An Interrogation of ‘Reconciliation’

This is a podcast about ‘reconciliation’ in Canada. We’re thinking about reconciliation in quotation marks because we want to critically analyze the narratives, power dynamics, potential pitfalls, practices, and consequences unfolding around us. (Full episode, 67 minutes)

Panelists

Joe Anton is from the Oneida Nation of the Thames. He is a counselor at the Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre.

Summer Bressette is from the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation. She is the Indigenous Legacies Project Manager at Museum London.

Cindy Smithers Graeme holds a PhD in Indigenous Health from Western University.

Segments

If you are looking to reference or listen to a topical segment, here are the broad themes we discussed.

A critique of land acknowledgements

What do we make of the increasingly common practice of non-indigenous people publicly acknowledging the traditional territories of indigenous people before public gatherings? (7 minutes)

The personal and the political

What could and should it look like for non-indigenous people to engage politically with reconciliation? (19 minutes)

Let’s talk ‘truth’ before we talk ‘reconciliation’

We consider some ways that the reconciliation narrative can be a tool for the ongoing colonization of people, land, and culture. (12 minutes)

Spaces, power, tokenizing, and colonizing

We think critically about the power and privilege that resides in capacity to create spaces and galvanize attention. (14 minutes)

Follow up

Do you have thoughts, perspectives, or input to add to the conversation? Please leave a note in the comment section below or send me an email at contact@jamesshelley.com. To read more, this site has a number of further discussions about the topic of reconciliation for reflection as well.

What is the Future of Gender in Canadian Society?

What is on the horizon for feminism? How has a heightened awareness of LGBT2Q+ experiences shifted our understanding about the nature of gender? Does the men’s rights movement reflect coherent concerns about masculine identity? What have been the ongoing consequences of movements like #metoo? This is a conversation about the future of gender in Canada. (Recorded live at Curious Public at Central Library on Monday, April 9, 2018.)

The Panelists

Greta Bauer is Professor in the Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics at Western University and an Affiliate Member of Women’s Studies & Feminist Research.

Michael Kehler is Research Professor in Masculinities’ Studies in Education at the University of Calgary, Werklund School of Education.

Nicole Nussbaum is a lawyer based in London, Ontario. She has a particular focus on, and extensive experience with, law and policy issues related to gender identity and gender expression.

AnnaLise Trudell is Manager of Education, Training & Research at Anova (formerly Women’s Community House & Sexual Assault Centre London).

Borders and Birthrights: The Moral Inconsistencies of Liberal Citizenship

Living in Canada is a privilege I enjoy by birthright, and which only exists as a privilege for me to the exclusion of others. How does this fact not squarely contradict my belief that all humans are equal?

The more I think about it, the more the concepts of citizenship and borders seem to be problematic ideas. At the philosophical level, establishing ‘self-determining states’ makes sense. Pragmatically speaking, resource management and geopolitical sovereignty seem to require power structures. But it feels like there is a disconnect between borders as a political necessity and borders as a morally justifiable tool of exclusion.

Once you accept the basic idea of universal human rights and the equality of all people, it becomes tedious and inconsistent to argue that some humans are ‘allowed’ to inhabit an arbitrary section of the earth that is forbidden to other humans. Ironically, often the very same people with the special privileges and permissions to occupy a particular piece of land simultaneously sing the praises of universal human equality. Living with this paradox requires some serious mental gymnastics and contortions of logic.

I live in Canada. I am a citizen. Canada is a wealthy, resource-rich nation that is desirable for many people at the moment. (Say, for example, families fleeing violence, corruption, or poverty elsewhere.) Why do I have the privilege to live behind these borders? My justification is nothing more than a birthright. I did nothing to earn the opportunity to settle in Canada as my homeland, any more than my ancestors possessed the moral authority to take this land from the people who were here first. I adopt this place as part of my identity out of sheer luck — an incredibly comfortable present delivered by a dark and bloody past.

I inherited the right to live here by a roll of the pedigree dice. I’m a bingo number in a genetic lottery. The privileges I possess are not historically random, but they are wholly unearned.

One does not hear kind words spoken about people who inherit privileged lives unwarranted but through parentage. But inherited privilege is the logic we must use to declare ourselves Canadian. What did I personally do to earn the right to live in this ecology and participate in this economy? Nothing. I am not speaking of nationalist exceptionalism or cultural superiority here, but rather of concrete material opportunities, protections, and privileges that are at my disposal by the simple fact that I was born here, relative to being born in some other places. For me to speak ill of anyone born into wealth is hypocritical, is it not?

Of course, many other people have indeed arrived here by other means. Some migrate here for work. Some immigrate for family ties. Some flee to this country as refugees. Citizenship is achieved by many, and there are many paths. We are a nation of immigrants, it is often observed. But the very plurality of these pathways only further emphasize the moral question at hand: by what moral authority is anyone granted or denied the right to set up their lives on this particular soil?

Statecraft, especially in the so-called ‘Western’ tradition, largely boils down to the process of keeping most people out and letting specific people in. Gatekeeping is executed under the pretext of security: to protect our population, we must hold the rest of the ravenous humanoids at bay. (And how could we possibly provide adequate healthcare to ‘our’ population if we opened our borders to everyone?) But the contradiction of the security discourse is that it implies being complacent (or non-interventionist) in the suffering of non-citizens while claiming the moral high ground and the rhetoric ‘universal equality’ for the rights of people who happen to hold passports. Fundamentally, the whole idea of guarded, militarized borders seems to clash with so many basic principles of universal human rights that we must wonder if liberal political dogma boils down to sheer self-contradiction.

I hear contemporary thinkers often ask how America — a nation supposedly founded on the principle that ‘all men are born free and equal’ — could have possibly enshrined slavery for so long? The incoherence is glaring, right? But how do we morally justify national borders while claiming adherence to doctrines of universal human equality and the supposed inherent rights of every individual? This is an awkward moral conundrum that liberals — even liberals who ramble on about the evils of overt nationalism — find suspiciously easy to ignore. Instead, we proudly congratulate ourselves for welcoming some arbitrary number of refugees in a crisis, which, by sheer logic, is as much about celebrating who we’ve kept out as much as it is about achieving some moral high road of humanitarianism.

However, borderlessness seems equally problematic. How could there be any guarantee or protection of human rights in a free-for-all, winner-takes-all, zero-accountability, libertarian world? Are not human rights themselves ultimately a product of state protection? A quick tour of the globe demonstrates all too well that the absence of government strongly correlates with massive human rights abuses. (And yes: governments themselves are often the perpetrators of such violence and violations, but their absence seems to almost be a guarantee of abuse.) What is a human right, anyway, if there is no authority to enforce it or hold perpetrators accountable? Borders, in this sense, seem to be the vehicles of human rights, even while they contradict the logic of the universalist rhetoric they preach comfortably from behind their walls.

Thus, the puzzle remains: national borders seem to be both an political and pragmatic necessity for the protection of human rights while they are simultaneously a contradiction of the equality and universalism advocated by liberal states. Can we reconcile this contradiction? Is there an alternative strategy for the liberal vision of equality that doesn’t amount to barricading ourselves into our national forts and sending out troops to assume the role of world police?

Thanks for reading and engaging. This is an on-going and unfinished thought project. I am eager for input, ideas, and critiques.

Has the Canadian government done due diligence in responding to the opioid crisis?

In this episode, debaters from the UWO Debate Society take to the mics to argue about the efficiency and efficacy of the Canadian government’s response to the opioid crisis. Has Canada done enough, quickly enough, to be considered ‘responsible’? The motion: the Canadian government has not done its due diligence in responding to the opioid crisis.

The Debaters

Seth Kibel is the current President of the University of Western Ontario Debate Society, as well as the Executive Director of the Canadian Universities Society for Intercollegiate Debate. He has eight years of competitive debating experience and for the past two years, has has ranked in the top eight debate teams in the country. Seth represented Western at the World Universities Debating Championships in Mexico earlier this year.

Cassandra Cervi is the current President of the Canadian Universities Society for Intercollegiate Debate, as well as the Training Director of the University of Western Ontario Debate Society. Last year, she was part of the top ranked debate team in the country, and won the Canadian Public Speaking Championship. She has twice represented Western at the World Universities Debating Championship.

Selina Li has been debating since High-School, where she won the Western, Queens, and Mcgill Debating Tournaments and placed Top-Speaker at the International Competition for Young Debaters. Since coming to Western, she has been a Semi-Finalist at the Guindon Cup and Central Canadian Novice Championship. Selina represented Western at the World Universities Debating Championship in Mexico earlier this year.

Ethan Curry is a second year Philosophy and Political Science student at Western with five years of competitive debating experience. Most recently, he ranked fourth debate team in the country, and represented Western at the World Universities Debating Championships in Mexico earlier this year.

What does ‘Reconciliation’ mean for an individual Canadian like me?

The last few years aligned a series of events, the sum of which have yielded unsettling realizations for many Canadians.

A brief account: On June 11, 2008, the Government of Canada formally apologized for the Indian residential school system. The emergence of the Idle No More movement in 2012 (and onwards), the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee in 2015 (and the subsequent launch of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls later that year), and several on-going, high-profile water and resource disputes, have collectively culminated in a significant shift in the way that many Canadians think about the history of colonization. Self-awareness of the doctrine of discovery has been, well, rediscovered. Most recently, this growing openness to learning about the history of the indigenous experience squarely collided with the celebration of Canada 150, forcing the cognitive dissonance into personal reckoning for many of us.

Sprinkled throughout the last paragraph is also an account of my journey over the past few years as well. My perspective and awareness have been evolving alongside and with my compatriots. At present, however, I find myself struggling to determine what to do next. I strive to understand what ‘reconciliation’ means for me in practical terms. Maybe it is a problem of semantics. Perhaps it is a problem of definitions. This post is about wrestling with next steps by wrestling with the term ‘reconciliation’ itself.

In common parlance, it appears that the word ‘reconciliation’ has at least two working definitions in Canadian society. The first and primary usage of the word is (and must be) wholly political. Let’s call this national reconciliation. In this sense, we speak of reconciliation as an intentional shift towards equity and reparation, manifested principally in formal negotiations between the federal government of Canada and autonomous, sovereign First Nations, Metis, and Inuits. The national reconciliation agenda involves honouring and enforcing past treaties, politics of recognition, restoring resource and land rights, and so on. National reconciliation, therefore, must involve band councils, politicians, and lots and lots of lawyers — all collectively navigating the thorny moral and legal landscape created by the Indian Act of 1876 and subsequent policies enacted in its wake.

Whatever ‘reconciliation’ is, exactly, it seems evident that it must be grappled with here — at the level of federal negotiations — first and foremost. At a minimum, if reconciliation doesn’t happen at this level, it seems unclear that any other activity could be considered ‘reconciliatory’ in the long run.

Simultaneously, this concept of national reconciliation is often mentioned in parallel to some notion of personal reconciliation. This version of reconciliation begins with consciousness-raising about the historical sins of our forefathers but quickly moves to an understanding of privileges that non-indigenous people hold today that come at the expense of the people we have colonized. Here, ‘reconciliation’ is where I confront my individual, internalized racism, stereotypes, prejudices, and bigotry. When Canadians talk about reconciliation in these personal terms, we often seem to imply nurturing and building interpersonal and communal middle ground. We employ lots and language about ‘understanding’ and ‘bridges.’ There’s much said about ‘learning from the other.’

I think a difficulty for non-indigenous Canadians — those of us privileged to enjoy existences and identities that are not seen as a perennial ‘problem’ for the government and ‘mainstream’ culture — is understanding how reconciliation can be both personal and political, simultaneously. Those of us who can conveniently separate our ethnicities, identities and politics into separate categories risk underdeveloping or under-imagining our sense of how others might feel and find ‘belonging’ in society.

It seems to me that we must define reconciliation as both a national and personal endeavour. If we define reconciliation primarily as a process of political reparation, it might seem to absolve everyday citizens of any and all personal responsibility. Of course, this is false, as we are all political — no less so even in our political apathy — with respect to holding our elected leaders accountable to concrete action on reconciliation. But if reconciliation is only the work of politicians and band councils, the onus for making lasting change is only as strong as an election cycle, at best. Surely, supporting the cause of reconciliation means something more than casting a ballot once every four years.

As a result, it seems incumbent upon everyone to adopt and internalize a pursuit of personal reconciliation. How do I, as an individual, act in such a way as to thwart the centuries-old inertia of racism that hues the psychology of a nation? But wait! Reconciliation must remain much, much more than white folks contemplating their colonial privileges and writing blog posts about it — getting ‘woke’ does not, on its own, restore land treaties or clean up industrial mercury spills. Perhaps we should say that ‘personal reconciliation’ is not truly enacted until the personal becomes political. Until your reconciliatory kumbaya becomes political action, don’t think of it as anything more than guilt-happy, liberal feel-good.

I was recently chatting over coffee with Joe Anton, a friend of mine from the Oneida Nation of the Thames, who currently works as an addictions counsellor here in London. I shared my struggle to forge ‘personal’ and ‘national’ reconciliation into coherent personal activity. After a moment, Joe responded, “Reconciliation is what is going to emerge — it is a new reality that we are going to create together.” These words might be one of the most decisively wise nuggets of insight I have heard in a long time

Let’s not get so caught up in all the ways that we can define reconciliation as a verb that we forget the ultimate goal: reconciliation as a noun. A state of things. A different order. A relationship. A rearrangement of power. A generative way of being together and learning from one another that leads to a reality that is different than what we know at present. It’s personal. It’s political. And it is unknown: it is a future that will only exist if we make it.

Drug policy in Canada: from alcohol to opioids

Beginning with the history of alcohol and tobacco regulation, this conversation explores some big questions about how and why psychoactive substances are used and controlled in Canadian society.

The Panel

Tara Bruno is an Associate Professor in Sociology at King’s University College. Her research interests include addictions, mental health, criminology, homelessness, youth and families, and research methods. Tara’s new book, The Drug Paradox: An Introduction to the Sociology of Psychoactive Substances in Canada, will be released in the Summer of 2018.

Robert Solomon is on the Faculty of Law at Western University, where he holds the rank of Distinguished University Professor. He has been engaged in research on alcohol and drug policy, and tort, criminal and health law for over 45 years and has published widely in these areas. He has served as the National Director of Legal Policy for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD Canada) for 20 years and has frequently appeared as an expert before various Parliamentary Committees.

How much of an impact can the mayor of a city have on the community?

In this conversation in the Curious Public at Central Library series, Kate Graham (@KateMarieGraham) discusses her dissertation, Leading Canada’s Cities: A Study of Urban Mayors.

Kate is a PhD student in the Political Science Department at Western University. Learn more about her research at ‘Mayors Project,’ where she is exploring the role of the mayor in ten Canadian cities — the largest in each province — to understand the how the position varies and what this means for our cities and our country.

Reconciliation Between Whom?

There are lingering disconnects in my mind when it comes to the discussions of truth and reconciliation in Canada. As an observer, it seems like there is a critical gap between the federal government’s politics/optics of reconciliation on the one hand and the policies that affect the lives of indigenous communities on the other.

To put it bluntly: what does it mean when you are at one moment declaring that “No relationship is more important…than the one with Indigenous Peoples” and in the next moment building a pipeline through their lands against their protests?

Don’t get me wrong, listening and learning from one another in a spirit of reconciliation seems critically important to me, but what good is ‘listening’ and ‘learning’ if you are simultaneously exploiting the resources and poisoning the land of your interlocutor?

I had the opportunity to hear Margaret Buist (Director General for Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada) speak in London a few weeks ago. During the question and answer period, I brought up this apparent discrepancy and asked for her perspective. Her response was interesting.

She pointed that the federal government is a vast and complex institution. On any given issue, there are competing forces within the system. Ergo while one branch of the government may very well prioritize respect for the nation-to-nation status and autonomy of indigenous communities, another branch may be more concerned with, say, the Canada’s competitive status in the global economy. In other words, it’s entirely plausible that the department of Indigenous Affairs and, say, the Ministry of Natural Resources, or the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, might have competing ideas for how ‘the government’ should conduct its business. After all, what is a bureaucracy if not an establishment of conflicting agendas? And what is more bureaucratic than a federal government?

Upon reflection, Buist’s reply raises more questions for me. What would systemic reconciliation even look like? What would it mean to structurally ‘decolonize’ the agenda of every branch, department, and ministry of the institution that has driven the agenda of colonization from the beginning?

What does reconciliation mean if one or more of the parties are not even reconciled with themselves? Between what, or between whom, is reconciliation being made? In the long run, what is more important: reconciliation between First Nation communities and the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs, or between First Nation communities and, perhaps, the Ministry of Natural Resources?

Canada and Nationhood™

As a nation, Canada has lots of ideas about nationhood.

The present federal government champions the notion of a “nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples.”

The past government passed a motion recognizing “that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada” — a nation within a nation.

How is it that the geographical territory we call ‘Canada’ can be the homeland of so many nations?

The answer, I think, is that the federal government of Canada has very few qualms with ‘licensing’ the use of ‘nation’ to particular groups that it needs to appease. But as with most negotiations, the most critical details live in the small print: at every turn, the ‘definition’ of nationhood is determined by, well, the Nation. In Canada, the word ‘nation’ has evolved more or less to become synonymous with groups who have a particular bargaining status with the federal government, but it is still nonetheless the federal government who bestows, grants, or acknowledges the officially sanctioned ‘nationhood’ of its subgroups of subjects.

Last week I heard Al Day, a local indigenous leader, give a talk. He brought up the observation that First Nation communities have little to nothing to do with defining their concept of nationhood. “First Nations” — and what it means to be such a ‘nation’ — is a definition imposed on indigenous communities by the government of Canada. Nationalism and Nationhood, he argued, are mental concepts inherent in the mindset of the colonizer, not the colonized.

On the global, geopolitical stage, nations are defined in practical terms by the juxtaposition of their power vis-a-vis one another. In a word, sovereignty. But within a nation, this idea of so-called ‘sub-nationalism’ must be defined by whatever rules and parameters the central authority deems most expedient. It is a brand of nationhood with caveats. Many, many caveats. Caveats that have been written by — and presumably serve — someone else. (If the terms and conditions of your nationhood are determined by another party, in what sense, exactly, do you consider yourself a nation?)

The lesson here is that it is important to subject politically mobilized language to scrutiny. When a central government defines and negotiates with a certain group as a nation, who retains the power and authority to define their nationhood? And, most importantly, whose nationalism is entrenched in the process? In Canada, we need to have a debate about whether it is the national identity of the ‘nationalizer’ or the ‘nationalizee’ that is served by the rhetoric of ‘nations-within-nations’ and ‘nation-to-nation’ relationships.

‘Canada 150’ and the Idea of a Nation

In his Canada Day speech on Saturday (July 1, 2017), Justin Trudeau proclaimed,

Ours is a land of original peoples and of newcomers. And our greatest pride is that you can come here from anywhere in the world, build a good life, and be part of our community. We don’t care where you’re from, what religion you practice, or whom you love, you are all welcome in Canada! (Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, 2017 Canada Day speech, 9:42-mark)

There is an interesting, unanswered questioning lingering behind these maudlin words: who, exactly, is this ‘we’ who so passionately does not care about my birthplace, religion, and love life? And if they — whoever this ‘we’ might be — do not care whatsoever about any details or characteristics of my life, what do they care about? And who is doing the welcoming here, exactly?

Canadian national identity is famously vexing. Defining what it means to be ‘a Canadian’ does not distill into a single, essentialist descriptor: as a whole, we are settlers, colonizers, migrants, immigrants, forcibly displaced, refugees, or the descendants of some combination thereof. For many First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities, the word ‘Canada’ represents a litany of broken promises, disastrous social policies, and [what most Canadians would describe in any other country as] exploitation and oppression. Ergo, defining a shared, collective sense of what it means to say, ‘I am Canadian’ is impossible because it feels like all descriptions inevitably omit or contradict each other. To fill all the placeholders for Canadian identity means coming up with a statement that says nothing by trying to say everything.

Trudeau himself has referenced the dilemma by referring to Canada as a ‘post-national‘ state where ‘there is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada.’ Whether we have entered the age of post-nationalism or not, Trudeau still apparently thinks that there is a ‘we,’ and I’m curious to understand who this ‘we’ describes.

Surrounded by Royal Canadian Mounties, cannon salutes, and CF-18 flypasts, I thought back to the writings of the German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) who coined one of the most famous and provocative definitions for ‘a state’:

a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory. (Weber 1919)

Whether you agree or disagree with Weber’s definition, it is worth noting how virtually every celebration of nationhood (anywhere in the world) is manifested by a commemoration of military prowess. Whether you live in Canada or North Korea — whether you parade your mounties or your missile silos — it seems impossible for us to say, ‘We are a state’ without simultaneously amplifying and showcasing our militaristic sovereignty. Apparently, you can’t celebrate a nation without celebrating its military — the ‘Canada 150’ extravaganza in Ottawa being no exception. (It might also be worth speculating how fireworks serve the penultimate function of conspicuous consumption — ‘Look! We have the power to randomly blow up lots of shit!’ — as a benign fanfare of nationalistic-cum-militaristic identity.)

If we follow Weber’s definition, it would be naïve to think of Canadian identity as just a pleasant ‘shared idea’ to which we all happily subscribe. Our national anthem is not a quaint version of kumbaya but a highly overt declaration of our commitment to patriotic sacrifice. However, I’m guessing most celebrants of Canada’s so-called sesquicentennial were not amassing to consciously cheer on their military. Perhaps this is another dilemma of being Canadian: perhaps ‘we’ refers to the identity of a nation who does not want to worry about who has the ‘monopoly’ on the legitimate use of violence? (As Machiavellian as it sounds, I think it is fair to say that Canada certainly speaks as a nation who has not had to worry about being invaded for a very long time.) Perhaps our eagerness to describe ourselves as international ‘peacekeepers’ stems from a deeply rooted cognitive dissonance.

If Trudeau’s ‘we’ refers to the institution of our sovereign nation state, then ‘we’ ultimately means the federal government. (After all, who possesses the power the set the date of a national birthday in the first place? Who else would arbitrarily delineate their point of origin to the signing of a confederation?) If this is the case, we could rewrite the speech: “The federal government of Canada does not care where you’re from, what religion you practice, or whom you love.”

On the one hand, this sounds refreshingly non-paternalistic. (Is this not the ideal we should expect from a free, healthy, liberal democracy? In a world full of oppressive regimes and dictators, does this not deserve to be celebrated?) On the other hand, it gets to the crux of the ‘Canada 150’ controversy: is all the hype about July 1, 2017, not ultimately just a big federally-sponsored party to celebrate the institution of the government itself? And if, since the date of its highly self-popularizing inauguration, this organization had gone on to violate your land treaties, forcibly remove your children from your home, and exploit your resources, would you not be forgiven for protesting the festivities? In fact, you might even be forgiven for questioning why so many other residents in the land uncritically don red and white and line the streets of the parade.

Many of us find ourselves with a difficult question: how do you celebrate ideas — like equality, human rights, and freedom — under the auspice of an institution that has — like all federal governments the world over — repeatedly failed to manifest them in practice?

What better way to celebrate a value than to act on it?

After all, if the ideas of equality, human rights, and freedom are what truly define us as the ‘we’ of Canada, then our collective identity itself is no stronger than the most discriminatory or exploitative policy of the governments we elect.

External links for further reading:

UNsettling Canada 150

Not everyone will be celebrating Canada 150 this weekend. Here’s why.

Facile ‘Canada 150’ celebration deserves to be disrupted

150 years of cultural genocide: Today, like all days, is an insult

Can you celebrate Canada 150 and still respect Indigenous rights?

‘You’re celebrating colonization’: 4 Indigenous people share why they won’t be singing O Canada on July 1

 

On Doctor Assisted Suicide

Last Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada overturned s. 14 and s. 241 of the Criminal Code, as they pertain to physicians assisting the death of terminally suffering patients. (My friend Susan Toth has a good review of the decision posted here for more background. The full court judgment is available here.)

There are some who argue that this decision devalues the lives of people living with disabilities. The logic goes like this: by explicitly affirming that a person suffering from a chronic and untreatable condition has the right to die with a physician’s assistance, the court is sending the message that a life of chronic disability is perhaps not worth living. Ergo the lives of individuals suffering from such debilitating conditions are worth less than the lives of everyone else. This is discriminatory, as it signals the devaluation of a human life for arbitrary reasons.

For a counter perspective, I’d like to propose a variant angle. At present, I am relatively able bodied, strong, and agile. As such, I possess a remarkably interesting option: I have the ability to end my own life at any time. There is no ultimate legal authority that can deny me the right of suicide, and this is true for as long as I live freely and independently. If — or, I should say, when — I find myself suffering in a terminal condition and lose a critical degree of my strength and mobility, I subsequently lose capacity to voluntarily end my own life. In a severe state, my choice to live or die is not really my own anymore, but completely in the hands of others (who are more or less compelled to keep me alive for as long as possible, regardless of the pain).

Therefore, instead of diminishing my humanness, granting me the option of suicide returns to me a right that my disability stole from me. It restores my innate right to choose existence. In this sense, restoring the option to die might be interpreted as rehumanizing, because it is an option that every other person in a non-terminal, non-palliative, non-chronic condition possesses by default. By no means am I compelled to exercise this option, but simply because the option is restored, I can once again live my life on the same basic premise as every other person: I’m alive right now because I choose to be.

Therefore, the right to a doctor-assisted suicide does not diminish the value or worth of a person with severe disabilities, rather it reestablishes a fundamentally intrinsic value that belongs to every living person.

By no means am I trying to speak on behalf of every person with a disability here. Far from it. This is only a personal analysis. When I suddenly find myself in a condition that permanently eliminates my basic human capacity to choose existence, I would be relieved to live in a society that continued to legally protect my ability to make my own decisions, even long after I physically lose the capacity to act on my decisions for myself.

Ability or disability has nothing to do with the value of a human life. A life is worth living as long as the person living it, whatever their condition, wishes to live.

Canada Day reflections

In no way am I claiming that we’re perfect. There are so many issues we must seek to address. There are no laurels here upon which we might rest. But this Canada Day weekend, I am thankful to live in a country that, in principle and aim, respects and celebrates the origins, ethnicities, and cultures of others.

If national identity is defined by differentness, then the roots of self-definition depend on juxtaposition: we know who we are primarily because we know we are not ‘them.’ The limits of this course seem historically evident.

Contrarily, if love for my nation is founded on the knowledge that I am formed by my customs, traditions, and inheritance — and if I understand how indelibly these have shaped me — then I can begin to appreciate how the customs, traditions, and inheritance of others are equally vital.

Thus, inasmuch as I comprehend the importance of my cultural lineage in defining my own outlook and understanding, to celebrate my own country is to indeed celebrate the world. For we are, all of us, inhabitants of countries.