We’re not American: Is that all there is?

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Over the summer, Canada celebrated it’s 150th Birthday. Surges of Canadian pride swept the nation and people from just about everywhere were very, very pleased with themselves. If we compare ourselves to some of the other major players in the international political world, we’re not doing so bad. The (not so) United States of America is crumbling before our eyes but we’re Canadian. We’re not them.

For as long as I can remember, asking someone what it means to be Canadian would elicit joke answers like “Beavers! Poutine! Hockey!” but it has also always included “we’re not American.” As if it’s some sort of accomplishment to be slightly less terrible than the mess that is the US at the moment. If the best thing we can say about our country is that Breaking Bad would never have happened here, we’re not really saying much.

So, who are we? We need to be more than just ‘not Americans’. We need to be Canadians. We need to step up and become a real example of what we want to see in the world. We have a long way to go.

We as a nation are flawed and those flaws are dangerous. Those little cells of meanness and hate are malignant and they will grow and they will spread if we don’t take care of it now.

The following are some examples of these flaws:

The way we treat our Native population is STILL ridiculous. From people who deny the impact of residential schools, to government groups that allow entire towns to live without running water, Canadians have let our indigenous population down and are still doing so every day. If you think you’re not part of the problem, consider this: does it bother you when people use their status card? If it does, you might be part of the problem.

The way we treat immigrants and refugees and anyone who doesn’t speak English or French also leaves a lot to be desired. More than once I have heard someone say “Speak English, you’re in Canada now.” As much as we don’t want to believe it, our multicultural society is remarkably exclusive. When Syrian refugees needed a place to go when their whole world was being destroyed, many seemed to think this was not the place for them.

Canada also shares one flaw with many of the ‘developed’ nations of the world: We hear people out. Freedom of speech is an important part of any ‘civilized’ society, but it can be taken too far. For example, when CBC did a respectful sit-down interview with Richard Spencer, a known white supremacist and leader of the National Policy institute in the US, a white supremacist think tank. Spencer has been denied requests to speak at University campuses as well as by Washington hotels when he wanted to hold a press conference. And yet he was given a platform to speak by Canada’s federally funded news agency. The Canadian government spends more than half a billion dollars on the CBC each year. Did Spencer really need this platform to spread his hate around Canada? While people are free to say what they like – this is important to a democratic society – we are not required to give them a platform from which to say these things.

These are just some of the major issues we’re dealing with as a people and as a nation. We cannot rest on who we are compared to others. In the same way that it is not helpful to compare an individual human to another individual human, comparing one country to another is not a measure of how far – or not in some cases – we have come. We are only better when we are better than ourselves. Past Canada might think we’ve lost it, but Past Canada was often wildly off base.

“We know Canada isn’t immune to racist violence & hate. We condemn it in all its forms & send support to the victims in Charlottesville.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a tweet on August 13, after a white supremacist rally turned violent, with anti-nazi protesters run down by a white supremacist in a car. This is the first step. When the Prime Minister is self-aware, he encouraged the entire nation to be so.

It begins here. As Brock students, you are everything Canada is and will be. Don’t let the people who spend their days coming up with things to blame on millennials get you down. We are a huge force. Millennials are the largest generation in Canada; there are more of us than there were of anybody else. We can use that power to remake this country into something we can be proud of. We’ll find a way to leave it better than we found it.

From racism, sexism and violence in your own neighbourhood, to the US president systematically violating the rights of every single US citizen who is not old, white, Christian, and rich, if you see something, say something. We don’t have to settle for this. We can be better.

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