On Allegations of Libel

I believe very strongly in free speech. I believe, without a doubt, that without freedom of speech, we would be in a much worse place.

Freedom of speech is what lets you disagree and voice that disagreement. It’s what lets you have an opinion, it’s what lets you debate. I would argue that all freedoms derive from freedom of speech. Every single one. Freedom of speech is the most important thing in a modern society and is what differentiates us from nations ruled by despots. Nearly every great achievement of mankind can be traced to someone who had the ability to pursue their dreams without fear of reprisal. It’s all about freedom.

I’m not so extreme so as to suggest that freedom of speech should be limitless — indeed, some things are just hate speech and should be categorically denounced. But here’s the thing.

I only have the right to say something if you have the right to say something, and vice versa. If you can’t voice your opinion and only I can voice mine, well, the debate becomes pointless — we achieve nothing. So, freedom of speech gives you the right to not only say horrible things, but gives someone else the right to denounce them. Freedom of speech allows for a classic battle of good against evil: you cannot have one without the other.

Evelyn Beatrice Hall, in her biography of Voltaire, summed up his beliefs as such:

While I disagree with what you have to say, I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Hall-as-Voltaire has been my philosophy for most of my life. I completely support everyone’s ability to speak freely. But freedom of speech is a two-way-street. You can have an opinion, and I can disagree with it. That’s democracy, that’s freedom of speech. I don’t believe for a second that my rights end where your feelings begin.

It is with some chagrin then that I announce that we have removed a line from one of our articles.


Douglas Todd, award-winning writer.

Douglas Todd of the Vancouver Sun — who “delves into topics we’re told to avoid: religion, ethnicity, politics, sex and ethics” — has tacitly threatened legal action against the author of the piece, “One Woman’s Brave Battle to Fight Richmond’s Assault on Whiteness.” Sarah Arboleda, the author, has written on the issue a number of times and I completely support her on this issue.

The issue is as such: Kerry Starchuk, and evidently Douglas Todd, are of the opinion that people in Richmond, British Columbia, should not be allowed to have Chinese-only signs. The two allege that it is disgraceful because Canada is a bilingual country of French and English, and that Chinese is neither of those languages. The debate often spills into an issue of whether or not it is a “good business practice,” as though the government should have any right telling people how to run a business (imagine a group of police officers kicking down the door to a store: “Hey! These shelves are messy and your floor needs to be mopped! As well, your prices are not very competitive and your produce is wilty!”; the Good Business Police issue a ticket and leave how they arrived). Starchuk often makes mention of how long her family has been living in Richmond, as though that gives her more right to live here than anyone else (four generations, in case you were wondering — I’m second-generation, so that’s egg on my face), and Todd has written on the issue a number of times, often pulling Starchuk back in. Thick as thieves, those two.

At the end of the piece, Arboleda alleged that their actions were racist and, furthermore, that they were racists. Strong language to say the least.

The piece was written a full sixteen months ago, and I guess Todd only noticed it now. But even a cursory search reveals that Todd has been called such names before — in fact, in one About article, Todd even debated with the writer who called him a “bigot!” (note: all racists are bigots, but not all bigots are racists)

Todd, however, doesn’t have the time for that. Around the same time he published his most recent article, he sent Arboleda a tacit threat: in his e-mail, he questioned what her intent was with her article, because his response would vary based on her own response. Obviously not very straightforward, but the threat is quite clear — take it down or I sue you.

It was a difficult decision, but we removed the potentially libelous claim of Todd being a racist. It’s gone now, and in its place is a note explaining its removal.

I am very disappointed, however, in Douglas Todd. In response to a very lengthy article that takes him to task, he sent a one paragraph rebuttal. Instead of addressing the issue, instead of facing it, he shut it down. He is, unequivocally, trying to stifle debate. “I’m right, you’re wrong.” A hell of a stance for someone who writes in the “Opinion” section to say the least.

Would Todd have sued? I doubt it. Would his publisher have sued? He e-mailed from his Vancouver Sun e-mail address but I can’t imagine the Sun supports his actions.

It’s horrifically ironic that someone working for a newspaper — you know, an institution that depends on freedom of speech more than just about anywhere else — would threaten legal action over an opinion.

That, my friends, is the state of journalism in Canada.

Below is the Editor’s Note attached to Arboleda’s original, ire-inciting article.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece previously referred to Douglas Todd and Kerry Starchuk as “racists.” Todd, although he did not directly request we remove the reference to him as a racist, tacitly threatened legal action were we to not remove it. While as editor I take a different stance, Arboleda has requested this line be removed.

So The Pletteau is no longer directly alleging that Douglas Todd is a racist, although About does refer to Todd as an “anti-atheist bigot,” so take it with a grain of salt. We have been wrong before.


I usually don’t like sports movies. It seemed like there was a dark period in filmmaking when every other sports movie was about some underdog team overcoming adversity to win the big championship. Sometimes they were football teams, sometimes they were drum teams (? this is not a thing in Canada, at least that I know of), sometimes they were some kind of newfangled hiphop dance team. The enemy team was always this reprehensible bad team; while the good guys were (typically poor) scrappy underdogs, the bad guys were rich, had plenty of training, and were mean and snooty. It seems like every sports movie made since Remember the Titans was just… a remake of Remember the Titans with different actors and sometimes a different sport.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Pot Calling the Kettle

If my post about “the gay community” demonstrated anything, it was my distrust and even hatred of attempts at being politically correct. The big problem with any sort of political correctness is that it comes across as patronizing, as though a certain segment of society needs protection from “the white man”. Read the rest of this entry »

Richmond, Revisited

Vito Corleone, an early advocate of non-English signage in North America.

About a week or so ago, I wrote about Kerry Starchuk and her courageous campaign to end the assault on whiteness in Richmond. Luckily for me, I have intelligent, well-written and attractive friends willing to challenge my opinions, providing an excuse to follow up the previous article with this one.

Ziggystarduzt, of Tumblr fame, writes:

I don’t necessarily disagree with anything you’ve said in the article, but tbh the whole signage thing bothers me to some degree, racist or not.

Like, I’m not about to get all up in arms about things and write letters to the Sun (and can I just say- let’s be honest.. if you’re going to write an editorial letter complaining about this particular subject matter, The readers of the Sun would indeed be the ideal right-wing audience to appeal to…) and I hate that it does sound racist- and it does- but it bugs me that Richmond has become so completely and exclusively accessible to the Asian community.

I completely appreciate the fact that it’s important to maintain your cultural connection, even moreso when you’ve moved to a new country with a new culture, and I can respect that. My issue is not at all with the Asian community maintaining their culture within Canada, it’s more with the level of exclusivity and alientation that it often accompanies.

What I mean is, when I go into a store or restaurant in Richmond, I should be able to receive service. I speak both of this country’s official languages fluently. it is, in fact, a requirement of citizenship, to be fluent in at least one of those languages. The reality is, you have chosen to move to a country that requires that fluency. By all means, hold on to your own culture and language… in fact, I think it’s really important that immigrants do so, as multiculturalism is an important and fantastic aspect of this country. However, by moving here, you are accepting the fact that it is your responsibility to learn our language and co-exist with Canadian citizens rather than simply recreating your own culture in a pocket.

In specific reference to controversy regarding signs and language… I’m French-Canadian. You know this… I speak fluent, flawless French. However the signage laws in Quebec drive me NUTS. I’m sure you’re aware, it’s legal in Quebec to have signage solely in French with no English translation- while in the rest of the country, the laws are very strictly bilingual. As far as I’m concerned, Canada has two official languages: French and English. BOTH should be printed on all public signs and products, in ALL areas of the country.

This is getting way too scattered and pointless…(I do not have your mad writing skillz with the staying on topic and formulating arguments in a concise and linear way :P) but tl;dr, don’t actively exclude people, kthx. This may be bordering on racist, but that is not my intent by any means. 🙂

To be terribly honest, I’m not sure whether the signs bother me or not. In North America, there’s a degree to which we really have embraced the Chinese culture as a big part of our “cultural tapestry,” as it were. And we should, because the Chinese population takes up one big-ass piece of the pie. Does this mean that our immigration laws should no longer apply? No, but here’s the thing: our immigration laws do apply to these communities and these communities are operating legally within them.

It is a requirement that the person applying for citizenship be fluent in either English or French. But this does not apply to the subsequent “Family Visas” which allow a newly-minted citizen to bring over a vast number of family members (Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Grandma, siblings, aunts and uncles) without these family members being required to apply for citizenship. And as residents, or legal Visa-holders, they are not required to learn English or French. Then, if these families move into communities that essentially operate like pockets of lil’China (or lil’ anything else), there isn’t much incentive to learn the two official languages if you can get by within your own cultural borough.

As for the signage, displaying Mandarin-only signs is legal (or, perhaps more accurately, not illegal) within the city of Richmond, for better or for worse. But as I said in the earlier article, “legal” and “moral” are often disparate concepts. What I took issue with, and this may not have been clear enough, was Kerry the Social Butterfly’s transparent attack on immigration being poorly disguised as an attack on signage. This is a woman who is being used as the figurehead for the Nazi-esque “Immigration Watch Canada,” which can be found on its own website and through Facebook.

IWC describes itself as “an organization of Canadians who believe that immigration has to serve the interests of its own citizens. It cannot be turned into a social assistance program for other countries. It should never be a social engineering experiment that is conducted on Canadians without the consent of Canadians.” I bet you all of their meetings look like the first 20 minutes of Gran Torino. As you can see, Kerry is quite the social butterfly, indeed.

"I'm here for the Immigration Watch Canada Meeting. I hope there's spinach dip."

Then there’s Kerry herself. The original newspaper article made it sound like Starchuk was a regular feature in her local newspaper’s letters to the editor section, but I was only able to find this one, and it is a gem:


Richmond, a place I’ve called home for my entire life. It has been a wonderful place to live. I used to love it.

Unfortunately, devastating changes have made me feel like a tourist in my own city.

There’s a song  that resonates with me, “You are a Tourist,” by Death Cab for Cutie.

In all my 53 years here I’ve always been able to read the signs but not anymore. There seems to be a growing trend to advertise in Simple Chinese. This is on a storefronts, bulletin boards and vehicles quite often in 100 per cent Simple Chinese. I find this to be discriminating and offending.

As a community, I know we have people from all over the world who have called Richmond their home. These people have respected the Canadian culture and the local people.

I contacted city hall and they told me they have many inquiries about this subject. We desperately need some house rules. It’s time our municipal, provincial, federal elected officials legislate protection for our official English language.

Kerry Starchuk


I honestly have no follow-up to that. It is beautiful, crystalized in its own insanity and lack of self-awareness.

Even worse was her January 16th on-air interview with CKNW at about 7:45 AM in which Starchuk said she said her biggest concern was that things were changing in Richmond and she felt excluded. She stuttered, sputtered and stalled her way through about 2 minutes of softballs like (paraphrasing): “What if you were a private business owner and chose to put up a sign in Greek? Would that be objectionable?” Kerry said she didn’t know how to answer the question. Because, of course, we know the answer is that Starchuk doesn’t have a problem with non-French and English signs, she has a problem with Chinese signs. And explaining, in real time, why you’re a racist can be difficult.

But again, by attacking signage, you are attacking the absolute last stage of this debate and issue. If we were having a serious, mature and responsible discussion about immigration law – a discussion I fear is next to impossible with people like KtSB – then issues like signage wouldn’t need to be addressed at all, as they would be covered by regulations on the need to learn a language or the suspension of Family Visas.

I don’t think these signs are necessarily Mandarin-only because the proprietors wish to keep English-speaking people out. I think that they are Mandarin-only because the proprietors themselves are incapable of communicating effectively enough in English to serve an Anglophone customer. And frankly, when was the last time that you or I stepped foot in the Crystal Mall or International Village or any Mandarin-only or at least Mandarin-leaning establishment in the Lower Mainland in general or Richmond in particular? I can understand a frustration with feeling that, as a bilingual speaker of both of the country’s official languages, there would be parts of your own province not accessible to you, but that’s been the story of North America since its very inception. Commercial Drive may be a Mecca for douchey hipsters now, but it was once (and to some extent still is) the Italian borough of Vancouver. The United States, and particularly New York, has been famous for its neighborhoods subdivided by nationality and, to a lesser extent, language and culture.

A promotional image for The Godfather 4: Generations

Here’s the problem with any immigration debate in North America: with the exception of full-blood First Nations people, we’re all immigrants. But people don’t really like to think of themselves that way – especially if they’re white. In the United States there’s this fantastic narrative about throwing off the chains of religious oppression and building a beautiful chapel on the hill which will act as a beacon of holiness for the rest of the world. To a less zealous extent, North Americans take pride in the advancements in ocean travel, trapping, fishing and other reaping of North America’s natural resources for the gain of England, the Netherlands, France and Spain. I think there were some people already in North America, but from what I can tell, the transition went smoothly.

That's exactly how it happened.

Of course, this proud image of the colonizer only applied if your ancestors were English, French, Spanish or Dutch. If they were Scottish, Irish, Italian, Polish, German, East Indian, Chinese, Japanese or basically anything else not English, French, Spanish or Dutch, your ancestors were filthy scum come to infect our beautiful new nation with their cultural exclusivity, confounding customs, incomprehensible language and/or inability to assimilate.

The beautiful tradition of North American immigration is the same today as it was in the 19th century.

So I have a hard time taking this debate seriously when I feel like it’s being spearheaded by people like Starchuk who are completely ignorant of their own immigration history.

Sarah Arboleda contributed this article to The Daily Pletteau. Read about her here.

“The Gay Community” is Homophobic


One thing that struck me this last week after reading all the articles about how Prime Minister Stephen Harper was destroying Canada  everyone misread and misinterpreted a minor news story was the use of a very specific term: “the gay community.”

In essence, “the gay community” was up in arms about the non-existent potential of gay marriage being eradicated in Canada. According to Canadian law, a marriage is only valid if it is also recognized in the jurisdiction in which the married couple live. Thus, a gay marriage recognized in Canada not recognized in a particular jurisdiction in the United States or the Middle East or wherever technically is also not recognized in Canada. This fact was revealed to the public as a result of a couple who were seeking to dissolve their gay marriage. Also according to Canadian law, there is a residency requirement of twelve months before a divorce can be granted. Thus, if you are married in Canada and decide to leave the country, you need to live in Canada a year before you can get a divorce. The argument by the federal prosecutor was that because the couple’s marriage is not valid in their home state, the marriage doesn’t exist, and thus a divorce would be superfluous to say the least.

Once this hit, the newspapers screamed. Dan Savage reached for the nearest flag and soapbox, stood as high as he could, and began yelling (though, to his credit, he did count the possibility of this being a huge overreaction… but then started pontificating and digging a hole). The internets caught fire as so many tweets and Facebook posts, linking to sites such as Unicorn Booty that reported Stephen Harper was shitting on marriage (hilariously enough, they have not only refused to acknowledge their mistake, but have posted another article further perpetuating the lie). The Globe and Mail reported this in full force just like everyone else, but was quick to announce that the government had “reversed its policy” and was going to fix everything, and that because of action taken by the conservative government, those marriages wouldn’t be dissolved. But they never were at risk; the issue was that it would be impossible for a foreign gay couple to divorce! What we’re talking about is not the right for gays to marry, but the right for gays to divorce. Hilarious!

The argument that the lawyer is making before the courts, re: their marriage never existed, anyway, is an argument that a lawyer could have made the minute gay marriage was established in Canada. Nothing — I repeat — nothing has changed. All that has changed is that a lawyer was actively making the case — I say was because, well, now that gay divorce will be legal, she’s won through politics rather than the court (which, if done intentionally, is really savvy of her). Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said a number of times as prime minister that he would not re-open gay marriage and confirmed that yesterday (along with Justice Minister Rob Nicholson). Instead of taking either politicians at their word, the internet screamed. As Andrew Coyne writes, the whole event was “disgraceful” and the result of “a toxic mix of shrewd lawyering, shoddy reporting and partisan opportunism, all without the slightest reference to the relevant, and easily obtainable, facts.” And that’s really what it was and is: it’s bullshit journalism. I mean, let’s face it. It’s January in Canada. Today on the news there was a story about how much snow there was, including an interview with a man expressing his shock at the amount of snow and advising the news team that people would need to be busy with snow shovels this morning. January is the slowest month for news, political and otherwise, so it’s no surprise that Canadian news outlets would make a big deal out of nothing.

Back on track: the term “the gay community” is the single most homophobic term to exist in common parlance. It masquerades as anything but, yet suggests there is this homogeneous group of homosexuals who agree on certain topics. It was “the gay community” that was up in arms; several outlets also suggested that “the gay community” would be outraged once they found out, suggesting that gays in Florida, Massachusetts, Alberta, British Columbia, Mexico, and so on, would be pissed and, more importantly, that they all belonged to the same group. But it’s garbage! There is no such thing as “the gay community”. I have gay friends who claim to not belong to it, but they’re constantly lumped in. I know gays who think other gays are too gay. There is no gay community in the same way that there is no straight community. The term “gay community” is used as a synonym for “gays”, period. When someone says “the gay community values x“,  they’re essentially saying “gays value x“, as though there is a unified position taken up by the gays about a certain topic. I know gays and straights alike who did not care about the “homogate” kerfuffle that dominated Canadian politics this last week.

What bugs me the most, I guess, is that the term “gay community” masquerades as a legitimate thing, when it is anything but. You would be laughed at if you suggested there was a “straight community”, because, well, there is only one thing that I (as a heterosexual) have in common with every other heterosexual on the planet: we like members of the opposite sex. And the same applies to the gay community. Some dudes like bears or leather or whatever, but every homosexual is different from another aside from that one thing they have in common. And to suggest otherwise is just homophobic and, well, two-faced.

Canada’s New Nationalism: Part Two of Two

On Monday, I wrote about my theory on Canadian nationalism: how I perceived we had changed from a whiny bunch of America haters to a bunch of patriotic, nationalistic individuals who just loved their country – like Americans, I guess. I mean, that was the response a lot of my post-Olympic discussions were about; how the outcry of pride struck people as being so American, as if that meant anything. It was my theory — and the theory of dozens of Canadian journalists and politicians, too — that something had happened (and what it was wasn’t exactly obvious). With a bit of time to think about it, I think I’m only partly right… well, maybe completely right. But like I said at the end of my last post (in what those in the know call a cliff-hanger or hook), I kind of wish I was completely wrong.


It’d be easy to write a thousand words about how the Vancouver Stanley Cup Riot of 2011 was completely stupid: how millions of dollars in damage was caused in several hours, how regular people turned into idiots under the mob mentality, how the Vancouver Police Department was lil-prepared, in no small part due to the city administration, and how, well, absolutely preventable the whole thing was. Sure, I could write that, but I’ll save us all some time: it was absolutely stupid.

So, what happened? How did we go from a mature bunch of friendly Canadians who could host the world without an incident to a bunch of ignorant Canadians intent on setting their own city in flames? While a large part of it has to do with police presence (ie, the city was crawling with cops during the 2010 Olympics; during the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, not so much), I think part of it is well, that nationalism Canada once seemed to yearn for. Maybe. It’s hard to say that when one contrasts this riot with the one in 1994; while there seemed to be a lot more focus on Canada this riot (more anthems and flags, whoo!), what you have at the end of the day is, well, another riot.

But it was my hope that our experience, our growing up since last riot, would have prevented this. But I think it exacerbated it.

I think Canada still has huge penis-envy for the USA. Sure, we spend all our time talking about how much better we are than the USA, but at the end of the day, I think there is some serious jealousy. Canada gets shat on all the time, especially in Hollywood. And while our credit overseas might extend a bit further, let’s be honest with ourselves: we (Canadians) watch more American TV and movies than we do Canadian or international ones. So when South Park declares war on Canada or Robin’s Canadian heritage is made the butt of every joke on How I Met Your Mother or when every other episode of The Simpsons has a Canada joke, it hurts a little.

I’ve been to a lot of hockey games (because I’m Canadian?), and this is something I’ve only noticed Canadian fans do: they boo the American National Anthem. The last game I went to, in fact, one fan shouted “This song sucks!” during the US anthem and a bunch of folks laughed; another person just straight up booed the thing. And while it wasn’t sung particularly well, that’s not a good reason to boo it (on a side note, and hockey fans can relate, it really bugs me when people shout out “free!” in response to the lyric “glorious and free!” in the Canadian anthem; it’s stupid and, well, disrespectful). Part of this, I think, is due to Canada’s love for the anti-American nationalism movie Bowling for Columbine; I think that movie has left an indelible mark in the Canadian psyche on how we view America. Especially, since (like I mentioned), so much of that movie is spent saying how much better Canada is than the US. Regardless,  booing the national anthem of any country has to be one of the most disrespectful things you can do. I mean, ignoring the fact that the US anthem is awesome (bombs bursting in the air? ramparts? sounds like a Michael Bay movie in the making, if you ask me), it’s just plain tacky: which is why you have this crazy response from American fans when the Canadian anthem is played:

I don’t want to read too much into it or to argue that all Americans are like this, or that all Canadians are like this (because I’ve never booed an anthem myself, anyway). But I think it’s terribly tacky and terribly, well, unCanadian to boo an anthem.

And I suppose that’s my next point. For a country of allegedly polite, warm, and friendly people, Canadians are fucking rude. And I think while this anti-anthem bull had been going on before the Olympics and thus before my timeline suggests, I think its gotten worse. A big thing that a lot of people noticed during the Olympics was how often the anthem was sung; and since the Olympics, I think it gets sung (especially at Canucks games) with more vigor. But there are so many tales of drunk Canadians heading south of the border to American events to boo the US anthem and sing their own, off-key, slurred, and with incorrect lyrics, that it has gotten pretty absurd.

Here’s where I’d like to end it, I guess: I’m not positive Canada has truly grown or changed at all in the last ten years, and if we have it must be for the worse. Following the Vancouver 2011 riot, a lot of people blamed the thing on a “small group” of anarchists, but one just has to watch the footage to see how many fucking people were involved. Sure, a bunch of folks, the very next day, went to help clean up. But I tire of the rhetoric that it was these people — and not the rioters (though the groups are not mutually exclusive) — that were the “true” fans, as though (especially in Vancouver), there is such a thing as a “true” fan, as though a particular group or person can “own” fandom. No. When sports riots happen elsewhere, it never happens when the final game is lost by the home team in the home city. Of all the instances in North American sports riots, it has only happened twice, both times in Vancouver, British Columbia.

So, this article and the last (over 2000 words), and the paper on which the first article is based, have all reached this conclusion: things really haven’t changed. Me? I still think Canada is the best place on earth and I’m more proud to be a Canadian than I was a few years ago. But I find myself wanting to spend less and less time around other Canadians.


Last June this open letter popped up on the Canucks forums, and I think the OP — an American — has some insightful things to say about Canucks fans. Check it:

For most of my life I’ve often wondered why Canadians hate America and her people so much. Sure, I’ve been told over and over and over again that we’re ignorant hicks who treat Canadians rude when they come to Canada to visit her cities or fish in her lakes. The same can be said for French-Canadians in the east who visits cities like Boston quite frequently, due to the proximity. I used to live in Boston (went to school there), and by far the most rude people I’ve ever met were French-Canadians! They would literally tell us to our faces how dumb and ignorant we Americans were. They wouldn’t even try and hide their resentment. Folks in Western Canada are far more subtle about their resentment, but when given the opportunity, will freely share with us all of our short-comings, weaknesses, fallibilities, etc. About ten years ago I sad down at a restaurant in Vancouver and the waiter was very friendly and cordial. He asked us where we were from and my heart sank, because I knew that as soon as I said the USA, his attitude towards us would change, and sure enough, it did.

At first I thought Canadian hatred towards Americans must be jealousy, but as time went on, I learned that it wasn’t jealousy at all – it was the opposite. From my perspective, and from the perspective of many of my friends and even family members who now live in British Columbia, its seems most likely to be a bad case of superiority complex!

I do think it’s a combination of jealousy and superiority complex. We wish we could be an economic/militaristic/cultural superpower, and still be this bastion of civil rights we perceive ourselves to be. We think we’re better than the US overall, but wish we could combine what the US is great at with what we’re great at, and we’ve subscribed to the philosophy that if we bring America down to raise ourselves up, it’s fair game (like the old joke: you never have to outrun the bear when you’re running away, you just have to run faster than your friend).

Canada’s New Nationalism: Part One of Two

The "Golden Goal" shrine at Rogers Arena

Back in late 2010, I proposed that with the conclusion of the 2010 Winter Olympics, we were about to see a new “Canadian identity”. The issue of Canadian identity is one that has plagued journalists and writers for years. Some proposed that our identity was as a multicultural country; others proposed that our identity was simply not being American. Still others proposed that our identity was not having an identity. I figured to some extent that these things were true, and that with the Olympics we might have forged a Canadian identity.

I based this beginning on Molson’s “Joe Canadian” commercials, first released back in 2000.

The commercial begins with an “average” Canadian taking the stage. He politely says “hey” into the microphone and begins. He starts by explaining things he doesn’t do. He’s “not a lumberjack or a fur-trader” and he doesn’t “live in an igloo or eat blubber or own a dogsled.” So far so good.

He then begins explaining the difference between himself and (presumably) Joe American: Joe Canadian has “a Prime Minister, not a President”. He speaks “English and French, not American”, and he pronounces it “about, not a boot” (this, admittedly, isn’t differentiation so much as it is dispelling myths as above), and he can “proudly sew [his] nation’s flag on [his] backpack”, unlike, presumably an American (this ties in with the presumably true myth that Americans sew flags onto their backpacks; see this for a great explanation and more Canadian “I’m not American” ranting). Joe believes in “peace-keeping, not policing, diversity, not assimilation” (unlike Americans), and that “the beaver is a truly proud and noble animal” (a joke), and that “it is pronounced ‘zed’, not ‘zee'” (though “zed-zed Top” would sound stupid). Joe goes on to claim that Canada is the world’s second largest landmass (true), the first nation in hockey (again, true, but an all-too obvious jab at America), and the best part of North America — another jab at the USA.

Growing up in Canada, this is largely what we were taught and in fact this what we were taught about America: that they’re a bunch of crude brutes who sew maple leaves  on their backpacks, say “huh” instead of “eh”, believe in a “cultural melting pot” instead of a “cultural mosaic” (which is a claim Canada and Canadians hold on to dearly), and that we keep the peace while the US fights wars. I would go as far as to say that Canadians are taught from an early age to hate America and hate Americans. We’re taught that we’re better because of our “free” healthcare, our welfare system, our governance, our oft-touted peacekeeping force (though that image has declined in a number of years, partially due to “President” Stephen Harper), and our liberal social laws, which includes a lack of police and jails. While the argument can easily be made that there isn’t much difference between Americans and Canadians, that’s a discussion for another time. The point is that the identity Canada perceived for itself was its unAmericanness. I think that part of what solidified this view, at least for my generation, was the film Bowling for Columbine. In case you don’t remember, it is a rant by Michael Moore that essentially fellates Canada. It’s hard not to think you’re the best thing on the planet and America is the worst when an Academy Award winning documentary is telling you so.

Tim Hortons, another oft-celebrated “Canadian” company, has too released a number of commercials claiming to define what it is to be Canadian. In late ’09, they released “In his own words”, a message from Sidney Crosby telling us what it is to be Canadian:

“Hockey is our game.  But really, it’s much more than just a game. It’s a passion that brings us closer together on frozen ponds, at the community rink, and in our living rooms. It’s the feeling you got the first time you stepped on the ice, the feeling you had when you scored your first goal. Hockey is in our driveways, it’s in our dreams, in every post-game celebration. It’s in the streets every time your friend yells ‘car’, in every rink across the country. It’s in our hearts. Hockey is that thought inside your head saying ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing, getting up everyday…’ ‘and playing, doing something that you love to do?’”

Hockey, for Sid the Kid, is the Canadian identity. And, to some extent, I think it is the identity I myself happen to accept as being “my” identity the most. Hockey, even though it is played world wide, is just that Canadian sport. Maybe he’s right, maybe he’s wrong, but this conflicts with a commercial released, again by Tim Hortons, in February of 2010.

Called “A Coffee All Our Own”, it begins with a black man speaking into a foreign (not in English or in French, of course). He tells whoever it is that he’ll see them tomorrow. He shows up to the airport, and orders a pair of Tim Hortons’s coffees. He greets his family with tears and hands his wife the coffee, saying “welcome to Canada”. She notices the bundles he has and asks him “what is all this?” His enigmatic response is “you’ll see”. They bundle up and head into the snow outside — “welcome home”, he says, ending the commercial. Two things are especially notable here:

1) the man is meant to defy our expectations of what a Canadian is.

Judging from his accent and the fact his family lives overseas, he is clearly a recent immigrant. But the implied notion is that he is just as Canadian as someone who is born here.

2) the coffee.

He hands his wife the coffee before handing her the clothes. He says “welcome to Canada” as he does so. We can take this to mean that having Tim Hortons coffee is tantamount to being Canadian (anecdote: the very first thing I bought after returning to Canada from two months overseas was a Tim Hortons coffee). In the “welcome to Canada” greeting ritual, having a Tim’s coffee is pretty much essential.

So from this video, we can ascertain at least two different things: anyone can be a Canadian, and Tim Hortons coffee, just like hockey, is part — maybe the very core — of being Canadian.

These commercials were all followed by the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada.

Hockey has always been a very divisive issue in America and in Canada. I’m not precisely sure how it is in the US, but when the Stanley Cup comes down to an American team and a Canadian team, it instantly becomes a note of national pride. Most Vancouver Canucks fans, I think, would agree that Calgary is a shithole. But if it came down to a match between Calgary and some other American team, a lot of fans in Vancouver would back Calgary. When it came down to the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins last year (even before, actually), Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a photo-stop down in Richmond, British Columbia, to buy a Canucks jersey for his son. He proudly proclaimed that, with the Montreal Canadiens out of the way, “as a Canadian, I’m now all the way behind the Canucks” (this was on May 2, 2011, the same day his government won a majority in the federal election, don’t-ya-know).

Most of the time, the Canada vs. US match just seems to be a really bad case of envy: America is(/was?) seen as an economic and militaristic superpower. Canada is always the mouse sleeping beside the elephant; we’re America’s hat and America’s younger brother. Every chance that a Canadian has to one-up an American is one they take, really.

So of course, the absolute highlight of the 2010 Olympic Games was the gold medal match between Canada and the US.  Nearly half of the population of Canada watched the entire Gold Medal match, while more than 80% of the population watched at least some part of the match. It was huge.  It was the most watched broadcast in Canadian history and the most watched hockey broadcast in the US since 1980 (the match that year being the Miracle on Ice when America took out its Cold War frustrations by beating the Russians in hockey — in the same way that political, economic, and military envy is fought by Canadians on the ice, so to were they fought by the Americans in 1980; anyone who tells you that the Miracle on Ice or that the 2010 Gold Medal game was “just another hockey game” is a moron). And, significantly, Canada won.

If you weren’t there, this video should give you an indication of how insane Canada went. There were spontaneous celebrations across the country. I was in the downtown core at a restaurant watching the game when it happened. When it did, everyone in the room jumped up. The room itself was a cultural mosaic but everyone in the room jumped, cheered, hugged, high-fived. It was insane. The streets were packed. I went outside and spent an hour or two high-fiving folks and shaking hands. It was unbelievable. And these celebrations lasted very late into the night (I remember a story saying that police shut down a street hockey match at approximately 03:00 that night). For a Canadian, it was the perfect end to the Olympics. A 3-2, nailbiter win, scored by one of hockey’s youngest and most talented players, Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguin hating aside, he’s pretty good). It couldn’t have been written any better.

This outpouring of nationalism is something foreign to Canada. We very rarely get that amped up in our nationalism. Sure, we wear flags on our bags when we head across the pond, but that’s about it. I discussed this with several classmates the next day and many were shocked at the outpouring of pride. Many claimed it was disgusting and that it felt so “American” (American hating continues).

Stephen Brunt, a writer for Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail, claimed halfway through the Olympics that “something remarkable was taking place”:

“It was as though an entire country was given permission to feel something it needed to feel. And it was the country that set the tone for the games, and not the other way around… [and] it wasn’t quite the script we were expecting. The story was supposed to be all about winning… about putting a new swagger in our step. [It] turns out the swagger was already there, it was just waiting for the right stage. The number of medals didn’t really matter… we didn’t really need to own anything. What mattered was the occasion, what mattered was the event, what mattered was the excuse to wave the flag and sing the anthem and shout it out loud. Cynicism is easy, so is retreating into historic grudges… so is believing it doesn’t really matter what you call yourself, or where you live. It does matter, or at least it can. It is important to have a shared history. And admit it; it feels good… to let your heart show.”

While Brunt does get caught up in himself, he captures what the Olympics were: it was a chance for Canadians to brag about being Canadian and for people to actually listen because the camera was on us for those two weeks. It’s weird, I think, because I don’t think you need to tell the average American that it’s ok to be proud of being American; to wear flags and jerseys and patches and cheer the very fact that you were born or raised or that you lived in the US. Canada needed it, though.

This, I proposed, was the beginning of what I termed to be Canada’s “new nationalism”. It was a step forward — where, I wasn’t sure, but it was forward. It was a move decidedly away from the tired old “we’re not American” bullshit that had enveloped us. For awhile, I thought that it would stick. Canada’s Brian Williams and Stephen Harper both suggested that the “patriotism was always there” and that the games provided an opportunity for Canadians to show it. Williams hoped that that would be the legacy of the games. I was more optimistic: I hoped that we would maybe become a nation never afraid to be patriotic.

So far, I’m only partly right, and even then, wish I was entirely wrong.