Murray Sinclair (on Aboriginal justice)

This is not news, but it, too, is reality. (A tip o’ the cap to Peter Trueman – and how’s that for the name of a news reporter? – who finished off his nightly Global TV newscasts way back when with a commentary, which always ended with a similar line.) I’m thinking, again, this morning of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Its work is done. Its recommendations are out there. Many a heart-tugging reminiscence has been aired, stories of the often-bitter legacy of Canada’s residential schools for Aboriginal children and youth. And as is the way of modern life, we are on to other things, most of us.

Just for this quotable minute, let’s remember. First, while I’m tipping my invisible fedora, I want to remember Desmond Tutu. As I understand it, he was the key mind behind South Africa’s origination of the “Truth and Reconciliation” concept, which has built into it not only the idea of an unblinkered and fearless gaze at the rancid facts of his country’s racialist history, but also this notion: look, we all have to live here together, and we’ll stay sick, slaves to the past, if we don’t forgive. That’s what the congregation of the Charleston Emmanuel church have (again) taught us in the aftermath of murder: that forgiveness is not some spineless absolution of another’s evil, but a courageous and hard-won insistence on clearing one’s heart of the barnacles of vengeance and the chains of hate. Tutu was a churchman. He knew and preached that Christ’s call to forgive must harmonize with the cry for justice. I’m glad we had the wisdom, however imitative, to call the Canadian investigation into our earlier policies of de-culturalization the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It’s a mighty marriage of mutually reinforcing principles. Hurray for us.

Many truths have been told. However, I’m not sure that reconciliation has been advanced much. There is greater awareness. Awareness is good. There is greater understanding and real sympathy, but it won’t take too many Aboriginal protests that infringe on suburban Canadian complacency to erode that. (I’m from Caledonia. Uneasy lie the heads of those on opposite sides of racially stained land disputes.) Still, I’m hopeful that the work of Justice Murray Sinclair and his Commission is a watershed moment in the history of Canada’s movement toward greater harmony and equality among our founding peoples and all the boat people, wagon people, car and airplane people that have joined them on this favoured hunk of Earth.

In a June 6 interview that bears re-reading, Justice Sinclair made a point that still echoes. Speaking to writer John Ibbitson, but through him to all Canadians of Anglo-French and other European backgrounds, he offered a particular and ominous reason for getting right the relationship with the Aboriginal peoples of Canada.

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Tabatha Southey (on calling hatred hatred)

Ms. Southey is a fine Canadian writer. The Santa Barbara killings couldn’t have shocked her, but what she noticed in all the public commentary was that many issues suddenly needed to be talked about right now. Mental illness was there, of course. Guns. Race. She wasn’t complaining about our culture’s developing capacity to talk about realities that were once hush-hush. She was pointing out that misogyny wasn’t among them. What do people talk about when they talk about “honour killings” of supposedly shameful women, such as recent events in Pakistan (or Ottawa)? Insane ideology might get a mention, and Muslim extremism in general. We’re less likely to mention a rampant condescension towards what some men persist in regarding (sometimes consciously) as an “inferior” species, and a hatred of that stubborn species when women and girls presume to act as if they were capable of deciding and acting like human beings — that is to say, men — are expected to do. The road to realizing the equality between men and women is thorny, bloody dangerous — not only for women, but most brutally and frequently for them.

Southey’s strong, grimly witty article is here, and well worth a read. I quote only a bit of her true and pointed conclusion.

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Driving Miss Piggy (Crazy)

[This piece, or something similar, was originally posted in May, but then I withdrew it as I had decided to shop it around. A shorter version was accepted by Canada’s national newspaper — — and it ran in the print edition of August 13, 2012, and on-line as well. If you missed it, here it is again, for the record.]


The tones, the tones, bane of my existence and forger of linguistic atrocities! You probably know enough of Chinese languages – Shanghaiese, or Cantonese, or the pu tong hua (“common speech”) that we call Mandarin – to recall that they are tonal. People used to say, and some probably still do, that Chinese people speak in a “sing song” way, but now that I’ve been listening to this music for a few years, I can’t help thinking that English must sound blunt and monotonous to folks here. (Actually, the French have been muttering about that for a long time, so no surprise there, I guess.) Yes, the tones do add melody to the language, and a certain intensity, too; for the first year I lived in China, I saw arguments breaking out everywhere for what seemed like no reason. Whenever I was with students or friends who could speak English, I’d ask, Are you angry right now? Or, What are those guys fighting about? The answer was wonderment, or confusion, or just a chuckling, They’re talking about their schedule/the weather/what was for lunch in the cafeteria. I was constantly fooled by hearing rising, strident tones that, in English, generally mean consternation or incredulity or rage,

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Houston: Canadian Hockey Heretic

So it was Sweden and Finland for the gold, the Czech Republic and Slovakia for the bronze. Those of us who think that Canada/Russia or Canada versus the Entertainment Empire are the great hockey rivalries need to think again. And yes, I’ll say it again: those who persist in thinking that Canada is “still the best” are just plain wrong. We love hockey, we play it proudly and well, but there’s something missing. I wrote about this in ’03, and called my rant “It’s About the Skills, Stupid!” (Click here to read it.)

One of the few media commentators not to be an apologist for The Canadian Way is The Globe and Mail’s columnist William Houston. Watching commentators fall over themselves to reassure a panicking nation, Houston observed in Friday’s Globe, “Still, the mythology lives on. Yes, unfortunate setbacks occur, but Canadian hockey remains the gold standard…. The Canadian hockey media, with some exceptions, are first into the bunker. To the battle stations, men and women, to defend our great game and the Canadian way…”

Houston must take a lot of heat for his views, which he has repeatedly stated. Pardon me for lengthy quotation, but I really think he has it right. Canadian pride is getting in the way of our athletes getting the best coaching. We refuse to learn, while the Europeans have not hesitated to learn from what our guys tend to do well. Here’s Houston on skill development:

Consider this: Who’s the most talented player in the world? It certainly isn’t a Canadian. Arguably, it’s a 20-year-old Russian, Alexander Ovechkin. If it isn’t Ovechkin, it is a 34-year-old Czech, Jaromir Jagr….Still, the excuse makers will talk about Canada’s wonderful accomplishments. They will recite the men’s record on the world scene — the gold medals won by the senior team, the juniors and under-18 team. But those achievements were the result of Canadian hockey capitalizing on its strengths: organization, commitment, preparation, excellent coaching, strong team play, a work ethic, defence, determination and aggressive play. Skill development?

There are two systems in which the game is taught: European and North American. The Europeans produce the game’s best skaters and stickhandlers. The players are creative with the puck and fast on their skates. That’s because Europeans spend more time practising skills than North Americans and receive better coaching. Bodychecking is kept out of the game until the junior level. That gives the little guys a comfort level in which they can do things with the puck without worrying about getting hammered.

In the Canadian volunteer system, kids at the top level will play more than 100 games a season, but will not receive enough practice time. Winning is paramount. Size is important. Defensive and physical play is stressed. Entrenched organizers and influential figures glorify toughness and fighting. They ridicule no-bodychecking rules.

That’s why Canada produces good players, excellent checkers and great fighters. And that’s also why, when a Canadian team goes to the Olympics and competes at the world’s highest level, it gets outskated and can’t score…

 Yup. He done tole the truth.

And It Wasn’t Even the Grand River Sachem

I tried to be cool about it, then changed my mind. My review of McCourt’s Teacher Man made the mighty Globe today! Huzzah and hurray! I was supposed to be shopping for groceries in that Haliburton store, but why pretend? Straight to the newspaper rack I went, but I resisted the urge to buy a dozen. It was as good as I remembered it: no horrible apprehensions of clanging phrases or throbbing clichés that only show up in ink. Martin Levin, the Books editor, took it just as it was, although his push to expand one section was a good one. So how long will it take me to get my own book reviewed there? This decade would be nice…

Haliburton is gorgeous. The snow is coming again. I always love this mom-in-law getaway, especially at Christmas. When I was teaching, it was an utter collapse zone, a sweet decompression that was never quite long enough. Nowhere to go, nothing to be, and nobody knows my number.  But tomorrow, there will be SnowBorgs.