Go to: “United We Stand!”: Canadian Dream- Part II, United We Stand – Part I
We are so enamored with events occurring around the world and in the United States, we sometimes miss opportunities for stories that inform, educate and shape our national identity. For example, Canada’s 150th birthday, how many of you attended an event, took time to appreciate and inform yourselves about Canada’s evolution as a relatively young country? Did you take time to learn and understand the significance of our Prime Minister’s promise for electoral reform? Did you make the connection of the symbolism of our antiquated electoral system formed in 1867, the birth of Canada, to the subject of electoral reform to Canada’s 150th birthday? Instead, we are bombarded with bombings, terrorists act, wars, acts of God, weather patterns, riots and failing financial markets from around the world. These stories, many of which are sensationalized to the point, one has to wonder how much of it is true and what is fake. Let me give you an example.
The American Dream
The recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia has struck a chord in the hearts and minds of Americans agitating a scabby wound, of race relations between blacks and white supremacy, that is very much alive and thriving today. The themes surrounding the controversial events had sent shock-waves throughout a wounded country pulsating and penetrating our Canadian borders. It begs us to wonder; what happened to the American Dream?
“The violent scenes in Charlottesville, Virginia, that led to the death of one woman and left much more injured began as a dispute over a statue of General Robert E. Lee, which sits in a local public park. The meeting of white supremacists in Charlottesville was originally held under the pretext of demonstrating against plans to remove the statue. The Charlottesville city council voted in February for it to be removed from the recently renamed Emancipation Park (formerly Lee Park). The decision came as part of a movement to challenge the ubiquity of Confederate symbols in the South.” [The Conversation] However, the controversy feeds into a much wider debate that is as old as the United States itself.
“These statues, for their opponents, signify the oppression of African Americans under slavery. They serve as daily reminders of the vulnerability of black people. To white supremacists who gathered on the streets of Charlottesville, the statue of General Lee represents white military and political power. In the decades after the Civil War, memorials celebrating the south’s valiant effort and glorious defeat appeared all over the region embodying the idea that the war had been fought to defend the states’ rights, rather than slavery.” [The Conversation]
These are just some of the stories I happened to absorb while learning what had transpired in Charlottesville, Virginia. I was a little late in turning my attention to this particular ‘current event’ out of all the other news stories that were reported for the day. Yet somehow when I read them, these stories seemed a little too dramatic, a little too specific, a little too “engineered”…a little too…Fixed. Fake. No doubt the events of Charlottesville happened; but, what is embellished vs the real event itself? What are they trying to feed us? What propaganda is being sold? What’s the underlying motivation for the narrative that surfaced through these, almost ‘sensational’, stories? I am presuming for this story, it would be a narrative of being one of race and class. Canada no doubt has struggled with this same theme, as do almost every country around the world, so obviously the “engineers” are pointing to a problem that has yet to be solved.
Alright, so let’s run with it…
First impression for this news story, I think: ‘mindset’. A ‘mindset’ could be; “It is normal to hate what we fear, and it happens frequently, though not always, what we fear is what we hate.” People seem to both fear and hate whatever is unfamiliar and there are two ways of coping with it: one is to diminish the external danger, and the other is to ‘cultivate Stoic endurance’. Fear is also an excellent motivator influencing others ‘generating a desire for affiliation as well as the need to protect “me” and what is “mine.” Fear of loss of what is ‘mine’ through stealing [i.e. “they’re stealing our jobs”] evokes protectionism creating gang or tribal mentality. When humans perceive a threat and think their needs may not be met, they react. They react by forming groups to ensure the protection and realization of those needs. Ideas of “us” v. “them” to reinforce groups’ identity and legitimacy.
2# Ideologies. Ideologies are one of the methods by which herds are created, and the psychology is much the same however the herd may have been generated. For the black community in Charlottesville, ideology could be one of “I thought we should be freer than the level of freedom we are presently experiencing, and coming to think of it, since the emancipation of slavery.” For others it is tradition, [Confederate], honor the men who went to war.
Each have their own herd, originally a very small one and within one herd, all are friends while other herds are potential or actual enemies. In fact, it is this primitive mechanism which still controls our instinctive reaction to foreign nations. Herd mentality becomes destructive when it takes the form of mob violence and that’s what we saw as a result of the Charlottesville clash. Above all ‘herd mentality’ has the potential to be very destructive especially when it leads to war. It is such a deep need that it will find harmful outlets unless innocent [pathways] are found.” The man who has a different theology, different skin color or language [and so on] we hope should not feel strange, the ‘whatever is strange must be dangerous’ line of thinking which happens not just in race and class status, but in every social, political, religious and cultural dynamics. It’s not the subject itself but the “Us” vs “them” binary thinking that must be addressed.
Competing with the events of Charlottesville are news stories reported from around the world whether it’s ISIS-like related terrorist attacks, and a little closer to our home with social groups protesting; Black Lives Matter, Soldiers of Odin, right-wing Quebec City protesting against cross-border asylum seekers; the canceled event of right-wing protesters in Vancouver against Islam; anti-Chinese leaflets that were distributed in Richmond BC; or “lone wolf” attacks, such as the one in early January 2017 of the shooting in Quebec City murdering six Muslims in a Mosque, by a misguided, socially inept individual, to name a few, – all politically, religiously and racially driven to varying degrees. It makes one wonder; what are these people afraid of?
Fear can easily become an obsession; it produces hate of that which is feared, and it leads headlong to excesses of cruelty. The world at present is obsessed by the conflict of rival ideologies, and one of the apparent causes of conflict is the desire for the victory of our own ideology and the defeat of the other. Perhaps ideologies are merely a way of grouping people, and that the passions are merely those which always arise between rival groups.
As a proud Canadian born citizen, reading stories from the US such as the Charlottesville event, again, I can’t help but ask; What are people afraid of? I mean the people including those who are involved behind the narrative sensationalizing the story, and in some instances, to the point of becoming fake news; to the other spectrum, the individuals in the story who are taking such actions. Can the events of Charlottesville happen in Canada?
The conversation I’m attempting to weave is a discussion of how we absorb news-stories, the slogans and the narratives being fed to us and our ability to determine what affects us directly as Canadian citizens and those that are for the purpose of ‘entertainment’. Rather than focusing on the intricacies of the Charlottesville event, I will broaden the subject of absorbing news-stories [fake or real] by comparing Canadian culture vs American culture which could include; citizenship, national identity, democracy, individual rights vs collective rights pertaining to; racism, Islamophobia (and all religions) and discrimination.
Social-cultural identity of Canada vs the United States?
Birth of the ‘Canadian Dream’
The actual term ‘American dream’ was first coined in a book published in 1931 entitled, ‘The Epic of America’, situated at a time where the United States was suffering from the Great Depression. Perhaps it is also during this same time period, the ’20s, the reference is made to ‘Making America Great Again’. Often referred to the ‘roaring ’20s’, US citizens were taking up loans extending themselves living the high life before the Great Depression. Using the narrative I chose from The Conversation it says, during this period the Charlottesville’s 14-foot-tall bronze Lee was designed [in 1924] by New York sculptor Henry Shrady.
“The Lee sculpture joined the spread of the various Confederate monuments that dot Charlottesville under the facade of commemorating the past. The historic function of these monuments was originally constructed to concoct an image of white greatness romanticized and sanitized enough to provide a semblance of a popular base for unscrupulous white elites. The slogan: “The South Will Rise Again” blends easily over into “Make America Great Again.” But the other half of the equation should not be forgotten either which has always shadowed something else: the fear of movements that challenge both racism and class hierarchy.” [Time, 2017]
Conversely that same year, 1931, Canada conceived its first steps in birthing its own ‘Canadian Dream’, one that wouldn’t be fully realized until decades later through the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In 1931, the Statue of Westminster granted Canada absolute independence from the United Kingdom. Still, in its constitutional infancy, Canada requested that the British North American Act [the written portions of the Constitution of Canada] be exempted from the statute because the federal and provincial governments could not agree on an amending formula for the Acts. Negotiations between Ottawa and the provinces were finally successful allowing Canada to patriate its constitution by passing the Canada Act 1982, which included the Constitution Act 1982 and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms without the assent of the National Assembly of Quebec.
In December 2010, a group of Elections Canada’s returning officers from across Canada met in Ottawa to crowdsource how Elections Canada could better reach out to Canadians. One idea that emerged was Canada’s Democracy Week, dedicated to engaging Canadians about democracy. This coming September 15th-21st we celebrate Election Canada’s seventh annual Democracy Week providing schools and community-based organizations to start a conversation about democracy within their networks. During the electoral reform debate, a re-occurring theme emerged about educating citizens about our electoral system vs outreach. Outreach and education about our democratic system and citizenship have already been going on for about seven years now through Democracy Week. Democracy Week continues to provide a chance to do both as it informs, engages and connects Canadians with the democratic process through a series of in-person and online activities as well as resources and programming for teachers to use in their schools.
One has to wonder about the type of conversations that transpired last year, as they were planning activities for 2016 and 2017’s celebrations. The ERRE committee had concluded their summer-long intensive committee interview sessions and MPs went on a cross-country tour to discuss Electoral Reform with their constituents. A little assistance from Democracy Week could have helped in keeping the conversation alive and relevant to Canadians. In fact, I do recall, very little of electoral reform talks being mentioned during Democracy Week 2016 that could have helped to provide our Prime Minister with more ‘consensus’ among Canadians. To continue the conversation this year, given it’s Canada’s 150th, was electoral reform part of the planning conversation?
In any case, I will jump forward pointing to two moments in recent Canadian history, although unsuccessful in its delivery, that still proves as valuable exercises in further shaping our multi-cultural, pan-Canadian identity, citizenship and Canadian citizen’s role in participation in the democratic process.
The Meech Lake Accord was born out of perceived gaps in the Charter, one that attempted to harmonize individual rights vs collective rights for certain specific groups in Canadian society; and welcoming Quebec into the Constitution by recognizing the province as a ‘distinct society’. Fundamental freedoms such as democratic rights, mobility rights, legal rights, and equality rights outlined in Section 2-15 of the Charter are not deemed absolute rights. They are limited in several ways by various concepts of collective and societal rights. In other words; there are limits.
In speaking of collective rights, in our Charter we have; special legal status of certain minority groups that protects against discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin – the right of an individual to be treated differently on the basis of membership in a specific minority group. For collective rights, however, we have language rights [official languages of French-English], linguistic minorities, aboriginal communities and ethnocultural groups.
While Meech Lake brought about a struggle for Quebec to be recognized as a ‘distinct society’, it also struggled with constitutional equality among ethnocultural groups and self-government for aboriginal communities. Many commentators were dissatisfied with the “equality” provisions of the Charter and argued that as a pan-Canadian society, it did not provide any protection for the collective rights of the ethnic communities. According to Evelyn Kallen, a human rights specialists, Section 27 of the Charter was a “motherhood” clause because “…favoring majority ethnic rights over minority rights [that] serve to perpetuate the vertical mosaic… the multicultural [Canadian] dream of an egalitarian mosaic remains a [Canadian] dream deferred”. (Kallen, 1987:127-128)
The Canadian Ethnocultural Council (ECE) representing thirty ethnic organizations tried to gain constitutional recognition for the collective educational, language and religious rights of the ethnic communities. They argued that there exists in Canada a hierarchy of those groups at the top – English and French – are the only one’s deserving constitutional entrenchment. (Porter, 1965; Kallen, 1982). Reminding the government that “bringing one sector of Canadian society into the Constitution must, not take place at the expense of another…the equality for one must equally ensure equality for all.” (CEC, 1989:363) This hierarchy, they declared, regulates multiculturalism to the “back of the bus”, while Evelyn Kallen saw it as a highly regressive document.
“We cannot support a Constitution that ignores the multi-cultural reality of Canada, one whose underlying rationale is the outdated and discredited concept of two founding nations. A country that gives greater rights to its citizens based on their belonging to ethnic groups that came to Canada sooner is not our vision of what Canada is or should be. We are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants. We must all be treated equally and fairly.” ~Thor Broda, on behalf of the Ukranian Canadian Committe, Ukranian Canadian Committee, [1987:100]
Meanwhile, the aboriginal communities were the most outspoken and articulate advocates for their respective communities especially around the thorny issue of self-government. Since the 1970s they believed the defense of the status quo was not going to ensure their survival in an increasingly hostile and competitive social, economic and political environment. They lobbied for the right to be fully integrated into the Canadian reform process as full-fledged political actors and were given only “observer status” between 1978-1981.
They also wanted the entrenchment of aboriginal and treaty rights as well as a more clearly defined special status for aboriginal peoples. Section 25 of the Charter-protected all existing aboriginal rights and any rights acquired by way of land claims settlement. Yet they failed to achieve a redefined and expanded special status in the form of aboriginal self-government.
Their main critique; the Accord ignored the existence of Canada’s aboriginal peoples and they too wanted recognition as a ‘distinct society’ that constitutes a fundamental characteristic of Canada. Feeling frozen out of any meaningful participation in constitutional reform their demands, for the most part, were still ignored. In the end, the aboriginal community finally made their influence known when Elijah Harper, the only aboriginal MLA from Manitoba, refused the unanimous consent necessary to enable the Meech Lake Accord to be tabled, discussed and approved. The Meech Lake Accord was effectively a dead deal.
Charlottetown is somewhat of a sleepy little town in the province of Prince Edward Island. Similar to the deep confederate history Charlottesville, Virgina, Charlottetown maintains a similar history as it was one of the four provinces that first made up Canada. Yet, during the months and weeks leading up to August 28, 1992 it wasn’t so sleepy as intense negotiations between federal (under the stewardship of Joe Clark), provincial and territorial governments and representatives from the Assembly of First Nations, the Native Council of Canada, the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada and the Metis National Council made a second attempt to clarify the ‘Canadian Dream’ through what was known as the Charlottetown Accord.
The Charlottetown Accord borrowed and built on elements of the Meech Lake Accord, while Meech Lake Accord built on elements of the Charter. Most notable was the “Canada Clause”, a central component which was intended to be an interpretive section of the Canadian Constitution. Particularly unique was the “Canada Clause” that set out to further define the nature of the Canadian character and political society. One that made Quebec a ‘distinct society’ within Canada, other aspects dealt with the rule of law, Canada as a parliamentary and provincial system, Aboriginal Peoples and their rights, official language of minorities, cultural and racial diversity, individual and collective rights, gender equality, and equality and diversity of the provinces. More interesting is the symbolic recognition of what leaders believed to be the core values of Canada for the courts to interpret the Constitution in accordance with the basic values outlined.
By way of a referendum, the country refused to pass the Charlottetown Accord despite broad base support from Conservatives, NDP, Liberals, the media and special interest groups. The question: “Do you agree that the Constitution of Canada should be renewed on the basis of the agreement reached on August 28, 1992? 54.3% of Canadians said, “No” while 45.7% said “Yes”. Pierre Trudeau was most vocal in his rejection of the document as well as Bloc Quebecois led by Lucien Bouchard, Jacque Parizeau’s Parti Quebecois, and western-based Reform Party led by Preston Manning. It also didn’t help that Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was quickly losing support from Canadians until he resigned and Kim Campbell took over for a little while. Most notable complaint of the Charlottetown Accord was an accusation, mainly by the western provinces, that it was a document penned by ‘nationalist elites’ trying to codify their vision of what Canada “should” be and trying to cement Canada’s power base in the Ontario-Quebec bloc.
As a result the “political class” experienced a backlash of sorts where under the stewardship of Kim Campbell, the Progressive Conservatives were reduced to only two seats in the House – the worst defeat of a sitting government – NDP reduced to 9 seats while the Liberals enjoyed a majority under Jean Chretien who promised not to revisit constitutional issues.
Citizenship: Respect for People
Humans have social practices that become relevant that contains ‘real’ significance to people through the role of symbolic acts and expressions of respect, or disrespect. These symbolic actions can be seen demonstrated through the ‘displaying flags, or singing anthems or other songs with symbolic meaning, or the use of respectful or disrespectful words (as modes of addressing people, etc.) and actions such as, the General Robert Lee’s statue and the reason(s) for its removal, which have only negligible non-symbolic effects.’
Having the vote in national elections is a matter of some importance, we want a good quality of government where the interests of various groups in the country will be protected. Not having the vote regulates us to being a second-class citizen and is sometimes viewed as an expression of lack of respect for the individual. Having respect for the individual and their rights should not involve the thwarting of others that would demote them to second-class citizenship.
For example, according to Time Magazine in Charlottesville, Virginia at “a time when southern whites were using violence, intimidation, and economic power to suppress the aspirations of former slaves. Southern plantation owners and their descendants took away African Americans’ newly-won right to vote, they bound them to the plantations where they had formerly worked as slaves using debt patronage, and they murdered those who tried to defy them. Far from being neutral, statues honoring the lost cause were highly political efforts to celebrate the slave’s past and to shape an unjust present.”
“There is love of power, there is rivalry, there is hate, and, I am afraid we must add, a positive pleasure in the spectacle of suffering. These passions are so strong that they have not only governed the behavior of societies, but have caused hatred of those who spoke against them.” ~ Bertrand Russell
Violent acts usually begin with the use of hate speech whether in private, public, used in printed material or online in either case; hate speech makes degradation, humiliation, victimization, and violence in human relationships appear normal and acceptable. In a future blog, I will have to analyze Canadian vs American laws about hate speech. However in Canada, willfully promoting hatred violates Section 2 of the Charter and is punishable by up to two years in prison, under Section 319(1)(2) of the Criminal Code as it conflicts with the principle of racial equality. For some, it is difficult to distinguish what is our individual right to freedom of expression vs the collective rights to protect those who practice a religion, belonging to a certain ethnic group, or gender etc.
Canada differs from the United States in a sense that it suffers from a historic twin-wound of deep-seated racism from the black and native communities that are, to this day, in search of recognition and healing. Stories such as Charlottesville should be viewed within context. Violence is rarely the answer. When it comes to offensive behavior and conduct, there is a difference between peer pressure vs the law. Hate speech, racism, and bigotry in itself is not a crime and is somewhat protected under the laws of free speech. What is criminal is the promotion of hate.
Yet, here’s where we as citizens can work together in unison with the law by de-escalating scenarios before it reaches to the level of a crime for legal action. As difficult it may be, we must respect that other people have differing points of view other than your own, especially if these views are held by peers in your personal social group. However, we must find the moral courage to speak up against such negative talk and present a different narrative when these “friends” or “allies” use free speech rights to support racism and bigotry. Not only is it wrong but it is also “un-Canadian” it goes against the very fabric, essence and definition as to who we are as a nation that is so articulately defined through our Charter of Rights and Freedoms – ironically, the very same document they would rely on if they were in need of protection. In social circles, we can use peer pressure [or encouragement] to censor, not censorship, of offensive talks or acts by organizing everything from counter-demonstration to anti-radicalization efforts and anything in between.
Establishing intent is critical especially in cases involving Tort law. Our Canadian legal system has analyzed the subject of hate speech and determined the following as to what constitutes a hate crime that involves a criminal act:
- Anywhere in the Criminal Code, including hate crime, where you read “willful” means “intent”;
- The intent is interpreted as pre-meditated. Meaning you can’t plead on the basis of “the heat of the moment” scenario or under “emotional duress” that caused you to do this or that;
- In the eyes of the law, there is a legal difference between hatred and racism. Racism is an attitude usually developed through various forms of misconceptions. Racism is an attitude – hatred is an emotion. Hatred goes beyond attitude and into the realm of destabilization and is usually developed through ignorance and fear.
- It’s part of that herd/mob mentality we discussed earlier that is dangerous, intense, aggressive and disrespectful vilification which often leads to war.
- Here’s the key: “intent” and “promotion”. In the eyes of the law, promotion means you are actively supporting and instigating hate.
And that’s why promoting hate will land you up to two-years in prison.
So yes, I suppose these laws that are so carefully crafted are there to protect our Canadian flock/herd mentality – but take a step back and you will soon find that it does make sense. “The law does not make the use of specific words or symbols criminal. Society’s condemnation of those things comes from sources other than the criminal law.” [Center for Free Expression, 2017] To effect change, one can exercise their the right peaceful protest and to vote. Both have symbolic meaning because it enables citizens the opportunity to give voice, exercise their interest and, especially through the process of voting, influence on government policy through a democratic process.
It has symbolic significance because it gives us membership not only in political communities but also membership in our pan-Canadian countrywide community. Of course, you can exercise your right not to vote and if you don’t it no less diminishes the symbolic significance of voting. This is why initiatives such as Democracy Week is important to observe as it reminds Canadians of their civic responsibility that ties real life, time-sensitive issues to democracy and citizenship that reminds us of the symbolism behind the act of voting. This coming September, along with Democracy Week, we have another opportunity to voice our democratic interests and concerns as citizens on the topic of Bill C-51, an anti-terrorism Bill, which has been amended to Bill C-59 that covers a variety of our civil liberties including hate speech.
My Canadian Dream
Recent trends have taken us away from formal constitutional reform towards “non-constitutional” initiatives. They are easier to pass through the House and do not require broad-based, over-arching measures, and participation from each of the provinces, federal government and a referendum. Because of this what you gain in speed you lack in security as any new government could erase what the previous government as has done while constitutional reform, although takes longer to implement, once ratified is enshrined into law and cannot be changed by the government of the day. It’s been over 20 years since the last attempt at constitutional reform perhaps it’s time that we try again.
This time the pressure to open constitutional talks will probably be initiated by the Native communities – the most vocal communities during the two Accords, not from Quebec. Jean Chretien through a non-constitutional initiative passed a motion to recognize Quebec as a distinct society. However, with the desire for Truth and Reconciliation perhaps the Native communities would be the ones to initiate the constitutional debate over the topic of self-government and recognition as a ‘distinct society’; at such time Quebec would join the conversation of formal constitutional recognition. Recently, there was an attempt to change our antiquated electoral system to one that better reflects the needs and diversity of our pan-Canadian society. Since the BNA Act of 1867, we’ve been using the first-past-the-post system– now is also a time for electoral reform.
Since most of the work has already been done in previous attempts by governments before us, can we not form a Citizens Assembly to study changes to our electoral system under some sort of proportional representation AND review the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accord to update and make new recommendations for another attempt at constitutional reform – at the same time as electoral reform. Don’t write me off so quickly.
As I said most of the work has already been completed by previous attempts. Why just last year the ERRE Committee presented a very comprehensive report on various electoral systems we can use – it’s almost as if we can just review, pick and choose what we need, then add to what is not there. Implement the new electoral system with a referendum after 1-2 electoral cycles. Within those two electoral cycles that same Citizen’s Assembly would review the two Accords change, update, make recommendations for presentation to provinces/federal government for them to review and provide their own input.
Time it so that while we are presenting a referendum to Canadians about electoral reform we would also include the referendum question(s) for constitutional reform. By combining the two reforms we save time and money instead of having two referendums. I also suggest that we hold a Citizens Assembly for it would be the most democratic creed directly coming from Canadian citizens, especially since the authors of the Accord were accused of national elitism. Building on what the “national elites” have already recommended, which provides a foundational framework, let us Canadian citizens now do the same. And we can keep Canadians informed through a well-thought-out strategic plan through education and outreach during Democracy Week as one mode of doing so.
Yes, a task if executed well may not be that difficult as one might expect. This would be my Canadian Dream. If you think the idea sounds a little crazy and improbable, well then, I’ll just have to go back to sleep to dream yet another ‘Canadian Dream.’
Go to: “United We Stand!”: Canadian Dream- Part II, United We Stand – Part I
Raz, Jospeh, (2001), Value, Respect and Attachment, Chapter 4: Respecting People, Cambridge University Press, p.124-169
When Progressives Start Abandoning Free Speech, British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, Ryerson University, Center for Free Expression (2017)
Russell Bertrand, (1954), Human Society in Ethics and Politics, Chapter 1: From Ethics to Politics, Unwin Brothers Ltd, London, p. 155-174
Behiels, Michael D., (1992), Democracy with Justice: Essays in Honor of Khayyam Zev Paltiel, Section: From the Constitution Act, 1982 to the Meech Lake Accord, 1987: Individual Rights for All versus Collective Rights for Some, Carleton University Press Inc., p. 125-139
Charlottetown Accord, (2017), Wikipedia, http://www.wikipedia.com/charlottetownaccord.htm
Charlottesville, Virginia: the history of the statue at the centre of violent unrest, (2017), The Conversation, http://theconversation.com/charlottesville-virginia-the-history-of-the-statue-at-the-centre-of-violent-unrest-82476