Prime Minister Harper, the "old stock" Canadian, recently made the odd remark, "I will never tell my young daughter that a woman should cover her face because she is a woman. That's not our Canada." Why such a notion should ever present itself to Mr. Harper is a mystery, but the part that caught my eye was, "That's not our Canada."
"Our" Canada? Stephen Harper's Canada is not my Canada. Can a man who once mocked Canadian values to an American audience, a man who wanted to build a firewall around Alberta to keep out Canadian values, a man who has disrespected Canadian courts and Canadian democracy, speak for Canadian values? This fellow is no fit arbiter of "our Canada."
But who is? Who can speak for Canadian values? There are many sets of values floating about the country: conservative, liberal, socialist, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim ... the list is long and the spokespeople varied. And of course values constantly change. Gay marriage was, only a very short time ago, alien to Canadians; today it is widely accepted and approved of.
And is the Canadian way necessarily the right way? At one time, "our Canada" denied women the vote, excluded Chinese and Aboriginals from citizenship, took Indian children away from their parents, and persecuted gays.
Some values are so widely supported and deeply ingrained, they might fit the bill as "our Canada." Those ensconced in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms come to mind. But many others are arbitrary and transient, and progress commonly involves challenging and overcoming accepted values.
Morally, issues should be judged on their individual merits, by appealing to principle and logic, not to the easy emotions engendered by slogans such as "our Canada," "the Canadian way" or "Canadian values." These are best left to the demagogues.
Telling your daughter that women should cover their faces because they are women isn't wrong because it isn't "our Canada." It's wrong because it denies women equality, including the right to make their own choices. The oppression is in the coercion. Oppressing women is the sin, not wearing a niqab, not being "unCanadian."