Tuesday, July 01, 2008


Another fantastically brutal offering from the Toronto Star!

(Where, I ask you, do they find these people?)

Rochelle Burns--whose CV couldn't be more perfect (a teacher! a "social" historian! a citizenship judge!)--presents us with a paean to Canada so exquisitely maudlin and obtuse that it will leave you gasping. (Though, I'll admit, there is one worse.)

Playing on her bizarrely misbegotten refrain, that "Canadians see the other side of the point" (did she perhaps mean "the other side of the story" or "the other side of the coin"?), Ms. Burns spends 900 or so words of ham-fisted, semi-literate nonsense trying to prove that, ahem, "all is deafened by the understatedness of Canadians."

I encourage you to read the thing in its entirety, but here are a few of the riper bits:

Outsiders say, "You Canadians are so polite." Watch it. That can be a euphemism for, "You're rather naïve." Let me set the record straight. We are polite; we are compassionate. Being polite and compassionate are not synonyms for naïveté but for open-mindedness.

Canadians see the other side of the point.


Travelling abroad makes Canadians want to come back and kiss the ground of their country, no matter how much fun the journey was. If you ask Canadians why, they often go blank. They know, yet cannot quite put it into words. It is another form of our understatedness.

Those from other countries, however, have no trouble articulating Canada's merits. Actor Jane Fonda once said, "When I'm in Canada, I feel this is what the world should be like."


When you are 60 years old, you can appreciate that the symbol of the Order of Canada is a snowflake, illustrating that all recipients are like snowflakes, all unique. And polite and definitely able to see the other side of the point.

I wonder why we are like this. We are a country of immigrants. We always have been. We come from all over bringing with us all of the planet's faiths, outlooks and styles of living. I have a theory that the overwhelming majority attracted to live in Canada already had in them the gift of seeing the other side of the point. We attract who we are.

That is why Canadians are not tolerant; Canadians are accepting.

The word 'tolerant' is pejorative. It means people put up with those they deem to be different from them. This is an insult. This is not what being Canadian is.

Canadians have a great sense of accepting others. We walk down the street and feel it is normal to hear a world full of accents and languages.

Being accepting means it's okay for someone else not to belong to your group.

Being accepting means you know groups to which you do not belong accept you.

Being accepting means you see the other side of the point.


I remember when I began to teach in Toronto's inner city in the 1970s. A dental hygienist from the Caribbean worked in my school. I loved chatting with her because she was so honest and caring. One day she invited me to her home along with her multitude of friends. Everyone but me was from the Caribbean. I was the outsider.

Yet I felt totally at home. They understood the difference between "tolerate" and "accept." They saw the other side of the point.

And so did the "universal man" at one of the ceremonies over which I presided as a citizenship judge. I nicknamed him that because his skin was a mixture of worldwide hues. His physiognomy also displayed a universality. Eighty new citizens from 37 places around the world sang "O Canada" at the end of the ceremony. As the words emanated from his mouth, the tears poured from his eyes. He was looking upward, perhaps toward God or a departed loved one.


Just to write about such remembrances makes me feel Canadian. But I have not given a specific definition of what it is to be Canadian that would fit neatly into the Oxford dictionary of the soul. I haven't because I can't.
Ah, yes! The old "Oxford dictionary of the soul." That's Bliss Carman, isn't it? ... But I don't think Ms. Burns has scrutinized her copy soulfully enough. If she had, I'm fairly certain that she would have found the following definitions:

A n. A native or inhabitant of Toronto.
B adj. Squeaky-clean.
Mine adds:
C adj. Squeaky-toy stupid.