“When did Canada…”

When did Canada become the country that it is today? Only a few years ago it was seen as a bastion of freedom and democracy, a place where people from around the world could look to, they thought, in order for Canada to  champion causes that were just and fair to all.

Was this persona little more than that, a facade that talented marketers put out to the world so Canadians felt proud and safe walking the streets of Calcutta with their maple leaf patches sewn to their backpacks? Did 9/11 change the world in a way that permanently polarized the East and West in a way that has not been seen since the decay of the Soviet Union? Do Canadians know about the policies of their own governments, or are they too busy watching Dancing With The Stars and downloading pirated movies?

Canada is a polarized country. Whether it is a new phenomenon or something that has been going on for as long as Canada has been, is debatable. In all truth, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is whether its current state is permanent or something that can be changed. Do Canadians on the East and West coasts feel the same way about pressing issues, or is the distance between them more than just geographical?

Being a proud Canadian used to mean something. You stood for truth. You didn’t like bullies and you would not back down from a fight when it was obvious that someone was being taken advantage of or discriminated against. Unfortunately, Canada, along with other Western powers,  is now one of  the countries doing the bullying and exploiting people internationally in an effort to keep expenses down and profits up.

How many companies in Canada now hire migrant workers from developing countries because the price is right? Is this practice of shipping in people from elsewhere to work for wages far below Canadian rates something we want to proud of? Do we want to broadcast to the world that Canada does not recognize the rights of its migrant workforce, denying them the power to bargain collectively or access to healthcare?

Do grade school students not learn about the numbers of Chinese workers who built our transcontinental railway, and suffered and died in doing so? Can they imagine the similar abuses that continue to this day?

With a country as large and diverse as Canada, it is no surprise there would be cultural differences. Quebec has always held itself up as a distinct society and it is certainly true. It is not the only region that bears distinction, however. Every province has its own culture and practices that seem foreign to someone coming from elsewhere, even from within Canada’s borders. Whereas in Quebec immigrants are denied the right to seek schooling for their children in a language other than French, provinces such as Nova Scotia do not allow children to be schooled in any language other than English, unless of course ones parents are francophone. Sound familiar?

The government is supposed to represent the people who elected it. It is supposed to serve as a collective voice, ensuring that all citizens have the same rights, freedoms and services. Does that sound anything like the government Canada now has in place, or like the governments of many countries worldwide at this point? How can we expect our leaders to protect the rights of immigrants or people being preyed upon internationally when they have given up even caring for their own domestic populations? Interest groups dictate policy, not people. Governments have stopped representing their citizens and now by and large represent large corporations that keep the economy moving, or in recent years, stalling.

Does it matter to the average Canadian whether you have black, brown, red, yellow or white skin? Do they really care what language or religion you speak and practice at home? Can’t it be said that collectively as a species humans pretty much want and need the same basics? Why is it then that we are constantly looking for reasons to polarize ourselves, to create that sense of us and them? Do we need divisions in order to make it okay for our sensibilities and sensitivities when we bomb “them,” or deny “them” certain rights and liberties we hold dear to ourselves?

There is always talk of a global community, or world government that will do away with existing borders and nationalism, but how could such an organization actually exist with our continued attachment to the idea of The Other? As long as we collectively need to discriminate against a people for religion, race or creed, there cannot be freedom and justice for all.

We as Canadians once stood for peace. We believed that the rights we enjoyed should be afforded to everyone. Do we still feel the same way, or are we so afraid of losing our own privileges that we can’t be bothered to worry about others? Are we too far along the path of polarization that the way back is too hard, and perhaps forgotten? What will the children of tomorrow say of the world of today; will they see it as an era of great innovation and change for the better, or more likely a step backwards to a time of fear and cynicism? Will the children even care about what happened yesterday, or will they be too entranced with Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter?

Who knows what the future will say of this time and place in history. Most likely it will judge us harshly, and rightfully so. We have turned our collective backs on liberty in exchange for security and in doing so, deserve neither.

Matthew Soule studied History and Political Science at Concordia University. His interest in social and domestic issues goes back to his childhood with one of his earliest memories being Ronald Reagan sworn in as U.S. president. It is his belief that mainstream media is little more than propaganda at this point, influencing the masses in an attempt to increase revenue for large corporations. Matthew presently lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, but intends to travel to Central and South America in 2012.