Canada’s reconciliation: unwilling, unready, undeserving

Examining the pitfalls of reconciliation in light of the deaths of Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine

Canada’s reconciliation: unwilling, unready, undeserving

In 2015, the conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) provided Canadians with documentation of the cultural genocide endured by Indigenous youth through residential schools. The purpose of the TRC was to lay the groundwork for ‘reconciliation’ where settler Canadians would work to close social, economic, and political gaps with Indigenous peoples created by centuries of colonialism.

Yet in February 2018 — less than three years later — the consecutive acquittals of Gerald Stanley and Raymond Cormier for the deaths of 22-year-old Colten Boushie of the Red Pheasant First Nation and 15-year-old Tina Fontaine of the Sagkeeng First Nation have blown away any remaining mystique of ‘reconciliation.’ Settler Canada, by reproducing the injustices it pledged to address, is not committed to reconciliation.

The ongoing failure of the Canadian criminal justice system for Indigenous youth is only part of the problem. The problem is how systems intersect to make Indigenous deaths possible. The problem is how, even after death, settlers continue to twist narratives and portray death as a normal, expected, and deserved outcome for the colonized.

Stanley’s trial revolved around the purported malfunctioning of the gun that killed Colten Boushie on a Saskatchewan farm. Yet much settler deliberation focused on Stanley’s ‘right’ to protect his property and family from ‘trespassers’ — a deeply ironic ‘right’ given that his farm sits on Treaty 6 land. The Indigenous peoples who signed the treaty, with the Crown in 1876 were unable to fully understand its meaning due to it being written in English; they were told that settlers were borrowing the land, when in fact it was being purchased from them.   

What do we make of the escalatory and disproportionate use of force, including guns, that is frequently justified against minoritized communities? Or of the fact that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s (RCMP) investigation of Bouchie’s death negligently destroyed evidence and treated his family as if they were suspect? Instead, Stanley was acquitted, received over $200,000 in GoFundMe support, and is currently pursuing publishers to write a book and explain his ‘side’ of the story.

Tina Fontaine, on the other hand, engaged with the police, hospital, and child and family services, which had placed her in a hotel prior to her disappearance. Her body was later recovered from Red River in Manitoba. Yet The Globe and Mail headlined a story, “Tina Fontaine had drugs, alcohol in system when she was killed: toxicologist.” Indigenous responses later caused the paper to change the title.

Invoking stereotypes of the ‘drunken Indian’ and suggesting that Fontaine’s death was her own fault rather than that of the killer who threw her body into a river, or that of institutions that abandoned their responsibility to protect her is how many absolve the Canadian state and settlers of any culpability. From Boushie to Fontaine, we — the criminal justice system, the police, the child welfare system, the media, and the settler Canadian public — have been shown to protect settlers and defame dead Indigenous youth. Settler Canada is unwilling, unready, and undeserving of reconciliation.

The criminal injustice system

The legal system is central to the pro-death policy imposed upon Indigenous communities — especially when it comes to the nature of juries. Battleford, Saskatchewan — where Stanley was acquitted — was also the site of the 1885 hangings following the Riel Rebellion, the largest mass execution in Canadian history. Eight Indigenous men were hanged and buried after an all-white jury trial, a judge, and Prime Minister John A. MacDonald all expressed antipathies toward them as “Indian rebels.” In 1971, an all-white jury wrongfully convicted Donald Marshall Jr., a Mi’kmaq man, of murder. These historical examples of all-white juries are part of a trajectory that has led to an overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in the justice system; they constitute 25 per cent of inmates despite being approximately four per cent of the population.

Tina Fontaine’s case, meanwhile, is paralleled by the 1971 murder of Helen Betty Osborne, among countless other missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people. Although Indigenous peoples constituted 30 per cent of Osborne’s community, the defence used peremptory challenges — the right to reject a prospective juror without providing any reason — to keep all prospective Indigenous jurors off the jury. An all-white jury subsequently convicted only one of four accused men of her murder.

In light of this history of legal injustice, part of Indigenous resistance efforts is the reclamation of the law as a space for Indigenous youth. The University of Toronto Indigenous Law Students’ Association (ILSA) is one such organization; it “provides a social network for Aboriginal law students and is committed to furthering awareness of Aboriginal legal issues.” On March 1, the ILSA held a panel discussion about the Colten Boushie verdict.

Kent Roach, Professor of Law at the University of Toronto, discussed the various aspects of the trial that contributed to the acquittal of Stanley. First was the issue of Indigenous underrepresentation on juries. According to s. 629 of the Criminal Code of Canada, the jury panel can only be challenged on the basis of “partiality, fraud or wilful misconduct.” This does not account for proportional representation on a jury roll or the actual jury. In Stanley’s trial, the jury was entirely white with no Indigenous representation. Roach advocates for the ability of the accused or prosecutor to challenge jury panels if they fail to be representative based on a fair sample of the community at hand.

A recent Toronto Star-Ryerson School of Journalism investigation confirmed this representation problem. It reveals how, based on an analysis of 52 criminal trials in Toronto and Brampton, 71 per cent of all jurors were white, even though people of colour constitute the majority of the cities’ demographics. Evidently, juries across Canada do not reflect the diversity of the community in which trials are situated. Roach advocates for outreach and support for Indigenous and Black communities to ensure they have easier access to serving on juries.

The second panelist, Mi’kmaq lawyer Shannon McDunnough, further spoke of the importance of the jury pool of prospective jurors — especially because they are overwhelmingly white, middle-class, and middle-aged. Many lower-income, and minoritized people cannot afford to miss precarious work for jury duty, as opposed to those who have well-paid contracts. Indigenous peoples often are excluded because of barriers related to transportation, child care, and elder care. The final jury pool thus ends up with a socioeconomic and racial skew. This comes at the cost of alternative worldviews that, in the case of Indigenous peoples involved in trials, can other help other jurors understand what it means to be and live as an Indigenous person. McDunnough stated that jurors are doing a public service, and as such, should be accomodated financially so lower-income and minoritized communities can serve on juries.

In conjunction with more representative juries, Roach advocated for the abolition of peremptory challenges Stanley’s lawyer used them to exclude visibly Indigenous peoples from the jury. Furthermore, he spoke of the need to expand challenges for cause. Prospective jurors were not questioned as to whether the racial dynamics of the case would affect their ability to impartially decide the case. Prospective jurors should be vetted for subconscious racism and challenged for cause if they are deemed partial, especially when the victim in question is Indigenous.

A jury is ideally representative of the wider community and must deliberate and come to a unanimous decision. Yet if a jury is misrepresentative and impartial to racially loaded cases, the biases in the decision-making process favour accused killers like Stanley at the cost of Indigenous victims, and they disadvantage Indigenous individuals when they are the accused. This only serves to further alienate Indigenous communities that are already disabused of the criminal justice system, which has continually failed them.

The ILSA, in solidarity with other Canadian law schools raising awareness about the Boushie and Fontaine cases, backed up its panel with a teach-in on March 14. Law students and faculty alike walked out of class and sat together at the Jackman Law Building atrium for discussion. The purpose was to educate people on how institutions   such as the police, jury selection, and child welfare systems collude through and with the legal system to create results such as the acquittals. Speakers mentioned the need for more Indigenous perspectives and legal traditions in the study of law and the need to keep conversation alive about the Boushie and Fontaine cases outside the classroom.

One step in the direction of legal pluralism and equity is taking place at the University of Victoria, which recently announced that it will offer the world’s first Indigenous law degree. Students in the program, expected to initiate in September of 2018, will earn two professional degrees in Canadian common law and Indigenous legal orders. This initiative is a response to the TRC’s 50th call to action, which calls for the development of Indigenous law institutes. According to Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law John Burrows, “Indigenous law looks to nature and to the land to provide principles of law and order and ways of creating peace between peoples; whereas the common law looks to old cases in libraries to decide how to act in the future.”

The law and the criminal justice system has historically been a colonial operation that favours settlers at the expense of Indigenous peoples. For some, it is a site in which serious reform is required to build equity; for others, legal pluralism and Indigenous traditions are the way forward. The work of ILSA suggests that, in light of the Boushie and Fontaine cases, Indigenous youth are at the forefront of reclaiming and re-imagining the space of law to create a justice system that serves Indigenous peoples.

DARREN CHENG/THE VARSITY

“Stolen children on stolen land”

The death and life of Fontaine also illustrates how the criminal injustice system interlocks with a wider network of colonial infrastructure to facilitate the exploitation and degradation of Indigenous lives.

In Manitoba, where Fontaine grew up, in the province’s Child and Family Services there are 11,000 children who have been removed from their families and are currently in the child welfare system. Of those children, 10,000 are Indigenous — a staggering 91 per cent. The First Nations Child & Family Caring Society estimates “ there are three times the number of First Nation children in foster care than there were at the height of the residential schools system.” When the present-day child welfare system is tearing families apart even more rapaciously than under residential schools, it amounts to an escalation of colonial warfare against Indigeneity. While we, as settlers, may have the impression that Canada ended its genocidal practices in the last century, numbers show that the destruction of Indigenous communities is ramping up, not winding down.

At Toronto’s “Justice for Tina Fontaine” rally on March 3, speakers called out the system for what it is: a child welfare industrial complex. One mother whose son was put into the care of the state at a psychiatric hospital decried the many actors who profit from Indigenous children being taken from their homes: “Native women did not have children to be meal tickets for lawyers, psychiatrists, judges, child welfare employees, directors, executive directors, and managers.”

Others benefit from the industry as well: the hotels paid to house foster children; private foster care agencies contracted by the government; non-Indigenous foster parents who earn allowances; and not least, sexual predators and human traffickers.

Another speaker at ILSA’s event, an Inuvialuit woman named Crystal Lee, lamented that Fontaine’s death was a deliberate outcome: “Canada failed Tina long before she was murdered.”

One of the most common reasons given for apprehending Indigenous children is caregiver poverty and substandard housing. These conditions are, unsurprisingly, the product of the Canadian government, which has repeatedly been found liable of discriminating against Indigenous children by starving them of equal funding compared to non-Indigenous children. A sinister formula thus emerges: make reserves unfit for living, seize the children, profit from the children, continue decimating Indigenous presence, repeat. This is the colonial pipeline that whisked Fontaine from her family and ultimately discharged her body into the Red River. This is why the TRC zeroed in on child welfare as its first call to action. How can Canada possibly pursue reconciliation when there will be no intact future generations with whom to reconcile?  

Resistance efforts

Although they are in the crosshairs of these colonial systems, Indigenous youth are surging to the front lines to push back. The rally for Fontaine at Nathan Phillips Square was organized by Madyson Arscott, a grade 10 Ojibwe student only a year older than Fontaine was when she died.

Later on the afternoon of the protest, other young activists established the Soaring Eagle’s Camp on the front lawn of the Old City Hall courthouse. Inspired by sister camps in Winnipeg and Calgary, the occupation commemorates Boushie and Fontaine and highlights the “continuation of Canada’s colonial violence towards Indigenous peoples on Turtle Island,” according to their pamphlet. The site of the month-old camp is intentional, explained Gein Wong, who has been present since day one: “There’s a lot of Native folks, or Indigenous folks, who are charged in the city with whatever charges. They actually go into here and have to go to court in this building. And so, for that reason, it’s important to have a presence here because this is where the justice system is, where it is actively operating.”

The Soaring Eagle’s Camp draws on the legacy of other direct actions in the city. Last July, the alarming suicide rate among Indigenous youth, particularly in Pikangikum First Nation, led to the formation of the Ground Zero camp in front of the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) Toronto office last summer. This camp was in fact a re-occupation of INAC; the camp’s first incarnation took place in April 2016 following the Attawapiskat suicide crisis. The second Ground Zero camp lasted 157 days to create public awareness about the loss of Indigenous youth and demand the federal government to increase funding for First Nations communities. The camp ended only due to the harsh late December weather.

Yet the members of Soaring Eagle’s Camp share the view that their camp is distinct from previous actions. According to Wong, “What’s notable this time around is that it’s all young, new generations that’s actually stepping up and organizing, with the guidance and the support of the folks who have done it before, and the elders. That is powerful to … have new generations step in.

This ethic of youth solidarity rippled through conversations with other members of the camp, who emphasized the importance of young Indigenous people showing up for other Indigenous youth. When Arscott addressed the crowd at the Fontaine rally, she concluded her speech with a request: “I want each and every one of you to say something with me for the Indigenous youth in the crowd. Ready? You are worth the effort. You are worth the effort. You are worth the effort.”

DARREN CHENG/THE VARSITY

Reconciling reconciliation

For reconciliation with Indigenous peoples to occur, the meaning of reconciliation itself must be reconciled by settler Canadians. Is reconciliation just performative rhetoric, or is it substantive action that requires us to recreate our workplaces, classrooms, and institutions in the image of Indigenous worldviews, knowledges, and governance structures? What are settlers willing to give up so that justice socioeconomically, legally, and politically for centuries of colonialism may be served?  

Kennes Lin, a Youth Leader for Canadian Roots Exchange (CRE) an organization dedicated to developing relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth, and a student at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, shared her perception of reconciliation, prior to the verdicts, as a non-Indigenous person. “As a first-generation immigrant settler, I viewed ‘reconciliation’ as a responsibility to learn about the truth and unbiased history of the land I am living on, and to be self-aware of how my role as an immigrant meant I have been implicated as a settler colonizer in the project of colonization. I viewed ‘reconciliation’ as a need for me to understand my positioning first, and then to reach out and bridge the gaps in relationships with Indigenous folks.”

Following the verdicts, Lin said she is more critical of what ‘bridging the gap’ means. “With the verdicts as blatant evidence of overt and covert racism, ‘Truth before reconciliation’ to me now means being more targeted in addressing racism. While reconstructing is needed, I don’t view it as in my place to be doing it it needs to be from First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities themselves. What I can do is to target institutional racism, as a way create space for decolonizing reconstruction work to happen.”

As for the role of non-Indigenous youth, Lin notes, “what you can do always depends on what you know yourself to have the capacity to do if rallies are for you, go to them. If writing policy is more you, that works too. There’s a lot of work to do in all areas of deconstructing and reconstructing.”

Max FineDay, member of Sweetgrass First Nation and Co-Executive Director of CRE, defines reconciliation as the process of restoring the original relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. As with any process, there are failures; the two verdicts, while deeply disappointing, are not entirely surprising for FineDay. “Time and time again, the justice system shows that it fails, just like education, like health. The systems upon which Canada was founded do not serve Indigenous peoples.”

FineDay also speaks of the high suicide rate among Indigenous youth compared to non-Indigenous youth. “Canada is not the great country of justice and human rights and equality that we like to think we are. We are coming to a crossroads. Indigenous youth are the fastest growing demographic in the country. We have Indigenous youth now who are in 20 years going to be professionals in the workforce. Or if we don’t go down the path of reconciliation we’ll build more prisons, there will be more suicide, we’ll lose more people to violence. Youth are critical because we have an opportunity to stop the cyclical violence that has been happening for centuries.”

FineDay added that Canadians in Toronto or Ontario should not be smug and view anti-Indigenous racism as exclusive to prairie provinces like Saskatchewan and Manitoba; rather, it exists and must be addressed everywhere. In Toronto, more than four in five Indigenous families live in poverty.

“When I went back to my community and knowledge keepers [following the verdicts], they told me, Âhkamêyimo which means ‘persevere.’ This work is hard but it’s valuable. It’s incumbent upon all of us, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to work for those who have come before us, who have worked towards reconciliation long before it was trendy, to ensure that Indigenous peoples can see justice,” he reflected.

In the context of Tkaranto the Mohawk origin of ‘Toronto’ the restoration of the original settler-Indigenous relations is governed by two treaties: the Two Row Wampum and the Dish With One Spoon. The Two Row Wampum is an agreement reached in 1613 between the Haudenosaunee and Dutch settlers to co-exist in peace, friendship, and respect: the two rows of purple wampum beads symbolise two vessels, a birchbark canoe, and a European ship travelling down the same river in parallel, never interfering in the other’s path. The Dish with One Spoon is a covenant among the Anishinaabe, Mississaugas, and Haudenosaunee to share and protect the territories around the Great Lakes and St Lawrence, as represented by the ‘dish.’ According to this treaty, we take from the land only what we need, we leave enough for everyone else, and care for the land and one another without resorting to violence.

If Canada is to reconcile with Indigenous peoples, Canada must first resolve what reconciliation means for itself. The Boushie and Fontaine verdicts this year indicate that Canada’s current reconciliation process does not work for Indigenous peoples. Canada can either continue a performative reconciliation that inflicts systemic colonial violence onto Indigenous youth or commit to a process of justice and restoration as imagined by Indigenous youth. Unless the latter occurs, colonization will continue to be the defining relationship between settlers and Indigenous peoples.

Why hasn’t Canada responded to anti-gay violence in Chechnya?

If the Liberals are true allies to LGBTQ people, they must provide assistance to persecuted groups in Chechnya

Why hasn’t Canada responded to anti-gay violence in Chechnya?

Reports of extreme government-sanctioned violence against gay men in Chechnya have quickly spread around the world. Over 100 men have reportedly been detained in concentration camp-style prisons and subjected to brutal torture methods. Three men have reportedly been killed.

Although some gay men have successfully escaped Chechnya thanks to help from the Russian LGBT Network, gay men continue to find themselves in a position of danger within the country. And despite seeing itself as a compassionate country that takes its moral obligations to its LGBTQ people seriously, Canada has done nothing to assist Chechens in crisis.

This is hypocritical and concerning on a number of fronts. While LGBTQ people face danger and violence all over the world, gay men in Chechnya are facing authorities who have urged families to kill their own gay children, and a leader who has set out to kill the entire LGBTQ community before the start of Ramadan. This crisis is time-sensitive and could result in further tragedy, making it all the more prudent that the Canadian government prioritize its cases.

Canada has developed a rather noteworthy reputation for stepping in during humanitarian crises like this one. Yet if we as a country truly believe ourselves to be a beacon of tolerance and acceptance, why aren’t we doing the tolerant thing, like offering refuge?

It’s not impossible to imagine speeding up the resettlement process via the creation of special visas, or a program similar to the one used to bring Syrian refugees to Canada. Such proposals should be given serious consideration in light of the situation’s urgency.

Still, the Canadian government doesn’t show any sign of doing so. In a statement to The Globe and Mail, a spokesman for the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship said that these men do not qualify for refugee status, and did not mention the possibility of giving them special visas to allow them to come here. Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen also did not promise any specific action to help them.

As individuals facing extreme violence and persecution, it might seem like gay men in Chechnya are in a position analogous to some refugee cases. Yet the Canadian government has labeled them as unqualified for resettlement, because — given that Chechnya is a semi-autonomous republic of Russia — they have not left their country of origin, making them internally displaced people (IDPs), not refugees.

Nevertheless, it is important to note that IDPs are not necessarily in any less danger than refugees. As explained on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ website, IDPs “have not crossed a border to find safety. Unlike refugees, they are on the run at home.” This means that “IDPs stay within their own country and remain under the protection of its government, even if that government is the reason for their displacement. As a result, these people are among the most vulnerable in the world.”

In this particular case, Chechen individuals certainly face danger in Russia, which is known for its hostile attitude toward LGBTQ people. A 2013 Pew Research Centre study found that 84 per cent of Russians do not believe that society should accept homosexuality.

In the past, the Liberals have posted highly publicized photos of Prime Minister Justin Trudea marching in the Toronto Pride Parade and raising the rainbow flag on Parliament Hill in June 2016. On the latter occasion, Trudeau stated that “Canada is united in its defence of rights and in standing up for LGBTQ rights.” Knowing this, it’s surprising that the Liberal government is ignoring the crisis that gay Chechens face when the party has made such a show of their support for the LGBTQ community.

Canadians should be wary of politicians who present themselves as allies to the LGBTQ community yet fail to take action that would actually help the LGBTQ community.

In this case, action means accepting Chechen gay men who need to leave Russia as refugees, and doing so quickly. Students can put pressure on the federal government to take action by getting involved with political organizing and lobbying Members of Parliament. In turn, how the government chooses to navigate those regulatory waters is up to its discretion — but something needs to be done, and soon.

 

Adina Heisler is an incoming third-year student at University College, studying Women and Gender Studies and English.

Growing up with The Tragically Hip

A personal reflection on Canada’s iconic band

Growing up with The Tragically Hip

Unlike most music I listen to, I couldn’t possibly say where or when I first heard The Tragically Hip. Which is odd, because I know exactly where I was and what I was doing when I first heard Arcade Fire (my backyard; the eighth grade; trying to skateboard even though I have notoriously poor balance), The Arkells (an overnight summer camp; the ninth grade; eating a very culturally appropriated Chinese stir fry), and pretty much any other musical ensemble that I would eventually label a favourite.

Most Canadians appear to share this problem. Many of us grew up with The Tragically Hip, but few can point to a time when we first acknowledged the band’s presence. The Hip were always around, whether we intended to hear them or not — on CBC radio, in our parents’ CD collection, or in local concert venues. They recorded prolifically and toured regularly. I didn’t go to see them the times they performed in Toronto; they were here so often I would always think, ‘I can go next year, when they inevitably return.’

The winter was peak Hip season for me. As a teenager I spent the colder days in Toronto playing pick-up hockey at the local rinks in my neighbourhood, and I would often listen to the band on the way to and from the makeshift arenas. Skates and stick in hand, I would listen to “New Orleans Is Sinking” and then “Three Pistols”—two songs expertly crafted to act as pre-game pump-ups. Then I would listen to “50 Mission Cap,” the Hip’s hockey song—a song about Bill Barilko, a former defenseman for the Toronto Maple Leafs who died on a fishing trip shortly after winning the Stanley Cup.

It was no coincidence that my interest in Canadian history peaked around this age, either. The Hip were meticulous chronicler’s of Canadian history. Early education failed to instill in me the excitement of our home-and-native-land’s vibrant past, but a rock band whose eccentric lead singer sang about the Group of Seven and Quebec separatism certainly did.

Playing in a few bands throughout high school, Downie quickly became an inspiration to me and to many of my fellow bandmates. His poetry was far better than ours, but inspired us to see the value in our immediate surroundings as potential musical subjects. We didn’t have to sing about California; Orillia would work just fine.

He found value in the crevices of Canadian lore where others failed to look. Few may have known the small town of Bobcaygeon before Downie deemed it worthy of a song, and few may have remembered the wrongful rape and murder conviction of David Milgaard before the story was archived in “Wheat Kings.” But Downie did, and we’re better for it.

During The Hip’s early years, Downie developed a cult following of sorts. Prairie kids would flock to Hip shows donning their team jerseys as coats of arms. Something about Downie, perhaps his upbringing in Kingston or his fondness for the pseudo-national sport, must have struck a chord amongst them. He never seemed anything like these people, though. Nothing about his lyrics appeared to purposely tap into their culture, and rarely would he address the youthful masses that attended the shows. Instead, he would lose himself in the songs —twitching, dad dancing, and spewing stream-of-consciousness nonsense like the victim of an exorcism gone wrong.

For many Canadians, Downie is a familiar — if not comforting — presence. When it appeared as though all Canadian rockstars were the poor man’s Bruce Springsteen or a wannabe Tom Petty, Downie was unabashedly himself, ranting about Killer Whale tanks and double suicides in the shadow of a hit-churning mega-industry down south. He and the band gave Canadians something to be proud of — something to point to when the calibre of our artistic product came into question.

That’s why the late-May announcement of Downie’s diagnosis and the subsequent implication of The Hip’s numbered days felt like an irremediable stab wound in the collective solar plexus. Downie has brain cancer —glioblastoma, to be exact — and there’s no known cure. Ninety per cent of victims live for less than five years upon diagnosis and, in the meantime, are subject to early onset dementia and countless other side-effects.

For the band, it’s an end when there shouldn’t have been an end in sight. For Downie, we can only hope that modern medicine prevails, and that he’ll have the good fortune of surviving despite the odds. It’s a daunting assignment, but as we’ve seen throughout the past few months, it’s one that he’ll undoubtedly approach with will and determination.

And grace, too.

The polite Canadian and other myths

Deconstructing common Canadian stereotypes

The polite Canadian and other myths

Having been colonized by the British and the French and rubbing shoulders with arguably the most ridiculed country in the world, Canada has always been at risk of picking up some of the worst stereotypes. Yet, our country has managed to garner its own outlandish stereotypes about living in igloos, putting maple syrup on everything, and pronouncing it ‘aboot.’

For the most part, these stereotypes paint nothing more than a harmless caricature of your typical Canadian. In fact, many of the stereotypes associated with Canadians might be ‘good stereotypes,’ as they tend to be positive beliefs about Canadians that result in a fantastic reputation when travelling.

However, several of these stereotypes prove to be far more insidious than they first seem, as they conceal some of the less pleasant aspects of life in Canada.

‘Canadians have free healthcare’

This is not necessarily a generalization, but rather a misinterpretation of facts. While Canadians are fortunate enough to enjoy coverage for basic medical services, such as doctor’s visits, hospital stays, diagnostic tests, etc., Canada’s healthcare plan does not cover prescription medication, physiotherapy, ambulance services, mobility devices, and more. These are all covered by additional health insurance plans, which come up to about $12,000 a year for the average Canadian family.

So, while your hospital stay is free under the Canadian healthcare plan, the ambulance ride there, any prescribed medication, and any post-injury physiotherapy are all paid out-of-pocket, unless you can afford an additional insurance plan.

This is very generous compared to other government healthcare plans around the world, but it is not the standard to which we want to hold ourselves. The Canadian healthcare plan puts those without coverage – recent graduates in internships often among them – at a severe disadvantage compared to other Canadians or those living in countries with better coverage.

In fact, Canada ranked second last in the Commonwealth Fund Report on healthcare, receiving the lowest score for efficiency and ranking very high in re-hospitalization after treatment. This same report placed UK and Sweden ranked quite high in comparison. Ireland typically caps pharmacy prescriptions at €144 a month under their Drugs Payment Scheme, and Sweden has a limit to how much patients pay for healthcare in a year, after which everything is free.

These countries are making an active effort to prevent marginalization based on economic status in their healthcare systems, while Canada’s healthcare system reproduces this marginalization and simultaneously benefits off the stereotype of having completely free healthcare.

‘Canadians are nice and polite’

This stereotype was likely created in juxtaposition of our neighbours down south, who bear the unfortunate burden of being known as a country with a rather rude population. Canada, on the other hand, is known for being a polite, welcoming country and is often portrayed as being an ‘escape’ from the United States. However, it is worth taking a look at what exactly we label ‘nice and polite.’

Canadian politeness is often associated with another stereotype: the tendency to over-apologize. There is no real evidence proving that Canadians apologize more than other people, and it’s not necessarily used in a polite manner.

For example, Canadians commonly apologize when someone else bumps into them. However, sometimes the ‘sorry’ that slips out after being jostled is more of a panicked exclamation or even a subtle way to get the offender to apologize for their wrongdoing. In this sense, Canadian politeness can often be perceived as underhanded snark and not polite at all.

On a larger scale, the idea of Canadian ‘niceness’ has resulted in a stellar record for human rights on an international level. The Canadian Tribute to Human Rights Monument erected near the Parliamentary precinct in Ottawa acts as a testament to this record; “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” is emblazoned in English and French on its surface.

However, one look at both current and historical affairs in Canada serves as evidence to disprove this notion of our country’s commitment to human rights. Canada’s loaded history of colonization, residential school systems, Japanese internment camps, and the many injustices committed against Indigenous peoples, women, and members of the LGBTQ+ community by the Canadian government provide more than enough proof for the country’s lack of respect for basic human rights.

And for those who dismiss these injustices as a thing of the past, current policies in Canada are proving to be chips off the old block. The practice of carding, for example, has created much debate in Canada, with strong advocates both for and against it. Regardless of one’s beliefs about carding, it is indisputable that conducting random police checks and entering the information of passersby in certain neighbourhoods based on their physical appearance into a massive database is an act of discrimination.

This is especially disturbing considering the fact that these encounters are very often made against black Canadians and rarely result in arrests or charges, which connotes a lack of just cause. While steps have been taken to ban the practice in Ontario, it is still in effect in several other provinces and territories in Canada.

The embarrassing irony of having a monument commemorating a continued commitment to human rights while simultaneously employing discriminatory policies is lost on no one, and the existing stereotype of a ‘nice and polite’ Canada only furthers this irony.

‘Canadians are extremely progressive’

It is a commonly held belief that Canada is one of the most progressive societies in the world, especially in comparison to other countries. To any Canadian who has not been living under a rock for the last ten years, this stereotype will already have revealed itself to be false.

The Canadian Conservative-turned-Progressive-Conservative party has had a profound influence on Canadian politics for the last 150 years. In fact, Canada had been under the leadership of a conservative Prime Minister for eight years before Justin Trudeau was sworn in last fall, and even the Liberal Party tends to lean right at times, especially in relation to the economy and foreign affairs.

In terms of social progressiveness, this stereotype has only proven itself to be somewhat true in Canadian cities. Rural parts of Canada are notorious for rampant bigotry, especially toward Indigenous peoples, people of colour, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Even in a city like Toronto, there is substantial resistance to change, including protests against the new Ontario sex-ed curriculum, opposition to employing gender-neutral language in the national anthem (a change which has recently been made despite vehement conservative opposition), and support for Bill C-24, which sought to create a ‘second class’ of citizens who could have their citizenship revoked.

Therefore, while Canada may seem very progressive compared to the United States – especially considering the way the US elections have been going – it is not nearly as progressive as the stereotype holds.

Stereotypes regarding Canadian social conduct often seem to have been created to counter American stereotypes. While conceptions of Canada have often been positive, we should be making an effort to break away from the United States. Constant comparison to our neighbours down south not only makes us less independent, but it also lowers the expectations we have of our country; being “better than the US” is not the standard to which we should be holding ourselves. Rather than settling for things as they are because it could be worse or is worse elsewhere, we should strive to improve life in Canada for the sole purpose of making our country a better place.

Saambavi Mano is a third-year student at Victoria College studying Peace, Conflict, and Justice studies.

When past becomes present

Acknowledging long-term and systemic injustice against Indigenous communities

When past becomes present

For hundreds of years colonial settlers violently targeted Indigenous peoples through systematic processes of exploitation and forced assimilation. In addition to producing widespread conflict and disease, this resulted in the fragmentation of Indigenous communities. Many have rightly criticized secondary schools across Canada for failing to tell this story without trivializing the brutality. One would think, however, that exposure to different narratives in a university setting would eventually put things into perspective.

Yet, there remains a disturbing lack of awareness of the long-term effects of colonialism on Indigenous communities, which are too often resigned to a place in the past, detached from what continues to occur in the present. 

At the university and beyond, the connection between historical injustices and pervasive problems in Indigenous communities is often downplayed or ignored altogether. The result is a disheartening ignorance to even the most pressing Indigenous issues — which are undoubtedly linked to policies and strategies in Canada that sought to destroy Indigenous peoples altogether.

One of the gravest examples of such policy was the residential school system: it forcibly separated Indigenous children from their families and subjected them to assimilation at Christian institutions, which often led to maltreatment, physical, and sexual abuse. Residential schools were endorsed and pursued by the Canadian government for over a century; the last residential school in Canada only closed in 1996.     

It has been stressed repeatedly that the trauma and violence that children faced within these institutions accelerated the effect of past colonial processes. We have seen the consequences manifest themselves in the form of pervasive poverty, substance abuse, family disintegration, violence, and crime. 

The violence that Indigenous peoples continue to face is exemplified by the pattern of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. A Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigation found that, from 1980 to 2012, nearly 1,200 Indigenous women in Canada went missing or were victims of homicide.

Some suggest that the number of victims is probably much more but that accurate data has been lost or is obscured by the criminal justice system. Possible reasons for this include deliberate decisions made by police to ignore cases of Indigenous women going missing, as well as a long-standing fear and mistrust of police from indigenous women due to historical mistreatment, racism, and abuse.

On top of this, the living conditions on many Indigenous reservations are deplorable. A 2015 CBC News investigation revealed that two-thirds of all First Nations communities in Canada have received at least one drinking water advisory in the past decade. The longest of these advisories is still in effect at the Neskantaga First Nation in Ontario, where residents have been boiling their water for 20 years. Housing is also often run-down and in grave need of repair, often due to overcrowding. 

It must also be noted that Indigenous people are grossly overrepresented within the criminal justice system, a phenomenon attributable both to socioeconomic problems within these communities, and to criminal justice practices that have targeted them disproportionately. Indigenous people make up about 3.8 per cent of the Canadian population, but represent over 23 per cent of the total inmate population. Overrepresentation has increased significantly since the turn of the century, particularly for Indigenous women, who experienced a 109 per cent increase in incarceration from 2001 to 2012. 

Clearly, we are still witnessing the effects of past regimes, yet the university has not sufficiently accounted for this. Although courses on Indigenous history and development exist — and indeed, the Aboriginal Studies program at U of T is dedicated to this type of scholarship — other courses are often less than satisfactory. 

I can name classes where Indigenous oppression — if mentioned at all — is framed solely as a past wrong, presumably confined to darker times in Canadian history. It is absolutely ignorant to relegate these injustices solely to the historical record while these communities are still in crisis.

Unsurprisingly, these overly simplistic narratives are also pervasive within the media and government. Despite their urgency, problems on reservations receive little media exposure and are rarely connected to past and present government action, except from Indigenous groups themselves. 

Although the current Liberal government has pledged to launch an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women over the summer, Indigenous activists first had to fight an arduous battle with past Conservative administrations. 

Looking back, it is alarming to see how little the Conservatives understood the long-term nature of oppression. The Harper government repeatedly brushed off the victimization of Indigenous women, attributing it to ‘risky lifestyles’ such as substance abuse or sex work and refusing to see it as a systemic problem. On the other hand, the former Minister of Aboriginal Affairs,Bernard Valcourt, blamed the apparent disrespect for women in Indigenous communities on the men on the reserve, advising that the communities take ownership of the issue themselves.

Without awareness of how the past projects and perpetuates systemic injustice into the future, the prospect of resolving these problems is bleak.  A push for increasing the visibility of Indigenous issues is imperative both at the university and beyond. One way this can be achieved is through educational collaborations with Indigenous community groups, which prioritizes the voices, narratives, and needs of Indigenous people instead of erasing them from the equation.

Furthermore, as individuals living in Canada, we are responsible for taking conscious steps to self-education. We must commit to doing as much listening and learning as we can, in order to challenge the watered-down conceptions of history that continue to define our surroundings. 

Above all, if we are to work towards meaningful change, we must vehemently defy the perception that Indigenous oppression is all in the past. 

Teodora Pasca is a second-year student at Innis College studying criminology and ethics, society and law. She is The Varsity’s associate comment editor. Her column appears every three weeks.

Tuition fees continue to rise

U of T releases fee increase schedule for 2016–2017

Tuition fees continue to rise

The University of Toronto’s tuition fees are set to rise again. Following the release of the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities’ Tuition Fee Framework report, U of T has announced an increase in tuition fees for the 2016–2017 academic year.

The increases amount to an average of three per cent for domestic programs.

The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities’ Tuition Fee Framework for 2013–2017 reduced a previous five per cent overall cap on tuition fee increases to an overall three per cent cap, which resulted in smaller tuition increases in comparison to the years between 2006–2013. 

An overall three per cent cap means that individual tuition fees may be more or less than three per cent, so long as the university’s total tuition increases averages out to three per cent. These tuition increase restrictions do not apply to international student tuition fees. U of T is able to raise international student tuition without having those increases factor into a calculation of overall tuition increases.

The 2016–2017 tuition fee schedule for international students entering any of U of T’s three campuses will see a nine per cent rise for arts and science programs and an eight per cent rise for applied science and engineering programs. 

Most international students will experience tuition fee increases of five per cent.

Overall, the average increase for international students will be at 5.9 per cent, which is close to the five per cent increase for domestic students’ professional programs.

For a comparative example, the 2016–2017 planned increase for the undergraduate dentistry program is $1,780 for domestic students and $3,440 for international students; both figures represent a five per cent increase for their respective tuition fee rates.

The new war on drugs

Students advocate for drug reform in Canada

The new war on drugs

From April 19–20, the United Nations will be holding a General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) to discuss global drug policy for the first time since 1998. U of T students from the Canadian chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP) hope to be in attendance.

Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP)

The Canadian chapter of the CSSDP focuses on harm reduction and a scientific approach to drug policy, say Daniel Grieg, a leader within the organization, and Kyle Lumsden, a dedicated member.

In an email exchange with The Varsity, Greig emphasized that restrictions of scientific inquiry into psychedelics hinder medicinal development.

“Drugs are inappropriately classified in present policy.  For example, psychedelics are currently being explored… for their therapeutic properties and are also contributing to research in how we think about consciousness and the brain.  If it does turn out that psychedelics are useful and safe medicines, then we will be effectively withholding treatment from people suffering from mental illness,” he said.   

Greig emphasized the importance of lifting barriers to research. “Ultimately, we need to not only minimize the negative impacts of drug policy, we also need to maximize the possible benefits. Harms are things such as the disproportionate criminalization of the poor and people of colour, as well as the unnecessary deaths caused by lack of available knowledge. The benefits are such things as useful research tools, the development of more effective mental health treatments and tax revenue.”

Lumsden outlined the focus of his interest in drug policy reform: “The widespread harm of alcohol and violence associated with black markets for illegal drugs pose the greatest threat to society and can be improved with evidence based public policy. Multiple studies show that when police have a successful takedown of a drug network, there is a spike in violence afterwards due to a vacuum of power; other criminal groups compete for their share of the market indefinitely.” 

Nazlee Maghsoudi is the strategic advisor for the CSSDP, the knowledge translation manager for the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP), and a U of T graduate. She said that the reality is that “prohibition has endangered young people” despite the war on drugs rhetoric, which claims to be aimed at “keeping children safe.” 

Maghsoudi believes that UNGASS is “drug policy’s moment in the sun, in terms of approach.” According to Maghsoudi, the UN’s drug policy approach has grown outside of the UN because “the global drug policy regime is divorced from human rights” even though non-progressive countries execute their inhabitants for possession or consumption. 

She also believes that there are many barriers to reaching the consensus needed for the construction of an international framework through the UN.

Canada’s opioid problem

According to an article in the Globe and Mail article, “Canada is the world’s second-largest per capita consumer of opioids and the fallout is being felt across the country. The article indicates that between 2009 to 2014, at least 655 Canadians died as a result of fentanyl, a powerful opioid that is available by prescription and is also manufactured in clandestine labs and sold on the street.” 

Tara Gomes, a scientist working for the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network (ODPRN) describes pain as “difficult to manage” and that there “isn’t a lot of training for it in medical school.”

It’s not that opioids should not be used, but once someone shows addictive tendencies doctors should be able to refer patients to a case-dependent addiction treatment. Tara Gomes emphasized “there is a place for these drugs in clinical practice,” Gomes said.

Prescriptions

The Triplicate Prescription Program (TPP) and Prescription Review Program (PRP) were created in part to address the opioid prescription problem facing Canada. 

Wende Wood, a pharmacist and a graduate from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, recently moved to Alberta, where the TPP is currently in effect. According to the College of Physicians and Surgeons’ website, “TPP collects prescribing and dispensing data for listed drugs. When the data meet certain criteria, physicians and others involved in the care of the patient are alerted, provided with information and directed to resources to support them in providing safe care.” 

Saskatchewan has a PRP that performs a similar function. 

Wood said that these prescription monitoring programs have not caught on because providing three copies of the same prescription is tedious for doctors to fill out. 

Marijuana and Toronto’s dispensaries

Under the current framework, marijuana is legal as a prescribed medication. To obtain this prescription, one must register for a mail order from a licensed producer, or obtain a doctor’s prescription for a health-related issue, whioch must be taken to a local dispensary. 

The dispensaries are not authorized by Health Canada.

Back to the drawing board

The New Democratic Party is in need of leadership reform

Back to the drawing board

Students following the ongoing US presidential election have surely been counting themselves lucky lucky to be in Canada — our system of government can seem downright regal in comparison. 

A fundamental difference between our systems is the number of viable parties Canadian voters can choose to support, and the consequent lack of polarization. With so much attention being paid to improving Canada’s electoral system, it’s easy to lose sight of the representative purpose of the parties themselves. The benefit of having more than two major parties is that voters can choose a candidate who represents their opinion more closely. It can be damaging to the entire system when ideologoical diversity is lost. 

If Canada only had two major parties, voters would be made to settle for candidates who barely represent their beliefs. Currently, Canada has three nationally viable parties: the right-wing Conservatives, centrist Liberals, and left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP). This should, theoretically, provide voters with options that are roughly reflective of their political opinions. 

Unfortunately, the NDP’s drift — or arguably, lurch — to the centre, evident in the last election, threatens the crucial distinction separating them from the Liberal Party. For the health of Canada’s political climate, the NDP needs to reassert itself as a distinct, principled, progressive party. This challenge cannot be confronted by their current leader, Tom Mulcair.

During last fall’s election period, during which August polls projected that the NDP were poised to win, Mulcair — who had previously considered jobs with both the Liberals and Conservatives — announced that his party would advocate for austerity measures. Given that this stance is generally considered a conservative policy, many considered it a ploy to widen the party’s support among moderate voters.

This strategy backfired. The Liberals outflanked the NDP on the left, and the rest is history. Since then, there have been countless editorials asking why, if the NDP suddenly wants to be centrist, the party even exists as a separate entity from the Liberals. When a party is facing an existential crisis of this magnitude, something is clearly wrong with their strategy.

Because of Mulcair’s austerity gamble, Canadians are left with the misperception that the Liberal Party offers a truly progressive platform. Yet, the NDP remains to the left of the Liberals on almost all major issues — issues many U of T students hold dearly— such as raising corporate tax rates and programs aimed at reducing climate change. 

Tom Mulcair has lost his ability to articulate these positions because of his reputation as a political opportunist. The NDP needs a leader who can energize the left, has true progressive credentials, and will be able to provide a credible alternative to Prime Minister Trudeau. 

There are plenty of candidates who understand the needs of students more than either the Liberal Party or Mulcair currently do. Former Halifax MP Megan Leslie would be an ideal choice: alongside her popularity in Ottawa, she also served as the deputy leader of the party and received widespread acclaim as the opposition’s environmental critic. MPs Nathan Cullen and Niki Ashton are similarly qualified, and will likely compete for the leadership position in Edmonton if it becomes available.

The NDP platform is centred on issues that affect students disprportionately across the country, like economic inequality and climate change, and yet many responded to the sunny ways and anti-austerity of Justin Trudeau. It is unlikely that Tom Mulcair can make a credible case to represent them in 2019.

If the NDP wants to remain relevant, it will have to differentiate itself from the Liberals and demonstrate to Canadians the value of a principled, truly progressive party. The first step in that difficult process is the selection of a leader prepared to confront that challenge. 

If the NDP becomes too similar to the Liberals, it will hurt not only progressives, but the health of our political system. Drifting towards a two-party system harms everyone; we should be invested in the way the NDP grapples with their leadership issue in months to come.

Jack Fraser is a third-year student at Innis College studying international relations.