A Silent Tribute Is Not What We Want For Our Memories

A great shot of my Zaidy, RCAF Squadron Leader Jack Cahan with his five grandkids from Remembrance Day, 2012

Watching the Remembrance Day ceremonies in Ottawa, I was struck by the beautiful poetry of our Governor General’s words:

Freedom without peace is agony,
and peace without freedom is slavery,
and we will tolerate neither.
This is the truth we owe our dead.

Governor General David Johnston

In few words, he expresses deep truth. Freedom and peace must walk hand-in-hand. We cannot be satisfied with a world where one is absent or removed for the sake of the other, for such a world destroys the meaning of both. Freedom absent peace is neither free nor peaceful. The two are true partners.

Speaking with my grandfather (a retired RCAF Squadron Leader) later today, I let him know how proud and moved I was by his own words at a ceremony marking the day:

Reflecting on his remarks, I was warmed by the words he had to share with me:  it is comforting and important to know that this message is heard; that it is absorbed; that it internalized; that it is shared.

So as I observed my own solemn moment while watching the moment of silence during the ceremony at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, I was struck by an odd realization: A silent tribute is not what we should want. We should raise up our voices, shouting to the world: “We have not forgotten! We shall not forget! We will tell these stories with all of our might. We will share them with our children, that they might tell them for time eternal!” In that way, we shall ensure a peaceful freedom, and a free peace.

Of course, the moment of silent is an important symbolic measure. And it is almost always coupled with strong words of memory and memorial. But it cannot end there. Both silent reflection and active participation must go hand-in-hand, just like peace and freedom.

Later in his speech, Governor General Johnston quoted Rabbi Dow Marmur – father of my own teacher Rabbi Michael Marmur – speaking about the importance of memory to our identity as Canadians:

Without memory, there can be neither continuity nor identity.

Like Johnston and my grandfather, Rabbi Marmur himself recognizes the importance of embracing multiple values in pursuit of our goals. Moments of silent reflection are a part of our identity as Canadians when it comes to Remembrance Day, but these moments must also be matched by action to ensure continuity. It is our commitment to memory that plays a key role in uniting these values.

To say “we shall remember,” or “never again,” means not only to reflect, but also to engage and look forwards. It is an impassioned charge we say to ourselves, so that we may involve ourselves in a national project. Without a national memory, we risk forgetting ourselves.

On this day, and always, I must also reflect on how proud beyond words I am for my Zaidy and his exemplary model of service to Canada. His commitment to the Royal Canadian Air Force and to the Jewish War Veterans of Canada teaches what it means to place oneself in service of that which is greater than us all – our people and our values. He is a model of living a life dedicated fully to such service, and my family is so lucky to have him as our living patriarch.

On this, the most important of our national holidays, may we be moved to pair our silent reflection with our soaring voices, that we might have both peace and freedom, both continuity and identity.

At the Mouth of Eight Witnesses, the Jian Ghomeshi Matter has been Established

Yesterday, writing about the Jian Ghomeshi fiasco, I was still wrestling with how to respond. Was this a matter where the idea of innocent until proven guilty applied? Was this a matter of maintaining a balanced perspective in the face of he-said, she-said accusations? Was it a matter of discovering where there burden of proof lay? Here’s where I settled yesterday, a mere 24 hours ago:

I will not pass judgement on Jian nor on the women who are accusing him. Without evidence or more substantial information, nobody should enter this unfortunate game of he-said, she-said.

Thinking that this was an issue demanding a fair and non-judgemental response until more information arrived, I tried to strike an ever-so Canadian tone: “I will not pass judgement…

I also wondered what the Jewish response to a situation like this should be. How does my tradition teach us to respond when we want to honour the rights of all people to be treated fairly in the face of serious accusations? How do we respond when all we have to base our judgement on are the words of others?

There is a Jewish paradigm for what is taking place now in the streets of Canada and the tubes of the internet – a biblical perspective on a contemporary Canadian situation involving an Iranian. Fancy that. Here’s what the Torah says about such accusations:

One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sins; at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall a matter be establishment. (D’varim 19:15)

The Torah is concerned with ensuring that people do not level false accusations against another in order to spite them. Jewish law requires multiple witnesses to ensure fairness in judgement. To be sure, Jian Ghomeshi himself originally hinted at such a motive – that this was just a matter of a woman with a grudge to bear falsely accusing him.

But that was when there was one witness. Now there are eight.

Given the preponderance of evidence emerging against Jian Ghomeshi (you must read the Toronto Star’s full expose), it is now outright impossible to maintain a balanced perspective. The scales of justice have tipped against Jian. At the mouth of eight witnesses, this matter has been established.

And this is still hard for some to believe. We want to believe that something like this didn’t happen. Our brains literally have a hard time coming around to this truth. In this matter, I’ve been guided by the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who teaches us:

“Truth is not something we discover at one time. That is how things are for God, but not for us. For Judaism, truth – as understood and internalized by humanity – is a developmental process.” To Heal a Fractured World p. 156

This may be true on a very meta-level. I think we can be forgiven for not being able to perceive the entire truth of this affair all at once. To be sure, we are still discovering new truths about this matter.

But eight women should not have had to wait painfully in the dark for years for this matter to have been brought to light. These horrible truths should not have taken twelve years to distill so a quest for justice could emerge. Of course, it is a matter that should not have even taken place in the first place!

This sad, sad affair only illustrates that there is something fundamentally wrong with a system that allows for horrific crimes to be committed, and then remain hidden in the dark, unpunished. Yes, we should maintain a commitment to innocent until proven guilty, but we cannot be blinded from seeing indicators of guilt. We should be balanced and fair in our judgement, but we cannot malign or question the motivation of those leveling accusations only on the grounds that “Jian is a trustworthy figure.”

Unknowingly, I myself have been a  part of this system. I want to thank friends for challenging me and pushing me to reevaluate my perspective on this tragic story. I wonder – is the Court of Public Opinion strong enough to not only level justice in this affair, but to change a flawed system itself, to create a more just and righteous world?

Surely, Canada is better than this. Surely, Canadians are better than this.

It’s about us: the CBC & Jian Ghomeshi

Jian Ghomeshi
Image © CBC

One of the reasons, I think, that the imbroglio with Jian Ghomeshi is simultaneously so captivating and so shocking is that it involves the CBC. Somehow, this beloved and yet not-so beloved institution has become a synecdoche for our Canadian-ness. The CBC is was Hockey Night in Canada. The CBC is Peter Mansbridge. The CBC is Rick Mercer. the CBC is the Royal Canadian Air Farce. The CBC is balanced and (mostly) unsensationalized news reporting. The CBC is Fred Penner. The CBC is CanCon. The CBC is the antithesis of American-style media.

The CBC is not just a media behemoth. It is more than television studios and radio stations. It is a cultural institution that represents Canada’s values and aspirations. In a country infamous for it’s dearth of national identity, the CBC is one of the things with which we identify. It is a part of us. So when a trusted public CBC figure is accused of acting in a way that betrays these values and aspirations, it’s difficult to divorce the person from the institution and its values, and it’s hard to not feel a sense of personal attachment.

Consider: would we be reacting the same way to the allegations against Ghomeshi if he wasn’t a CBC figure? If he worked for, say, Sun Media, would we be so perplexed? The values we ascribe to the institution conflate with the being, and we’re left quite puzzled, thinking, “This doesn’t make sense. This doesn’t add up.”

On Sunday night, when Jian posted his now infamous revelation to Facebook, I – like many – was shocked. “This can’t be!” I thought. “Shame on the CBC,” I thought. In the dim light of a Brooklyn pub, I read and reread Jian’s words. I – like many – shared Jian’s status on my own Facebook wall, taking my own snide jab at the CBC: “The State has no business in the bedrooms of the nation. Jian Ghomeshi is a national treasure and this is a shocking and abysmal act on the part of the CBC.

My own first inclination – like that of many others – was to implicitly assume that the allegations could not be true. And not because they don’t deserve to be vigourously investigated (they do), but because somehow an attack on Jian is an attack on something Canadian itself, and such an attack spurs an immediate, gut reaction to defend our values. Consider my own words: “Jian Ghomeshi is a national treasure.” As if being a national treasure is a logical and appropriate defence against allegations of sexual abuse.

And then on Monday came the Toronto Star’s release of the details behind the story.

I went back to Jian’s words. I read the thoughts of others. I was chastised on Facebook for my gut reaction. Mea culpa. I did more thinking, expanded my thoughts. What had once appeared to be an issue of wrongful dismissal was in fact a larger issue of trust, sexual consent, abuse of power, and on whom the burden of proof lays.

Many people (including myself) are struggling with finding the most appropriate way respond to such an event, when the person involved was renowned in many ways for his sensitivity and humanity, and cultivated those values at the institution for which he worked. Just open the pages of any Canadian daily today, and you will witness how much of a lightning rod this story has become.

The doors of the Court of Public Opinion have been swung wide open. This private affair is now public, and for the members of the public who are drawn into it, there’s an understandable desire for justice. But who is deserving of justice is a matter for others to investigate and to decide. I am troubled by those who rush to assume that Ghomeshi is guilty when their is still no official evidence or case against him, just as much as I am concerned by those who assume that four women would individually concoct these allegations. I will not pass judgement on Jian nor on the women who are accusing him. Without evidence or more substantial information, nobody should enter this unfortunate game of he-said, she-said.

I’m with Margaret Wente on this one: “What a shabby, crummy story. No one wins. Everybody loses. I’m sorry for them all, and for us.”

If you really want to make someone look good, just call everyone else a Nazi

Originally published at The Times of Israel.

Via xkcd
Via xkcd

Sometimes things so apparent don’t seem apparent at first.” This hackneyed statement is what Richard Friedman wants us to believe when it comes to Canadian PM Stephen Harper and his relationship with Israel. What is apparent for Mr. Friedman, is that powerful forces of Hitlerian evil are still out to get the Jews, there is an international antisemitic conspiracy that has targeted Israel, and that Stephen Harper has apparently distinguished himself as a sort of courageous moral truth-teller who can save the Jews.

In an opinion piece here at the Times of Israel, riddled with dark allusions to Nazi Europe and the international quest to eradicate Jews, Friedman wants us to believe that the world is teetering on the edge of a neo-Holocaust, and that only the Canadian Prime Minister can save the Jews, comparing him to Danish King Christian X. Out of this worldview, Friedman has this to say:

What happened in Denmark proved that the Holocaust could have been prevented. If more European leaders had been courageous enough to stand up on behalf of their country’s Jews, it’s likely substantially fewer Jews would have been murdered.”

This may be historically true, though we can never know. That said, it holds no water as a precedent for a modern foreign policy. In this framework, Canada is supposedly Denmark, Harper is King Christian – the vanguard of the Jews – and the world has regressed to the dark depths of the 1930s. Jews are about to be murdered, and only Canada can save us.

While much can be said about Stephen Harper’s pro-Israel agenda, there is a peculiarity lurking in Mr. Friedman’s recent article. Previously, he has written that Jewish professionals in North America should “refrain from suggesting what Israel should or shouldn’t do,” and instead become what amounts to international Hasbara agents, “helping the media, general public, and… Jewish communities understand the context and rationale behind Israel’s decisions and actions.

Because Friedman isn’t willing to be openly critical of Israel and its policies, he instead turns his focus to the international sphere, praising or critiquing what others have to say about Israel. In his attempts to shelter Israel from any constructive criticism, he builds an association fallacy – essentially a reverse Reductio ad Hiterlum – where he refutes his imaginary opponents’ views by comparing them to views that would be held by Hitler, arguing:

There are powerful forces on the planet who would gladly continue Hitler’s work.”

Can we please talk about the Holocaust with a little more depth and less hyperbole? In the world of internet journalism, there is nothing easier than succumbing to Godwin’s Law when you’re really grasping at straws. Don’t like what someone has to say but can’t come up with any constructive critique? You can always call them a Nazi!

Apparently the opposite also holds true for Friedman. If you really like someone (for example, the Prime Minister of Canada) and want to make them look good, just call everyone else a Nazi. Because Friedman is among those who consider it verboten to say anything negative about Israel in the public sphere, it is much simpler for him to paint a picture of a world where there are evil Nazis out to get us, and lob anyone who disagrees with his view into that group.

But the hazards of doing this are exactly what Dr. Mike Godwin was pleading against when he formulated the law that bears his name. A few years ago, Godwin explained the origin of the now famous principle:

I wanted folks who glibly compared someone else to Hitler or to Nazis to think a bit harder about the Holocaust.”

Admittedly, Friedman isn’t labeling any one person a Nazi or comparing any specific person to Hitler. But his article is riddled with naive overtones of a battle against the evil forces of the Nazis and the redemptive forces of the Allies. His comparison simply doesn’t honor the complexities of Israel and international relations, nor the memory of the Holocaust as a catastrophic event without comparison. Friedman presents a crudely simplistic understanding of the Holocaust and antisemtism that doesn’t do justice to the reality of Israel’s place in the modern world. Does he really believe that Israel in 2014 – with its advanced army and unprecedented regional strength, not to mention its backing by the USA – can be compared to the state of Eastern European Jews before the Holocaust?

It is certainly true that antisemitism exists today, and in many places significantly so, but this is not 1938 Europe, and any attempts to define the world in this manner are quite simply unrealistic and ignorant. Just this week, Anshell Pfeffer – Haaretz’s military, international and Jewish affairs journalist – lucidly noted that the most pernicious form of antisemitism today does not come from some international cabal, but rather from deep within ourselves:

Anti-Semitism exists today on the furthest margins of Western society, in obscure sinecures, on the Internet, but perhaps most prevalently in our feverish imaginations.”

Pfeffer goes on to argue how antisemitism has transformed in the 21st century from the external injustices of “persecution and open vilification of Jews,” to something of an internal psychosis: “something we define ourselves, something we discover and too often invent where it isn’t at all clear it even exists.”

Perhaps Pfeffer’s argument is also somewhat naive and simplistic in areas, ignoring cases where antisemitism represents a true danger. But he is spot on in his assertion that when it comes to Israel, any notion of the “scourge of antisemitism” is no longer about something others are doing to us that we have no control over. Jews today have the ability to define our own lives – both in Israel and abroad. Any suggestion that there is an international threat to Jewish existence is not only shameful in its simplicity, but also in its implications for the discourse surrounding Israel and Jewish life. Pfeffer notes:

Our fear of anti-Semitism has begun to mirror the hatred itself in its irrationality and in the ways it hinders any serious debate.”

At this point, it should be noted that none of this critique of Friedman’s paradigm has even addressed whether Stephen Harper and Canada are deserving of his praiseful comparison to King Christian and Denmark. So just a few words in this respect:

Friedman argues that Harper is deserving of praise due “to the simple fact that supporting Israel… is right and just” simple fact, indeed. Friedman doesn’t define what he means by support. Is it just being a cheerleader on the international stage? Is it towing the line of whatever the Knesset has to say? It it being an international hasbara agent?

We are left assuming that this praise is based on Harper’s “understanding of Israel’s unique security dilemmas,” yet Friedman offers as flimsy proof only the news coverage in Canada of his visit to the region, which was supposedly reflective of “the depth of [his] emotional commitment and support.” This completely misses the hearty and open debate that took place in the Canadian media on the implications of Harper’s one-sided vision of what it means to be pro-Israel. (See here and here and here and here and here for just a smattering of what it means to have a little more nuance when it comes to speaking about Israel).

Unfortunately, Friedman also seems to have missed what the Israeli news had to say about Harper. Wouldn’t that be a much more significant indicator of Harper’s supposed “kingly” strength? While much of the media here got caught up in the pomp and circumstance of the PM’s visit, as anyone truly familiar with the place Canada plays in international politics these days can tell you, there was little to say about the substance of Harper’s visit, precisely because there was virtually none to speak of.

As I’ve previously noted, The sad reality of Harper’s visit was reflected most accurately in a steely oped from Ha’aretz, noting the ultimate insignificance of Canada’s role:

With all due respect to the Prime Minister of Canada, his relevance in the international community, his influence on what goes on in the Middle East and his ability to help Israel in matters of life and death are inversely related to the size of his country.”

Setting aside his seemingly ignorant grasp of the reality of Stephen Harper’s and Canada’s role in international affairs vis a vis Israel, Friedman should consider the implications of his Holocaust-oriented paradigm of Judaism and Israel. As the Executive Director of a Jewish Federation, he should know better than to reduce Jewish life and discourse on Israel to such simplistic understandings. As someone responsible for encouraging vitality in Jewish life, Friedman should be presenting an aspirational view of Judaism and Israel, rather than the dark, gloomy, and backwards-looking fear mongering he speaks of. Such a person would be much more worthy of the kingly appellation that he wishes to bestow.

Stephen Harper’s Canada: Israel’s Cheerleader

Originally published at The Times of Israel.
Photo Credit: Prime Minister of Canada
Photo Credit: Government of Canada

There is an apocryphal story that in the 1980s, when my High School was built, they were offered a million dollar choice by the Board of Education. The school was to receive $1,000,000 earmarked for one of two options: either the school could finance a football team, or they could landscape the entire property for decades to come. The two towering maple trees in the school’s atrium attest to their choice.

As a result, I’ve never really been acquainted with the institution of cheerleading. Lacking a football team at school, we had no cheerleaders. My university’s mascot – the Yeoman – didn’t really lend itself to a popular cadre of cheerleaders (though York’s women’s sports teams were somehow referred to as “yeowomen”). And they are (thankfully) mostly absent from professional hockey.

That said, I’ve recently been introduced to a new type of cheerleader. This is particularly fortuitous given the upcoming Super Bowl. As the lone Canadian at my school in Jerusalem, I have needed to brush up on some NFL particulars. Thanks to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, I’m now up to date on what it means to be a cheerleader.

Harper’s recent visit to Israel has been something of an anomaly to me. With US Secretary of State John Kerry conducting monthly shuttle diplomacy here, the US-brokered nuclear talks in Iran, and a daily focus on America’s lack of involvement in the situations in Syria and Egypt, it has been a largely American-centric year here in foreign affairs news.

Then all of a sudden, and with great fanfare, the streets of Jerusalem were draped with Canadian flags, welcome signs were rolled out at the hotels, and an entourage of 220 Canadians arrived in Jerusalem accompanying  Prime Minister Harper on his first official visit to the country. (For those interested in the intricacies of foreign relations, Google has informed me that 220 Canadians works out to approximately 198.79 Americans.)

But Harper’s speech before the Knesset, along with the messaging of his entire trip was largely nothing new. It lacked nuance, gave scant attention to Israeli-Palestinian relations, did nothing to advance Canada’s role as an international peace broker, and left little room for growth in this international relationship. Harper wanted Israel and the entire world to know how much Canada loves Israel, how we’re the best of friends, and how nothing can tear us asunder.

Yes, it was nice to hear about the deeply ingrained mutual respect our countries have for each other. Yes, it was wonderful to hear Israel spoken of in such a positive light from a foreign dignitary. Yes, it was exciting to hear my home and native land spoken of so highly from abroad. The Israeli press ate up the entire week-long spectacle, with Harper repeatedly gracing the front-pages of Israeli dailies. People were fawning over Canada. As the token Canadian amongst my circles, I suddenly became the expert on all-things Canada.

But something was missing. Depth. Nuance. Relevance.

I found Harper to be  mostly superficial in his description of the substance of Canada’s relationship with Israel. Couched in language of “light vs. dark,” “fire and water” and “good vs. evil,” Harper presented a rather simplistic understanding of Israel and the Middle East. It lacked the complexity, depth, and nuance that one would expect from a supposed international leader when it comes to supporting Israel. Jeffery Simpson, at the Globe and Mail, observed this about Harper’s worldview when it comes to Israel and the Middle East:

[It] leaves no room for nuance, balance or understanding of complexity, just a dualistic clash between good and evil, progress and darkness, stability and danger. Of course, this is not how other Western countries behave in the Middle East, including those who strongly support Israel. But it is now Canada’s way.

That said, there is room for someone who has this paradigm. There is a place for this type of player on the international stage. We need look no further than the upcoming Super Bowl for the model of this figure par excellence: The Cheerleader.

The entire worldview of the cheerleader is limited to two and only two potential outcomes: a win or a loss. What cheerleaders want most of all – more than dialogue, more than depth, more than nuance, more than constructive discussion, more than engaging international activism – is for their side to win. Yes, there is a role for the cheerleader, but it is not one of great substance.

Photo Credit: Government of Canada
Photo Credit: Government of Canada

Harper’s Mideast is a football game, with Canada newly enshrined as Israel’s cheerleader, jumping around wildly on the sidelines. Yes, there is certainly a role for the cheerleader, but it is confined to the sidelines.

Harper offered no substantial commentary on the main issues confronting Israeli society today that Canada might play a role in. Little of consequence was said about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the African refugee crisis in Israel, matters of religious pluralism, or environmental crises facing the country.

The sad reality facing Harper was not missed here in Israel. Ha’aretz noted this, with a steely grasp of the ultimate reality of Canada’s role:

With all due respect to the Prime Minister of Canada, his relevance in the international community, his influence on what goes on in the Middle East and his ability to help Israel in matters of life and death are inversely related to the size of his country.

Harper’s love for Israel may come from the depths of his gut. It may be a very real and true part of his identity and what he wants Canada to reflect. But in viewing Israel and the Middle East as a football match, with a zero-sum outcome of a win vs. a loss, Harper has overestimated Canada’s role. We are not the Quarter Back. We are no longer the internationally respected honest brokers of peace. Instead, Canada is dancing wildly from the sidelines, cheering and screaming, yet somehow inexplicably feeling as though we’re contributing to the outcome of the game.

Stephen Harper seems to have forgotten that cheerleaders don’t get to win the Super Bowl.

November 11

A great shot of my Zaidy, RCAF Squadron Leader (ret) Jack Cahan with his five grandkids from Remembrance Day last year.

A couple months ago we were learning about the creation of civil religion in Israel and how in the early days of the State, there was a need to create days of national importance to help forge a sense of nationalist identity. Our (British) teacher remarked how every country needs to do this in their nascent days, including the United States. Afterwards – in an attempt to stand my ground as the only Canadian in our class –  I remarked to him (with that typical Canadian quasi-inferiority complex) that Canada is different, that we’re not an über-nationalist country, and that we don’t really have any national holidays of this import. At least not anymore in 2013.

He responded: “But you have Remembrance Day.”

After 30 years of living intimately close to the holiday, through ceremonies at school, parades with my Zaidy (a Royal Canadian Air Force Squadron Leader, ret.), and years of wearing poppies, this simply hadn’t occurred to me. I had aways felt the significance of the day, but didn’t realized its paramount place in Canadian culture until I was almost 10,000 kilometers away from home.

Rick Hansen writes today in the Globe and Mail that “Remembrance Day is one of the most important days we have on our national calendar.” I would go further and say that it is the most important day on the national calendar. Certainly, for most, Canada Day is simply a day off in the middle of the summer with fireworks at amusement parks and little nationalist sentiments. Victoria Day is an excuse to get drunk at the cottage. Most Canadians likely don’t know what the real meaning of Canadian Thanksgiving is.

But Remembrance Day is ceremoniously observed in schools, houses of worship, and national halls across the country. There is unity and solemnity in observing the day and remembering our national heroes together. We mark ourselves with a common symbol in our communal observance. We recite the same words of memory and memorial. To be sure, it may be the only day on the Canadian calendar that is on the level of civil religious observance.

Observing Remembrance Day from outside of Canada has taken on new significance for me. It has become much more intentional – requiring a special effort to mark the day and remember what it stands for, since it doesn’t just happen around me anymore. I suspect this might be akin to how Israelis feel about Judaism when they leave Israel and go down into the diaspora.

While I don’t write about family that much on this blog, keeping matters more to commentary on religion, philosophy, and other such boring matters, today, in keeping with the “religious” spirit of the day, I will break from tradition…

I am so blessed to have been raised closely by my Zaidy, who has imparted a deep appreciation of the role of the Canadian military in shaping the lives of Canadians – and specifically of Canadian Jews. Far from a hawkish or militaristic inculcation, he has taught me to understand and appreciate the personal way that Canadians have fought for each other, and how incredibly important it is to recognize, mark, and honour these commitments and sacrifices.

I am even more-so blessed that my Zaidy – RCAF Squadron Leader (ret.) Jack Cahan, will be turning 90 this December, and that I was able to see and talk with him this Remembrance Day, from 10,000 kilometers away. I am so proud to be his grandson, and I hope each day that I can carry just a fraction of his dedication and honour with me.

Wonderbras, Caulking Guns & Apologizing for Everything


Since the year 2000, I’ve celebrated all but two Canada Days from outside of Canada – either in New York or in Israel. Funny thing is, I actually feel a stronger connection to Canadian patriotism when I’m outside of Canada than when I’m at home.

Today was a pretty quiet Canada Day here in Jerusalem. While I did hear fireworks at one point, Israelis love to blow stuff up when they celebrate, so it was probably just the opening of a new mall or something.

So in honour of the Confederation of my home and native land, here’s a rundown of fifteen of Canada’s and/or Canadians’ lesser-known, yet most fascinating contributions to the wider world:

  1. Standard Time: messing up my internal clock since last Wednesday
  2. Basketball: in which we shamefully have only one professional level “team”
  3. Garbage Bags: in which we shamefully pollute the planet, all while making it ever so convenient to get rid of undesirables (can you fit Canadian politicians in garbage bags?)
  4. Peanut Butter: yeah, that was us
  5. The telephone: which – much like international Canadian diplomacy – nobody uses anymore, anyways
  6. Blackberry: which – much like the telephone – nobody uses anymore, anyways
  7. Insulin
  8. Electric wheelchairs
  9. Wheelchair accessible buses
  10. Pacemakers
  11. Wonderbras: you’re welcome
  12. Butter Tarts: you’re welcome
  13. Caulking guns: you’re welcome
  14. Egg Cartons: can you imagine what life would be like without these?
  15. Apologizing for everything: (When I went to the CBC’s website for the 50 Greatest Canadian inventions, it apologized that the webpage could not be found)

Happy Birthday Canada! I miss ya!

Canadians worth Name-dropping

“With few extraordinary Canadians doing anything to shift our national consciousness, and fewer Canadians paying attention to those who are, our identity is in danger of atrophy.”

Donald Sutherland name-dropped Tommy Douglas in an interview in (the American magazine) Esquire this month. There’s also a new biography out on him in Penguin Canada’s stellar series on Extraordinary Canadians. And he popped up in the news a few weeks ago when it was revealed that the RCMP had spied on him at one point.

All of this is to say that Tommy Douglas is still a noteworthy and newsworthy Canadian twenty-five years after his death.

But he’s more than that. Douglas is a significant Canadian not just because there are still news items on him or interesting things to say about him. There are plenty of Canadians in the news each day that may be interesting. Douglas is uniquely significant because he changed Canada and he changed Canadians. He influenced mainstream Canadian society. He changed the Canadian government, he changed Canadian domestic policy, he changed Canadian culture, and – most significantly – he changed Canadian identity. To be sure, he fomented what is likely the number two item on the list of inextricable Canadian identifiers (after hockey, of course).

Douglas looked at the Canada that surrounded him – an impoverished, desperate milieu – identified the problems, came up with a solution, and enacted broad-sweeping changes. He’s what Seth Godin would call an initiator. He kicked Canada in the ass and we now wear the bruise with pride.

All of this is not to say that Tommy Douglas was a saint. To be sure, the Canadian healthcare system has its flaws and is in dire need of updating. Moreover, this is not my meager attempt to say profound things about Douglas that have already been said by people more eloquent and learned than I. While I’d like to convince myself otherwise, I don’t think I have anything to add to the Canadian canon at this point.

So this is all to say – or rather, ask – something else:

Where are all the Extraordinary Canadians? Where are the initiators? Where are the identity makers?

The Canadian (yet once-illegal in Canada) zero-emission Zenn Car
There are certainly many Canadians out there doing newsworthy, cool, and interesting things (although if you Google “Interesting Canadians,” the results come up pretty slim). But newsworthy, cool, and interesting is not equaling extraordinary these days. Newsworthy, cool, and interesting is not cultivating identity.

“Whither Canadian Identity?” is that quintessential existential question that we Canadians ask to hold a mirror up to our national self when our national inferiority complex flares up. But I’m not lamenting a lack of Canadian identity. I’ll leave that to George Grant. Besides, there’s a Wikipedia article on Canadian Identity, so I think we’re safe in that department.

I’m lamenting the lack of Canadians of late who have risen up and done something that has galvanized our country in the identity department. I’m lamenting the dearth of Canadians who have on a national scale shifted the way we think. I’m lamenting the absence of Canadians who can be added to the Wikipedia article on our national identity.

To be sure, just take a look at the Canadians who have been deemed extraordinary and fit for publishing by Penguin, or the finalists from the CBC’s 2004 series, The Greatest Canadian. On both lists, with a few exceptions (or perhaps just one – Terry Fox), the identity-building Canadians did the body of their work most recently thirty to forty years ago. For most, it’s been over half a century.

Yes, Sidney Crosby did do that thing in Vancouver last year, and The Great One and Don Cherry were indeed finalists on The Greatest Canadian. But hockey already occupies the number one spot on our identity list. Unlike Mr. Douglas, the trail was already blazed for Sid the Kid (insert some clever remark about the zamboni clearing the ice for him). Unlike Fox, Gretsky and Cherry had and have institutions, managers, and paychecks supporting them.

It’s been quite some time since Trudeau, Montgomery, The Group of Seven, McLuhan, Pearson, and the lot.

It’s been quite some time since a Canadian has risen up and done or said or created something that has inspired Canadians in a unifying way; in a way that has become as much a part of Canadian Identity as Hockey, Universal Health Care, Tim Hortons, the GST, a National Inferiority Complex, and not being American.

To be sure, there’s a certain temporal perspective gained from looking back on ourself, which contributes to the lists’ foci on historical figures. But it’s 2011, and we’ve been hyper-connected and hyper-self-aware for awhile now. Isn’t it time we started catching up to ourself? If that Rebecca Black girl can reach millions of people with a ridiculous YouTube video (I won’t do it the justice of linking to it), and we identify en masse with new memes every week, certainly the market is primed and ripe for someone to do something worthy of capturing us.

I’m not denying that Canadian identity exists. Certainly it does. But it isn’t being flexed by anyone. With few extraordinary Canadians doing anything to shift our national consciousness, and fewer paying attention to those who are, our identity is in danger of atrophy.

In that painfully Canadian way, I’m aware that all this has the potential to come across as complaining and whining about a problem without presenting a solution. After all, Tommy Douglas didn’t sit around and blog, he got off his own ass and kicked Canada in our collective tuchus. But I don’t (yet) have the bully pulpit of our Parliament or the platform of a national newspaper, so maybe this is just to vent or call attention in a limited way to something that I – as a Canadian – am invested in.

I’m looking for Canadians who can make us shift the way we look at ourselves for the better. I’m looking for Canadians who have the drive and power to give our country a much needed kick in the ass.

I’m looking for Canadians worth name dropping.

Sad Canadians

Wasn’t this the party that campaigned on a platform of transparency, accountability, and a promised end to government scandals?

Whether you call it cowardice, obstruction of justice, a brilliant political move, or an exercise in partisan smugness, Stephen Harper’s refusal to take any responsibility for the Afghan detainee scandal on the part of the ruling Conservatives is, at the end of the day, just sad.

In the face of overwhelming evidence suggesting that this has been a long known issue, it looks like Harper might pull out the prorogation card again. So call this whole sad issue whatever you want, but ultimately one thing is clear: for Harper and his Conservatives, when confronted with unbelievably difficult issues involving ethics, political ramifications, and basic human sanctity, they would rather run and hide rather than dealing with them like mature adults.

What would a mature adult do? For one, they should probably read this:

Totally Isolated

Remember when Canada used to be a light to the nations? If that light is even turned on anymore, it's getting its power from some pretty nasty sources.

Last night a coalition of 450 environmental groups awarded Canada a Fossil of the Day award, given to the countries “doing the most to obstruct progress in the global climate change talks.”

It's time to wake up and see the light, Canada. We're not torchbearers anymore...