It is time to bring Canadian injustices into the spotlight
Reading Time: 10 minutes
By Hareem Ashraf
“Oh Canada, our home and native land,” I whisper to myself, as I pick up an everything bagel from Tim Hortons at the crack of dawn. For residents of a free and diverse nation like Canada, expressing patriotism is hardly an unusual occurrence. Even in the midst of international chaos and stereotypical ridicule, Canadians often remain proud.It seems like no one really cares about Canada though. Perhaps Canada is simply too boring for the world to pay attention to — or maybe our collective demeanour has everybody fooled. Perception and reality differ greatly in Canada, and stereotype often shields us from the criticism that perhaps we deserve.Additionally, our limited participation in world conflicts enables us to maintain a socially progressive image in the eyes of the global community. This is in spite of, or perhaps owing to, our unimposing national manner.When examining Canada, we must holistically look at our country for the broader picture. This way, we can compare our conceptions of it to the realities and decide whether Canada truly is the country it is perceived to be.
In pop cultureCanadian stars always manage to bring us some attention; such personalities include Justin Bieber, Drake, Ryan Gosling, and many more.Currently, Drake’s name echoes throughout Canada as his fame continues to proliferate worldwide. The Toronto-raised rapper coined the term ‘The 6ix’ as an unofficial name for Toronto; snapchat is one of the platforms that has since adopted it, creating geofilters for the term.In May 2016, Drake explained to Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show that ‘The 6ix’ was derived from the 416 Toronto area code and the fact that “at one point, Toronto was broken up into six areas — Old Toronto, Scarborough, East York, North York, Etobicoke and York.”Drake has helped to put Toronto on the map, but according to Canadian BuzzFeed writer Kat Angus, some Canadians “just don’t see what the big deal is” with Drake.Canadians certainly feel the same way about the vast array of national stereotypes. An article from the Huffington Post outlines the “9 Stereotypes About Canadians We’re Tired of Hearing.” For example, it challenges the common misconception that Canadians “live in perpetual winter.”In short, at least on the outside, Canada’s place in pop culture is more lighthearted than that of its more politically prominent peers.
Canadian privilegeRegardless of such surface perceptions, Canadians do reside in a nation privileged with resources and opportunities. According to data from The World Bank, Canada’s gross domestic product per capita is around $43,000 USD, while the global rate is around $10,000. Employment in Canada is also relatively steady, with the national unemployment rate under seven per cent — even though it is considerably higher for young Canadians at around 13 per cent.Canada’s opportunities are not limited to economic prosperity and jobs but can also be seen through the nation’s education options.Monique Copti argues in the Montreal-based TIMC Blog that Canada’s education system holds advantages over systems in other developed nations. “Canadian schools are generally more focused on holistic education rather than grades only,” she writes.“Grades are emphasized in the UK education system, almost to the detriment of a more holistic education,” Copti continues. “The bureaucracy in the system is among the highest in the world, and children who do not achieve high marks early on may be pushed back for the rest of their educational career, locked out of opportunities even if they show promise later on down the road.”Hannah Hui, a first-year UTSG student, applied for the Architecture program at U of T last year after completing one year of studies at the University of Westminster in London, England in the same subject. She was born in Toronto, lived in Hong Kong for 15 years, and then moved to London to complete four years of high school and one year of university.Hui echoes Copti’s sentiments about the advantages of Canadian education. She appreciates that at U of T, she can choose what she wants to take and the declaration of a major does not have to be immediate.“In England, I wasn’t entirely sure if I wanted to do architecture, but when I moved to Canada I was given a broader spectrum of [choices] and… I know I don’t want to do architecture anymore, that’s a good thing now,” she explains.Succintly, Canadian universities draw students from across the world. Roughly 18 per cent of U of T’s student body is comprised of international students from 165 countries and regions.Secondary education is also a strength in Canada; notably, the high school graduation rate in Ontario was reported to be at an all-time high in 2015.Discrimination and acceptanceDespite its strengths, UTSC Public Law Professor Dr. Alison Braley-Rattai points out that there are some areas where the country attracts censure. “[Canada] has gotten the attention of the UN and its various agencies on several occasions for its treatment of indigenous people and for violations of international labour laws,” she explains.A video published by AJ+, a media outlet popular on Facebook, details the First Nations water crisis in Grassy Narrows, Ontario. The video claims, “Canada is one of the most water-rich countries in the world, yet many First Nations communities can’t access clean water.”Residents are advised to either boil the water or not drink it at all. This warning is given to 93 First Nations communities across Canada, excluding British Columbia.In the video, Patricia Neyland, a pregnant mother of three, gestures towards a bathtub full of brown, contaminated water. She says, “This is what me and my children bathe in.”Linda Redsky is the caregiver of her 14-year-old foster son. In the video, she explains having to constantly take her foster son to the doctor’s office; the doctor has repeatedly told her that the boy’s frequent infections could be explained by the contaminated water.In one of the most water-rich countries in the world, it is inexcusable that Indigenous communities are not able to access clean water. A Human Rights Watch report called this crisis discriminatory.However, Canada’s reputation for acceptance is not completely unwarranted — it does seem to treat its LGBTQ+ community better than some other countries.Kasra Jamaat is a second-year LGBTQ+ identifying Sociology student at McGill University. He recalls one positive experience he had in Canada: “I remember holding hands with the guy I was seeing once, and someone came up to us and told us we look cute together.”Dan K* is a third-year Equity Studies student at UTSG who moved to Canada from Washington, D.C. They are non-binary, genderfluid, demisexual, bisexual, and they identify with the LGBTQ+ community.K feels that their identity was easier to reveal and is more accepted in Canada. They spent their nineteenth birthday alone back in the US, while their mother was working.K changed their last name, which had been given by their father, who was abusive and distant. They explain, “On that day, I decided to come out to pretty much everyone in my life and be openly queer in Canada.”They continue, “In Canada, I’ve found this much easier, but perhaps that’s just because of the people I’ve surrounded myself with. In DC, it’s something that I often hide until I know I can trust the person.”Even so, some places within Canada are more diverse and accepting than others. Being a Muslim woman who wears a hijab, K’s disparate experiences of acceptance resonate with me; I personally noticed a difference in the demographic makeup of London and Toronto, two cities that are only a 3.5 hour drive away from each other.I made great friends during my first year at Western University; they accepted me and loved me for who I am. They were Colombian, Egyptian, Mauritian, Indian, Canadian-born like myself, or of another nationality, which really speaks to Canada’s cultural mosaic.Yet, I still experienced a tiny ‘culture-shock’ when I started to feel like a minority in London. I realized throughout the year that the amount of hijab-wearing women in London is lower than it is in Toronto. It was a huge change for me — as someone who grew up in the Greater Toronto Area, I was accustomed to seeing hijab-wearing women all around me.
Hidden imperfections“Canada likes to hide behind America, claiming that it isn’t as bad,” says K. “While that may be true, it doesn’t excuse what problems Canada has. So sure, Canada’s peaceful — but only on the surface.”Canada’s advantages, like its prosperity and reputation for acceptance, should not exempt the nation from international scrutiny. Perhaps the opportunities we exhibit to the world exist only on the surface. Once we shine a light on Canada from all angles, we quickly realize that ‘quiet’ and ‘peaceful’ are subjective terms that may only apply to Canada when it is compared to more boisterous nations like the US.Take ‘multiculturalism’ — a quintessential Canadian idea — as an example. Canada adopted multiculturalism as a national policy in 1971, as an attempt to celebrate its diversity and create a national ethos that allowed a plethora of cultural paradigms to exist alongside one another.However, residents of Canada don’t always view multiculturalism this way. Hui, for instance, views London, England, as a more diverse city than Toronto.Similarly, K explains, “Racism is still huge here. I encounter sexism every day. I am barely accommodated for sometimes. I have to look out for my Muslim friends because there is so much Islamophobia here.”In terms of gender equality, it is evident that Canada still has many improvements to make. An article in The Globe and Mail outlines what Canadian women have to say about sexism and their struggle for gender parity.In the article, Adrienne Clarkson, the twenty-sixth Governor General of Canada, says, “Women believe that, because they have more than half of the places in medical schools and half the places in law schools, they somehow have levers of power. Until women become deans of medical faculties and law schools, heads of departments, and senior partners in law firms, they do not hold the levers of power.”Catalyst Canada is a company that works on improving work opportunities and conditions in Canada. They report that in Canada, women earn $0.82 to every $1 earned by men. In fact, tapering of the wage gap has been minimal since 1977; over the last 39 years, women’s wages have risen from 77.2 per cent to only 82.4 per cent of men’s wages for full-time workers.While the issue of gender inequality is certainly not unique to Canada, the remaining prominence of the issue may be surprising to Canadians who take pride in their country’s reputation for inclusion.There are other issues that may fall under the radar in Canada for this reason, one of which is homelessness.W Rizvi*, a social worker from Toronto, says, “There are approximately 235,000 people who are homeless in Canada every year,” due to a variety of contributing factors such as mental health or addiction issues. “You see this in a variety of people such as women, youth, children, and many groups,” Rizvi says.In Rizvi’s opinion, Canada needs to do more to provide mental health and addictions services, as well as ensure that all citizens have access to life’s necessities to combat this issue.Time to rethink our innocuous reputationA National Post headline reads, “Dear Canada, get over yourself. No one actually cares about you.”The writer, Tristin Hopper, is an award-winning reporter working for the national desk of the newspaper. Hopper is originally from Victoria, British Columbia and is now based in Edmonton, Alberta. As a Canadian resident, he strongly feels that Canada prides itself on a reputation that does not even exist.When asked if they believe the world cares about Canada, K responds, “I think the world cares about Canada, but not enough. Canada needs to make the news as more than just a hockey-loving country. It needs to be called out on the injustices and problems that it promotes more often.”K continues, “Both Canadians and Americans alike love claiming that Canada is peaceful. I had a few Americans post ‘meanwhile in Canada’ posts pertaining to BLM, yet many don’t realize that police brutality is a serious problem here, too. I think it’s generalized ignorance that comes, in a sense, from national pride.”‘Meanwhile in Canada’ posts are memes that compare the status quo of America to Canada, in an attempt to show the ‘light and kind’ nature of Canadians, with a special emphasis on existing stereotypes.Perhaps the notion that no one cares about Canada holds some truth to it, but that is not entirely due to our supposed benign reputation. It may have more to do with the fact that our problems are quite hidden, and we always seem to dodge flashy headlines and international scrutiny. Injustices exist in Canada — they are just not as visible as they should be.It is time to reveal what Canada has swept under the rug. Some jurisdictions in Canada are taking steps to do so — a Toronto Star article written by Dirk Meissner outlines that schools in British Columbia will add course material on Aboriginal experience, history, and residential schools from kindergarten to grade 12 classes, when the new education curriculum is implemented.Meissner writes, “B.C.’s Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Minister John Rustad says in a statement that students will study topics such as discrimination, inequality, oppression and the impacts of colonialism.”This is one small step in the right direction, but it will require further attention and effort to improve education nationally. Educating children from a young age may aid in slowly chipping away the ignorance that enables the continuation of some injustices in Canada.
Home to U of T studentsU of T’s mission reads, “The University of Toronto is dedicated to fostering an academic community in which the learning and scholarship of every member may flourish, with vigilant protection for individual human rights, and a resolute commitment to the principles of equal opportunity, equity and justice.”It encompasses the theoretical positive qualities of Canada, such as diversity, equity, and general social and cultural acceptance.As K says, “Toronto is ‘home’ now because this is where most of my friends (and my current partner) are. I feel loved and accepted here, and people are much more accommodating.”It may seem easier to never question your surroundings, especially in an environment we consider home. But often, there are ethical dilemmas that occur over time that we easily choose to not concern ourselves with.It may be that the issue is irrelevant to us, so we choose to ignore or forget about it. Or, it might simply be due to us remaining unaware and neutral to marginalized persons, aboriginal history, sexual injustices, and so on. How can we grow if we don’t question and challenge the status quo?Canada, like any other nation, is not perfect. While we do maintain, for the most part, a decent world reputation, it doesn’t mean that our nation is problem-free. The sooner we push the curtain open, the faster we can refine the nation we call ‘home.’