From: C R Spinner &>
Newsgroups: soc.culture.south-africa,soc.culture.african.american,soc.culture.african
Subject: 2_Realities From the Greener Side
Date: Mon, 02 Jun 2003 23:52:10 -0700
Message-ID: &>

Oh Canada

By David Austin, Monday 02 June 2003, 23:52:10

When most non-Canadians think of Canada words such as quiet, calm, peaceful, and of course cold come to mind. Many see Canada as a hybrid country, an amalgamation of European (British) and American (Anglo-American) traditions. Such has been the image that Canada has fostered, nurtured, and projected around the world, giving Canada the apparent air of a Switzerland in the Americas, a haven or place of refuge for all those trying to escape the drudgery and decay ever-present in so many parts of the world. This is the image that most people around the world have accepted.

And what a beautiful picture. No poverty, no crime (corporate, government, or otherwise), free from all the isms and schisms of the world and certainly without racial discrimination as Canada's good, clean, visible minorities have been well assimilated into Canadian society. so race doesn't matter.

Malcolm X once cautioned an audience to stop talking about the problems in the South because, in his words, as long as you are south of the Canadian border you are south. But for many of us who live, eat, and breath, struggle north of the Canada/U.S. border, it can readily be said that anywhere south of the North Pole is south.

The recent Writing Thru Race Conference held in Vancouver brought to the surface some of the worst elements in Canadian society(ies). The conference, organized by the Writers' Union of Canada and held from June 30 to July 3, was designed to discuss issues of race and racism as they relate to writing in a country in which non-white have limited access to the publishing industry.

But before the conference could get its feet off the ground a controversy erupted over a newsletter printed by the Racial Minority Writers' Committee, a section of the Writers' Union. In the newsletter it was stated that the enrollment of 150 participants will be limited to First Nations writers and writers of color. This sparked accusations, with the Globe and Mail, Canada's national newspaper, at the helm, encouraged by the Reform Party, Canada's right-wing, notoriously racist, anti-immigration opposition party, that the Racial Minorities Committee was reinventing apartheid, practicing cultural apartheid (a sick twist and appropriation of a term that has meant misery, exploitation, and degradation for the South Africa's black majority) reverse discrimination (a special kind of discrimination invented for people who are not white).

It is not the intention here to defend the Writer's Union's choice to restrict the workshops to people of color (evening readings, performances, and talks were open to the public) as, in his response to the initial article printed in the Globe, Roy Miki, chair of the Union's Racial Minorities Committee, proved more than capable of defending himself and the conference. Moreover, comments printed in the Globe, seemed to, if anything confirm the need for such a conference.

Neither is there space here to debate whether, by virtue of being people of color, there exists an automatic basis for unity. It should be obvious, given the present socio-economic conditions in Canada, that ethnic unity or unities is just one of the many social divisions under which people must struggle to radically transform their lives and living conditions. What is important here is not the seemingly isolated reactions of the press, the Reform Party, the (Liberal) Federal Government, and members of the general public, but that together, these reactions are symbolic of broader issues and tendencies in Canada, the United States, and in the world for that matter.

As the conference date approached other questions and issues were raised. Should taxpayers' money be spent on a conference that excludes the majority of Canadians who are white? And If a conference were organized in which only whites were invited, would the organizers not be accused of racism? One writer, again from the Globe,trying his desperate best to demonstrate impartiality, stooped the abysmal level of referring to the conference's organizers as fanatics. He went on to imply, expediently forgetting that non-whites have proportionately higher rates of unemployment than their white counterparts and playing on the already prevailing white fears that the few jobs out there are being offered to non-whites first, that affirmative action programs, designed to address historical socio-economic inequalities, are one of the major causes of the current employment woes amongst ordinary [read white] citizens as he put it.

What became increasingly clear as this media manufactured controversy escalated was that the Canadian government was both unwilling and incapable of defending why it had initially agreed to fund the conference to the tune of $22, 500. In an act of cowardice and capitulation, equaled only by the chauvinism of the Reform Party, the Federal Government decided to withdraw all government funding and support for the conference, some two weeks before the conference's commencement. All of a sudden the government seemed to think that the conference was a racist one. None of the conference's critics cared to ask why, if the conference was racist, the government agreed to fund it in the first place.

And throughout the entire controversy, none of the critics expressed even remote concern or cognizant of abject economic and social conditions that confront a large percentage of people in Canada, providing the impetus for a conference like the Writing Thru Race conference. True to their form, the critics failed to examine the prevailing conditions in this country and put them into any historical perspective.

The sentiments inscribed in the Globe,echoed by the Reform Party, and endorsed by the Canadian government are part of the general racist, xenophobic, and fascist tendencies that are currently clouding North America and sweeping across Europe, across the world for that matter. Reform Party popularity comes at a time when anti-immigration, racist, and anti-Native Canadian sentiments are on the rise here.

By virtue of its policies, the Canadian government subscribes to these sentiments and, with the aid of spurious media coverage, has added fuel to an already flaming fire of racist, anti-immigration sentiments, giving the impression that immigrants in general, and blacks in particular (and Jamaican blacks more specifically) are responsible for the upsurge in crime in Canada and for what is seen by many as the general deprecation and disintegration of Canada's pristine Anglo-Saxon values.

Using the recent killing of a white police officer by a Jamaican-born man which sparked widespread condemnation of Canada's open immigration policy, the Sergio Marchi, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has introduced a new immigration bill which calls for the deportation of all immigrants (that do not have Canadian citizenship but could be permanent residents or landed immigrants) convicted of a crime back to their native countries. The media highlighted the fact that, Clinton Gayle, the man arrested for the killing, was black and born in Jamaica. However the media expediently failed to mention one minute detail. Gayle, a man in his mid twenties, has been living legally in Canada since he was 8 years old. He's clearly a product of Canadian society not Jamaica.

Gayle's case is reminiscent of a t ime not so long ago when Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson was the fastest man in the world and Canadians and the media were proud to say that they were Canadian and that Big Ben was one of them.

When Ben was caught taking steroids however, he became the disgraced Jamaican-born sprinter the next day. A real Canadian would not have taken steroids.

In Montreal there have been no less than six unaccounted for shootings and killings of black men by the police. The police have found no shortage of excuses for their actions. In a recent case and officer's defective gun was blamed for the killing of a black man in what was obviously another case of shooting first and asking questions later when it comes to blacks. And, as is the case in Toronto, there has not been a single case in which the police have been charged and convicted for their acts in spite of the overwhelming evidence against them.

And police brutality has not been reserved for blacks or other non-whites. Recently, Richard Barnaby, a white taxi driver was beaten into a coma by the police, supposedly for resisting arrest. Now it is rumored that he is being kept on life support so that the officers that carried out the brutal attack cannot be charged with murder!

The new immigration policy prompted Jamaican prime minister P.J. Patterson, on a recent visit to Canada, to state that pointing a finger in the wrong direction [in this case Jamaica] may only serve to exacerbate social tension, or allow racism to rear it ugly head. The policy is being advanced in spite of a recent report carried out by a senior Immigrant Department researcher and released by none other than the federal government itself showing that while foreign born people make up 20.2 per cent of Canada's population, they accounted for only 10.3 per cent of penitentiary inmates in 1989 and only 11.9 per cent of those incarcerated or on conditional release in 1991. Also foreign born on average also exceed Canadian norms in terms of their socioeconomic status.

The report goes on to suggest that Canada's comparatively liberal refugee laws, rather than contributing to the problem of immigrant crime, may even help to mitigate it and that tougher immigrant laws might well drive more people into the arms of the people smugglers and the gangs.

Yet the government, ignoring its own studies, is bent on passing this new law which could be the first in a series of steps allowing for the deportation of non-Canadian-born Canadians who are accused of committing crimes and paving the way for the expulsion of dissidents and social critics.

Today in Quebec, nationalists sentiments are arguably at the highest point it has been since the beginning of the Quiet Revolution in the 1960s as French-speaking Quebecois assert their peculiar Canadian identity which they perceive to be drowning in the sea of Anglo-Canadian culture. With Quebec elections coming up on September 12, it is not far fetched to say that this French-speaking province may become an independent country sometime in the near future.

Unfortunately, however, these very nationalists sentiments have found no place for even the most basic rights of Native Canadians. Witness the Oka crisis where both Quebec and federal government armed forces were brought in to crush Native resistance to the building of a golf course over one of their sacred burial grounds. Further north, Hydro Quebec, which has a monopoly on electricity in this province insists on building and electric damn on Cree territory, displacing thousands of Cree from their land, and despite that fact that all environmental reports show that the damn will have adverse effects on the ecosystem.

In Canada the Free Trade/NAFTA agreement with the United States, and Mexico, was solidified without serious discussion or debate on the implications, ramifications, and detrimental effects of the agreement on the Canadian workforce. An estimated 500,,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in Canada as a result of the Free Trade/NAFTA initiative and it can only become more dismal through time. The deal has Canadian and American farmers, with all that they have in common, virtually at each others necks.

Last winter American farmers blockaded trucks carrying Canadian wheat products at the northern Montana/southern Alberta border in protest of the sale of cheaper Canadian wheat in the United States. These are farmers that have intermingled and married into each others families for decades. Now they find themselves at opposite sides of the same fence as they compete against each other in the North American market. Hence we have a deal, designed to transcend national economic barriers and geographical borders, yet conjuring up virulent forms of nationalism.

This NAFTA deal is indirectly responsible for the privatization of public schools by way of commercial advertising (Pepsi-Cola is now selling advertisements in Toronto schools in exchange for financial rewards) as the provincial governments begin to cut financial assistance to public school from kindergarten to university. Cuts to, old age pensions on the West Coast and what appears to be the imminent cutback and eventual destruction of Canada's health care system which, up to now, has meant free basic healthcare for Canadians, also seems to be part of the deal.

These cutbacks are all part of the general trend that is part and parcel of the NAFTA deal as cries emanate from the U.S. that somehow, by providing free healthcare, Canadian hospitals and clinics and the doctors and nurses that work in them have an unfair competitive advantage over the United States. NAFTA has provided Canada's government with a convenient excuse to cut healthcare and other social programs.

So soon, here too in Canada, hospitals will be rejecting would-be patients in dire need or perhaps on the verge of death because they do not have sufficient funds to pay for their treatment. In this asymmetrical equation the rights and needs of the patient are lost. It's all about competition and profit or dollars and nonsense.

And make no bones about it. These cutbacks affect those who are already the most economically and socially depressed in Canada. In Montreal unemployment amongst blacks between the ages of 18 and 35 is more than 35 per cent, not for wont of initiative but as direct result of racial discrimination, both systematic and person to person. And with the number of single parent families rising, how are they expected pay for their children's schooling and hospital bills in the future? At a time when unemployment is rising and when the so-called recession has yet to go on recess, both federal and provincial governments are revoking funds that further depress the very people that are most affected by present economic crisis.

And the affects of NAFTA do not stop here. The trade deal between Canada, the United States and Mexico is already squeezing out the little access that Caribbean primary products have to North American markets dealing a terrible blow to their already very depressed and restricted economies. In the long run this only encourages greater migration of Caribbean nationals to North American and elsewhere in search of better opportunities, only to be criminalized and denigrated.

So, for those of you have never visited Canada and have wondered just how cold it gets this side of the border, the answer is quite simple. Politically, things are getting hotter and hotter yet, for too many of us, even in the blistering heat of the summer, Canada is becoming a colder and colder place live.