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Canadians are known to display a strange sense of national identity. Most of them bitterly contest the right of one of its provinces–the nation of French Canadians, Quebec–to gain its independence from what it views as an illegitimate federation. English Canadians have at times gone as far as to reject the very nature of the conquest of Nouvelle France, the origins of Quebec. This may confirm the impression held by Europeans that English North America is a continent lacking history. It also covers up how many Canadians seem to desire nothing less than affiliation to their southern neighbor. But at what cost?
The phoenix rising out of the ashes of the World Trade Center is-at least in the minds of Canadians–a new USA–Canada North American superstate based on more efficient control of the continental perimeters. If one should believe the latest poll published in the Globe and Mail on October 1, then most Canadians want the Prime Minister to cede sovereignty over the frontier. The famed “longest undefended border in the world” is coming up short in containing the grief felt by Canadians regarding the recent attacks of 9/11. As the border thins, the grief typical to trauma victims is shaping into guilt.
Does Canada Really Exist? English Canadians who have been abroad are aware of how much Canada’s real, sovereign existence is never really a given. Ask an educated foreigner outside of the Anglo-American sphere what degree of independence they perceive Canada as having, you will be disappointed. Canadians may consider themselves as existing as a sovereign people, but their arguments dissolve in the bathwater. European philosophers used to flirt with fire in trying to found God’s existence on deductive inference alone. As they are now compelled to cede even more of their sovereignty to the southern neighbour, Canadians would do well to prove their own existence on grounds other than mere faith.
When we are compelled to ask the question about Canada’s real existence, the best we usually come up with is a series of “yes-but” rationalizations. Canada and the USA share the same culture? Yes…but Canada imposes quotas on national content. Canada and the USA were both founded as nations through events stemming from the American War of Independence? Yes-but, we were against, they were for. Canada and the USA have both implemented and profited globally from the same unquestioned Friedmanian capitalist economy? Yes…but, under one of our Prime Ministers-now out of office and out of life-Canada was truly a social democracy. Canada is the only country in the world to have allowed the USA to place its border within its national soil, i.e. our international airports? Yes…but, for efficiency’s sake, since crossborder trade has been the most prosperous in the world since NAFTA–another defining moment for Canadian identity.
All in all, a fairly weak set of premises on which to built any empowered argument proving existence of identity, let alone sovereignty. Many years of huffing and puffing about being different, multicultural and peaceful all ended up in the infamous beer guzzling Molson “Canadian” TV ad. Now under stress, fear and the warmongering of the eternal tubular present, not to mention terrorist baiting by the southern neighbor, Canadians want to liquidate their suffering by thinning the border to a memory trace, something like the Mason-Dixon line.
Led By the Shielded For decades, the Canadian vantage point has been to preach moderation to the U.S. If Canada’s line has not been entirely credible, it is largely owing to the opportunism of our business class. There’s a general rule here: once the Yankee guns yield to cease-fire, the Canucks flock in for the business catch. Understandably shocked, if not terrorized by the attacks of 9/11, Canadians are choosing to bow their heads and kow-tow to the US line of civil repression, a new and improved McCarthyism already in the planning before the attacks.
Furthermore, merely a year after bringing the Liberal Party back into power, Canadians have realized that they voted for the illusion of a leader whose size has deflated with the e-bubble of the stock exchanges. Opting for guilt when suffering grief besets a mind unwilling and unable to explain. As for our neighbours, it’s not that American citizens lack basic geopolitical knowledge–they have shielded themselves from it.
Now Canadians are asking them for repentance through the bad faith of vaguely understanding that there are facts to consider behind the events. In the meantime, the friendliest border is turning into the thinnest string on which a twisted narrative can hang–one without history, let alone accountability. CP
Norman Madarasz is a scholar and translator, based in Montreal and Rio de Janeiro.