I would never have guessed that commenting on an apology (yes, yet another) by a Canadian politician would lead me to a remarkable discovery: that Canada is a country where its majority feels silenced.
It began when I impulsively submitted a commentary to the National Post, which the newspaper published three weeks ago. In it, I marvelled at the absurdity of the endless hand-wringing in Canadian society over real as well as imagined sins committed by preceding generations. I noted that I was particularly concerned because my sons were both at school in Canada. And I feared they would absorb by osmosis the ideology and tropes of a “woke” culture that weakens our intellect and corrodes our character. I pulled no punches, at one point writing that, “Every week seems to bring a new episode in the unending TV series that should be called ‘Canada’s Got Stupid!’”
A commentary submitted to the National Post led Gourav Jaswal to an astonishing realization that Canada no longer hears its own majority.
Yet, I still didn’t anticipate the blizzard of reactions. Comments posted online exceeded 800 in just 48 hours, although this was not atypical given the Post’s highly-engaged audience. The real wonder for me were the emails, dozens and dozens that eventually totalled over 28,000 words.
The voices on email moved me, for they were entirely authentic: anguished voices, anxious voices, angry voices, tired voices. A wounded army veteran, a renowned chef, a refugee, a young B.C. dairy farmer, a provincial government minister, émigré Canadians resident in Italy, Costa Rica and Florida. Most of what they had to say was surprisingly resonant with my own views. Of course, a few people were virulently opposed. Like the one who summarized my work in 10 words: “This is the stupidest article I have ever read. Congratulations!”
But no matter what they said, the voices in my Inbox seemed more authentic than those that dominate social media. These are perhaps not the largest in number or the wisest, but they are definitely the loudest, shrillest and most combative. I was amazed at how so many people (overwhelmingly, native-born Canadians) feel silenced. And how happy they were that someone with my ethnicity spoke out, because they would be crushed under social opprobrium if they voiced what they felt.
So, I thought that the voices which also speak for Canada – but usually go unheard – should have a chance to speak in their own words.
I was touched deepest by stories from people whose families built across generations the Canada that much of the world admires today – and that millions of Canadians still love. Like the retired schoolteacher who wrote:
“My grandparents came over just after the Irish Ghost ships over a century ago. A full 1/3 of the 200,000 immigrants were dead within a year. And in the early 1900’s, orphans from Ireland were adopted by prairie families, to work the farms. I guess Colonialism ain’t cracked-up to be what some say.
I have the ‘privilege’ of grandparents and parents who fought in both world wars, and lived through a depression. Living in an immigrant-majority area myself for 2 decades, I taught here for a dozen years. I met a number of wonderful neighbours, parents, and students. Of course, there were troubled and sometimes misguided individuals, but no race or culture was exempt.
But in our new post-modern era, you are either right or wrong, oppressor or oppressed, victim or success. Rarely an opportunity for respectful discussion, in a world of believed absolutes. Sadly, I no longer have a voice.”
A reader of Polish descent shared:
“I am in Canada because when my father was released from a Nazi slave labor camp, he wanted to get out of Europe. So, what’s the point of telling you this? In a strange repetition of history, I have discovered that I am now part of the great guilty white tribe and my tax dollars and contrition are required.”
An Albertan touchingly said:
“My Dad was a World War II veteran and was a very proud Canadian. If Dad was alive, he would shake your hand for this article.” After his name he added, “From Canada. One of the best countries in the world, but for how long?”
An 88-year-old woman shared her moving family history:
“My two grandmothers came to this country more than 100 years ago with eight children between them and without husbands, both of whom had died during wars. They took menial jobs to survive and feed their children, all of whom received a Grade Eight education before leaving school and going to work to help support themselves and the family.
I was born during the Great Depression and can recall my father’s desperate attempts to find work. He was too proud to take what the government called ‘Relief Payments.’ I recall how my unmarried uncles hopped on freight cars in search of work. I can recall my brother losing his hearing because his ear-drum burst due to an infection. We could not afford doctors.
It was only during the war when my father found steady employment in the armed forces that our circumstances improved. Then my parents began to save. I completed high school, trained as a nurse, worked for a couple of years in that profession, returned to school to obtain a degree [in] Nursing, married a physician, had four children, returned to school again and received a Master’s degree in Education, and finally a PhD in Psychology.
This is why I feel so strongly about this county and the opportunities it has presented to the impoverished and persecuted.”
From Mainstream to Dissident Minority
Suppression of dissenting minorities is unfortunately common around the world. Not just in dictatorial regimes like China and North Korea, but even in democracies run by heavy-handed elected leaders, such as in India, Philippines or Brazil.
Incredibly, in Canada it is people from the majority – in terms of race and religion – who seem to feel that expressing even a mildly dissenting opinion will get them denounced as “racist.” The typical result is social ostracism or damage (sometimes outright destruction) to their businesses and careers.
A lifelong resident of Vancouver who has travelled extensively wrote:
“I have seen extreme poverty and suffering in Africa and India, extreme government surveillance in China and Russia, I’ve been robbed and beaten in Thailand and Belgium, seen drugs and crime in Eastern Europe and Mexico.
Yet all of those countries have something beautiful; their people…don’t wallow in pity and whine because they don’t get anywhere doing so. You need to pick yourself up, learn your lesson and don’t make the same mistake twice.
Canada used to be like that. Now we’re too busy apologizing and throwing out the red carpet for the weakest, unstable and incapable people in society to give them a platform to criticize our nation and systems.
To speak out is social suicide. I am a business owner and I risk losing my livelihood and life’s savings if my company goes under. So, the good people remain quiet, the sick people go unchallenged, the politicians apologize and Canada is sinking-off into the sunset.”
A Regina resident who grew up in Toronto said:
“I enjoy meeting immigrants to this once great country. I want to learn why they left their homes and families and moved here and [I] never tire of hearing their stories. I’m 67 so have heard a few.
If we look through the history of most countries, each was taken over, invaded, colonized or otherwise subjugated by another race or culture. Yet it seems that Western democracies are the only ones feeling such guilt that we continually apologize for the past. The past is past, we acknowledge it, vow not to repeat it and move on.
The sad thing is that while many people in Canada feel as you and I do, we cannot speak openly about it as we are immediately labelled a ‘racist,’ a ‘white supremacist’ or ‘denier’ and all conversation screeches to a halt.”
A reader with a doctorate in Philosophy who has had a distinguished career said:
“I want to retire and travel while I still can. Poor countries are my goal. Where the people are real, because they have to be. First world problems are mostly self-created. It’s almost like people need a certain amount of adversity in their lives, and if it doesn’t come naturally then they have to make it up.”
Tension in the Household
One father from Calgary even feared a stampede in his own home:
“We have four children and, of course, we love them dearly. But at least two of them seem unwilling to read, reflect and then have a discussion that doesn’t devolve into irrational comments and name calling. Thanks for your article. I’d pass it on to our kids, except they’d accuse me of being racist!”
A mother of five children said:
“Lack of knowledge of history and of other cultures has destroyed us. In schools, they cannot teach about the downfalls of any other culture, for fear of offending people. All they do here is criticize our OWN culture. The culture which helped bring about industrialization, innovation, exploration, and education! That’s why we home-school our kids. We want them to learn the truth.”
A common sore point? The reluctance to confront empirical evidence about the origin of social ailments, despite this being an obvious pre-condition for any remedy. As one example, a Toronto resident mentioned:
“I find it especially hilarious that in Ontario, collecting crime statistics that include the ethnic origins of the perpetrator…was abolished at least 20 years ago if not earlier. Why? Because the statistics show that in certain areas, certain ethnic groups are shown to produce a higher amount of crime than others. The underlying reasons are never addressed, as that too would be racist. But collection of that is branded racist and allowed to be prevented. So much for actually dealing in facts.”
Many readers discussed the sharp edges of guilt they’re constantly made to feel, for events that happened decades before they were born. But one reader pointed out an unexpected and insidious effect of the constant drum-beat about “white privilege”:
“As a white male, I’ve become so accustomed to being labelled privileged that I’ve simply accepted that is the case. I have therefore been a most willing apologist for my ancestor’s colonial ways. But one of the drawbacks to this continual portrayal…is that it perpetuates an unconscious racism whereby you feel you truly do have some advantages. Perhaps a little smarter. A bit more industrious. More capable…it’s difficult for me to articulate this exactly.”
Other readers shared helpful perspectives about keeping racism in context, even as Canada strives to improve.
“…some Canadians are mildly racist in some small ways. It consists of the odd snarky comment made somewhere to someone. That isn’t going away…All sorts of tribes diss other tribes…Anglicans make jokes about Catholics and Priests make snarky cracks about Bishops.”
A retired public servant added:
“Were Canadians racist in the past? Yes, along with pretty much the rest of the white world. Did we learn from the campaigns to eradicate racism, sexism et al that have swept over us in the last 60 years? In my opinion, Yes. Canada still contains racists, but I think an indicator of their non-existent influence is that they have to huddle in corners talking to each other.”
The New Patriots
Emails from readers are of course not a statistically representative sample. But guess which group fiercely disputed the view that minorities in Canada are subject to indignities? Minorities themselves! The most vocal and heartfelt defence of Canada came from almost every first-generation immigrant who wrote in – whether five years in the country or 50.
One who landed just three years ago shared this:
“I’m an immigrant from Brazil, arrived here in 2018 at 35 years of age. During this entire time I have never felt the slightest racism from anyone. I have had four jobs and worked my way up to the same level I had back home. It only took me 2 years, with no connections or friends. I continue hearing about systemic racism, white privilege and colonialism, but I really cannot see this personally.”
A Sikh wrote with the directness that his community is renowned for:
“Trudeau has been apologizing for things that occurred in Canada even before it became a nation. Canadian Universities now have ‘black only’ graduation ceremonies. Kids cannot say ‘Merry Christmas’ in school…”
Another reader, whose ethnic origins are in a country adjoining the Persian Gulf, was equally frank:
“As an immigrant myself in Canada for more than 38 years, I cannot believe the level of self-loathing and fake guilt the so called ‘woke’ liberals have. As a ‘coloured’ person and humanist, I dislike this prevalent conversation.”
Another, from a twice-immigrated family, said:
“I’ve lived in Canada for forty-five years, migrating from Jamaica, where my ancestors came from Northern India. Our self-pity comes from our leaders’ desire to accommodate the world instead of building a country for Canadians.”
Another added to the criticism of the country’s leadership:
“I came to Canada at the age of 21 with $10 from then communist Czechoslovakia after Russian invasion. I struggled, learned English, got a university degree…” He started a company that was eventually sold for considerable value. Here is how he saw the process unfolding: “The slow Canadian decline probably started in the late 60’s with the election of Pierre Trudeau. The son’s only credential is his father’s pedigree. His father began the destruction of Canada, but at least he was a professor and thinker. This guy is a former drama teacher that thinks he can a run a country of some 30 million people. Not.”
At turns moving, fascinating, intriguing, thought-provoking and tough-minded, all of these notes were sincere, real, and deeply felt. A few, however, were of a decidedly lighter variety. Like the one from a renowned TV personality, who offered a helpful idea: “Mr. Jaswal, could you please move to Canada and run for Prime Minister. You’d probably win.”
Whilethat’s a thought, maybe I should set my sights a tad lower and take up another plan offered by a reader: “I think you have a gold mine with your reference to a ‘Canada’s Got Stupid’ TV show. If it became a YouTube channel…” Despite everything they are experiencing, it appears that Canadians have not lost their sense of humour.
Gourav Jaswal is an entrepreneur based in Goa, India who has founded a venture studio that has catalysed multiple profitable companies. He can be reached at [email protected].