Canada Myths and Realities

“The faceless beast has many faces.
The most dangerous face is the one that comes with a smile.”
-James “OJ” Pitawanakwat [1]

On November 30, 2004, there was a massive mobilisation to protest George W. Bush’s presence in Ottawa.  This event provided an insightful example of how varied (and oftentimes mutually exclusive) agendas can occasionally fall under one banner.  Indeed, a veritable motley crew of interests were represented – anarchists, communists, anti-imperialists, anti-capitalists, environmentalists, John Kerry supporters, and Canadian nationalists, among others.  Unfortunately, this did not translate into having any common understandings aside from a shared opposition to, and disdain for, George W. Bush. Personally, organising as an Indigenous solidarity activist with sharp critiques of the Canadian state, I found the fervent Canadian nationalism/patriotism that reared its ugly head on several occasions to be quite unsettling.

In one of the more violent confrontations with the police around the Fine Arts Museum – the police were using pepper spray and batons to beat down protestors trying to push back the barricades –, a disturbing rendition of Canada’s national anthem was initiated by a few people in the crowd and soon spread like wildfire. These protestors belted out the tunes of O Canada, while some even simultaneously placed their hands over their hearts evoking their “true patriot love”.  Presumably, the intent was to impute “Canadian-ness” to the protestors, implying that the police were behaving in a “non-Canadian” manner. The irony, of course, is that many on the front lines battling against the police have little sympathy for the Canadian state (or its police forces), as it is this state which has consistently sought to marginalise and criminalise their dissent.

The fundamental question, though, is why people use Canadian patriotism as a protective cloak from American patriotism.  Do they not see that while the colours may be different, the fabric remains essentially the same? While filmmaker Michael Moore shamelessly places Canada (and Canadians) on a pedestal without any real merit, why is it that Canadians feel so smug and self-righteous without a closer inspection of what “being Canadian” means?   Meanwhile, perhaps the professed intent of American citizens to immigrate to Canada following Bush’s re-election should alert us to the reality that “democratic” nation-states founded on the holocaust of Aboriginal peoples, the theft of land and the use of slavery cannot escape their ignoble roots. The unmasking of the United States’ fascist tendencies have become obvious with the ascension to power of the Bush regime, complete with its right-wing fanaticism and Christian-fundamentalist agenda.  Canadians would do well to avoid basking in the glory of self-adulation and become more vigilant in confronting the intensification of the attack on civil liberties here in Canada (particularly for the most targeted and vulnerable groups: the poor and working class, Aboriginal people, “ethnic minorities”).   

Did those fervently singing the national anthem not recognise how insensitive and offensive they were being to those who have suffered, and continue to suffer, as a result of Canadian policies?  Would they have been as keen on their singing if, for example, they were standing beside an Aboriginal person or a refugee awaiting deportation? Perhaps they would argue that while Canada has its share of problems, at least it is not as bad as the United States. Down south, it may be argued, they treat “their” Indigenous and refugee populations much worse than we treat “ours” here.  I rebut the argument that simply “being better” than the United States of America (or “American citizens”) is hardly a cause for celebration – indeed, this is not a difficult achievement. In fact, if we measure how peaceful and just a given society is by using the United States as a yardstick, our moral compass is in need of significant retuning.

Many patriotic Canadians continue to pride themselves on how Canada did not get involved in the invasion and occupation of Iraq.  This myth persists despite the fact that Canada’s contributions to the military effort in Iraq are quite well-established. Canada sent troops to Afghanistan to free up American forces for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Canadian ships were known to have been escorting American aircraft carriers from which American warplanes conducted their aerial bombing missions. Canadian military planners were sent to the United States Central Command (USCENTCOMM) at the MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida over a month before the eventual invasion and occupation of Iraq; Canadian military planners were then sent to CENTCOMM’s headquarters in Qatar, where the on-going occupation of Iraq was orchestrated.  Canada has allowed use of its ports in Newfoundland to permit American planes to refuel en route to the Middle East. Finally, Canadian companies have made great financial gains in supplying the United States with weapons and military equipment.[2]  Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister John Manley called the U.S. policy which initially banned Canadian companies from contracts to “re-build” Iraq (after the “Coalition of the Willing” re-destroyed it) “shocking” and “unacceptable.”[3] For a country whose stated official position was that of not being involved in the Anglo-American-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, Canada has sure kept busy “not helping” the United States.  Yet, many Canadians still impute Canada with moral rectitude which it clearly does not deserve.

Canadians often pride themselves on how different Canada is from the United States of America.  But, on a fundamental level it shares much more than is commonly admitted. Both are avowedly colonialist, capitalist nation-states, with white-European and Christian origins. They were both built on the blood, sweat and tears of people (mostly non-white), the overwhelming majority of whom were not allowed to share in the wealth which a select few from the white elite have accumulated over time.  Slavery was practised in both countries with varying intensity at various periods.  While the United States has been the overt imperialist over the past century-and-a-half, Canada has lent its support to such endeavours; aside for its complicity in crimes in Iraq, it has been (or is currently) involved in Vietnam, Indonesia/East Timor, Afghanistan, Haiti, and Israel-Palestine, among others.[4]  They have both employed immigration policies that primarily allow entry to immigrants and refugees from the South in order to meet specific needs in the labour market and/or to compensate for an otherwise slow population growth.    Both governments are fraught with overwhelming conflicts of interests which favour corporate rule over public good. Finally, and perhaps of greatest importance, is the colonial history and holocaust of Indigenous peoples that characterises both these nation-states.  Indeed, after originating from such shameful origins, it would in fact be a surprise if Canada had managed to truly distinguish itself from the United States on issues that actually matter.

Injustices: Past and Present – the Canadian colonial reality

Canadians perceive the realities of Indigenous peoples and communities in a very fragmented way.  A common perception is that while there were grave injustices done to Aboriginal peoples in the past, things are somehow different now. At what point in history this disjunction occurs (i.e. what separates “then” and “now”) remains elusive.  The important task, then, is to show how the current relationship between Indigenous peoples and the Canadian state is not a novel one based on principles of justice and mutual respect, as most Canadians would like to believe, but rather an evolution of the same exploitative and oppressive relationship which have characterised Canadian-Indigenous relations from the start.

In fact, the only difference now may be that instead of justifying theft and murder by arguing Aboriginal people are an inferior race explicitly (i.e. Social Darwinism with a little bit of White Man’s Burden mixed in), Canada uses more covert means to achieve the same ends.  This is not to suggest that potent vestiges of Social Darwinism are no longer with us today.  On the contrary, the Canadian mindset is framed – through the collusion of governmental policies, corporate interests and biased media spins – by constant bombardment of images depicting racist stereotypes of Aboriginal peoples.  Through an exaggerated and/or unsympathetic emphasis on poverty, corruption, violence, suicidality, substance abuse, etc. in Aboriginal communities, the implied message remains the same: Aboriginal people are not fit to govern themselves. Repeatedly neglected in contextualising these matters is explaining, for example, how the Canadian state imposed (through the enactment of the Indian Act) a foreign system of governance on peoples that were previously highly democratic, or exploring the genocidal legacy of the Church-run residential school system under the auspices of the Canadian state, from 1879 until 1986.[5] Also consistently neglected are the cause-effect relationships of pervasive racism and poverty faced by, and the low-intensity warfare waged against, Aboriginal communities. The caveat to all of these omissions is the manner in which self-proclaimed progressives actually acknowledge these realities, but do so to undermine Aboriginal self-determination by implying that Aboriginal people are still “healing” from these past injustices, and thus are not yet “fit” to govern themselves. 

Meanwhile, communities which are actively fighting colonisation, asserting their autonomy and exercising their right to self-determination are usually ignored, unless they appear in the media at a time when a direct confrontation with the state is occurring.  In fact, Andy Mitchell, the previous Minister of Indian Affairs, was once provided with briefing notes (obtained by the Canadian Press through the Access to Information Act) which stated that “Aboriginal issues are traditionally a low priority for the Canadian public, unless the media forces public attention on them”, intimating that the media should avoid reporting on Aboriginal issues for fear that the Canadian public start sympathising with them.[6]  The threat of a good example would be particularly dangerous for the Canadian state, given how many Indigenous communities reside within its colonial borders. Ultimately, however, the net result is the same: Aboriginal people are still regarded as inferior, de facto, while the Canadian state (and therefore the Canadian people) continues to benefit from the expropriation and exploitation of their lands, whether it is for fishing, hunting, tree logging, mining or oil drilling.

The legislative paper trail, from the Indian Act through to the First Nations Governance Act (which was recently “defeated”) belies the Canadian state’s professed goodwill in dealing with Indigenous peoples in Canada.[7] For those unconvinced, there are several recent examples which demonstrate the real agenda of the Canadian state to suppress any signs of Aboriginal autonomy and self-determination.  The perpetual low-intensity warfare against Aboriginal peoples notwithstanding, the “Oka Crisis/Siege of Kanesatake” (1990), the “Ipperwash Crisis” (1995), the “Battle of Gustafsen Lake/Gustafsen Lake Crisis” (1995), and the confrontation at BurntChurch (2000) all reveal the violent reaction of the Canadian state and its provinces to Indigenous self-determination.  Provincial and federal police forces, plus or minus the Canadian military, have been deployed in all the above confrontations.

Some argue that it is only “conservative” Canadian politicians that have engaged in such operations.  The implication being that such politicians do not represent the “true” spirit of Canada. The reality, however, is that when it comes to Aboriginal issues, there are no distinctions based on the political party. These instances do illustrate Canada’s “true” spirit.  The New Democratic Party (NDP) – Canada’s “progressive” political party – was in power in British Columbia when it colluded with the Liberal Canadian government to send the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and military to Gustafsen Lake, “involving the largest mobilization of government fighting forces in resource-rich western Canada since the crushing of the Métis resistance movement led by Louis Riel in 1885.”[8] History, it seems, continues to repeat itself.  Progressive politics may be better tolerated in Canada versus the United States, but what is clear is that all bets are off when it comes to applying Canada’s standards of justice in its dealings with Aboriginal peoples. 

Specifically with respect to the RCMP, they continue to fulfil the task for which they were initially created.  Addressing the mythology surrounding Canadian national identity, scholar Eva Mackey suggests that the “formation of the North-west Mounted Police in 1873, to act as a quasi-military agent of the government in Western Canada, is one of the most romanticised events in Canadian popular history.”[9] As Gabriella Pedicelli cites: “The NWMP was used to seize resource-rich Métis land and transfer control and effective ownership to the federal government.  This semi-military police force was created to control Métis resistance as well as potential native allies farther west who also revolted against the forceable take-over of their land by the Canadian government. The federal government feared a war waged by the Métis and natives against white settlers. The belief was that the NWMP would civilize the wild, barbaric, heathen Indians. The mission was violently and enthusiastically carried out by its racist officers.”[10]
The Canadian/provincial response in the above-mentioned conflicts, and the many which go unmentioned here (Skwekwekwelt, Cheam, Grassy Narrows, Kahnawake, Six Nations, etc.) express the Canadian state’s fear that Aboriginal people will start reclaiming land that is rightfully theirs, land that was not ceded nor surrendered. Even in cases where it was ceded or surrendered, it may be convincingly argued that this occurred under situations of duress, thereby severely imperilling Canadian land claims to Aboriginal territories.  The Canadian government and its corporate puppet-masters naturally feel threatened by forceful demonstrations of sovereignty, for the two mutually reinforcing entities stand to lose out on the spoils from exploitation of these lands.  Even after transplanting entire nations and relegating them to grossly inadequate tracts of land, these prospectors continue to smack their lips at the potential of any profit that can be made from what the Canadian government now realises to be “resource-rich” lands.

Revolution is based on land

The 1990 resistance in Kanesatake was to oppose a planned expansion of a golf course by the neighbouring town of Oka onto Mohawk burial grounds. The Ipperwash Crisis, where Dudley George was killed by Ontario Provincial Police, came about after several Stoney Point Indigenous peoples initiated a peaceful protest to reclaim traditional burial grounds. The Battle of Gustafsen Lake/Gustafsen Lake Crisis was a standoff in which the Ts’ Peten Defenders were asserting their right to observe their Sundance ceremony on “disputed” land, land which was traditionally theirs, and had never been ceded nor surrendered.[11] The conflict at BurntChurch stemmed from the active defence of traditional fishing rights by Mik’maq people.  The lesson is that protecting burial grounds, safeguarding ceremonial territories and asserting rights to ensure one’s livelihood threaten the Canadian state.

Land, especially reclaiming land obtained by theft, is one of the cornerstones of Aboriginal self-determination. El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (a.k.a. Malcolm X) stated: “Revolution is based on land.  Land is the basis of all independence.  Land is the basis of freedom, justice, and equality.”[12] It seems that the Canadian state and its corporate allies are well aware of this reality, and have acted accordingly.

Extradition cases

It should be noted that Canada’s mistreatment of Indigenous peoples is not restricted to those residing within its colonial borders.  The Canadian state is only too happy to comply with the American government in its own war against Indigenous peoples residing within the colonial borders of the United States.

In 1876, the Hunkpapa leader, Tatanka Yotanka (a.k.a. Sitting Bull), was one of the fighters in the victorious resistance to an American offensive, later to become known as the Battle of Little Big Horn.  During this battle, General George Custer was killed and his forces defeated. The American military’s predictable response was to seek revenge by finding the leaders and fighters of the heroic resistance while simultaneously engaging in violent collective retribution against Indigenous peoples, of which those from the Sioux nation were most obviously targeted. By the spring of 1877, Tatanka Yotanka, along with many others (some suggest that they numbered in the thousands), had escaped to Canada and settled in the plains of Saskatchewan.  Canada did not technically extradite Tatanka Yotanka, but it was hopeful that he (and those with him) would leave of his own accord when the RCMP provided an escort for General Alfred Terry from the United States’ War Department.  Terry came to Fort Walsh to persuade Tatanka Yotanka to return to the Great Sioux Reservation.  When the latter declined, RCMP Commissioner James MacLeod addressed him accordingly: “You can expect nothing whatsoever from the Queen’s government except protection so long as you behave yourselves.” That the Canadian government commissioned RCMP officers to monitor Tatanka Yotanka’s activities speaks volumes as to the type of “protection” it afforded him.  Ultimately, Canada’s withholding of any form of aid, including food and clothing for the bitter winters, forced Tatanka Yotanka, along with 186 others who were with him, to return to the United States in 1881.[13]
More recently, the Canadian government extradited Leonard Peltier, an organiser with the American Indian Movement (AIM), from British Columbia to the United States in December of 1976.  In what has become one of the most contentious cases in American legal history, Peltier was subsequently convicted and is serving consecutive life sentences in a federal penitentiary for the murder of two Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents following the 1975 shoot-out on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation near Wounded Knee, in South Dakota.  To this day, Peltier maintains his innocence while the American legal system continues to deny him a re-trial despite public support and pressure.  Moreover, over two decades later, and despite significant public outcry forcing an investigation into the extradition hearings, Canada maintains its action as righteous and lawful.  Despite evidence in the case suggesting otherwise, then-Canadian Justice Minister, Anne McLellan, had this to say in an October 1999 letter addressed to then-U.S. Attorney General, Janet Reno: “There is no evidence that has come to light since then that would justify a conclusion that the decisions of the Canadian courts and the Minister should be interfered with.”[14]
At the present time, courts in British Columbia are presiding over the extradition of John Graham, a former AIM member, to South Dakota. There, he is to stand trial for the murder of Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, an AIM member who was involved in actions that took place on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the 1970’s.  A Mi’kmaq woman from the Shubenacadie reserve in Nova Scotia, she was a strong and long-time activist, regarding herself proudly as a “female warrior.”[15] Her radical politics, intelligence and energy predictably garnered the attention of the FBI. In a recent message from prison, Leonard Peltier states that the “FBI told Anna Mae that they would see her dead within a year if she did not cooperate with them, used their puppets to spread rumors that Annie Mae was an informant when she refused to cooperate, and mishandled the investigation of her death.”[16] Justice must be served for the murder of Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, but it is clear (if history were to serve as a guide) that this cannot come through the Canadian or American legal systems.  This is particularly true in the present situation given the FBI’s desire to exculpate itself by diverting attention from its own involvement in her murder.[17]
Meanwhile, it is worthy to note that a recent extradition trial in the US gave rise to an unexpected (and arguably encouraging) result. In November 2000, Judge Janice Stewart overruled the US State Department and refused the extradition of James Pitawanakwat to British Columbia, where he would likely face political persecution at the hands of the Canadian government for his involvement in the Battle of Gustafsen Lake.  Thus, for the “first time in legal history of Canada-US relations, a US judge invoked the legal authority of the political offences exception in Article 4 of the Extradition Treaty.”[18] It is lamentable that the United States, and not Canada, was the one to set such a precedent. 

The Canadian façade of multiculturalism and tolerance

Despite all this, many Canadians still regard Canada as a great country, with perhaps only historical blemishes when it comes to its treatment of Aboriginal people.  Of course, to many others, such an assertion remains quite dubious.

When it comes to immigrants and refugees, for example, Canada is quick to exploit its reputation as being a haven for human rights in welcoming people from other countries. Any serious study of immigration policy in Canada (much as in the United States), however, reveals that benevolence has not been the motivating factor for allowing people to enter the country. Rather, migrants are typically permitted entry into Canada for very specific tasks, ranging from domestic labour, to farming, to factory work, to building the railway, to technocratic-professional positions. In particular, the refugee claimant population has always been a pliable labour pool, bestowing employers with two mechanisms through which to exert power and subordinate their workers: by preying upon refugee claimants’ precarious financial situations and by threatening to sabotage their claims for refugee status and eventual citizenship should they assert their rights to obtain dignified wages, working conditions and benefit plans.

Occasionally, history offers cases that eloquently display the underlying white-supremacist and racist tendency which permeates the Canadian landscape. While usually pontificating about its “tolerance” and “multiculturalism”, Canada shows its true colours suggesting otherwise in times of duress.  This is perhaps best exemplified with the deplorable internment of Japanese Canadians into makeshift concentration camps during World War II, while (white) Germanic Germans were left untouched.[19]  In the post-9/11 atmosphere, meanwhile, similar events are recurring, with the specific targeting of Muslim, South Asian and Arab men, many of whom are being surveilled and detained without justification. 

The recent high-profile cases of Maher Arar, Adil Charkoui and Mohamed Cherfi,[20] effectively expose the Canadian state’s fundamentally racist and intolerant policies towards recently-arrived migrants, regardless of citizenship (Arar has been a Canadian citizen since 1991).  In response to Cherfi’s active role as a community organiser in Montreal, the Canadian state sent a clear message to all recent immigrants and refugees who dare to speak up and/or organise for the protection of their rights: You are not welcome here.  Admittedly, public outcry has likely had some effect (Arar was eventually returned to Canada, but not after months of torture in a Syrian prison; meanwhile, several Muslim men, including Charkaoui, remain in detention in Canada for bogus “security” reasons and Cherfi is still in a US detention centre despite much mobilisation [21]).  Yet, most Canadians continue to see such actions taken by the Canadian state as being somehow aberrant from its “natural” proclivities.  For those dissenters the Canadian state cannot deport, meanwhile, it targets them through constant surveillance and via individual and mass arrests at demonstrations.  As a result of legal fees, bail conditions, and being mired within the court system in general, these individuals are prevented from continuing with their important work as community organisers. 

The great myth of Canadian tolerance and multiculturalism is promulgated through the theatrical celebration of the 3 C’s of being an “ethnic minority” in Canada – costume, culinary, and customs.  So long as the underlying values (white-supremacist, elite, capitalist, patriarchal, heterosexist, ableist) of this society are not questioned, let alone challenged, the great Canadian myth is allowed to persist, unfettered and unchecked.

In the face of this professed tolerance and multiculturalism, Black people in Canada continue to be removed from the historical and cultural landscape.  They do appear as a blip on the radar screen when they are used to display Canada’s role in facilitating their escape from American slavery through the Underground Railway. Conveniently omitted from such histories, however, is the fact that Canadian luminaries like James McGill (of McGill University fame) owned slaves, both Black and Aboriginal.[22] As Dionne Brand and Krisantha Sri Bhaggiyadatta suggest, “While it takes less than one generation for a white immigrant to become Canadian, two centuries of Black settlement is still not incorporated into the image of Canada.”[23] The last several decades have seen a significant migration of Black people from the West Indies as well as from sub-Saharan Africa.  Black people who have either recently arrived to Canada or those who can trace their ancestry back many generations within Canada can readily attest to the systemic and institutional racism that characterises Canadian society.  This is not a difficult task for it is a reality felt in everyday life, whether at school, in the playground, at work or in the community. 

Police brutality against the Black population serves as a strong surrogate marker of the systemic racism they have to face on a daily basis. The murders of Anthony Griffin (an unarmed black man shot in the head after complying with an officer’s order to halt while attempting to flee in Montreal in 1987) and Marcellus François (an unarmed black man shot in the head by the Montreal police’s Tactical Squad while sitting in his car in a flagrant case of mistaken identity in 1991) caused significant outcry, yet remain an all-too-frequent occurrence in Canada.[24] This is lamentably only the tip of the iceberg of a pervasive brutality faced by Black communities across the country.  Black communities (and other ghettoised communities) in Canada are targeted in ways which are comparable only to police harassment and repression faced by Aboriginal people. Meanwhile, police forces across the country consistently harass, abuse and brutalise homeless people (e.g. the brutal September 5, 1999 beating of Jean-Pierre Lizotte at the hands of Montreal police outside of Shed Café; the “poet of Bordeaux”, as he was affectionately known, ultimately died of complications from his beating a month later), mentally ill individuals (e.g. Albert Moses was a mentally unstable man who was shot in the head on September 30, 1994 by Toronto police for allegedly attacking a plainclothes police officer with a hammer), as well as members of racial and ethnic minorities already mentioned.[25] It remains instructive that in the overwhelming majority of these cases, the police officers involved in these murders were rarely investigated or disciplined; if they were, most were soon exonerated and often reinstated into their respective, or another, police force.  None, to my knowledge, served significant (if any) prison terms.  As Pedicelli suggests in her important work, When Police Kill, the “police are more prone to use force when dealing with visible minorities and the poor.”[26] There should be no distinction made between a given police force and the provincial/federal superstructures which give it life; the police force is a public institution, and therefore reflects the state on whose behalf it acts.

Challenging the Canadian myth

The spin doctors shaping public opinion promulgate the lie that Canada was/is not involved in the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. What’s worse is that, to this day, many Canadians have accepted this bait hook, line and sinker. If a state is so obviously deceitful with its own population (and Canadian history is replete with such examples), it absolves Canadians from any burden of loyalty they may feel towards it.

The argument being advanced here is that only upon extricating ourselves from the myth which holds Canada as a beacon of light amidst a sea of immorality will we be able to critically analyse its intentions and actions.  People should not feel a sense of indebtedness to Canada simply because they were allowed to immigrate here, were granted citizenship here, or happened to be born here. Admittedly, there are freedoms in Canada which do not exist in other countries. However, this should not be used to excuse the excesses and transgressions of the Canadian state, of which there are many. There is no reason to be an apologist for a state that continues to implement policies which harm people who reside both within and outside of Canada. 

Indeed, through its various involvements (as a military arms supplier, through the support of transnational corporations, etc.), Canada has had a significant hand to play in the imperialistic exploitation and disempowerment of people in other countries, often creating the very atmosphere which fosters cycles of despair leading to forced displacement and eventual immigration.  That people wish to settle here as a result should not be regarded as a privilege for them, but rather as the responsibility of the Canadian state for having uprooted many of them in the first place.  Further, by forcing migrants to accept the “model minority” hypothesis, Canada successfully prevents any tangible links of understanding or struggle to be forged between non-white migrants and Indigenous peoples.[27] Meanwhile, Canada’s on-going attack on youth and the elderly, as well as the poor and the working class are important to analyse if one is to gain an appreciation of how Canada’s “domestic” policies contrast sharply with its unsubstantiated international reputation as a broker of peace and justice abroad.[28]

Many would like to believe (much as they do in the United States when evoking the notion that the Constitution was a pure and utopian tract) that Canada is “lost”, as though it has fallen from grace.  This is clearly not the case. Canada’s existence has always been, and continues to be, predicated on the exploitation of marginalised and oppressed populations.  Whenever these populations have risen up to fight for their rights, they have been met with swift and violent repression by the Canadian state.  Amidst these acts of Canadian tyranny, however, history is punctuated by victories of people’s movements.  We should be responsible to those who have struggled and fought courageously before us to allow us the freedoms we presently enjoy. This responsibility can only be fulfilled if we, too, recognise that we will have to fight tooth and nail so that we, our children and children’s children may live in a world where freedom and responsibility go hand in hand.

This recognition necessarily requires that Canadians confront the state in its on-going meddling and intrusion in the affairs of Indigenous peoples.  Aside for paying necessary reparations, the Canadian state must cease and desist from any interference with the lives of Indigenous peoples. At the very least, Canada has to respect its treaties with Indigenous nations and peoples.  Even among radical activists critical of the Canadian state, foreign (imperialist) policy is often attacked vociferously while Canadian involvement in Aboriginal affairs is glossed over or simply paid lip service in order to convey a “thorough” and “legitimate” anti-imperialist/anti-colonialist analysis.  As “Canadians”, we have a responsibility to tangibly support Indigenous struggles by forging links of solidarity while simultaneously opposing the Canadian state’s on-going exploitation of Aboriginal peoples. We must view our “solidarity as logical, natural and necessary, given our position within the ‘belly of the beast’. In concretely targeting the roots of injustice here, we oppose injustice everywhere.”[29]
There is no pristine Canadian past which exists to be reclaimed.  This is a figment of people’s imagination.  It is a myth conveniently used to alleviate the guilt which continuously grows in the Canadian collective psyche so long as Canadians freeload on the work of others, past and present. It is high time that those of us residing in Canada exorcise this false past and start taking responsibility for our present and future.

I would like to acknowledge the support and insightful criticisms provided by Devin Butler Burke and Shelly (both from the IPSM collective in Montreal) in the writing of this article. The responsibility for any omissions and/or errors, however, remains my own.

Samir is an organiser with the Montreal-based Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Movement. He is trained as a medical doctor, specialising in the field of children’s health. He can be reached at


1. “James Pitawanakwat’s Statement to the Court.” The Gustafsen Lake Crisis: Statements from the Ts’Peten Defenders. Kersplebedeb Distribution: Montreal, 2001, p.35. (Originally published by the Anarchist Black Cross Federation in collaboration with Settlers in Support of Indigenous Sovereignty)

2.  Also see Stephen Kerr, “Meet Canada, the Global Arms Dealer”  June 3, 2003.  En Camino.


4. Podur, Justin. “Canada For Anti-Imperialists” (Parts 1 and 2). ZNet. July 3, 2004.

5. Milloy, John S. A National Crime: The Canadian Government and the Residential School System, 1879-1986. University of Manitoba Press: Winnipeg, 1999.  Note that “Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group” falls under Article IIe of the United Nations’ Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.  More specifically on the latter, see: Chrisjohn, Roland, Pierre Loiselle, Lisa Nussey, Andrea Smith and Tara Sullivan. “Darkness Visible: Canada’s War Against Indigenous Children”. Peacemedia, Special Report.  Quebec Public Interest Research Group, McGill University: Montreal, Spring 2001.
6. For the Canadian Press release, see:

7. Although the FNGA was indeed defeated, Bill S-16 is being regarded by some as the FNGA’s successor. Meanwhile, community-specific legislation with the same ultimate intent (of undermining Aboriginal title to land) is being pushed one community at a time (e.g. Bill S-24, a.k.a. the Kanesatake Interim Land Base Governance Act). Janice G.A.E. Switlo is a lawyer who has written extensively on related matters.  Her articles can be retrieved at:

8. Hall, Anthony J.  The American Empire and The Fourth World.  McGill-Queen’s University Press: Montreal, 2003, p.19.  For more comprehensive accounts of what transpired at Gustafsen Lake, see (among others): Janice G.A.E. Switlo’s Gustafsen Lake: Under Siege and Splitting The Sky’s The Autobiography of Dacajewiah “Splitting The Sky” John Boncore Hill: From Attica to Gustafsen Lake. 

9. Mackey, Eva.  The House of Difference: Cultural Politics and National Identity in Canada.  University of Toronto Press: Toronto, 2002, p.34.

10. Pedicelli, Gabriella.  When Police Kill: Police Use of Force in Montreal and Toronto. Véhicule Press: Montreal, 1998, p.16. On the role and history of the RCMP, see also Peter Matthiessen’s In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, p.274. 

11. Regarding the 1990 resistance in Kanesatake see York, Geoffrey and Loreen Pindera. People of the Pines: The Warriors and the Legacy of Oka. McArthur and Company Publishing Limited: Toronto, 1999.  Regarding the 1995 resistance in Ipperwash, see Edwards, Peter. One Dead Indian: The Premier, The Police and the Ipperwash Crisis.  Stoddart Publishing Company Limited: Toronto, 2001.  Aside for the sources mentioned in [1] and [8], regarding the resistance at Gustafsen Lake, see also Matthiessen, Peter. In The Spirit of Crazy Horse: The Story of Leonard Peltier and the FBI’s War on the American Indian Movement.  Penguin Books: New York, 1992.  It is worth mentioning here that Splitting the Sky and others have done important work to show how military interventions against Indigenous communities may have been used as training grounds for the Canadian military’s secret, elite “commando” unit, Joint Task Force 2.  On this matter, in spite of his potentially questionable political sympathies, one is directed to David Pugliese’s Canada’s Secret Commandos: The Unauthorized Story of Joint Task Force Two. Esprit de Corps Books: Ottawa, 2002. 

12. Malcolm X Speaks. Grove Press Inc.: New York, 1981, p.9.
13. Brown, Dee. Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West. Bantam Books: New York, 1970, p.277-90, 391-394.

14.  For a cogent rebuttal of Anne McLennan’s position, see

15. Matthiessen, p.110.  See also Johanna Brand’s The Life and Death of Anna Mae Aquash. James Lorimer: Toronto, 1993.

16. Leonard Peltier Statement on John Grahams’ Extradition Hearing, dated December 6, 2004, received via email. (On file).

17. For more information about John Graham’s Defense Committee, see  It should be noted that Anna Mae Pictou Aquash’s daughters have previously called for the support of extraditing John Graham.  Their website can be accessed at

18. Hall, p.207.

19. Aside for the copious documentation of these events in more academic texts, one is directed to Joy Kogawa’s Obasan (Penguin: Toronto, 1983), which is regarded as the first novel on the Japanese Canadian evacuation, internment and dispersal.

20. Maher Arar is a Syrian-born Canadian citizen who was deported to Syria where he endured significant torture in Autumn 2002 after being arrested at JFK airport while returning from a visit to relatives in Tunisia.  Adil Charkoui is one of the “Secret Trial Five”, and has been imprisoned in Canada without charges under secret evidence since May 2003.  Mohamed Cherfi is a respected community organiser and was spokesperson for the Action Committee for Non-Status Algerians in Montreal who (among other things) worked tirelessly to push for the regularisation of Algerian refugees.  On February 10, 2004, Cherfi sought sanctuary in a Quebec City church.  On March 9, 2004, his sanctuary was violated when he was forcibly removed by Quebec City police, handed over to Canadian immigration officials and deported to the United States. He is at great risk for being deported to Algeria (where his life would be in danger) while supporters attempt to repatriate him to Canada.

21. For more information about, or to support Adil Charkaoui’s case, contact:; for Mohamed Cherfi’s case:

22. Trudel, Marcel.  Deux siècles d’esclavage au Québec.  Éditions Hurtubise HMH Ltée : Montréal, 2004. For a veritable “who’s who” of slave-owners in what is now the province of Québec, see Trudel, Marcel.  Dictionnaire des esclaves et de leurs propriétaires au Canada Français.  Éditions Hurtubise HMH Ltée : LaSalle, 1990.

23. Brand, Dionne and Krisantha Sri Bhaggiyadatta. Rivers Have Sources, Trees Have Roots: Speaking of Racism. Cross Cultural Communication Centre: Toronto, 1986, p.3.

24. Pedicelli, p.66-68, 78.

25. The Montreal-based Collectif Opposé à la Brutalité Policière (COBP) organised extensively to bring attention to issues pertaining to police brutality following Lizottte’s death.  Regarding the death of Albert Moses, see Pedicelli, p.127. 

26. Pedicelli, p.20.

27. For an interesting discussion about the “model minority” hypothesis as well as the multiple mechanisms effectively deployed to impede the formation of links of solidarity between South Asians (Desis) and Blacks in the United States, see: Prashad, Vijay. The Karma of Brown Folk. University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 2000.

28. It should be acknowledged that this piece does not adequately discuss how oppressive class and gender dynamics – openly or tacitly introduced and/or reinforced by the Canadian state – affect Aboriginal peoples and Aboriginal self-determination.

29.  This excerpt is from the Montreal-based Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Movement’s recently re-drafted mandate. IPSM can be reached at


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