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How Could We Let This Happen

As a social studies teacher here in Alberta, I have the opportunity to revisit Canada's past every semester that I teach. I studied Canadian and American history when I was in university and loved that each time I looked in the past I could find new narratives and perspectives that I hadn't considered before.

Unfortunately, what compelled me to find these new narratives was uncovering parts of Canada's past that I was never taught in my high school history classes. As I learned about residential schools, the Indian Act, the Chinese "Head Tax" and treatment of Japanese Canadians, among other events, I came to the realization that the picture of Canada as a tolerant and multicultural nation didn't fit with the facts of history. Rather, it is through the study of these events that it became clear to me that Canada is a country founded upon the attempted genocide of Indigenous peoples, exploiting immigrant labour and the creation of governments and institutions that uphold oppressive societal structures.

I know that this is a grim picture and that as a society we have made strides in improving who we are. I'm proud to live in a country that fought for universal health care for all. I'm proud of a document like the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as a guideline for our society and I'm proud of the struggles that working people, immigrants, women, LGBTQ and Indigenous folks have engaged in throughout our past to expand who has access to rights and freedoms that every human deserves. The reality is, without these folks fighting for their rights in engaging in broader social movements, most of the progress that we look back on as uniquely Canadian would have never had happened. It's clear to me that government's rarely lead on creating progress within our society, it's up to individuals within society to push the government in a better direction.

Throughout the course of the current Canadian election campaign I've heard many folks use the phrase, "I want my Canada back". I know when folks use this phrase they are referencing the fact that our country has taken a turn for the worse under Harper and hope to bring it back to a country that believes in multiculturalism, tolerance and peacekeeping, amongst other values. And although I do see some merit in this phrasing, you can't look back on our history in a revisionist way. After all, many of the issues of Canada's past are within our contemporary history as well. Indigenous people did not have the right to vote in federal elections until the 1960s, the last residential school did not close until 1996 and same-sex marriage was not legalized until 2003. Personally, I don't want my Canada back, I want to create a better Canada where we celebrate our collective good, acknowledge and reconcile our past wrongs and work with all members of the larger community to move together collectively.

When we look at our government's heinous actions of the past (both Conservative and Liberal governments) it is hard not to think about how we could of let this happen. How were our government officials so blinded by racism to enact residential schools? How did we believe that women were incapable of voting? We can say that these were just the prevailing thoughts of the time, but I think we have to hold our collective history to account a bit more than brushing it off. After all, at some point in the future we will look back on our era and the generations that come after us will be asking, "How come they did not act on climate change?" or "How did they not do anything about the 1200 missing and murdered Indigenous women?".

Our generation should be held accountable to these questions and many more. Next week, on election day, we have an opportunity to have our voices heard. Elections are anything but foolproof ways to create change in our world, but we can make a collective statement. As you head to the ballot box think about the values of a society that you would like to live in. How do you want your government to treat it's most vulnerable? How should we treat our climate change responsibilities? If you're like me, you'll be hoping that Canadians vote with an eye towards a more democratic, equitable and just Canada. No matter what our federal government will look like next Tuesday, we have to remember that democracy is not a "spectator sport". We can't wipe our hands clean after an election and say we've done our part. Democracy is work, and if we want to create a better Canada for all, then we'll have to push our government in that direction so the only choice they have is to do what is best for all of us.

Comments

  1. Thank you. You must be a wonderful teacher.

    Your post captured thoughts that have been on my mind, primarily "Democracy is not a spectator sport". I'm seeing citizen action all over the globe. From 886 Hague citizens successfully suing their government for inaction on climate change, to the massive anti TPP protests in Berlin, and the grassroots inspired climate action pressure on China which has prodded the government to aggressively pursue alternate energy solutions - change is happening and you're right, it's not coming from the governments. I'm discouraged that so many of us have not noticed that our rights and freedoms are slipping away. What will happen on Oct 20? What are the next steps?

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