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.

Shayne Kempton



Fathers Torturing Their Sons, Doctors Molesting Women and Karla Homolka’s Freedom; Do You Really Need To Ask Why My Niece Will Grow Up Armed To The Teeth?

I used to joke that on the day my niece was born, I started saving up to buy her a small arsenal of assorted weapons. I’ll be honest, it was mostly because she was a girl (if you don’t know why I’d worry more about her safety-and happiness-because she was a girl, you haven’t been paying attention). And I wasn’t really joking. If anything, last week proved my borderline paranoia valid.

Seriously, have you seen the headlines lately?

I try to approach every topic with a degree of impartial logic, to examine and scrutinize it from every angle but goddamn. This isn’t me climbing on a cynical soapbox, beating my chest and grumbling “well, what do you expect, this is only Canada,” in my best C.O.P voice (Cranky old People), the tired and usual response when confronted with stories about the Great White North’s justice system stumbling. That kind of cynical, reflexive thinking is both lazy and deliberately uninformed. After all, you never hear about the hundreds of times the justice system works on a daily basis.

But after last week, well . . . what the hell Canada?

I have my fair share of thoughts on the Jian Ghomeshi debacle that I’ll share shortly before his next sexual assault trial in June, but what it boils down to is that whole failure sucked for every one involved on every side of the issue except Ghomeshi himself, who should be hit by a car just to be on the safe side.

But let’s start with the former RCMP officer currently on trial for torturing and starving his oldest son. Not even the Devil himself would have anything to with this particular monster. The “father” in question kept his eldest son chained in an unfinished basement where he tortured (which included burning his testicles with a barbecue lighter) and starved him and left him alone with nothing but a sewage bucket for company. All in the name of Jesus, of course, and to punish him for sins like kissing a girl. At one point he had his brother perform an exorcism on the child. To this day the son blames himself, thinking he deserved the horrors visited upon him. He remains sincerely convinced that because his father is in the RCMP, he could never do anything wrong.

But hold on to your fragile faith in humanity. It somehow manages to get worse.

The first time the system failed the son was when it awarded sole custody to the father and stepmother following his biological mother’s death in 2009. The judge in the case even mandated how little contact he could have with his maternal grandparents, denying them visitation rights and giving the father permission to read all correspondence between the two, effectively cutting off any line of communication the son had to the outside world (and any chance he had of calling for help). The judge sealed the son’s fate on the basis of testimony from a psychologist who knew what was about to happen, because in 2010 the psychologist in question told the father that he couldn’t terrorize his son. Let me repeat that, the psychologist knew about the behaviour and warned the father. And the judge was aware of allegations of abuse against the father as well but handed him over just the same.

You should be horrified at how poorly the system failed, but the question you need to ask yourself now is what is the father and stepmother (whose also on trial) up to now? The answer? They’re out on bail and Dad is allowed unsupervised visits with his other two sons. Yes, the man who tortured and starved his oldest son, because he thought the devil was in him, is allowed to see his other sons without supervision during his trial (his defence is built on the premise that he’s the real victim, he suffers from PTSD and therefore isn’t criminally responsible). And as a side question, is the exorcism-performing brother facing any charges too? Y’know, for knowing what his nephew was enduring and not doing anything to stop it?

Then there’s the case of Dr. Javad Peirovy, who was convicted of groping 4 of his female patients. For this obscene abuse of his authority and violation of his patient’s trust he was given a discharge, sentenced to 18 months probation, ordered to take counseling and pay court costs. Oh, and he’ll be allowed to practice again in six months. The disciplinary panel that heard the case chose not to revoke his license but rather to suspend it because they think he’s sorry and he’s learned his lesson (though it should be noted Peirovy doesn’t think he should be suspended at all-which kind of throws cold water on the idea that he has any remorse). And while the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons is aghast and just so put out with the outcome, no one in the government is doing a single thing about it. Instead they’re waiting on the recommendations of a report that’s been 16 months in the making. Seriously, 16 months before you need someone else to tell you that molestaton is wrong and means said doctor should never be allowed to touch a woman’s body ever again? Could you imagine a teacher convicted of fondling students being allowed to return to the classroom after a six-month suspension? Well, Catholic schools, but don’t get me started there.

And all this in the same week that it was revealed that Karla Homolka, who helped her husband kidnap, torture, rape and kill Leslie Mahaffy, Kristen French and her own sister Tammy, and has been free the last decade because of the worst plea bargain in Canadian history, is living in a Montreal suburb.

Remember, there is no doubt in any of these cases. These people have either all been or will be convicted (Peirovy actually plead guilty to some of the charges and videos the aforementioned torture-father kept on his phone were used as evidence against him) and yet they’re all free.

These are the reasons people lose faith in the Justice system, why they become disenfranchised and cynical. And can you blame them? The victims are seemingly ignored, they’re suffering and that of their families dismissed and trivialized. It feeds into the narrative that predators are given free reign to prey on whoever they want as many times as they want, and the government will stand by and do nothing. And even, in some cases, enable the abuse (like handing a vulnerable child over to a father you already suspect is abusing him). One can’t help but feel that the entire system often chooses to deliberately fail.

No if you’ll excuse me, I have to go buy my niece a crossbow.

Shayne Kempton