Thinking about Canada Day

CN: Mentions of Genocide

On Monday July 1, we celebrated Canada Day.

In a lot of ways, this day is really an excuse to have a BBQ, drink a bunch, and go see some fireworks. While you will get people dressing up in red and white and waving flags, possibly singing the national anthem, as often as not most probably aren’t even completely sure what specific event is being commemorated.

This year however, amid all the bustle of helping prepare the home for guests, I found myself spending a lot of time thinking about what exactly it is we have been celebrating.

For a lot of people, Canada is a refuge. Countless families have made their start here escaping oppression, hostile governments, and economic strife. People from war torn nations come here to get a fresh start and fall in love with their adopted country.

My own family fits this narrative. My parents came here from Communist-Era Poland after rumours reached my father that his name had made it onto the blacklists for his involvement in the Solidarność (Solidarity) movement. My mother was moved to tears this weekend every time she heard the Canadian Anthem.

For them, Canada fit the narrative of a nation of freedom and opportunity.

Yet, for so many others, Canada not only doesn’t represent that ideal, but actually the exact opposite.

The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, recently released their final report in which among other declarations stated outright that the treatment of Indigenous peoples met the criteria of a genocide.

The report was met with mixed reactions ranging from denial and refusal to accept the findings on the part of many government officials and civilians, to validation and great sorrow on the parts of many indigenous people themselves. For many, these findings didn’t come as a shock, since it only confirmed the evidence of their own experiences and observations.

The report is not alone either, Amnesty International, and the UN have for some time been critical of the treatment of indigenous peoples in Canada, calling out the continued historical and present-day crimes.

Over the past few days, news has been trickling out about a Native couple in Manitoba, whose 90-minute old child was taken from them by a child services organization on accusations of neglect. These were new parents, where the mother in question had just undergone a C-section delivery.

For all that C-Sections are relatively common these says, they’re still major surgery that involves a significant incision along the abdomen. Recovery on average takes from 4-6 weeks and those who have undergone the procedure are often kept in hospital for up to 4 days to monitor incision site, post-op pain, infection possibilities, and so forth. For the first several hours after the surgery, the mother is unable to walk while the spinal block or epidural wears off. If she received any type of sedation, she may still be working off it’s effects. Even after a vaginal birth, it often takes several hours to get over the physical trauma of delivery. It’s hard on the body and it takes times to recuperate.

During this time, nurses and hospital staff monitor the baby and its vitals, make sure they’re taken care of, kept clean, and occasionally will bring the child in to the mother’s room to bond. It’s not uncommon for the first few hours post delivery, for the mom and baby to not even be in the same room while the delivering parent recovers from the trauma of the birth process. The parents meanwhile, can feel secure in knowing their newborn is receiving all care necessary while recovery happens.

So when exactly in these 90 minutes between surgery/birth and the government kidnapping of Baby H did the neglect happen?

It was later revealed that the whole basis for the removal of the child was nurses concern stemming from their own bias. The hospital staff assumed the family was homeless and unable to care for the child, and with no attempts at ascertaining the truth, they made a complaint to the child welfare agency. Worse still, the agency made no attempt to follow up on these assumptions to confirm it one way or another, they simply decided to seize the child. When you consider how often actually abused children from non-indigenous families are left with their abusers due to a lack of strong enough evidence, it really brings home the double standard that exists within these agencies.

Here was a wanted child with parents who were able and willing to meet its needs, and yet their being Indigenous was enough of a justification for the agency to act. It was enough of a justification for the agency to impose restrictions on the parents regarding having to have a family member live with them before they could get their child back, despite clear evidence that there had been no valid reason for the initial removal of the child.

This story has, not a happy ending, but at least a better one than most, when the agency was finally forced to return the illegally seized, aka kidnapped, child to their parents. In reality, this ending is more the result of there being any media attention whatsoever.

Whenever stories like these come up, the response of the general public is often horror softened by the certainty that this is a rare occurrence.  Yes it’s Horrible, they might say, but it doesn’t happen often. It’s an isolated incident, not an indication of a systemic or ongoing problem.

The reality however, is different. Rather than being rare, this type of action is common enough that I’ve heard indigenous people say that if they have to give birth in Canada, they will opt for a home birth, preferably with few knowing they’re even pregnant. Because that way they had a better chance of getting to keep their child.

In 2017, 87% of the children seized by the Province of Manitoba were indigenous children, with most of those kept in custody of the state for over 12 months, which allows them to be fast tracked for adoption. 87% when Indigenous people make up under 7% of the total population of Manitoba.

It’s so common, that this along with a list of other occurrences as the report previously mentioned, that it qualifies as genocide. And it is happening right now.

We have a tendency to assume genocides look like the Holocaust or what happened in Rwanda, but the truth is that even those better-known examples didn’t look like we assume they did. The camps didn’t have giant displays calling them death camps. They were officially work camps and prison camps for Prisoners of War. The original gas chambers were built to help “humanely euthanize” the disabled in the name of mercy and harm reduction paired with saving the state and the people money by no longer supporting those unable to contribute to the state.

They were isolated and kept away from where civilians could come across them by accident. In fact, the areas surrounding the camps were themselves restricted from access to civilians and unauthorized individuals. They were surrounded with great secrecy for all that inside the occurrences and deaths were meticulously documented.

The main reason that word got out about what was happening in those camps was because of resistance fighters who got themselves intentionally imprisoned so they could document what was happening and then escape with that information, and because of the very few number of prisoner escapees who were able to inform the Allied Forces of what was going on. Even with that information, freeing the camps was never considered a driving factor or priority. Most of the general public had little to no clue as to what was happening, or rather knew little enough to feel comfortable ignoring it since it would likely not impact them directly.

Many of the children gone missing from Jewish families, were not killed but if they had the right characteristics were adopted out to “Good German Families.” These were children often too young to remember that they had ever belonged to any other culture and tradition. Many no longer had families to claim them after the war and so how many continue not knowing that they have a different heritage that they can belong to. How many were taught to hate what they are?

Forced abandonment, either through direct means such as kidnapping, or by creating circumstances that are more likely to result in mental illness and disability and so seemingly create legitimate means, creates deep scars on entire families, and which last generations. By severing ties to community and family, it makes it harder for the community itself to continue as traditions such as art, language, culture, religions and ideologies, get lost when there is no one to receive their teaching.

This is what is happening, while we sit in our backyards drinking and BBQing celebrating the system that is doing this.

Part of what makes this so difficult is that both sides of Canada are true. For a great many people, this is the land of freedom and a safe haven from what they knew before. But even while that remains true, the fact is that the land of genocide is also true.

Canadians, we like to pride ourselves on being better. Better than the states, more peaceful, less fearful, healthier, but this has seemingly given us license for any number of horrible actions that are ignored. Racism, when it happens, is excused of not being as bad as what happens in the states, and in so doing, no one ever has to do anything about it yet.

Bit by bit, the injustices become more and more mainstream until they seem mundane, like just the way things are rather than something we’ve allowed to happen.

There is no single crossroad that people cross that turns the corner from place of justice to place of injustice. Rather it is thousands of little crossroads and some bigger ones. A big one coming up both in Canada and the US is the election. And I am afraid. I am afraid because up till now Canada has lost a lot of the contests for its soul, and the price is paid in blood.

Regardless of your political leanings, or your historical associations, there are certain truths that we cannot ignore. We have members of major parties actively courting organizations and actively accepting the support of Organizations that are known to have White Supremacist leanings. Already we are seeing huge rises in discriminatory policies that harm various minority groups being discussed and proposed in political arenas by those in power.

We have people in power who are actively working to turn back policies that have promoted acceptance or at least sort of worked at starting to correct historical oppressions. We have people who have actively stated disregard for certain groups or others to the point of being disposable. We have people lying in order to insight bad feelings towards vulnerable populations.

With the Political reality in the US, in Ontario, in Alberta and other parts of Canada, we can’t afford to let this big crossroad lead us further down this path, we need to stop the genocide happening right now within our own borders and work towards making this a safe haven for all those needing to flee their own.

We need to work on making this the place we want to celebrate, otherwise, we must face the truth of the fact that any moment of freedom we experience is paid for in someone else’s blood.




Thinking about Canada Day

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