Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose: Thoughts from a plane

I checked another item off my bucket list yesterday, flying into Whitehorse on an Air North jet. It’s my first time going to the Yukon, the last of the Canadian provinces or territories left for me to visit. The flight was smooth, and the service friendly. As we travelled north through the clouds, I reflected on some observations made the previous day, during my flight across the country.

We had checked in at 3 a.m., which is really an inexcusable time to expect anybody to be awake, and my first thought was that the airlines have either given up worrying about who gets on the plane or the staff have developed the ability to see beyond the mask when matching faces to passport photographs.

My second thought was that although many companies have used the pandemic to update and upgrade their products and processes, Air Canada has apparently decided to stay with the tried and true. The inflight breakfast was the same as it was 751 days ago, the last time I was on a plane: omelet, sausage, salsa, individualized tub of flavoured yoghurt and a stale croissant with a plastic container of a fruit-based product that looked like strawberry jam. Coffee or tea. I guess I could have had the pancakes instead.

I had forgotten the massage chair vibration of light turbulence, and the stronger pockets when you must close your eyes and imagine you are in a boat whistling across the wind-chopped lake, bumping over the waves and laughing as the spray hits your face. Instead of being strapped into a tube at 28,000 feet.

In Toronto, I discovered that the elevator to the Maple Leaf Lounge is holding on to its reputation of being the slowest elevator in an airport. Anywhere.

The flight to Vancouver was on a bigger plane than those which can land in Charlottetown, and so the safety briefing was a video rather than a person. In the past these films have either been static or boring, with cartoon comedy the height of innovation. But not now. The new film was impressive, with each segment located in a different province or territory. I was particularly taken with the ‘how to fasten your seatbelt’ segment, which starred a young woman on a dog sled in the Yukon. The illustration of how to brace yourself in an emergency, by leaning forward and holding your ankles, was demonstrated by a beach yoga group on the shores of Prince Edward Island, and the cut-out view of the plane showing the various emergency exits had been mown into a Saskatchewan wheat field. All very clever. The final scene focused on an inshore fisherman sitting on a stool, surrounded by lobster pots and coils of rope, reaching down, and pulling a yellow safety vest from a pouch under his seat.

The flight itself was uneventful. The same breakfast was offered, but declined, and I slept a bit, and then we landed. Here I discovered that the ‘priority’ labels on one’s luggage are still more decorative than functional, attached with flair by the person who checks in the bags but tending to be ignored by those actually responsible for prioritizing the delivery of said luggage.

This is probably an opportune moment for a lengthy discourse on the relative merits of entitlement and privilege versus the proletarian equitocracy of a unionised workforce*, but I’m still mad that my luggage was almost the last item to arrive on the conveyor belt. On the plus side, most of the other 500 passengers from our Boeing 777-300 had already collected theirs and the baggage hall was nearly empty as I manoeuvred my trolley out to the taxi rank.

We stayed overnight in Vancouver, in the rain, and headed back to the airport in the morning. The Air North check-in desks are in a far corner of the ticketing hall, three desks jammed up near to the toilets and some construction. The staff were cheerful and pleasant, our bags were processed quickly, and we made our way through security to wait for the plane.

To my amazement we were served lunch, a free (!) sandwich, and then a hot chocolate chip cookie for dessert. Blissful. I highly recommend this airline.

The clouds cleared as we crossed the icefields of northern British Columbia, glacial tongues extending down the valleys between chains of sharp-peaked mountains. At Carcross the sun glinted from the roofs of houses that formed a necklace along the shore, the lake still frozen, the road a grey straight-line interruption to the natural curves of the landscape.

Mountains, glaciers, frozen lakes, boreal forest – it all seemed a long way from PEI. As we settled in for the final approach, the trees gave way to an urban landscape, an industrial estate, suburban cul-de-sacs, cars lined up at traffic lights. I am looking forward to this visit, a few days in the north at the start of a holiday that will also encompass the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. But more on all that later.

*I thought I’d made this word up, but it seems that it was first coined a decade ago by Radu Buzescu, who according to Google was either “a Romanian noble from Wallachia in the late 1500s, during the reign of Michael the Brave”, or else someone with no social media profile on LinkedIn. I’m opting for the latter.

Buzescu, R. (2012). Equitocracy: The alternative to capitalist-ultracapitalist and socialist-communist democracies.  Published by iUniverse.

The Ides of March

It’s a bright but cold spring morning. There is still snow on the ground, especially along the tree lines at the edges of the fields, and the ground itself is still frozen underfoot. Once again those of us in the northern latitudes are getting ready for the official end of winter, the Spring Equinox, which takes place on 20 March again this year. Our clocks ‘sprang forward’ last Saturday night, and yesterday I saw the first pussy willow buds break out in the sunshine. These are all signs that the summer is coming, and with it the chance to get back into the garden. For those of you in the southern hemisphere who are getting ready for autumn, enjoy!

I have just been re-reading some of my old blogs. Two years ago, I was in self-isolation, having got back to Prince Edward Island just hours before the borders closed and the world seemed to stop.
Roger McGough, one of the Liverpool Poets of the 1960s, is still very much alive and well. He recently published a book of contemporary poems, entitled ‘Safety in numbers’ (Penguin Books).

The title poem is apt:

Safety in numbers?
Not any more.
The room starts to fill?
I’m out of the door.

A year ago, I was musing on the fact that I had only been off-Island twice since my return, two quick trips to our neighbouring provinces. Today, I have to confess that I have not been off-Island for the whole of this past year. The furthest I have ventured in the last twelve months have been Summerside and East Point, both of which are about 60 kilometres away.

That will change next week, though. I have had to book my car in for a service and oil-change, plus a dealer-recall fix, so that means a trip to Moncton. Two hours on the road, a passage over the bridge … into that terra incognito, where there be dragons. The car is going to be at the garage for about three hours, so I’m hoping that the nearby garden centre is open. Even if I don’t buy anything, it will be good to see a bit of normality in the world. Heaven knows we need it.

We are fast approaching the Ides of March, but I don’t think even Caesar would have seen one like this coming. In the past month, the eyes of the world have shifted from truck protests across Canada, and copied elsewhere, to the mass destruction of Ukraine. One only hopes that the attention-seeking antics of a few right-wing conspiracy theorists don’t draw inspiration from the crazed actions of a totalitarian megalomaniac. One can imagine the convoy leaders sitting around in their hot tub: “well, air horns and blocked streets didn’t work, let’s try some missiles and a tank convoy.”

The chaos of the convoy has been overshadowed by the events in Europe but should not be forgotten. The people who wanted the Governor General to dissolve the government and establish a ruling council of other parties, with their participation, are not simply misguided. They are driven by an ideology that resists and seeks to eradicate what they see as ‘liberal values’ – notions of multiculturalism, gender-equality, social justice, or anti-racism. They seek a falsely remembered ‘perfect world’ of the mid-20th century, when the Canada in which they lived was (mainly) white, well-paying jobs were available without the need for an expensive post-secondary education, and women stayed home to tend house and look after the kids.

Problematically, they are becoming increasingly militaristic in trying to achieve their goals. According to an article in The Globe and Mail newspaper, “26 Canadians have been killed and 40 injured by ideologically motivated people” since 2016. That is not a lot in absolute terms, but it is too many. As Canada prepares to welcome refugees from Mariupol and Kyiv, from Kherson and Chernihiv, the ethnocultural make-up of Canada will continue to evolve. The anger of those who see themselves as excluded from a socially responsive technological age will continue to grow as the demographics of the Canadian workplace change.

In the midst of this perfect storm of COVID, climate change, and conflict, both internal and external, let us not forget those who were our concern just seven months ago, the thousands of Afghans who were deserted when western forces left Kabul in disarray. They were to be prioritized for evacuation, our governments told us, and all resources would be brought to bear to facilitate their resettlement. Many of my colleagues are still there, still waiting. Their e-mails and phone calls to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) receive a generic “your file is in process” response, if the caller manages to get through at all. The Taliban are conducting house-to-house searches on a daily basis, upending people’s lives, looting and destroying personal property. Nearly 400 civilians have been killed in that period, and 7 million people in Afghanistan are facing famine. But now all our resources are being sent to help those trying to escape the slaughter in Ukraine.

The laser-sharp focus of IRCC is wobbly in the extreme. When I was part of a team working in the Balkans, specifically Kosovo, in the early 2000s, we were appalled when the Canadian emphasis (and funding) shifted mid-project to South Sudan. That was the area of focus for a while, then there was a shift to Syria, and then Afghanistan, and now Ukraine. What chaos will grasp the short-term attention span of our Ministerial advisors next? The hundreds perishing as they try to cross the Mediterranean or the English Channel? The people of Pacific Ocean islands rapidly being inundated by rising sea-levels? The hundreds of thousands fleeing extreme poverty and violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras? How can a government enact policy conceived in the crucible of reaction? Is there no plan?

This time last year I tried to refocus on the positives of our world. As we mark the second-year anniversary of the pandemic, I think its alright to repeat those reflections, although it is a sad state of affairs that I don’t have to actually change them, I can just cut and paste from 13 March 2021: “I hope that people continue to buy local, even when the big superstores get their supply lines straightened out. I hope that society invests time and money into resolving the staffing crisis at long-term residential care homes. I hope that musicians will be able to play live gigs again, and artists to have gallery openings. I hope some people will continue to work from home, and the number of daily commutes remains lower than it was a year ago. I hope that governments put as many resources into fighting climate change as they did into developing vaccines. I hope that Leeds United finish in the top six of the Premier League.”

I guess I do have to update that one: I hope that Leeds United don’t get relegated from the Premier League.

To the list, I must now add a couple that really should have been there last year, and a few new ones: I hope that there are no more bodies discovered in unmarked graves in the grounds of what used to be ‘Indian Residential Schools’; I hope that we manage to meet a few more, if not a whole lot more, of the Calls To Action issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; I hope that the war in Ukraine remains ‘conventional’ and that nuclear options are not selected; I hope that nobody accidentally (or on purpose) fires a missile into Poland or another NATO state; I hope that Pierre Poilievre doesn’t win the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada; I hope that China does not enter into a military support pact with Russia; I hope that China does not try to ‘liberate’ Taiwan; I hope that the refugees of the world, whether fleeing from conflict-, climate-, economic- or other catastrophe, are greeted humanely and with compassion by those of us who are living in more settled environments. Really, most of them just want to go home – as will we, once the unthinkable happens to turn our lives upside down. Because make no mistake, our time will come.

I was reminded of McGough’s work by a friend now living in Perth, Western Australia, who sent me this poem, written in the mid-1960s, post-Cuban missile crisis. Huge shout out of thanks to Simon Clarke for sharing.

Survivor
 
Everyday,
I think about dying.
About disease, starvation,
violence, terrorism, war,
the end of the world.
It helps
keep my mind off things.

 

Another Cruel Month

Ah, February! This shortest month has tried hard to make itself memorable and has given April such a run for its money that not even T. S. Eliot would complain. Here on the Island, we have had storm after storm, over 250 centimetres (over eight feet) of snow falling in the past seven weeks. Fortunately, (?), the roller-coaster of climate-change-impacted weather systems has given us some 10-degree days (10C) in there as well, so there has been some melting and the snowbanks are not as high as they could be.

On PEI we are slowly lifting our pandemic restrictions and have managed to do so without having convoys of protesters blocking streets and blasting air horns for weeks on end. On behalf of all Canadians, I apologize to those of you whose lunatic fringe took the idea and imported it to your own countries. I trust that they are watching events unfold in Kyiv and thinking, actually, my life here in a western democracy isn’t too bad. Even if the government makes me wear a mask and suggests I get vaccinated. They could just have bombed me into submission.

Our restaurants and music events are back to fifty per cent capacity and yesterday we removed the need to show a VaxPass to gain entry to venues. I’m not rushing out just yet though. I have downloaded lots of tunes and amuse myself listening at home.

A few days ago, I was listening to Stompin’ Tom Connors, who like Anne of Green Gables fame is an Island icon who is not actually an Islander, both being adopted from away. At least Stompin’ Tom is a real person, who lived and breathed Island air before going off to fame and fortune in Ontario. He celebrates PEI with his song, Bud the Spud – about a trucker who carries a load of potatoes up to Toronto. Have a listen if you get a chance – it’s a fun song. Although Bud the Spud from the bright red mud can become a bit of an earworm. Anyway, that started me thinking about potatoes.

As you may have heard, we experienced an outbreak of the potato wart fungus last fall. This is one of those “they did what?” stories. The fungus was first discovered on the Island about 20 years ago, and the scientists recommended that the crop be destroyed, and the two fields involved be taken out of production and planted with trees. Apparently, the fungus can live for ever in the soil, so it made sense to stop growing potatoes in those fields. Then the problem would go away.

At this point a certain large producer apparently became involved. They employ lots of people and warned of the catastrophic impact on the economic life of the province if their two fields were taken out of production. They employed some of their own scientists to produce a study and persuaded the government that it would be okay to wait a few years and then plant wart-resistant varieties. Which they did.

Twenty years later, 2021 was the best harvest year for potato growers ever. Nearly two and a half billion pounds of potatoes were harvested and stored, ready for export. In October, the media was full of stories about the ‘best one in generations’ harvest. Farmers were warned to take care not to flood the market and drive down prices.

Then, in November, potato wart was discovered again – in a field of less than one acre. This time, the government in Ottawa imposed a total ban on exports of table potatoes, and what had been a bumper year suddenly morphed into a disaster. It should be noted here that potato wart is an ugly disease, but it is not dangerous to people. You probably would not want to eat an infected potato but if you inadvertently did, the virus is not a human pathogen. Not like some other viruses we might mention.

With the American border closed to export, the big question was: what do you do with 2.5 billion pounds of potatoes? These are table potatoes, and so their shelf life is measured in months not years. And assuming a farmer is to plant and harvest a crop this year, where would she/he/they put them when the storage barns are still full of those from last year?

Some people bought truck loads and donated them to food banks around the country. A few weeks ago, the US allowed the resumption of direct shipments to Puerto Rico, which doesn’t grow potatoes and so has no risk of cross-infection. The border to the mainland, however, remains closed. The provincial government gave farmers money to destroy part of their crop and so 3m pounds of perfectly good potatoes were dumped on the frozen fields and then ‘chipped’ by running a snowblower over them – this allows the potatoes to rot into the ground once the weather warms up. But you’re only allowed to do that up to the end of February, because the potatoes must be frozen in order to be chipped. [Really! That’s not a pun!]

Then someone had a bright idea – let’s give away the crop.

On Saturday, five potato producers across Prince Edward Island opened up their storage barns and had a ‘Fill Your Boots’ event. People were invited to come along and pick up as many potatoes as they would like – and you didn’t need boots, you could use any kind of container. I went along to one farm with my shopping bags and was amazed.

There were over a hundred people queuing to get into the barn. People had laundry hampers, hockey bags, large carboard boxes, little trolleys on wheels, Rubbermaid tubs, and so forth. Many, like me, had shopping bags from large grocery chains. The fellow in front of me had four plastic milk crates, two in each hand, his fingers hooked through the mesh; I couldn’t help but wonder how he was going to carry them when they were full of potatoes.

I followed the queue deeper into the barn and through the haze a wall of potatoes appeared. It must have been almost twenty feet high and forty feet across. At the base were farm workers with snow shovels, who helped fill the various containers for the grateful customers. My bags loaded, I staggered back outside to the sunshine. And thought to myself:

What am I going to do with 40 lbs of potatoes?

Snowshoeing in January

I went snowshoeing yesterday, for the first time this winter. We have had two big storms a week apart, each of which dumped over 30 centimeters (AKA a foot) of snow. There were strong winds as well, gusting to over 100 kilometers an hour, which in addition to knocking out power all over The Island also sculpted the snow into wonderful drifts.

Sometimes these big storms are followed by a period of high pressure, with sunny skies and a bright wintry landscape. At other times the low-pressure system lingers, with grey cloud and periods of soft drifting snow. The light is flat, and it can be difficult to see the contours of the land. Yesterday was such a day.

Victoria has dug a trench to the coop, but the chickens and ducks refuse to come out. They cluster around the door and cackle derisively, scratching at the straw-strewn floor as if to show us what ground should feel like. The idea of getting cold feet from being outside is certainly not a priority.

The dogs, in contrast, are in heaven, albeit one with limited or conditional terms. Running in the deeper snow is a short-lived exercise, one which only lasts as long as it takes us to snowshoe thirty or forty metres. At that point they leap on each other and roll about, then race up and down the tracks left behind us. The further we walk, the longer the track, and so they build up their run, in perpendicular laps.

As we walk down through the woods the narrow single file track of a fox crosses the path, precision in each step. He came from the corn field and under a strand of fallen fence wire, then kept going between the rowan (also known as the mountain ash) trees. These still hold many of their berries, it was a good year for them, although the robins have stayed around to gorge themselves. Like many wild trees, rowans tend to fruit heavily every second year, so this fall Victoria picked buckets of the berries and made rowan jelly, a wonderful addition to roast pork or lamb dishes during the winter months.

Further down the trail it looks like a couple of rabbits have loped around the edge of the frozen pond and then gone up the bank next to the beech tree. The brittle brown leaves of the beech, curled in the cold, shine golden in the weak light, their ribs highlighted by a sheen of fresh snow. The shadows in the woods prevent me seeing whether rabbit and fox trail intersect.

Once we get through the woods and out to the garden we are exposed to the soft snow. It’s just below freezing, perhaps minus three or four degrees, and there is no wind. The small flakes drift down, white emerging from grey, and the landscape blurs. A northern or yellow-shafted flicker undulates overhead, making a dash from one clump of trees to another. A type of woodpecker, this one has obviously decided the COVID border restrictions are too onerous and has foregone the opportunity to migrate south for the winter.

We trek down the edge of the garden, past the skeletal orchard, outstretched branches dotted with dormant winter buds. The raspberry canes and grape vines are sleeping deeply, patiently waiting for the long warm days of May before they even think about spending energy. There are still some seeds on the heads of two sunflowers, swaying gently on their ten-foot stalks, but the blue jays have eaten most of them.

The dogs run down to the berm near the pond. The berm is left wild, rife with goldenrod and rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan), dotted with daisies and clover. Now it is a haven for voles, and the dogs dig madly in the snow, seeking the narrow tunnels among the roots as they chase their elusive prey. It is a rare and surprising occurrence when they actually catch one, hunter and hunted both frozen in place, staring at each other in confusion and trying to figure out what to do next. Usually, the dogs get bored first and dance off to another clump of grass. The vole waits until nothing is moving in the immediate area and then goes back into its tunnel, slow and nervous movements at first, followed by a quick dash.

We circle the pond, the water lilies and pickerel weed well hidden by ice and snow. The dogs run out into the middle, skidding to a stop like children who have found an unexpectedly slippery section of sidewalk. The water level is high, so hopefully the goldfish will survive another winter, settled alongside the frogs in the muddy lower depths. Last year the bullrush root I got from a friend’s place put out two new shoots, it will be interesting to see if a proper clump develops this spring. The dragonflies like to rest on the leaves that arch into the pond like flying buttresses supporting the corndog spires.

As we start to head back, the local pair of ravens glide past. They nest somewhere in the old trees down by the Confederation Trail, and regularly perform a perimeter check of their territory. Potential predators such as eagles are escorted away, and potential irritants such as humans are checked to make sure we stick to our own paths.

On this day, our path leads us back through the planted garden. I tend not to prune back the herbaceous borders in the fall. This is not entirely laziness on my part. Apart from anything else, perennials often need a cold snap in order to set seed for next spring. But more importantly, the seed heads add both interest and nourishment to the winter landscape. The tightly folded cups of the Queen Anne’s Lace, the graceful arcs of the hollyhock, the spikes of monarda, aquilegia and agastache, all stand stark against the snow and delineate the shape of the flower beds.

In this monochromatic January landscape, the echoes of last summer’s colour are visible, and so is the promise of the spring to come.

A slice of humble pie, served with a side of tripe

It has been some time since I last posted, so let me begin by wishing everyone a happy new year, and the hope that you are coping with the vagaries and turmoil of these Omicron days. My New Year Resolution is to try to write a blog post each month this year. I hope this survives better than the ‘lose 25 pounds’ and ‘train to run a half-marathon’ resolutions of years past.

This first post starts with an example of humble pie. I was congratulating myself on my novel, which seems to be almost at the one-sale-a-day average now and so I was giving myself a proverbial pat on the back.

[If you haven’t got yours yet, please do so immediately! I need to keep this momentum going.]

Anyway, basking in my success, I then saw this:
https://www.tor.com/2021/10/20/you-should-really-be-reading-victoria-goddards-nine-worlds-series/

I read this and thought, proudly, how brilliant that my daughter’s work is getting such recognition.
I did, honest.

No, really, what I thought was: “mmfph.”

No-one, as far as I’m aware, and I’m pretty confident about this, has EVER given any of my work – academic or creative – such a review. Talk about setting a high bar!

I have just finished the draft of my second novel, and I’m now editing that to see if I can get someone to experience a small moment of serendipity [that] slams into you like a lightning strike and a clap of thunder. Please, if anyone gets there, let me know!

[As a sidebar: If you don’t find such serendipity from my creative efforts, you might try the new academic book from one of my doctoral students, which examines some of the pressing issues of the day in the field of school leadership. Turbulence: Leaders, Educators, and Students Responding to Rapid Change, by Lyle Hamm, is now available from Rowman and Littlefield [www.rowman.com]. Well done, Lyle – congratulations on this achievement.]

All that aside, I’m not sure why we say we’re “eating humble pie” as a sort of apologetic response, an admission of guilt or failure. After all, in his famous diary, on 8 July 1663 Samuel Pepys wrote: “Mrs Turner came in and did bring us an Umble-pie hot out of her oven, extraordinarily good.”

Traditionally, and recorded back into the 1330s, the noumble pie was made from the heart, liver, entrails, and so forth, of deer, the stuff left when you’ve carved out the steaks and the joints. What we sometimes call offal. Linguists think that by the 1500s ‘a noumble’ had evolved into ‘an umble’ and so humble pie was born. Perhaps it’s something to do with eating the lesser valued ingredients, rather than the top end steaks, but I really don’t know.

I think it’s a shame if that is the case. After all, there’s nothing wrong with offal! When I was at teacher’s college, back in the early 1970s, I lived in residence for my first year. Every Thursday the dining room would serve roasted calf heart. I will confess, the novelty wore off quite quickly. After the first two weeks, every Thursday my friends and I would buy fish and chips for dinner.

That said, chicken livers are wonderful when sauteed in olive oil with garlic or onions. Devilled kidneys are a traditional English breakfast delicacy, and Tom Noest has a good recipe at https://www.greatbritishchefs.com/recipes/devilled-lamb-kidneys-recipe. But for me a nice steak and kidney pie in a flaky pastry crust is a wonderful meal. With or without oysters. With chips on the side*. And gravy. And a pint of beer. And a dollop of brown sauce. Heaven.

And I do like tripe, another great food that has been in totally dismissed in literature. A load of tripe indeed.

Whenever I visit France, my friend Robert and I go to the local market and buy tripe sausage, much to the disgust of our wives. We grill them on the BBQ and then spend the evening deciding which grand cru goes best with tripe. The answer, determined after hours of experimentation over many evenings, is: all of them!

My grandma used to make a lovely tripe and onion stew, where the tripe was boiled in milk for some hours, until it was digestible. Hmm-umm. I guess tastes evolve.

Perhaps that might be a theme for a future blog – delectable dishes I have enjoyed but that you won’t find on the menu for Skip the Dishes or similar food delivery services. After all, if our supply chains continue to deteriorate, and food prices continue to increase, we might well have to relearn some of those old recipes and try to make the most out of what we have available.
Oxtail soup, anyone?

________

*By this I mean ‘proper chips’, in the English recipe sense – not French Fries, which are too thin and salty. And certainly not Canadian ‘chips’, which are actually crisps. And should only come in plain, cheese and onion, or salt and vinegar flavours.

Today is a Good Day

Today is a good day

Today is the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada. According to the government, this “solemn day has been established to honour the lost children and Survivors of residential schools, their families and communities, and to ensure public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools as a vital component of the reconciliation process.”

It is the first time I have experienced the first celebration of a new national holiday and, to be honest, it doesn’t seem to have been very well organized. Although the idea received a unanimous vote from the House of Commons, making this a federal statutory holiday, not all provinces have fully agreed with the concept.

In some provinces, such as British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick, the concept has been embraced but the application is lacking. In essence, if you are a federal employee or work in a federally regulated industry, like a bank, you get a paid day off. If you work in a provincially regulated job, you don’t.

As well as confusion regarding who gets to celebrate what, there also seems to be a lack of a master plan.

Prince Edward Island is one of the few provinces that has fully embraced the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, possibly because one of the sponsors of the bill, Senator Brian Francis, is from PEI and was previously chief of the Abegweit First Nation.

Chief Darlene Bernard of the Lennox Island First Nation on PEI has suggested that there are five ways in which people can honour the purpose of the day. First, to wear orange, which has become the ‘official colour’ of this day.

Second, to participate in an event, should one be happening in your community. This is more difficult right now, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but will perhaps be easier in future years. A few cities, such as Ottawa, are hosting spirit walks, where participants wear orange and walk in socially distanced groups to a predetermined destination.

Third, to support Indigenous artisans, and seek out quillwork, birch bark biting, beaded items, and other art for purchase. Fourth, to be considerate, and recognize that Indigenous people across the country are grieving. And fifth, to learn the history of residential schools in this country.

I am wearing my orange t-shirt. In this I am joining many Canadians to honour the experience of Phyllis Wedstad, from Williams Lake, BC, who wrote:

I went to the Mission for one school year in 1973/1974. I had just turned 6 years old. I lived with my grandmother on the Dog Creek reserve. We never had very much money, but somehow my granny managed to buy me a new outfit to go to the Mission school. I remember going to Robinson’s store and picking out a shiny orange shirt. It had string laced up in front, and was so bright and exciting – just like I felt to be going to school!When I got to the Mission, they stripped me, and took away my clothes, including the orange shirt! I never wore it again. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give it back to me, it was mine! The color orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing. All of us little children were crying and no one cared.

https://www.orangeshirtday.org/phyllis-story.html

I thought I would use some of this day to reflect on some personal interactions I have had with those who experienced the residential school system.

When I first came to Canada, in 1984, I had only been teaching for a few months when the rules changed. Suddenly, you had to have a university degree, not a simple Teachers’ College Certificate of Education. So, I enrolled in a Bachelor of Education program at the University of Saskatchewan. I was teaching in the north at the time and thought it would be useful to know more about that area and the people. I must confess, I thought everyone in Canada had learned all this in school, and so this was my chance to catch-up.

I decided to take a double-major of Native Studies and Indian and Northern Education. I soon learned truths that I had never dreamed existed.

***

One day I was in the locker room at the gym, after playing squash with a friend. A classmate was changing at the same time. As he dried himself after his shower, I noticed a series of deep scars across his back.

“What the heck happened to you?” I asked.

“I spoke Cree at school,” he said.

Then he told me how he had been at a residential school, in the early 1970s. He had been speaking his own language, Cree, to a younger cousin who had just arrived at the school and who did not yet know English.

He was whipped as a punishment.

“They used an old fan belt from the tractor,” he said.

***

I had the good fortune to take a class from the late Howard Adams, a wonderful Métis scholar and activist. His great-grandfather was Maxime Lépine, who had fought with Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont during the North-West Resistance of 1885. It was from Adams that I learned about the road allowance people, impoverished Métis communities that had been established on ‘Crown Land’ between the railway tracks and the roads.

From the 1930s through until the 1960s, these homes were bulldozed and burned. The official story, even now, is that the purpose was to clear land and create pasture for settler farmers. In 1938 the community of Ste. Madeleine, Manitoba, was destroyed. The school, store, and 35 homes were all burned to the ground, and the dogs in the village were shot dead, ostensibly to “prevent the spread of disease.” A decade later, in 1949, the community of Lestock, Saskatchewan, was bulldozed and the people sent on trains to Green Lake, a community some 500 kms away. A year later, the houses were burned.

However, Howard Adams argued that these evictions were done in order to remove a potential eyesore from the Royal gaze. He noted that in both 1939 and, again, in 1951 there were Royal Visits to Canada, where first King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) and then Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip travelled across the country by train. “It would not have been in the best interests of the Canadian political class,” said Adams, “for the Kings and Queens of England to see the poverty in which my people lived.” I have not been able to find any documentation to support this claim but as one of my mentors used to say, it is a claim that has optical significance”.

***

Later, when we lived on Baffin Island, I met an Inuk teacher from a place called Grise Fiord, now Ausuittaq. He told me how his parents had been among the eighty-seven people from seventeen families who, in the early 1950s, were taken from Inukjuak, in northern Quebec, and relocated almost 2000 kilometres from their home. This was so that Canada could show the world there were Canadians living in the High Arctic, which in the Cold War years of the time was an important geopolitical strategy.

The fact that they were taken from the relatively lush tundra of northern Quebec to the High Arctic, where they found a much colder climate, unfamiliar terrain, constant winter darkness and limited varieties of wildlife that they could hunt, was irrelevant. In 2010 the Canadian government issued a formal apology, saying that it regrets the “mistakes and broken promises” it made in forcing some Inuit to relocate to the High Arctic in the 1950s. They still live there, though.

***

The use of corporal punishment, the banning of language, the bulldozing of homes, the forced relocation of entire communities – these are not unknown events. They are in the public record. They are spoken of in the oral histories of the First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. And yet they are not in the public discourse, they are not in the curricula, they are not widely known.

I am writing about them here because it is my way of sharing some of what I know, what I heard or experienced directly, what I believe to be true. I hope that these stories will generate some conversations with your families, friends, and colleagues.

Today we honour the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. As many Indigenous leaders have commented, in order to have reconciliation we must first have truth. Today is a good day.

.

A Good-News Blog

It’s the last day of August as I write this, a warm and humid day here on Prince Edward Island. The leaves on the poplar trees are starting to turn yellow, the rowan berries are full, and there is a sense of fall (autumn) in the air. Last night I stayed at my daughter’s place, chicken-, duck- and dog-sitting, while she and a friend had an ‘away-day’ to explore the delights of Halifax. It was cool enough that I lit the fire.

I have decided to try and focus on good news in this blog, so it will probably be quite short. 😊 We have had a lot of doom and gloom lately, and I think it’s time, in the immortal words of Eric Idle, as sung by Graham Chapman in The Life of Brian, to look on the bright side of life.

Hands up if you just said to yourself, “de-dum, de-diddly-dum-de-dum.”

Where to begin?

The robin who nests in the rafters of my StudioShed raised three clutches of eggs this summer. I have lost count of how many goldfish are in my pond, but they have been highly reproductive again this year.

The Pond

Our borders have started to reopen and the tourists and summer residents to return, and we’ve seen friends who haven’t been able to visit for nearly two years. The Farmers’ Market has been incredibly busy and my Saturday morning job at the Charlottetown Cheese Company stall continues to keep me busy and amused. I think if I hadn’t decided to see the world, I could have had a good career at the Leeds Market.

My chapter on Leadership in education in challenging global times, which has been written for a forthcoming Handbook on Educational Leadership, is nearly finished. It was due today, so my timing is as brilliant as always. I’m planning on being ‘fashionably late’ with the submission, and hopefully the Editor will receive it early next week.

Our youngest daughter, Kate, and her husband, Andrew, are living the dream out on the west coast, just north of Vancouver. We have bought flight pass tickets and as soon as things calm down, will go out to visit. They can watch seals and porpoises from the dock at the edge of their property!

A friend came out to the StudioShed, and we installed a solar power system, so now I have lights, plus the ability to recharge my phone and my computer while I am working. All mod cons for off-grid working.

We’ve been to a couple of concerts recently and had the pleasure of seeing performances from both Lennie Gallant and Richard Wood. You can check out the wonderful singing and song writing of Lennie at https://www.youtube.com/user/lenniegallant or the manic fiddle playing of Richard at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC5csbc-r_ZG_arUY3syJbtw

We also went to a couple of plays put on by a local theatre company. One was OK 😊

It said on the news that many of the fires in British Columbia are out, with just over 200 still active, down from the seasonal high of 750+.

I had an excellent harvest of gooseberries, tomatoes, garlic, and beans. The carrots, potatoes, celeriac, leeks and onions are all looking good and will be harvested soon. The pole beans are starting to dry on the vine.

Garden Tomatoes

CBC News has reported that the Americans and their allies airlifted 123,000 people from Kabul in the last 18 days. That means that Canada, who brought out 3700, was responsible for 3%. The group includes two of the 36 people with whom I worked during my time in Afghanistan, and the young man who in 2006 was the interpreter for my daughter, Nichola, and in the convoy when she was killed. I am delighted that he is safe.

https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/rocket-attack-kabul-1.6157938

A large bull moose stuck up to its neck in mud was rescued by two prospectors in the Canadian bush.

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/sudbury/timmins-moose-mud-rescue-1.6158057

In addition to running the Charlottetown Cheese Company, my daughter, Victoria, who posts this blog for me (which is why it seems to come from Victoria Scribens – that’s her username, not mine!), has had a very successful year of writing her novels, which fall into the genre of Literary Fantasy. If that is an area of interest for you, you can check out her books at www.victoriagoddard.ca.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders are top of the Canadian Football League, three games into the season and still undefeated. Go Riders! I hope that my watermelons are ripe enough that I can pick one to make into a hat for the ‘prairie derby’ game against the Calgary Stampeders in early October. Don’t believe me? Go to your favourite search engine and enter [melon head Saskatchewan roughriders]

The United Nations has reported that highly polluting leaded petrol has now been eradicated worldwide.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-58388810

My nephew, Jack, has published his first video game. Full disclosure: I have never played a video game in my life. However, if any of you are so inclined, it was released on 31st May and is available here: MENOS: PSI-SHATTER on Steam According to the reviewers it was received well and is appropriately violent.

For the oenophiles among us, near-perfect growing conditions mean that the 2021 vintage of wines from both Australia and Chile, plus the 2020 vintage from Bordeaux, will all be excellent.

https://www.theguardian.com/food/2021/jul/20/near-perfect-how-to-make-the-most-of-australias-bumper-wine-vintage

https://vinous.com/articles/2020-bordeaux-en-primeur-almost-back-to-normal-jun-2021

And if you haven’t yet discovered the incredible wines from Portugal, look for the Douro Valley reds. From personal experience I would recommend any from Quinta de La Rosa, Quinta de Pacheca, Quinta das Carvalhas, or Quinta do Crasto. In truth, though, if it says ‘Douro’ you probably can’t go wrong.

A glass of wine from any of these places would be a perfect way to celebrate that my first novel has been published! Unlike the books written by Victoria, this is more of a mystery/thriller kind of story that is set in western Canada.

It is called TRACES and is available from Amazon and by ordering from your local bookstore (print isbn: 9781988908403 should find it).

Both print and ebook editions are now available. Kobo and the library ebook sites are still working through the listings but should be available soon.

If you buy it, and read it, then please let me know what you think. I’m in the middle of writing the sequel, so your ideas might be grist for the mill.

What are the good things happening in your world?

So, there you are, a blog full of good news, and lots of links to keep you amused if you happen to be bored one evening (and have finished reading Traces). Not a word about the fourth wave of COVID, the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Afghanistan, the hurricane devastating New Orleans (again), the unprecedented rainfall amounts in Greenland, the choreographed chaos of an unnecessary Canadian election, the ongoing conflagration of California, or the fact that Leeds United have not won a premier league game yet this season. Sigh.

I wish you all a bright, Sun Shiny kind of day.

Sunflowers

An International Disgrace

I am writing this as someone with a strong personal connection to Afghanistan. Some of you know this, but there are a number of readers of this blog who I do not know personally and who I assume do not know my ‘back story’. This next paragraph is mainly for them.

My eldest daughter, Captain Nichola Goddard, MSM, served in the Canadian Army and was killed in combat during operations against the Taliban in 2006. From 2011 to 2016, I had the privilege of being the Project Director for an education development initiative funded by the Government of Canada. I visited Afghanistan many times, mainly Kabul but also some of the regions, and got to know a little bit about both the country and the people.

Given that context, you will understand that I have watched recent events with shock, horror, and dismay.

After the US announced its full withdrawal from Afghanistan, I was delighted when the Government of Canada announced that it was “taking steps, effective immediately, to resettle the Afghan nationals with whom Canada had a significant and/or enduring relationship; the Government recognizes that these individuals were integral to Canada’s efforts in Afghanistan.”

That was less than four weeks ago and was excellent news for those of us who were already working to assist certain Afghans to leave their country because they were considered, solely due to their relationship with Canada, to be in danger of Taliban reprisals. These people included interpreters and others who had worked with Canadian Forces in Afghanistan, Embassy staff, and key members of non-government organization teams who worked on Canadian-funded development initiatives. Including many of my colleagues and friends.

Like many Canadians who served or worked in Afghanistan, I received e-mails from people who were looking for advice on how to escape that country. I wrote letters of support for those whom I knew personally and encouraged them to apply for the special visa.

I did so, knowing that not everyone will qualify. I understand that there must be processes in place and that some people will not meet our criteria. But I would hope that, in times of crisis such as these, we would be human enough to minimize the bureaucratic hurdles which might limit the ability of people to apply. Indeed, our goal should be to maximise the opportunities for us to provide help to those who, when we needed it, decided to help us. Isn’t that the Canadian way?

Canada, however, fell short. There was a lot of talk, but not a lot of action. Irrespective of what they were saying, our government was not following through. It showed no urgency and did not appear to be facilitating a rapid resettlement process.

In a time of great chaos, when the Taliban were taking over great swathes of the country, when western governments were deploying huge numbers of military personnel to ensure the safe evacuation of their Embassies, Afghans whose initial application to the Canadian special program was positively received were being given that good news. They were then told that they could now start an application.

This process required each applicant to complete and submit Form IMM0008– Generic Application Form for Canada. As this form only had space for 5 names, if there were more than 5 people in your family then you also had to complete Form MM0008DEP – Additional Dependants / Declaration Form for each additional family member.

They next had to complete Schedule A, a Background/Declaration Form, for themselves and all dependants 18 years old and above. It was highlighted that “Question 10 asks you to list all government positions you have held before or after retirement. Not providing information for the entire period or leaving gaps could delay your application.”

Applicants then had to complete the IMM5406 (for themselves and all individuals 18 years old or over), plus include a scan or photo of the passport or Tazkira (national identity card) for every member of the family. It was made clear that everyone needed to get their own passport.

If your application is approved, it is your responsibility to ensure you have a passport before presenting yourself to the airport at the time flights may be scheduled. If you do NOT hold a passport, local authorities will prevent you from departing Afghanistan on a flight to Canada. Please note that the Government of Canada cannot assist you in the passport application process and cannot respond to individual questions pertaining to obtaining a passport in Afghanistan.

Finally, for any de facto family members, for example relatives who lived in the household, like a grandparent or a widowed sister, the applicant had to describe how this individual was dependent upon them financially and/or emotionally and, for each de facto dependant, submit another IMM0008 as well as a Schedule A (for all individuals 18 years old or over) and an IMM5406 (for all individuals 18 years old or over), together with a scan of the passport or Tazkira for every person (if available).

Once the completed application was submitted, reviewed, and approved, successful applicants had to go for biometric assessment, and then for a COVID19 test. Once all these steps were completed, they were then to go home and wait until they got called. At that point they would be told when they could go to the airport, where they would have to exit the country using the normal passport and border control channels.

I am wondering how much more complex this process could have been made. It is a textbook example of people, in this case employees of the Government of Canada, making sure that their actions were ‘by the book’ and could not possibly be questioned. In following established procedures, they prioritized bureaucratic processes over humanitarian intervention.

It is a national disgrace.

I hope that there is a “lesson learned” from this debacle, for when something like this happens again. As it surely will. That lesson is: first extract, then evaluate.

In times where prompt and concrete action is required, those in power must focus on making that action happen, not mouth platitudes. People on the ground, in this case at the Embassy in Kabul, will be immediately authorized to take actions as they deem necessary, not wait until approved by Ottawa. Most problems are best solved by people close to the situation.

If the Government of Canada was serious about resettling those “Afghan nationals with whom Canada had a significant and/or enduring relationship”, then it should have dropped the bureaucratic barriers that hindered their prompt and speedy extraction. This should not have been not difficult. If the Government of Canada was not serious, then it should not have spread false hope. Instead, it should have thanked everyone for their service and wished them good luck in the future.

If we accept that the Government of Canada was serious about helping people, all it had to do was accept the documents which people could provide. It would have recognized that going to an internet café to download and print forms was probably not a good idea, especially for former interpreters who had been moved to safe houses for their own protection. If necessary, it could have asked applicants to provide the name and contact information of a Canadian with whom they worked and have someone from Ottawa contact that person and seek confirmation. They could have extracted people directly through the military side of Kabul airport to a waiting RCAF or chartered civilian plane. They could have worried about COVID-19 by imposing a mandatory 14-day isolation at CFB Trenton once people arrived safely in Canada.

The process of resettlement only becomes difficult when you lose trust in people and try to make the system fool-proof. When policies are focused on stopping one potential threat from entering Canada, irrespective of the impact on the many left behind. Most of the Afghans with whom I have spoken don’t really want to leave Afghanistan, but they understand the necessity to do so. They are competent, educated professionals. Most speak English as well as Pashto and Dari; many speak French as well, or Russian, or German. They deserve our support.

It is even more frustrating to recognize that this is not simply a Canadian problem. No western country is coming out of this situation with their reputations intact. It is truly an international disgrace.

In Canada, we have one small opportunity to make things happen. We have just entered into an election campaign. I would encourage all my Canadian readers to talk to all the candidates in their riding, not just those seeking re-election, and keep this abandonment of our friends and allies at the front of their minds. Yes, there has been a horrible earthquake in Haiti. Yes, there are many important domestic issues which need to be addressed. But if you seek power, you have to deal with all events, you cannot pick and choose. You also have to deal with the consequences of your actions.

In Afghanistan there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people who stepped forward and worked with Canadians at a time when we needed them. Where are we now, when they need us?

—-

A version of this blog was published in The Guardian, a local newspaper on Prince Edward Island, on 20 August 2021.

Are We There Yet?

I remember a family trip when I was very young, my parents taking my brothers and I to the seaside for a day out. Exasperated at the constant bickering of three small boys in the back seat of a small car, all of us taking turns to shout “are we there yet?”, my dad pulled into a layby on the side of the road. “Yes,” he said, and distributed the sandwiches. We were on a hill, I remember, and watched some cows in a field as we ate. Then we turned around and drove home.

It seems to me that at some point we shall just have to decide that we have arrived at the end of the COVID tunnel. As Senator George Aiken is reputed to have said, some 55 years ago in reference to the Vietnam War, perhaps we should just declare victory and go home.

Sixteen months. 487 days and counting. That’s how long this journey has been, since the pandemic was declared on 13 March 2020.

It’s not actually a long time, at least not in the temporal sense. Our history books are littered with references that suggest a much longer assault – the first voyage of Captain Cook to circumnavigate the globe, 3 years, 1768-1771; World War Two, 6 years, 1939-1945; the Black Death, 7 years, 1346-1353; prohibition, 13 years, 1920-1933; the Hundred Years war, 116 years, 1337-1453; and the residential school system, 169 years, 1828-1997.

We’re not even at the two-year mark of this one and we’re all getting bored with it all. Having to wear masks, not being able to hug or shake hands, sitting in ‘sold-out’ venues that are actually half-full of cordoned off empty seats; BORING!

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, it’s summer now, and that makes it worse. We want to go to the beach, to eat ice cream, to sit out under shading trees and listen to live music, to wander and browse through farmers’ markets. When the autumn comes, and then goes, we will probably manage to hide ourselves back inside for another winter.

And the politicians know and understand this. Now is a time to celebrate, they tell us, a time to declare the end of the journey. Are we there yet? Yes!

We believe them, because we want to. Even though we know it’s not true. We can read the news reports as well as any commentator or anchor desk, we see the havoc wreaked by each new variant.

We know that there are still countries in the world where no vaccinations have happened. None. We know that there are countries where vaccination rates are low, or where only a favoured few have received the two doses required to be considered fully immunized.

I check Our World in Data’s vaccination data, sometimes, to see how things are going in those places where I have lived and worked, where friends and family live. Afghanistan, 0.5%; Kosovo, 3.2%; Australia, 8.3%; New Zealand, 10.2%; Colombia, 16%; Sweden, 34.3%; United States, 48.2%; United Kingdom, 51.3%; There are no data for Papua New Guinea.

Here in Canada, we are at 40.5%. And, as of Friday 9 July, that includes me. I got my second shot, Moderna again, and this time did have a bit of a reaction. It was over quickly, though, and I seem to be OK now. They gave me a little sticker that read: “I got my shot. Did you?”

It seems that I shall have to wait another two weeks before the vaccination is actually working. Even then, it doesn’t mean that I won’t catch COVID, only that I probably won’t die from it. Which is comforting. A comfort that only lasts as long as a new variant, I guess, but it’s better than nothing. Am I there yet? Not quite.

It seemed appropriate, then, to sit on my double-dose pinnacle and have a look in both directions, forward and back. What did I do during the pandemic? What are my plans for the future?

To look in the rear-view mirror first. I must confess that I spent most of the pandemic in a cocoon, pulling the blankets over my head and trying to pretend nothing was happening. Not very mature, I concede, but it worked. It helped that I was not alone.

Here on Prince Edward Island, our biggest regret was that the Confederation Bridge had been designed and marketed as “the longest bridge in the world crossing ice covered water.” With the ferries and the airport closed, we would have been much happier with being able to say that we had “pulled up the longest drawbridge in the world.” That way we would not have had to report out-of-province number plates for stopping at shops when they were supposed to drive straight through or write letters to the paper about summer residents sneaking in when they weren’t supposed to be at their cottages.

We were so fortunate here, in so many ways. Over the last sixteen months we have had 208 cases, with no deaths and only one hospitalization. To put that in context, our total resident population is 160,000 people. We had what were considered by some to be draconian rules about mask wearing, indoor and outdoor gatherings, health checks at the border for rotational workers and other ‘essential visitors’, and so forth. These rules worked, no matter what the seventeen protesters with their “Shamdemic” placards tried to say, every Sunday afternoon in front of the War Memorial.

My favourite coffee shop remained open, they moved tables around until they were 2 metres apart and my friends and I wore our masks until we were sitting down with our latte and our pain au chocolat. One of our local entrepreneurs found a way to keep his venue open, albeit only with 50 guests, but by raising ticket prices a tad he was able to put on shows which covered his rent and paid the musicians, so I got to a concert every month or so. Gas prices stayed low until a few weeks ago, so I was able to drive out to the big garden nearly every day without bankrupting myself. And on rainy days, there was always the cocoon.

When I ventured out from the cocoon, I took on a couple of desk-based contracts which kept my consultancy company afloat. I reviewed some articles for a couple of journals. I was appointed to the Council of the College of Licensed Practical Nurses of Prince Edward Island and then, at the first meeting, elected chair! This continued participation in the edges of the academy no doubt contributed to my being appointed Professor Emeritus at the University of Prince Edward Island, an honour which I greatly appreciate and of which I am unquestionably proud.

My home-town soccer club, Leeds United, were promoted to the Premier League, and thanks to international television broadcasters I was able to watch every single one of their 38 league games during the year, plus a couple of cup ties. We finished the season in 9th place, which was not too shabby at all. This year promises even greater glory! MOT.

Of course, I did not really take full advantage of this pause in our lives. I did not learn how to play a musical instrument, nor did I improve my conversational French or any other language. I didn’t even deep clean the house and downsize boxes of ‘stuff’ out to the charity shop or Kijiji.

I did write a novel, though. My first one, Traces, is a simple story. According to the publishers’ blurb:

Traumatized after witnessing a military incursion, a man flees his hometown in a quest to reunite with his family. A modern-day voyageur, he lives off the land, and his wits, as he traverses the prairies and waterways of western Canada. As he tries to evade whoever might be pursuing him, he inadvertently leaves traces of his passing. Traces which will reveal the man he really is. Or will they?

It will be published on 1 September 2021. You can pre-order an e-book version now on Amazon, and both other formats and print copies ought to be available at the end of August. If you read it, please let me know what you think.

And yes, I’m already working on the second!

Which is a nice segue into the future plans part of today’s blog. I have been asked to write a chapter for a forthcoming handbook on Educational Leadership, so that’s a priority, as is working on my second novel. In two weeks, I shall be able to apply for the PEI Pass, a new document you can get which acts as a sort of vaccination passport and means that you don’t have to quarantine for 2 weeks if you travel anywhere.

I’m hoping that flights will start to get back to normal soon, as it would be wonderful to travel to British Columbia and visit with our youngest daughter and her husband, who live just north of Vancouver. I am still not sure when international travel will be normalized again, but hopefully 2022 will see some movement on that front.

The pandemic has also shown us that perhaps we don’t need such a big house, and so we are starting to consider that very trendy word, downsizing. I’ve no idea where we’d put all our stuff, though, if we go through with the idea. What does one do with two thousand (+) books, with walls of paintings and prints, with shelves of sculptures and artefacts? Where would I put George the General, a 2/3 scale replica of one of the terracotta warriors, who I had shipped back from Xi’an? What about the clay pots that we bought nearly 50 years ago, in isolated villages on the Sepik River? How does one differentiate between ‘wants’ and ‘needs’, and put comparative values on each? Is that possible?

With regard to the question of downsizing and relocating, then, are we there yet? No, not at all.

Friends help friends keep away from the sewer

In two weeks, we shall celebrate Canada Day, which marks 154 years since the passage of the British North America Act. On July 1, 1867, the Dominion of Canada was officially established as a self-governing entity within the British Empire. There were three provinces which came together to form the Dominion – Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and what was known as the Province of Canada, which consisted of Canada West (former Upper Canada, current day Ontario) and Canada East (former Lower Canada, current day Quebec).

Other provinces joined later – Manitoba and the Northwest Territories (NWT) were created in 1870, when Rupert’s Land was purchased from the Hudson’s Bay Company for three hundred thousand pounds, or $1.5 million. Not wanting to be left on the margins, British Columbia joined in 1871, and PEI in 1873. Both Alberta and Saskatchewan were formed in 1905, carved out of the NWT by federal government decree. Newfoundland and Labrador did not join the confederation of Canada until 1949, and Nunavut was created in 1999.

So really, Canada as we know it today has only existed since 1 April 1999 – some twenty-two years. Still, any excuse for a party, eh?

Although in truth, it is a hard time to be Canadian, and there are a growing number of people who are suggesting that we don’t celebrate Canada Day this year.

Normally, we would describe the stereotypical Canuck as polite, quiet, reserved, and generally nice. We are passionate about our local community and our province. Nearly all of us ice skate or play hockey. Even if we can’t play, we watch, and whichever team we support, we all boo Toronto. We drink coffee from a certain store because it happened to be once owned by a hockey player. We are proud that basketball and 5 pin bowling were both invented by Canadians (James Naismith, 1891, and T. E. Ryan, 1909, respectively), as were zippers, snow blowers, lawn sprinklers, instant mashed potatoes, peanut butter, insulin, cardiac pacemakers, canola, acetylene, the snowmobile, and many more1.

We consider ourselves more peaceable than our neighbours to the south, the loud and violent Americans. We consider ourselves more egalitarian than their colonial forebears, be they from the United Kingdom or France. We consider ourselves a welcoming country, open to refugees and economic migrants alike. We are proud that Lester B. Pearson, a former Prime Minister, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957 for organizing the United Nations Emergency Force to resolve the Suez Canal Crisis. Most of us are proud that another prime minister, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, introduced the Official Languages Act in 1979 to ensure that federal government services would be provided in both official languages, wherever population size warranted it.

Most of us are proud that peacekeeping is a celebrated part of what Canada is as a nation, and who Canadians are as a people, with over 125,000 Canadian military personnel serving in UN peacekeeping missions since 1947. We pride ourselves on being a modern, multicultural, secular society.

We don’t see ourselves as bigoted, racist, misogynistic, intolerant, homophobic or angry.

And yet, and yet.

Two weeks ago, the remains of 215 children were found buried in the grounds of what used to be the Kamloops Indian Residential School. These were ‘undocumented deaths’ – no known paper trail describes who they are, when they died, or how they died. They simply were taken away from their parents and sent to the school, and never went home.

This event was shocking in the numbers involved, but sadly not in the fact that it happened. The terror of the residential schools has been an open secret in First Nations communities for years, of families torn apart, of siblings and cousins never seen again. Six years ago, in 2015, “in order to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation”, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) made 94 Calls to Action.

The TRC noted that large numbers of Indigenous children who were sent to residential schools never returned to their home communities. Some children ran away, and others died at the schools. The Missing Children Project documents the deaths and the burial places of children who died while attending the schools. To date, more than 4,100 children who died while attending a residential school have been identified2. The fear is that there are many more. The discovery at Kamloops has prompted many First Nations to initiate searches of the grounds of the residential schools that existed in their communities. Who knows what the ground penetrating radar will find?

Hopefully, the horror of Kamloops has also prompted many Canadians to realize that so far there has been very little progress on any of the TRC Calls to Action. There has been a lot of talk, but according to a CBC report, as of last week eight of the Calls had been implemented.3

Eight.

Last week the Federal Government produced a ‘National Action Plan’ in response to the findings and numerous recommendations of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). The actual report of the MMIWG Inquiry was released two years ago, on June 3, 2019, and caused a stir because it described the disproportionate level of violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada as a “genocide.”

I think that Mariah Charleson, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council vice-president, described it best in her interview with a reporter from the Toronto Star4. Noting that it took two years for the federal government to come up with 23 short-term priorities and seven goals, her response was: “It fell far short of what we were expecting.”

She did not state the obvious – if an action plan has no deliverables, no landmarks, no immediate goals, no long-term goals, no timelines, and no budget, then can it actually be called a plan? No doubt there will be another committee struck to develop activities to address the priorities and goals. Meanwhile, the murders and the disappearances continue, with rationales and excuses justifying the lack of any appropriate consequences.

The National Action Plan was released a day before the one-year anniversary of Chantel Moore’s death – the 26-year-old Indigenous woman was fatally shot outside her New Brunswick apartment during a wellness check by an Edmundston police officer. No charges were laid against the involved officer, apparently because Ms. Moore had been drinking and approached him holding a small steak knife. The officer found himself trapped on a balcony and felt justified in shooting her to defend himself. He fired four times.

Earlier this week, a man in Thunder Bay, Ontario, was sentenced to eight years in prison for manslaughter. In 2017 he was 18 years old. He had been out drinking all day, and as he and friends were driving around that evening, he leaned out of the car window and threw a trailer hitch at two women, sisters, who were walking in their residential neighbourhood. “I got one”, he yelled. Barbara Kentner, of the Wabigoon Lake Ojibway First Nation, died of her injuries following what the judge called a misogynist, thrill-seeking and callous attack. Observing that eggs, bricks, garbage and bottles are frequently thrown at Indigenous people in the northern Ontario city, the judge said the man did not know this, he attacked her solely because she was female.

It is not just Indigenous people who are suffering. This past weekend, a family went out for an evening stroll in London, Ontario. It’s a small city, fewer than half a million people live there, and it is known for the parks and green space that extend along the banks of the Thames River. As one might expect, it is a predominantly Anglo community, with 75% of the population reporting they speak only English at home. But there is a growing population of new immigrants to Canada, with over 20% of the population claiming a language other than English or French as a mother tongue5. The family out for a walk last Sunday evening, who had lived in London for 14 years, were originally from Pakistan. And they were Muslim.

As they waited at an intersection for the ‘green man’ to indicate that they could cross safely, a man in a pick-up truck drove up onto the curb, at high speed, and ran them down. A 15-year-old girl, Yumna, her parents, Salmon and Mahida Afzaal, and her grandmother were all killed. Her nine-year-old brother Fayez survived, albeit with serious injuries. The man, who I shall not name, has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one of attempted murder, and the police are considering whether to lay terrorism charges.

This is not the only case of Islamophobia we have witnessed in Canada recently, In January 2017, six men were killed, and 19 others seriously injured, in a shooting at mosque in Quebec. Last year, a volunteer caretaker at a mosque on Toronto was stabbed to death by a man whose social media posts included the sharing of content from a site affiliated with a satanic neo-Nazi group. Even here on Prince Edward Island we have witnessed disturbing acts of intimidation and vandalism – a pig’s head was nailed to a post at the mosque, the truck of a contractor working at the site was set on fire, and so on. Small acts compared with the others, but no less disturbing.

It is hard to speculate why there is so much hate around. The perpetrators of these crimes tend to have one thing in common – they are usually young white males. They are often described as ‘normal’ men, who play hockey and drink coffee, who love pets. They are spoken of as being polite, quiet, reserved, and generally nice. Except when they are drinking, or sitting at a computer accessing racist, misogynistic, homophobic and politically inflammatory websites, I guess.

I recognize that we can do very little to influence these events. The Internet is like the open sewers you see in some cities, running parallel to the street and sluicing away a lot of garbage. There is usually a concrete berm which tries to control the direction of the flow, but sometimes the sewer is full and stuff splashes over the edges onto the street. Sometimes you see people down at the edge of the berm, picking through to see if anything interesting has washed up. You feel sorry for them, but you can’t, and don’t, do anything about it.

It seems to me that this is part of the problem. In doing nothing, we are doing something. The fact that we take no action is an action in itself. As those of us working in the north used to joke, in many cases the policy of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development was to not have a policy. Many of us follow that same path. We are not calling out to those people who are picking through the edges of the Internet sewer, telling them about the dangers they are facing, the dangers of contamination from the filth they are handling, the dangers of falling in and being swept away by the flow.

When we receive a forwarded e-mail or tweet that is bigoted, racist, misogynistic, intolerant, homophobic or angry, we simply delete it. We might even shake our heads in dismay or disgust. But we don’t contact the sender, the friend or relative or co-worker who thought we might find it funny. We don’t want to upset anyone, or to be seen as overly sensitive, or be accused on political correctness, so we don’t say, “stop sending me this kind of thing”. And by not calling them out, we inadvertently help to perpetuate the problem.

I’ve decided that I am going to celebrate Canada Day this year. If our ever-changing COVID19 protocols allow people to get together, I’m going to go downtown and mingle with the other citizens of my city. If we are corralled in an online environment, I’ll go there instead, at least for a short time. In either space I shall take special care to say hello to everyone, especially those who don’t look like me. It might not mean a lot in the greater scheme of things, but it will to me.

1 Bellis, Mary. (2021, February 16). Top 100 Inventions Made in Canada. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/made-in-canada-1991456

2 http://www.trc.ca/events-and-projects/missing-children-project.html

3 https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/let-s-get-on-with-it-indigenous-advocates-demand-completion-of-trc-calls-to-action-1.5456200

4 https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2021/06/08/leaders-say-mmiwg-national-action-plan-falls-short.html

5 https://www.citypopulation.de/en/canada/ontario/admin/_/3539036__london/