James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

Canada Will Not Go Gently

Photo by: ALICE CHICHE/AFP/Getty Images

Canada Will Not Go Gently

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Cider in Ontario

It gets cold up here in Ontario. When this part of my country was first settled, the pioneers drank all sorts of terrible alcohol to make it through the winter. They drank whatever they could coax into fermentation. Spruce beer. Birch or maple wine made with honey and yeast. It offered only a mild buzz and soured quickly. Then came apples. Shortly after came cider. It quickly became synonymous with hospitality and conviviality. It was at the center of every social event. Traditionally, guests were provided with a bowl of apples and pitcher of fresh, golden cider. Beware, it was always said, of drinking cider alone.

I’m already through two pints and all I can think about is the names and faces of the six men killed in Quebec City on Sunday evening: Khaled Belkacemi, Azzedine Soufiane, Aboubaker Thabti, Mamadou Tanou, Ibrahima Barry, and Abdelkrine Hassane. These men were fathers, husbands, brothers, sons, civil servants, IT workers, businessmen, educators, and, of course, Muslims. They were shot in the back as they prayed.

In the days following the killings, Canada’s law enforcement, politicians, media, and citizens worked together to respond smartly and sensitively. And while we worked at that, the American political and media machine sucked us into their fetid swamp. The new American president’s shamelessly calumnious spokesman used the massacre to justify the new regime’s racist policies and rhetoric. Propagandists falsely blamed the shooting on a foreigner of Moroccan descent. And the New York Times, with the casual, distant arrogance with which they view everything outside of their ken, reflected on how this mass murder would make Canadians confront a new strain of intolerance.

Spare me.

None of this is new to us. Racial intolerance and ethnic hatred lies at the very foundation of Canadian democracy. We are not strangers to it. Far from being untouched by it, its scars run deep and are still raw. Our nation was founded by white men of property who restricted the franchise to others like them. In the early years of this province, these same men kept themselves in power through violence and fear. They jailed dissenters, hanged traitors, and worked to exclude others from the protection of the law. As explored in this recent piece in The Walrus, as the nation grew up, the same brutal, racist tendencies that motivated Canada to engage in a cross-generational genocide of its First Nations peoples visited indignities on the Irish, blacks, Eastern Europeans, Chinese, Japanese, Sikhs, Jews, and Tamils who tried to settle here. We had our share of racial fear-mongering and riots, of racist bans and head-taxes. We worked to keep the others out. We made it hard for immigrants to succeed and thrive.

But, having just opened my third pint, I am now going to self-righteously assert that this has always been a country that was founded on a set of core legal principles, on strong institutions and a deep and stubborn commitment to the rule of law. Maybe it is the cold, but unlike the warmer climes to the south, we’ve tended to draw together to survive, to work to heal our wounds over time. And while our courts, our governments, our civic institutions, our public schools and our citizens, have had their weak moments, they’ve come to lead the charge against intolerance. They’ve been at the frontlines of fighting racism. I’m not saying its perfect here. I’m not saying we don’t have issues with racism and intolerance. I’m not saying there do not remain some painful and unresolved legacies. But we’ve developed the habit of working through them. Slowly, sometimes too slowly, but we work through them.

I’m not worried that there is a new, creeping intolerance that will confound what the Times thinks is nation of simple, naïve, and trusting souls. I am not worried that the vile white supremacist trolls will gain some new purchase here. Nor do I fear that the peculiar, sick Americanism of mass shootings will leech uncontrollably across our border. We’ve built a powerful and nuanced and socially responsible wall along the 49th parallel that keeps all those bad dudes out.

The import I truly fear is the erosion of faith in government that has taken hold in our southern neighbor, the zombification of politicians, the sensational whorification of the media, the triumph of narrow personal interests over the public good, the worship of celebrity over character. That’s what Canadians need to stand on guard against.

It’s cold this afternoon. It’s started snowing. I’m opening my fourth cider. And while I don’t mean to be rude, I’m going to buck tradition, folk wisdom, and all good sense and drink this one alone. I’m not going to spend any time worrying about all this political bullshit. I’m tired of it all.

Instead I’m going to think a little bit more about those six men whose lives were taken in a quiet suburban mosque in Quebec City. I’m going to think about the hole they left behind, in the lives of their families, their friends, their communities, and their country.

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