Missing the point

What we talked about

Taxes and deficits.

If the last 78 days have shown us anything about who we are, once again the issue that defines us continues to be money. I woke this morning to a Liberal majority, but although the media was trumpeting this as a cry for change, in the end we – the majority of whom can afford to give a little more – just spent an entire election cycle arguing about how much more we should or shouldn’t spend.

Oh, and we dabbled in fear, too, debating about niqabs, making excuses for denying Syrians entry into our country and arguing about bills that seek to increase security by squelching the freedom of those we feel are different than ourselves. And finally, we spent a lot of time talking about how terrible “the other guy” was, how unready, how irresponsible, how unrealistic.

That’s who we are. Who we’ve become. Defined by the volume of our voices rather than convicted by our silence about the issues that really matter.

What we didn’t talk about

We have become masters at denying Aboriginal people their right to be heard and to matter. Truth and Reconciliation Commissions don’t fix the desperate inequalities experienced by our First Peoples. Commissions don’t dig wells or provide reliable health care for remote communities. They don’t honour treaties. They don’t provide justice for murdered aboriginal women.

We know that unchecked development rapes the earth and denies future generations clean water and skies. We know that burning fossil fuels is killing our atmosphere and that man-made climate change is real. Yet we don’t vow to do everything we can to seek out less-destructive means of serving our own needs.

We continue to operate our judicial system from outdated and punitive theories of justice. Our jails are bursting and rates of re-offence are staggering. We ignore the evidence from other, more progressive nations about the effectiveness of restorative justice against repeat offences and legacy crime.

We forget and ignore the men and women who choose to serve our country. We tell them to go and fight, but we cannot find it in ourselves to make sure they are cared for when they return, even when they have unquestioningly given to us their eyes and limbs and spirits.

The pursuit of knowledge and understanding has been eclipsed by the pursuit of money. We have muzzled the information-gatherers, amputated scientists from their labs and cut the heart from our creative institutions, all with the short term view to monetary gain. We have invested in ignorance for our children.

We, so many of whom were welcomed with open arms and given much of what we hold dearest, have sealed our borders against the hungry and the oppressed. Instead, we have embraced a narrative of fear, one that allows bills like C-51, which strips away some of the most basic of rights, to pass. Fear has led us onto a lonely island, far removed from our former allies, most of whom have stepped out from under that illusory cloud of terrorist danger and realigned their priorities.

We have championed an incredible disparity of wealth. We kowtow to and line the pockets of the wealthiest one percent, while dismantling the programs and services that are designed to value and honour even the neediest within our borders. We ignore the poor as we parrot the refrains about the value of the middle class. We make tax reform and deficits into the most pressing issues rather than ensuring our loved ones can earn a living wage, receive free and comprehensive health care and access the basic services every citizen of a civilized nation should be able to access.

We have been conditioned to think of niqabs and Qu’rans and turbans as emblems of terrorism rather than merely religious symbols. While we might loathe the niqab, which represents the worst of how we treat women, we should loathe even more the idea that a government can talk about taking away the right to wear one. We have concocted a definition of “freedom” that encourages only the views and practices that agree with the white and the wealthy. True freedom takes risks; it is appalling how much we talk about faith but cannot trust God enough to use everyone.


  • Brent van Staalduinen

    Brent spent six years in the Middle East and Asia teaching, writing, and trying to make sense of the borders people create. A graduate of Redeemer University College and the Humber School of Writers, he is now working towards an MFA in Creative Writing through the University of British Columbia. He works and lives in the Westdale neighbourhood of Hamilton with his wife Rosalee and baby daughter Nora. For more information, follow him on Twitter@brentvans or visit www.brentvanstaalduinen.com.

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