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.


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.


Not coming soon to a TV near you

old_school_tvAaaaand … we’re back.

Took a brief hiatus to focus more on paid writing but you all were never far from mind.  No fair blaming me for that — if you all paid me, these last three sentences would have added about $50 to my bank account.  Insert unironic smilie here.

We’re back, with this: the host of a local current affairs program took to the show’s blog to say some mind-bogglingly obtuse comments about why it’s hard to book women for his show.

He basically offers up three explanations as to why male guests agree to appear and women don’t:

  1. Child care duties: “No man will ever say, “Sorry, can’t do your show tonight, I’m taking care of my kids.”
  2. Concerns about appearance: “No man will say, “Sorry, can’t do your show tonight, my roots are showing.”
  3. Perceived lack of expertise: “No man will say, “Sorry can’t do your show tonight, I’m not an expert in that particular aspect of the story.”

I’ve felt the pressures of each of those at various times but to paint the challenges as some sort of gender essentialism is … well, plainly put, it’s bullshit.

(Note that he also says that it’s been particularly challenging in the last couple of weeks.  Hello, March Break.)

Now, I’ve not been asked to appear on the program but I can think of many reasons why I do take a pass on personal media opportunities, and they’re not as simple as that 1-2-3.

As I said on Twitter:

I write op-eds for other people all the time and the starting point is always the same … namely, I know very little. Research it, write it, edit it, submit. If I can do this for others, why not for myself?

I have no formal authority (job title, graduate degree, etc.).

I occasionally have work conflicts that preclude free expression.

I work hard to see different perspectives, which makes arguing one’s own opinion more challenging.

I don’t have a lot of free time.

Like most people, I’m not a fan of rejection.

I’m more aware than most that published thoughts live forever.

Other reasons, too.

But, you know, the show’s producers aren’t therapists and I’m not an asshole.  I wouldn’t waste their time explaining why I feel insecure about my level of experience and expertise, because time is short and they need to get off the phone with me and onto the next prospect.  Frustrated producers might take my polite “Have to watch the kids” as an excuse, but it’s not an excuse if it feels, for me, to be true.

I’ve passed on going out to some networking events I probably should have attended, because I had nothing to wear.  I mean, I live in jeans and seven-year-old yoga pants, no joke.  I’m lucky in that I’ve got a few great contracts right now and can finally afford to buy new clothes.  But I hate shopping.  And I have a great partner who will happily watch the kids while I go shopping, but that’s not how I want to spent my childless time.

Do you see what I’m getting at, here?

Sometimes we legitimately have to watch the kids.  And sometimes that’s shorthand for, “I don’t feel pretty,” and “I don’t feel smart,” and “I don’t trust you,” and “I don’t want to disappoint everyone.”

So it’s not that easy.  If you come at an issue as challenging as the representation of women in media with the impression that there’s an easy answer and you’re just missing something … well … you’re half right.

If I had a hammer

P would say that I shouldn’t begrudge the construction guys working two houses over the right to smoke outside, because it’s outside, it’s hard work, it’s smelly work (seriously, he used this as an explanation once, and I did question how adding another layer of carcinogenic stank over top of it all could possibly ameliorate the situation, but then I let it drop, because he’s the one with construction experience, and I am the one who happily sailed through her teens and twenties with no work-related injury more grievous than a paper cut).

So, he would say I shouldn’t begrudge them the opportunity, and I say … bullshit.  When the wind blows exactly the right way I can detect a faint odor of cigarette smoke in my kitchen and it gives me the rage, because I am 90% bloodhound and 75% anti-smoking zealot (you do the math; I’m too busy slamming windows to make a point).

As I was saying … he would say I shouldn’t begrudge these guys, but I gotta tell you, I do.

I begrudge the hell out of that shit.

My attitude toward childhood vaccinations is similar — in fact, I use smoking as the metaphor: just as your right to smoke ends where my lungs start, your right to willfully risk exposing your child to preventable diseases ends where other people’s kids are present (my kids especially).

In conclusion, smoking causes polio.  Don’t say you weren’t warned.

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.