By Paris Jefferson
Think you know Canada? Think it is full of smiling people and fluffy white mountains? Think again. Canada doesn’t get much of a look in with its’ famous cousin below hogging all the limelight, but here are a few facts that might surprise.
Canada is one of the top ten economies in the world. In the last five years over one million new jobs have been added, with the lowest unemployment rate in fifty years. Canada prides itself on being labour friendly, inclusive, respectful of diversity and very supportive of its indigenous population. It also invented peacekeeping. But Canada has a quiet dark side.
Last June the federally funded National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls concluded that the thousands of missing Indigenous women of the last three decades is a Canadian genocide. That’s right, genocide. The report concludes that: “genocide is the sum of the social practices, assumptions, and actions detailed in this report. The national inquiry’s findings support characterising these acts, including violence against indigenous women and girls, as genocide."
A supplemental report adds that “Canada has displayed a continuous policy, with shifting expressed motives but an ultimately steady intention, to destroy indigenous peoples physically, biologically, and as social units, thereby fulfilling the required specific intent element.” Indigenous women and girls go missing to this day.
In the meantime the nation within a nation, Quebec, passed Bill 21 in June last year which prohibits the wearing of religious symbols, specifying face coverings, in government jobs such as police officers, lawyers, judges and teachers. If you already have a job in these government sectors and wear a hijab or turban then you are exempted, as long as you never receive a promotion. Many argue this bill unfairly targets Muslims who make up just 3% of the province’s population but who suffer 58% of the hate crimes.
For a PM who espouses Canadian values to the rest world, genocide and Bill 21 successfully undermines this. Decades earlier, however, Canada did successfully espouse these values.
In 1957, the Canadian Foreign Minister, Lester B. Pearson, won the Noble Peace Prize for his pioneering vision of troops for peacekeeping. He helped establish a UN force to prevent the Suez Crisis from escalating into a global confrontation. Had Pearson been alive today he may be dismayed to know that Canada now has a total of 45 active UN peacekeeping troops worldwide, enough to fill a school bus. As of October 2019 the UN website ranked Canada behind Zimbabwe, Vietnam, Slovakia, Sierre Leone, Rwanda, Namibia, El Salvador and Nepal, who alone supplies a whopping 5,685 active peacekeeping troops.
Prior to this Canada was no slouch in international military efforts. In the First World War Canada had ten per cent of its population serving in the military - 700,000 out of a population of seven million. And in the Second World War Canada had over 1 million, again ten per cent of its population. They also had significant numbers in the former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan.
What Canada currently lacks internationally in peacekeeping it makes up for in some way nationally with the extraordinary Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, the first museum for human rights in the world. Designed by Antoine Predock and opened in 2014, the museum is a multi-award winning museum both for its’ architecture and exhibitions, with the ethos “to promote respect for others, and to encourage reflection and dialogue.” Predock describes the building as “carved into the earth and dissolving into the sky” whose theme is the great and vast Canadian landscape.
And one of the greatest choreographers of our times, Crystal Pite, is Canadian. In 2015, 2017 and 2018 Pite won three Olivier Awards for her choreography, and in 2017 the Prix Benoit de la Dance, one of the most prestigious ballet competitions in the world. If you haven’t seen Pite’s astonishing work, it is worth making that a New Year’s Resolution. With the written word provided by Jonathan Young, Pite and Young bring the brilliant productions of Bettroffenheit and Revisor to the stage which combine dance that reiterates performed and pre-recorded dialogue.
And if all that makes you want to reach for a glass of wine look no further than Canada’s Okanagan Region with over 200 wineries, one of which is the stunning Mission Hill, a kind of modern-day palatial Spanish villa. With bold architectural lines, and world-class art scattered about, Mission Hill is something of a surprise. Overlooking the Okanagan Lake, which is the size of a sea, their wines have reached international acclaim, and the winery, designed by Tom Kundig, was listed in Architectural Digest as one of the top wineries in the world.
Canada doesn’t have the inclination to shout too loudly about its failures and successes. It can continue to be a fairly insular country under the radar, with a friendly country below and a frozen landscape above, but one day soon that will change. As the north-west passage melts due to climate change, both China and Russia have built approximately twenty naval vessels including icebreakers focused on the north, and the USA has openly declared that it does not recognise the passage as Canadian, even though it is well within Canadian waters. Canada has something that the rest of the world wants: a shortcut across the oceans, and this will bring it into the limelight whether it likes it or not.
Paris Jefferson is an award-winning actor, photographer and writer living in Canada.