Canada is considered a very civilized country.
We think of ourselves as advanced socially and culturally, polite and well-mannered, a developed and enlightened society.
Our behaviour does not always display progressive growth. Unlike some other countries we might be much more subtle in our approach and actions but we can be and often are as brutal, coarse and crude as the next guy. Our nation has had more than our share of dark chapters in history.
Not all of the first immigrants, who came to the New World, were very civilized toward the Aboriginal Peoples who had been living here for generations before our arrival. We wanted what they had and we took it. We decided our ideologies were right and we tried to forcibly remove their way of life and beliefs. All this is again coming to the fore with the discovery in British Columbia. We are shocked yet we know this happened all over Canada. The shame has not diminished over the years. The governments of the time and the churches were complicit in these activities and each generation has covered it up. It was a sick and depraved time in our history and has not, as yet, been fully acknowledged, answered for or resolved.
We were also not very civilized when it came to Black people. Canadians had slaves over a period of years, were not welcoming to free Black people and did not always treat them with the respect and dignity they deserved and often don’t today. Some Canadians have taken out their anger and fear on people with unfamiliar beliefs – Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, etc. – in a variety of uncivilized ways and continue to do so.
Even though we are all either immigrants or the descendants of immigrants, we have not been, nor are we today, always welcoming to those from other countries, China, Japan, Mexico, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Ireland, Israel, Portugal, India, Africa, etc. who arrive on our shores. Many who come to Canada, now and in the past, to escape poverty, persecution, famine, war or just to find a better life for their families suffer insult and abuse. Many of us have heard the stories of mistreatment endured by our own parents, grandparents or great-grandparents.
I don’t know about you but I find this baffling and painful. I do not understand the idea or logic of “the other.” How does it make sense to denigrate someone because they look different, have cultural and religious differences, speak different languages, etc? When our ancestors arrived they, too, looked unusual, worshipped in a strange way, were very diverse in culture and language. We all were once considered “the other,” and felt the wrath that comes with that designation so how can we continue to inflict that on anyone else?
This is not a healthy way to live for “us” or “them” so maybe we should start living as “we,” stop fixating on our differences and focusing on what makes us Canadians. We have to start honouring our greatness and correcting what’s not.