Canada, in contrast to the United States, has an international reputation of being the nice one in North America. The quiet Canadian is usually held up as the nicer person as opposed to the loud, ugly American. There is a component of truth to this; any nation with a half-decent health care and education system appears reasonable in contrast to the ultraindividualistic dystopian nightmare that is the US.
However, a closer examination of Canadian capitalism reveals the brutal and racist underbelly of that nation. Why is such a deeper scrutiny warranted? In the wake of the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at the grounds of the former residential school for Indigenous children at Kamloops, British Columbia – followed by a similarly grisly discovery of 751 unmarked graves of Indigenous children buried at the Marieval Indian Residential school in Saskatchewan – a spotlight is shining on the genocide of the Indigenous nations implemented by the Canadian ruling class.
These gruesome discoveries are only the tip of the iceberg; the residential school system in Canada was implemented to assimilate the indigenous children, on the presumption that the Catholic faith provided a superior set of morals and values to indigenous ethical systems.
Canadian residential schools, established in conjunction with churches, were intended to forcibly assimilate indigenous children into the mainstream Christian religion and culture. Begun back in 1831, and finally abolished in 1996, the Canadian state, along with their religious counterparts, kidnapped thousands of indigenous children and separated them from their families. This policy of cultural genocide was challenged by indigenous peoples, and in June 2008, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established to investigate the full extent of the residential school system.
In 2015, the TRC concluded that over the span of one hundred years, more than 150 000 indigenous children were taken from their families. These boarding schools, usually run by the Catholic Church, were decrepit places where physical and sexual abuse was rampant. The residential schools were spread out over the nation, and thousands of unmarked gravesites remain to be uncovered. Until today, indigenous communities still struggle to maintain a level of equality with non-indigenous Canadian society – be it lack of access to potable drinking water, or racism in the healthcare system.
You may read more about the impact of the residential school system on indigenous communities here. For our purposes, let’s examine the other troubling, and no less traumatic, features of Canadian capitalism.
There is a persistent myth that Canada, the nice guy, did not have slavery, like the obnoxious United States. Is that true? Yes and no. Canada did not have a large slave-worked plantation economy like the Deep South of the US. The colder climate in Canada made it impossible to construct profitable mass plantations of tobacco, sugar, cotton, rice – all of which were worked by African slaves in the US and the Caribbean.
However, Canada did have slaves – and entrenched slave trading. British and French controlled territories in what became the Canadian federation definitely used and traded in the African slave trade. When the Canadian state was officially created in 1867, the story of slavery had to be glossed over. After all, a new nation cannot afford to admit that one group of its citizens were oppressed, and still uphold itself as an example of constitutional liberty in action.
While Canada has a reputation of being a peaceful nation, as opposed to its militaristic neighbour to its south, the Canadian military has participated in all US imperialist wars overseas. The Canadian military was deployed to the USSR, as part of the multinational foreign intervention in 1918-22 to overthrow the new Bolshevik regime. The foreign military forces, such as the Canadian forces, assisted the White anticommunist Russians in their failed bid to restore the Tsarist system.
Canada has provided military and logistical support to the ultranationalist regime in Kiev, the Ukraine. Canada has a long history of providing refuge to Ukrainian ultrarightist and neo-Nazi war criminals, giving sanctuary to those Ukrainians who collaborated with Nazi forces during World War 2. These Ukrainian communities in Canada have helped to push Canadian politics in a rightward direction.
Canada allowed itself to become a haven for Ukrainian neo-Nazis, and subsequent generations of Canadian politicians have recycled the ultranationalist view of history bequeathed to them. Racism against ethnic minorities – including Islamophobic killings – has reared its ugly head in Canada. Ottawa’s participation in the ‘war on terror’ has brought its domestic consequences of increasing racism against Islamic communities to its doorstep.
It is time to cancel Canada Day as a first step towards confronting Canada’s racist past. Only by being honest about the horrific discoveries of the recent past – and the impact they have on perpetuating racist practices in the present – can we rebuild a new equitable vision of the future.