Pride & Prejudice: Canada's International Legacy      By: Neethu Pavithran

To Be or Not To Be Canadian...
Proud or Ashamed?

The Bad...

Canada nowadays is known for its vast culture, great wealth and free health care. More often enough, you might meet plenty of people who would say "I'm proud to be Canadian".

However, the country was not always the free and righteous democracy it is today, as hard as it may be to believe. There were many Canadian-involved situations in the 20th century, such as the Conscription Crisis of 1917, the internment of Japanese-Canadians and the immigrant rejection of Jewish people during Hitler's cruel reign, which was more than enough to deter the proud to instead become "Ashamed to be Canadian".

In 1917, Canada faced a problem: a lack of willing men to volunteer for the army. There were several causes behind this, but mainly for the reasons being of men who have already volunteered before and because of increasing numbers of people who began to understand what living in the trenches was like, as well as the grim reality of war. 1917 marked the year Prime Minister Robert Borden, disappointed with the lack of men volunteering for the army, decided conscription was necessary. Quebec opposed strongly arguing with the fact that they had no ties to Britain or France. Despite protests throughout the country, Borden still decided to ratify the Military Service Act, making conscription law. This led on to cause tensions between the English and French in the 20th century.

The internment of Japanese-Canadians was another astonishing and horrid Canadian event that happened way back in the twentieth century.

Ever since Japan attacked Pearl Harbour in 1941, there was unmistakable tension between the Japanese and America allied with Canada. Within Canada, xenophobic and racist public sentiment caused a massive ripple of accusation directed towards the innocent Japanese-Canadians. With the allegation of acting in cohorts with the enemy country, the federal government, influenced by Ian Mackenzie and supported by the announced War-Time Measures Act of 1914, decided to intern the "enemy aliens".
The following years were difficult for Japanese-Canadians. Despite having lived in the country for the whole of their lives with little to no contact with Japan, over 23000 people were sent off to internment camps while their belongings were confiscated by the government. For about 3 long years, food, work, financial conditions and shelter were poor. Later, when further investigated, to their chagrin, there could not be found a single case of spying or sabotage committed by the Japanese-Canadians.

Last to mention but definitely not least, the Jewish refugee refusal. I found this to be absolutely horrid considering the morbid circumstances that brought the lot of Jews to Canada. Kristallnacht (night of broken glass) of 1938, a frightful time when synagogues and business were destroyed, Jews were beaten to death by mobs and over 2000 of them were taken away to concentration camps. This event acted as a reality check for many Jews, so they started off to other countries to seek refuge.

But you see back then, Canada didn't have the multicultural, all-accepting immigration policies the country is known for today. In fact, the ideal immigrant was of North European descent and White, meaning that Jews who managed to escape were put into the "Special Permit" category which required them to get approval from the Cabinet. Prime Minister Mackenzie King had also feared of riots in Quebec if he accepted the Jewish refugees, so only 5000 Jews were accepted while the rest were forced to go back home to their appending deaths. Canada's acceptance number was shamefully the worst among western nations.

The Canadian Conscription was an appalling moment in Canadian history where unwilling citizens were forced to risk their final breaths on a bloody battlefield. A dark time for Canadians as they were forced into involuntary peonage to defend the petty disputes of the heads of the country. Then came the Japanese-Canadian issue, of which innocent bystanders were thrown into unknown lands after being forced out of their homes under wrongful accusations of spying for the enemy. Of course, Canada wasn't quite finished with the discrimination just yet, as they had the gall to refuse mere entrance to the impoverished Jews, knowing that they would be forced to go back home to most likely be slaughtered. I chose these defining Canadian events to talk about because I felt that they best embodied the cruel, racist and forceful facts of Canada in history prior to the all-for-freedom country it is known as today.

The Good...

Of course, the great name Canada has received to be as it is today didn't occur overnight! There were many great events that caused a throbbing sense of pride in hearts of many Canadians, such as when Canada was given independence of autonomy from Britain, when Canadian armies conquered at Vimy Ridge, and when women were given equal rights to men. In fact, Canadian history is pretty interesting!

America had their war of independence (1775-1782) but Canada was still under the full control of British sovereignty for a long time. This meant that Britain control our laws, traditions and major decisions. Canada got control of its own country in baby steps. In 1867, Canada's first Constitution, the British North America Act, was put into effect by approval from Britain. In 1931, the country got the right to create its own Supreme Court and finally in 1931, the Statute of Westminster, a British law which proclaimed that Canada as well as other Commonwealth Dominions were to be given full legal freedom (except in certain areas to be controlled by Britain), was put into action.

The battle at Vimy Ridge was one to remember, as the Canadian Army was commemorated for their bravery, courage and strength. In a vicious battle between Germany against Britain, France and Canada where the German army had the great advantage of clear enemy trespassing view, the struggle proved to be far too difficult for both British and French armies. However, from the impeccable planning of General Arthur Currie using air reconnaissance to understand German fortifications, replica battlefields, drills to practice coordination and timing, as well as maps given to soldiers (something never done before), Currie led the Canadian Army to victory! Using the creeping barrage tactic, Canada pushed through despite the many casualties.

The last but definitely not least honourable Canadian historical event that occurred was when women were finally given full and equal rights in a male-dominated world. Canadian women sure did have quite a struggle to get equal say, especially when it came to voting since they were expected to have the same views as their husbands. In fact, women weren't allowed to vote in federal elections until 1921, and that didn't even include all women, which brings me back to the discriminatory ages of Canada's past. Yes it's true, Aboriginal, Asian and African women were not allowed to vote. Each province slowly attained female rights and freedoms until all women (including those of colour) were finally considered equal to men. Throughout the years, Canadian women have become quite honourable for fighting for their right to work outside the household with equal pay, to marry and divorce as pleased, to vote, and much more until today's time where they are considered equal and free from liabilities and restrictions that had used to come from gender.

Of course there are positive and negative sides to Canadian history; events that would make us prideful or ashamed. But no one can deny that the end result of all those struggles and battles fought in the past, was a free, diverse and welcoming country. One of which is widely known on an international level for its honourable deeds and righteous actions. I am proud to be a citizen of Canada!




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