WHAT DO ALL CANADIANS HAVE IN COMMON? UNBELIEVABLE LUCK
What is it to be Canadian?
Every Canadian from coast to coast to coast has a different answer, and each one is as right as the one before it and the one after it. In truth, there is no one feature or attribute that makes a Canadian a Canadian, no one defining characteristic that separates the citizens of the Great White North from the rest of the world. Once upon a time, you were Canadian if you weren’t British and you were Canadian if you weren’t American and at the end of the day Canadians have struggled since those days to define themselves and their national identity.
I know what your thinking-this post is about a week late. And Canada Day was indeed last Friday, but I wanted to share my musings after everyone’s head cleared from the holiday weekend and let’s be honest, no one’s reading anything short of a beer label or barbecue instructions on Canada Day itself.
So here we are in steamy July and a handful of days past Canada’s 149th birthday (you can hardly see her grays) and we face the same question we do every year. We’re constantly asked to define our identity, asked what it means to be Canadian, as though all 36 million of us carry a list with us whenever the question comes up.
This is the part of the conversation that usually invites endless stereotypes; we say thank you to bank machines, we have maple syrup and beer running through our veins and hockey sticks hanging over our mantles and drink water from thousand year old icebergs. In truth, Canadians are just as diverse as the snowflakes in a January blizzard. But there’s one word that can be used to describe all of us.
The one thing Canadians love to complain about the most is Canada. You listen to talk radio or peruse Internet forums or the letters pages in newspapers and the one pattern that emerges is that Canadians have a love hate relationship with the land we call home. In short Canadians love nothing more then to complain about the True North Strong and Free, we hate on it as much as possible, but despite all our complaints and our contempt few ever make the slightest attempt to leave.
So let me lay it offer some brutal truth for both my fellow Canadians and everyone else abroad. If you call this nation home you have won the lottery. Not only is Canada one the richest, freest countries on the planet today, but also in human history.
For every Canadian who complains and moans about living here, there are thousands living in poverty and war zones, deprived of both rights and dignity who would kill to be here. Canada represents somewhere around half of one percent of the world’s population but the number of people who dream of having a better life here number in the hundreds of millions. Syrian refugees who found refuge on Canada’s shores breakdown into tears when reflecting on the kindness shown them while their own nation crumbled into dust and ashes beneath the relentless heel of a tyrant. When it became official that Donald Trump would carry the Republican banner into the 2016 Presidential election and that Britain had voted to leave the European Union, one of the most Googled questions following those revelations south of the border and across the pond was “How Do I Move to Canada?”
Moving to Canada was also an empty threat tossed around by American homophobes and bigots last year when the American Supreme Court ruled that same sex marriage had to be recognized in every state. Empty because Canada had recognized marriage equality a decade earlier, and while there was the predictable moral outrage from the lunatic fringe on the political far right when it did, most Canadians met the news with a shrug of the shoulders and carried on with their daily lives, realizing that the sky wasn’t falling. When Parliament changed two words in our national anthem earlier this year to include everyone and not just men, there was barely a ripple outside of the brief uproar from the chauvinists and “moral purists.” In the United States meanwhile, the entire national press and body politic spent weeks fighting and obsessing over who could go to the bathroom where and Congress is currently trying to pass a law preventing the United States from putting a black woman on the ten dollar bill (while tattooing Confederate war heroes and slave owners on money has always been acceptable).
Last October we had one of the most engaging federal elections we’ve had in a long time, ending a decade of one party’s rule and ushering in another promising hope and change. Canadians everywhere were offered the opportunity to raise their voices and welcomed to have their say. It was an election free of corruption, scandal and violence, unlike so many other countries where democracy is for appearances only and elections are rigged our decided well in advance. In Russia for instance, Vladimir Putin’s political rivals have a nasty habit of disappearing or turning up very, very dead. In 2015 Russian opposition leader Boris Nemstov, who opposed Russian’s invasion of Ukraine and openly voiced his fear that his opposition put his life in jeopardy, was shot in the head just blocks from the Kremlin. Putin seized personal control of the investigation, vowing to bring the killers to justice. Shockingly no arrests were made and no one has opposed Russia’s bullying of Ukraine since. Bet Canadian democracy isn’t looking so bad right now, is it?
Canada is far from perfect and only a fool would sugarcoat her history. The ugly truth is Canada is built on a legacy of genocide and has more than her fair share of bloody skeletons in the closet. As painful as it is, we need to resist the urge to forget or should erase that past (the way Texan textbooks tried to convince elementary school students that slavery “had positive economic benefits” and that First Nations Americans voluntarily gave American settlers their lands) and embrace history’s lessons, no matter how dark (perhaps Canada’s biggest shame is that her last residential school, bastions of cultural genocide and unbelievable abuse run by both church and state, didn’t shutter its gruesome doors until 1996). And here’s a little secret few Canadians would ever share with the world-we’re really not as nice or tolerant as like everyone to think.
But despite her crimes, her warts and her shortcomings, Canada is far better off facing the same challenges and uncertain future that have paralyzed so many other nations across the world. She is, without a doubt, the best country in the world to call home.
So just remember Canadians, while you may hate her, while you may hate the justice system or the entertainment or the weather or the bilingualism or the colours on her money, she will never turn her back on you and each and every one of you is beyond lucky to call her home.
Next time you doubt it, remember you get a whole day every July to get drunk on her dime. And if that doesn’t work, just ask anyone who chose to live here and they’ll remind you, while you take living here for granted, how much the rest of the world wants to be here.