I cannot tell you how many times I wished that Styrofoam food containers would disappear. Call it a pet peeve but it goes beyond that. They leach harmful (albeit slow-acting and invisible) endocrine disruptors in the food stored in them, they are non-recyclable and indestructible, and one too many can be seen lying around parks or washing on river shores once the humans that emptied them have long left the scene.
It’s the day after fireworks and music and food trucks, the day when small glittery plastic maple leaves lie forgotten in the grass where yesterday’s crowds gathered to celebrate Canada Day.
Happy for many, the celebration has been controversial and painful for others. Indigenous people, who brought their peaceful protest all the way to Ottawa, spoke of broken treaties and basic human rights such as access to clean water that are sorely missing in some parts. There are 150 First Nations communities with water advisories in place, 71 of them in place for more than a year now, according to EcoJustice, Canada’s largest environmental law charity.
The reasons that First Nations held back from joining the celebratory parties going on across the country lie in the reality they carry with them. There are one too many trauma-laden communities where substance abuse, violence, teen suicides and poverty are part of daily life, and there is much delay and lack of action in bringing closure to families who are still mourning their missing and murdered sisters, mothers, and daughters. There are too many places where a small First Nations community attempts to fight for their right to live off the land the way they always have, against large corporations, mostly concerning gas or oil explorations. Yes, there are some big conversations to be had, and, as they say, what better time than now.
Before brushing over their demeanour and concerns with the party pooper brush, let’s just pause for a second and think about this. When they speak, they do so hoping that their voices will be heard and their concerns addressed. People whose ancestors roamed this country far and wide and have had much of their life altered by the waves of people who settled here, and people whose immediate ancestors have been through the unimaginable pain of having their children taken away (or they themselves are those children,) decided to speak against the consensus of celebrating the 150th birthday of Canada.
To have the freedom to speak up is a wonderful thing. There is a reminder for all of us. To hold the hope that your words and your message will be listened to, is a compliment that speaks highly of what Canada is today. Here’s to hoping that one day soon, these issues that may seem uncomfortable to deal with, but are what many Indigenous people live through, will all be behind us and another big round Canada Day celebration will have us all join in without any reservations.
Canada is a beautiful place to be, not just landscape-wise. It is a place where many new-comers find a home and they marvel at how ‘at home’ they feel shortly after arriving. Canadians are, for the most part a friendly bunch. More so in some parts of the country than in others, some would say, but that is the story that has to do more with people in general, rather than any of our co-nationals in particular.
There are many reasons why Canada is to be loved and celebrated. And then there is much to work on, and that can only make our country better for everyone. It is easy to smile when you have nothing to frown about. But Canada is, as we know and we claim it to be, a place of inclusivity. To shun those who bring their concerns, pains, and frustrations over many injustices, would be wrong and against what we stand for.
Understanding that all the grievances are, in fact, opportunities to start a dialogue that will bring long overdue changes can take us all towards a better future. Allowing people who have been here for longer than 150 years to be recognized as an essential part of Canada as we know it today, that is also overdue and dignifying for everyone.
Truth invites to openness of minds, hearts and understanding of each other’s values. That is what makes a nation strong and proud. As my late friend Richard Wagamese, award-winning writer and journalist, and proud Ojibway from the Wabasseemoong First Nation in northeast Ontario, once said ‘It is a big word, reconciliation. Quite simply, it means to create harmony. You create harmony with truth and you build truth out of humility.’
I hold a strong belief that, past shadows, and resentment, asking ourselves what it means to be Canadian will take us to where truth resides. If we choose to see it, we are better for it. Happy Canada Day and beyond!
*At the time of this writing, Desmog Canada is reporting that the Supreme Court of Canada has refused to hear an appeal brought forth by two First Nations, West Moberly and Prophet River, concerning the possible infringement on their constitutional treaty rights should the Site C megaproject be built in the Peace River Valley. The appeal was filed following the federal government refusal to address the possible treaty rights infringement at the time when a Joint Review Panel looked at the adverse affects of building Site C.
Originally published as a column in NewsKamloops on December 11, 2015.
I remember the first time I visited Kamloops. It was mid-summer: dusty, hot and the air was heavy. There was no ocean breeze to wrestle the heat down, but the river, slow moving and steady, was long with its row of trees a welcome refuge and an open invitation we’ve been honoring since.
Two months later our family landed here, and since that day, the river has been a faithful companion to our many adventures.
We canoed up and down the two rivers that meet forming a beautiful line separating the dark blue South Thompson from the silty northern arm, we got to see baby geese following their parents in a line that was as cute as was orderly; we saw foxes and ducks and sunsets galore, we fed gracious swans in mid-winter when the river decorates the sandy shores in icy lace ad wondered at their beauty.
We go swimming every summer night, and we walk alongside the shores in fall and winter. I met my best friend by the river and each stroll we take stopping every now and then to pick rocks and listen to the lapping sounds, reinforces not only our friendship but also my bond with the mysterious ribbon of water that carries too many stories to tell, too obvious to not see…
One of the stories was revealed this summer during our trip through the Kootenays when we happened by a small but well-appointed museum in Invermere where the boys and us adults learned more of David Thompson, the man who the First Nations knew as ‘the Star-gazer’ due to his passion for navigation, the man after which our North Thompson River was named.
We saw his writing and our eyes followed the contours of his words as he was describing the very places we go by when we visit the river. We stepped back in time and were filled with reverence for the gift of learning more of him.
David Thompson is the man who single-handedly mapped almost 50,000 miles of unchartered territory in Western Canada, a tremendous effort that was acknowledged long after his death, which unfortunately saw him poor and blind. Muriel Poulton Dunford, author of ‘North River – The Story of BC’s North Thompson Valley and Yellowhead Highway 5’ tells it all and more.
A man of high moral values and solid principles, David Thompson more than deserves to have his name gracing the rivers that have been the lifeblood of many communities since long ago. One of our homeschooling goals is to learn the history of Canada, British Columbia in particular, and focus long enough on our Thompson-Nicola region. We live here, therefore we should.
I am hoping and wanting that the boys’ love for their country and its history, young as it is if we are to refer for now to the explorers and traders (but that would be tremendously unfair), will only be enhanced as we learn of all those whose steps preceded ours.
A recent perusal through the news of the day revealed a Vogue photo shoot that features our PM and his wife. Though charming and sweet as a couple, I believe the PM’s place may not be a suitable one in a fashion magazine.
I have much admiration for people who go through ups and downs during their marriage and openly show their love for each other nonetheless, yet I could not help but feel that having such glamour imparted to our PM Justin Trudeau and his wife rather steals people’s attention from where it should go, making them focus on something that has little relevance to our present day history.
As they say, noblesse oblige. In the days of coming together as a nation to face humanitarian crises and honour promises that will help the environment worldwide, we need the sense of reverence towards our leaders and people of influence, rather than the short-lived admiration of beautiful people featured in fashion magazines.
Some may argue that love is beautiful and that is true and more, but I’d say that what we need nowadays as we are engaging on a journey led by a new PM, is respect and unflinching trust that we are to be led in the direction of mature leadership.
We need to learn of our history, we need to teach our children of it too, all of it and accurately so, dark times included, so that we can become the democratic, critical but at the same time respectful soundboard for the activities that our leaders conduct on a daily basis. A feedback loop that all democracies need in order to exist as such. Such a job requires knowledge of the past, a vision of the future and a steady arm to take us through the occasional tough present.
Our history is imbued with examples of inspirational people. Whether we learn of rivers or battles won and lost, of daring explorers who left behind so much that nowadays we take for granted, we need to never forget. We need to be able to trust that our leaders will continue to inspire us as we walk the many paths Canada opens before our eyes.
Originally published as a column in the AM News on Friday, September 19, 2014.
On September 12, 2014 the controversial Canada-China Foreign Investment and Promotion Agreement (FIPA) was ratified by the Harper government in a secretive manner, blatantly unbecoming of its important nature and long term consequences. Harsh criticism by many, loud accusations of a major sellout and the chills of having our country’s values betrayed once again by a government that seems to forget its true mission, that is all part of the package.
The sad part is that few knew about it until it happened. It makes one wonder how much of what is important to our well-being as a democratic country we know and how much do we have a say in.
The Hupacasath First Nations legally challenged the treaty in a Court of Law when it was first announced in 2012, arguing that such an agreement violates the constitutional rights of Aboriginal people. While the case managed to delay the signing of the treaty, it did not stop it. Nor did the solid facts provided by Osgoode law professor and global authority on investment trade deals and international arbitration panels, Gus Van Harten, in a letter to the Prime Minister, urging him to reconsider the terms of a deal that he deems unfair to Canada.
Yet a strange level of secrecy made the treaty seem almost surreal to the busy citizens like you and me wrapped in the stress of everyday life. Some news outlets announced it, some did not, and overall it did not get a front seat with the major media outlets because… well, because it didn’t.
Media and us people relying on it for the daily newsfeed, function in a form of an awkward symbiosis: it’s not the truly worthy news that get the front page because they are not entertaining enough to most people, and the few to whom they are cannot bring up the numbers in a way that counts, financially speaking. More often than not, people want glimpses of celebrities lives, whether they are ill, get married, have babies or die. Sad but true, and double-edged sword; we can shape our society with our choices but do we exercise them the right way? If we don’t someone will make them for us. The very topic of this column is one sad example.
Among other things, the treaty in question gives way to Chinese investors to challenge and possibly even change Canadian laws, should existing laws happen to interfere with their investment plans. Worse yet, lawsuits to address that will not be decided in a court of law in Canada but abroad. ‘Hands off’ never sounded more threatening to a country, its constitution, natural resources and ultimately, its democratic values.
To not know the implications of such an agreement because we were not presented with it before a decision was made should make us wonder about how the upcoming elections should turn out. Being in charge of a country that has so much potential is no light deed. Understanding that today’s decisions shape our children’s tomorrow should make one stand in awe of it and ask themselves: do I really have what it takes?
The Canada-China Investment Treaty has just become the argument that it takes a lot more to keep our national dignity intact. Unlike other investment treaties, the terms are extremely unfavourable to Canada, and there is a high risk of future lawsuits that, should we lose, might just see us pay our sanctions in natural resources and large sums of money.
But… it’s a done deal and so it will be for the next 31 years, with a 15-year minimum term. Toss it and turn it on all sides, that’s a long time to be locked in any form of agreement, more so when your treaty partner has a clear upper hand.
In a democratic society, this kind of agreement should’ve taken all pro and cons arguments in, from all members of parliament and from the general public. None of that happened.
The press release that accompanied the signing also mentions the sectors of interests for the Chinese companies that want to invest in Canada: mining, oil and gas extraction. If you’re still rattled by the Northern Enbridge pipeline indignity, the treaty will seem more lugubrious than ever because once October starts (treaty comes in effect starting October 1), who knows what lies ahead.
We should not oppose treaties, far from that. Our history is witness that treaties work; they helped build Canada into what it is today. If we play it right and fair, if we keep it good for Canada. If our democratic values and sovereignty are respected by the leaders who oversee the signing of any treaty, our leaders that is, then other countries will sign their part knowing that we do not sell anything, but trade.
Advantageous to both parties, that’s how treaties are defined. History has plenty of examples of fair treaties (two-sided, benefiting both parties) and then plenty of examples of unfair ones (one-sided). We’re old enough to know the difference.
Fairness and transparency are never to be taken for granted, and no treaty signed by our government should, at any point in time, give anyone the impression that Canada is for sale when it’s not.