Tag Archives: Confederation

Reflections of a Canadian abroad as Canada turns 150

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
July 1, 2017

I never thought I would end up in rural Virginia, 40 miles outside Washington, DC. Never. I never thought I would live anywhere but Canada, or anywhere other than Nova Scotia, for that matter. But there was this girl, and for the past 25 years I’ve lived on the East Coast of the United States.

The old joke is that you can never get a Canadian to talk about Canada when he’s living in Canada, nor can you get him to shut up about it once he lives outside Canada. I think about Canada a lot more these days, living in the United States where Donald Trump is president, where there is no such thing as credible gun control, where conservative legislators use religion as a tool to undermine hard-won LGBTQ rights, where people actually say things like, “I’d rather have freedom and liberty than healthcare” (whatever the hell that means – I guess that means they want the freedom to die early).

Living in a country that is in many ways so similar to, and yet so different from Canada has helped me focus my thoughts more on what it means to be a Canadian. I am well aware that people lived in the land we now call Canada far earlier than 150 years ago, and there is more than a little justification for the idea that we stole that land from them. But I also know that 150 years ago a new political entity was formed, and while we cannot forget the sins of the past, we also can’t forget what it means to be a citizen of that 150-year-old nation.

In pondering that question, my thoughts continually return to an article written by Robertson Davies, the late, great Canadian author and playwright, for the 100th anniversary of the now-defunct Saturday Night magazine. Robertson – ever the Jungian – described Americans and Canadians in this way: Americans are extroverts, Canadians are introverts. Americans tend to act before they think, while Canadians tend to think before acting.  By and large I’d say Davies’ observations ring true.

The idea that we think before we act explains a great deal of the Canadian character to me. It’s why Canada is so often seen as a humane force for good in the world. Faced with the question of immigration, for instance, Canadians tend to think, ‘how can we help?’ As a whole (and yes I do realize there are exceptions – controversial Conservative politician Kellie Leitch proves the point) we Canadians weigh our actions before we make a decision. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Americans, it’s that they just do stuff before they think about what it means in the long run. Sometimes it works – sometimes it’s brilliant. Far too often, however, it’s a disaster not only for America, but for much of the rest of the world. (Think Iraq and Afghanistan – and that’s only recently.)

On the other hand,  Canadians do overthink. Our governments are famous for this, for taking so long to “think” about a problem that the eventual solution is often ridiculous and ineffectual.

Yet as frustrating is that can be, by and large we tend to be far more tilted to the good then to the bad.

Oh, I know there’s so much more to do. The historical treatment of First Nations people is so bad it really lacks an appropriate way to describe it. My African-Canadian friends would be the first to tell you that life is not all bouquets and roses. We must fix our messed-up electoral system.  And let’s not forget that it was a Canadian who opened fire on a mosque in Québec, something that has not happened in the United States to this point in time. (Every other damn place you can think of, yeah, for sure. Americans will slaughter each other in every conceivable manner and place you can think of.)

There are many things about Canada which I’m very proud: Canada has had gay marriage for more than a decade. Canada has gun control that, by and large, works pretty well. Canada has universal healthcare (and while it may have its problems, let me tell you, speaking from personal experience, it’s way better than what they have in the United States). The way the government selects justices for the Supreme Court. The current makeup of the federal cabinet, which also has its problems, but also sends a strong signal to the rest of the world (one that was recently cited by Pres. Macron in France when he created his 50% women, 50% men cabinet). Our stance on climate change. Canada went through a constitutional crisis that would’ve driven most countries apart. Instead we ultimately made use of that most Canadian trait, compromise, and most Québecois decided that instead of separating, hanging around in Canada was a pretty good idea after all.

These days I ‘wear’ being Canadian like a comfortable old sweatshirt and a pair of faded pair jeans. It just feels natural.  It is just the way I am. I am a Canadian.

Happy Birthday, Canada! Here’s to another 150.

Copyright Tom Regan 2017

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

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Tom Regan Tom Regan is a journalist in the Washington, D.C., area. He worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92, and is a member of the advisory board of the Nieman Foundation for journalism at Harvard.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

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From fiery Alberta to North Korea, America’s genie to London’s mayor: Facts, and Opinions, this week

Flames rise in Industrial area south Fort McMurray, Alberta Canada May 3, 2016. Courtesy CBC News/Handout via REUTERS

Flames rise in Industrial area south Fort McMurray, Alberta Canada May 3, 2016. Courtesy CBC News/Handout via REUTERS

Fort McMurray: Boom, bust …burned, by Rod Nickel and Liz Hampton

A convoy of evacuees from the Canadian oil town of Fort McMurray drove through the heart of a massive wildfire guided by police and military helicopters as they sought to reach safety to the south of the burning city. “Our life is here. We will go back and rebuild,” vowed one. … read more

By Unknown - http://collectionscanada.gc.ca/ourl/res.php?url_ver=Z39.88-2004&url_tim=2014-06-25T15%3A39%3A41Z&url_ctx_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Actx&rft_dat=3592868&rfr_id=info%3Asid%2Fcollectionscanada.gc.ca%3Apam&lang=eng MIKAN no. 3592868, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4928941

Athabasca oil sands on the banks of the river, c. 1900 Photo: Collections Canada

Fort McMurray: from “black pitch” and salt to oil sands. By Brian Brennan

The story of Fort McMurray is one of long hibernation followed by rapid growth. The oilsands developments turned it from a sleepy little northern frontier town into Alberta’s most explosive boom city. But it took almost two centuries for the development to happen. The boom had been foretold from the time fur trader Peter Pond explored the region in 1778 …read more

Sadiq Khan: British dream reality for London’s first Muslim mayor, by Parveen Akhtar

In Pakistan, the chances that the son of a bus or rickshaw driver could secure a high-ranking political position in the country’s capital city are minuscule. But now, the people of London have elected Sadiq Khan – the son of an immigrant Pakistani bus driver – to be their first Muslim mayor.

The Irreconcilable Narratives of America’s South, by Ruth Hopkins, Wits Justice Project

In Montgomery the narrative of a proud confederacy is visceral and dominant and is echoed in its street names, buildings, signs and statues. But the Equal Justice Initiative, instead of protesting the display of Southern pride and honour, has started an elaborate and ambitious remembrance project that not only includes the collection of soil from sites of lynchings to remember the victims.  Alabama’s huge slave population and Montgomery’s central role in the confederacy are intimately connected. … read more

Commentary:

North Korea’s Kim rattles the bars of his cageNorth Korean leader Kim Jong Un signs a document regarding a long range rocket launch in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang February 7, 2016. REUTERS/KCNA, by Jonathan Manthorpe, International Affairs columnist

A good rule of thumb is to always be deeply suspicious of optimistic projections for the future of North Korea. There have been some rose-tinted forecasts wafting from Pyongyang this week as the Workers’ Party of Korea holds its first congress since 1980. The congress was called to endorse the leadership of Kim Jong-un, 33, who took over after the death of his father Kim Jong-il at the end of 2011. … read more

Trump has made racism and violence “OK” in the US, by Tom Regan, Summoning Orenda columnist

Donald Trump is not the real problem in the rise of racism  in the US . He is merely the catalyst. It’s his ham-handed ridiculous racism masquerading as “policy” or “outreach” that’s the problem. He has let the racist and bigoted genie out of the bottle and it won’t go back in peacefully. America needs to prepare for scenes of violence and hatred it may not have seen since the 60s in the South. … read more

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Elsewhere ….

On World Press Freedom Day, May 3,  Reporters Sans Frontieres/Reporters Without Borders launched a campaign called “Great Year for Censorship.” Its aim is to draw attention to “a deep and worrying decline in the ability of journalists to operate freely and independently throughout the world,” and especially targets leaders in 12 countries who have “trampled on media freedom and gagged journalists in various spectacular ways.”

RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index, released in April,  reveals “a climate of fear and tension combined with increasing control over newsrooms by governments and private-sector interests,” said the organization.

capture_decran_2016-05-04_a_18.31.00

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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The Irreconcilable Narratives of America’s South

By Peter Pettus - Library of Congress, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5697261

Participants, some carrying American flags, marching in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965 Photo by Peter Pettus, U.S. Library of Congress, Public Domain

By Ruth HopkinsWits Justice Project 
May 7, 2016

Montgomery was a ghost town on April 25. The streets were deserted and the banks and shops closed. Alabama celebrates Confederate Memorial Day every third Monday of April, a day when the soldiers who died fighting for the confederate states in the civil war are honoured.

Quick history recap: In 1861, the civil war started when qualleven southern states seceded and formed the Confederate States of America. This break was caused by the disagreement between free and slave states over the authority of the federal government to prohibit slavery. Montgomery became the capitol of the confederacy and Jefferson Davis the president of the Confederacy.

On Montgomery’s Capitol Hill there is a confederate monument erected in 1898 to commemorate the 122,000 Alabamians who fought for the confederacy during the civil war.

© Ruth Hopkins 2016

© Ruth Hopkins 2016

“We have honoured our ancestors,” a woman holding a confederate flag tells me when I approach the monument. Women in hoop skirts and men in civil war uniforms wander around the grounds. An old canon is parked behind an SUV. “We call out the names of soldiers – our great great great grandfathers – who died during the war.” A guy wearing a bandana with the confederate flag and a leather jacket with the same symbol nods vigorously. “We don’t refer to the civil war, but rather call it the war of Northern aggression, or the war of states. We lost the right to decide on our own matters. To this day, the federal government interferes too much in our lives.” When I ask them what kind of matters she says: “gay marriage”.  “People say we celebrate slavery, but that’s not true,” the guy with the bandana adds.

Down on the street, protesters disagree. A statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the confederacy and a slaveholder, stands in front of the Capitol – the same place where on March 25 1965 exhausted civil rights protesters, led by Martin Luther King, reached their end point. A chaotic scene is playing out in front of the building. The police are holding back members of the Black Lives Matter Movement and Black Panthers who, so a television journalist tells me, brought a gun to the protest. They argue that the confederacy was a racist organisation that aimed to preserve slavery, well into the twentieth century, when it became the signature symbol for the Klu Klux Klan and in this century, when picturesof racist killer Dylann Roof surfaced, showing him brandishing a confederate flag in one hand, a gun in the other. A police officer throws the bandana guy a bulletproof vest, which he doesn’t put on.

When Roof shot nine African American church goers in Charleston, June 2015, it sparked a movement to do away with confederate memorabilia in various states.  Alabama’s governor Robert Bentley decided to take down four confederate flags from the confederate monument. Despite many states following suit, a recent report  by the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC) still documented “1503 Confederate place names and other symbols in public spaces, both in the South and across the nation.’

Montgomery, the cradle of both the confederacy and the civil rights movement, is a patchwork of remembrance and conflicting narratives. Advocates of slavery and supporters of white supremacy are honoured alongside the struggle icons, like martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and many others, who fought against the deleterious effects of racial terror. The office of the Equal Justice Initiative in downtown Montgomery is built in a former warehouse for slaves. This fact is recorded in a marker set up outside the building. It is one of three markers that EJI had to fight to get put up. 59 similar markers around town commemorate the confederacy, but the Alabama historical association deemed EJI’s markers ‘too controversial’. The issue had to be taken up with the mayor before they could be erected. One of them, by the riverside, relates the history of the domestic slave trade and reminds the reader of a crucial fact: “Between 1808 and 1860, the enslaved population of Alabama grew from less than 40,000 to more than 435,000. Alabama had one of the largest slave populations in America at the start of the Civil War.”

Dylann Roof mugshot, by Charleston County Sheriff's Office

Dylann Roof mugshot, by Charleston County Sheriff’s Office

Down by the river, the City of Montgomery has put up panels depicting the history of the town and slavery is not mentioned once, while Montgomery’s role as the capitol of the confederacy takes up an entire panel of its own, proudly recounting that in Montgomery: “Confederate leaders sent the telegram ordering Southern troops to reduce Fort Sumter.”

Those two facts; Alabama’s huge slave population and Montgomery’s central role in the confederacy are intimately connected, says Bryan Stevenson, the director of EJI: “The civil war could have been stopped and tens of thousands of lives could have been saved if the federal government had been prepared to say, you can have slavery.”

Openly honouring slavery and slaveholders would not sit well with many people, so the narrative around the civil war changed, says Stevenson. People who initially were called insurgents and traitors were reframed as honourable. “If there were no black people in the state of Alabama, we wouldn’t have this kind of romantic view of the confederacy. They use this fight that started during the civil war, as a way to continue the fight against reconstruction, to fight against land, wealth and equality for black people, to fight against voting rights, to fight against integration, to fight against racial equality and that fight needs a narrative of the honouring the people who were engaged in resistance.” The SPLC points out in their report, that there were two periods in the South were the dedication to Confederate symbols spiked, during the first two decades of the twentieth century, when the Jim Crow laws were introduced and in the sixties, during the civil rights movement.

While the crowd on the hill looks harmless and a little bit hideous in their historical outfits, it is anything but a quirky habit of amateur historians, warns Stevenson. “It would be the same if you said, you know we should create a new narrative about the Second World War, the Nazis weren’t bad, they weren’t evil, they were dedicated, they were committed to Germany and we should celebrate them and honour them. Hitler was just passionate, he was committed to Germany and we should respect him.”

In Montgomery the narrative of a proud confederacy is visceral and dominant and is echoed in its street names, buildings, signs and statues. But EJI, instead of protesting the display of Southern pride and honour, has started an elaborate and ambitious remembrance project that not only includes the collection of soil from sites of lynchings to remember the victims. It also encompasses a museum that is currently being constructed at the back of EJI’s building, dedicated to the evolution of slavery into mass incarceration, as well as a memorial monument that is going to be built to remember victims of lynchings.  EJI has bought the land and enlisted the help of an architectural firm. During the annual benefit dinner in New York, Stevenson presented a video of the project. Columns representing people who died from lynchings, slowly become suspended from above, evoking the ‘strange fruit’ hanging from trees. The columns will be filled with soil from the towns and cities where the lynchings took place and. These towns will be offered the opportunity to take the column and display it as their own remembrance, thus ensuring the narrative of pain and suffering is not forgotten.

Copyright Ruth Hopkins 2016

Ruth Hopkins is spending two and a half months in the United States with the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery and the Marshall Project in New York, investigating the similarities between issues facing both the American and South African criminal justice systems.  This story was originally published by the Wits Justice Project, and is republished here with permission.

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RuthHopkins-FAORuth Hopkins is a senior journalist with the Wits Justice Project in Johannesburg, South Africa. She wrote a book on trafficking in women in/to Europe, which was published in 2005 (Ik laat je nooit meer gaan, I will never let you go again), based on five years of research in Albania, Bulgaria, Ukraine and the Netherlands.

In addition to her journalistic work, Ruth set up and taught a human rights course at a journalism college in the Netherlands. Ruth was named print Legal Journalist of the Year by Webber Wentzel 2011 – 2014.

Read more of Ruth Hopkin’s work on F&O here.

 

 

 

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