John Watkins was Canada’s ambassador to the Soviet Union in the 1950s. The Sovs caught him in a honey trap: a hunky young poet seduced Watkins. Although the Communists never figured out how to make use of the compromised Canadian, when the RCMP found out about it they unintentionally hastened Watkins’ death. There is no evidence that Watkins ever did anything disloyal, but the Mounties grilled him so relentlessly he had a heart attack and died.
Back then homos were automatically suspected of disloyalty because they could be blackmailed. Or perhaps it was that gay people were considered mentally weak and incapable of forming bonds, either in personal relationships or with their nations. Such prejudices persisted in this country into the 1990s, with the debate over gay men and lesbians in the military. (Someone once told me that up to half of Britain’s elite commando force, the SBS, are gay. I don’t know if it’s true, but it sounds sexy.)
The subject of loyalty to one’s nation reemerged this summer in two issues, one stemming from the appointment of Michaëlle Jean as Governor General and the softwood lumber issue. The fact that a debate about loyalty ignited at all is one that should make every reasonable Canadian, including gay and lesbian ones, very uneasy.
The noble savages of the right immediately aimed the blowgun at Jean — questioning her loyalty for having been in proximity with Quebec separatists. But it was clear from the commentary that there were other issues that they disliked about her, all feeding into the hysteria of disloyalty: the fact that she had been appointed by a Liberal prime minister, that she was an immigrant, that she held dual citizenship, that her husband was French-born, that she was black and, worst of all, that she had worked for the CBC.
Columnists such as Andrew Coyne are weirdly preoccupied with the CBC, viewing it not as a declining news service starved of cash and relevance, but as an anti-Israeli agent of moral destruction. Coyne’s fellow scribbler, Bruce Garvey, a burping boor at the best of times, begrudged Jean’s every achievement: “She went to university in Montreal, Florence, Milan and Perugia — which must have cost a buck or two.”
It’s a pity that Jean isn’t a lesbian; it would have completed the unsavoury place setting that conservative columnists had laid. But then, being of questionable loyalty, she probably knows some dykes quite well.
The second issue centred on a decidedly less glamorous topic, the softwood lumber dispute. Then the blubber really hit the beachside bonfire. On Aug 24, Coyne wrote a column reacting to the Bush administration’s repudiation of a NAFTA panel ruling in Canada’s favour. Coyne penned an astonishing reaction that still sticks in my mind. “When it comes to trade with the US,” he wrote, “Let me suggest a novel strategy, as daring as it is ingenious: unconditional surrender. However much we might beat our chests about it, if the Americans are really as determined to have their way on this as they seem, there’s nothing we can do about it.”
Not just surrender, but unconditional surrender. Here come the Yanks, so Andrew’s all for pulling his pants down and bending over the hood of the car (that sounds kind of sexy, too).
Am I missing something here? Isn’t Coyne’s advocacy just about the biggest, fattest, most high-cholesterol form of disloyalty? The Norwegians have a word for it. I suppose loyalty depends on one’s perspective. Conservative media columnists have aligned themselves head to toe, tongue to butthole with the Bush administration, so disloyalty probably wasn’t on his mind. On the Republicanized cattle range of Coyne’s mind he probably thought he was being loyal. Meanwhile, Canadians -including Western Canadians — Coyne’s mythical constituents, took a harder more self-respecting and, dare I say, loyal point of view.
Coyne’s views on surrender had mostly died down when, all of a sudden, they reemerged, but in an unexpected form. He was once again running the chicken stripes up the flagpole. But this time he had just listened to the GG’s investiture speech. She called for an end to the many solitudes of this country, for a pan-Canadian sense of purpose, for respect for the nation’s binding myths — all the issues that con-servative pinhead columnists such as Coyne like to wind their watches over. “Madam,” he wrote, “I surrender.”
Ai, gevalt, I got such a headache.
This whole discussion about loyalty had the usual whiff of unsavoury tribalism. Debates about individuals’ loyalty based on colour, past opinions, previous associations or their sexual orientation quickly derange into high-strung, panic-ridden vendettas. Such behaviour has no place in a level-headed nation like Canada. It’s unCanadian; it’s disloyal.