6 Moments In Time That Make Me Ashamed To Be Canadian

Canada has an uncanny ability to be painted as a picturesque, romantic, eco-conscious and friendly nation. A nation filled with a mosaic of peoples, languages, cultures, and traditions. A nation where recycling is the norm, where people hold doors open for others, where assassins use pies instead of bullets, and where you can find a coffee and glazed donut on just about every other street corner. This perceived awesomeness of Canada, while occasionally true, hasn’t always been the case. There have been moments in Canadian history, and even the present, where I couldn’t help but think I am ashamed to be a Canadian.


Photo by Eryn Rickard

Alberta’s Tar Sands

Alberta has long been held under a scrutinous eye by the environmentalists for its massive industrialization of forests and wetlands in northern Alberta. The tar sands have become not only an eye sore, they’ve become a cause many people, including Greenpeace, are calling on to stop.

The tar sands are essentially huge deposits of bitumen, a substance that is very tar-like in nature. This tar-like “stuff” is what’s turned into oil by using some complex and very costly and energy intensive processes. This way of extracting oil is polluting the Athabasca river, and also spreading large amounts of toxins into the air. If you’ve ever driven by, or seen Fort McMurray on google maps, you’ll see how much of a wasteland this area has become. The tar sands aren’t just limited to Alberta though, they’re spreading into my home province of Saskatchewan as well.

Environmentally these mines suck. But there’s more to it than just the toxins and pollutants that are being spread around. Theres a huge social concern behind here as well. First nations communities in the area are reporting widespread autoimmune diseases, and many are showing large numbers of people coming down with rare forms of cancer. The tar sands will continue to be a hot topic over the years, especially considering how high profile the Keystone Pipeline reports became in Canada and in the USA.

Want More Information on the Tar Sands?

Check out the 2009 Documentary documentary “Downstream” – Watch it online for free

Watch Vice’s Documentary “Toxic Alberta” – Also Online for Free


Unfair Treatment of Chinese Immigrants (CPR)

The Canadian dream was once thought to be a life filled with exploration, with discovery, and with an incredible amount of gold. Chinese immigrants first came to Canada in 1858 in order to find a piece of this dream. Most Chinese immigrants moved to BC in search of riches. While many were happy to escape the harsh conditions in China, such as population pressures, famine and rebellions, life in Canada proved to be just as hard.

By the 1880’s the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in British Columbia began recruiting Chinese men to perform the most dangerous work along the rails. The type of tasks they were given included working with unstable explosives, tunnelling through mountains, and carrying massive rocks for miles. Pay was a measly one dollar a day, significantly less than any white man earned. The pay was poor, the conditions were harsh, and they say that for every mile of the Canadian Pacific Railway roughly four Chinese died.

The CPR was eventually completed, and this soon led to a whole other can of worms for the Chinese. The white men in the area became concerned that the Chinese were going to take their jobs. A massive recession caused people to become more than just a little bit cruel. Soon, anti-chinese legislation was passed, and a $50 head tax was charged to almost every chinese person attempting to enter Canada. This tax was eventually raised to $100, followed by $500 in 1903.

The Chinese were literally worked to death in Canada. While the Chinese-Canadians were eventually given an “apology” in 2006 by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the cuts run deep. Symbolic payments were offered in one form or another, but the damage was done. This has to be one of Canada’s most deplorable acts of human indecency.


Photo by Stephen Simpson

Exporting Asbesthos

Asbestos has long been banned in Canada. The science has proven how dangerous this stuff is. It causes lung cancer, mesothelioama and asbestosis, and is just generally not something you want to be around. Inhale the fibres of this stuff and consider yourself one sick puppy. Asbestos causes over 100,000 deaths per year.

Despite the known dangers within Canada, up until January 2012, there were asbestos mines in Quebec who were still exporting to the world. Over 45% of it going to India, and the rest to smaller asian countries. In 2009 Canada produced 9% of the Asbestos that’s mined worldwide. This is a pretty deplorable number, and many critics were asking for this industry to stop long ago. It’s just a shame it took a recession induced bankruptcy for the last mine to shut down. Here’s to hoping those mines don’t start up again!


Eugenics in Canada

In the early 20th Century a movement so controversial and morally reprehensible sprung up around the world, and Canada wasn’t immune to these ideals. The notion of “eugenics” or the “bio-social movement” advocated aiming to improve the genetic composition of the human race through manipulation and murder. Many recognizable historical figures were supporters, including its president Leonard Darwin (Son of Charles Darwin), honorary VP Winston Churchill, UK’s Prime Minister Auguste Forel, Theodore Roosevelt and Alexander Graham Bell.

By the 1920’s immigration from Southern and Eastern European countries increased tremendously. It wasn’t long before the big supporters of Eugenics came out of the woodwork insisting that these new immigrants would pollute the national gene pool if their numbers weren’t restricted. This same notion was one of the primary causes for the next-near ban on Chinese and Japanese immigrants.

In Canada, two provinces enforced eugenics by law. In Alberta, the sexual sterilization act was put through in 1928, which focused on the sterilization of mentally deficient people. The Alberta Eugenics Board made the final decisions, basing the majority of their decisions off of IQ Tests. However, these tests proved to be a problem with many immigrants who couldn’t read or speak english fluently. Needless to say, unfairly categorized sterilization occured. The British Columbia Sterilization Act soon came to life shortly after Alberta’s, and like their neighbours to the east, they had a provincial eugenics board calling all of the shots.

We all know what happened in Nazi Germany in WWII, which while incredibly tragic, fortunately educated people in North America of the danger and immorality of eugenics. One would assume that after the events of World War II Eugenics boards would have completely dissolved. What screws me up most is that the Sexual Sterilization Acts of Alberta and British Columbia didn’t stop until 1972.

residential-schools-sk Canada

Residential Schools

Canada’s genocide of an entire culture is one of the darkest bruises in the history of this nation. When Europeans “discovered” north America they brought with them diseases, weapons, warfare, and religion. All of which were used in one way or another to conquer the land and claim it as their own. As with all wars, children tend to become victims as well. First Nations children in Canada were no different.

In 1840’s the federal government began pushing the european way of life on the aboriginal peoples of Canada. Aboriginal children were taken hundreds of miles from their families, many only seeing them once or twice a year if they were lucky. The residential schools were a complete immersion program, where children were prohibited from speaking their native language, practicing their spirituality, or displaying any form of aboriginal tradition. The goal was to turn these children into english speaking, christian farmers. Those who did not obey were often punished severely. Physical and sexual abuse ran rampant in these schools, while mortality rates soared in this environment. Up to 50% of the children suffered from Tuberculosis and were being forced to sit through class. Teachers deliberately exposed healthy children with those infected with Tuberculosis, which at the time had no cure.

The last residential school closed in 1996, and while survivors of the residential school system continued to speak out about the horrors witnessed at these schools, it wasn’t until 2008 that Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for the residential schools. Several reconciliation packages have been put forward for the survivors, but many feel it’s “Too little too late”. Canadians need to be properly educated on the history of this era. Education leads to understanding, and perhaps through understanding we as Canadians, whites and aboriginals, can move forward together in peace.

For more information on residential schools and the problems facing Aboriginal Canadians, watch Wab Kinew’s recent interview on CBC’s Strombo.

If you’re more of the documentary type check out UNREPENTANT: Kevin Annett & Canada’s Genocide (Free on Google Video)


Internment Camps of World War I and World War II

Many people don’t associate internment camps with Canada. However, throughout Canadian history there have been a variety of camps that were built to detain people from all walks of life. War makes people do some crazy things, and Canadians are no different. Peoples houses, farms, businesses and their “way of life” were essentially stolen by the Canadian government. Fear and lack of understanding appear to be the leading cause for this part of Canadian history. Many people were accused of being spies, simply for being german, italian, japanese, or ukrainian in descent.

In World War I over 8500 Ukrainian-Canadian men, who were considered “aliens of enemy nationality”, were forcefully moved to  one of twenty six internment camps, including Castle Mountain Interment Camp in the Rockies, and Eaton Interment Camp in Saskatchewan. It was at these camps that these men were used for forced labour. Many of these “Prisoners of War” were transported by train to Nova Scotia, where they were eventually processed for deportation. Unfortunately World War I wasn’t the last time this happened.

By the time World War II was in full swing, internment camps began to pop up across the entire country. German Canadians who had resided in Canada since 1876 were being accused of being Nazi agents, despite having never left the country since they first landed in Canada. When Italy joined the wrong side of the war, Italian Canadians were soon under the same suspicious eye as the German Canadians. Needless to say many of these people would become all too familiar with the internment camps in Canada.

Japanese-Canadians were also exposed to these internment camps. Relocation Centres were created for Japanese-Canadian families, and internment camps were set up for those considered a high security threat. Many of these Japanese-Canadians had been in Canada several generations. When World War II was over, only 25% of their confiscated property and businesses were returned. Resentment from their treatment in British Columbia led to a large exodus across the prairies.

Where do we go from here?

I love Canada, don’t get me wrong, but you’d have to be an emotional mute not to find these moments a little bit sick and twisted. It’s clear that these problems that were faced in the past, and the few that are ongoing, aren’t completely unique to Canada. Polution, cultural genocide, racism, and a blatant disregard for human rights happens every day across the globe. While some of you may think “ashamed” is a strong word to use, it’s really the only one I can think of when it comes down to it. We’re better than this type of behaviour, at least we should be. If people from afar can hold Canada in such high regards, we as citizens need to as well. We need to learn from our mistakes, and find a way to grow beyond these events. This country has so much potential to become that eco-conscious, friendly and accepting country. At the end of the day, Canada needs to be a bit more true, a little more strong, and a lot more free.

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