Happy Birthday, Eh?

Six syllables, sliding sibilantly over the tongue—ses-qui-cen-ten-ni-al.  One-hundred-and-fifty years as a nation, a vision struggling hesitantly to life on 1 July 1867.  Christened the Dominion of Canada, we were four provinces united against the manifest-destiny expansionism of the mighty republic to the south, but nestled still in the colonial arms of the imperial British embrace.

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The first priority of this new nation?  To fulfil the calling of its soon-to-be-adopted motto: Ad Mari usque ad Mare—from sea to sea, the Atlantic on the east, the Pacific to the west.  And eventually, a third sea, the Arctic to the north.

And so it happened, the inevitable northward and westward reach, propelled and supported by the building of a transcontinental railway.  After the original four provinces—New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Quebec—there followed: Manitoba, 1870; British Columbia, 1871; Prince Edward Island, 1873; Saskatchewan and Alberta, 1905; and Newfoundland, 1949.

Along the way, three massive territories joined the mix: Northwest Territories, 1870; Yukon, 1898; and Nunavut, 1999.

Now, here we sit in 2017, Canada, the true north, strong and free.

And what exactly is it we celebrate on this sesquicentennial?  What have we accomplished as a nation?  What are the values we stand for?  How do our actions and behaviours, both collectively and individually, demonstrate those values?

What does our country do for us?   Even more importantly, what do we do for our country?

It has been noted by critics, perhaps jealous of our good fortune to be situated on the northern half of the North American continent, that too many of us are apathetic about the affairs of our country—to which, in response, some of us simply shrug our shoulders.  Others, though, rally to the causes of the day, to try to influence the course of events, the outcomes, the future.

There is a long list of accomplishments of which we might be justifiably proud.  In the realm of medicine, the discovery of penicillin, insulin, and stem cells; in the sciences, the first light bulb, the telephone, Canadarm, and IMAX; on the world stage, international trade agreements, endeavours to control the deleterious effects of industrialization on climate, efforts to support peacekeeping initiatives around the world, a robust military response in defence of freedom during several major wars, and our welcoming of refugees displaced by global conflicts, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, or skin colour; and in a more frivolous vein, the invention of peanut butter, the WonderBra, basketball, and Superman.

Of course, there are chapters in our history that might, with today’s sensibilities, bring a sense of shame: the exploitation and displacement of Indigenous peoples, and the horrors of residential schools; the trivialization and suppression of women’s rights; the mistreatment of Chinese and black immigrants; the expulsion and internment of Japanese-Canadians; and the continued exportation of asbestos to developing nations, even after it was banned in Canada.

None of these might happen today because of a singular document: the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, adopted in 1982.

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Governments of the day, to be fair, have apologised for the worst of these past crimes, and have established commissions and inquiries to seek a better way going forward.  But it is questionable, still, how much influence their reports and recommendations have had, or will have, on the future; witness the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, or the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Commission, and assess for yourself their lasting effects on national affairs.

As in everything, actions speak more loudly than words.

Still, when I ask myself if there is any country in the world I would prefer to live in, rather than in Canada, my answer is a resounding No!

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Despite the tumult and the shouting perpetually foist on us by the lunatic-left and rabid-right of the political spectrum, we are a people that wants leadership to govern from the centre.  We favour moderation, not extremes; tolerance, not xenophobia; dialogue, not diatribe; ideas, not ideology.

Do these tendencies render us apathetic?  I hope not.  Rather, I choose to think of us as slow to anger, quick to forgive, strong in the face of adversity, proud of what we have accomplished, and determined, not only to rectify the errors of the past (even if all too slowly at times), but to avoid similar mistakes in the future.

Canada has had one-hundred-and-fifty years of practice with the concept of nationhood now, and still she carries on—both because of and in spite of, the behaviour and attitudes of her citizenry.  Count me as one who is proud to be called Canadian.

Happy Birthday, eh?

 

 

 

 

 

The Quality of a Nation

According to St. Augustine, a nation is an association of reasonable beings united in a peaceful sharing of the things they cherish; therefore, to determine the quality of a nation, you must consider what those things are.

He wrote this in a monumental work of Christian philosophy, entitled The City of God, in the fifth century AD.  Fifteen-hundred years later, in 1951, the Canada Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters & Sciences used it as a preface to their report to parliament.

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The recent triumph of Donald Trump in the US presidential election was one of two things that got me to wondering what a list of those qualities might be—not so much for the USA as for my own country.  What are the values that Canada, as a nation, truly cherishes?

The political opponents of the American president-elect have cast his ascension to power in the darkest terms, quite a difference to the sunny ways seemingly endorsed in our own federal election a year or so ago.  Words like racist, misogynist, bully, and xenophobic, used in reference to Trump by his foes, offer a stark contrast to words such as enthusiastic, transparent, optimistic, and leader, which have been applied to our prime minister, Justin Trudeau, by his supporters.

On the flip-side, Trump’s supporters have described him as strong, forceful, down-to-earth, and no pushover.  Trudeau’s detractors have used words and phrases like boyish, emotional, and not man enough in their descriptions.

Of course, political opinions, like beauty, are mostly in the eye of the beholders, and care should be taken not to believe everything one reads or hears about either of these gentlemen.  Still, the fact that both were elected to their country’s highest office by their respective citizens might say something about what is cherished by each nation.  At least at present, and by a sufficient number of those who voted.

But the critical thing about nationhood is that, despite these opposing viewpoints, each nation as a whole must accept and adhere to a basic set of values if it is to survive.

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The second thing that prompted my curiosity about the qualities Canada might cherish was the proposal by a presumptive political-party leader, Kellie Leitch, to vigorously pre-screen potential immigrants for any trace of “anti-Canadian values”.  If they fail to measure up to the standard she will presumably establish, she will bar them from entry.

It makes sense, of course, to ban terrorists and criminals; it also makes sense to admit people with skills and training Canada needs, and people who are fleeing for their lives from oppressive regimes.  In fact, our current immigration practices and procedures do both of these things quite well.

But what are the values Leitch is looking for?  She has stated that the test will screen for anti-Canadian views that include intolerance toward other religions, cultures, and sexual orientations; violent and/or misogynist behaviour; and/or a lack of acceptance of our Canadian tradition of personal and economic freedoms.

I wonder, though, how she might define such concepts as intolerance (Sorry, but I will not eat poutine!) or personal freedoms (Okay, okay…I won’t pee on the golf course!).  Could it be so simple and light-hearted?

Likely not.  For example, if I were a prospective immigrant of a particular faith, say Catholic, would I be banned for not endorsing the notion of same-sex marriage?  If I were to vigorously protest the environmental policies of the federal government (perhaps a government she might be leading), thereby exercising  free speech, would I be expelled?  If I chose to wear a niqab during my citizenship swearing-in, would I be rudely escorted from the room?  And the country?

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, adopted as part of the Constitution Act in 1982, pretty much lays out in its thirty-four sections the entitlements and responsibilities conferred upon, and expected of, every citizen.  By its very existence, it establishes many of the values our nation cherishes; for example:

  • the right to life, liberty and security of the person…
  • [equality] before and under the law and…the right to the equal protection and equal benefit  of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability…
  • [these rights] shall not be construed as denying the existence of any other rights or freedoms that exist in Canada…
  • [these rights] are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.

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In effect, this means all citizens enjoy the right to cherish, and act in accordance with, whatever they believe—with the proviso that they must not harm anyone else.  No one, it seems to me, including a politically-motivated Kellie Leitch, can judge any of us on a set of arbitrarily-established Canadian values.

Perhaps John Stuart Mill said it best, in his 1859 essay, On Liberty, where he attempted to identify standards for the relationship between a nation’s authority and its citizens’ liberty:

          The maxims are, first, that the individual is not accountable to society for his actions, in so far as these concern the interests of no person but himself…

          Secondly, that for such actions as are prejudicial to the interests of others, the individual is accountable, and may be subjected either to social or to legal punishment, if society is of opinion that the one or the other is requisite for its protection.

If we were to accept the guidance offered in these two foundational sources, I don’t believe we would need a test to suss out anti-Canadian values.  To the contrary, our co-existence would exemplify those values, and allow us to live united in a peaceful sharing of the things we cherish.

And we would be proud of the quality of our nation, upholding it for all to see—from sea to sea to sea.