They call it the culture wars. And our friends’ side is losing. The other side: The United States, a republic that considers itself the greatest nation in history; a country whose citizens believe their own hype about being the land of the free, the envy of the world, the refuge for downtrodden masses from elsewhere. Where many seem convinced everyone everywhere wants to be a US citizen.
Our friends’ side: The United States, a republic whose Constitution has inspired others to recognize the importance of human rights, a country attempting to overthrow institutionalized racism, sexism, homophobia through the rule of law. Where many seem convinced they can make progress at home while lending a hand to the needy abroad.
That’s two republics. One swaggering, truculent and know-everything. One sensitive, generous and willing to learn from their friends. One located primarily in the heartland, the other in coastal areas. One deeply religious, the other profoundly committed to secularism and its separation of church and state.
One republic voted for George W Bush. The other for John Kerry.
One came out to vote in unprecedented numbers, wound up over the possibility that homos would take over and destroy the institution of marriage. The other was more likely to stay at home, hoping things would turn out okay, as the early exit polls on election day predicted.
And now both republics are living with the world-view of the US midwest.
Frightening not just for the secular nation within the US, but for the rest of the world, including Canada.
But that’s not the way we’re going in Canada. Confident and proud, boasting a Charter of Rights and Freedoms that is proving itself a challenge to the grey and drab Dominion of Canada of the past, we’re emerging as a profoundly secular society.
Or are we? It’s so easy to get smug and self-satisfied when we compare ourselves to the mess down south. As the United States slides toward theocracy we’re tempted to adopt a feeling of national superiority in Canada. With the possible exception of Alberta, Canadian politics doesn’t emulate the high cowboy dramas of the US, where the sheriff wears a white clerical collar and the villain wears dark skin. And there’s no doubt this is a better place to live with more constructive politics, on the whole. But democracy requires its citizens to avoid being lulled into complacency. Our community knows this better than most.
Let’s not kid ourselves. Canada has its own narrow-minded morality police too, though most of them aren’t carrying bibles in their hands. Witness the recent bathhouse raids in Calgary and Hamilton-what’s that about? Or witness the outrageous Bill C-2 just introduced by Paul Martin’s minority government. That bill, if we allow it to stand, will recriminalize some consensual gay sex, reversing former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s maxim that the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation. Are we angry yet?
How about this? The federal government has not overhauled censor-happy Canada Customs (now called Canada Border Services Agency), since the Supreme Court decision in the Little Sister’s case concluded that the border patrol was virtually out of control. Customs chooses to hold up perfectly legal material that could be produced within Canada, but is stopped when imported. Hello?
US citizens, particularly gays and women needing abortions, suffer from the drive to impose Christian morality on people’s life choices. In Canada, we take a different, though still vile, approach: we infantalize everyone’s sexuality. We treat consensual adults as though they cannot make appropriate choices for their own lives, about what to do with their own bodies, their own minds, and their own artistic creativity. Our government baby-sits our sex lives, while pretending otherwise. They act like they know what’s good for us and have a right to impose it on us.
At a time when many of our hearts go out to our gay US brothers and sisters, it also becomes us to recommit ourselves to an independent policy path for Canada. But one that treats us like adults, and really, truly removes the state from the bedrooms of the nation once and for all.
Gareth Kirkby is Managing Editor for Xtra.