On November 23, 2017, Prime Minister Trudeau was asked “What is the Canadian Identity?”. Besides pointing out the fact that we weren’t American, the next 8 minutes of his ludicrous response was a mix of political-correctness laced with garbled non-sense that gave me, a first-generation immigrant, a serious identity crisis. You can view that interview here.
Recently, I’ve also begun seeing ads on YouTube of varying lengths screaming an exposition of a list of things that could be Canadian – Beavers, Maple Syrup, the Flag, Quebecois culture, etc. This reminded me of grade-school years where our education system desperately tried to associate objects with our beliefs.
There’s obviously an effort to define who we are as a people. But so far, the message either been insultingly simplistic or dysfunctionally complex, often providing no summary of our values as we struggle to find some central thesis that would encompass our immense multi-cultural nation. This failure of government and education is exacerbating the problem and creating an identity crisis, where Canadians of different cultural origins feel no sense of unification. Imagine asking an European what they thought was the True Canadian identity. After a moment of thinking, he stares back at you and solemly states “Your plastic currency smells like maple syrup?” (Which is true, but that’s not the point.)
As an immigrant from a country run on totalitarianism, selfishness and corruption, I see the values of Canadians from a much more appreciative angle than one who may have had the fortune of being born into it. I recognize that, due to our multi-culturalism, we face the unprecedented and daunting task of finding something to unite us all. However, this over-thinking is our downfall, and the message is much more obvious than we think.
I would like to remove the misconceptions first.
To begin, we are not just simply nice, a word commonly associated with Canadians. Anyone who has seen a Canadian hockey game knows the absolute ferocity and destruction we plan to bring to our enemies on the icy battlefield. Many hockey players wear mouth guards, and I assure you they are NOT for protection from objects.
Furthermore, Colonial Canadian forces captured the US capital in 1814, and proceeded to burn down the capitol building and the White House. (Legend has it the White House was named thus because they had to white-wash it after our conquest and pillaging. Though not technically true, I enjoy rubbing this in the face of my American friends). This means that we were the only country to have invaded and captured the capital of the most powerful nation of the world.
What we are, however, is genuine. We might be the only country in the world where everyone collectively begins and ends their sentences with the word “Sorry.”. I’ve apologized to everything from plexiglass to bike racks out of habit, and have uncomfortably held doors for people who are still across the parking lot. We aren’t saying sorry or doing nice things because it’s polite or it’s courteous. We are doing it because we care. People mistake our unwillingness to become aggressive as being nice. Make no mistake; nice people don’t burn down other people’s houses, defecate in its remains, and traumatize their descendants physically and emotionally in sporting activities two centuries later.
Next, Canadians are not objects. We’re not a collection of things that exist in a given expanse of land. If objectifying Canadians is the way to go, we should remember that our great people invented the cardiac pacemaker, snow-mobile, Sonar technology, Ebola vaccine, electron microscope, table hockey, egg cartons, the Robertson screw, and even the caulking gun. Most importantly, Charles Banting’s discovery of insulin has saved the lives of more people on this planet than any other medical discovery in human history. Yet we never hear about these in our media and education.
So what then, do we do about Canadian identity? How do we define ourselves as a people, given the immense difficulty of trying to unite a culturally heterogenous country?
If we can summarize the Germans as beer-loving, sausage-eating and industrious technophiles and the French as proud and cultured romantics, what can we say about Canadians?
From my perspective, as a first-generation immigrant, I am proud to call ourselves the World’s Best Neighbor.
In 1939, Henry Norman Bethune visited Spain and China, where he provided front-line trauma surgery for soldiers. He brought modernized-medicine to rural villages and saved the lives of many in military conflicts far from his home. To this day, he is honored in China and Spain as a hero.
In 1957, the Suez Crisis threatened shut down the world’s economy. Then-Canadian Secretary of External Affairs (and later Prime Minister) Lester B Pearson founded the United Nations Peacekeeping Force to help resolve the issue, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for having “saved the world”. The UN Peacekeeping Force continues to provide aide and response to conflicted regions of the world. We now further our commitment to world peace by also consistently ranking as one of the top donors of international aid, providing assistance to impoverished regions and peoples of the world.
In 1988, Lawrence Lemieux gave up his second-place lead in the Olympic sailing competition to save the lives of two capsized crew members of the Singaporean team. He waited until a patrol boat picked up the Singaporean crew before continuing his race, finishing in the twenty-second place. He was awarded the Pierre de Coubertin Medal for Sportsmanship medal, an award which has been awarded to Canadians on more occasions than any other country.
In 2001, the 10,000 residents of Gander, Newfoundland took in 38 planeloads of passengers, totalling some 7,000 people, bound for the US shortly after the terrorist attack on September 11. For the next five days, the residents of this remote Newfie town would open their homes and town to house, feed, and receive stranded travelers who could not return home.
But we don’t just need big events and big names to exemplify us either. A police officer pretending to be disabled whilst working undercover found that the homeless community was doing everything they could to protect him. Canadian traffic stops are more like your neighbour checking in on you than a militarized take down. And we shipped five tons of maple syrup gathered from across the country to thank someone who helped us. You never have to worry about being in a bad situation if you are in this neighbourhood, because someone will always be there to help you.
Despite your political leanings or views on any of these accomplishments, our collective native or adopted-home of Canada is one with a history of loyalty, generosity, and selflessness. These are the values that made me appreciate this country more than any other in the world. These are the values I want to teach my children and exemplify when I am traveling the world. Nothing makes the world a better place than teaching people to care for and love each other.
Our national leaders feel that because of our multi-culturalism, finding an identity for us is difficult. But even if many of us don’t speak the same language, or have the same customs, I am certain that the values of being the World’s Best Neighbor transcends all cultures, borders, and boundaries.
I want to end this article with this particular video that brings me to tears every time. I thank this country for having accepted me as one its own, and I am proudly Canadian.