As the political construct of Canada approaches its 150th birthday, it’s difficult not to feel bemused by both the nonsensical corporate and nationalist rhetoric surrounding the event: All of which is steeped in myth.
In recent advertising the luxury automaker Cadillac has announced a programme to find the next great Canadian innovator. Pepsi is commemorating the 150th by selling its popular beverage with actual sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup.
Canadians and their politicians are getting in on the excitement too. Guests of national parks can now enjoy the use of public land without having to pay camping fees– at least until the end of the year.
Across Canada towns and cities are preparing to celebrate the 150th. To commemorate Canada’s “glorious” militarism, historic and modern aircraft from the Royal Canadian Air Force will be flying over Parliament Hill between June 29th and July 1st.
First Nations activists have set up a teepee outside parliament despite police opposition. Notices of trespass have been served to some activists that state that legally, none can return to Parliament Hill for six months. Apparently the nation’s legislature intended for the representation of all Canadians is an exclusive venue. Who knew?
Cadillac’s cynical advertising is remarkable coming from a company that generated huge swathes of its fortune in the post-War era thanks to the now defunct US-Canada Auto Pact. These days the success of Cadillac and its parent company General Motors relies less on innovation than on cheap labour in Mexico and government bail-outs. Both Canadian and US tax dollars saved the firm in 2009. Cadillac’s cynical advertising is simply a public relations gimmick: Canada and the US built and saved GM, not the other way around.
I’m not sure what Pepsi has to do with Canada other than that company’s sales of teeth rotting soda must benefit Canadian dentists. No doubt Canadians benefitted too from Pepsi and Coca Cola’s connivance in Cuba, especially in the suppression of agricultural workers.
Then there’s the military aircraft flying over Parliament Hill. In an era where North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un is mocked and derided for grand military displays, there’s something ironic and comical about Canada’s eagerness to display its military might over the national legislature. Never mind that that military might is poorly funded and overly reliant on the United States for logistical support. Never mind too that successive governments in Ottawa have done little to help veterans. After all, soldiers are expendable, eh?
One of the great Canadian myths is that the nation’s independence was forged in battle at Vimy Ridge in 1917. That the taking of Vimy Ridge resulted in over three thousand Canadian casualties and had zero strategic impact on the course of World War One is irrelevant to those who see glory in senseless bloodshed. That’s not to sneer at the individual heroism of the soldiers who fought there. However Canadian independence from Britain in the modern era was the result of economics and politics that were long underway before 1914. The two World Wars merely accelerated that process.
Nor did Canada become truly independent. Like our fellow colonials in Australia, we simply subordinated ourselves to a new super-power, the United States: Which perhaps is why both Pepsi and Cadillac are so enthusiastic in their support for Canada’s 150th Anniversary.
Not being a pacifist, I accept that nations need militaries in order to defend their societies from external threats – and that is why any sensible person should deride the myths that surround their Armed Forces. Mythology does a disservice to men and women in uniform and prevents meaningful reforms that actually support the troops. Instead of spending money on a military fly-over above Ottawa, why not apply that money to providing badly needed equipment for Canadian troops? Why not spend taxpayer funds on new boots, rucksacks, weapons, paramedics, vehicles, training and other paraphernalia so that the Canadian military can focus on doing its job? In addition the money being spent on that fly-over would do a lot of good helping veterans.
Pacifists reading the above might be appalled, but to them and everyone else I’ll add that we should dispense with the myth that the Canadian Armed Forces are a glorious, well-meaning institution instead of a violent force like any other military. The Canadian military has a long history of perpetrating war-crimes in every war in which it has fought. During World War One, German regiments would retreat and consolidate their positions on more defensible land when they found they were facing Canadian troops. The Germans were no more scared of the fighting abilities of the Canadians than they were of other Allied troops. However it was widely known on the Western Front that in the few instances where Canadians took prisoners, those POWs would be tortured and murdered soon afterwards. Apologists will argue that such behaviour is a hard reality of war. Nevertheless such acts constitute war-crimes.
Little has changed since World War One in that regard. Canadian peacekeepers in Somalia have been documented and prosecuted for the torture and murder of civilians. Canadian troops have also been filmed executing prisoners during the War in Afghanistan. Clearly the institution is neither perfect nor glorious.
Honouring the courage and sacrifice of the troops is meaningless if the courage and sacrifice of those troops is not honoured by health-care, counselling and updated equipment. On top of that we could honour them by not sending them off to kill and die on behalf of corporate interests.
Doing so might have a depressing effect on General Motors shares though. GM’s sales of Hummers to the US military and Sierras to private contractors did much for the company’s balance sheets during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As too did the sales of transmissions for all the Abrams tanks used during those conflicts. Now that Hummer is defunct, no wonder GM’s subsidiary Cadillac is so interested in seeking innovative ideas!
And speaking of wars, what about the ongoing culture war against Aboriginal peoples? Police opposition to Aboriginal rights activists setting up a teepee outside parliament is eerily familiar. After all, the RCMP was instrumental in suppressing the Metis back in the day. Nor should we forget events at Ipperwash or Oka or the ongoing protests over proposed oil-bearing pipelines being run through Aboriginal lands.
And since we are debunking the mythology of all Canadians we need to stop pretending that Aboriginal societies were idyllic prior to the arrival of Europeans. The Iroquois treated the Cree, the Sioux and the Huron terribly – and vice versa.
Nor should past horrors be used to justify all the social problems that occur on native reserves today. Domestic violence and drug abuse being two of the most common social ills.
Domestic violence is endemic to all of Canadian society, Aboriginal or otherwise. Combatting the problem isn’t a priority for federal provincial or aboriginal governments, especially when that money can be better spent on jingoism and military fly-overs.
Women don’t really matter anyway, do they? Just because they make up half the human species doesn’t mean we owe them equal treatment!
Even though fifty percent of Canadian women will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. Even though Statistics Canada (who needs statistics, eh?) found in a 2014 study that 70 percent of Canadian women claim to have experienced spousal abuse. Or that even when leaving aside the moral and physical horrors of violence against women, the problem costs the Canadian economy nearly $2 billion a year.
Readers may feel I’m being a curmudgeon or even being unpatriotic. But I love living in Canada. I was born here. It is my home. I love this land and its people. And when you love something or someone you must do so honestly, even if the truth hurts. Just as with people you don’t help your country by enabling its bad habits. Canada’s myths are habits we need to do away with, so that all of us can address reality and in doing so enjoy this beautiful land together.
In our national anthem we talk about standing on guard for our country. To me that means we stand on guard for one another – and all human beings.
Just something to ponder this holiday weekend over a good barbecue and some beers with family and friends.
Happy Canada Day, eh?