Saturday, 17 September 2016

Canada... I think we need to talk

Dear Canada,

We've been together nearly every day of my 31 years on earth, and I've enjoyed this time for the most part. But lately, there's been a distance growing between us, and I think it's time we take a break. I'm not saying this is a definitive thing, but perhaps we could both benefit from a bit of space. You know, you see other people, I see other countries - keep it casual and see where we are in a few years.

I know this has probably blindsided you, but what I'm about to tell you has been bottling inside me for a while now, but mostly over the last year and a half - about the time the whole refugee debacle started. You know, where you opened your beautiful arms to those who really needed your gentle and welcoming embrace, but were greeted with racism, ignorance, and a government that handled the negativity derived from the situation in a really poor manner.

Growing up, I carried a certain pride about my relationship with you. You made me feel safe, secure, and well, this allowed me to remain ignorant to the realities of the outside world. I'm not saying you were overprotective but, you did a great job of sheltering me. And this was greatly appreciated as a small child. But, as my adult brain began to develop, I obtained the ability to think (a lot!), and eventually began to critically look at the world around me, and how you interacted with it.

Up until about a year or so ago, this didn't detract from my love for you. I still proudly sported your maple leaf on my backpack as I began to travel the world. I spoke highly of your natural beauty, your kind and warm-hearted people, and the many, many things I once believed made Canada the greatest place ever. Now, I'm not saying these characteristics don't still apply, they've just become a little tainted in my view. And this is what leads us to our recently surfaced problem.

After spending 6 months in Uganda, I was not looking forward to heading back home to you. It’s not that I didn’t want to be in the embrace of your familiarity, but more so that I was really starting to get settled with friends and a routine in Uganda. 

Shortly after I arrived back to you, I was offered a temporary position with the federal Government. I wasn’t overly excited about this new-found employment, but it was a job, and a well paying one at that. By taking it, it meant I could pay the bills and save up enough money to head back to Uganda for another 6 months at the end of the summer.

As my time in this position progressed, I started to notice patterns. For one, the people I interacted with who seemed to be the most reluctant and who were the most hostile to communicate with were usually those who would be benefitting the most from the very work I was part of. In some ways it is the same as the bully in school who really just wanted to be accepted, but through lack of confidence and support, lashed out instead of being welcoming and open to forming new friendships. Simplistic in comparison? Possibly. But accurate? For certain. 

In many of the above instances I would attempt to argue all the wonderful reasons why said individual should converse with me. But mostly, I tried to speak from personal experience, rather than listing off a collection of suggested rebuttals provided in my manual. My go-to, was always education. I often heard misguided assumptions about how no one used the information generated from the conversations I would have with them and how it had no impact. But speaking as someone highly interested in their circumstances both here at home and with like-people abroad, I would try to discuss how their insight would be used by students eager to understand the sector in Canada, or to create new processes that would increase efficiency. But alas, most were just not interested. 

It was in these instances that it took a lot to not default on “I’ve lived in ___ and let me tell you how things work there…” But it’s true. Over the last two years, which have included living in and travelling to several countries, I have been a witness many things that have caused me to take a step back and simply appreciate where I am from. And having gone through the recent National Election in Uganda as a bystander, it was disheartening to see so many people's democratic rights taken away - their voice stripped without ability to recover it. The people I have called during my summer with with the feds frequently spoke of corruption and poor decision-making by the government. And although I do agree that corruption exists in the 'ol Government of Canada, it angers me, knowing that countless people the world over are literally fighting - dying even - for the same luxuries these individuals were complaining about.

But this wasn’t what killed my soul. Yes, it made some days more difficult than others. Yes, it made me appreciate all that I have and the privilege I just so happened to be born into (but that also come from my fortunate ability to access higher-level education). No, it wasn’t even remotely as disheartening as the other trend I noticed. That trend - blatant, unapologetic racism.

Now, I’m not saying that a few hundred people are a full representation of my country, nor am I suggesting that these same people are all terrible people, with ill-will for others. But for the first time in my life, I actually found myself questioning the ‘polite, friendly, open and welcoming’ stereotype I have happily embraced about you. And yes, I certainly had a taste of this during the recent refugee panic at the beginning of the year. I guess I just never realized how ridiculous people truly are.

When I started to pay more attention to the previous calls verses their outcomes, I discovered that an uncomfortably large proportion of people turned down calls from people with non-Canadian sounding voices or names. This became even more obvious when I was upgraded to refusal conversion. Many of the calls made before mine were completed by staff members whose names did not align with the traditional Canadian ones. Good, hardworking people were being rudely spoken to just because they potentially weren’t born here. But this is Canada for goodness sakes! I thought you were supposed to be the multi-cultural country that trumped (no pun intended) the melting pot society of your neighbours to the south (and no, I don’t mean Mexico!). And yet, here I am, witnessing the same actions I hear others criticizing the United States for! 

But this isn't just about how you are perceived from the outside, it's also about your inner self. Sure, you come with a lot of benefits - healthcare, public education, social programs, and the weekly anticipation derived from not knowing what outlandish fabric Don Cherry will be sporting on Coaches Corner every Saturday evening from October to April. But, you have also allowed yourself to forget many of your own. Many veterans are struggling to find extended healthcare services (particularly for mental health issues), affordable housing, and/or elder care. The treatment of your Indigenous people has also gotten out of hand, where many of your citizens don't actually understand the conditions these individuals find themselves in - the root causes being a lack of social programs, access to potable water, education, healthcare - all because  many firmly, yet wrongly, believe they get a free ride underscored with not paying taxes. And then there's those who exploit the rights granted from an agreement between the then Government of Canada and the indigenous people made many years ago, by happily accepting the benefits given to them, without actually engaging with the culture itself. The racial, homophobic, religious, and many other unacceptable views of your people by privileged, does-not-apply-or-actually-affect-mes appears to be at an all-time high. It needs to stop. That we can come together for the pending death of one man, whether we were fans of his music or not, but can't seem to get our heads straight on the real values that once made this country great doesn't make sense. And as a result, I'm tired. 

So, on that note, I hate to love you and leave you, as my grandmother often says, but I think as my time home is coming to a close, it makes for the perfect time to take a much needed break. I think it will give us both time to consider what we value in this
relationship, who we want to be independent of each other, as individuals, but also as a team. And don't worry, I'll be sure to keep in touch with you. I'll follow you from afar via your public broadcasting corporation (or what's left of it). And, I'll continue to defend you should those situations arise. But until the day we reunite once again, I ask that you take a deep breath and a step back and look at who you are becoming. Maybe you were always this way, but you did a better job of hiding it back then. Or maybe I am no longer content living in a bubble. Either way, you need to figure yourself out. 

So, until then, I wish you the best. Take care of yourself.

your Orange Canadian

1 comment:

  1. Well said Emily!

    If I've learned anything this past year it's how much alike the USA and Canada really are... frightening. And it still shocks me to come across a racist, homophobe, etc. It's 2016 people (almost 2017) and I am very, very afraid that we are slipping backwards instead of forwards. Educate yourselves!!!! Children are born with a clean slate, they are not born racist they are taught racism! This post is going nowhere and is really just a jumbled mess of ranting, I just can't seem to articulate common sense very well!