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I Used To Be Canadian

have always been proud to be Canadian. Not in a blindly nationalistic sort of way, but more for what Canada represents as a nation. To me Canada represents a different way. In theory it is a place where people from all over the world live, and everyone is equal and protected by the law. Of course there are challenges to this ideal, and things certainly do not always work the way they are supposed to, but really it should not work at all. People all over the world find reasons to fight with each other every day. In Canada we have many of the same groups of people living together with limited animosity. Somehow in Canada it works. People are still scared of differences, fear change, and constantly debate what it means to be Canadian, but it still seems to work.

Living abroad, traveling, and talking to many different kinds of people I often find myself explaining Canada. People are often confused as to how it is different from the United States or Great Britain. For me, this is a constant exploration into what the country is and what it means to be Canadian. The questions that I enjoy most are those that usually begin with, “do you have…” and are usually finished with certain groups of people, “Muslims, gays, Indians, Chinese, Africans, Catholics ……. in Canada?” My stock answer is, we have everyone in Canada; every religion, every nationality, aboriginal people, a small group that wants to separate, and everything in between. All of these groups live in a way that creates a constant negotiation with each other and with what it means to be Canadian.

A large part of my own identity as a Canadian is wrapped into how we act as a nation around the world. For many years Canada “punched above its weight.” It contributed to global affairs in a way that was greater than most expected given its population. From the First World War, to the Suez crisis, to opening relations with China, to trying to get the world to pay attention in Rwanda, to not participating in the war in Iraq, to an even hand on the Israel Palestine conflict, Canada led. As a country it stood on its own and provided the world with other options, choices, and alternative means to solve disputes and organize people and nations in new ways. This is not to say that there were not mistakes made, but more often than not Canada served as a calming and even handed voice in international relations.

It is from this standpoint that we used to be able to approach the international community. Canada was a country where the world gathered to figure out if we can live together as human beings, while at the same time playing a role in brokering peace and promoting reconciliation in other places. This is changing. From the closing of our embassy in Iran, to the staunch opposition towards the Palestinian bid for member observer status at the UN, to the senate crushing a bill that would have allowed Canada to provide drugs at a reasonable cost for those most in need around the world. Canada is no longer leading. Instead it is siding with power and proving not to be the mediator, but the provocateur. Instead of offering a new way, or a method to negotiate under shifting circumstances, we are fueling the fire of hate and polarization. Our responses are becoming predictable and our actions equivalent to a child who says to his playmates, “I’m taking my ball and going home,” when things don’t go their way.

Some people may say who cares if Canada leads in the world. It is merely high politics that don’t affect people either here or in other countries. This is larger than that. Canada used to stand for something. From John Peters Humphrey drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, to Romeo Dallaire questioning the world’s conscience in 1994, Canada was there to push people forward. To challenge the world to be better. To stand up for those that did not have a voice and ensure that the world was moving in a more equitable direction. It was these outward ideals that shaped us inwardly. From this approach to the world we formed a country that stood to protect differences while fostering a respect for human rights and equality.

What do we stand for now? To me this is muddled and confused. I am not sure about where our foreign policy is headed, as it seems driven increasingly more by economic interests than humanitarian ones. I’m not naïve enough to believe that foreign policy isn’t affected by a countries own interests, but are those interests changing while most Canadians sleep? Do we still care about human rights or working to make the world a better place?

I’m not ready to turn in my Canadian passport just yet. I still tell people I am Canadian with a sense of pride. However, that pride is waning. If Canada no longer stands for improving human rights around the world, if it has lost its authority to speak out about abuses and inequalities, soon that passport may lose the uniqueness that had set it apart from any other. I hope that sooner rather than later Canada regains its ability to share the ball, and be the leader it once was in the world.


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