Today is Canada Day but, eternally stuck in the past, I must recall what happened four days ago - last Sunday. (OR, at least, this chronology would make sense, since I wrote this on Canada Day, four days ago...argh...still no internet at home, kids, bear with me and my wonky timeline.)
Drawn in like moths to a flaming police cruiser, thousands of spectators came in from the suburbs of Toronto to see what all this protesting was about - among them my brother, a former foot soldier turned women’s major from York University.
The massive international attention of the G20 summit meant that anyone with any sort of cause was out, armed with signs and rhyming slogans. A group of Hasidic Jews protested Israel. Another group of Hasidic Jews protested the Hasidic Jews protesting Israel. Yiddish insults were vaulted back and forth. And the police, seemingly absent the day before and only too happy to sacrifice shop windows and vehicles to angry mobs, were suddenly everywhere with militant force.
Black-clad in riot gear, a line of police officers halted the progression of protesters. The protesters protested, as protesters do. But then another flank of officers approached from behind the group, blocking them in, and leaving the protesters and spectators with nowhere to go. My mother, hearing this, thought of the Tiananmen square massacre - the news of which ruined her birthday some 20 years ago.
Caught in between in an ever-shrinking space, the civilians banded together in fear and confusion. Groups like this existed throughout the city, bordered in on all sides, held for hours in the rain. Some hoped to be arrested, fearing tear gas. Plain clothed officers roamed the city, grabbing civilians and throwing them into vans, breaking into houses to arrested suspected protesters and those with affiliations with groups deemed dangerous. Suspects, many of whom were simply outside on their way to work, were held without charge for days at a time.
My brother saved a boy from being trampled by charging officers on horseback. He said his legs hurt, from all the running. And surrounded by riot gear, he and the civilians he was trapped with decided, together, to sing ‘O Canada.’
I can’t say I would have joined in.
People, no doubt, were thinking about the Canada that used to be progressive in civil liberties; the Canada which, while fiscally conservative, was rated consistently as one of the most livable and socially responsible countries in the world, where human rights and human dignity were valued in a way which other countries admired and wished to emulate. They were thinking of the Canada of Trudeau, of universal healthcare, of Peace Keepers and bilingualism and care for ailing brethren.
Well, even the USA has universal healthcare, now, and Canada’s fallen behind Scandinavian competitors of many, if not most, of the factors which used to make it a symbol of democracy and human rights. Our minority government is the most conservative in decades, and, to add insult to injury, our monarch, the Queen of England, has decided to visit to remind us all that we’re still under British Empirical Rule...an indignity that India sloughed off decades ago.
Child soldiers being tortured in Guantanamo Bay, despite courts telling our Prime Minister that it is against Canadian and International Law...Internationally praised safe-injection sites universally deemed a medical and fiscal success, which the federal government keeps trying, in increasingly convoluted ways, to shut down...Children being trampled by marauding police, who apparently have limitless power and no recourse...and the Queen of England, spending Canadian tax dollars to shovel piles of dirt on pre-planted trees.
That’s Canada, to me. Canada, true North, great white, a rapidly disappearing image of its former self, like a snowman too late in the spring. That’s my home and native land. Though, it should be noted, that several impoverished aboriginal women always sing the lyrics to this hymn as ‘Home and White-man’s land,’ speaking to the realities of Canada's not-so-glorious past, continued on today.
Happy Canada Day, chums.