Friday, July 1, 2011

Opinion: A Proud Canadian

Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability. – Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section 15.1

Today is the birthday of our nation. On July 1, 1867 a group of men gathered in Charlottetown and signed into law a new nation called Canada. At the time our new country included only Ontario, Québec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Now we stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific and up to the Arctic oceans.

Although our perception in the world seems to be not what it traditionally was due to current politics I have every faith that what makes us Canadian – love of freedom and care for others – is still the bedrock on which our wonderful country rests.

I used to be puzzled by the question of what makes us distinct from Americans. For a long time I didn’t know. But I think I’ve figured it out. It is best summed up in the etymology of our country’s name.

The word Canada is a mispronunciation and misunderstanding of the native Iroquois word “Kanata” which means “village.” As in a village we look after each other, fully expecting that in our time of need others will be there for us. We believe our political responsibility includes care for others.

The United States, which has been populated by Europeans for as long as Canada, has a slightly different idea of what country means. Not wrong, but different. When the United States was founded it was based on individual freedoms and the desire to be their own masters – a fine and wonderful concept.

We also value our liberties, but we didn’t have to fight for ours. We legislated ourselves into existence. As such we don’t have the same level of vigilance when we feel those individual liberties are threatened by a national government. We believe it is right to sacrifice to help the less fortunate of our land.

Personally I think it has to do with how Europeans, and natives, populated our country. Being sparsely populated we relied on each other for help to survive. We helped our neighbours get by and they helped us. This has translated into our current politics, even today while we are governed by a right-of-centre majority government. We don’t seem to stray too far from the middle of the road. 

Social responsibility is continually in argument with individual rights in Canada. That is a dichotomy that I am glad we wrestle with daily. 

If you want an analogy of our traditional political spectrum, our “Tories” are probably closer to US Democrats than US Republicans. Our current brand of recycled “Bush Era” Tories perhaps not so much, but we’re stuck with them for the next four to five years. Such is the result of the privilege of the vote. Next election we get to judge how they have done.

It’s not that we haven’t had our bumps and bruises. For example women weren’t even considered “persons” under the Constitution Act of 1867. We also treated (and still treat) our native Canadians in a shameful manner. And then there’s the actions of the police during last year’s G20 Summit in Ontario where laws were actually passed and the public wasn’t told. So you could literally break the law without knowing it. Shame.

But we’re trying. Fundamentally I believe that what made us – the ability to put ourselves into another’s shoes – will sustain us. 

We made great but imperfect strides in the right direction in Prime Minister Trudeau’s repatriation of the Constitution from Britain and the enactment of the “Charter of Rights and Freedoms” in 1982. Read it here:

People from all over the world seek out Canada for what we take for granted. We must be aware of what we have and guard it. Sadly today there are many who would be happy to see our democracy fail. But we will prevail, and our love of country – and more importantly each other – will fill our sails and chart our course.

Thank you Canada for being my home and native land. I am a proud Canadian.


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