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


Canadians Are at Their Finest on Remembrance Day

During the recent election campaign, we heard leaders and candidates from every party give speech after speech about what made Canada and the people who call it home great. The steamy July and August days paled in comparison to the hot air that came from every campaign stop. But despite all the hyperbole and rhetoric and pandering, none of the leaders actually hit on what makes Canada great or on the time of year when Canada’s true strength can be seen.

Because during the tributes to its fallen soldiers and the somber moment of silence observed on Remembrance Day, you can see Canadians at their absolute finest.

Tens of thousands of people, men and women, young and old spread across different generations, students shepherded by their teachers and members of every creed and faith clog the streets in the chilly November air with little complaint. Polite applause is offered for the politicians and visiting dignitaries, but thunderous applause is reserved for the veterans as they parade past in quiet dignity. Voices join in singular praise and gratitude for the warriors who fought and fell and all eyes look to the heavens as jets race across the golden autumn sky in salute before thousands of voices proudly sing Canada’s anthem. And if you look close enough, you can see an entire nation’s heart beating as it stops to say thank-you to so many who paid so much so that we may live in one of the greatest nations on the planet. As you watch thousands of heads bowed in mournful reflection, you may begin to understand the secret beneath the precious marriage between November 11th and the Great White North, whose strength and freedom were purchased by those honoured on this sacred day.

Because its Remembrance Day that makes Canada great. On that one morning, during that one fleeting moment of silence, all our pettiness and trivial bickering is forgotten. On that day, at that exact moment, it doesn’t matter what colour your skin is or what deity you pray to, it doesn’t matter what language you speak or who you voted for or what hockey team you cheer for. On Remembrance Day, all the foolish barriers we erect between each other fade away and we are only Canadians. Proud, thankful Canadians.

And for that brief moment in time, on the 11th day of the 11th month, we are at our very best.

Shayne Kempton


English: Oven roasted turkey, common fare for ...

English: Oven roasted turkey, common fare for Christmas and Thanksgiving celebrations. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


     Thanksgiving is a longstanding tradition in Canada. Every year on the second Monday of October, people join their families to celebrate the harvest. It is a day for reflection upon the year and giving thanks for all you have and for all the good that the year has given you. This is the perception that we have of Thanksgiving. It is the traditional image of the holiday that we still hold dear however no longer live by. Thanksgiving has merely become just another long weekend, however with a delicious twist. The vernacular of the day has even changed to reflect this shift. You would be hard pressed to hear a sincere ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ nowadays. These words seem to be limited to greeting cards and sale signs. They have steadily been replaced with the gluttonous greeting of ‘Happy Turkey Day’. In this new greeting we can see the emerging face of today’s Thanksgiving.

Turkey! This is the image of Thanksgiving. It was my image of Thanksgiving for years. As soon as October began, I started to look forward to the day when I would get to have a nice turkey dinner with all the fixings on the side and a delicious pumpkin pie for dessert and if I was really ambitious, a slice of apple pie too. I would even become giddy at the thought of left over turkey. My mother always bought an extra large bird just so we could have turkey sandwiches, hot and cold, for the rest of the week. I still have images of my various family members sprawled out on the couch and in chairs after dinner suffering from overeating and in a turkey induced comma. This was my Thanksgiving and several of my friends experienced and continue to have the exact same holiday. What exactly are we thankful for? Well, the answer is simple. We are thankful for turkey.

This will be my first Thanksgiving home since I left five years ago. As I watch my family scramble around to get all the fixings for Thanksgiving dinner I can see that nothing has really changed and I expect it will be the same this year as it was before. However, there is one difference of note and that has to do with me. A lot has changed for me in the five years I have been gone and one of the largest changes is with my eating habits. I am now a vegan. I eat nothing from an animal: no meat, no eggs, and no dairy. This is a lifestyle choice that I have made and that my family supports, even if they don’t quite understand it.

As my first Thanksgiving in five years fast approaches I find myself re-examining what the holiday actually means to me. Of course, it no longer means turkey. The thought of saying ‘Happy Turkey Day’ now seems a bit strange and ‘Happy Tofurkey Day’ just seems ridiculous. So I have gone back to ‘Happy Thanksgiving’. This has caused me to ask myself, what is Thanksgiving if it’s no longer turkey? I find myself looking to the traditional idea of Thanksgiving and the name itself. The day is for giving thanks; to be thankful for what you have, what you have gotten, and what you will get. This idea means more to me than the turkey ever did. Don’t get me wrong, I am still looking forward to Thanksgiving dinner, even though the turkey no longer interests me and I can’t eat most of the other dishes because they have some form of dairy in them. Instead, what I’m looking forward to most is spending some quality time with my family and friends, who I am truly thankful for.

My veganism has led me back to the true meaning of Thanksgiving for me, which was once hidden behind the turkey. I think everyone could do with stepping back from the turkey (or the tofurkey), if only for a second, and re-examining what Thanksgiving means to them and what they are truly thankful for.

Carol Dunn



English: World Trade Center, New York, aerial ...

English: World Trade Center, New York, aerial view March 2001. Français : Le World Trade Center à New York. Vue aérienne datant de mars 2001. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


            “I’ll tell you what, I’m glad I’m not one of those poor bastards in New York.”

            That was how my September 11th began a dozen years ago today.  Not the day itself, but the experience the world has come to know simply as 9/11, the most infamous day in the modern history of the Western World and a day that was about to change our lives, our entire civilization, forever.

            It was a Tuesday morning and I was working at the downtown smoke shop I’d been managing since the previous spring.  I’d killed the store’s stereo earlier (it barely worked anyway) when the shop’s owner, a grossly overweight convicted drug dealer who took pride in his ex-con status (a tasty morsel I had not yet discovered, but that’s a story for another time) had come in, working himself up into one of his regular temper tantrums and strutting like he was Ottawa’s version of Tony Soprano.  One of my regular customers had come in to purchase his daily package of coffin nails and over the course of our typical early morning conversation he spoke the aforementioned sentence.  My first thought was that somehow a Cessna or other similarly small aircraft had somehow flown into one of the massive towers’ and was probably smeared across its side like a bug on a giant windshield.  The shop’s owner said that was a sight he wanted to see (if there was anything other than screaming that the Neanderthal was addicted to, it was human suffering) so I hooked the shop’s ancient computer up to the phone jack to see what news the Internet had to offer.  My first clue that something big was happening was that the first site I tried had crashed from enormous traffic.  So had the second.  Unable to immediately satisfy his appetite for bloodshed and tragedy, the owner grew bored and left.  As soon as his car pulled out of the parking lot, I turned the radio on hungry for news.  I wasn’t disappointed.  The radio was tuned to 106.9 The Bear, and it was no more than a minute or two after I hit the stereo’s power button that a shaken voice broke into the music and announced a second plane had crashed into the opposite tower.  Ottawa’s self-proclaimed best rock station was an all-news one for the rest of the day.

            Once news broke that a second passenger jet had crashed into the World trade Center, there was little doubt this was some kind of an attack, but short of that, no one knew anything.  My stereo cut in and out, the rising sun messing with it’s reception, and most of the web sites I tried desperate for information were down or my dinosaur of a computer was taking forever to log on because of the traffic.  It turned out that was just as well, whatever was passing for news that day was little more than speculation and rumour.  Most of the information I gathered was from Ebay, where I spoke with sellers and buyers alike for most of the day, swapping what little info we had, offering support and even condolences when necessary.  I didn’t have a lot of customers that Tuesday, but what few I did have shared a nugget or two of info as well, most of it cheap gossip.  All of Manhattan was covered by clouds of ash and smoke, both Towers had collapsed, the death toll was a quarter of a million people, the Pentagon was on fire, the White House was under attack; it would be days before anything resembling actual information was available.  But by that afternoon, downtown Ottawa was completely empty, most of its businesses had closed up shop because of the absolute absence of customers (unless you counted the police patrolling the streets or the fully armed Marines stationed in front of the American embassy).  I didn’t see the infamous pictures of the jet liners slamming into those impossibly high towers until I got home, and I have to admit, to this day I still flinch whenever I see them.  The pictures of people hurling themselves off the Center’s roofs to escape the inferno’s hungry flames, choosing suicide over being burned to death, cost me some sleep as well.  But the one image that disturbed me the most, that troubled me to the centre of my being, was of the first responders after the Towers finally failed and collapsed.  My father was a firefighter for thirty years and the images of exhausted New York firefighters walking out of the toxic cloud the Towers had vomited up as they died, covered in ghostly ash, their faces wet with tears as the horrible knowledge that hundreds of their friends and brothers had been buried alive set in, those images will haunt me for the rest of my days on this Earth.

            I had a history teacher tell me once that the entire planet was now a village, and in some way or another, we’re all now connected; the infamous six degrees of separation.  If I hadn’t learned that lesson before, I learned it that week.  I talked away a number of afternoons in the shop with a gentleman from Phoenix who’d been in Ottawa on business.  With all commercial air traffic grounded following the attacks, he found himself literally trapped here and many of the lines of communication we take for granted were swamped, cutting him off from his family and isolating him even more.  I was more than happy to offer him a free cigar or two and be his sounding board.  It was all I could really do.  The week before 9/11, I’d sold a specialty Zippo lighter to a Port Authority worker in Florida on Ebay.  Following the attacks, he and I briefly became digital pen pals; he was working 24-hour shifts and he didn’t have any family.  He confided in me that for those few days, even though I was thousands of miles away, I was the only one he had to talk to.  Then Prime Minister Jean Chretien declared the following Friday an official day of mourning in Canada, and that afternoon thousands of people descended on Parliament Hill to honour New York’s fallen, singing the American national anthem at the height of the ceremonies.  Shortly after the mid-day vigil concluded, an American couple who’d been touring Canada in their RV came into the shop looking for relief from the persistent summer sun.  They, like my friend from Phoenix, were trapped in a friendly yet foreign land while their own wounded country grieved.  The only thing that made it bearable, they said, was the support and generosity they’d been given by their Canadian hosts and the scene on Parliament Hill that day moved them to tears.  In that moment, I have never been so proud to be Canadian (a sentiment that was tarnished a few weeks later when our esteemed Prime Minister dismissed the idea of a monument built in memory of the 26 Canadians who died in the attacks, saying “these things happen”).

            My mother often told me she remembered where she was and what she was doing the exact second she heard President John F Kennedy had been assassinated.  She used to tell me she heard the same thing from her mother about Pearl Harbour.  Every generation has it’s “where were you moment,” a pivotal event that hijacks the world’s attention and redirects history, usually with violent, tragic consequences.  A moment that almost always signals the dawn of a new chapter in human history.  September 11th was ours.  It changed the world forever and virtually every human being alive then or since has been touched by it.  It resulted in two conventional wars in distant lands (wars that the West is still mired in), the largest global manhunt in history that came to an end nearly a full decade later when Navy Seal Team 6 killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, and a War on Terror that has seen the West shake hands with tyrants and get in bed with butchers in an attempt to defeat an enemy it can’t always see let alone name.  Invasive inspections at airports across the globe, NSA spying, unmanned assassination drones, the Patriot Act, rendition and waterboarding, slowly disappearing freedoms and liberties, friendly borders that now take twice as long to cross, unconstitutional pat down laws, increasingly militarized police forces, all of these happened literally overnight because of those planes and the evil men who turned them into weapons of mass murder.  9/11 cast a veil of fear and paranoia over the entire planet, one that has sunk into almost every detail of our daily lives.  The world went a little insane that wretched day (or a little more depending on your point of view), and we all discovered an ugly new bogey-man hiding in our closets.  It’s little wonder then, that we all remember that day, where we were and what we were doing, with brutal, vicious clarity.  After all, it’s tough to forget the moment you witnessed the birth of a new, dark chapter in human history.

Shayne Kempton

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     Words have meaning.  Words can hurt.  It doesn’t matter if you grasp their full meaning or if have any intent to hurt someone with a particular word, their meaning is fixed and absolute. Don’t believe me?  Try walking into the Ottawa airport and shouting BOMB really, really loud.  Try the same thing at the front gates of the American Embassy.  Oh, here’s a good one, I dare you to walk right up to your wife or girlfriend or significant other with a big smile on your face on call her the infamous B word (but be sure to let her know its only word).  Better yet, walk into Harlem and yell the N word at the top of your lungs, then get back to me and let me know how well any of these experiments turned out.  Or if you’re feeling really adventurous, take a trip to Russia, walk right into the middle of Red Square and scream GAY PRIDE over and over (just don’t send me your dental bill).  So when someone complains that the name of a sports team is discriminatory and their logo racist, everyone should take a moment to think it through a little before resorting to their reflexive eye roll and false indignation.

On Tuesday, Ian Campeau (an Ojibway Aboriginal and member of Polaris nominated band A Tribe Called Red) filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal objecting to the name and logo of the Nepean Redskins minor league football team.  He feels the branding is discriminatory against Canadian Aboriginals (and he’s right, but more on that later) and this story is painfully similar to the protest that resulted last February when Ottawa’s new National Basketball League of Canada franchise announced they were going to be called the Tomahawks (which was probably nothing more a marketing stunt to get everyone in Ottawa talking about basketball for a day instead of hockey-why else do you think they were able to unveil a brand new name and logo just a few weeks later?).

A lot of the public feedback on this story resembles the same recycled arguments from many previous arguments on the same topic.  People are tossing out the reliable “politically over-correct,” and “language police” criticisms and the “its only a word, it only has the power we give it” line has been thrown around more than the proverbial football.  And I’ve read a lot of comments actually arguing the validity of the word redskins as a racist term or outright mocking of Campeau’s complaint.  And if someone hasn’t tried to assassinate Campeau’s character yet, it’s only a matter of time.

Look up redskins in any dictionary you want and it will tell you, by its very definition, the word is a racially derogatory term for all First Nations Peoples.  Not one dictionary that isn’t written by a neo-nazi will tell you it’s an acceptable word.  And whether or not someone knows it’s meaning, it’s history or even the intent behind using it is irrelevant.  If your child were to yell out the N word in the playground, would you laugh it off and dismiss it with a “kids will be kids smile?”  What if they used it while talking to someone who was black, despite not knowing what it meant?  Would it be acceptable?  And would anyone defend a team name that included the N word (or any other racially offensive term for any other identifiable group)?  Of course they wouldn’t.  And while some members of the Aboriginal community my accept the term, there are many who are offended by it, and consider it just as offensive and degrading.  So why is calling a football team played by teenagers redskins acceptable?

You’re going to find the majority of people who are up in arms over this complaint are mostly white, which makes my next point even more potent.  Like it or not, Canada (and the United States) inherited a legacy of genocide.  Each and every First Nation in North America was brutally slaughtered by invading white, European imperialists.  Canada’s methods weren’t always as brutal as the Americans, but just as lethal.  Our preferred methods of cultural erasure included starvation, biological warfare (giving Aboriginals blankets infected with fatal diseases) and addiction.  Historians are in agreement that well over 120 million aboriginals were massacred by the territories and colonies that would become Canada and the United States (Stalin’s Soviet Union and Hitler’s Nazi Germany pale by comparison).  Canada’s Residential schools, responsible for the deaths of an estimated 3000 children and an unacceptable amount of sexual, physical and emotional suffering, typifies the abuse and neglect we’ve visited upon the descendants of the cultures our ancestors tried so hard to exterminate.  The Canadian and American reserve system was even studied by South Africa as a model for their Apartheid system.  Yes, Canada’s treatment of its Aboriginal community was almost inspiration for one of the greatest humanitarian crimes of the twentieth century.  Given that blood soaked history and the deplorable conditions faced by Aboriginals today (a shockingly high teenage suicide rate among them), maybe we should back away from using racist names for minor league sports?  After all, how tasteless would it be if a German minor league football team named itself The Jews?  Or one in Mississippi called itself The Negroes?

Campeau didn’t accuse the team of outright racism, and he isn’t seeking any damages or demanding that the team stop playing.  He simply wants them to abandon the name and logo many members of the Aboriginal community find racially offensive (and he’s backed up by every dictionary on the planet).  He’s even said he’d be willing to raise money to help them buy new gear.  But let’s reverse the question; what if there was an Aboriginal team (or Black or Hispanic or Asian) that called themselves the Krackers (or Honkeys or Klansmen)?  Don’t you think a lot of white people would be a bit pissed?  Or would the names merely be words, invested only with the power we give them?

Shayne Kempton

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English: Justin Trudeau promotional photo take...

English: Justin Trudeau promotional photo taken by Jean-Marc Carisse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Well Justin Trudeau ruffled a few feathers last week, didn’t he?  While discussing the legalization of marijuana in Canada, Liberal leader and Papineau MP Justin Trudeau admitted that he’s smoked the cannabis in question five or six times over the course of his lifetime, including once after he was elected a Member of Parliament in 2008 (unlike tricky Bill, it turned out Justin did in fact, inhale).  Many of his critics joined with members of the Conservative government (who expect to be campaigning against Trudeau in the next federal election) to pounce on the admission as a reflection of his shortcomings as both a leader and a man; not only did he consume a controlled substance, he did so as a member of Parliament, bringing disgrace and shame to the noble House of Commons and the Institution of the Canadian government.  OK, I’m embellishing a little, but suffice to say, there were more than a few people who were genuinely miffed that Trudeau Jr. had partaken of the Mary Jane, and while they might be able to forgive him if it was all youthful indiscretion, the fact he did so as an adult (and father) seemed to be an even more unforgivable crime.

The debate around legal marijuana was already occupying headlines here in Ottawa as police and municipal authorities have found themselves in a sort of unofficial tug of war with a new marijuana dispensary that opened in the Nation’s Capital in June (called the Greater Ottawa Health Advocacy Centre), and there’s been no shortage of legal acrobatics as a result.  And last month, a group called the Ontario Safety League petitioned the provincial government to crack down on convenience stores and mom and pop shops selling marijuana paraphernalia like pipes, bongs and roach clips, claiming it’s availability sends the wrong message to children.  I’m gonna go out on a limb here and suggest both the Conservatives and the OSL relax a little and grow up a bit.  Maybe they should, you know, try a joint or two themselves.

For the most part, Canadians rate pot pretty low on their daily list of things that may kill, mug or otherwise violate them.  Canada has a pretty laissez-faire attitude when it comes to enjoying a reefer or two (or four or five) and the use of medicinal marijuana is pretty much an accepted fact of Canadian life.  Even the United States, a country whose movement on social issues often makes glaciers look hyper-active, has seen a shift in popular attitudes on weed, with more and more states legalizing it’s medicinal use (though there are still plenty of states that consider it a toxic enemy of both Jesus and the almighty State and have unleashed SWAT teams on places they suspect may be harbouring a plant or two). CNN’s popular medical guru, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, reversed his long-held opposition to the use of medicinal marijuana, describing his previous position on the matter wrong and ill-informed.  Even President Barack Obama experimented with marijuana during his college days (and my oh my, didn’t FOX news and the Breitbart Report have a ball with that little nugget).  Now in Trudeau’s case, there is a definite element of hypocrisy.  In 2009, he voted in favour of legislation which would have  introduced mandatory minimum sentences for possession of marijuana, and this would have been around the last time he toked up.  Now while the Conservatives current attack strategy on this front failed (most Canadians dismissed the issue as a non-starter and some polls suggest Trudeau’s approval ratings-already higher than the Prime Minister’s according to some national number crunchers-got a bit of a bump), Canada’s Tories have proven nothing if not agile, and you can expect Stephen Harper’s camp to spin the pot issue as more of an hypocrisy and leadership one then a legal one moving forward.  Some more hardcore members of Canada’s conservative media have tried painting this as a contemporary Adscam scandal, digging up “evidence” and dates in an attempt to draw some sort of elaborate conspiracy of, well, no one really knows.  Failing that, they have criticized him for trying to score cheap political points with Canadian voters (don’t any public statements made by any politician, Liberal or Conservative, try to score political points with voters?  With cheap ones being the best kind?), but the only Canadians to take their attempts seriously is the small fringe tribe who would hate the cure for cancer if it came from anyone who wasn’t a Conservative.  If anything, Trudeau’s very, very rare (according to him) penchant for enjoying a joint now and then should be far less concerning then Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s increasingly common episodes of public drunkenness, as well as his occasional attempts to cover his missteps up before being confronted with concrete evidence.  And that’s to say nothing of his (possibly unfounded) allegations of crack cocaine use.  Personally, Trudeau’s admission doesn’t change my perception of him any.  Mostly because aside from his support for legalizing marijuana, I have no idea what his policies are or where he stands on major issues.  Has he offered an opinion on possible Canadian military involvement in Syria, for instance (or a concrete alternative if he opposes it)?  What are his ideas for the economy and jobs?  How does he plan on addressing the challenges our public healthcare system faces in the near future?  What does he think of unmanned American drones in Canadian airspace?  The atrocious and unacceptable conditions most of Canada’s First Peoples live in?  Arctic Sovereignty?  Quite often, his default stance seems to be whatever puts him squarely opposite of what the ruling Conservatives are saying.  Those are the things that influence my decision when I’m casting my ballot, not if he indulged in a harmless hobby nearly a decade ago.

As for the Ontario Safety League, I’d be inclined to take them more seriously if they invested as much energy to remove tobacco products from stores as well, because let’s be honest folks, having kids smoking cigarettes is more likely and far, far more dangerous.  And you can add alcohol to that list as well if you’d like.  A lot of people refuse to believe it, but marijuana is a far more benign substance (though much more tightly controlled) then the products that Big Tobacco or your favorite brewery produces.  When was the last time you heard of someone dying of marijuana cancer?  Or being killed while toking and driving?  Don’t confuse my sarcasm with mockery of serious tragedy, but the fact remains that cigarettes and alcohol are far more addictive (why do you think Big Tobacco in the US has been paying out billion dollar settlements for the better part of the past two decades?) and each can kill you in a hundred different ways with a dozen different breeds of cancer.  And if you have any doubt about behavioral influences, just ask your local police force if they’d rather be called to a domestic dispute involving alcohol or marijuana.  What do you think the answer might be?  At best, weed may give someone a bad case of the munchies, little more.  And when was the last time you heard of a doctor prescribing a medicinal cigarette or screwdriver?  I rest my case.

The majority of opposition to marijuana is based on a very old, very obsolete and very hypocritical ideology, one that is slowly eroding in the face of growing awareness and acceptance.  I myself believed it was a drug like many others until I began to think for myself and learned that most of what I’d been told about the substance was about as legit as Lance Armstrong’s Tour de France wins.  Do I honestly care if a politician tokes up now and then?  Not in the slightest?  But do I care if he gets hammered more than occasionally?  You betcha, because an addiction to alcohol doesn’t just pose a far greater threat to the addict in question, but to those around them as well (MADD has some pretty grim statistics on how many Canadian funerals take place every year as a result of drinking and driving).  What I do care about is that public figure’s candor about the issue.  And if a public organization decides to publicly wade into a debate, then they need to understand that any scent of hypocrisy is going to cost them serious credibility (quick query, if the OSL is so concerned about the well-being of our children, when was the last time they issued a public message on sugar, the 21st century’s new tobacco?).  And when it comes to marijuana, the government already provides Canadians with more hypocrisy then they can stomach.

And you can rest easy mom.  I, like President Clinton, have never inhaled but not for fear of the potential consequences, but rather because I couldn’t handle the smell (seriously, the stuff does reek).  It’s the same reason I don’t drink coffee or tea (plus, can you honestly imagine me on caffeine?  Didn’t think so.).  But that time, during my slightly botched appendectomy, when there was a lapse of communication at the nurse’s station and I got an injection of painkiller as well as three or four pills?  I’m not going to lie, THAT was pretty sweet.

Shayne Kempton

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English: Canadian parliament from the Musée ca...

English: Canadian parliament from the Musée canadien des Civilisations in Gatineau Français : Parlement canadien depuis le Musée canadien des Civilisations à Gatineau (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


     So here it is September and the Nation’s Capital has once again welcomed its annual wave of new residents, all prepping for the new school year.  The Labour Day weekend came and went as they always have here in Ottawa, with legions of students enrolled at one of our numerous higher educational institutions moving into their temporary addresses, parents and boxes in tow.  Yes, it’s that time of year when the next eight months are looking bright and shiny and new, seen with a breed of fresh optimism that will evaporate the second the first professor deals out the first homework assignment.  For those of you returning, and many more who are favouring our fair city for the first time, here are five pieces of wisdom I’ve collected during my time living in Ottawa, shared here for your benefit.  You first time residents may find some of this helpful, returning ones humorous.  But either way, drum roll please . . .

5.  Behave Yourself:  When the need strikes to cut loose a little bit and sample some of Ottawa’s night life, you’ll find you have plenty of options to choose from.  But keep in mind, Ottawa is a fairly close-knit town, and the employees at one bar or club may find themselves working at another establishment in the near future.  Or they may already work at two places at the same time.  There’s also a good chance they know people who work at the club across the street or the bar by the same name across town.  My point is, if you get in a bouncer’s face or offend a waitress or get kicked out of one place, there is a very, very good chance many other drinking holes in town will know your name and face in the amount of time it takes to send a Tweet or update a Facebook status.  So have fun, but remember to behave yourself and tip your waitress on the way out.

4. By-Laws R Us:  Ottawa isn’t merely Canada’s capital, but we’re also the country’s unofficial by-law capital.  Whether it’s because we have so many government offices and branches from so many different levels co-existing within one town or that we have the National Capital Commission sticking their bureaucratic fingers in every pie or that Ottawa is just more anal, we seem to lead the continent in by -aws.  Ask your favourite business owner or landlord sometimes about the jungle of red tape in this city compared with other Canadian burghs.  Suffice to say, there is an army of uniformed by-law officers waiting to pounce and hand you a hundred-dollar ticket (or more) for some minor infraction or offence.

3: Behave Yourself 2:  Ottawa isn’t just home to Canada’s Parliament, but also to its Supreme Court, various Ministries, foreign Embassies and the headquarters of a number of federal departments.  And suffice to say, with that much political capital lurking Ottawa’s streets, the Nation’s Capital attracts it’s fair share of CEOs and corporate profiteers for regular visits.  So with that many politicians, ambassadors, diplomats, supreme court justices and other assorted power players and rich guys, you can imagine how much security is wandering around this town.  There’s the Ottawa PD, the Ontario Provincial Police, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, an over abundance of Canadian Forces troops, private security, etc. etc.  Just ask yourself how many marines are hanging out in the America Embassy on a regular basis.  You may not see them, but trust me when I say they’re there.  When 9/11 went down, they were on the streets outside the embassy in a matter of minutes in full fatigues and carrying serious firepower.  Odds are, if you’re doing something wrong, half a dozen pairs of eyes are watching.

2 From Point A to B:  Ottawa has one of the best public transportations systems in North America, and the majority of its drivers and other employees are genuinely good guys doing an often thankless job.  Now having said that, make a habit to get to your bus stop at least five minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive and don’t be shocked if it’s five minutes late. Or more.  And you’ll soon discover that it isn’t altogether uncommon for a bus to never show up at all.  This city wasn’t designed to handle the amounts of traffic it currently sees, and when it’s “was only supposed to last the summer” construction projects stretch into September, October and even November, things get even more complicated.  And while the most of the drivers are cool, it’s an absolute guaranteed fact of life that the one time you decide to snap on a driver, you’re going to do so one the biggest ass hole on the schedule that day.  And when winter arrives, Ottawa traffic, a nightmare of binge drinking proportions normally, becomes even more brutal.  And speaking of winter . . .

1 Winter Is Coming.  And Yes, It’s Cold:  Depending on who you talk to (and there is some debate on the matter) Ottawa is the second coldest capital in the world.  Only Moscow is colder (and we’re not just referring to the hospitality) so you can expect three or four frigid months of misery in the coming year.  Not even going to try to sugar coat it.  There are going to be days when it’s so cold that when you sneeze it’s going to come out as slush.  There are going to be times that you may be tempted to slash certain portions in your yearly budget to afford an extra night or two out on the town, but trust me, you do not want to shave a single penny off your budget for winter clothes, boots or home heating.  And other than snow, politicians and by-laws, you know what Ottawa doesn’t need more of?  People flooding social media to give the rest of us a weather report.  Between December and March, your local meteorologist of choice will do a fine enough job telling you how low the mercury is going to plummet on a daily basis.  We don’t need 842 000 Facebook statuses telling us every day that it’s cold.  If it’s February and you’re in Ottawa, odds are you won’t be breaking out the sun tan lotion.  I don’t need this universally accepted fact Tweeted at me three hundred times a day.  Because it’s just going to piss me off more.  Bitching about the weather doesn’t change it and it really just makes everyone around you want to face palm you.  With broken glass.  And fire.  Besides, with global warming rearing it’s fierce-some head more and more, real winter may soon find itself facing extinction.  And when you curse the cold and wish it was sunny and thirty degrees all twelve months of the year, just remember the Chinese proverb about being careful what you wish for.

So there you have it, five simple suggestions and observations I’ve amassed from my two decades here.  And for the most part, they’re simply the product of common sense. Ottawa can be a good town, if you know how to treat her right.  And knowing some of her more eccentric personality traits doesn’t hurt either.

Shayne Kempton