14 November 2009

Telling lies about Canada: the new guide for immigrants

I confess to being a history buff. I am a member of our local heritage society, a member of the Alberta Historical Society and editor/designer of the local chapter's newsletter, and a member of Canada's History Society (and, needless to say, an avid reader of each issue of The Beaver). So naturally I read with considerable interest the history sections of the new guide for immigrants issued by the federal government . I was appalled. The guide, "Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship," presents a grossly distorted view of this country's past.

While it goes on at great length about Canada's wars, including an in-your-face poppy, it contains exactly one sentence on peacekeeping. About our non-military contributions to the international community it is silent. Nothing about foreign aid, whether it be food aid, helping countries create democratic institutions, or any of the other substantial contributions we have made toward a more democratic and equitable world. Nothing on our involvement in negotiating the Land Mines Treaty or on the leading role we played in creating the International Criminal Court, one of the finest contributions to international justice in all of history. And incredibly, nothing on our greatest international hero and father of modern peacekeeping, Lester Pearson, the only Canadian to win the Nobel Peace Prize, a man who actually ended a war.

By omitting the peaceful side of our contribution to the modern world, the document lies about us, a lie of omission. It carries the lie into our domestic affairs as well. It only mentions the Canada Health Act in one sentence, yet the struggle for Medicare was one of this country's greatest battles for what many Canadians believe to be the institution that more than any other defines us. Needless to say, the architect of Medicare and the man chosen "greatest Canadian," Tommy Douglas, is absent.

Perhaps the omission of the Liberal Pearson and the NDPer Douglas is not surprising in a Conservative document; nonetheless, we should be able to present a reasonable approximation of the essential Canada to newcomers. Instead we have something that is simply not us, a narrow part of us, yes, but much less than what we are.

The document does nicely illustrate why we shouldn't teach history in our schools. It is simply too difficult to teach fairly. If it were taught objectively such that it increased students' understanding of our species, including the Canadian version, I would support the idea. Unfortunately, it is more often used to propagate tribal myths. And the myths propagated are often warrior myths. History is often captured, as it has been in this document, by militarists.

How sad that that the picture of us future citizens will get is a view through the distorting mirror of militarism. I hope the guide will, at least, be kept out of the schools. We shouldn't lie to children.

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