Sunday, July 1, 2007

Canada Day

Constable Benton Frasier and Detective Ray Vecchio discuss a case while Frasier's at his day job. Image credit: Screenshot by Cujo359

Happy Canada Day! Hope all is well north of the border. As you probably know, things aren't going so well down here.

As anyone who looked it up in Wikipedia would know, Canada Day is Canada's version of our Independence Day. Of course, as with many things Canadian, it represents something a bit less traumatic than its American counterpart. Instead of being about declaring the colonies' independence from Britain in the midst of a rebellion, Canada Day, or Dominion Day as it used to be known, is the day in 1867 when England decided Canada was almost a grownup country:

While it is the date upon which the present Canadian Constitution first came into effect, the first day of July does not commemorate a clear-cut date of "independence" or "founding". Instead, it commemorates the beginning of the establishment of the Canadian confederation through the 1867 British North America Act. The British Parliament still retained several political controls over Canada after 1867, and the country still lacked many of its modern provinces. The date represents the biggest step in the establishment of Canada as a self-governing country, and the beginning of a gradual march towards full independence from Britain, attained with the proclamation of the Constitution Act by Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, in 1982.

Wikipedia: Canada Day

So, no acts of rebellion, no wars, no wailing and gnashing of teeth (well, maybe a little), this day is about England telling Canada "You're grown up enough to have your own room. Just keep it clean and stay in school". Canada, of course, said "OK", which is what good kids do, not like that unruly brother who's always showing up to "borrow" your stuff. Canada supported England in two World Wars, in both cases becoming involved much earlier than America did. In both cases, they suffered heavily. Canada Day is also the day of the Newfoundland Regiment's mauling at the Battle of the Somme. In WWII, the Battle of Dieppe, supposedly a dress rehearsal for what eventually would be the Normandy invasion, was also a disaster for the Canadians involved. Two Canadian squadrons helped defend England during the Battle of Britain. The first squadron of American volunteers was formed months later.

Their relationship with England was a whole lot better than ours through the end of World War I, when we finally recognized that we had many things in common. Eventually, after the Second World War, Canada finally was granted independence.

In case you think that's a fluke, I'd invite you to compare their handling of their native populations, whom they refer to as "aboriginals", to our own. The short version is that their government tried to deal honorably with the natives, where ours seemed to revel in any excuse to evict them from their land or exterminate them.

The picture is from the TV series Due South. In that series, Benton Frasier, the Canadian Mountie who is assigned to the consulate in Chicago, is a soft-spoken, studious romantic. Ray Vecchio, the American detective, is loud, often thoughtless, and self-absorbed. Yet they manage to form a working relationship and friendship, partly based on need and partly on their common desire for justice. And Vecchio, of course, is the one in charge of the investigations even though Frasier is much better at being a detective. As I'm sure the show's creators intended, this reminds me of our relationship with Canada, a country very much like us that seems to have avoided many of the foolish mistakes we've made. Benton Frasier is no more a typical Canadian than Ozzie Nelson is a typical American. Both countries have their share of fools and miscreants, but Canada always seems to be better at being the grownup than we.

For instance, they've managed to stay out of both of our most ruinous wars, Vietnam and Iraq, despite numerous invitations.

While many Canadians will tell you the system is far from perfect, their health system is one that most Americans would envy, I think, if they had an accurate picture of it. Their health system, which is of the "single payer" variety, is often plagued by long waits for treatments. Of course, anyone who is actually familiar with the American system also knows that waiting for treatment isn't unheard of here. We shorten the lines primarily by leaving one sixth of our population out of the system altogether, and denying needed care to at least as many more. Canada's infant mortality, according to CIA statistics, is roughly two-thirds of ours, and their life expectancy is about two years longer than ours. And, of course, they only pay half as much for health care as we do.

Canadians also seem more eager to wear their idealism openly and proudly. In America idealists are often mocked and ridiculed. In Canadian print and broadcasting they seem to be everywhere. Here's what Ian Welsh wrote at Firedoglake yesterday:

Those of us who didn’t grow up in America, but under the sway of America’s media, imbibed a very pure form of the American mythos and civic religion. The American Civil Religion, with it’s secular saints such as Jefferson, Hamilton and Washington and it’s written Constitutional scripture is also a source of wonderment. Canada has no equivalent, no deep sense of history, no touchstone that is written back to to justify the present. Those words of your founders, those words that resound through history are words that inspire men and women who have never seen America and never will.

The Declaration of Independence spoke to all humans, with its assertion that all men are created equal and have unalienable rights. The US system of government, with its checks and balances, seemed unique and able to take shocks that might topple other democratic forms of government.


Yet, in all, America was still the shining city on the hill. Even those who disliked it, when asked “well, what hegemonic nation, past or present, would be preferable to America”, were stilled. In truth, as superpowers go, America was about the best one could hope for - power corrupted, but it had not corrupted absolutely.


And then the Bush years happened. George Bush, with the acquiescence of Congress and the consent of the majority of voters, who elected him in 2004, made the US a unilateral actor on the world stage, a country that engaged in pre-emptive war and threatens to use nuclear weapons in a first strike. A nation, moreover, which has repudiated the freedoms that the rest of the world admired it for, has engaged in torture, struck down habeas corpus and openly mocked the Geneva Conventions.

America had become, in the eyes of the world, un-American.

The America we loved - the America which, if it did not always match words to ideals, still seemed to move more in jerks and starts towards those ideals, died, choking, gasping, in front of our very eyes.


Those of us who grew up in other countries; those of [us] who are America’s real friends, want what all good friends want for those they care for - that you live up to your own ideals. That you be the nation we know you can be. A bastion of freedom; a nation with the highest respect for civil rights; a country that never gives up “a little freedom for a little safety” and finding neither. A country that doesn’t torture, that believes that pre-emptive war is never excusable.

A Wish For America

Of course, you might say, Ian's a progressive. He's bound to think that way. Perhaps, but here's a guy who's definitely not a progressive, talking about William Sampson, a Canadian citizen who was imprisoned and tortured in Saudi Arabia for no conceivable reason:

But I gather from the way that this is being talked about officially that his being alive is supposed to be taken by us and even presumably by Mr. Sampson himself as a sort of prize: "Hey, he's alive. This proves our diplomacy works." This is a rare curiosity of logic. It amounts to saying that a government can take the mind and body of a Canadian citizen and bring both to wrack and ruin over weeks or months or years, as long as they don't go the final inch and actually put him or her out of their misery.

And that, after the fact, if the citizen is still breathing, we can have something very close to a congratulations party over the success of our efforts. I believe in some quarters this is called sophisticated thinking. I don't think a pick handle to the soles of the feet or the back of the head when you're trussed upside down and naked in a Saudi jail has very many spasms of sophistication. The Saudis, including their ambassador here, claim it's all lies. I find Mr. Sampson's account infinitely more persuasive.

Give Saudi the diplomatic boot

Rex Murphy is a dour, often sarcastic conservative. He doesn't hold with any of that "global warming" stuff, and he sure isn't fond of gun control, either. Yet he seems to believe that torture is wrong, and that his government should act that way. When was the last time an American conservative said such a thing? Of course, that was written when the Liberals were in power. What's his view of the Conservatives' doings?

Mr. Harper has a lot of attractive qualities. He's decisive. He's very intelligent. On some issues, such as Afghanistan, he's shown great political courage and clarity, but there are some days when his partisan instincts usurp his better nature and he dips into the stream of vindictive and mean politics, the recent slur on his critics as being more worried about the Taliban than Canadian troops was a disgusting example, and then he provides a perfect mirror of what he professed so to dislike during Mr. Chr├ętien's tenure.

If there is to be an inquiry into the polling practices of the previous governments, we already have a detached, professional, and extremely competent officer of Parliament to conduct one, the auditor general. And unlike the appointed senator and the shy separatist, Sheila Fraser has no politics we have to be concerned about.

Poster boys for the concept of accountability

[emphasis mine]

Cronyism and rank partisanship are bad, even when his own party does it. Not such a popular notion among conservatives on this side of the border. While they might need a whack with a clue stick once in a while, their conservatives don't sound like they need rabies shots. To say the least, I find that refreshing.

I'm not trying to paint Canada as a utopia. It has its problems with crime, injustice, and ice-borne sports just like we do. According to the Wikipedia entry, for many years Chinese Canadians refused to celebrate Canada Day in protest of Canada's anti-Chinese immigration laws, a thing we're familiar with here. What it does not have, though, is an irrational fear of trying to improve its society via government. It has the freedom, as Rex Murphy demonstrates, to question government policies even when they're decades old. It has the freedom to change its mind when it thinks its government has erred. Those are the same freedoms, allegedly, that we have.

Nor do they shrink from the challenge of doing things the hard way, when the "easy way" means that some people get screwed.

As Ian's essay shows, on our good days both countries can be an example to the other. We're not holding up our end of that bargain right now. Hopefully, that will change. Some day, I hope our countries can once again grow up together here in the New World.

Happy Birthday, Canada.

Oh, and can we borrow a few of your fish?


shoephone said...

Wow, Cujo. What a well-documented and well-crafted post. And I learned things, which is, of course, most important to me.

I didn't know much about Wm. Sampson so I appreciate your focus on his story. The most shocking tale of torture of a Canadian must still be Maher Arar's -- primarily, because it happened at the order of the Bush regime. To my mind (and my sensibilites) Arar's suffering at the hands of the American government stands out as the stunning example of our government's cynicism and incompetence. It serves to remind us that Bush and Cheney and their ilk are hell-bent on excercising what I can only surmise is a nearly sexual obsession with torturing other human beings. I can only imagine how few Canadian citizens would want anything to do with this country.

As an American who has traveled through the East and West of Canada I can attest to its regional, political and social complexities. The Canadians I've had dealings with always seem to have much less of an "agenda" than their bad little brothers to the south. (But I still wish it wouldn't manage to rain every time I'm in Vancouver.)

An aside: That actor from "Due South" was in a movie a few years ago I really enjoyed. I can never remember the name of it, but it's the one about the guys (in Manitoba?) whose big claim to fame is winning the curling championship!

Cujo359 said...

Hi shoephone,

The Arar story is an appalling one, and it certainly symbolizes what's wrong with our current direction. Not only have we done something both useless and terrible, but we did it to a citizen of one of our closest allies. Stupid all the way around.

Odd thing about the Sampson issue was that I first learned about it reading one of Murphy's columns. It seemed to resonate quite a bit with Canadians, for obvious reasons. It sure didn't help the Liberal government to appear as though they were kowtowing to Saudi Arabia, either.

Paul Gross, according to IMDB, was in a movie about curling called Men With Brooms.

That's probably the one.

Ian said...

*waves to Cujo*

And yup, "Men with Brooms". Canadians find it hilarious. Of course Curling is either funny or really really boring. Depending on how drunk you are, I think.