Monday, April 07, 2008

Canada on the world stage

I've always been well received as a Canadian in my travels and even experienced about-face reactions when angry or reserved people learn I'm not American; however, there are times when I'm less apt to wear my Canadian-ness on my sleeve. Today is such a day: Canada has derailed a UNHRC resolution to make clean water a basic human right. Although I understand Canada's reason for doing so (their afraid that they'll be forced to sell or give water as a result), I do not approve of this motion. During Harper's tenure Canada seems to have lost its sense of the greater good and become overly concerned with the legal implications of every decision. While I in no way suggest the government or any one else ignore the advice of lawyers, it's no good to be paralyzed by the "what-ifs". For example, the main reason Canada has not made an apology to the First Nations, like Australia's, is that it may be exploited legally as an admission of guilt; Canada purposely avoided the term in the 1998 statement of reconciliation concerning the abuses that took place at residential schools. Still, Australia did it. We have not, although the AFN would welcome it. Instead, Canada has voted against a UN's native rights declaration; McNee, Canada's UN ambassador, stated the declaration was "overly broad, unclear and capable of a wide variety of interpretations."

The Harper government has also softened its stance on capital punishment: for the first time in ten years, Canada has not co-sponsored the UN resolution on capital punishment and it has stopped seeking clemency for Canadian prisoners on Death Row. These actions have been denounced by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Never mind Canada's role in trying to derail and eventually dilute the Bali talks on climate change. Read McNee's statement to the UN or the many critiques of Canada's climate change plan (e.g., Suzuki). These examples show that the Canadian government is frequently guided by technocrats, legal advisers, and making America happy. What about the great Canadian ideal which is rooted in Canada's role in liberating Europe, serving as peace-keepers, and not joining the invasion of Iraq? Is this just propaganda from a world past or is its absence indicative of a lack of cohesiveness in Canada?

National identity is a vast topic indeed, but I think some firm decisions governed by more than the pragmatic would go a long way. Canada also seems to dilute its identity, as if it's hesitant to be too proud: it is the only country I've seen that has no division between residents and visitors at immigration and probably, the only country that on government forms and surveys defaults to "select country" on a world list rather than default to "Canada" or at least list "Canada" first on the list. Furthermore, there is less consistency among the official languages, for example, upon disembarking the plane at Vancouver I saw only Mandarin/Cantonese signs directing the way to immigration (I relied on the universal symbol to find my way) and in the lavatory saw an English and Spanish sign; I am speaking of languages at an official level and fully appreciate the diverse nature of Canada and ethnic districts that have signs in various languages. So what brings definition for me? Stan Rogers, Glen Gould, Trudeau and Stephen Leacock from the past and CBC radio, the Hip, Hockey Night in Canada, Dallaire, and the great number of immigrants (poets, scholars, artists, and athletes especially) at the present. My vision of Canada would have Harper banning the import of fossil fuels in ten years to address climate change and providing a cohesive plan for doing so; apologizing to the First Nations; and upholding Canadian law on capital punishment. In other words, I envision Canada as a leader rather than a hesitant follower.

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