker at their reality television obsession, or their crazy right-wing zealot politicians, or their bible-thumping simpleton Christianity, as if we’re all sitting in our homes discussing Stendhal over casks of sherry and Mozart concertos.

No, we Canadians regularly go to “The States” to buy up all their materialist trinkets at lower prices than we can acquire it up here. In fact, one US border town got so pissed off at Canadians for clearing their shelves that they suggested a time be set aside for “Americans Only”. We love it when big US retail chains set up in Canada. It means we can save on gas as we drive by stores built with the blood, sweat, and tears of merchants from our own communities to buy carloads of low-grade merchandise made by children in Bangladesh and Vietnam at the big chains. Remember that Canadian retail icon called Eatons? Yeah, me neither.

Anyone in the culture industries in Canada is forced to flee to the US to make a decent living and get recognition as an artist. As cultural refugees in the US, they are unburdened by the persecutory nature of the provincial, insular Canadian cultural elite who takes no greater pleasure than eating its own. Still, the fact doesn’t dampen the degree that most Canadians claim cultural superiority over so-called American troglodytes – the ones who actually pay for and embrace the cultural products manufactured by their Canadian gastarbeiters.

Most Canadians would grudgingly admit that we are lucky to be so geographically and culturally close to the US. But in our obsession with America-bashing, we take for granted the degree that we have been the world’s chief benefactor of the opportunities afforded by the profound cultural, economic, and scientific innovations that originated in the United States. And by these, one does not mean Jersey Shore, Big Brother, the love of guns, the nuclear bomb, the Ku Klux, Klan, boy bands, and the Tea Party. I mean Constitutional Democracy, the preponderance of global capitalism, electricity, modern aviation, mass production, jazz, the internet, and the personal computer.

Canadians are Smug Assholes

Canadians are not, on the whole, inherently “nice” people. Generally, we’re more suspicious and guarded, but can be overly nice when we are of the belief that such comportment will leave others with a good impression of us. That idiotic Michael Moore documentary where he was in Windsor opening doors that were unlatched made my skin crawl. The myth of the quintessentially Nice Canadian is the dish our media serves as regularly as meatloaf on Sundays, and we all stuff our thin-skinned bellies with its feel-good nonsense.

But are we really nice? Have you ever seen a hockey brawl? Most of the NHL’s neanderthal enforcer cavemen are Canadians. Sure, Canadians know how to ACT nicely, but it doesn’t mean we are necessarily nice people. Remember where we came from: British imperialists who screwed the First Nations out of their land and killed them off with exotic European diseases like tuberculosis and property rights. Most Canadians still think First Nations are lucky bastards for all the “free stuff” they get. Nii-iice.

A lot of Canadians tar Americans for being ignorant, brash and crass in the way they treat other people. We love to tell the story of how Europeans warm up to us once they learn we aren’t Americans, because they love how nice we are. The shibboleth makes our self-conscious ears explode with orgasmic warmth and self-satisfaction.

Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not that Americans are more boorish than Canadians. But Canadians lurk behind the veil of niceties we picked up from our British heritage and haven’t been able to shake loose. We simply care too much about what others think of us to let our inner scumbag leave the confines of the trailer-park.

We are smug and sanctimonious instead of brash and self-assured. We disdain the uppity nature of overly goal-driven go-getters, and take pleasure in undermining those who deign to stand out for their audacity, on the precept that the naked ambition is itself evidence of its adherent’s corruptibility. Secretly, we wish we had the balls, or the means, to put ourselves out there in the same way.

The same proportion of Canadians are xenophobic, passive-aggressive, conservative, self-righteous assholes, as the throngs we denounce as existing in the US. It’s just that Canadian bigots leave the job of being openly crass to their like-minded bigot brethren to the south. Openly, we Canadians are quick to denounce your lunatic fringe, but make no mistake Tea Partiers, Klansmen, Fundamentalist Christians, and NRA die-hards: you have widespread fraternity in Canada cheering you on from our passive aggressive sidelines.

If you had any doubts about this, simply read the comment threads that follow any media story about race, poverty, immigration, or gender issues. The flourishing of the reptilian Canadian mind will be there in all its glory. It won’t be nice.

The CBC Sucks as an Avatar of Canadian ‘Culture’

Contrary to what the CBC portrays, very few Canadians play the fiddle and do a jig in tartans. Other than those in Nova Scotia, it’s doubtful many of us care for Rita McNeil. In spite of the people on CBC’s programs, very few Canadians say ‘airm’ when talking about our ‘arms’. Stuart McLean is a quaint storyteller, in a zany kinda way, but those gags about cousin Morley are really best suited for the nursing home circuit than purported as representing much of Canadian reality for anyone outside of Southern Ontario.

To be blunt, there’s a fluffiness, a bullshit air to the programming on the CBC, and even to the idea of Canadian culture that’s dripping like cheese from shows like Corner GasThe Red Green Show, Ann of Green Gables, and Little Mosque on the Prairie. These shows were all spawned from the same fallacious saccharine barrel that some people seem insistent on propounding as “Canadian-ness”.

The CBC has been the chief propagandist in fertilizing our cultural landscape with this pungent brand of manure for a looooong time. If you want a more accurate understanding of Canadian-ness, warts and all, start with Second City Television re-runs and trace your steps forward from there. You will quickly learn that we don’t huff in our tea and indignantly chew on our crumpets saying “gosh-darn it” when we disapprove of something; that we are boozing, cussing, pleasure-seeking cretins just like anyone else in the developed world.

So, my US cousins, don’t be disappointed when asking me to say ‘aboot’ if I don’t cut muster because I wasn’t raised in Dildo, Newfoundland. Most of us where I live are more apt to sound like Fred Gunderson from Minneapolis than Gerry Doolan from Antigonish. Unless I am maliciously lampooning someone, it will be a frosty night in hell before I put down my fiddle, and lay my spoon down in my cod cheek soup to say something like “Jaysus, Lard’n tunderlin Gerry, go’s and wash yer ’ands ‘fore ye’s come to da tay-bel fer eats.”

Quebec Separation, Meh

In a day-to-day sense if Quebec separates from Canada none of us would feel any impact on our lives. Not a goddamned thing. In reality, they still have not signed the constitution, so they’ve never really bought in. If they decide to go, they’ll still use the Canadian dollar, they’ll still trade with Canada, they’ll still come and go freely across borders, and they’ll still pretend not to understand a word of english when one of us anglos is frantically looking for directions out of the butt-hole town we’ve mistakenly driven into because we can’t read unilingual french signs. We’ll all just be spared the dog and pony show that pointlessly rears its head every few years.

The ‘Shawinigan Shake’ by PM Chretien. Without Quebec in Canada, would we ever see a PM willing to slap-down naysayers like Chretien could? I don’t think so.

The cycle of extortion by Quebec politicians on the one hand, and the bribing by federal politicians on the other will cease, and the rest of us will stop seething from all the histrionic hamming we were subjected to in the process. Watching this shit unfold for the entirety of my four-decade life has been like watching a perpetual YouTube re-run of a parent trying to cajole their wet-noodle two year old off the floor of Canadian Tire by promising him muffins and kool-aid if he’ll just get off the floor and come home.

This isn’t to say it’s desirable if Quebec separates. Administratively, it’s a pain in the ass, and it’s the hope that it never occurs, because Canada is a small player in the global racket, and with one less populous province in its ranks, it gets even smaller. Plus, the funny-accented, chip-on-your-shoulder politicians who hail from that province have been highly entertaining antidotes to the snooze-fest spectacle that is Canadian politics, even if they’ve been unbelievably difficult to apprehend and infuriating in their ideas about how persecuted they are. Here’s a few persecutory words to chew on: Iraq, Sudan, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Iran. I know, forcing you to have to listen to right-wing dipshit anglo politicians from Alberta is torturous, but it beats gunboats from the air and machete-wielding genocidal throngs from rival political cleavages, ben ouai?

In any case, paying our protection money to keep Quebec in the country seems well worth the periodic hassles. Without Jean Chretien’s smug, unusually french-accented banter I’d have probably ended up offing myself in the nineties, driven to despair by the ennui of living in a country so grand in its own mind and lofty in its aspirations, but so short in accomplishment, so sanctimonious and feeble in its comportment.