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Soft Totalitarian Canada

A Canada-born reader reflects on what has happened to his native country -- and what he fears for America
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Fascinating letter from a Canadian-born reader, who gives me permission to publish it. I met him last year in my travels:

I was born in Canada and spent my early years in Canada before moving to the USA in the mid-1990s. I did a political science and law degree in Canada before I moved to the US (where I then got a US law degree). Another interesting “fun fact” about me is that my mom and dad first met at one of the notorious Indian Residential School. They met there and only stayed a few months because they couldn’t stand it, and ended up getting married, etc., etc. We as kids all knew about the Indian residential schools because my parents told us.

Anyway, when I read about this new Canadian law on “conversion therapy” I had two reactions. First, the connection between this new law and Canada’s sordid history with the Indian Residential Schools, and second, the difference in constitutional law protections afforded Canadians and Americans, and how dangerously close the US is to following Canada.

As you may know, the Indian Residential Schools went from the late 1800s through the 1960s. The government wanted to stamp out Indian culture and so forcibly took Indian children and put them into church-run residential schools where they would be westernized and Christianized. Although these were never a secret, they did burst into the public mind sometime around 2008 (though I wasn’t living in Canada at the time and don’t quite remember what led to this).

Then last year, when it was reported that a mass grave was uncovered on the grounds of a former school, it brought the issue up again (see update below). I noted that the Canadian Left, including PM Justin Trudeau, encouraged placing all the blame and anger on the shoulders of the Church. Over the past few years I have more closely followed Canadian sources again and noticed the tremendous hostility last year towards the Church on Canadian discussion forums over this residential school issue. (An aside – Vancouver in the 1990s was more hostile to Christianity than California is today. When I was applying to law firms in Vancouver in 1995, my dad had me meet with a lawyer friend/colleague of his. I had on my resume that I had gone to a religious high school and had a Masters degree from a graduate theological school. This lawyer looked over my resume and told me very frankly “you need to delete anything that identifies you as a Christian on your resume because that will immediately disqualify you from consideration at almost every law firm in town.” Understand that this lawyer was a friendly atheist who knew the legal culture of Vancouver – he wasn’t a Christian imagining persecution around every corner. That was in the 1990s and has gotten far worse today.)

Back to the Canadian response to the residential schools, I have found it interesting that all the blame and anger have been placed exclusively on the Church, and nothing on the government. Someone without any background knowledge would think that the residential school thing was exclusively about the churches kidnapping Indian children, with the government having no role whatsoever. Nobody is wrestling with what the government’s or society’s role in all of this was, and I think that is telling.

I think that in order to really understand the residential school tragedy, you need to understand that the driving impetus behind these policies was progressivism (I refer here to the ideal of Western progress). The role of the churches in all this was to support societal progressivism. If you could map the ideals that led to residential schools to contemporary ideals, they would map to the Woke corporate progressivism of today rather than traditional Christianity. The ideal behind residential schools was to remove children from a traditional society that was resistant to the “progressive Western liberalism” of the time, in an attempt to make them interchangeable cogs in the Western industrial regime. Residential schools were anti-tradition, and pro-progressivism.

The proper lesson that we should learn from the residential schools is the danger of progressives forcibly taking children from traditionalist parents under government fiat, so that the children can be inculcated into progressive ideology. And yet, in the midst of the supposed self-reflection on the residential school tragedy, we have the Canadian Left -both media and government – pushing this law, and others, that empower government progressives to take children away from traditionalist parents so that they can be inculcated into progressive sexual ideology. In my view, this “conversion therapy” law, and other legal developments in Canada, is basically Indian Residential Schools 2.0. So that’s my first point.

I just saw this earlier today after I wrote the above. https://thefederalist.com/2022/01/19/not-one-corpse-has-been-found-in-the-mass-grave-of-indigenous-children-in-canada/ This is a Federalist article and so I would like to see other sources confirm, but I found this to be really interesting. Last year, when the supposed mass grave was first reported, the headlines were about the mass grave that was discovered, that it was expected that many more would be discovered, and this all pointed to genocide, and that it was all the Church’s fault. You and I both know what was meant to be implied here – “mass graves” and “genocide” were meant to whip up an emotional response. But, for those who dug deeper into the story, it was made clear that the “genocide” being referred to was “cultural” genocide, and the “mass graves” were really just graves where students who died from diseases, etc., were buried. Now, I am not suggesting that there weren’t serious problems, BUT you will agree that there is a VAST difference between “cultural genocide” and careless disposed of natural deaths verses physical genocide and mass graves of murdered persons. The Left in Canada (and you need to understand that the CBC in Canada is not only extremely Woke and Leftist, they are also much closer to the governing Liberal party than even CNN or MSNBC is to the Democrats) used a deceptively framed tragedy to whip up hatred against the Church, and so destroy a bastion of tradition in Canada. They have just updated their Indian Residential School playbook – instead of attacking traditional Indian culture as their excuse to capture children, they are attacking traditional Christianity to capture children.

My second point has to do with the different legal environment in Canada, and how their “Charter of Rights and Freedoms” is worse than worthless, and how close the US is to following where Canada has gone. As a background, I did my BA in political science in Canada in the mid-1980’s just after Canada got its new Charter of Rights and Freedoms and I wrote multiple papers arguing AGAINST the Charter. I argued (rather prophetically I might say) that the Charter would actually turn out to be a NEGATIVE development for individual rights in Canada because it would give the APPEARANCE of protecting liberties and freedoms when it would actually do no such thing.

Prior to 1982, Canadians had no constitutional protection of their rights, and the political culture was such that Parliament needed to be carefully watched by the people to ensure rights were protected. In 1982, people were told that they no longer needed to worry because now the courts would protect everyone’s rights. Except that, as I knew, the process for appointing judges in Canada had no checks and balances, and I knew that the judiciary would be solid social liberals. My worst fears were rather quickly proven right when early Charter decisions saw the Canadian Supreme Court judges substitute their own preferences for the text and history of the Charter.

Along these lines, one development in the Canadian courts has been the emergence of the concept of “Charter values” as the true governing principles over and against the actual text of the Charter. You can read a bit about this here: https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/november-2018/the-charter-of-rights-and-freedoms-and-values/. I believe that this was even made explicit in recent Court decisions that pitted actual freedom of speech and association (actually guaranteed by the text of the Charter) against gay rights (not mentioned in the text of the Charter and explicitly left out of the Charter based on legislative history documents). The “Charter values” of gay rights overrode the actual text of the Charter. What are “Charter values”? They are whatever the judges want them to be, and are basically the principles of Wokism.

There is another part of the Charter that says that the rights in it are subject to “such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” The Courts have simply determined that Wokeness is the measuring stick of what can be so justified. This was made clear in the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision on whether a Christian university could have a law school (https://www.canadiancharitylaw.ca/blog/trinity_western_university_supreme_court_of_canada_decision/).

And so, because of these two aspects of Canadian constitutional law, if you are looking to see what rights and freedoms are actually protected in Canada, the text of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms won’t tell you. Rather, you need to probe the principles of Wokism, because Woke dogma will always override Constitutional principles. I don’t think that Americans realize how close the US is to this. Another point of interest to me – since COVID I have started following on Twitter a number of former leftist Democrats who have been horrified by the turn to COVID authoritarianism on the part of the Democratic Party. They have suddenly developed a new appreciation for those “wicked and nasty” conservative judges on the Supreme Court.

If you read the recent US Supreme Court decision on Biden’s vaccine mandate, you see the three liberal judges basically adopt the same approach that the Canadian courts have taken. They first decide what policy result they prefer (which is typically guided by Leftist policy preferences), and then rationalize that back into the “Constitution.” As someone who has been in law school and legal academia in both Canada and the US, I can tell you that this is one of the big differences between Leftist judicial/constitutional theory and conservative approaches. The Left always starts with the preferred policy, and then rationalizes that into the Constitution. Thus we see non-existent rights to abortion and gay marriage created out of whole cloth, and the Second Amendment disappeared into a memory hole.

This is why Leftist judges never go off the rails when it matters. In contrast, conservative judges generally (not always, but generally) will look to what the text of the Constitution says and then apply that to the question at hand – leading to situations in which judges uphold “bad” laws, or strike down “good” laws. I don’t think that most Americans realize how absolutely critical it has been to have conservative judges on the Supreme Court, even if we don’t always like the way they rule. And that’s not to say that some “conservative” judges haven’t at times taken the liberal route and created non-existent rights (cough, cough, Kennedy, cough, cough).

One last word on Canada. As a naturally born Canadian, it really grieves me to see how Canada has now turned into one of the most authoritarian and, indeed, totalitarian nation in the West. What is so sad is how docile the population has been. Growing up in Canada, we always looked down on those crazy non-conformist Americans. What a bunch of uncouth rubes we would think. Now that I have lived in the US and transferred my heart’s allegiance to the US, I thank God everyday for these non-conformist American rubes! And I shake my head at how compliant Canadians are.

There is so much to write, but Ben Woodfinden (maybe you follow him on Twitter or Substack) is a religious conservative who writes about Canada (he’s well worth a follow). He has suggested that the Liberal Party in Canada and its House Media (aka the CBC) have successfully established the Canadian “identity” as being “very progressive” in contrast to the “conservatism” that is right-wing America. Canadians like to be polite and to do what they are told. This is very true. And there is no contrary media in Canada — all media sources in Canada are overtly anti-Christian and progressive and hostility to Christianity and progressivism have been deemed to be foundational to Canadian identity.

What is strange to me is how docile Canadian Christians are about this. My parents in Canada are socially conservative Christians. They are elderly now, and not really able mentally to fully analyze this sort of thing now, but they both cling to the idea that Canada is like what it was in the 1980’s. When I discuss politics with my dad, I won’t get any reaction from him about Justin Trudeau’s anti-Christian authoritarianism, but he will go on and on about Trudeau’s personal corruption. My sister is what one would call a “progressive evangelical”, probably very similar to a Tish Harrison Warren (I am sure you know her). My sister would not agree with gender ideology being forced in schools. And yet, that issue and all of these anti-Christian/authoritarianism/totalitarianism issues have ZERO hold on her when she thinks on governments. For her, it’s all about whatever the latest crises or emergencies (i.e. progressive issues) that the CBC has declared to be the ushering in the End of the World, and which necessitate the giving of greater power over to the State.

Canadian readers, what say you?

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