As a Canadian, it is very easy to focus on the conflict in the United States. Constant media coverage of everything south of the border allows many of us to feel like our country is significantly better; that we are exempt from these issues. While it is good to be socially aware on an international scale, we also need to be aware of what has and continues to happen in our own country. Canada is by no means innocent when it comes to oppression and racism. Our history is built on the backs of people of colour, we just tend to be better at hiding it. Here are some issues that have, or are currently taking place in Canada that have not been given the attention that they deserve:
The Sixties scoop began in the 1960s and continued into the late 1980s. It was a period of time where the government could take Indigenous children from their families and communities and incorporate them into white, primarily middle-class homes throughout Canada and the United States. The government justified their actions by asserting that they were removing the children from the horrible living conditions on Indigenous reserves, conditions that they were perfectly capable of remedying, and giving them a better life with new families. This was not the case. In these homes, the children were often physically, verbally, and sexually abused by their new “families”. They were forced to adopt new names, were separated from their culture, and lost their connections to their language and heritage. Around 20 000 children were taken over the span of the 20 years. Almost all of these children suffered from emotional and psychological issues throughout their lives, which directly correlated to their feelings of not belonging in mainstream Euro-Canadian society.
While there is a government fund known as the Sixties Scoop settlement that gives financial compensation to those who were forcibly removed from their families, there is no way to give them back the cultural identity that was taken away from them.
On June 16, 2019, the Quebec government voted to pass Bill 21, a law prohibiting the display of religious symbols on all public-sector workers in Quebec. The bill was passed based on the principles of religious neutrality of the state. It was ruled on the grounds that when public sector workers display religious symbols they are not separating religion from state, something that is written into the Constitution.
While this might sound reasonable at first glance, the actual implications of this bill are quite extreme. Men and women that wear pieces such as turbans, hijabs, and other body coverings as part of their religion can be forced to remove them if they work in public sectors. A Muslim woman who works as a teacher, for example, could be made to remove her hijab in front of a classroom of students. This type of control is a direct violation of human rights, and has been widely criticized for justifying xenophobia by political experts in Quebec. Religious items are extremely important to those who wear them, and by forcing them to be removed, the bill restricts their personal freedoms. Despite the controversy and criticism surrounding Bill 21, action regarding the law has yet to be taken.
Canada has been falling behind the developed world in terms of environmental consciousness in the last couple of decades. We have one of the highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita, falling into the top ten global emitters and according to new government reports, Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. One of the largest factors impacting the environment is the oil production taking place in Alberta. While the oil sands themselves are not hidden from us, the true severity of the impacts that they have is largely unknown. It seems that no matter how much talk there is, the issues going on are ignored and the sands continue to function. According to National Geographic, the Alberta oil sands is the single most destructive oil operation in the world. The organizations involved are hiding the reality of the situation; emissions that were measured by aircraft directly over the site were about 30% higher than the emissions reported by the company. While restoration projects are in place for the boreal forests surrounding the area, too much damage has occurred for them to ever return to the state they once were in. The wetlands, which made up around 40-50% of the land that the sands occupy have been completely eradicated.
Not only do the sands have an environmental impact, but they have a significant negative effect on those living in the area. Around 23,000 Indigenous people live in the oil sands region, and these people have virtually no say in how the sands operate despite the fact that it is directly affecting them. The tar-sands development has completely altered the Athabasca landscape, causing deforestation of the boreal forests, open-pit mining, toxic contamination of water systems and watersheds, disruption of habitat and biodiversity, and disruption of the Indigenous Dene, Cree and Métis trap-line cultures. The companies responsible for the sands have been neglecting the health effects of their operations on Indigenous populations which include drastic increases in cases of cancers and other toxin-induced diseases. This mistreatment of Indigenous people is just the latest in a long history of genocide, displacement, and deculturation.
It is disrespectful to those who have suffered at the hands of our country if we ignore the hardships they have faced. While our country may be more progressive than many others, we do not get to pick and choose what social, environmental, and economic issues we deal with. In order for change to take place, we must acknowledge our mistakes, learn from them, and accept that we have room for growth.