Is Democracy Broken?

A commentary on the present state of the world’s democracies.

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A few weeks ago, we visited friends in a nearby city. During one of our discussions, this friend mentioned that he is disillusioned with democracy (not his exact words). I asked him why and he questioned the type of leaders that were being elected; leaders who were racist, narcissistic, misogynistic, anti-immigration, and who support white supremacy. This got me thinking. I began to wonder if democracy is broken.

When I visited China last November, our tour guide said something that made me question democracy. Our guide said the democratic world accomplishes little as governments are always squabbling. He further explained, whenever a democratic country elects a new political party, the previous party’s policies are reversed, thus little progress is made. I elaborated on this in my post on China (see China post). This begs the question: Are our democracies working efficiently? Is there something wrong with the way democracy is presently practiced?

Presently, there is increasing popularity in electing extremist right-wing politicians. According to Reference, neoconservatism is considered to be one of the more extreme right-wing ideologies. It takes a firm stance against anti-authority media and aligns itself with religious conservatives. Religious conservatives have specific positions on certain political issues such as abortion, homosexuality, creationism, science education, treatment of prisoners, immigration, and many other issues. Typically, conservative Christians favour anti-abortion laws, oppose gay marriage,  and many have a hardline against illegal immigration (see Intelligence Report).

Extremist right-wing politicians also tend to be nationalistic. In high school social studies—one of the courses I taught for many years—nationalism is defined as the belief that nations will benefit from acting independently rather than collectively, emphasizing national rather than international goals. Nationalist leaders are gaining momentum in Europe (see BBC). American president Donald Trump calls himself a nationalist. (See HuffPost). There are many extremist right-wing nationalistic politicians being elected. Why is this so? Does this mean democracy is failing us?

When our politicians act more like school aged children with their bullying behaviours and temper tantrums when they don’t get their way, I believe democracy is broken. When it becomes acceptable to vote for politicians who spout rhetoric that is divisive and “unchristian,” democracy is failing us.  When it becomes acceptable for the US president to use profanity, such as the “F” bomb (listen to Trump), we are electing a breed of politicians of the lowest kind.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced criminal investigations for fraud and bribery. A google search shows numerous US politicians under investigation. The US president is under investigation for obstruction of justice as well as other crimes. Two former Brazilian presidents were investigated for a scandal known as Operation Car Wash (see BBS).

My province recently elected a premier who was under investigation of voter fraud (see CBC). I thought politicians where supposed to have integrity. Even more disturbing for me, is our newly elected premier handed out earplugs to his caucus, clearly indicating his refusal to hear debate from democratically elected opposition members about a bill that removes some bargaining rights for government workers (see HuffPost). This kind of behaviour from a leader stems from arrogance; a leader who thinks his party knows best and those who have alternative views are to be ignored. I thought the heart of democracy was healthy debate. Apparently not in my province. Former US president, Barack Obama said, “The strongest democracies flourish from frequent and lively debate, but they endure when people of every background and belief find a way to set aside smaller differences in service of a greater purpose.” I believe this to be true. When healthy debate is squashed in our legislatures, then as far as I am concerned, democracy is broken.

That leads us to the question: What is wrong with democracy? Former British Prime Minster, Winston Churchill once said, “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” Perhaps he is onto something.  Louis L’Amour, an American novelist said, “To make democracy work, we must be a nation of participants, not simply observers. One who does not vote has no right to complain.” Exactly!

My brother and his wife worked during our province’s recent election, and both expressed how appalled they were by the electorate. They said they had numerous voters in their 30s and 40s who were voting for the first time. They also said they fielded numerous questions asking how the voting process works. Both my brother and his wife were shocked when several voters asked them why there were names on the ballots which they did not recognize. Many of them were looking for the party leaders’ names on the ballot. I was shocked to hear this. This is why, at least in part, democracy is broken. The voters are failing democracy.

Former US president, Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” That is it! Voters are too apathetic to educate themselves. That explains, at least in part, why Donald Trump won the 2016 election.  Trump’s supporters are largely uneducated, according to polls (see Inquisitr).

Former US president, John F. Kennedy, once said, “The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.”  I have to wonder if unprepared voters, who buy into the dangerous rhetoric being spouted by extremist right-wing nationalistic politicians is putting world security at risk. History teaches extreme nationalism started both world wars. Jose Marti, a Cuban poet, writer, and nationalist leader said, “The first duty of a man is to think for himself.”  Democracy is literally “rule by people,” and is a system where the citizens choose their leaders or government. To fix our broken democracy, people need to start thinking for themselves and educating themselves. Voters need to make informed decisions when voting, and that means determining what news stories are true and which are “fake news” stories. This does not seem to be happening at the moment as most voters believe the rhetoric spouted by extremist right-wing nationalistic politicians. English humourist, writer, and journalist, Allan Coren says, “Democracy consists of choosing your dictators, after they’ve told you what you think it is you want to hear.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson, American 19th-century philosopher says, “Democracy becomes a government of bullies tempered by editors.” Are we electing dictators? Seems that way to me. Are we electing bullies?  I see this more and more, and voter ignorance is to blame.

Former US president, Abraham Lincoln said democracy is “government of, by and for the people.”  I still believe this is why democracy is the better system when it is not broken. Former US president Barack Obama said, “No party has a monopoly on wisdom. No democracy works without compromise.” Perhaps compromise is another problem. We’re living in a polarized time in history and compromise seems to have gone out the window. Each political party thinks they know best and are unwilling to listen to other parties’ views. An openness to different points of views and a willingness to compromise must occur for democracy to work effectively! Politicians must unite and do what is best for all. 

I know it is more complicated than what I’ve outlined, and democracy has problems other than those I’ve addressed above. The issue of corporate donations to help political parties get elected, for example.  Corporate wealth increases when a corporation’s preferred political party is elected and makes policies that perpetuate corporate greed. An informed electorate that votes responsibly is a good start to fixing our broken democracies.

These Pathogens Have Not Been Eradicated?

A commentary on the state of our world.

A Pow Wow my wife and I attended two years ago.

Last week my wife, a friend, and I attended an event called, “Meet the Inuit.” It was a series of talks by Inuit, Metis and Indigenous speakers, along with cultural performances. Many speakers said things that caught my attention. One Indigenous speaker talked about the clash of two cultures; Indigenous, Inuit, and Metis cultures verses European culture.

This made sense to me. Indigenous culture is present orientated—time conscious without clocks—whereas European Canadians are future oriented—time conscious with clocks. Indigenous Canadians (likely all Indigenous peoples) share their possessions freely—at least traditionally,  cooperate, are spiritual, and live in harmony with nature whereas European Canadians are savers and hoarders, compete for goods, driven by capitalism, and try to conquer nature. The world views of these two groups are vastly different.

Some of the speakers shared their experiences in the Residential Schools. It always strikes me when a Residential School survivor speaks of being taken away from their parents at ages 4 or 5, given haircuts and new clothes, told never to speak their native tongue, kept from their siblings who were attending the same school, and forced to stay several years in an unwelcoming large building. One speaker even told us how his brother literally was taken off the street by government agents without his parents being informed. His parents thought his brother had gone  missing.

CBC News has an article titled, Genocide against Indigenous Peoples, reports that the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, Manitoba, now deems the treatment of Indigenous Peoples in Canada a genocide. Previously, the museum had said Indigenous Peoples faced cultural genocide rather than genocide.

The United Nations’ convention on Genocide (1948) says a genocide is:

  1. causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
  2. deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part
  3. forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

As The Star’s article, Cultural genocide?  says;

Canada did not pack Indigenous people onto train cars and send them to be gassed, or march them into fields and execute them with machine-gun fire. However, our country committed not “cultural” genocide, but just regular genocide.

We forcibly took children from families — sometimes at gunpoint — and flew them to remote locations they could not escape — sometimes in tiny handcuffs — where they were submitted to a program of forced labour and “education” designed to destroy their cultures and civilizations. This desire to destroy cultures seems to be the reasoning for various public figures’ use of the adjective “cultural” before genocide. The other reason, I presume, is that some cling tightly — and childishly — to the idea that Canada has always been on the side of goodness and justice, and they find it very hard to accept, admit, and announce that we are a country that committed a program of genocide that lasted for many decades.

Results of Rwandan Genocide

Let’s call “a spade a spade.” Canada committed genocide against our Indigenous, Inuit and Metis people; a genocide no different than the ones committed by Nazi Germany during WWII, or Rwanda in 1990s.  I must confess, I was one of those Canadians that held to the idea that Canada has always been on the side of goodness and justice. I no longer think that, and I now recognize that Canada has a dark past. Let us not forget the Japanese Internment during WWII; another dark part of our history.

One of the Indigenous speakers talked about how our greatest hurdles come from within. He spoke about what he called, The Six Social Pathogens.

Merriam-Webster defines a pathogen as a specific causative agent of disease. It typically refers to a bacterium or virus, but in the context of the speaker, a pathogen is a causative agent of the disease of racism. The six pathogens are: assumptions, presumptions, stereotyping, profiling, bias (for, or against), and misappropriation of feelings. This speaker says everyone—whether we’re aware of it or not—has some or all of the for mentioned pathogens working within us.

Before I go any further, let’s define the six pathogens. An assumption refers to something that is accepted as true without proof, whereas a presumption refers to an idea that is considered to be true on the basis of probability. Stereotyping is a set idea that people have about what a person, or group of people, are like. Profiling is the act of suspecting or targeting a person on the basis of observed characteristics or behaviour. A bias is a particular tendency, trend, inclination, feeling, or opinion, especially one that is preconceived or unreasoned.  Misappropriation means to put to a wrong use, so misappropriation of feelings is putting our feelings to a wrong use.

These six pathogens don’t just apply to attitudes towards the Indigenous, Metis, and Inuit people. They can apply to any group. As I observe what is happening in my country and the world, I would argue that these pathogens are presently very active. A Statistics Canada report in 2016 (the latest statistics I could find), revealed that the number of violent hate crimes rose 16% from the previous year, driven by increases in common assault, criminal harassment and uttering threats.” A 2014 Statistics Canada report found that, in two-thirds of cases, victims of crimes don’t report these hate crimes to the police.

As long as these six pathogens are alive and active, and there is a “us verses them” attitude, racism, prejudices, hate crimes, and so on, will continue. As long as we identify with a tribe instead of the human race, there will be conflict. As long as Christians, or Jews, or Hindus, or Muslims, or Buddhists think their faith is the right faith, there will be religious conflict. As long as there is masculism, there will be feminism. As long as feminist seeks to promote the rights and equality of women—which they should—and see themselves as equal with men, there will be misogyny, which is the disrespect and oppression of women.

As long as conservatives, as opposed to liberals, think their philosophy is best, there will be political tensions. As long as there are people who believe in “White Supremacy,” there will be racism and hate crimes. As long as there is ethnocentrism—The Cultural Superiority Complex, there will be anti-immigration. I could go on and on. Neale Donald Walsch, in one of his Conversations With God books, said, “Your way is not the only way. It’s just a way.”  We humans need to integrate that. Unless humans are willing to understand and accept differences, our planet is headed down a dark path.

Now, I had to ask myself: Do I have these pathogens? When I thought about it, and was completely honest with myself, the answer is yes. Have I made assumptions, or presumptions? Yes. I once believed Christianity was the superior religion. Did I stereotype? Yes. I once thought that people living on the streets were just too lazy to get a job. Did I profile? Yes. I targeted “unique” individuals in high school. Did I have biases. Yes. I had preconceived ideas about Indigenous people—they were lazy, drunks, etc.—until I educated myself. Were my feelings misappropriated? Yes.  I had my opinions about the LGBT community until I got to know some of their members. I would judge people based on first impressions, when I knew nothing about them, or knew anything about their story. In other words, I didn’t follow the Muslim proverb:  To understand a man, you’ve got to walk a mile in his shoes, whether they fit or not. Other variations of this proverb are: walk a mile in someone else’s moccasins, put oneself in another’s shoes, put oneself in another’s place, walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, and see the world through someone else’s eyes. Now, I try to do this; I try and  understand others and avoid judging them. I’m not saying I’m always successful, but I try.  If humanity did the same, perhaps our planet would be in a better place.

When Will the Meanness End?

As a teacher, I spent my entire career trying to instill in my students the values of respect, responsibility, honesty, integrity, kindness, and compassion. I know many of my colleagues did as well. We tried, as teachers, to show students that bullying behaviour was unacceptable, and not the way to solve problems. We also taught that all people were equal and that racism was immoral.

What is discouraging is the amount of bullying I see happening in the world. The World Health Organization defines bullying as, “repeated exposure of one person to physical and/or emotional aggression including teasing, name calling, mockery, threats, harassment, taunting, hazing, social exclusion or rumours.”  Here are two recent examples.

The Edmonton Journal reported that an Edmonton, Alberta mosque received a detestable letter in January of this year. Here are some of the highlights of the letter:

“On behalf of real Albertans, we would like to advise you that you and your religion [Muslims] don’t belong here in Alberta…We are White. We are Christians. We are Proud…Our Premier to be…is going to take Alberta back…We are not racist. We just want our way of life back.”

What amazes me is the author(s) say they speak on behalf of real Albertans. For those who may not know, an Albertan is a person who lives in Alberta, one of the ten provinces in Canada. I googled ‘real Albertans’ because I really don’t know what a real Albertan is. I could not find a definition. By the tone of the letter, I would say I am not a real Albertan, even though I was born, raised, and lived here all my life.

The letter says ‘we are White’ and ‘We are Christians.” I’m also white and raised Christian. A declaration of ‘we are white’ can only be interpreted as a declaration of white supremacy. Meriam-Webster Dictionary defines white supremacy as a “person who believes that the white race is inherently superior to other races and that white people should have control over people of other races.” So, that definitely makes me not a real Albertan as I think ALL humans are equal. That is what the UN Declaration of Human Rights says in Article 1: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

Now what astonishes me the most about this terrible letter is the declaration, “We are Christian.” There is nothing Christian about this letter’s message. Romans 2:11, in the Christian Bible says, “For God shows no partiality.” Furthermore, Mark 12:31 commands, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” The message of the letter is the opposite. There is NOTHING Christian about this letter’s message.

The declaration, “We are not racist,” in the letter is what astounds me the most. Meriam-Webster Dictionary defines racism as “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” The letter’s declaration of “We are White” infers whites are superior. Clearly the author(s) of this letter are racist and don’t know what a racist is, nor what a Christian is.

In January of this year, CTV News reported that a threatening letter was left on the doorstep of a Leduc, Alberta Indigenous family urging them to ‘move out’.  The letter said, ‘We do not like your kind’. This is eerily similar to a letter I referred to in an earlier blog post, Should we be worried.  That letter, like this one, was signed “Your friendly Neighbours.” There is nothing friendly about a letter that threatens. The authors of this letter are hypocrites.

Furthermore, this is a racist letter. The author(s) are suggesting superiority of a particular race—the white race—for they stated, ‘We do not like your kind’.  They disapproved of the family’s “lifestyle,” criticizing the upkeep of the family’s home. The writers wrote, “If you cannot take care of your property, then go back to the Indian reservation where it is accepted…We gave you land and you need to respect the generosity.”

The last statement is insulting, as the author(s) clearly don’t know Canada’s history. Indigenous people are the original peoples—thus why they are referred to as First Nations People—of Canada. A website of the government of British Columbia (another Canadian province), also called B.C. says, “Indigenous people have lived in the area now known as B.C. for more than 10,000 years.” Europeans, on the other hand, landed in Canada in 1497 with the expedition of John Cabot. Really, the Norsemen (Vikings) were the first in Canada dating to around the year 1000. L’Anse aux Meadows, in Newfoundland and Labrador is the only confirmed Norse archeological site in North America, and is widely accepted as evidence. Indigenous people were in Canada long before Europeans.  This is why the letter’s statement, “We gave you land and you need to respect the generosity,” is absurd. If anyone was generous, it was the Indigenous people who welcomed and allowed the Europeans to stay.

I like to believe that we teachers made a difference in instilling values into our students. I’ve had parents tell me we have. But, it only takes one person to undermine what teachers and parents do. The Psychology Today’s article, The Trump Effect: An Update, says,

“Last spring, we wrote a two-part post about “The Trump Effect,” which was originally defined as an increase in bullying in schools caused by the rhetoric Donald Trump used during his presidential campaign. Now, a year into Mr. Trump’s presidency, the definition of The Trump Effect has expanded to include religious and racial bullying by adults as well as: misogyny, sexual assault, and other socially unacceptable behaviours.”

The article goes on to say,

“Free speech and expressing our opinion is a constitutional right. It’s up to others whether or not they want to listen. But when the speaker is POTUS, we all listen. And when the president’s use of provocative rhetoric that causes harm to others, including and especially innocents, or when he behaves in previously unacceptable ways, what can we do? What should we do?

First, we can realize the only person we have control over is ourselves. We control what we think, what we choose to say, and how we act and react. We can choose to be harsh and damaging, or to be kind and compassionate.”

It is not fair to put all the blame on the current resident of the White House, as there are other world leaders spewing rhetoric promoting racism and bullying. However, Trump is likely the single most negative influence in North America. This childish man has brought out the worst in some people and his rhetoric is impacting my country. What Trump has taught me is our world needs more love, kindness and compassion.  Thankfully, there are good people. Neighbours of the Leduc Indigenous family overwhelming came out supporting the family. (see Hateful letter backfires).

A TRUE Christian speaks out against unkindness, racism and bullying. Christian or not, that is what we need to do. I think Francis of Assisi said it best in the Serenity Prayer. “Lord, grant that I might not so much seek to be loved as to love.”  Or as the Christian Bible says in 1 John 4:20,

“If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” If the authors of these letters claim to be Christian, then they need to act as one.

Opposed to Better Men. I Don’t Get it.

A commentary about male privilege.

Gillette, a company owned by Procter & Gamble, released their “We Believe” ad a few weeks ago. It’s an ad that addresses issues such as toxic masculinity, sexual harassment and #metoo. If you haven’t seen the ad, here it is.

When I saw this ad, I applauded Gillete. I thought, “finally a company brave enough to take a stand against an injustice. The #metoo movement has educated us on how prevalent sexual harassment is in the 21st century, especially among celebrities and politicians.  I’ve heard the excuses men use, excuses like, women ask for it because of how they dress, #MeToo is just a “male witch hunt” and I Was Drunk.

I celebrate this ad because it promotes the idea that men can, and need, to do better, men need to hold each other accountable, and women need to be treated with respect.  The ad reminds us that young boys watch us and model what they see.

That is why I applaud this ad and this company.  I have a wife and two daughters, and I want them to live in a world where they feel safe and equal.  The ad didn’t offend me, even as a man, yet the backlash to the ad surprised me.  Am I missing something? Am I different from other men. (That is not a negative thing either).  Even after researching, I still don’t understand. Why is there opposition to an ad like this?

Business Insider’s article, People are trashing their razors, reports that some people have taken to social media to say they are boycotting Gillette and even posted photos and videos of themselves discarding Gillette razors.

Canada’s Global News’ article,  Gillette’s new ad tackles toxic masculinity, says,

“The ad sparked wild backlash, with some arguing the company was ‘moralizing’ or ‘virtue-signalling.’”

Instyle’s article, Everything to Know About the Gillette Boycott,  has a selection of Twitter reactions. Here is a sampling.

Hey [Gillette]. I have an idea, stay out of politics. Real men already stop other guys from acting badly. A razor company should want me to shave with your product. And, btw, I’m extremely masculine. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

So nice to see [Gillette] jumping on the “men are horrible” campaign permeating mainstream media and Hollywood entertainment. I for one will never use your product again.

Look [Gillette], I know your heart is in the right place.  But there’s a line.  And that line is where my razor blades start issuing me moral instruction.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC)  says, “In the U.S., one in three women and one in six men experienced some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime.”

SexAssault.ca reports, “Of every 100 incidents of sexual assault, only 6 are reported to the police and 1 in 4 North American women will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime.”

It seems to me with statistics as alarming as these, that men do not stop other men from assaulting.  Masculinity that harms the opposite sex is not something to be proud of.  Men, at least some men, do need moral instruction. Treating others with respect and dignity is a virtue. That includes women.

I found an interesting article titled, 160+ Examples of Male Privilege in All Areas of Life. This article listed examples of male privilege, more than 167 privileges to be exact. This list made me think. Here are some examples related to this topic.

Men:

  • are less likely to be the target of street harassment.
  • can have a casual, friendly interaction with a stranger, like exchanging a smile or responding to a greeting, without worrying about that stranger taking it as a sexual invitation and telling you to “lighten up” if you don’t.
  • can drink in a bar alone unbothered. In many other public spaces, including bookstores, coffee shops, festivals, and more. A woman alone is often assumed to be available for men to talk to and harass.
  • can travel alone without worrying about being targeted for violence because of your gender.
  • less likely to be stalked.
  • less likely to be the victim of revenge porn.
  • less likely to be killed by a partner. Researchers estimate that 40 to 70 percent of women who are murder victims were killed by a husband or boyfriend.
  • less likely to be blamed for your own sexual assault based on what you were wearing.
  • can stand in a crowded area, like on public transportation, without worrying about being groped.

A female once asked me (paraphrased) if I ever thought about my safety before going out alone. When I thought about that, I had to answer no. The female rebutted with, ‘as a women, I always do.’ Using the Internet, I did a comparison of safety tips for men verses women. What was interesting was there were countless web pages of safety tips for women. Most of those tips were to protect themselves from assault. (see Tips, as an example). When I googled ‘safety tips for men’, the pages I saw—and there weren’t many of them—were how to exercise safely.

I have to wonder if the men who oppose this ad are afraid their male privileges are in danger.

Leadership at a New Low

A commentary on some of our world leaders.

On December 6, 2018, just eleven days after returning from a trip to China, Canada arrested the chief financial officer (CEO) of Chinese tech-giant Huawei for breaking United States (U.S.) sanctions against Iran. Canada legally acted on an extradition request of the U.S. since Canada has had an Extradition Treaty with the United States since 1971.

Now, because of our legal obligation to honour such a request, my country is caught in the middle of its two largest trading partners—two super powers essentially—and worried about having to choose sides. If Canada extradites the Chinese executive to the States, it will result in deep anger from China, and letting her go free will anger the U.S. which is our chief trading partner.

China warned Canada there would be severe consequences if it did not immediately release the CEO of Huawei. Since the arrest, according to The Guardian, 13 of Canada’s citizens have been detained in China. The Guardian reports that at least 8 of those 13 have since been released.  The media has mostly focused on the two detained Canadians who have been accused of endangering state security. On the 14th of January, 2019, a Chinese court issued a death sentence to a Canadian man accused of drug smuggling. This young man appealed his original 15-year sentence, and in a sudden retrial the death sentence was issued. This all sounds like bullying to me. Bullying is bullying whether it is in a schoolyard, or part of world politics. According to Forbes, China is accused of bullying several countries, such as The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

Really, Canada is caught in between two bullies. You could take the classic bully story line of the ‘big bully’ frightening the smaller kid to turn over his or her lunch money to the bully. If you apply it to Canada’s current situation, it would be a small child being tormented by two ‘big bullies.’ Both bullies want the victimized kid to turn over the lunch money to them. The child victim is damned no matter what he or she does. If he or she turns over the money to bully one, there will be a deep anger, and likely retaliation, from bully two. If he or she turns the money over to bully two, there will be a deep anger, and likely retaliation, from bully one. It’s the old idiom, damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario. Every possible action or inaction would result in a negative outcome.

That brings us to the United States (U.S.). The magazine, Foreign Affairs has been the leading forum for discussion of American foreign policy and global affairs. It describes the United States as the “bully of the free world.” The Washington Post says, “Trump’s America is a bully, not a beacon.”

In my June, 2018 post called, A Flashback to School Yard Supervision, I reported on how Trump displayed bullying behaviour over perceived trade inequalities with Canada. On Twitter—he seldom exhibits bullying behaviour at news conferences—accused Canada’s Prime Minster Justin Trudeau as “meek and mild” and “very dishonest and weak” all because our prime minister declared that U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum were “insulting” and his insistence that Canada would not be pushed around.

The English Oxford dictionary defines a bully as “a person who habitually seeks to harm or intimidate those whom they perceive as vulnerable,”or as an individual who “seeks to harm, intimidate, or coerce someone perceived as vulnerable.” There is no shortage of examples of Trump seeking to intimidate a vulnerable person, world leader, or country.

Temple of Heaven exercise park

I’ve visited both countries. I mentioned earlier that I returned from a trip to China just prior to all of this tension between Canada and China. I found the wonderful people of China to be welcoming and friendly. In fact, one man gave each of us a mystic knot tassel, a Feng Shui symbol for good fortune. The retired Chinese people at Temple of Heaven fitness park were very happy to demonstrate their physical fitness abilities. While watching musicians and large groups of people singing in this same park, one Chinese person grabbed the hands of two people in our tour group and starting dancing with them. The Chinese people we met were non-threatening, welcoming and kind.

I’ve been to the United States many times, met several Americans in our Canadian national parks, and I travelled with Americans when we were on our Irish tour in the summer of 2018. The Americans I met were friendly, happy to talk to us, and were genuinely non-threatening in any way. In fact, while on our tour of Ireland, one our fellow American travellers bought me a whiskey while visiting an Irish Distillery.

mystic knot tassel,

What is really going on is that my country, Canada, is caught in the middle of a trade dispute between the U.S. and China, the two biggest economies in the world. The U.S. is accusing China of unfair trade practices. The Americans want China to import more American goods and to stop forcing American companies to hand over their valued intellectual property if those companies wish to do business in China. This dispute became a ‘trade war’ when tariffs implemented by the Trump administration, and China retaliated with their own tariffs. Are tariffs a form of intimidation? You bet. Is Trump trying to intimidate China to do what America wants them to do? Yes. Is China attempting to scare Canada? There is no argument there.

Are China and the United States—one could include Russia in this list—bullies? If the ordinary citizens of those countries are not the bullying types, then it must be their leaders who are the bullies. And because they are bullies, the citizens, who are innocent people, get hurt. Canadians in China are being detained as a form of retaliation for Canada’s participation in the arrest.  Business Insider warns that tariffs will likely increase the price of goods, which can have serious economic effects. Several economists and business groups have warned that higher prices from tariffs can hurt American firms and consumers. Ordinary citizens in both countries are harmed because they have to pay more for goods.

Trump is a bully. Same can be said about China and Russia’s leaders. Bullies on the world stage are not only a threat to world peace, but heartlessly make decisions that often are not in their ordinary citizen’s best interests. It is time to elect—when that is possible—world leaders who have their people’s best interests at heart, and not their egos.

Should We Be Worried?

A commentary on the rise of bigotry

On October 27th, yet another mass shooting occurred in the United States at a Pittsburgh synagogue. A radicalized, American born citizen expressed his hatred of Jews during the rampage, telling police officers afterward that Jews were committing genocide and he wanted them all to die. Sadly, this disturbed individual shot and killed 11 Jewish worshipers during the Jewish Sabbath service. (see Pittsburgh synagogue)

anti-hateWhile watching CNN, I saw an interview with a Jewish Rabbi hours after the mass shooting happened. The words uttered by the Rabbi struck me. He said, “I worry that hatred is becoming mainstream.” These words struck me because he expressed what I’ve been feeling. It seems people feel empowered to express their hatred towards people, such as visible minorities, indigenous people, Jewish people, Muslim people, immigrants, LGBT people, transgender people, and the list goes on and on. This sense of permission to express hatred is not only happening in the U. S. but in my country as well. I began to recall all the things I’ve read or heard in the news this month.

Earlier this month, CBC News reported in an article entitled,  ‘Go back where Indians belong’: St. Albert mother frightened by racist letter from neighbour, that a  woman living in St. Albert, a city two hours from where I live, fears for her children’s safety so has decided to move out of her rented condo.

An anonymous letter, which her 12-year-old daughter found in the mailbox, complained about children riding a scooter on driveways and playing basketball and football on the street. Then the letter said, “We don’t like your kind around here.” The tone of the letter became threatening and focused on the family’s First Nations or indigenous background. The letter told the family to, “Move out or things will escalate. Would not want to see the kids getting hurt. This isn’t a reserve. Go back to the reserve where Indians belong.” The letter ended with, “Your friendly Phase II Neighbours.”

Now I find this entire worrisome incident ironic for two reasons. First, the letter is signed “Your friendly Neighbours.” I would hardly call a letter threatening a family as friendly. The author or authors of this letter is/are hypocrites to say the least. Secondly, it is ironic that these neighbours, presumably white Caucasians, are telling an indigenous family to go back where they belong—in their minds the reserve—when indigenous people have been living on this land that we call Canada for thousands of years before the white Europeans arrived. It was our ancestors who created reserves in  the first place to acquire land for the state. It seems to me that if anyone should be telling someone to go back to where they belong, it should be the indigenous people telling the Caucasians to go back where they belong. I would be willing to bet that the “friendly Neighbours” are ignorant of Canadian history.

Another CBC News titled, Indigenous man kicked out of McDonald’s after racist confrontation says he feels lucky to be alive, describes how an Indigenous man in June was kicked out of one of the city of Red Deer’s MacDonald’s restaurants  following a racist and profanity-laced encounter with another customer. Zach Running Coyote, an indigenous actor from a nearby town, says he decided to confront a man who used a racial slur. Coyote said he wanted the man to say it to his face when he heard the racist say, ‘What’s your f–king problem?’ The racist customer then turned to his girlfriend saying, ‘That, “insert expletive,” little Indian know-it-all should mind his own business.'” Leaving the restaurant’s parking lot, the bigot yelled that he was sick of Coyote’s people “mooching” off tax dollars and living on welfare, spewing more profanity as he sped away. Clearly, the xenophobic is ignorant of history. If you read my post entitled, Is First Contact with Indigenous People Necessary? or do some research on your own, you will learn most of the indigenous stereotypes are based on misconceptions. To stereotypically label all indigenous people as welfare recipients simply is untrue.

Also, in the province where I reside, a story came out this month about one of Alberta’s new political parties, the United Conservative Party (UCP), claiming it does not share the “hateful views” of Soldiers of Odin, a white supremist group, after three candidates, contending to run as a UCP candidate, posed for photos with members of the extremist hate group. (see Candidates unknowingly posed).

What I find ironic, is in another CBC report, UCP nomination candidate says he knew Soldiers of Odin were coming to party’s pub night, the candidate told reporters that, ‘People have a constitutional right to voice their opinions and I’m not going to deny them that.’ In other words, he knew all along who the Soldiers of Odin were. Is this new political party attracting racists? Do its policies allow extremists to feel comfortable in their party? I have a difficult time believing any political party encourages racist extremists to join them, but sometimes actions speak louder than words.

These are just three examples of intolerance in my province. There are many more, I assure you. If this is occurring in every province, then racism seems to be rampant in my country. Hate crimes are on the increase. The National Observer reported last year that police-reported hate crimes in Canada rose in 2016 for the third year in a row, and became much more violent, according to data from Statistics Canada. With all the rhetoric coming from the current resident of the American White House bombarding  the Canadian news, it doesn’t surprise me that hatred is becoming mainstream. Even some of our Canadian politicians are spouting that there should be less immigration. Maxime Bernier, a once outspoken Conservative MP who left the party and has since formed a new political party, criticized an immigration system that he said was attempting to “forcibly change the cultural character and social fabric of Canada.” (see Maxime Bernier’s rebellion) Are these politicians bigots or just ignorant? Whatever it is, I don’t want to live in a world that is divisive and exclusive.

One thing I have learned from the many years of travel and experiencing numerous cultures, is that every human being, no matter what race or culture, just wants to live comfortably, enjoy life and live in peace and safety. The late Pierre Berton, a Canadian non-fiction author and journalist, once said, “Racism is a refuge for the ignorant. It seeks to divide and to destroy. It is the enemy of freedom, and deserves to be met head-on and stamped out.” I believe that to be true. Racism comes from ignorance. Racism is a learned attitude. Racism does not belong in my world or in my country. It needs to be met head-on and stamped out. Everyone, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation have the right to live their lives with dignity. As stated in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, declared in 1948,

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

The bottom line is a bigot is a bully. Bullies intimidate to get their way. There is no place for a bully in my world.

Is First Contact with Indigenous People Necessary?

A commentary on the ignorance of non-Indigenous people about Canada’s first residents

This month, CBC reported on a ‘Offensive’ online test about Indigenous Canadians.   This test was being used in an Outreach school, which is a school for students who don’t fit into a traditional school.  This school was using distance Learning materials which contained a multiple-choice test question which asked about the “positive effect” of residential schools. Students could choose from four possible answers such as “children were away from home” and “children became civilized.” A photo of the question was posted to social media by an offended student from the school, sparking swift apologies from the province’s education minister and school officials among condemnation from critics.

As the CBC article states, this question reflects views that are decades old; the very views highlighted by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada that calls for change. With all that has been learned about the Residential Schools in recent years, it amazes me that a question like this is still in use. Clearly there is much educating and healing to be done between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people. As a social teacher who taught about Residential Schools, I assure you there was nothing positive about these schools. The only intent of these schools was cultural genocide. Or, as spoken by our first Prime Minister, Sir. John A MacDonald in 1887, “The great aim of our legislation has been to do away with the tribal system and assimilate the Indian people in all respects with the other inhabitants of the Dominion [of Canada] as speedily as they are fit to change.” There is nothing positive about destruction of another culture.

In another CBC news article titled, Radio ad claiming to debunk ‘myths’ of residential schools draws criticism, reported this month that a two-minute ad aired across multiple private radio stations in the province of Saskatchewan. It begins with a question: “are Canadians being told the whole truth about residential schools?” It continues, “We have been told that the residential school system deserves the blame for many of the dysfunctions in Indigenous society — abuse of alcohol and drugs, domestic violence and educational failures can all be blamed on the school system which did not finally end until the 1990s,” says the ad. This ad then goes on to debunk what it calls myths, such as the myth that residential schools robbed native kids of their childhood and the myth that the harm that was done to those attending residential schools has been passed on to today’s generation.

I was appalled to learn of this. It reminds me of the Holocaust deniers who deny the genocide of Jews occurred and who claim that Nazi Germany’s Final Solution was aimed only at deporting Jews, claiming the slaughtering of Jews is a myth. Now  we have residential school deniers who deny that residential schools were  harmful and that the problems of the Indigenous people are unrelated to these schools.

Earlier this month my wife and I watched a three-part series on APTN (The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network) called First Contact. If you missed it, I strongly encourage you to watch it when it is rebroadcast on October 8th. I have taught Social Studies for years and thought I knew all there was to know about Indigenous people. This program taught me things I never knew and challenged my stereotypes about Indigenous people.

First Contact takes six Canadians, all with strong opinions about Indigenous People, on a 28-day journey into Indigenous Canada. These were people from all across Canada and who describe Indigenous people as alcoholics, drug abusers, welfare cheats, lazy, and entitled. They claim Indigenous Canadians are angry at white people, always get free money and handouts, are a drain to the system, and they just want people to feel sorry for them as  they are victims. One participant, who lived by a reserve growing up, spoke of how she was told never to go on the reserve as it was dangerous and to never look  at an indigenous person.

These six individuals left their everyday lives behind and traveled to Winnipeg, Nunavut, Alberta, Northern Ontario, and the coast of BC to visit Indigenous communities. The idea was to challenge their perceptions and confront their opinions about Indigenous Canadians.

In Episode one, the participants begin their journey in Winnipeg, Manitoba. In Winnipeg they work alongside two community driven movements; the Bear Clan patrol which works to keep Winnipeg’s notorious North End streets safe, and Drag the Red which takes on the sobering task of helping to solve cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women by searching the river, and the riverbank, for remains or other evidence. Then the group traveled over 2,000 kilometres north to the remote Inuit community of Kimmirut where they discover how difficult life on the land is for the Inuit people.

In the second episode, the group of six arrive in Muskrat Dam, one of several fly-in reserves in Northern Ontario. Let’s face it, us non-Indigenous Canadians cannot understand why aboriginal people continue to live in remote places like Muskrat Dam. While there, the participants learn why relocating isn’t an option for them as families have lived there for generations. They will also learn tough lessons about educating youth in a remote fly-in community, the impact of the legacy of residential schools, and learn that clean drinking water is unavailable there, and is unavailable in 140 other reserves across the country. The next stop takes the travellers to Alberta. With a population of over 17,000, the Maskwacis reserve has a reputation for gangs, crime, and a high suicide rate.  In Maskwacis, the six attend their first Pow Wow and sweat lodge ceremony, causing some attitudes within the group to shift.

In the last episode, the group is taken to Calgary, to experience life on the streets, and then north, to an Edmonton prison to learn about life on the inside for Indigenous inmates. According to a Statistics Canada report, Indigenous people comprise about 5 per cent of Canada’s population but account for 27 per cent of the federal prison population in 2016–17. The final stop is in Ahousaht First Nation, on the west side of Vancouver Island. Historically, Ahousaht has suffered many issues, but in recent years, with strong leadership from within, the reserve has made many changes and turned the community around. Sadly, not all minds were changed. A rift began to occur in the group, ending with four of them challenging the two individuals from my home province who still held the same view of Indigenous Canadians as when they started.

One of the lines in the series that struck me was, “We are all treaty people.” Indian Treaties were agreements made between Europeans and Native Canadians used to secure alliances, and most often to acquire land from Native Canadians. None of us were present when these treaties were agreed upon. It was our ancestors who made these agreements. That is true for those of us who are descendants of European settlers as it is for Indigenous Canadians. These Treaties are still honoured today, so the statement, “We are all treaty people,” is true. Treaties do not just apply to Native Canadians.

The chief from Alberta’s biggest reserve, Maskwacis, said money for his people came from a fund. He said most non-aboriginal people don’t understand that the money they use to run their reserves comes from this fund and that the fund is a finite amount of money. I wondered what he meant by fund. The CBC article, How does native funding work? explains how funding from the federal government works. The article states,

“The federal government established each First Nation band as an autonomous entity and, therefore, provides separate program funding to each one…”

“The primary method to fund [Indigenous] services is through what’s called ‘contribution agreements.’ The agreements are renewed annually, although not always on time…that means ‘First Nations must often reallocate funds from elsewhere to continue meeting community service requirements.’ The article also says that “while the agreements state the services or actions to be provided, they do not always focus on service standards or results to be achieved…there’s no linking of funding levels to national standards for services such as in the equalization program for provinces.” The article says the growth rate of federal funding to First Nations has not been keeping pace with the growth rate in transfers to the provinces.

This must be what Maskwacis’ chief means by fund.  Each reserve receives a set amount of funding from the federal government to provide services for their band.  The truth is, Indigenous people do not get endless handouts from the government, as many Canadians think.

There is so much misinformation about Indigenous Canadians and stereotypic beliefs about aboriginal people . It is time that we as non-Indigenous Canadians learn the truth about residential schools and the effects of it instead of sitting comfortable in our ignorance and being arrogant with our judgemental point of views. The two individuals in the series from my home province illustrated this by their lack of openness to change their views.