Friday, September 10, 2021
Friday, July 02, 2021
The discovery of 215 bodies in Kamloops is a gruesome reminder that maybe “genocide” is an appropriate term to use for Canada’s assimilationist policies after all. And this may just be the tip of the iceberg: what will the final death toll be, once the grounds and the paper trails of every residential school in Canada have been thoroughly examined? Native Residential Schools were Canada’s Crime of the Century.
And yet… many people still think that it is wrong to be tearing down statues of our first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, and removing his face from our currency, and his name from every school and every airport and public building. Why? Because, in the words of Macdonald’s most recent biographer, Richard Gwynn: “No Macdonald, no Canada.” And if there is no Canada, there is no New Treaties, no Section 35 of the Canada Act, no aboriginal title, no Delgamuukw case, no Chilcotin case. No official multiculturalism, no official bilingualism---and probably no universal medicare or gun control, for that matter.
Besides, according to Macdonald’s apologists, most of what befell the First Nations people was not really his fault. For example, it is argued that he never actually intended the starvation of the Plains Indians, who were devastated by the spread of new diseases and the decimation of the buffalo herd long before he took charge. Moreover, it is worth noting that attendance of indigenous children in residential schools did not become compulsory until 1920, which was 29 years after Sir John A.’s death.
David Frum attempts to restore Macdonald’s reputation in a recent Atlantic Monthly article. He states: "As attorney general of the pre-confederation province of Canada, [Macdonald] battled to protect escaped American slaves from extradition. His government persuaded the British government in 1862 to pass a new habeas corpus act that imposed new restrictions on cooperation with U.S. slave hunters. He welcomed Jewish immigration to Canada and for a long time strenuously but unsuccessfully resisted efforts to exclude Chinese immigrants … He headed a political coalition that bridged Canada’s great divide between French speakers and English speakers—and worked all his life for accommodation and respect between the two mutually suspicious cultures. … As the person who proposed the [residential] schools, Macdonald shares the blame for their grim human consequences. But … the worst wrongs in the schools happened after Macdonald had left this Earth, and could neither be aware of them, nor correct them.”
All of these things may be true, but Frum is still white-washing the past. It would be more accurate to say that Macdonald’s attitude to slavery mirrored that of the British Foreign Office: opposed to slavery in principle, but also willing to encourage the secession of the slave states if it meant that the USA was less of a threat to the British colonies. And although his attitude toward escaped slaves and immigrants may have been morally ambiguous, his attitude toward Canadian indigenous peoples was not. They stood in the way of his vision of continental expansion. So he was harder on them. He may not have been the initial cause of their starvation or of the near-extinction of the buffalo, but he still rationed their food relief so as to induce them into fixed settlements. He starved them. His motive for doing so was plain: he felt that land had to be taken for white settlements and for the Railway, and the natives forced into becoming agricultural and industrial workers, whether they wanted to or not.
Americans seem to be able to accept that Washington and Jefferson owned slaves, but it is difficult for Canadians even to accept that Macdonald authorized residential schools. That is because the residential school system is so recent, within the living memory of so many Indigenous Canadians. Sure, Macdonald may have only intended to “assimilate” native people and not to literally kill them. But ultimately, that is not such an easy or excusable distinction to make, as the discoveries in Kamloops make all-too clear.
Mark Crawford is an Associate Professor of political science at Athabasca University.
Saturday, May 22, 2021
I was saddened last month to hear of the passing of Thomas R Berger, the pioneering lawyer, human rights advocate, politician and Royal Commissioner who was famous for three things (although by no means only three): first, bringing the Calder case to the Supreme Court, which established in 1973 that Aboriginal title can exist in Canadian law; second, leading the MacKenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry; and third, leading the protest in 1982 that got the section 35 Aboriginal rights clause put back in the Constitution.
I knew Tom Berger. I was a friend of his daughter, Erin Berger, who was a classmate of mine at UBC. We were both working in Ottawa the fall after graduation, she as an Assistant to Ian Waddell and I as a Parliamentary Intern (in that capacity I worked for the Liberal MP Pierre Deniger and the NDP MP Nelson Riis in addition to a host of other activities.)
I had dinner with Tom and Erin one evening in Ottawa in November 1981, when he was in town (not, as it turned out, just to visit his daughter, but also to discuss what was happening with the constitutional negotiations.) I noticed that he seemed to be uncharacteristically anxious to finish eating and to hear what was on the news.
I vividly remember being in his hotel room, sitting down to watch the National News with him and Erin and like a thunderbolt, the lead story was his condemnation of the initial constitutional deal (which had left out native rights at the request of certain premiers). Then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau was saying to reporters that Berger, as a sitting judge, was “out of line” to be “getting mixed up in politics”, and then the proverbial s**t hit the fan.
The following day, Berger had an op-ed in the Globe and Mail, in which he took Canada’s elected leaders to task: “No words can deny what happened. The first Canadians — a million people and more — have had their answer from Canada’s statesmen. They cannot look to any of our governments to defend the idea that they are entitled to a distinct and contemporary place in Canadian life. Under the new constitution the first Canadians shall be the last. This is not the end of the story. The native peoples have not come this far to turn back now.”
As a result, a complaint against him was filed with the Canadian Judicial Council, and even the venerable Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Bora Laskin, criticized him for breaching the norms of judicial impartiality. But he could not remain silent in the face of what he saw as a fundamental injustice. As a result, Tom decided to resign from the Bench. He had sacrificed his judicial career, but in his mind it was worth it.
And it probably was worth it. His op-ed had galvanized the federal NDP to insist on the inclusion of the aboriginal rights clause, which – along with the activism of Indigenous leaders– made it clear to Trudeau that unless section 35 was reinstated, he could not count on their support for the patriation deal. The subsequent renegotiation brought native rights (and women’s rights) back into the Constitution. Among its progeny was the Tsilhqot’in case, which represented the first declaration by the Supreme Court of Aboriginal title for a First Nation in Canada. Its significance ranks on par with the Supreme Court’s previous decisions in Calder and Delgamuukw.
I recall a conversation I had with him about the life of David Lewis, the CCF-NDP firebrand who had just lost his battle with cancer, and whose autobiography, which I had been reading, was appropriately titled The Good Fight. Notwithstanding Tom’s patient and pleasant demeanour, it might have made a fitting banner for him as well. As it was, he eventually settled on an equally suitable title for his own memoir: One Man’s Justice.
His was the very definition of a life well lived.
Saturday, April 24, 2021
<a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5774639-the-good-fight" style="float: left; padding-right: 20px"><img border="0" alt="The Good Fight: Political Memoirs, 1909 1958" src="https://s.gr-assets.com/assets/nophoto/book/111x148-bcc042a9c91a29c1d680899eff700a03.png" /></a><a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5774639-the-good-fight">The Good Fight: Political Memoirs, 1909 1958</a> by <a href="https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8554737.David_Lewis">David Lewis</a><br/>
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<a href="https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/20856794-mark-crawford">View all my reviews</a>
Friday, April 16, 2021
Seeing the new digital newspaper subscription tax credit was just the nudge I needed to take out a couple of paid newspaper subscriptions to the Globe and Mail and i-politics.
Monday, January 27, 2020
When the leader of the B.C. Green Party chooses to sit as an Independent, while the interim party leader attends ( as a sympathetic participant) the same high-profile Native Protest that the Premier has repeatedly refused to attend, you know that something is up in B.C. politics. We are repeatedly reassured on both sides of the Green-NDP marriage that a painful divorce is not imminent: Dr. Weaver merely wants some “space” to deal with personal family health matters. But this seems a little odd: The Greens would surely have allowed him to take a compassionate leave from caucus duties, and the other parties would surely have excused Weaver from any committee responsibilities. Why, then, did he have to leave the party?
Perhaps his stated reason is sufficient enough to be taken at face value: he stated on his MLA blog that ““I believe that it is important for the B.C. Green party to develop a new vision and voice independent from mine. My presence in the B.C. Green caucus could hinder that independence.” Thoughtful of him---I guess. But is it considerate of the voters who elected him, in large part because he was a Green? This could reveal a certain hubris on his part, that of course the voters of Oak Bay voted for him because he was Andrew Weaver, the distinguished climate scientists, and not because he happened to be the leader of a particular political party.
Meanwhile, Premier Horgan looks less than perfectly virtuous himself. As with the Site C dam, he had to give in on the LNG pipeline, but it doesn’t look great. The message we are getting is that pipelines are evil—as long as they are transporting Alberta oil. If it is fracking BC natural gas on unceded native land you’re talking about , that is a completely different matter. But is it, really?
Then there are the Liberals. They are still in the news because of the blind eye they allegedly took to money laundering in the gambling and real estate industries when they were in office. According to a January 2009 RCMP anti-illegal gaming unit report, a businessman “connected to Asian organized crime” was allowed by a British Columbia public servant to buy part of a B.C. Lottery Corp. casino, and that government employee was later hired in another B.C. casino. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, instead of following the report’s recommendations, B.C.’s government defunded and disbanded the illegal gaming unit just three months later.
So whether or not Liberals did anything legally 'wrong', I have long felt that they were far too relaxed about money laundering whether in real estate or in gambling. On the other hand, as my securities regulator friend put it to me recently, nobody, either in China or the West, understood and predicted the impact of massive mainland Chinese capital flight. Easily a trillion dollars per year moves illegally out of China. When you have that much clandestine money floating around, shit happens. British Columbia, just like Australia and others, needed to make strict and clear rules about Chinese money as soon as it started coming but, again, the weight of the problem was not understood. “To put it slightly differently, when someone starts throwing money at you, you need to have really good powers of analysis and self-discipline to say “No”. You know that one of your neighbours will say “Yes” the next day.”
We are fortunate to have finally had a change of government in 2017, so that a new party with a cleaner slate could tackle this subject. But that doesn’t mean that an Adrian Dix government between 2013 and 2017 wouldn’t have been just as compromised as the Liberals were—Dix’s own corrupt, dishonest and “process is for cheese” behaviour while Glen Clark’s assistant during the Burnaby casino scandal (and on several other occasions) strongly suggests otherwise.
I am placing the odds of a B.C. election occurring this year, and not in the spring of 2021 as contemplated in the NDP-Green Supply Agreement, at around 50%. It is impossible to say from the current polls who would be most likely to win that election--- there is plenty to be unenthusiastic about on all sides. So, there you have it: very little black and white, just 50 shades of grey, B.C.-style.