Canada, The Country, Endures

1. I am not a fact-checker.
2. I am not a journalist.
3. I am not a writer with a column in Esquire.

BUT WE’RE GONNA DO THIS THING ANYWAY.

Earlier today, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, a 24-year-old reservist, was killed – gunned down while standing guard at the National War Memorial, steps away from Parliament Hill.

Cue shock. Horror. Incredulity. Tears.

Followed by reflection. Commentary. Punditry. Partisanship.

The latter was worst on Twitter. It always is.

But the pièce de résistance – the cake-taker, if you will – was this piece by Esquire’s Stephen Marche: Canada, The Idea, Is In Pieces

Let’s read it together, shall we?

Starts off well enough, with a review of the day’s events and some background on the place itself, notably the “lovely wide lawn around the Parliament buildings on which families play frisbee and walk dogs and occasionally protest.”

And that’s where all rational reflection leaves the building (which, incidentally, many staffers were unable to do until well into the night, still on lockdown nearly 12 hours after the shooting began).

That blissful, sun-dappled lawn? According to Marche, “that was the Canada of (his) youth.” Canada now … well, it’s in pieces, apparently.

Except that: it’s not. It’s not in pieces, if it was ever whole.

Marche continues: “If I’m being honest, I guess I believed that we were too irrelevant to be attacked. Too marginal, too inconsequential. Canada didn’t fight the Iraq War. It fought in Afghanistan. But it was always a follower or a refuser, never an inspirer.”

Well, listen. The man is entitled to his opinion. And I’m entitled to think he thinks too little of us. He calls his world view naïve. On that we can agree.

I’ve yet to see – surprisingly – a word cloud of the day’s coverage, but it wouldn’t be naïve to expect to find “innocence” featured prominently. It’s a word that many used, almost always in the same context: innocence gone, innocence lost.

In contrast, I found these comments more accurate, if less dramatic and retweet-worthy:

From Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s national address: “Canada is not innocent to the threats we face, and we know that we are not immune.”

And from another young leader, 19-year-old mayoral candidate Morgan Baskin: “Canada is not innocent and never has been. We have a complicated past that includes things we cannot be proud of.”

Different uses of the word, to be sure. The first talks about our collective understanding that we are not beyond the reach of terrible, horrible, unspeakable acts. The second, about the fact that whatever innocence Canada once possessed died a very long time ago.

In my lifetime, it died the day Denis Lortie killed three in Quebec’s National Assembly.

It died again five years later, when Marc Lepine walked into a classroom at École Polytechnique and shot dead 14 female engineering students.

It died in Mayerthorpe.  It died again in Moncton.

Canada’s innocence died at Dieppe, and before that, at Beaumont-Hamel.

It died in residential schools. It died in our Japanese and Ukrainian internment camps.

It died in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. It died, along with 1,181 murdered Aboriginal women.

It died so many times I couldn’t even place all the horrors listed above in any kind of sensible chronological order. It died again and again and again.

But it’s okay because, as Marche reminds us, we are the first to experience the searing pain of loss. Oh, and we still have wi-fi: “This is what the twenty-first century feels like: You sit at your computer trying to figure out how much of what you love is about to fall apart, and how soon and how completely.”

He also went on to say that Canada’s motto is “Peace, Order and Good Government.”

It isn’t. Our motto is A Mari Usque Ad Mare (From Sea to Sea).

But it’s the article’s conclusion that really grinds my gears, sufficiently that I put off sleep long enough to write this piece: “This is the one sign of hope on this day of looming darkness: Canada seems capable of facing the twenty-first century with some guts, at least, now that it has finally, brutally arrived.”

I would hope that the Twitter backlash – many of the examples I listed above were referenced there – will serve to remind Marche that today’s tragedy stands in sequence, not isolation.

And if it should happen again, as it inevitably will in some awful form or another, I hope he remembers another motto, that of Quebec: Je me souviens.

Taking on the transit trolls

Check out my op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen, Taking on the transit trolls.

 

The play’s the thing

I don’t imagine that if one were to create a Venn diagram to illustrate this post, that the intersection between People Who Closely Follow Canadian Federal Politics and People Who Enjoy Amateur Theatre would serve up much more than a hair’s breadth of overlap. But surely there are a couple of people who can lay claim to both. So, Rodney MacDonald of Inverness and Katherine Sousa of Strathcona, this one’s for you.


There has been much debate about the level of civility and accountability in the Canadian House of Parliament. Some are suggesting that the solution lies in giving the Speaker of the House greater powers, others feel such a move “goes too far.”

But two things caught my ear during debate earlier today, and they pointed at the same thing.

First, Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada, referred to the performance of some MPs as “bad high school theatre.” Not long after, MP Scott Simms (Liberal) described Question Period as “expensive dinner theatre … and not necessarily good theatre, either.”

My first impulse, after banging on my invisible desk (aka: my lap) and spilling my non-invisible beverage (aka: my coffee) was to wonder what kind of actual theatre one might be able to get away with in the House.

There are the Aristotelian standards: tragedy, comedy, melodrama, drama. I think those are fair game and already well represented, though perhaps unintentionally (comedy, I’m looking at you).

Then there are different theatrical styles, everything from classical (Shakespeare’s Hamlet) to postmodern (Müller’s Hamletmachine).  Theatre of the Absurd. So many options to choose from!

But I am limited by time (have to pick up my kid) and space (see earlier reference to lap desk) so I have decided to limit my suggested lineup to these three stagings:

Tony and Tina’s Wedding (dinner theatre)
A “festive celebration,” this show dispenses with the public gallery, and invites visiting groups to join in on the fun. Raise a toast to democracy! Amuse your bouche with Parliamentary procedure! Main course: Pizza. Don’t ask.

Phantom of the Opera (musical)
The spirit of accountability returns to haunt Members. Featuring the popular songs, “All I Ask Of You,” “Why So Silent?” and “Notes.”

Death of a Salesman (tragedy)
An older man struggles to accept that his services are no longer needed. Will his children face a brighter future, thanks to his sacrifice? (Spoiler: No.)

And … scene.

Does Word Crimes cross the line?

dictionary_grammarOne of my favourite words in the Spanish language is aguafiestas.  Its direct translation is “water parties” but it’s used to describe someone who ruins a good time.  In English, the closest equivalent would be “party pooper.”

I mention that because I’m about to be an aguafiestas.

I’ll tell you up front: if you’re an actual person who actually lives under an actual rock, what I’m about to say will make little sense.  But then again, you’ve chosen to set up shop with spiders and bats and pervasive dampness, and you’re willingly reading the dreck I shovel out, so I think we’ve established that sense isn’t your strong suit.

HOWEVER.  If you have managed to somehow hotwire your literal man cave into a wifi-enabled zone, perhaps you are familiar with the phenomenon that is Weird Al Yankovic‘s latest video, Word Crimes.  It was released yesterday and has taken the internet — by which I mean my personal Facebook feed — by storm.

It has its fans.  It has its detractors.  And it also has me, a Fourth Degree Pedant and Charter Member of Aguafiestas Internacional.  And here’s what I’m finding so irksome — one little word in a sea of many, one rhyme that is perfect (in the rhyming sense) and horrible (in the words-we-use-to-describe-other-humans sense).  Here is the section I’m talking about:

Saw your blog post
It’s really fantastic
That was sarcastic
‘Cause you write like a spastic

Really?  Spastic?  That’s the best you could do, Weird Al?

I have a lot of feeeeelings about the use of that word, but here’s the short version.  It’s akin to using — at least in North America — the word “retard.”  It’s an “othering” word, a pejorative, one used to mock and deride people with physical disabilities.  It wasn’t always so; its meaning derives from a word for “pulling” or “drawing in” which can be used to describe the muscular differences seen in some individuals.  In common usage, though, it’s … it’s not a good word to use.

Most commonly, it would be used to describe people living with cerebral palsy, a disorder that can have dramatic physiological effects but doesn’t necessarily have an impact on intellectual functioning (which is implied by the “write like a” line).

Don’t believe me on that last point?  Check out my friend Katie’s website.  Katie has cerebral palsy.  And she writes a blog.  And it really is fantastic.

I should probably leave it at that, but as a part-time editor, I feel duty-bound to offer up a few alternative word choices.  Here are some other words that Weird Al could have — should have — used:

That was sarcastic / ‘Cause your writing is bombastic
Bombastic is a great word.  It means inflated, pretentious.  Suits pretty much every blog post I’ve ever read.  Or written.

That was sarcastic / You think you’re so scholastic
The best part of using a word like scholastic is that you know you’re going to have listeners who only know it as a brand: “Scholastic? Like the book order people?”

That was sarcastic / No wonder you’re monastic
Okay, it’s a cheap shot to go after someone’s sex life.  But surely no cheaper a shot than perpetuating the myth that a body’s physical challenges also limit the mind’s ability to appreciate — and celebrate — language.

Anyway.  That feels like enough agua for one day.  Apparently my daughter’s cadre of Hello Kitty dolls are having some kind of birthday party, and I’ve been invited to attend the fiesta.  Bring on the cake.

If you think I’m talking about you here, yeah, you’re probably right.

If you think I’m talking about you here, yeah, you’re probably right.