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Twenty Years Later, Things Have Only Gotten Worse

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This column on which this blog entry is based was originally published in April of 2003,and I am deeply disappointed by how much farther down this road we have come in the almost twenty years since:

I generally like Don Cherry. I’m amused by his bombast and impressed by his knowledge of hockey. But I don’t always agree with the things he says and this week he rubbed me the wrong way. During an interview on an American radio program, he made reference to “true” Canadians, implying that anyone who did not share his point of view was somehow maple-leaf-deficient.

So who are these “true” Canadians, as described by Cherry? He says they are outside Quebec and onside with the American effort in Iraq. Simple as that. Several callers to our radio show this week agreed, some suggesting Prime Minister Jean Chretien doesn’t qualify on the basis of his French-Canadian background and apparent French-European sympathies. Others defended Chretien as the embodiment of Canadian independence, standing up to those American bullies as he did (their words, not mine). How much more “true” to the true north strong and free could you be, they asked?

Between these two extremes lie the bulk of Canadians who are watching history unfold in Iraq and wondering where Canada’s proper place is. Does their confusion mean they are somehow less “true” to Canadian values than someone whose mind is made up? I don’t think so. The war has created a new level of anger in this country, an even deeper divide than is normal in our politically-fractured society, as the heated discussions over Cherry’s comments illustrate. Anti-war protesters equate support for the Americans and British as war-mongering and neo-imperialism, and loudly proclaim their displeasure. 

Pro-American Canadians resent their anti-war fellow countrymen as ill-informed or gonadally under-equipped. They are particularly incensed by any suggestion that by not opposing the war, they are condoning the deaths of innocent Iraqis. I could spend the rest of this column (and probably most of the newspaper) discussing the salient points of each argument but there’s a larger issue here than whose side you’re on and why. Somewhere along the way toward defending Canadian values (whatever you perceive them to be), we’ve lost one of our great Canadian virtues — tolerance of the opinions of others, one of those things we trumpet loudly when asked to define what makes us Canadian. 

There’s an old saying that truth is the first casualty of war, but the conflict in Iraq had another early victim in this country — that same tolerance of which we are normally so justifiably proud. And it has to be revived. There is no place in this country for the kind of thinking that led to a kids’ hockey team from the U.S. being booed in Montreal, or for the pitiful display of nasty name-calling and worse that has passed for Parliament recently.

There is particularly no room for the Don Cherrys or the Jean Chretiens to lay claim to the title of “true” Canadians based on their own narrow viewpoints. I am reminded of the words of Winston Churchill: ” A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.” Exactly, and that kind of intransigence is the last thing we need in this country right now, from Cherry, Chretien or anyone else.

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I am very interested in your thoughts on this issue, whether you agree with me or not. The more we all know about every side of an issue, the better. Thanks.

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