Canadians, choose your myth.
September 29, 2015
The Munk Debate on foreign policy Monday night turned into a battle of mythologies between Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau.
As Trudeau suggested, Stephen Harper would have you believe that there is a terrorist behind every leaf. But Trudeau spun his own myth of a warm, accommodating Canada made strong by its refugee population.
Trudeau made the case that immigrants have greatly strengthened Canada. The 30,000 American draft dodgers during the Vietnam War undoubtedly did that. These young men were the cream of the crop and Uncle Sam’s loss was Canada’s gain.
In contrast Stephen Harper sounded very much like William Lyon Mackenzie King in his statements about refugees. Ever the bureaucrat, Harper repeated the words “generous” and “careful” but moved the chains no further toward the goal of lessening the human suffering among refugees from Syria.
The largest blot on Mackenzie King’s reputation was his refusal to admit Jewish refugees in the period leading up to WWII. King once asked an official in his immigration department how many Jews he should admit. “None is too many” was the infamous response.
In 1939 the SS St. Louis, a German tour ship, was turned away from Quebec City with over 900 Jewish refugees aboard. They returned to Europe, having failed to find refuge in North America, and many were murdered at Auschwitz.
In the most heated exchange of the debate, Trudeau and Harper clashed over the revocation of the Canadian citizenship of convicted terrorist Zakaria Amara. Trudeau stood by his belief that citizenship is a basic human right, and to countenance its removal, regardless of the provocation, is to devalue the citizenship of every other Canadian.
History is on Harper’s side. After the attack on Pearl Harbour Mackenzie King took advantage of a wave of anti-Japanese sentiment to pass a series of orders displacing those of Japanese ancestry from the B.C. coast to road camps in the interior. Then the Japanese-Canadians’ ships, land, houses and bank accounts were confiscated by the government.
Confinement in the internment camps transformed the citizenship of many Japanese Canadians into an empty status and revoked their right to work. Regardless of Trudeau’s protestations, citizenship revocation has happened before in Canada.
King’s reputation as a racist solidified when publication of his diary revealed the following: August 6, 1945, “It is fortunate that the use of the bomb should have been upon the Japanese rather than upon the white races of Europe.”
The Niqab scuffle in the French debate has resulted in a boost for Harper in the polls.
If history is on Harper’s side in his politics regarding terrorism and the Niqab, should we support him when he channels William Lyon Mackenzie King?
If Trudeau’s vision of Canada as a beacon of hope to refugees is a product of a selective reading of Canadian history, should we support him when he channels the human rights policies of his father?
I remember vividly an interview with Bindee, an OAC English student in Carleton Place who chose to do a research project on Canada’s immigration policy. When she read about the Japanese internment and confiscations she exploded: “Yes, but this is CANADA!”
Google reports that Dr. Bindee Kuriya is now a physician associated with the University of Toronto with 23 publications on her specialty of rheumatology to her credit. I don’t think there’s much doubt as to which Canada Bindee will select in the coming election, but it will be up to all Canadians to choose their myth.