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Thursday, September 30, 1999

Stranger in a strange land
Ian Hunter
National Post

With only occasional forays abroad, I have lived my life in Canada, the country of my birth. Yet I understand Canada less and less and feel ever more a stranger here.

In one sense, of course, we are all strangers on this planet: come hither we know not why, departing hence we know not when or whither, sojourners in time whose destination is eternity. But Canada for me has become a foreign country in quite unique ways. What ways?

Herewith, a random list.

A country where boatloads of illegal migrants wash ashore without exciting any government action or even much public concern. A one-party state where the most significant decisions are taken not by the political oligarchy but by unelected judges. A country where the opposition parties would rather squabble with each other than govern. Where my dog gets more prompt and better attention in a veterinary clinic than I do in a hospital, yet where it is considered nearly treasonous to suggest that one might willingly pay for quality care. Where the demise of a department store at which practically nobody shopped is an occasion for weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, including one academic whom I heard on the CBC (where else?) proposing that the T. Eaton Company be turned into a charitable trust exempt from taxes. Where the Queen's representative is chosen from among the chattering classes who are congenitally hostile to monarchical government. Where the minister of finance during an election campaign can say: "Canadians don't want lower taxes; Canadians like to pay taxes," and not only get re-elected but become the heir apparent. A country where the RCMP does not enforce the law on Indian reserves, and the Toronto police do not enforce the law in gay bars. Where the Armed Forces are more concerned about designer uniforms for pregnant soldiers than about fighting. A country where high taxes and a low dollar are a winning political combination. I could go on but I think you get my drift.

In this country of Canada we have a minister of justice, Anne McLellan by name, and not long ago she journeyed to Edmonton to address the Canadian Bar Association. Ms. McLellan resolved to show her mettle and she told her audience that she intended to get tough in addressing one of Canada's many problems.

Which problem? Why, cruelty to animals. Ms. McLellan served notice that she will bring in amendments to raise the maximum sentence for anyone who drags Spot behind the truck, or lets Felix too near the budgie, or fails to give the gerbil three square ones a day. A brave stand, our Anne took, standing fearless before a group of lawyers whose covert desire was to go home and beat their pets. While happily I was not there to hear this Churchillian call to arms, it is reported that Ms. McLellan's talk was warmly applauded.

In Western Report Link Byfield got it right when he wrote:

"The same people who never once (for instance) consider what it might be like for a human fetus to be torn apart without benefit of anesthetic go into a white-hot rage that a puppy was left shivering in the cold, or panting in a parked car. This incapacity to distinguish between real issues and non-issues bodes ill for our democracy. But our governing class encourages it, because it leaves them a much freer hand to order things as they like. Justice for divorced dads? No. Equal treatment for Indians? No. An armed forces that's more than just a social-policy hobby horse for the federal cabinet? No. Prisons that serve as a punishment for crime? No. Sexual laws that both reflect and encourage sound morality? No."

Is this a peculiarly Canadian or a worldwide phenomenon? I rack my brain over this question but never come to a satisfactory answer. Perhaps a combination of welfarism and rights rhetoric would reduce any population to Canada's catatonic state. But I doubt it. I think that infantile regression is the holy grail that Canadian nationalists have sought for so long, the key that unlocks the mystery of the Canadian identity, the elusive answer that tells us who and what we are.

Incidentally, I told my golden retriever, Sheena, about Ms. McLellan's plans to protect her from abuse. Sheena yawned. She was born and bred in Canada.

Ian Hunter is professor emeritus in the faculty of law at the University of Western Ontario.

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