Canada – Not our Finest Hour

Filed in Articles by on 4th Jul 2021 1 Comment

Justin Trudeau Canada Day address 2021 after ordering flags to fly half-mast on all government buildings

Does truth come with a premium in Canada, with something hidden we should know about?  When groups of Canadian natives gathered in the mid-1980s and early 1990s to launch class action law suits against the Canadian government to seek compensation for the abuse they experienced at Residential Schools, they embarked on a long journey. According to a Canadian government website the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement began to be implemented in 2007 under the largest class-action settlement in the country’s history. Part of the agreement was the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Between 2007 and 2015 Ottawa provided some $72-Million dollars to support the work of the commission. The government also spent six years holding hearings throughout the country, taking testimony from more than 6500 witnesses.

Native women seeking justice

Native women seeking justice

Residential Schools, Ground-Penetrating Radar and Protests

Between 1831 and 1996 some 150-thousand native children were forcibly separated from their parents and sent to Residential Schools across the country, where they endured malnutrition, harsh treatment, sexual abuse, and were punished for speaking their own language. Most of the schools were run by Roman Catholic missionaries as part of a government policy to assimilate natives into Canadian society. In a 2015 report the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called it a policy of cultural genocide. For the past century Canadian Natives have talked about the inhumane treatment they or their children suffered at the schools. Many of the children never came back. They simply disappeared without explanation. Those who did return to mainly jobless reserves had lost their language and could no longer communicate with their parents, who by then were broken people struggling with despair and hopelessness, too many of them finding solace in drugs or drink.

Oldest Residential School in Canada – Kamloops B.C.

In May 2021 ground-penetrating radar detected the remains of 251 bodies on the grounds of a Residential School in Kamloops, British Columbia. That revived long-held memories of suffering by Canada’s First Nations. As people across Canada took to the streets in vigils and protests at the pain of what Native Peoples had endured over the past century, 751 more remains were found at a Residential School in Marieval, Saskatchewan. More remains have been found in an ongoing search at other Residential Schools since bringing the total to over a thousand.

Each new discovery of remains has led to more protests such as the one on the 2nd of July in Winnipeg where gangs tore down the statues of Queen Victoria, and the still-reigning Elizabeth II and sprayed them with red paint. Both were reigning monarchs while Canadian governments enacted their assimilation policy. Since the first discovery of remains, six Roman Catholic churches on First Nations land in western Canada have been burned down. What happened to Canada’s Indigenous People and their children was tragic and unnecessary. It’s understandable that such pent-up pain and hopelessness erupt in violence. The Natives are not to blame. It will take time but hopefully Canada’s native peoples will find inner peace, regain their self-respect and become a valued part of Canadian society.

Victims and Guilt or Truth and Consequences?

Residential schools in Canada

However, it’s prudent to not take everything at face value. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ordered that the Canadian flag fly at half-staff on government buildings across the country on the 1st of July, Canada Day. He says it’s because of what happened to Canada’s natives, and because of mounting criticism from native communities across Canada. Was his order appropriate or was it opportunistic? Over the years the government has changed how it refers to Canada’s First Nations. It used to be Indians, then Aboriginals, then Indigenous Peoples. There have been so many different names over the years that it should have raised alarm bells much earlier. It seems that if you don’t want people to think about the problems associated with a group or policy, you change the name! Reframing an issue is old hat for governments. Over the years it has sidestepped uncomfortable questions. With Ottawa’s effort to finally set up and support a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Canadians could see their government as doing something.

A muted Canada Day

The health measures in effect in various provinces because of COVID played some part in many Canada Day celebrations being cancelled. With the declining number of cases and the increasing number of people who have been vaccinated, more and more people were anxious to come out and enjoy their freedom again after a year-and-a-half of various lockdowns. However, as one Canada Day celebration after another was cancelled, they celebrated quietly with their friends and family. It seemed more likely that Prime Minister Trudeau and his handlers were deliberately conflating events for their own purposes. Exploiting underlying fear of people getting covid, exploiting natural self-respect to which we are all entitled, and exploiting the inhumane treatment Canada’s natives have endured for years. Is this really to honour Canada’s natives or is it a way to deflect questions about why his government didn’t act earlier to help natives live decently? Why did this assimilation policy go on so long? Such questions should be asked of all governments that have been in power. The other side of that equation is deliberately laying a guilt trip on the public, using their emotions to make them feel as one with the government, as if we’re all doing the right thing because we all feel bad. Is it manipulation or genuine sadness behind Mr. Trudeau’s tears, or do his words hide an underlying plan for an end-of-summer election campaign? When Prime Minister Trudeau gave his Canada Day message, he did it clean-shaven and with a new haircut as if gearing up for some boyish-charm offensive, not the bearded wisdom his handlers wanted to convey during the height of the pandemic. Is he now truly speaking on behalf of the Natives or is he using them to make political points? 

Students at a Residential School

Who Decides Who’s a Victim?

Everyone has been a victim at some point. Everyone feels sorry for, respects, even trusts a fellow victim. However, what if that respected, trusted person is not a victim at all? What if Prime Minister Trudeau is deliberately proclaiming his mea culpas to diffuse his own guilt in a ploy to gain the respect and trust of Canadian voters? Victimhood and guilt are powerful tools in politics. The use of victimhood can gain public respect and trust, while guilt can have the opposite effect. Politicians perceived as guilty of something are less likely to gain the respect and trust they need to win an election. Victimhood can be used to remove or defend against accusations of guilt. Acting as if all are guilty is an equally powerful tool to connect to the voting public. As history shows, governments are not above using both to stay in power. 

It takes constant vigilance to maintain a healthy democracy. A closer look at this national breast beating over past wrongs suggests machiavellian politics! The public should be calling out government leaders from all parties loudly and vociferously, NOT letting the government define the terms, especially after having executed and maintained such a policy for more than a century. We have a choice, fall down this dark rabbit hole into victimhood, and accept more government manipulation, or focus on higher values and hold all who want to govern accountable. It’s natural to feel sad for what happened to the natives and as humans it drags us all down, but it doesn’t make us all guilty. To use people’s emotions as a political tool just reeks. It takes clear higher thought to move beyond this dark chapter in our history, not more political tricks.

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  1. Geneviève Roy says:

    Dear Mr. Quinn,

    It seems important to me to really stop and take a step back to acknowledge the full scope of the injustices the First Nations have endured and continue to endure. Just like the Me too!, the Black Lives Mater movements and even Holocaust survivors, it seems that the right thing to do as a first step is to fully acknowledge what has happened and to learn from it. I do agree that political opportunism has no place here, it’s too serious and it breaks the social fabric of our society, but it seems that when officials we elected feel accountable and show empathy, it helps open the eyes of many sceptic Canadians.

    Prejudice against First Nations is still very prevalent here. Canadians can learn from this and be better. Thoughtful reparations and a change in attitude is a start.

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