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.