Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Canada's Dirty Little Secret

It is one of those things we don't like to admit.  It is one of those things that goes directly against our self-definition as a national people.  But it is a truth that needs to be said.

Prejudice and discrimination is rampant in Canada.

WE are a country that prides itself, as a whole, on being tolerant and inclusive.  But that self-understanding really is not as true as it should be. A couple of things have shown this to me over the last few weeks.

One was the Idle No More movement.  INM was sparked by a protest against changes made to environmental protections in an (terribly non-democratic) omnibus bill in the Canadian Parliament and grew to be a rallying point around the flawed relationship between First Nations and "settler" peoples in Canada.  Enter the racism.

As the INM protests continued and escalated the racist reaction did too.  First Nations were portrayed as leeches off the government teat, as people who were incapable of running their own affairs, people who were simply trying to get money for nothing.  Sometimes the racism was blatant, sometimes it was more subtle.  But as with every other time in my memory that First Nations people have protested their place in Canadian society there is a large portion of the society that reacts with prejudged assumptions.  Sad but true.

The next one was in the response to the resignation of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI.  Undoubtedly there are places where the decisions and actions of the Vatican can be challenged.  Many Roman Catholics are among the challengers.  But in some of the discussions online I have read there is a recognizable rearing of anti-Catholicism.  Anti-Catholicism is a big, though often un-named part, of Canadian history. For many years it was subsumed into the larger prejudice and discrimination against the French/Quebecois but there has always been a religious side to these debates.  Indeed one of the reasons the United Church of Canada was formed was because there were those who felt that we needed a strong national Protestant bulwark against the Papists.  And still there is that tendency to move from honest open criticism into language that borders on hate speech.

And then there are those other stories.  The person I was talking to recently about the local street people and how to support them.  The news that RCMP officers are accused of assaulting aboriginal women in Northern BC.  The knowledge that some people's disappearances are considered more important than others--and if you are homeless, or Aboriginal, or in the sex-trade, or drug addicted you are likely to be in the less important category--in the eyes not only of the general public but of the people entrusted to investigate and prosecute.  Or the gender divide that, while lessening, continues to exist.  Or the reality that sexual orientation is still a cause for discriminatory assumptions and treatment.  Or the transgendered individual I spoke with last year who had people threatening to make it difficult for him to visit his child--because he did not dress "properly".

Yes, inclusive and tolerant multicultural Canada has bastions of prejudice, sexism, heterosexism, racism...

We may not want it to be true.  but it is.

Today, as people of faith are encouraged to remember that we are dust, and to dust we shall return, as we enter into that liturgical season where we are called to examine our lives, I call upon the people of Canada to seriously look at our society.  Where do we fall short of our own self-understanding?  What needs to happen if we can live up to those worlds of tolerant, accepting, inclusive that we like to use about ourselves?

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