Fellow white Canadians: it’s time to speak up about racism towards Canada’s First Nations

On Friday, the small northern community of La Loche, Saskatchewan was devastated by a school shooting that left four people dead and seven seriously injured. While friends and family members struggle to make sense of this shattering event, while the victims who survived recuperate in hospital, while Brad Wall, Saskatchewan’s premier, pledges the provincial government’s support, while the shooter (a youth whose name cannot be released) awaits his trial, while blame is laid here and there and many see this event as yet another tragic link in a long chain of poverty, violence, and government neglect in First Nations communities in Canada, the one thing I’m sure we can all agree on is that this is not a great time for making racist jokes.

Unfortunately not.

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This is an actual tweet from Friday night, as people used the hashtag, “#LaLoche” to send prayers and messages of compassion and support to a community in mourning (I do not follow this tweeter–this tweet came to my attention through another person quoting it in disgust). Now, with a Twitter name like “liquorbeaver” and a handle like “@EtanTwatts”, this guy (I’m assuming, with the puns about licking beaver and eating twats this is a white, hetero-normative male rather than a lesbian woman but I suppose I could be wrong) could definitely be called an Internet “troll”. He clearly likes getting a rise out of people and knew that making fun of a tragedy would be a great way to do it. He must have had a great night, fielding the angry responses from people like me:

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In fact, I’m absolutely sure he was loving it:

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[Note how he calls the shooter a “savage” here–classy!]

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Ah. I see. It’s MY fault for CHOOSING to INTERPRET his making a race-based hurtful comment about First Nations people in response to a school shooting in a First Nations community (in which he literally says, “Forget the shooting”) as racist. Pardonnez-moi. Poor liquorbeaver. He’s not a racist, right? He’s just a poor misunderstood truth-teller!

I should note that the screen shot he attaches here seems to be from a StatsCan report about dropout rates among different Canadian demographics, but since he didn’t actually link to the report I can’t verify its legitimacy. Here’s a closer look at the relevant section:

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Giving Mr. Beaver the benefit of the doubt (not that he deserves it), let’s assume these statistics are accurate as of the time of whatever report this is. Let’s say the dropout rate among First Nations students aged 20-24 is higher than those of non-Aboriginal Canadians. Okay. Well–firstly, this is a statistic about people aged 20-24, so, this is not a report about typical school-aged children, secondly, a 22.6% dropout rate still means non-dropout rate of 77.4%, which means there are more people still in school than dropping out. Thirdly, there are a lot of complex, systemic, and/or just totally shitty, racist, and unfair reasons that a First Nations (adult) student’s ability to complete their schooling would be negatively impacted, far beyond the struggles most white Canadians experience. Fourthly, this statistic appears to apply to 20-24-year-olds specifically living off-reserve, so it’s really a terribly incomplete picture of the highschool completion rates of First Nations students as a whole. Obviously, the numbers don’t really say what he thinks they do, and liquorbeaver seems to be CHOOSING to INTERPRET them as justification for his bigotry. How unfortunate for the strength of his argument.

But Mr. Beaver’s poor understanding of statistics and his lack of critical thinking skills are not the point. The point is that I don’t think liquorbeaver is just some Internet troll. If he were, he wouldn’t care that I called his joke racist, and he wouldn’t try to justify his racist remarks to me or anybody.

The point is that he thinks it’s OKAY to make a joke about First Nations people in response to a school shooting. The point is that he seems to suggest that the disproportionately high dropout rate among First Nations students (which is generally accepted as fact in Canada although not represented in the report liquorbeaver was using) is somehow a product of their race, rather than, for example, the historical, ongoing, and far reaching disastrous impacts of colonial invasion and colonial extermination and assimilation policies. The point is that he thinks using words like “indian” and “savage” in reference to First Nations people is okay (hint: even when four people HAVEN’T just been murdered, it’s not okay), and that using these terms doesn’t make him racist because he feels he is “right”. And the point is that, at the time I took my first screen shot, two people had “liked” his racist tweet.

Two people isn’t a lot of people. But I know there are a lot of people, in Saskatchewan and the rest of Canada, who saw liquorbeaver’s tweet and secretly agreed. They maybe wouldn’t have been so callous as to retweet or “like” it or to make that joke themselves (at least not so soon after the shooting), but I know there are lots of white people in Canada who would agree with liquorbeaver because I’ve heard them say similar things before. And not just on the Internet. In real life. In public. At parties or at work or at school and even at university. A lot of white people in Canada think it’s perfectly fine to talk about First Nations people this way, as if it’s just “the truth” and isn’t racist. As if it’s not possible to be racist about First Nations people. As if, if they don’t like what white Canadians are saying about them, First Nations Canadians should just stop being so lazy, drunk, uneducated, criminal, promiscuous, or whatever other hurtful label we want to throw on them. I know there are a lot of white people in Canada right now reading about La Loche and tut-tutting about how this is just another example of First Nations people killing First Nations people and they need to sort themselves out and this has nothing to with the rest of us, that we are not implicated in this.

No. Sorry. Not good enough. I’ve had it with this bullshit (and if I’ve had it, I can’t even imagine how fed up and bone-tired and frustrated First Nations people must be). It’s 2016, for pity’s sake, the history is out there for anyone to learn, and we STILL think that people we have actively exploited and killed and neglected and trodden down and dehumanized over centuries should somehow pull themselves up by their bootstraps without us at least getting out of their f*cking way and admitting that the country as a whole has a serious problem? While we continue to use racial slurs and perpetuate racial stereotypes? While we ignore the fact that we benefit from our privilege every single day and that maybe, just maybe, we should try to help balance the scales?

There are a lot of white Canadians who are trying to be more cognizant of and educated about First Nations people and what they experience(d) in Canada, and who are trying to be good allies (I’m trying too). When I was younger I was too scared of my peers and co-workers to speak up when someone said something out of line. It was easier to just ignore it, and quietly find a peer group and profession where these kinds of comments are all but unheard of. But I’m older now. And this is too damn important. I’m a white, middle-class Canadian woman with a university education who experiences privilege in more ways than I’m even aware of. I know I could never understand what First Nations people in Canada have gone through, and I know I didn’t change liquorbeaver’s mind. But simply “not being racist” myself isn’t good enough anymore. I have a responsibility to point out racist shit that isn’t okay. I have a responsibility to let people who make these kinds of horrible “jokes” know that I’m not laughing with them. It’s really actually the very least I can do.

 

On Being Afraid of the Work (Flowers and Toads)

Over the weekend I read (for class) an excerpt from a book called I Swear I Saw This: Drawings in Fieldwork Notebooks, Mainly My Own by Australian anthropologist Michael Taussig. In chapter 2, Taussig discusses the failures of written notes at recording and communicating his experiences in the field and the ways in which he has found drawing pictures (quick sketches, diagrams, etc.) to be more immediate and fruitful. What he describes as the failure of fieldnotes can, I think, be applied to any attempt at a faithful record of events or expression of an inspiration–in the transcribing, something is lost or changed; what is important remains elusive and what is unimportant intrudes on the page (or the canvas, or the stage, etc.) in a rather unsatisfactory way. Taussig quotes the French poet Stéphane Mallarmé: “the flowers that fall from my mouth are changed into toads.” *

This, I think, is one of the chief reasons why I have so far failed to really really commit to my work as a writer. Sure, I’m writing, I’m writing papers and blog posts and the occasional stage piece for a friend, but this is not my work. I do have a specific work, (images lodged in the back of my brain, sentences scattered across notebooks and computer files) but it is always the very last thing I attend to. Of course, I am good at coming up with reasons for why this is so, the main one being that all of the other writing I do has deadlines and my “work” does not. Only I will know if there is still something owing, and it is likely only I will care. And I get busy. And I get lazy. And the only person I’m letting down is myself, so I don’t do the work.

I have a sneaking suspicion, though, that I would do the work if I were braver, even if it was time-consuming. I obviously don’t mind writing–I’m writing right now!–but I do mind failure, especially when it comes to something that, while it remains little more than a shadow with a few defined edges, has been internally nurtured and kept safe for a not insignificant period of time. I feel a responsibility to get it right, to do justice to whatever whisper found its way to me. I know what creative failure fails like, and it is sour, and it is indelible, and it stains the beautiful ideas that had given themselves so perfectly and trustingly to me. I am in possession of delicate buds that I hope upon hope will burst into bloom, but I am afraid to touch them lest they turn into toads in my clumsy hands.

Photo: Brayden McCluskey

Photo: Brayden McCluskey

[* Sadly, I could not find this quotation on the Internet so I do not know from whence in Mallarmé’s oeuvre it came.]

Every Day Can Be New Year’s Day

Happy new year, Nifty readers, and welcome to the year 2016!

Like many of you, I’ve been reflecting on the year that has just passed and wondering what resolutions, if any, I should attempt to keep over the next 365 days (it’s a leap year so there are still 365 days left after today–bonus day! Yippee!). My resolutions, if I were to make any, would be fairly similar to the resolutions I had last year, and the year before (be kind, write more, keep my apartment tidy and organized). They’re good goals to try for and I’ll probably just keep working at them but to be honest I’m not sure about this whole “New Year’s Resolution” thing anymore.

January 1 is just an arbitrary day–it isn’t even the start of the new year for every religion, or every culture. It’s just a marker, one 24-hour point on the 940 million-km elliptical trail that is our 365.25-day journey around the sun. Just one point, out of an infinitesimal number of possible points. Any day on that orbit could be important, and any tiny millisecond could have more significance than days or months or even years of living so far.

It’s great to start your new life, or new good habit, or new hobby, on January 1 if that’s the day you decide to do it. But every other day is just as good, and any day can be an important one, a milestone day. Any day can be a day by which you count out your life. For example, I can count a particular facet of my life from the day I met my husband, or from our first date, or the day we moved in together, or from the day we got engaged, or the day we were married. I can count different journeys in my life from the day I began at my current job, or the day I started my masters degree. I can pull back further, and count from the day I moved to BC, or the day I was finally free of a particularly toxic relationship for good, or the day I began university, or the day I met my best friend. I can count from the day of my birth if I want to–or any other day.

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Behold 2016–every day’s potentially a great one!

What I’m saying is that any and every day is a perfect day to start your new life, or to leave behind something that is hurting you, or to try something you’ve never tried before. Any and every day could be the day that something wonderful happens–that some new person or opportunity enters your life. You don’t need to wait for January 1 to become sober, you don’t need to wait for Valentine’s Day to tell your partner you love them. You don’t need to wait for the end of the week, end of the month, end of the semester, etc. to try that new thing or to get back to that great hobby you really enjoy.

Having an aspiration or seeking happiness or becoming a better person is not about January 1. It’s about every single day you ever have for the rest of your life, whether you have a lot of days left or a comparative few. Any day could be the start of something amazing, and if you find that you have not kept to your resolutions as you would have liked, any day is a perfect day to start trying again.

Today I Want to Talk About Intimate-Partner Violence

I hate to be a downer so close to one of my favourite times of year, but today I want to talk about intimate-partner violence, and specifically (since women make up the majority of victims of intimate-partner violence), about violence against women. I have not been a victim of intimate-partner violence, however, I have been thinking a lot about it in the past few days.

You see, on Friday I had minor dental surgery. Over the next few days, as the swelling in my right cheek went down, I noticed bruising begin to darken under my eye and on my cheek. I’m not really sure how I managed to get a black eye from a gum graft (maybe my dentist was resting his hand on my cheekbone just under my eye and I didn’t notice because my face was frozen?), but at any rate, I looked a little rough.

Of course, that didn’t stop me from getting back into the swing of things after my dentist-mandated two days of rest: going Christmas shopping with TC, attending a Christmas party, going to work. If I noticed people noticing the bruises on my face I’d explain that I’d just had dental surgery and we’d all laugh.

We’d laugh because the idea of me being in a fist fight with someone, or the idea of my loving and even-tempered husband ever behaving violently towards me, is laughable. That kind of violence is totally alien to me and is so far outside the sphere of my life right now that the idea of anyone ever intentionally giving me a bruised cheek and a black eye is actually funny.

Except…it’s not. As I walked around in the mall on Monday, or sat with my husband in the food court, or caught questioning eyes on my face at work, I realized that the idea of a woman you know being punched in the face by her partner is not so preposterous. It’s very likely that many people who saw my bruises this week thought this is what had happened (as I signed for a package yesterday the DHL delivery man even said carefully, “I have to ask you what happened to your eye” and was very relieved when I told him about my dental work). It’s the same conclusion I would likely jump to if I saw a woman with bruises on her face–it’s almost cliche, the face of the battered woman. Because it happens far too often.

What do you tell a woman who has two black eyes?

Nothing. She’s already been told twice.

I can’t remember who first told me that “joke”, or how old I was the first time I heard it. I do know I’ve heard it more than once. I’ve also heard more than one girlfriend jokingly proclaim “I fell down the stairs!” when asked about a bruise, which was only a “joke” because most of us knew that the phrase “I fell down the stairs” (or “I walked into a door”) was a code–one of a variety of common lies used by women to cover for an abusive partner. This is a “joke” I’ve made with friends too. Why was it funny? Was it funny because we felt safe from violence? Or was it funny because we aren’t, and laughter covers up our feelings of powerlessness?

Need_infographicsENG_cropped_0I have never been struck by a partner and I have never been afraid that any romantic partner would physically harm me. I don’t want to say this makes me lucky, because lucky is when you find a $5 bill on the ground, not when you are treated at the base level of how every human being should be treated. And yet, to say that women who experience violence at the hands of someone they love are not unlucky seems to suggest that there is some way they can, or could have, controlled the actions of their partner (or made better choices). And that’s not fair, and it’s not true.

After the third or fourth mention of my black eye, I tried to imagine for a moment what it would be like if TC actually HAD punched me in the face. It’s not a thought-exercise I care to repeat, and it made me feel sick; I really can’t picture the man I love doing such a horrible thing. But then I realized–not many of us can. Most of us don’t fall in love expecting to be physically assaulted by our partner. The idea is so at odds with the idea of the person we love, if it happened, we almost wouldn’t believe it, would we? If you think of someone you really REALLY love, someone sweet and gentle, hurting you–you’d literally think they weren’t themselves in that moment, you’d think some kind of extreme provocation must have occurred to push them to do what they did. It wasn’t them, you’d tell yourself, it was stress/anxiety/alcohol/mental health issues, etc. And then you’d start thinking, “If I don’t nag them/argue with them/make them jealous, they won’t do it again,” which unfortunately is simply never true.

Like many people, I’ve asked myself “Why can’t women who are being abused just LEAVE?”, as if leaving were so simple and so easy and so safe. I could try to list some of the commonly-cited reasons women stay with an abusive partner, but instead I will defer to the Canadian Women’s Foundation (to see their statistical sources please visit their Facts About Violence page):

IF A WOMAN IS BEING ABUSED, WHY DOESN’T SHE JUST LEAVE THE RELATIONSHIP?

  • Women often stay because the abuser has threatened to kill them if they leave, or to kill himself, or to kill the children.
  • Women believe these threats, for good reason – the most dangerous time for an abused women is when she attempts to leave her abuser. About 25% of all women who are murdered by their spouse had left the relationship. In one study, half of the murdered women were killed within two months of leaving the relationship.
  • Some women stay because the abuser has threatened to harm or kill a household pet. In one study, over 60% of women living in an emergency shelter had their pet or their children’s pet harmed and/or killed by an abusive partner.
  • Almost 60% of all dating violence happens after the woman has broken off the relationship.
  • Women sometimes stay because they are financially dependent on their partner. Over 1.22 million Canadian women live in poverty, along with their children. Women who leave a partner to raise children on their own are more than five times likely to be poor than if they had stayed.
  • Some women stay because they have strong beliefs about keeping family together. Sometimes, relatives or in-laws blame the woman for the violence and insist she stay.
  • Domestic abuse is often a gradual process, with the frequency of assaults and seriousness of the violence slowly escalating over time. Since abusers often express deep remorse and promise to change, it can take years for women to admit that the violence will never stop and the relationship is unsalvageable. In the meantime, the long-term experience of being abused can destroy women’s self-confidence, making it more difficult to believe they deserve better treatment, that she can find the courage to leave, or can manage on their own.

Whether or not a Canadian woman will be a victim of intimate-partner violence almost seems like a crap shoot–either you wind up dating a guy who hurts you, or you don’t. And while abuse doesn’t discriminate, your odds of being that woman who ends up with an abuser are increased if you are First Nations, or a woman of colour, or a woman living in poverty, or a woman with a disability, or a trans* woman–basically, your vulnerability to domestic violence is increased or decreased by factors that have nothing to do with how strong you are or how virtuous you are or how smart you are or whether or not you’re a “good” wife/girlfriend. Various factors can affect your likelihood of experiencing intimate-partner violence, but none of these factors are your fault, and none of these factors make any woman deserving of violent treatment.

And yet….and yet. There are still far too many abused woman in this country, and far too few ways to protect them. Generally speaking, the onus is on women to take the first step to protect themselves and their children (very difficult to do if you are being made powerless and afraid). Nevertheless, the Government of Canada has some information about resources for those experiencing domestic violence, and if your partner is hurting you or making you feel afraid (even if you have not been hurt physically), or you suspect a friend or loved one is being abused, please click the link above.

Note: For your safety, if you are being abused or are afraid your partner will harm you, it is advised that you do NOT access domestic abuse resources on a computer or electronic device your abuser has access to–instead use a computer at work or the Library, a trusted friend’s smartphone, etc.

Second Note: Though the majority of victims of domestic abuse are women and I have focused on female victims of intimate-partner violence in this post, I recognize that all genders can be victims of abuse, and all genders can be perpetrators. I believe the following excerpt from the Options for LGBTQTS Women webpage on the Battered Women’s Support Services website (a Vancouver-based organization), explains this reality thoroughly:

Abuse occurs within lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, queer, trans and straight relationships. It happens in all communities regardless of race, social status or education. Size, strength, mental health, use of substances, gender presentation or politics does not determine whether she or he has been abused or is abusive.

For more information or for support call 604-687-1867 or email intake@bwss.org.

Last Note: A quick Google search can help you find information on women’s shelters and other resources in your area, or can help you find ways to help support vulnerable women in your community. And please, if someone tells you they have been abused, believe them.

Sometimes I Dream That Nothing Can Burn

I’m sure we all have fantasies in  our quiet moments–maybe we fantasize about what we would do if we won the lottery, or if we had superpowers, or maybe we furnish our dream home in our minds, right down to flower boxes in the windows and the happy old dog on the porch. We fantasize about nice things, good things, things that show us a small part of the world as we wish it could be.

For several months I have been visited by a different kind of fantasy–I dream that nothing can burn, or more specifically, that some kind of strange Deus Ex Machina situation has occurred that has indefinitely suspended the physical/chemical ability for all matter on earth to ignite (note that I am excluding extraterrestrial bodies like the sun; I really want the sun to stay on fire).

What does this mean? This means, of course, that no one would be able to burn fossil fuels, since they wouldn’t ignite. We would have to find different ways to power our homes and our vehicles (and our machines of industry, for such industries that would still exist). We would need to adapt, and we would need to adapt quickly. Though it would be very hard at first (and I do worry about those poor folks who depend on wood or peat fires for their cookstoves), we would find another way to live, one that didn’t destroy our planet and ourselves along with it. It’s a nice idea, and I wish that we could all start living as if things don’t burn, as if fossil fuels aren’t an option (which they someday won’t be, but once we realize that it might be too late). We know change is coming, we know we can’t live the way we do now indefinitely, and I wish we could start bringing this change into our present. The future you choose is better than the future that is forced upon you.

My fantasy would also mean that guns, which rely on the ignition of gunpowder to send the bullet out of the gun and ripping through some family’s heart, wouldn’t work. Guns wouldn’t work. Desperate angry people would put on their masks and their hatred and they would arrive at the Bataclan in Paris or at a Planned Parenthood centre in Colorado Springs or the Inland Regional Centre in San Bernardino or at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston or the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown or the École Polytechnique in Montreal and they would pull their triggers and nothing would happen. No one would be a victim that day and no one would be a murderer.

We would still hurt each other just as we always have–with sticks and stones and steel and fists–and in some new ways too (such is technology). But it wouldn’t be so easy. It wouldn’t be so ridiculously, ludicrously, horrifyingly and heart-breakingly easy.

Why can’t we live as if killing each other, and ourselves, is not such an easy thing? If you’ve ever loved anyone, you know that their life, human life, is the dearest gift there is.

On the Paris Attacks: How Flowers Really Do Protect Us

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I don’t need to tell you what happened in Paris on Friday, November 13, 2015. The merciless and coordinated terrorist attack that left 129 people dead and 368 wounded already has its own Wikipedia entry. Though this attack follows on the heels of a deadly suicide bomb attack in Beirut, and even though Boko Haram killed more people last year than ISIS (earning itself the horrible distinction of being the world’s deadliest terrorist organization), Paris’ popularity as a tourist destination, and its importance in western culture, brought the threat of terror and the reality of the long reach ISIS’ ideological hatred very close to home. Although it is not right of us, we are used to bad things happening, “over there”, and it is simply not very present in many of our minds. But Paris is another story–to many of us, Paris (among other famous European cities like London or Rome) is an icon of cultural achievement and western civilization. It is the City of Light, of art, of romance–it’s a place we go.

So we felt the deaths of those killed in Paris more keenly than we feel the deaths of people in Beirut. Like I said, this is not right–but it is an emotional fact that I am experiencing myself. We know things are bad in Syria and Iraq (obviously, or there wouldn’t be so many refugees risking life and limb to leave), we know other countries around the world are facing instability and threats, and many of us feel sorrow or worry or a need to help, but Paris shook us to our cores.

I’m sure many of us have responded with fear. Many have responded with hatred, and have expressed a desire for revenge, either through violence (“Let’s bomb the shit out of them!”) or through a refusal to offer aid to refugees fleeing civil war and ISIS (“We don’t want them here–they’re going to murder us!”). Hearts have hardened and reason has taken a back seat–many Canadians (including Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall) either don’t know or don’t care that none of the attackers have been identified as Syrian refugees, or that the refugees who will be re-settled in Canada have gone through, and will go through, many high-level security screenings. Some people barely gave a moment of thought to the actual victims in Paris before they started in on the Islamophobic vitriol, so eager were they to express their hatred and fear (almost gleeful, it seems, to have an excuse).

But many have responded with compassion instead–recognizing that refugees from Syria are running from exactly the same people who threaten us. My own resolve remains firm–it was simply luck that I was born in Canada; that doesn’t make me better than anyone born somewhere else, and that doesn’t give me the right to deny them what my grandparents and great-grandparents were given–a safe home that still has so much room for more. Many groups and individuals across Canada are extending their hand and sponsoring refugees, and this is a wonderful thing.

But I am also sad, and scared, and what I want to feel more than anything right now is hope. Which is why this little video clip, of a Parisian father talking to his son, is such a comfort to me:

[Some very silly folks, after watching this video, felt the need to comment that flowers can’t physically protect people from guns–as if we didn’t know! But I don’t feel that the boy’s father was lying. If we honour the dignity of the dead rather than broadcast the hideousness of their killers, if we lay down flowers instead of taking up arms, these gestures will protect what is most valuable in us–our spirit, and our humanity. A people that is physically and materially safe but is violent, suspicious, and cruel, is no people at all.]

We need to remember that children are watching us. The more we fear-monger and hate the more frightened and powerless they will feel. We cannot, hard as we try, guarantee that nothing bad will happen, but we can show them that it is possible to live without fear (even if we ourselves are afraid). We can show them the beauty and goodness that is in the world. We need to do this for them. And I think we need to do it for ourselves too.

 

A Gender-Balanced Federal Cabinet is Neither Unusual nor Unfair

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On Wednesday, our 23rd Prime Minister of Canada,  Justin Trudeau, unveiled his new cabinet. Of the 30 Liberal MPs sworn in as ministers this week (not including Prime Minister Trudeau, who is the 31st member of his cabinet), 15 are women. Which means that if you take the PM out of the equation, our new cabinet is the first in Canadian history to have equal numbers of men and women.

When asked by a reporter why gender parity in the cabinet was important to him, Prime Minister Trudeau simply replied, “Because it’s 2015.”

This is a short remark, somewhat flippant but certainly final (what the kids these days refer to as “dropping the mic”), but it is very important. By refusing to discuss his decision, the Prime Minister of Canada has told us, essentially, that the necessity of a balance of representation that reflects the true gender demographics of the Canadian people is not up for discussion (note: I am aware than no transgender individuals were named to the cabinet, but I am not sure if there are actually any Liberal MPs who are trans* at this time). I agree wholeheartedly–my right as a female Canadian to be just as represented in the federal cabinet as my male counterparts is non-negotiable–however, there are two things I want to say about this historic decision.

THING ONE: For a prime minister to intentionally select members of his/her cabinet in order to achieve a specific kind of demographic representation or to achieve any other kind of symbolic or political aim is not unusual. It happens all the time, for a variety of reasons, including:

Regional balance: any smart prime minister, especially one that has just made gains in regions that are not usually considered their party’s base, would do well to make sure these new regions feel that they have a voice at the table, and that their support is not taken for granted (prime ministers who have just planted their flag in Alberta, for example, need to make damn sure at least one of their cabinet ministers is from Alberta). Canada is a BIG country, and one that, historically, has centered power in Ontario and Quebec. Recent re-distributions of federal ridings have, at long last, shifted some of this political power into different parts of the country, for example, to the Prairies and the West Coast. Only a PM who was arrogant or stupid (or both) would continue to ignore provinces and territories outside of central Canada and leave themselves vulnerable to the charge that “Ottawa doesn’t care about the rest of us.”

Trudeau, contrary to popular belief, has been neither arrogant nor stupid in his cabinet decisions–in addition to achieving gender parity, he has also selected for regional representation. Yes, most of the ministers are still from Quebec and Ontario (these two provinces are still home to the majority of Canadians), but his cabinet includes MPs from every Canadian province and one from the territories. It isn’t about choosing the “best” thirty MPs necessarily, it’s about choosing the best complement of thirty MPs to best represent the people who just voted for you. Selecting for region is no more arbitrary than selecting for gender.

Fresh faces: while of course it’s important to have a healthy supply of experienced veterans (like Ralph Goodale, our new minister of public safety) in cabinet positions, people do get tired of seeing the same old seasoned politicians running the show. Appointing newer MPs to cabinet positions sends the message that the government is interested in more than “business as usual”, that they are open to fresh perspectives and new ideas. For a new prime minister like Trudeau, who ran on a platform of “Real Change”, putting new MPs in cabinet is an absolute necessity. Experienced MPs provide a sense of competence and stability (which is why there are some party veterans in the mix), but Trudeau wasn’t running on the Liberal Party’s past record–in many ways, he was running from it. His entire election campaign strategy revolved around showing Canadians that his Liberal Party was not the Liberal Party of his father, was not the Liberal Party of the sponsorship scandal, and was not the boat-adrift-at-sea mess we saw under Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff. In order to prove you are the party of “Real Change” you have to make some real, well, changes. Which means some star MPs have found themselves outside of cabinet, despite their experience and merits. Which is, again, not unusual. [Side note: Despite his bumbling in 2008, I personally would not guffaw at Dion’s appointment to minister of foreign affairs–you do want someone with experience in that position and though he was a bit of a dud as a party leader Dion has been a cabinet minister twice before and has been a good MP for his riding for almost 20 years.]

What I’m saying is this: with so many MPs, both experienced and brand new, to choose from, cabinet decisions made within any kind of gender-based, regional, multi-cultural, or symbolic parameters are going to appear either arbitrary, or calculated for specific effect (which they are). But this is nothing new–this is politics.

THING TWO: For a prime minister to intentionally select members of his/her cabinet in order to achieve a specific kind of demographic representation or to achieve any other kind of symbolic or political aim is not unfair.

Of course, as soon as there is so much as a whiff of “affirmative action” on the breeze, folks who have never cared about federal cabinet a day in their lives suddenly come out of the woodwork to denounce selecting MPs based on “what’s between their legs” rather than “merit” as unfair.

Firstly, these charges are deeply offensive–there is so much more to being a woman than “what’s between our legs” (and remember that not all women have vaginas, and not all men have penises). The act of being a woman or being a man involves some physiological/biological aspects, yes, but is also a complex kaleidoscope of structures, pressures, and experiences–social, economic, structural, political, sexual, historical, etc. Why is it that the male MPs appointed to cabinet are considered to have experience and education and “merit”, but the female MPs just have vaginas?

These denunciations also demonstrate a misunderstanding of how Canadian politics works (see Thing One). Every single candidate who runs in Canada (with the exception of the leader of a party) is running to be a Member of Parliament–nothing more. Becoming an MP does not mean you will be part of the government, and becoming a government MP does not mean you will be in cabinet. ‘Member of Parliament’ is the ONLY job candidates are being elected for–there is no guarantee of a cabinet position, because MPs are not elected to cabinet, they are appointed. No MP, no matter their experience or gender or other background, has any constitutional reason to expect to become a cabinet minister. It just doesn’t work that way.

“But,” some say, “gender-based appointments are unfair to all those male MPs who got passed up for cabinet posts because they were men. Even though they had more merit.”

The claim of having “more merit” is a dubious one, generally, and hard to defend. “Merit” is not quantifiable in government, nor is it objective. MPs do not have “merit points” assigned based on some kind of impartial rubric that can be totted up to determine who is the more meritorious. Our ideas of merit are based on certain qualities we find important, and they are completely subjective–a quality you might find indicative of merit may not be at all important to me.

You might say that there are some qualities which we can surely all agree are indicative of an MP’s merit–experience, for example, intellect, or education. These qualities are generally wonderful, and I bet they sure do help an MP do a good job, but if the last election has taught us anything, it’s that we actually don’t care about them as much as we do about personality, trust, and charisma. If we did, Justin Trudeau, who has no political experience prior to 2008, and holds no university degree above the undergraduate level, would not be prime minister. If we really cared about “merit”, our prime minister would probably be Elizabeth May, who has a degree in law, has written seven books, was voted Maclean’s Magazine‘s “Parliamentarian of the Year” in 2012 and “Best Orator” in 2014, has never really pissed anyone off, and was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2005. She is one of the hardest-working MPs on Parliament Hill and yet she remains the leader of a one-person party, with only a tiny fraction of the political power of the House. Fair? Maybe not, but I haven’t heard these same “fairness and merit” people cry too much about it.

Besides, we cannot assume that the women on Trudeau’s cabinet are not the best for the job. Yes, they are women, and yes, including  a certain number of women was intentional, but with no quantifiable way to compare “merit” we cannot say that any of these women displaced a more deserving man–in fact, since 50% of the cabinet appointments are intentionally male, we could make the claim that one or more of these men displaced a more deserving woman. “Maleness” is not a default quality of being a cabinet minister, nor it is an indicator of being deserving.

Either way, it’s really a moot point, because cabinet appointments are not about who “deserves” it more–it’s about who will do a good job on their file, who will be an asset rather than a liability in Question Period and media scrums, and who will truly be able to speak for Canadians, rather than speaking to them. Cabinet appointments are not rewards for being a great dude.

Some have suggested that because women make up only 27% of the Liberal caucus (and 26% of total MPs in the House of Commons), it is unfair for them to make up more than 27% of the Liberal cabinet. But this suggestion ignores the distinction between the elected House (or caucus) and the appointed cabinet. The Members of Parliament who sit in the House of Commons are responsible for representing the people who voted for them, i.e., their constituents. No male MP’s power to do this has been curtailed by gender parity in cabinet in any way. Before being enacted, all bills and budgets will be put to a vote in the House of Commons, as usual, and if women make up 26% of the House those female MPs will make up 26% of the vote (we cannot assume, of course, that all of the women in the House will vote the same way simply by virtue of their being women, which would be a frankly ridiculous assumption). The House of Commons (as much as it can in a first-past-the-post system) represents the electoral will of Canadians. This is unchanged.

But the Government of Canada, including its ministries as represented by the cabinet appointees, is not the same as the House. The capital-G Government is responsible for representing ALL Canadians, not just the Canadians who voted for them, not just the Canadians who vote, and not just the Canadians who are eligible to vote. According to Stats Canada, women make up 50.4% of the Canadian population. Why shouldn’t that be reflected in the Canadian cabinet? This still leaves the 49.6% of male Canadians fully represented (actually, more than fully represented since the prime minister makes 16 male members to his cabinet’s 15 female members). So when people say a 50-50 gender split in cabinet is unfair, I wonder, unfair to whom?

I’m tired of a definition of “fair” that says that 50% of the population should get 75% of the Cabinet Pie, and the other 50% should only get 25%, and that it’s fair that which piece of pie you get depends entirely on what’s between your legs. I’m tired of hearing that it’s only “fair” when men have more than women. I’m tired of the assumption that if all rewards were linked only to merit, women wouldn’t have as much or more than men. These definitions and assumptions are offensive, divorced from reality, and seriously outdated.

As the prime minister says, “It’s 2015.”

Election 2015: A time for (cautious) optimism

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Gosh, it looks like the 90s, doesn’t it?

The longest election campaign in Canada’s recent history is finally over, and the results were decisive. So now what?

Now, I did not vote Liberal in Monday’s federal election (I have never voted for any party but the NDP in fact), but I must say that I woke up on Tuesday morning immensely relieved. Stephen Harper is no longer our prime minister.

I’m going to type that one more time with feeling: STEPHEN HARPER IS NO LONGER OUR PRIME MINISTER.

Yes, yes, I appreciate that Harper served the country as its leader for ten years, and that not ALL of his policies were bad, and that many people obviously felt they benefited during his time in office, but the man simply sickened me, and his government was poisoning the country with its dirty and divisive tactics, its dishonesty, its mockery of Parliamentary democracy, its willful sacrifice of evidence-based policies for ideological ones (like its attack on the research-supported and incredibly effective harm-reduction facility InSite), its willingness to kowtow to wealthy oil companies at the expense of our environment, its indifference to veterans, its racism and xenophobia, its intrusion on our liberties, and its sheer LAZINESS and AUDACITY in openly courting only the 30-odd percent of the vote needed to keep itself in power. Canada has lost much of what has made it a traditionally great nation, and some of it (the many decades-long research archives destroyed by the Conservative government, for example) can never be retrieved.

Some of course will sputter, “But…but…the ECONOMY!”, to which I reply, no economy is worth our souls, and ten years of Harper was destroying ours. Besides, the economy, in its current condition, seemed to be succeeding only in making the rich richer and the rest of us poorer so please excuse me if I don’t shed a tear because you can’t afford that new mink coat. Many have also tied their economic protests to the importance of the oil industry, so I’ll also say this: the Canadian oil industry has not been touched by anyone but Harper for the past ten years, and has been shedding jobs for months. Tar sands oil is incredibly expensive to extract, and if oil prices fall as low as they have been and companies can’t make a profit doing it, they’ll stop. Resource extraction tends to be volatile like that. Harper literally gave the Canadian oil industry everything they asked for, and they’re still pulling the plug on projects that, I know, employ a LOT of Canadians. And why? Because oil companies aren’t charities–they don’t give a crap about your jobs or families. If they aren’t making money they won’t keep employing people. That’s just business. I’m sure most of the people currently working in the oil industry are highly skilled hardworking people–they will be in demand in whatever industries eventually move in to take oil’s place (or, of course, oil prices could very well rebound though that doesn’t help the environment much). Things are going to be tough for a lot of people for a while, but no one is doomed.

There are more important things than money.

The Harper government was actively making my country a more ugly, unfriendly place, and I am glad to see it go. I was excited on Monday night, even though I was sad to see awesome NDP incumbents like Peter Stoffer, Megan Leslie, and Paul Dewar lose their seats. I am excited for a new kind of Canada, whatever that will be. I could not have lived with more of the same. This election had my heart in a vice, and now I can finally breathe again.

Alright– so Justin Trudeau is the new Prime Minister of Canada. I can’t say I never thought it would happen some day, though I am surprised to see it happen so soon. Sure, his lineage has helped him–who else can say they have been familiar with the job of Prime Minister since their birth?–and I think his status as a Canadian political “celebrity” certainly clinched him the Liberal leadership, but he also ran a smart campaign and surrounded himself with smart people, to whom he apparently actually listens. I know I’ve called Trudeau stupid before (actually, I think my exact words were, “He’s a dummy”), but I guess perhaps I’m the dummy this time and Justin Trudeau was being stupid like a fox. Being a good-looking white male and the son of a famous politician gets a person pretty far–but it doesn’t necessarily get them a majority government.

Obviously fear had a huge part to play. Though Trudeau did not tend to play the politics of fear, Harper’s increasingly disturbing tactics pretty much did that for him–the urgency of removing this man from the highest office in the land by whatever means necessary weighed heavily in progressive voters’ minds. Many people proclaimed themselves “ABC” voters (“Anyone But Conservatives”) and strategic voting initiatives like Leadnow’s “Vote Together” campaign promoted voting for whichever candidate could beat the Conservative in a given riding, regardless of who the candidate was or what party they represented. A lot of people saw these tactics as cynical, and they were. They were also pretty effective–Stephen Harper’s government is out, very out. Unfortunately, this kind of “ABC” voting also meant that more progressive parties like the Greens and the NDP lost many votes they otherwise may have had.

As I watched the CBC’s election coverage on Monday, I was surprised that no one on the expert panel mentioned Trudeau’s promise to reform our first-past-the-post electoral system as contributing to his win. Many voters wanted to vote with their hearts, but determined to “hold their noses” just this once so that they’d never have to again. Next time, they reasoned, we won’t have this stupid system that gives parliamentary majorities to parties with only 39% of the popular vote, and our votes for Green or NDP (or the Pirate Party or the Marxist-Leninist Party or whoever) won’t be “wasted”.  Electoral reform was a promise made to voters, a promise that resonated, and a promise that will hopefully be kept.

That said, I’m not exactly going to bet the farm on it. For one thing, people are often loathe to change or do away with systems that are advantageous for them the way first-past-the-post was advantageous for Trudeau on Monday. Secondly, even if the new Liberal government keeps its promise and this federal election truly was the last of its kind in Canada, Trudeau did NOT necessarily promise a new system based on proportional representation. He may prefer (and I believe does prefer) a kind of ranked balloting system, in which voters rank candidates in order of preference. If there is no clear winner based on first-choice preference, officials begin to count second choices. This system may still be rather “first-past-the-post-ish”, and it’s certainly one that would disproportionately benefit the Liberals (who, if they aren’t a voter’s first choice, will likely be the second choice listed for many liberal Tories and conservative NDPers and Greens).

Cynicism aside, I couldn’t help feeling optimistic as Trudeau took the stage for his victory speech. Canadians may have voted out of fear, but they still voted for change. They didn’t vote for xenophobia. They didn’t vote for isolationism. Trudeau, it’s true, will cut a very good-looking figure on the international stage, and if he can keep his promises without plunging the country into debt I will be proud to call him my Prime Minister. But I’m much more proud of my fellow Canadians, because although they didn’t all make my favourite choice, they made a choice for a better country than what we had become. And better is always something to be proud of.

Election 2015: Get Out and Vote (and don’t let anyone stop you)

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The upcoming federal election (October 19) is probably the most important one of my voting life thus far. Although at the outset this election was framed as being “about the economy”, the choice facing Canadians is more about moral values than dollars and cents. What kind of Canada do we want? What kind of legacy do we wish to leave for our children and grandchildren? Do we want to be a leader in the serious problems facing the world (climate change, the refugee crisis), or do we wish to be on the wrong side of history, dragging our feet until the total of human death and suffering has reached a point we can no longer ignore? Do we embrace our multicultural society or not? Do we reconcile the wrongs that have been, and continue to be, perpetuated against Canada’s First Nations or do we shrug and say “it’s not high on our list of priorities right now”? Do we protect our human rights and extend them to all Canadians, or do we rescind them from those we deem undesirable for reasons of their religion, ethnic background, or political activism? Do we explore ways to strengthen our democracy or do we continue to weaken it?

[It’s probably obvious where my political preferences lie based on the fact that this is my blog, but if you want to ignore climate change, let refugees continue to die on the open seas, let the systemic causes of murdered and missing Indigenous women go uninvestigated, spy on your neighbours (while forfeiting your own freedoms), live in constant and unsubstantiated fear of people who look different from you or worship a different god, or, y’know, if you enjoy letting the government destroy decades worth of research your tax dollars paid for and you LIKE the fact that they have been found guilty of cheating in all four of the past federal elections, by all means, please vote for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives; if not, you’ll probably want to vote for someone else.]

vote_canIt’s no secret that our democracy is a flawed one–no democracy is perfect, and a multi-party, first-past-the-post system like ours often results in unique (to the rest of the world) but not uncommon (to us) situations whereby a political party that does NOT have the majority of the popular vote in Canada ends up with the majority of the seats in Parliament and ends up forming the government. That’s what happened last time, and it could well happen again.

At this time, our best and only weapon against the shortcomings of our democracy is to participate in the system as it currently is and VOTE. Vote for the party that best represents the Canada you want to see (or vote strategically if you believe there is a strong case for that in your riding), and vote for a party committed to electoral reform, that is, to finding alternative electoral systems that can better represent the will of Canadians (both the NDP and Liberal parties of Canada have pledged to implement electoral reform if they form the new government).

Unfortunately, recent cuts to Election Canada’s budget, coupled with new voter identification restrictions imposed by the ironically-named “Fair” Elections Act, have resulted in incorrect voter cards being sent the hundreds of Canadians, long line-ups at advanced polls, widespread confusion on the part of Elections Canada employees as to what constitutes the proper ID, and even “pre-marked” ballots being handed to voters (the result of a “printing error”, according to Elections Canada). While it is more important than ever to vote (and you should), I can empathize with voter frustration when faced with confusion, misinformation, and long waits at the ballot box.

But still, vote. Please vote [even if you want to vote Conservative; I mean, I’d really rather Conservative voters just stay home and do some crochet or whatever but democracy means we all get our vote so I could never sanction saying “don’t vote” to anyone]. And while you’re making your plan to vote, keep in mind some key points:

  1. Election day is October 19, 2015. It is now too late to vote in advanced polls to to make arrangements to vote by mail. You must vote at YOUR polling station (voters in federal elections are not permitted to vote at any other polling station). To find your polling station or to confirm the hours your polling station is open, please visit the Elections Canada website at elections.ca. (It takes a little clicking around to find everything you need but it’s not hard.)
  2. If you are scheduled to work on election day, your employer must ensure you have three consecutive hours to cast your vote while polls are open, even if this means giving you some time off. For example, here in Vancouver my polling station is open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. A voter who works a 9 – 5 job, for example, must be given three hours at the beginning or end of their workday in which to vote. This means either the voter can start work late, at 10:00 a.m., or finish work early, at 4:00 p.m., in order to have three consecutive hours to vote before the polls close. In this case, the choice of which time to give you (morning or evening) is up to your employer, however, they CANNOT refuse to give you three consecutive voting hours; that would be illegal.
  3. In order to vote, you MUST be able to provide appropriate ID as per the new rules (voter cards are not ID). While the new identification rules are rather strict, there are many acceptable forms of identification, and a comprehensive list of acceptable voter ID can be found on the Elections Canada site. If you have any further questions about ID, you can probably find an answer on the ID FAQ page.
  4. Once you’re in your polling booth, pencil in hand, check your ballot carefully to make sure there are no marks on it–“dirty ballots” have been reported in some ridings, and a dirty ballot could invalidate your vote.

A major concern so far is that many Elections Officers at advanced polling stations have been (hopefully unintentionally) misinforming voters as to what constitutes proper ID and possibly turning away voters who may, in fact, have had correct identification. Laura Track of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association volunteered as an observer at one of the advanced polls over the weekend, and has compiled a very good list of concerns and reminders titled “Election Shenanigans“.  Here’s a gloss of some of her very important points:

  • You do NOT need photo ID to vote. If you do have a piece of government-issued photo ID that has your current address on it, that’s great, but if you don’t, two pieces of ID from the aforementioned Elections Canada list as acceptable. Do NOT let anyone turn you away from the polls because you do not have photo ID–whoever you are speaking to is incorrect and you should demand to speak to another Elections Officer or to their supervisor. Even if you don’t have any ID with your current address on it, there are ways around this so get informed!
  • Despite its confusing name, your Voter Identification Card (the one you may have received in the mail) is NOT a required, or accepted, piece of ID. Not only does it not count as an acceptable piece of identification for the purposes of voting, you are not required to have this card or to bring it with you. Your VIC can speed up the voting process, but you cannot be turned away for not having it. Again, if an Elections Officer attempts to turn you away for not bringing your VIC, they are incorrect and you should demand to speak to someone else.
  • If you are not already registered to vote, or you’re not sure, checking or registering is a fairly simple process on Elections Canada’s Online Voter Registration Service. That said, you do NOT need to be pre-registered in order to vote in this election. If you have appropriate ID but are not registered in your riding, do NOT let anyone turn you away–Elections Officers can and must allow you to register to vote at your polling station.

Get informed, be prepared, and VOTE. Broken as our system is, hopeless as it may seem, your voice does count and you CAN make a difference in your country and the world.

P.S. If you do not get the result you were hoping for, and you might not, be brave. Voting is just one of the tools at your disposal in a vibrant democracy–we can change the system for the better, from the inside and out.

 

As a Proud Canadian, I Welcome Refugees

Last week I came across an internet meme that said the following:

By accepting millions of “refugees” from war torn countries into our countries all we are doing is inviting their wars in along with them. Changing their location doesn’t change their ideology.

This is, sadly, just one example of many ignorant, xenophobic memes that are being shared as the pressure on western nations to lend refugees fleeing war-torn Syria and Iraq a helping hand increases. Living in a world with the internet means having to expect this crap–the internet is, after all, everyone’s soapbox.

What I didn’t expect was to see an image of this text posted on the Facebook page of an old acquaintance of mine, a person I recall as being intelligent, polite, and certainly not one to turn their nose up at anyone just because of where they’re from or what they look like. It was a strange kind of punch in the gut–I know that politically I’ve never been aligned with a lot of the friends of my youth, but I thought surely, on this fundamentally human issue, Canadians, with their proud national heritage of providing aid and peacekeeping in times of trouble, would be more or less in agreement. I guess not.

First things first, the meme itself. There are a LOT of problems in this tiny snippet of text, including:

  • The word “refugees” being placed in quotation marks, as if there is some more legitimate kind of refugee than the kind that is fleeing almost certain death at the hands of either ISIS or their own government (particularly in the case of Syria, where the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government on its own people has been documented and confirmed).
  • The idea that refugees fleeing a war will bring their wars with them is absolutely ridiculous, and this should be obvious to any thinking person. For starters, how does being a victim of war and slaughter make this “their” war? And when has a refugee to Canada EVER brought “their” war with them? Did Jewish immigrants fleeing the Nazis bring the Third Reich to Canada? Did the English children sent to Canadian homes to ride out WWII bring the Blitz? Did my Latvian grandparents bring the Soviet army with them? No, no, and no. Refugees are FLEEING their oppressors, not packing them in a suitcase. They want to live far away from what is threatening them. That’s the point.
  • What is “their” ideology anyways? How can such a vague little sucker punch possibly presume to know the ideology of whatever group of people it is referring to as “refugees”? It wants people to fill in the blanks; it’s a wink and nod–i.e. “I’m not racist/ religiously intolerant/ paranoid, but you know what their ideology is like.” It’s not explicit (presumably so no one can dismiss it as Islamophobic), but I bet both the creator of this meme and the people sharing it are thinking of Islam. And if so, what on earth do either the creator or the person posting truly know of Islam? Sure, a lot of atrocities have been committed in its name, but the same can be said of Christianity, which has not only contemporary atrocities but also 2000 years of bloodshed and oppression to its credit. Do we presume Christianity is a naturally violent ideology in light of this huge body of evidence? No, not usually, so there is NOTHING which gives us license to do it to Islam, especially when its roots are shared with Christianity and it promotes many of the same positive qualities, including humility, peace, and, ironically, hospitality.

Normally, when I see a post like this on Facebook I disconnect. I unfollow, or unfriend, or just ignore it and try not to let it get me down. But sadly, these views aren’t uncommon and they aren’t just words. They’re harmful deep-rooted sentiments shared by more Canadians than I’d like to admit. Public sentiment shapes policy, and policy puts obstacles in the way of those Canadians who DO want to help refugees, and HAVE found a way to sponsor one or more people (this is especially true if the Conservatives continue on as Canada’s government after the October election, which is not unlikely, but even the numbers quoted by the NDP and Liberals, while higher than the numbers offered by Harper, are far less than the number of refugees we could accommodate, and will likely stay low if these kinds of sentiments persist). Besides, the person I know who posted it on Facebook isn’t someone who can be written off as a run-of-the-mill racist troll. There were obviously reasons this person felt the way they did, reasons that had a little more substance than “I don’t like people are who aren’t white and English-speaking.” (which is NOT a sentiment I would ever attribute to them and I’m not doing that now). So I decided to engage, because human lives are too important to ignore just because I don’t want to rock the boat by getting into a heated Facebook argument with an old pal.

I’m glad I did, because when you hash it out with someone instead of just reading something they shared on social media and thinking, “Whoa, that’s crazy”, you usually find yourself being presented with a more nuanced argument than the one found in a tabloid-esque meme. So I stuck it out (and to their credit, so did my acquaintance) and it seems  their actual position was a little more like this: ISIS has claimed they will sneak operatives into the West disguised as refugees [I haven’t heard of this anywhere else so I don’t know if this threat is credible but I understand why the idea would be worrisome], people seem to pushing for a lowering of screening standards to speed up refugee application processing times, obviously the lives of refugees are valuable too but it’s natural to care more about those close to you (i.e. Canadians) and want to protect them.

This kind of position is something we can work with. For example, if the idea of relaxing screening of refugee claimants is a big concern, that’s a reasonable thing to take into account in refugee policy. If we want to expedite applications for refugee status, there are safe ways to do that, according to former general and chief of defense staff Rick Hiller, who says, “Doing it quickly doesn’t mean you have to take short cuts.” As with anyone who comes into Canada, whether they’re fleeing a murderous caliphate or just driving from Seattle to watch their lame Seattle Sounders get their asses handed to them by the awesome Vancouver Whitecaps (except last time, when we lost), security, caution, and appropriate documentation is important.

As for the position that it’s natural to care more about people here in Canada than people in another country, I can certainly sympathize with that. I read about other people in other places dying all the time, and although it weighs on my heart, it is nowhere near the devastation I would feel if something happened to someone in my family or to one of my friends. Emotionally, I completely 100% understand.

But rationally, and as a Canadian who has benefited from, and indeed, owes her entire existence to immigration (I don’t think my parents would have met had my mom not been able to immigrate to Canada with my grandparents!), I can’t support policy that says that the potential for risk to even one Canadian life outweighs the very real deaths of thousands of refugees fleeing the Middle East (according to the UN Refugee Agency, 2,500 refugees have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean in this summer alone).

We are Canadians, which means that most of us are the children of immigrants ourselves (speaking of children, according to the UN, more than half of Syrian refugees are under the age of 18). We are proud of our various heritages, and we should be. We are proud and happy to live in a beautiful and safe country, and we should be. But we are not superior beings. My life does not mean more just because I was lucky enough to be born here and not somewhere else. Our merit as human beings has NOTHING to do with where we were born and everything to do with our actions. And right now, our close-minded, tight-fisted, fear-mongering rhetoric is showing that maybe WE’RE the ones with the ideology problem. Since when are Canadians deaf and blind to the plight of their fellow human beings?

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Note: If you are interested in helping refugees but can’t afford to sponsor an individual or family to come to Canada, there are many agencies providing refugees desperately needed aid and require donations to continue their work. Here are a few:

[In case you’re wondering, I’ve donated to the UNHCR, but donations to any of the above agencies will help if there’s one a little closer to your heart.]