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





Canada (Photo credit: palindrome6996)



There are some things Canadians love above all others.  We love our Timmies in the morning (or any caffeinated beverage for that matter, regardless of where it comes from), we love hockey at any and all levels and the Grey Cup.  We love believing we’re humble and then bragging like it’s going out of style when a native of the Great White North makes it big abroad.  We love to judge our American cousins to the south during their Black Friday insanity, pushing and shoving each other for half price toilet paper and then we lose our collective minds over half price DVDs come Boxing Day.  And we love complaining.  We love complaining about the weather (I am truly amazed by how many people seem to think they’re living in Bermuda come January, their Facebook statuses proclaiming that snow must portend the end of the civilized world), about our politicians, our TV and movies (“this is so bad it must be Canadian”), our money, our justice system, our military and on and on and bloody on.  It seems our favourite thing to complain about though is, well, Canada.  But we have 364 days a year to do that (and we do it quite well), but this is Canada Day, a day to remember that Canada isn’t just one of the best countries in the world, it is THE best, and in case you forget why in between your two-fours, well let me remind you (you may want to play the Canadian National Anthem in the background. Or a Molson commercial.).


We’ve been bombarded by a lot of political scandals over the past few years, but when you look around the world right now, man, we’ve got it good.  The robocalls scandal is a clear and obvious attempt at voter suppression, but the architects of that particular political faux pas are rank amateurs compared to the strategists in America’s Republican party, who without shame or apology try to convince people not to vote or deny them the right to (if you can’t get enough people to vote for you, try to get people voting against you to stay home).  And while we’ve seen our Senators play it fast and loose with their expense claims, playing pinanda with the Canadian taxpayer, the United States government lost nine billions dollars in Iraq.  Give your head a shake and read that again if you need to.  That’s nine billion greenbacks.  Not wasted.  Not squandered.  Lost.  It wasn’t even like losing a bet, like when your brother-in-law comes over after you’ve a had a few drinks and he brings a blank Pro-line form with him.  Nope.  They put it down and when they came back, it was gone.  You could buy Toronto with that kind of coin (or pay for Rob Ford’s monthly crack supply).


And while it’s politically fashionable to pounce on Conservatives in Canada and paint them as bigots and fascists, have you seen the GOP in the United States lately?   Take it from a guy who’s wasted many an hour debating American conservatives online, you can at least carry on an intelligent conversation with most Canadian conservatives, whereas their American counterparts are proudly represented by the likes of Sara Palin, Glenn Beck and Michelle Bachmann.  These people are barely literate and running amok talking about “legitimate rapes” and marrying power tools.  Alex Jones thinks homosexuals are chemically engineered by the same government that possesses a tornado making machine.  Man, I wish I could make this stuff up.  Marriage equality became a legally accepted fact in Canada years ago, but when the Supreme Court of the United States paved a similar way in the U.S. last week, a lot of people over fifty but with an IQ lower than sixty suffered from either an aneurysm or a severe bout of apocalyptic diarrhoea.  This particular demographic, also known as Fox News audience, collectively prayed for Americas soul while scarfing down Chic-fil-A and cleaning the guns they need to keep the mailman from stealing their freedom.  You want to see really scary Conservatives?  Take a look at Greece and their growing Golden Dawn Party.  They’re turning Olympus into OMG real fast, and they’re doing it with baseball bats and torch-light rallies that make Klu Klux Klan meetings look like Fourth of July picnics.


The Canadian Parliament has taken a heavy dose of criticism lately for its deteriorating civility, but I’ve lost count of the countries where politicians settle debates with fist fights.  And while that may sound cool at first, does anyone really want to see Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair throw down?  Really?  Because you just know it’ll degenerate into a contest of slapsies and purple nurples, and nobody needs to see that.  OK, maybe Alex Jones.  And when you vote in a Canadian election, there’s at least a little bit of suspense who’s going to win.  In Russia for instance, there ain’t much.  I’ll give you a hint; it’s Vladimir Putin.  In fact he’s already written his acceptance speech before the election is called.  He could be dead, and he’s still going to be on the ballot. And win.  Plus, Canada invented peacekeeping.  That’s right, everyone else hides behind stuff and shoots at you, but not Canadians.  Oh no, we stand out in the open between the people shooting at each other  and. . .wait, on second thought forget this one, it might not be a good bragging point.


Hockey is our national passion, a sport that sees grown men (and increasingly women) streak down a sheet of ice a wearing knives on their feet.  And sure, you may need to wear armour while playing but you can’t run out-of-bounds, you don’t have to have a shot clock to make it more exciting and when was the last time you saw a baseball player hit a winning home run with a broken leg?  Or a broken anything for that matter?  And speaking of injuries, do we really need to bring up professional soccer? The only guys I’ve seen take more dives are Olympic swim teams.


Captain Kirk may have said he was from Iowa, but we all know that deep down he was Canadian (and so was his toupee), and that guy scored with green aliens and holograms.  Think about that next time you’re getting shot down at the bar on a Saturday night.  We gave the world Celine Dion, Avril Lavigne and Nickelback; in return we ask the world one very considerable favour, please don’t give them back.  We’ll beg if we have to.  And the truth of the matter is, if you were born in Canada, you won the lottery right out of the womb.  The simple fact is, in over two-thirds of the world today, there’s someone just itching for an excuse to maim, rape, kill or torture another human being based on their gender, skin colour, age, political affiliation, tribe, the deity you choose to worship, your grandfather’s tribe, your dog’s tribe or your favourite colour.   In Canada, that only happens to Justin Bieber fans (as a Canadian I apologize to the rest of the world for inflicting the Biebs on you, yes, we do realize it was a violation of the Geneva convention and I hope you’ll forgive us, we were drunk).  You can walk in and out of a Canadian hospital without fear of getting a bill in the mail that’ll give you another heart attack and Canadians can hold their alcohol almost as well as the Vatican hold its altar boys.


Canada isn’t perfect, not even in the same postal code, and we have plenty of skeletons in our closet.  Our history, while often mistaken as boring, has plenty of bloodshed and suffering in it, and we’re not quite the polite, tolerant people we like the world to think we are.  But we’re much better off than most of the rest of the world.  So Happy Birthday Canada!  Today is the day we celebrate everything you are, everything you could be, and everything you aren’t, the day we lift a drink (or seventeen) to appreciate how good we have it here.  Because tomorrow, we’re going to be right back to bitching about you for the next twelve months, and why not, because as Canadians we’re Champs at Complaining.  It’s just one more thing we’re the best at.


Shayne Kempton (secretly a Nickelback fan-shhhhhh, don’t tell anyone)