“Just a good place to live”

01 Jul 2013

So said Donald Creighton in an interview with Charles Taylor for the latter’s 1982 book Radical Tories. Though I can’t answer on behalf of all recent immigrants to this country, not even those from my country of origin, I can do say that this phrase best describes my impression of Canada upon arrival – and I think, by extension, of other recent immigrants as well.

What was my impression of Canada? I remember reading a holiday destination guide back home where the section on Canada occupied a single page; it mostly emphasized nature spots in its pictures and destination choices. My mom thought, and still thinks, of Canada as a better place than the United States in terms of its healthcare system and the politeness/respectfulness of its people, and I share the same opinions as well. We thought of Canada as a better place than the United States, not in terms of comparing one country’s greatness with another’s, but on how better Canada is on internal things. We saw Canada as better than the United States in terms of healthcare than on military strength or international influence.

This is the impression that my family still has about this country, and the same can be said as well for other immigrants, especially those from poorer countries. For us, Canada is a land of opportunity, a place where we can do those things and achieve those goals that we’ll never do and achieve had we remained in our homelands. This is a country where one can feel secure, that no one will just barge in on their doors or fire bullets into their houses with impunity. In terms of corruption, Canada is still better compared to the countries where many of us come from. Politically, Canada is enviously stable. Economically, we see it as a First World economy. In societal terms, Canada is populated by people who are, for the most part, respectful, disciplined, polite and tolerant of each other. This country’s tenet of multiculturalism is an envy of the world, an example for countries torn by ethnic and religious strife.

This country is indeed a paradise for us.

Not until some time later did I begin learning more about this country beyond those rosy impressions. From the media and school, I started to learn about the Canada one will never know from the immigration agency’s brochures. True, it is well-off compared to other countries, but it isn’t a reason to rest on maple wreaths. More so than in previous years, Canada has experienced stress and conflict on a variety of areas. Economically, the country still continues to rely on natural resource exports as mainstay of its economy, despite all those “knowledge economy” proclamations – retail exists side by side with oil & natural gas development and export. Politically, scandals & other affairs have gotten worse on all three levels. Then there’s also the social and ethnic tension between the well-off and not, “visible minorities” and those who’ve been here for centuries. And let’s not forget the condition of the Aboriginal peoples.

I also learned about the history of Canada, that there are many interpretations of it and each has it own implications for this country. There are those who tell the Canadian story as a gradual process of independence from Britain and friendship with the US. There are others who talk about the neglected and suppressed voices of this story from minorities of various backgrounds. Then there are those who talk of Canada as an attempt at creating a different society from the US, the opposite of the liberal individualist Union. Each interpretation has its implications about the fate of Canada, the nature of its society and the degree of its independence globally. The story that guarantees the sovereignty and common well-being of Canada must be maintained.

Still, most of us – recent immigrants and those living for generations – see Canada as “a good place to live.” We never think of this country on grand terms, that it can be more than a country of politeness, respectfulness and gentleness. Someday, that day will come, but when, nobody knows.


About this dominion

12 Apr 2013

Courtesy of shutterstock.com

The last Other Press article I have for this season deals with Canadian identity, what it was in the past, and what it may be in the future. Hope this furthers discussion about Canadian nationalism in such a globalising age as this.


It’s not just the Indigenous people

15 Mar 2013

Courtesy of Canada.com

A forum on Aboriginal issues was held late February at Douglas College, in support of Idle No More. Flavoured on the sidelines by bannock and cheese slices, the forum featured old and new activists involved in the Indigenous movement. The unchanging Aboriginal issues were discussed on the forum. They included infringements on First Nations concerns brought by the federal government’s omnibus bills, the past-and-present colonial relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Canadian government, and current issues faced by Aboriginal individuals and families. Moderated group conversations after the panel talk discussed each attendee’s own feelings and opinions about the stories and issues said by the panel. By the end of the event, it seemed that most of the individuals present agreed on the necessity of solving the Aboriginal problem, and that this won’t come through government or settler paternalism but through self-made actions by Aboriginal peoples themselves. Self-determination, in their own words. It was a triumphant and jubilant night for those involved.

Since I failed to ask everybody on that auditorium whether they shared my opinions, once can only speak for oneself. In divergence from the wide agreement among the auditorium population, unanswered questions held me back from joining the euphoria. While the issues discussed were important, the nature of those issues in relation to the larger, outside context prevented me from fully accepting their cause.

The group discussion I joined involved each of us saying two words we took from what the panel said. Most of those “two words” were sympathetic and supportive of the Indigenous movement. My two words were “understanding” and “distance.” “Understanding” in that many of the issues discussed were reasonable and the injustices done against Aboriginal peoples really unjust, and “distance” in that certain questions made me skeptical from full support. It’s doubtless that injustices were done against Indigenous peoples in this country. Musqueam elder Larry Grant talked about his family’s expulsion from present-day Sapperton to make way for a military base. The youngest panellist mentioned a sister’s death in the hands of Indo-Canadian youths at night due to wearing Idle No More apparel. Stories of the colonial relationship between First Nations and European settlers and governments were told: displacement of First Nations from their traditional lands, attempts at destruction of their identity through assimilation, and the consequence of all these tragedies in everyday Indigenous life. Threats of the omnibus bills on traditional life and the environment were also said by the panel. But it didn’t end with sighs of passive hopelessness. Idle No More was bannered as a historical moment of Indigenous peoples rising up to fight for their rights. All the guests displayed confidence, insisting that now is the time Indigenous peoples take back what was stolen from them.

Yet some of the things said and shown during the event bothered me. The emphasis on “colonialism” and the dominated situation of Indigenous peoples, despite proclamations of triumph, made me think of this as solely an Indigenous matter, concerning First Nations alone. Why does it matter and how does this relate to us non-Indigenous persons? Does the emphasis on Aboriginal self-determination mean the original inhabitants will kick the settlers out of the land someday? One of the panellists who appeared at the group discussion talked of Indigenous history as a way to prevent a myopic view of Indigenous people, and putting ourselves in their shoes to better understand their situation – the answers weren’t satisfying. The question here is how does this Aboriginal movement fit in the bigger Canadian situation. Being an Indigenous-centred affair runs the risk of neglecting the other parts of the national population. It could be that this movement forms one part of the wider Canadian movement against erosion of public welfare by moneyed interests, but that has yet to be seen.

Perhaps there is nothing bad with an Aboriginal-centred movement. They have taken the extra mile to accommodate non-Indigenous peoples and help them understand what the movement is about. The event itself was targeted at newer immigrant communities in BC. The important question here is its relation to the wider Canadian movement for the national good.