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Preventing Fahrenheit 2020.

By Elliot J. Nitkin

"Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right."

George Orwell's "1984", written in 1949.

ow are we to make sense of the present in Canada?

Our capacity to listen is on life support. Our ability to reason communally is paralyzed. Choosing thoughtful discussion over criticism and censorship is becoming extinct. We have disavowed ourselves of free speech and reasoned compromise, replacing it with threatening retaliation and the "cancel" culture.

What makes the present form of McCarthyism so insidious is that it is not the government imposing a totalitarian existence on Canadians, it is Canadians.

Citizens expressing their concerns in an open forum free from state tyranny is most heartening.  That the press and power base of Canada is listening with the intent to prove it is listening is a leap forward from my youth.  It is also fair to say that in the present day protests one can observer a diverse group of people from differing cultural and racial backgrounds. However diverse they may be, their message is singular in content: End systemic racism and police brutality in Canada or we will forever reign havoc on Canada.

I am not going to argue that systemic racism is or is not the reality of Canada today. For some time now people have been debating its existence, or lack thereof. Many groups have been accusing Canada of being systemically racist.  For years there has been antagonistic dialogue and angry finger pointing.

Yet, we are no closer to progress. Fear based change is not now, nor will it ever be, progress. Progress will occur when we reason our way to a mutually agreeable, more positive relationship.

I think debating the existence of systemic racism in Canada has become irrelevant.  You can now choose to react by clicking off this blog or by calling me an ignorant self serving white man working to perpetuate the white ruling class.

You can also instead choose to uphold the value of democracy and read through the rest of my arguement, before judging my thinking.

Working to achieve the change commensurate with our challenges ensures that there will be no singularity of message. Mitigating the myriad details of bringing progress to our institutions will require contending with many disparate view-points. It will require many long and calm fact based discussions. If we claim to value democracy, we must acknowledge that burning books, removing movies, nullifying free speech with personal insult and professional reprimands and removing or destroying monuments will perpetuate racial antagonism.

Indeed, we must first acknowledge that there is no singular form of free speech. Free speech is achieved when we read books, watch movies, listen to music, look at paintings, read or watch the press, attend national and local monuments and listen to our community leaders.

All of these forms of expression are essential in acting as a counter balance to the other, so that no one form of expression can be hijacked by a single individual, group or leader.

Censorship has gripped our nation to such a degree that the right to use corporate structures as a means of litigating disputes has created the perfect end run around the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. An ironic fate, given that so many of those relying on corporate Canada "this month", decried it "last month", blaming it for the immanent disaster of total environmental decay.

In a session of the CBC's Power & Politics, Stockwell Day stated that Canadians are not racist and that a minority of racists does not a country make. He then equated his experience being bullied as a child with the experiences of minorities across Canada. He was forced to resign from several jobs within twenty-four hours.

Jessica Mulroney was forced out of two positions (and it would seem her husband too must "step back" from his job) one day after she was accused of using white privilege to bully Sasha Exeter.

Wendy Mesley was publicly rebuked for using a racial slur in a conference call. She was reprimanded, forced to explain herself in public and then suspended.

I have been working on this piece for some time and must now add that there are groups who would like James McGill's statue removed from McGill University and individuals who have vandalized John A. Macdonald's statue.

As I type this, it occurs to me that this is the moment at which I should offer some of my own personal history, for context.

I am no more perfect than anyone else. On a few occasions in my early manhood I made unfeeling comments about others. These comments were made some thirty years ago or more. They do not reflect how I see the world today, nor did they actually reflect how I saw the world then. They were moments of misplaced bravado. I was wrong.

Before you condemn me (and throw stones from your glass houses), here is the rest of my history. I was forced to repeat grade one because of a learning disability and was teased mercilessly.

I completed grades five and six in Edmonton. Upon returning to Quilchena Elementary in Vancouver, I heard the immortal words "The fucking Jewboy is back" and was subject to a year of Swastika drawing contests on chalkboards and physical bullying on the playground.

Fueled by alcohol, my university roommates screamed "Lets gas the Jewboy out of his room" one night, many nights actually. I could go on. Clearly, I know what it is to make mistakes. Clearly I also know what it is to be both bullied and the subject of virulent racism.

So at the risk to my own livelihood, a risk no one should ever have to take to engage in free speech, I will state the following: In my opinion Stockwell Day's statements held some truth and some misconception. Canadians, by and large now, are not racist. Canadian history has been, the native communities still real from the genocide of of the residential school system.

A racist's raison d'etre is to dehumanize the victim. So too the bully. If a child is mocked by an entire class, that is his or her whole world and that world is bleak. The child only knows intense pain, a pain that has lead many to suicide.

This would however, be very different from a system of racism. After all a child can transfer schools, prejudice against the native communities followed them everywhere and was designed to destroy Native culture. In that Mr. Day was incorrect.

However, if Stockwell Day's experience shows anything, it is that the mear expression of thoughts contrary to protesters will instigate serious, life altering rebuke.

Mrs. Mulroney may be entirely guilty or in some measure, justified in her accusation of slander. I have only heard accusations and since she was fired, the attempt to apologize, which admittedly did sound weak.

Wendy Mesley offered an extremely vague explanation, leaving me to wonder if all she did was reference a book written in 1968, for historical reasons, in an editorial meeting.

You can read her reply for yourself.

Regardless, none of these three people had any form of a trial, no due process, no means by which they could defend themselves publicly in a manner commensurate with the way in which they were accused publicly.

Slander is not diminished when made against the famous and legal rights are not conferred only on those we like. Defending oneself in court is the right of citizenship.

A trial is also an important learning experience not just a means of meting out justice. It is a communication platform through which we learn how we are to be held accountable to others. The onus to know our legal boundaries falls on us. All three should have been entitled to some form of public debate.

This form of rebuke however is not the sole provenance of the rich and powerful.

Several months ago, a white women in Shoppers Drug Mart was filmed angrily stating to Chinese employees that "We speak english in Canada". The clip on YouTube is only 1 minute 45 seconds long, the total interaction was considerably longer. The Prime Minister and Jagmeet Singh each castigated her in the national media with no trial, no due process, no attempt to understand any mitigating circumstances. She was found guilty by leaders at the highest level of government, using her condemnation for political gain.

We envision a legacy of free speech for our children. This is not democracy at its best. This is autocracy in it's hormonally imbalanced adolescence. If we are to eradicate racism, we need to be free to discuss some very very difficult questions.

We will not be able to do so if we fear the loss of our jobs.

Destroying art, in any of it's forms, constitutes the same villainy.

In destroying monuments to our founding fathers we are removing a place in our streets for free speech. I know that they represent real pain for indigenous Canadians. But we are deluding ourselves that putting them in museums will further that discussion. There are many indigenous exhibits in Canadian museums and many books about the horrors of the second world war, yet we still have racism.

I received a fair criticism from an early editor of this piece that monuments are not places where people can congregate for learning, but I beg to differ. They can be redesigned with seating and internet links to historically accurate information. Everyone has a cell phone these days. Reading and talking about what you read is entirely possible.  That is one of the beauties and values of stone monuments:  they can be redesigned to be communal meeting spaces, if we choose them to be.

There is another reason I feel they are enormously important. A long time friend of mine, Linda Yachbes (yes she is not famous, which is why I am quoting her) put it very well "Removing all signs of history is the best way to erase it - be it a statue, a flag or a concentration camp. No matter how offensive they are. This is a dangerous form of protest. I would not support tearing down a statue of Hitler. When the only thing left to learn history from is a textbook, then history can be altered to anything the author wants it to be."

Yes, we are both Jewish. Yes, neither one of us would stand idly by if people wanted to destroy the concentration camps. We need them to exist to prove our legacy, the good, the bad and the horrific. I disagree with her about Hitler's statue. But we can debate this, in part because we have known each other for more than thirty years, and in part because we feel no need to conquer each other.

If you think there are no statues to Hitler in Canada, go online and type war movies. There is an abundance of movies about Hitler. I am vehemently against their removal.

"You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them".  Ray Bradbury.

Those statues represent a permanent non-redactable form of communication. They are a location for, and form of, free speech. When combined with many other forms of expression they construct the cadre of inanimate humanity that helps guard our history. They will force detractors to listen to fact. They can, if we choose to make them, stand as a beacon our children can turn to, to understand where we began - our failures and our successes - a means of showing our children how we travelled from the beginning of our country to today.

That they have not been properly utilized as a source of free speech speaks to the need to redesign the forum in which we hear the message, not the messenger. 

Vandalizing John A. Macdonald's statue, the father of Confederation, is an affront to our humanity. It is an affront to Canadian democratic freedom.  Removing James McGill's statue is the same act of aggression. He may have had slaves - although until this very day (August 1, 2020) I had never heard that statement - but the reality is that that cannot be undone.  We have to know and understand our history, not bury it.

Such an action will end in constant and never-ending retaliation. If you think this is mear speculation:

So what is my solution to the problem?

We need to stop decrying what we have. We need to more clearly define what we want. We need a common code of conduct with common conditions, rewards and consequences.

We need to find commonality in our individualism.

Many Canadians align themselves with a particular religion. Our approaches to worship are very individual. Yet the commonality of worship is ubiquitous. We already insist that these rights be universally respected and upheld.

Therein we have commonality in our individualism.

People in Canada aspire to have families, yet each family is unique. How we raise our children is a personal matter, yet our dedication to the sanctity of the family is universal.

Therein we have commonality in our individualism.

We all aspire to a meaningful sexual relationship. Yet we now insist that the right of individuals to express their sexuality as THEY see fit be sacrosanct. We have a (near) universal commitment to ensuring we can love as we please.

Therein we have commonality in our individualism.

We need to stop this tribal moralizing. We need to align ourselves based on common values and not along the lines of race, religion, gender and sexual orientation. We need to stop debating whether or not Canada has systemic racism and instead debate what constitutes proper behavior between individuals and between society's institutions and those they serve.

We need to define what constitutes the rewards for following an improved definition of societal respect and what constitutes the consequences ensuring they are both universal in their application.

We need to focus on what colours our common understanding of our being, not what colours our differences.

We need to find individual commonality.