November 1, 2018
I shuffled into the prison library this morning looking for new material to ease the boredom of my cell, orange jumpsuit chafing my neck and groin – nine days of incarceration and continuous wear haven’t improved its fit.
I sat down briefly to flip through newspapers strewn across the battered reading table and was blasted immediately by “Goodbye Victoria, Hello New Speak!” splashed across the front page of the Halloween edition of The Globe and Mail.
Inspired and invigorated by the bold John A. Macdonald-toppling actions of Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps last summer, Premier John Horgan of British Columbia has decided to rechristen the province’s capital as the City of New Speak, effective immediately. Queen Victoria was Canada’s monarch when John A. authored the ruinous residential school system, Mr. Horgan pointed out; she presided over the whole mess. Far worse, she was sovereign of the British Empire, the global invader that ripped lands and life and dignity from indigenous peoples in the first place. “Queen Victoria can no longer stand as symbol of our great capital,” declared the premier, “New Speak shall be the cradle of a new beginning, the impetus for a new way of speaking and reconciling with our indigenous peoples.”
According to The Globe Premier Horgan was flanked in his announcement not only by the usual assortment of aggrieved tribal leaders but also by Justin Trudeau, current Prime Minister of Canada and eraser of Sir Hector-Louis Langevin as namesake to his own parliamentary offices.
“This is one small step for our people,” remarked Mr. Trudeau in glowing endorsement of Mr. Horgan’s initiative, “but one giant leap for peoplekind. And when I decreed Truth and Reconciliation Day last summer as a new national holiday it was this sort of healing I envisioned. So kudos to you, Mr. Horgan… And I’m pleased to announce, in honour of this seminal moment, a new federal Ministry of Truth, to be led by proud member of Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation and current Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould. Together, we will root out and eradicate any and all offensive references to our abominable past. Sunny ways, my friends!”
And in a post-news conference scrum with reporters, Mr. Horgan ran with that ball, announcing that British Columbia itself will be relabeled, with a less abhorrent name to be selected following a period of consultation with First Nations groups. I’m inclined to send a note to the premier, as helpful prod for this exercise, proposing “Bring Cash” as an inoffensive brand already in popular use, one that retains the catchiness of “B.C.” while capturing honestly the essence of life in that horrifically expensive province. But honesty is hardly a Horgan government feature: witness, for example, the speculation tax that isn’t a speculation tax, the new school tax that isn’t a school tax, and a government suing both for and against the flow of Alberta oil (a.k.a. sucking and blowing at the same time).
All this in the face of immigrants streaming across our border in blatant defiance of our laws, itinerants tagged by the Trudeau government (the grandmasters of doublespeak) as “irregulars” rather than illegals. One would think, given the constant bowing and scraping and apologizing to our indigenous peoples and the endless lip service paid to the idea of reparations, that we’d be organizing evacuations rather than welcoming ever more people into a country that’s not rightfully ours. Are we clearing each aspirant immigrant/invader with a First Nations arbiter before stamping their entry ticket? Shouldn’t we be organizing convoys of Canadians to return to their ancestral lands so we can return this country to its rightful owners?
But best not to challenge the prime ministerial purveyor of “positive politics” on the legality and costs of the immigration kerfuffle: that’s “hate speech” according to a PM who hates it when you disagree with him, and it’ll earn you an “intolerant racist” rebuke and physical handling by his goons, as an elderly Quebecois woman discovered first-hand in August when she heckled the PM on this file. Police state stuff, in Canada. Sunny ways, indeed.
“Diversity is our strength,” the PM never tires of proclaiming; how does he square that bit of puffery, I wonder, with the plight of the First Nations people whose agonies he pretends to share? Hundreds and hundreds of First Nations tribes were resident here before Jacques Cartier “discovered” Canada in 1534 as prelude to “diversification” by invading Europeans and migrants from all over the world; the newcomers introduced themselves by swiping native land and wiping out the majority of indigenous people with epidemics of smallpox, tuberculosis, influenza and measles. All that diversity added plenty of adversity, it goes without saying, but precious little strength. If I was a First Nations resident of this country the politest response I could summon in response to “diversity is our strength” would be: “Please, Prime Minister, just shut up.”
Anyone paying attention knows that Canada is far from alone in this nonsense. Scotland, the birthplace of John A. Macdonald, is busily scrubbing any trace of the man from their history books. All over the world righteous condemnation of historical figures and events via the distorting lens of current context is toppling monuments, erasing memorials, besmirching legacies, and rubbing out histories. The fact that imperfect people are governed by the imperfect mores and complexities of their own eras provides no absolution; the axiom that ignorance does not equal malevolence is scorned. Modern social justice warriors, holding themselves to be entirely without sin, are running amok, hurling stones furiously into the past, burying our shared histories under a rubble of sanctimonious poppycock.
And anyone who disagrees is labeled a dinosaur, out of step with the times, and likely a bigot.
Which brings me neatly to my current predicament, housed as I am in Drumheller Institution, a medium security prison located (ironically) in the badlands of Alberta, a mere stone’s throw from the Royal Tyrell Museum of Paleontology. My only previous visit to Drumheller was in happier times, when I accompanied my fourth-grade daughter a couple of years ago on an overnight class trip. We slept the night on the open floor of the museum under the menacing grin of a life-size model of Tyrannosaurus Rex before going on a tour of the jaw-dropping surrounding terrain.
As we wound our way through the hoodoos and gullies I happened upon a petrified sequoia tree with accompanying plaque: “Seventy-five million years ago, when dinosaurs walked the earth, southern Alberta was a subtropical paradise of towering redwoods and giant ferns. Today, fertile plains suddenly drop away into a world of multi-hued canyons and wind-sculpted hoodoos.” The notion that the frigid Canadian prairie on which I’ve chosen to make my home used to be a subtropical forest blew me away. I was entranced by the idea that I could be waking up on a January morning to ferns swaying in the breeze and a choir of brightly plumed birds heralding my day - instead of to the bleak, silent and snow-blasted landscape that bookends the few short weeks we call summer around here. The climate changed, apparently, unfortunately, and dramatically.
And the present climate is changing dramatically too, socially if not meteorologically, morphing our world into a politically correct hellscape of newspeak, a world in which “dinosaurs” who refuse to fall into line, while not yet extinct, are shouted down, ridiculed, and marginalized. Or imprisoned, like me.
I was jailed for the cardinal sin of exposing my four children to the influences of Laura Ingalls Wilder of “Little House on the Prairie” fame. At Costco a couple of years ago, while on my weekly mission to replenish our family’s cupboards, I happened across a complete boxed set of the old TV series based on the Wilder books that I, along with millions of other readers, had consumed voraciously in my youth. I snapped them up as perfect and wholesome accompaniment for long family trips.
And my kids drank them in, watching raptly and intently from beginning to end, and then starting at the beginning again. To say they that they liked them would be to call the Titanic a boat - they loved the series, hooked by the compelling old stories of a pioneering American frontier family.
Alas, like the doomed Titanic, our world hit an iceberg. Because unlike me my children have friends, one of whom came along this summer for the seven-hour drive from Calgary to our cabin in the Okanagan. She took in the exploits of Ma and Pa and Laura and Mary and Mrs. Oleson and Mr. Edwards and Dr. Baker and the rest, laughing and chattering along with my foursome as events unfolded onscreen. But the young girl’s joy was a catalyst to disaster; her innocent post-trip prattling about her adventures with the Les clan allowed the secret of our poisonous parenting style to leak out. Poisonous, because, unbeknownst to us, Ms. Wilder had been thrown onto the manure pile of “racists in retrospect” due to her depiction of Native Americans, her name stripped from a prestigious children’s book award, her reputation in tatters.
Child and Family Services duly showed up to remove our children from their toxic environment. My wife and I were detained, she released on her own recognizance, me jailed on account of resisting arrest, naturally – I’ve never been overly cooperative. Child abuse was the charge, ostensibly, camouflage no doubt for “Enemy of the State”.
My bail hearing the next morning hearing didn’t go well. Peering over her glasses, the judge presiding asked me if I had anything to say for myself. An appropriate expression of contrition would have sprung me immediately, I suspect, but my internal filter, the one that screens the conduit between my brain and my mouth and never particularly effective in the first place, was shredded years ago by a craniotomy (that part, at least, is true).
After stewing in my cell all night I was more than ready for her question. “I do,” I declaimed, my diminutive frame quivering with indignation. “Your Honour, this is an outrage, political correctness gone mad. Those wonderful stories have been a springboard to hours of discussion in my family, to healthy debate about attitudes toward First Nations people then compared with now, to reflection on the good and the bad and the complexities and what we’ve learned as a society. Shutting down open dialog and erasing history is wrong. It’s totalitarian, no different than ripping down statues of Prime Minister John A. Macdonald. To paint Laura Ingalls Wilder and John A. Macdonald as malevolent individuals is a stupid simplification, and we should see this runaway political correctness for the dangerous idiocy that it is. Ignorance is not the same as malevolence. Judging the behaviour and mores of our forebears is complicated; squinting at history through the prism of the present is deceiving at best. And George Orwell intended 1984 as a warning, your Honour, not as an instruction manual.”
With that last little rhetorical flourish the judge had heard enough: "Bail denied!", she barked, banging her gavel irritably, and I was shipped off to prison in Drumheller to await my fate.
My trial begins next week. I’ll be tried and convicted, I expect, in less time than it took to knock old Johnny off his perch outside city hall in the pre-morning Victorian dawn. But as I brood out here in the badlands, there is one bright spot, one tiny glimmer of light in the darkness: at least, unlike inmates-in-arms Raif and Samar Badawi languishing hopelessly in a Saudi Arabian prison, I can count on the Government of Canada not to make my predicament worse by twittering. And that, if I may borrow from Orwell once more, is doubleplusgood.