It was late Friday night when I first read of the pepper-spray attack on the people attending an event for Syrian refugees in Vancouver.
Motive unknown were the last two words of tweets from several accounts. I wondered if anyone – especially the person who originally conceived the need to include them – believed them to be true.
I tried to recall if I’d seen those words in similar news alerts. “Is motive unknown standard boilerplate?” I asked the air between the living room and bathroom. “Do they always put that in or was it added this time because they knew what everyone would be thinking?”
As I headed off to bed I considered other possible explanations for the attack – but by the time my head hit the pillow it was back at hate – specifically, Hate Inc. Hate as a brand, a lifestyle – a warped Utopian worldview. And the design of that particular product is always – always – specific to time and place. Regardless of the individual’s psychology – which we revel in dissecting – sociology, politics and history are also at the table – which makes us uncomfortable.
Much later that day I learned of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s response to the ride-by pepper-spray attack and that ‘motive unknown’ had become ‘motive un-Canadian.’
And much as I wanted to relax in that reassuring thought, I had to wonder – is ‘this isn’t who we are’ based on critical thinking or wishful thinking? Didn’t we just have an election in which a disturbing number of Canadians cheered cheap knock-offs of this brand? Should we be comforting ourselves with the distance of the divide between him and us or measuring it? Is celebrating this distinction as reassuring and helpful to people of colour as it to white non-Muslims? Should we maybe ask our First Nations population their thoughts on who we are before we announce it? Are we unintentionally adding to the isolation and harm by telling people what they live and know is not true? And why is it we, (white people), always feel the need to reassure ourselves in these situations? Why do we constantly have to say – ‘ahem, over here, look at me, I’m not like that?’
Why does it always seem to end up being about us? Is this just a little too close to ‘not all men’ or ‘all lives’?
Many times I have chosen those very same words – ‘this isn’t who we are’ – when reacting to events I believed to be contrary to my country’s values. Honestly, on another day I might have echoed Trudeau’s sentiments. This time I couldn’t even manage to RT them.
This time those words bothered me. This time the words that came to mind were – ‘would that it were so.’
These days whenever I wonder if I’m the only one wondering something – I scroll through Twitter.
Tom Mulcair’s reaction was similar to Trudeau’s. Apparently Canadians are compassionate. The rest of the world – maybe not so much? But anyway, good to know. Did I mention that around 2004 I developed an autoimmune disease that combined with the unhealthy ramifications of cuts to health care, has me now in a wheelchair? Compassion-less politics literally crippled me. If I point this out, there are more than a few who tell me to be grateful I got any care at all. Was there compassion hidden beneath the ‘how dare you ask for more’ indignation of Mr. Bumble in Oliver Twist? Who can say?
Who was it that enthusiastically elected these hack and slash specialists if not other Canadians?
I live in a province with a government that vilifies, isolates, demeans and comes pretty damn close to completely abandoning people with disabilities. So I am just not sure what I do with this new information that what makes someone a Canadian is their compassion – should we start revoking citizenship? Can I begin with the salespeople who ask my friends what ‘she’ wants and hand them back my bank card? How about the nurse who asked me why I would even want to go on living when I refused to sign a DNR? Either many people are voting wildly against their own values or maybe a whole lot of my fellow citizens for whatever reason, currently lack the compassion to see value in ‘people like me.’ Also – poor doors. Seriously – buildings with concrete walls, separate elevators and separate entrances for the poor just don’t scream compassion to me.
I live in Vancouver – the city that builds up so it doesn’t have to look down and around.
The police and press may have failed to act in a way that might have brought an earlier end to the reign of terror that man with his pig farm inflicted on women in the downtown, but pretty much the entire city failed to care.
I kept scrolling.
Rona Ambrose delivered a more muddied message – throwing in her Party’s ‘law and order(1)’ language presumably because the fact that this person broke a law matters more to elements of her base than racism does – but, still containing a similar, though more righteously-vengeful, less passionately-patriotic ‘not Canadian’ verdict.
I am thankful to live in a country where our politicians (either for genuine, or *sigh* re-branding due to political climate, reasons) denounce and discourage membership in Hate Inc.
Likewise, I am increasingly grateful there’s a border between myself and Trump and his heavily armed supporters who consider it an act of patriotism to die for and from their guns.
And I am as guilty as the next person of bragging that the air up here is less toxic that whatever they pump into and out of those GOP debates.
Living next to America it’s easy to stop ‘aspiring towards’ and rest on ‘not as bad as.’
But even if we are better than the United States, it doesn’t mean we are good.
I understand ‘this isn’t who we are’ coming from the Prime Minister is intended as much to assert as it is to reflect and I understand the power that has.
Honestly, this really is not about criticizing Trudeau. It isn’t about Trudeau or Mulcair or Ambrose – or me for that matter.
It’s about acknowledging the truth. All of it – without the Photoshop fixes.
It’s about honouring and listening to the lived experiences of those who know otherwise – those whose everyday lives scream – yes it is back at ‘this isn’t who we are.’
It feels disingenuous and more than a little self-placating to say this isn’t who we are. It seems more honest to say – this isn’t who I want us to be – this isn’t who we should be, it isn’t who I know we can and must be.
I think it’s important not to confuse what we want with what we have.
So I shared my thoughts online. It seemed like the right place to do so since much of the reason why this time I pulled the pacifier from my mouth is because of what I have read there.
To my surprise and delight a few tweeted back. One suggested I write a blog post – so here it is.
I still don’t know what the right thing to say is. The only thing I do know is that it should be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth – we owe that to ourselves and our children. Then, maybe one day in the future they won’t even have to say ‘this isn’t who we are’ because everyone will know it.
(1) As a victim of violent crime I reject the assertion by the Conservative Party that they are the law and order party or that they represent the interests of victims of crime. While some laws, some order and some victims interests may fit their agenda, others are neglected or even harmed by their policies. This became even more apparent during the election when these self-styled victims’ advocates used photos of crime victims taken moments before their death, as part of their campaign material.