Canada: a Botched Mosaic (part 3)

Editor’s note: This story about Canadian multiculturalism was originally a single 3,600 word article meant for a British magazine. I decided to turn it into a mini-series. It tells the story of Peter, a Lebanese-Canadian youth and his experience of Canadian multiculturalism. He meets different people through his life who influence his thoughts. Although this tale contains many true elements and anecdotes, it is a work of fiction. Read part 1 here and 2 here.

I remember a conversation I once had with three good friends of mine at one of their apartments some two years ago. We were debating politics.

“Quebec should separate!” said Jean-Philippe.

Racists everywhere

“Canada is just a bunch of provinces spliced together.” said Sarah.

Sarah and Jean-Philippe were dating. She was part Mohawk, part French-Canadian and grew up in Oshawa and Toronto. He was from Montreal and spent some time in Toronto.

When Sarah was in high school, the presence and contributions of the French were totally ignored. There was a strong emphasis on British heritage and on attachement to British symbols such as the queen. She even had to sing The Maple Leaf Forever when she was in elementary school before class began. She never believed in Confederation and thought British Loyalism was repulsive. She thought British Loyalism was even more repulsive because of her Mohawk heritage and the fact that her grandmother was sent to a residential school when she was a child. Small wonder Sarah was such an ardent supporter of the Idle No More movement.

Jean-Philippe was a childhood friend; I had known him since grade 2. We both went to the same French-language Catholic school. Canadian History in elementary and high school were both taught as a long boring battle of words and paper signing between the French and “les maudits anglais” (the damn English). There was barely any mention of the relation between indigenous peoples and Europeans. Immigration after colonial times was just a footnote. There was mention of the Irish but not the Fenian raids. The history program seems to have been made to depict English-Canadians as big, nasty oppressors of French-Canadians and not as co-founders of modern Canada.

The differences between the way history was taught in Quebec and Ontario shouldn’t be surprising: the school system is under provincial jurisdiction, not federal. Every province has its own identity but the different provinces don’t necessarily relate to each other. For example, it’s common in Quebec to divide Canada in two: Quebec and ROC (rest of Canada). Canada is a federation made of ten provinces and three territories. Because the Canadian Federal government is not centralized, provinces enjoy a lot of autonomy from the federal government. Territories, however, are very dependent on the federal government because they are not very populated.

Later, our conversation shifted to immigration.

“Immigrants shouldn’t be allowed to stay if they don’t want to learn French and English and adopt Canadian customs,” said Sarah.

“Canada is a big country: there is enough place for different peoples,” said Casey.

“Whatever. I’m not racist.”

Casey was half Micmac, half Acadian from New Brunswick but just like Sarah, she grew up in Toronto. Just like Sarah, Casey’s grandmother did go to a residential school but unlike Sarah, she had never lived in a reserve. She had never really thought of her identity before she moved to Montreal and volunteered in a community centre for Aboriginals. She is not particularly attached to Canada and Canadian symbols: she believes patriotism or support of any ideology for that matter turns people into extremists. She really doesn’t want anyone to think she is a bigot.

Although she doesn’t really voice her opinion or wants to argue about her beliefs, she thinks there is enough room in Canada for Whites, Aboriginals and all who were forced to flee their home country.

To be continued…

The Liquor Store Serves the Montreal Jazz Festival Well

A few weeks ago, I was at La marche d’à côté to see Montreal Blues-Rock guitarist Justin Saladino. I was intrigued by the precision of his rhythm guitarist. His name was Felix Blackburn.

“Yes, I do play in another band, a jazz band,” said Felix. “It’s called The Liquor Store. We’ll be playing at the Montreal Jazz Festival. Come check us out.” I come to their second show at the festival and I am not disappointed.

I arrive at the stage at SNC-Lavallin square hoping it wouldn’t rain again tonight. The stage was outdoors; some tables and chairs are set up; and the front of the stage is cleared to make a makeshift dance floor. A huge puddle keeps the audience from taking advantage of all the space available to them. The bright red stage lights are temporarily blinding me.

A series of radio noises are played, some excerpts of songs are heard and The Liquor Store comes on stage. They waste no time and grab the crowd’s attention with a blaring horn, thunderous drums and a funky guitar rhythm.

The Liquor Store is made up of K.O.F. (vocals), Max Miller (vocals), Félix Blackburn (guitar), Rémi Cormier (trumpet), Alex Francœur (saxophone), Félix Leblanc (keyboards), Émile Farley (bass) and Jean-Daniel Thibault-Desbiens (drums). Their music is a cocktail of rap, jazz, funk and R&B. After the first song, Francœur says to the crowd: “Approchez-vous!” (come closer). Seeing that most of the audience is still at the tables after the second song, Miller teases the audience members who were too shy to come to the makeshift dance floor. Then, some women and couples begin to fill the dance floor. Miller’s jokes were partially an introduction to the song “Room for Everyone,” a song containing social commentary. The band follow up with “Hooked,” a song with a keyboard intro reminiscent of something off Miles Davis’s “Bitches Brew,” some verses in the style of Lauryn Hill or the Fugees and K.O.F.’s rap style which is similar to those heard in France. Then, The Liquor Store invites soul singer Wayne Tennant to sing with them, “In the 514.” Tennant seduces the audience with his piercing yet smooth falsetto notes while Blackburn charms them with a sensual guitar solo.

Each band member showcases their musicianship through various instrumental pieces and freestyle jams. Throughout the jams, the crowd claps their hands and cheers. Miller and Francoeur, like hype men in rap groups, tell the crowd to jump and wave their arms. The band members state their names, bow and leave the stage.

It isn’t over. Just when you thought The Liquor Store had run out of brew and that the party was over, the band had more goods to deliver.

The band returns to the stage with guest singer Nadia Baldé and play a soul tune. Towards the end of the concert, the brass section borrows a page from classic heavy metal bands by playing a game with the audience they call “question and answer.” It consists of call and response patterns in which the brass section “call” the crowd by playing a short melody and the audience “respond” by singing it back to them. They sang every note accurately and almost as loudly as the brass section.

The whole concert was a series of masterfully mixed cocktails with using the finest ingredients from the most diverse of styles. Their performance was explosive. The Liquor Store doesn’t serve mojitos or beer: they serve Molotov cocktails.

Mastery and Elegance

Note: This article was originally published on the Trio Fibonacci’s blog. You may view the original article here.

We chose a theme that relates to current events: migrants.” That is how Julie-Anne Derome began the “Artistes Migrateurs” concert on March 4th at Bourgie Hall at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The Trio Fibonacci violinist explained that the pieces she would present that night were written by composers who had to leave their home country.

Derome was sitting next to cellist Gabriel Prynn but the usual pianist, Wonny Song, was absent because he was on paternity leave. He was replaced with Michel-Alexandre Broekaert.

The Trio Fibonacci liked interacting with the audience; they would sometimes talk to them in French, other times in English. Derome told a few anecdotes to present Heitor Villa-Lobos’s Trio No. 3:

Each part of this piece reminds me of a part of Villa-Lobos’s life. He was a self-confident man. He went to the Amazon forest to study indigenous music and was kidnapped by cannibals.”

Indeed, this Villa-Lobos trio was made of different parts. The violin and cello harmonies were perfect. Gabriel Prynn’s powerful, furious yet controlled vibrato added to the elegance of the string parts. Right from the first piece, Broekaert showed he was Song’s ideal replacement. His long legato phrases flowed sometimes with the gentleness of a river, other times with the power of a waterfall.

The Trio Fibonacci continued with Vocalise by Sergei Rachmaninoff. Instead of playing the original version for voice and piano, they played an arrangement for violin and cello. Derome’s violin stood out thanks to her expression the emotional power of neo-romanticism, the movement Rachmaninoff was part of. “By listening to this piece, you can really feel a sense of sadness and loss,” said Prynn after playing the piece.

IMG_9997
Photo credit: Flo Pelz

 

Prynn then presented Trio No. 2 by Alexandre Tansman. He told how Tansman, thanks to his friendship with Charlie Chaplin, was able to immigrate to the United States. This Polish Jewish composer fled his native Poland to seek refuge in France before settling in the United States. His music, which was nominated for an Oscar in 1946, is a reflection of his migration. A hint of klezmer could indeed be heard in this trio.

Before the intermission, the Trio Fibonacci presented Trio No. 3 Dumky by Antonin Dvorak. Derome described this piece as being “steeped in Czech folklore.” The beginning of the piece is long and slow, but the rest is full of cheerful and intense moments. As a response to this energetic performance, the crowd rose out of their seats and gave the Trio Fibonacci a standing ovation which encouraged the musicians to come back on stage.

After the intermission, Derome said with a puzzled tone:

When I was a student, I had a guitarist friend who played some Manuel Ponce pieces. I wondered, ‘Who was this obscure composer? If he’s not well known, then he must be bad.’ We will show you tonight that this statement isn’t true.”

It was then Gabriel Prynn’s turn to present Manuel Ponce’s Trio Romantico. He described this piece as being “as dramatic and muscular as a Beethoven piece.” He went on: “Before letting you go into the cold, Canadian night, we hope to make you feel the warmth of Mexico.” All the things the members of the trio said were true. Broekaert showed the piece’s power with his flashy and thunderous playing. The chemistry between the three musicians was evident through call and responses phrases they traded.

After the concert, the Trio Fibonacci received an even greater ovation than at the intermission. The intensity and virtuosity of the trio served the emotions the pieces conveyed. In short, this concert can be summed up by two words: pure passion.

IMG_0060
Photo credit: Flo Pelz

Qatar the Scapegoat

Countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia cut ties with Qatar. The official reason was that this country supports terrorism. There are some who support Islamic terrorism more such as Saudi Arabia but no sanctions have been made against them. Of course, nothing was done against them because Qatar is a convenient scapegoat.

Egypt’s Actions Against Qatar

One of the ways Egypt is punishing Qatar is by blocking some of their news websites such as Al Jazeera and Huffington Post Arabic. Qatar did play a role in terrorism in Egypt by supporting the Muslim Brotherhood during the mandate of Mohammad Morsi. Historically, Saudi Arabia caused more

Flag of Qatar
Flag of Qatar

terrorism and crime in Egypt than Qatar. Saudi Arabia has financed the Muslim Brotherhood. Then, in the 1980s, Egyptians working in Saudi Arabia brought back to their home country Salafism, which increased its influence in the Brotherhood and throughout Egypt. If Saudi Arabia plays a bigger role in terrorism, then why isn’t Egypt imposing sanctions upon them?

Let’s not forget that Egypt and Saudi Arabia haven’t resolved their dispute over the islands of Tiran and Sanafir. Egypt also got some funding from the Saudis to build a new capital, a new and modern extension to Cairo. Escalating such a conflict would be risky.

But that’s not all. The United States and Saudi Arabia are allies. Donald Trump has been in touch with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi of Egypt for a variety of issues: restoring United States-Egypt relations, the situation of Christians… Egypt would harm its relationship with the United States should its conflict with Saudi Arabia get worse.

What’s in It for Saudi Arabia?

Saudi Arabia also gains something by imposing sanctions on Qatar. In Saudi Arabia’s conflict with Houthis in Yemen, Qatar supports the Houthis, a politico-religious Shiite Muslim group. In the Middle East, Iran tends to support Shiite armed groups. Saudi Arabia has been enemies with Iranian Shiites

Flag of Egypt
Flag of Egypt

because Shiism is an illegitimate form of Islam according to Wahhabism. This belief has no religious basis: it was simply an excuse to give Saudi Arabia a reason to raid Iranian caravans in the 19th and 20th centuries. Weakening Houthi supporters reduces thus the presence of Iran, their enemy, in the Gulf region.

Saudi Arabia avoids sanctions by finding what the countries of the region have in common against its enemy. Granted, Qatar did play a role in Islamic terrorism but it is such a convenient scapegoat. These sanctions have more to do with punishing a Saudi enemy than curbing ISIS. Might makes right. Rather, wealth makes right.

Flag of Saudi Arabia
Flag of Saudi Arabia

Canada: a Botched Mosaic (part 2)

Editor’s note: This story about Canadian multiculturalism was originally a single 3,600 word article meant for a British magazine. I decided to turn it into a mini-series. It tells the story of Peter, a Lebanese-Canadian youth and his experience of Canadian multiculturalism. He meets different people through his life who influence his thoughts. Although this tale contains many true elements and anecdotes, it is a work of fiction. Read part 1 here.

Some two or three years ago, I was an intern at Canadian Topics magazine. I proofread scholarly articles about immigration there. I was working with recent graduates and postgraduates. I was proofreading some article about low fertility rates among Chinese-Canadian women. I wasn’t sure about what was meant by fertility so I asked a co-worker, Courtney:

Chinese head tax receipt.
Chinese head tax receipt.

“- Courtney, in social sciences, does fertility only refer to the ability to reproduce?

– No, Peter. It can also mean the number of kids women get depending on their means.”

I was surprised to read that the Chinese women who were interviewed for this study were eager to have children while in China but after living in Canada for a short while, their priorities changed. I was equally surprised when I proofread a translation of a paper about African immigrants coming to the Prairies[1]. The African immigrants tended to isolate themselves from the rest of the population and stay with people of their own ethnicity. They didn’t mingle with locals because of language barriers and because they couldn’t relate to Canadians. I thought all of this was strange, so I talked to Courtney about it.

“You know, Canada wasn’t always so diverse: there was a Chinese head tax and non-European immigrants were not accepted except for Chinese and Sikhs.”

Courtney was talking about Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s multiculturalism. Before him, Canada was only interested in accepting white European immigrants. Trudeau desperately needed to populate the country and needed people to work to pay taxes. To satisfy this need, he began accepting immigrants from various parts of the world. But how would he get these new immigrants to integrate Canada? Apply his vision of Canada: a nation made of many diverse nations that coexist within the same borders. The keyword is “coexist”. There is no place for ideology, or wrong or right. All sources of tension had to be eliminated.

Multiculturalism doesn’t seem to be an effective way to increase the country’s population as Canada’s population isn’t renewing itself. The only way to curb Canada’s negative population growth is to allow more immigrants in the country every year.

Courtney wasn’t from Montreal. She said she was from Toronto but she was really from Scarborough which is part of the Greater Toronto Area. Scarborough is an industrialist wasteland where recent immigrants settle. Courtney told me she went to a Catholic public high school that was very poor. It wasn’t uncommon to see girls of her school get pregnant before graduating. From time to time, when there wasn’t much work to do, we would talk about Canadian politics, our high school days, the news and the like.

I thought “brown people” was what Americans called Mexicans when Americans wanted to degrade them but in the Greater Toronto Area, it’s a slur towards Indians (people from India). Her experience in high school was very similar to mine: she went to a public high school in the suburb in which the students were of different ethnicities. There were two differences: she was in Scarborough, I was in Laval (a suburb of Montreal). The other difference was that most students in her school were of Indian or Caribbean origin whereas at my school, half the students were either of Greek, Lebanese Armenian or Haitian origin. The other half was French Canadian. Most students hung out with classmates of the same ethnicity as them. “I didn’t hang out with other Indians. I didn’t want to be with other brown people because their parents knew mine. They were so nosy” said Courtney. I assumed she would have liked spending more time with people of her ethnicity because she knew a lot about Indian history and culture. Yet she truly embraced the values of the Liberal Party under Justin Trudeau such as “diversity” and “inclusiveness”.

 

[1] The provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta which are located in the middle of the country.

 

To be continued…

Native Comeback

Native peoples in Canada are portrayed as tragedies in the media. We get one story about the residential schools, one story about missing women, another story about how their cultural traditions are being destroyed… It seems as though they are bound for misery.

Not at all. Some communities are blooming. Native youths are resisting. Elderly Aboriginals are smiling at them.

Flag_of_the_Iroquois_Confederacy.svg
Flag of the Iroquois confederacy which the Mohawk nation is part of.

Background of the Native Cultural Resistance

I am going to an event by COOP Le Milieu called “Indigenous Knowledge Sharing: First Nations and Tibetans.” I look around and see the tables on which colourful beads, jewellery, drawings and shawls for sale are displayed. I also find on a table the business card of an organization called Native Montreal. How exciting! They offer Aboriginal language classes; I’m fascinated by language revival and preservation projects. I ask if there is an exhibitor representing Native Montreal and I’m introduced to an elderly Mohawk woman:

“I’m not from Native Montreal but I’ll answer your questions the best I can.”

Beverly (not her real name) is a Mohawk elder, a former teacher, a former judge and has worked in the correctional system. She is from Kahnawake, south of Montreal.

“Yes, there are plenty of Aboriginal language revival projects. When I was a child in school, there was none of that,” said Beverly. “In school, I was taught I was a savage.”

In Beverly’s youth, Canadian schools taught that Aboriginals were essentially barbarians and needed to be civilized through adopting western European culture. This colonial policy was especially enforced in residential schools. Her testimony reminded me that of a white French-Canadian politician I know from Oka-Kanesatake, another Mohawk region. He told me that when he was in elementary school, the teachers used to say: “If you want to know what devils look like and how they act, just look at Mohawks”.

Beverly also talks about how such a colonial mentality damage Native men.

“You know, when I used to work in the correctional system, I worked with a lot of Native men. I taught them how to be Native men and that being Native doesn’t make them essentially bad people.”

The Situation of the Mohawk Language and Customs in Kahnawake

I have heard of elementary schools and high schools that teach Mohawk but Beverly tells me about a school in Kahnawake that has a Mohawk language immersion program. She also says that on Fridays, the students and the staff of this school, both Mohawks and non-Mohawks, wear traditional Mohawk clothing. She could barely hide the delight on her face. Also, signs in Kahnawake are in English and Mohawk. Beverly tells a story about how bilingual signs could confuse people.

“When I was a judge in charge of solving traffic-related cases, a man contested a ticket he got for burning three stop signs in a row. I told him:

’–Did you drive by three stop signs without stopping?

–Yes but they were test signs.

–What do you mean? They were regulation size, they were visible, they said stop…

Mohawk_stop_sign
The confusing Mohawk stop sign. Source: Wikicommons.

–They also read “Testan.’”

“Testan” in Mohawk means “Stop.”

Hope for the future

Beverly is optimistic about the future: “The Montreal mayor, Denis Coderre, recognized Montreal, our original hunting grounds, as being originally Aboriginal land. This gives me hope that we can someday get our land back. Well, we can’t get it back because they [descendant of European colonizers] destroyed it and made it ugly. We can at least hope to get a say in our home country.”

Aboriginal communities are getting back on their feet; that is the story we should be hearing more often.

Canada: a Botched Mosaic (Part 1)

Editor’s note: This story about Canadian multiculturalism was originally a single 3,600 word article meant for a British magazine. I decided to turn it into a mini-series. It tells the story of Peter, a Lebanese-Canadian youth and his experience of Canadian multiculturalism. He meets different people through his life who influence his thoughts. Although this tale contains many true elements and anecdotes, it is a work of fiction.

Montreal mosque entrance
The entrance of a mosque in Montreal, Canada. The name has been removed. Photo by Mark Homsany

It’s almost 11 pm. I’ve just gotten off the bus and I’m walking back to my apartment after a long day at work. There is a light breeze blowing. Some men in white tunics sporting long beards are gathering by a street corner. Some women on the other side of the street covered from head to toe were walking side by side and chatting. Then, I hear it reverberating through the night sky:

“Allahu akbar. Allahu akbar. Ashahadu an la ilah illa Allah”.

I was not in a Middle-Eastern country: I was walking on Laurentien Boulevard in the Cartierville borough in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Yes, Montreal truly represents what Pierre Elliott Trudeau wanted Canada to be: a mosaic of people coexisting on a same land in peace and in harmony. A nation made of many nations. A nation of people united through their differences and not divided by emotional values that cause wars such as patriotism. A country that is pleasant and that does not demand many sacrifices from its citizens.

Indeed, multiculturalism, individualism, plurality and relativism are responsible for so much social progress in Canada. Trudeau’s multiculturalism is an experiment never before attempted; we have yet to see the result.

Events such as the Sainte-Foy mosque shooting on January 29th 2017 are signs that the beautiful experiment may be flawed. Alexandre Bisonnette, a white supremacist and a supporter of far-right wing politics, opened fire on Muslims who were praying. Ordinary citizens expressed on social media that they couldn’t believe that such a killing could happen in a country where ethnic diversity is so celebrated.

In light of this these killings, the Canada Pierre Eliott Trudeau began to build seems more like a trade-off than an improvement. Was this trade-off worth it?

To be continued…

Copts and Muslims of Egypt: What ISIS can’t Divide

On the first day of Ramadan 2017, ISIS attacked three buses carrying Coptic (native Egyptian Christians) children on a field trip to Saint-Samuel’s monastery near Minya.

ISIS killed children on a field trip. How tough and manly of you, ISIS. God is surely impressed with your devotion and bravery. Your mothers must be so proud of you. Here, you deserve a (poisoned) biscuit.

It’s a pattern: ISIS attacks Copts; many women and children die; social media is flooded with messages of grief, anger and criticism of Christians and Islam; politicians express formally their sincere condolences; and the pattern repeats itself. There have been tensions between Egypt’s Christians and

graffiti_cross_crescent_Egypt
This graffiti from the Arab spring shows the solidarity between Christians and Muslims in Egypt. The cross has been defaced, probably by a Muslim extremist. Photo taken in 2012 in Maadi, Egypt by Mark Homsany

Muslims since the Middle Ages but they are united. It’s been so since at least since the beginning of the 20th century.

It’s not surprising to see Christians and Muslims protecting each other while praying and shouting, “Christians! Muslims! All united!*” during the Arab Spring. Pharaonism, a form of Egyptian nationalism, began in the 20th century. It stresses that Egyptians are not Arabs but descendants of the Ancient Egyptians and part of a larger Mediterranean civilization. It also emphasizes the importance of the Nile and the Mediterranean Sea. In other words, Egyptians of all creeds and ancestry relate to each other on the basis of their love for their country and history. The unity between Christians and Muslims is reflected in the lyrics of Sayed Darwish. He was a composer, a revolutionary, the father of modern Egyptian music, and the author of Egypt’s national anthem. He sang lyrics which were a call to unity against the British such as “Love your neighbour before loving your own existence/What is a Christian, what is a Muslim? A Jew? What are you talking about?/Those are just words, we’re all born from the same ancestors.”** This same song and others by Sayed Darwish were sung by protesters in the streets during the Arab spring.

If then, Egyptian society is so united, why is there tension between Christians and Muslims? Wahhabism, the movement that influences Muslim extremist groups from the Muslim Brotherhood to ISIS, turns Christians and Muslims against each other. According to Wahhabism, anything that differs from its version of Islam harms society. Around New Year’s Day in 2011, Hosni Mubarak’s government

graffiti_flag_1919
This graffiti from the Arab spring mimics the Egyptian revolutionary flag of 1919. It reads in Arabic “Long live the crescent with the cross”. Photo taken by Mark Homsany in Maadi, Egypt, in 2012

hired Muslim extremists to bomb All Saints’ church in Alexandria. Mubarak’s government aimed to get Christians and Muslims to fight in an attempt to thwart the Arab spring. ISIS is attempting something similar to invade Egypt. They attack Christians on feast days and near symbolic monuments to make them too scared to worship and by the same token, make Egyptian Muslims live in fear. Is ISIS’s plan working?

Of course Egyptians are scared but they have been through over 2,000 years of foreign occupation and many decades of dictatorship. They can fight off another crisis. Terrorist attacks and injustice in Egypt have been bringing Christians and Muslims together more and that is proof ISIS cannot win. Terrorists, you’re in for a ride.

 

*They were saying literally “Muslims! Christians! One same hand!”(مسلمين مسيحيين يد واحدة)

**From “Rise, Egyptian!” (قوم يا مصري). Translation by Mark Homsany

 

Rant: Canadian History in Quebec Schools

Back when I was in school, Canadian history was one of these subjects no one rBoring Canadian history in Quebeceally studied hard for because unlike math and physics, it wasn’t a subject that determined in what program you could be accepted. I feel a widespread lack of interest in Canadian history in Quebec. Canadian Children’s introduction to their country’s history is in school and Quebec’s curriculum is probably why they think it’s so dull. Here’s why the Quebec history program is so boring:

 

Canadian history is depicted as a long, boring feud between the French and the English

Canadian history in Quebec is taught as the French’s struggle for cultural and national recognition against “les maudits anglais” (the damn English. English here refers to English-speaking Canadians). This struggle has been fought through some battles and a lot of paper signing. What were French-Canadians and English-Canadians doing else besides feuding with each other? How was society back then? How did both ethnic groups think? This narrative presents Canada as one-dimensional. History can’t come alive only through treatises and a limiting perspective.

French-Canadians and English-Canadians are not the only ethnic groups in Canada

Long before the French and the English arrived in Canada, there were various indigenous peoples. They seem to be a footnote in the school curriculum because after the first chapters, they are no longer mentioned as if they disappeared in thin air. Some French-Canadians have Irish surnames such as Bourque (French version of “Burke”) but barely anything is said about Irish migration during the Great Famine and the Fenian raids. When John A. MacDonald colonized the Prairies, he sent by train many immigrants from Eastern Europe there but little is said about them. He could send them by train because Chinese workers built the railroad. I can go on and on but listing various ethnic groups is not the point: there are many ethnic groups in Canada and they influenced its history.

Quebec Doesn’t Exist in a Vacuum

That’s right! Canada follows a federal system which gives each province many freedoms, among others, the freedom to have their own education curriculum. Quebec’s history program is so focused on Quebec that you almost forget there are other provinces and the United States to the south. The English-speaking provinces and the United States do have relations with Quebec. Since there is so much complaining about the English language, why not talk about the surrounding areas and how they influence Quebec?

Too Little Is Said About Immigration and Multiculturalism

If you live in a big Canadian city like Montreal, you’ve probably seen people who were neither French-Canadian nor English-Canadian. There have been waves of immigrations at least since the time of John A. MacDonald and immigrants is a recurring theme in Canadian media. Who are these immigrants? Why are they coming to Canada? Why are there waves of immigration? Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s multiculturalism is still shaping Canadian society. You would assume such an important part of Canadian history and society would be talked about in school but, nope, it isn’t.

A Curriculum that Dulls the Mind

My former university history professor said at the beginning of his course “To understand a country, you need to understand the politics. To understand the politics, you have to understand the history.” The school curriculum seems to be meant to keep Quebecers from understanding the country they live in. To make matters worse, this one-dimensional vision of Canadian history keeps Canadians from asking important questions such as “where are we going as a country and what should we do”? I guess school isn’t supposed to produce citizens who have serious thoughts about their country.

Agree? Please share your comments!

Mechanization

She was always stressed, always physically and mentally tired. Her multiple lives were tearing her apart. It isn’t easy to play, for a few hours, the role of a mother; later, that of a working woman; then that of a wife. There is no stopping to take a rest. Oh no! Resting is neglecting responsibilities. When one Cyborg womandoesn’t play one of the various roles, chaos comes like a hurricane. She was obviously wearing herself out. Her situation caused her despair. She believed the best solution was to sink deeper, to let herself be consumed by work so she wouldn’t have to think about fatigue.

On her way to work, she noticed that all her colleagues looked sad. The boss had some bad news: the company went bankrupt. Oh my God! This was saddening news indeed! If she no longer has a job, how could she chase away her dark thoughts, her issues about tiredness? In the evening, while she was lying in bed, her husband asked “Honey, what’s wrong?” She didn’t answer him. She remained seated in her bed with a blank stare. She was thinking about a new way to lose herself in work, to stop thinking about this vicious cycle of role changing and fatigue. The fact that she thought was, for her, a sign of her downfall.

The next day, she began sweeping the already impeccably clean floor back and forth, up and down, north to south, north-east to south west. She prepared a grandiose breakfast fit for a banquet, yet the only person she needed to cook for was her ten year old son. He asked her: “Mom, why do you work when you don’t have to?” Oh you little pest! Children are truly like livestock! They are so ungrateful! They stuff their faces, run around and scream like animals. They only think about themselves. And also, livestock produce milk, eggs, meat and leather whereas children only bring headaches and fatigue.  The mother, continued her machine-like activities without answering her child who had forced her to think, to tread heavily.

The following night, she continued her chores but with more zeal. She didn’t even have time to go to bed last night. She no longer needed to. Her husband came down the stairs and saw an atrocious mess: the food was burnt, cake mix was running down the walls, the sink was overflowing, wet laundry was lying around on the floor, and many screws, gears and springs drew a path leading to the basement. The husband followed the trail and saw his wife. We was no longer thinking. She was metallic grey. Sparks flew out of her shoulder, her arm was hanging and the lid on her stomach was open. On the inside, he saw some wires instead of intestines and instead of a heart, a stone.

 

Note: I wrote this story in 2007 in French under the title “Mécanisation”. I presented it on stage at Montmorency college for a stage production called “La fête de la lecture” in the same year. It was meant as a tribute to Normand de Bellefeuille’s “Votre appel est important”. It was the first story I have ever presented in public. After having seen my performance, two very close friends of mine encouraged me to become a writer. I will forever be grateful for their support.