Things We Dare Not Talk About …
Sometimes when I sit down to write my weekly commentary, a little voice inside of me says, “don’t write about that”. This is one of those times. Usually, I listen to that little voice. This is one of those times that I will not.
Two events that occurred recently have caused me to wonder what has happened to civil discourse in Canada. It seems that we have reached a stage where there are things you just can’t talk about without being labelled a racist or a bigot.
The first event that caught my eye was the uproar around statements made by Maxime Bernier, a Conservative MP from Quebec who accused the Trudeau Government of “extreme multiculturalism.” Let me be very clear that I do not agree with Mr. Bernier. I believe that Canada is considered one of the best places to live in the world, at least in part, because of its diversity. When it comes to multiculturalism, I relate most closely to a quote from John Diefenbaker, Canada’s first Prime Minister, whose descendants were neither English nor French. He said this.
“Canada is not a melting pot in which the individuality of each element is destroyed in order to produce a new and totally different element. It is rather, a garden, into which have been transplanted the heartiest and brightest flowers from many lands.”
While I disagree with much of what Bernier has to say in relation to Canada’s diversity, I defend his right to express his opinion. It has not escaped my notice that so many people have taken great steps to distance themselves from Bernier, almost as if he had some distasteful disease. There is a danger however, in shutting down or dismissing ideas and points of view that may be unpopular, rather than giving them sufficient air to be discussed and debated.
The hard facts are that there are some people who will have empathy with at least some of the arguments Maxime Bernier has put forward. These are not bad people. These too, are Canadians. They will be concerned about immigration policies, especially in light of the current world-wide refugee problem. They would believe that Canada should be more rigid in expecting new Canadians to share a commitment to uphold and endorse our fundamental liberties. To suppress these issues, to shame people from discussing them, can only lead to a frustration that will eventually boil over. We have witnessed that happening with dire consequences in the United States. It would be to Canada’s detriment if we were to allow it to happen here.
The second issue that raised its ugly head for me recently, was a statement from our Prime Minister that his government will create a statutory holiday aimed at remembering the legacy of residential schools. Referring to a nineteenth century government policy related to Canada’s indigenous population, he said, “The residential schools era is indeed a dark chapter, we must never forget.”
I cannot think of a worse reason to declare a national holiday. There is no question that there are elements of our history for which there is little to be proud, but that is no reason to declare a national holiday.
In particular, the residential schools issue, in my opinion, has been subjected to a certain amount of historical revisionism that should not be enshrined in an annual observance. I know it is politically incorrect to say that, and that others have been severely criticized for daring to do so, but like most things, there are two sides to this story and they deserve to be heard.
Of course, bad things happened during those times, but not all people involved were bad people; many were there with the best of intentions and many dedicated their lives to what they honestly believed to be an important service to native children. One graduate from a residential school went on to become Premier of a Canadian Territory and openly credited that system for allowing him to get there.
But we are called upon to believe there was nothing good about residential schools, that the people involved were all bad and that the politicians, MacDonald, Langevin and Cartier, who devised and administered the policy, did so with the worst of intentions. I for one, do not believe that. Genocide is too often used to describe the residential school system. Genocide is defined as the mass extermination of human beings and it is pure revisionism to equate that with the residential school system in Canada.
I would have no problem supporting a national holiday to honour the proud contributions of Indigenous people to Canada. I draw the line however at an annual observance that reflects negatively on our past, perpetuates the friction between Indigenous people and other Canadians and does so based on a historical record that is not entirely accurate.
It was Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the father of our current prime Minister, who said, “I do not think the purpose of government is to right the past. It cannot re-write history. It is our purpose to be just in our time.”
I say Amen to that.
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