All posts filed under: Canada

Weaponizing Social Justice to Protect School Administrators and Discredit Whistle-blowers: A Canadian Case Study

On March 6th, I published a Quillette article describing how Robyn Bourgeois, the newly installed vice-provost for Indigenous engagement at Canada’s Brock University, had been seeking to mobilize her peers against the anonymous operator of an obscure (and by then, defunct) Twitter account called @BrockCivis. On her social-media channels and at the university’s “Two Row Council” (a body tasked with managing Brock’s efforts at “Indigenization, reconciliation, and decolonization”), Bourgeois accused the account of operating a racist and “criminal” program of “cyber harassment” that targeted her in particular, and Indigenous people more generally. No one at Brock would feel “safe,” she said, in a world where @BrockCivis is still “allowed to dehumanize the highest-ranking Indigenous person at Brock” (by which she meant herself). At a February 22nd Council meeting, a recording of which was subsequently made available to me, school officials brainstormed with Bourgeois about how they might investigate the nefarious account. The contents of @BrockCivis, one participant suggested, were a threat not just to Brock, but to Indigenous people all over Canada. Later in the …

The Campaign to Thwart Paleogenetic Research Into North America’s Indigenous Peoples

One of the major North American archaeological discoveries of the 20th century was made in 1967 by a bulldozer crew preparing a site for a movie theater in the small fishing village of Port au Choix (PAC), on Newfoundland’s Northern Peninsula. It was a vast, 4,000-year-old cemetery created by a complex maritime culture known among researchers as the Maritime Archaic. The graves contained beautifully preserved skeletons covered in a brilliant red powder called red ocher (powdered specular hematite). Buried with the skeletons were many finely crafted artifacts. A few similar ones had previously turned up in earlier field surveys on the island, but no archaeologist had suspected that such a large and magnificent ceremonial site existed in the North American subarctic. Had the discovery been made only a few years earlier, it is likely that no trained archaeologist would have taken over from the bulldozer crew. But fortunately, Memorial University in St. Johns had just added archaeologist James (“Jim”) Tuck (1940–2019) to its faculty. The American-born scholar set out to explore the cemetery, eventually excavating …

We Can Revisit (And Even Replace) the Classic Books We Teach Children—Without Cancelling Them

Earlier this month, Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced it would stop publishing six Dr. Seuss titles because they included several drawings with racial stereotypes. As the press release put it, “These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong. Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ catalog represents and supports all communities and families.” The New York Times published opposing responses. Columnist Charles M. Blow celebrated the news, linking the books to the racist stereotypes in Tarzan and Our Gang that had damaged his self-esteem growing up. He argued that these images should be weeded out because they lead children to internalize a sense of inferiority. His conservative counterpart Ross Douthat, on the other hand, described the decision as evidence that companies are abandoning free-speech principles in order to protect their image from progressive attacks. This self-censorship has frightening implications as they have unfettered control over major cultural franchises and landmarks. As one might imagine, Fox News was less restrained. Tucker …

With Theatres Shuttered, I Tried to Stage a ‘Zoom Play.’ (It Didn’t Work)

I have always been a playwright. When my grade-six teacher told us to compose our imaginary life stories, mine was called Autobiography of a Playwright. Even back then, I was writing skits and persuading the neighbourhood kids to perform in them. My inspiration (and this will tell you something about my age) was Bing Crosby in Going My Way—a priest who cajoled local juvenile delinquents into singing for the church choir. When I was eight or nine years old, I told my mother I was depressed. “I don’t have anything to look forward to,” I said. She suggested that my father set up a little stage in the basement—complete with a curtain. I was in heaven. As a young man, unfortunately, I watched the cinematic representations of stereotypical playwright characters morph from respected geniuses to laughable neurotics. In the 1950 drama All About Eve, playwright Lloyd Richards was portrayed as a typical pipe-smoking intellectual of the 1940s. Richards casually name-drops “Miller” and “Sherwood” (Arthur and Robert, respectively), situating himself in the context of the day’s …

For Our Own Good, We All Need a Glimpse of the Evil Queen

I had a client many years ago who was a real-life version of Sleeping Beauty. She was tall, blonde-haired, razor thin (as the saying goes), and profoundly unhappy. She was enrolled in a local junior college, attempting to upgrade so that she could attend university. She came to see me because she did not want to live. She also did not want to die, really—at least not actively. Instead, she attempted to keep herself unconscious with the use of Valium and its variants, including sleeping pills, which she procured in sufficient quantities from her (several) physicians, who were no doubt overworked enough not to keep track of exactly what she was doing. She managed to keep herself asleep fifteen or sixteen hours a day. She was smart and literate, and showed me a philosophy essay she had written on the pointlessness not only of her life but life in general. She was unable to tolerate the responsibility, by all appearances, but also could not deal with the cruelty she saw everywhere around her. She was …

How a Single Anonymous Twitter Account Caused an ‘Indigenized’ Canadian University to Unravel

In a recently published Quillette article, Political Science professor Frances Widdowson described the difficulties that Canadian university administrators face when they seek to “Indigenize” their schools. Everyone in academia seems to agree that Indigenization is an urgent task, but the particulars are typically ill-defined. As Widdowson reports in a newly published book, these efforts at Indigenization (sometimes referred to as “decolonization”) comprise a combination of symbolic gestures, ramped-up affirmative-action programs, mandatory anti-racism courses, and demands that Indigenous folklore be accorded epistemological stature on par with science. At Concordia University in Montreal, for instance, a dozen researchers are collaborating on a project called “Decolonizing Light,” whose aim is to “investigate the reproduction of colonialism in and through physics and higher physics education.” Our scientific understanding of light as constituting electromagnetic radiation perceptible to the human eye, these scholars explain, is the historical product of “a white male dominated field [i.e. physics] disconnected from social life and geopolitical history. [Its] narrative both constitutes and reproduces inequality.” Widdowson (who isn’t Indigenous) has been criticized for casting doubt on …

The Problem With ‘Indigenizing the University’

The idea that academics need to “Indigenize” the Canadian education system has become popular in recent years. The Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), Universities Canada, and the Deans of Education all have expressed support for this idea. And the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), created to address the legacy of Canada’s Residential School system, concluded that Canada’s education system “must be transformed into one that rejects the racism embedded in colonial systems of education and treats Aboriginal and Euro-Canadian knowledge systems with equal respect.” The TRC report cites the work of Indigenous academic Marie Battiste and the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’ statement that “Indigenous peoples have the right to the dignity and diversity of their cultures, traditions, histories and aspirations which shall be appropriately reflected in education and public information.” Specific proposals at various Canadian universities have included curriculum changes, an overhaul of academic disciplines, and the incorporation of Indigenous “ways of knowing” in tenure and promotion processes. Many …

A (Failed) Campaign to Smear a University of Toronto Scholarship Student as a Bigot

Arjun Singh is an Indian-Canadian student of mixed Sikh and Hindu ancestry, set to finish a four-year undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto in just three years, while reportedly boasting a 3.96 cumulative GPA in his course work with the departments of Political Science, International Relations, and American Studies. His LinkedIn page indicates that he speaks multiple languages and has work experience with the US State Department. So no surprise that this high achiever has earned numerous awards and scholarships. In recent days, however, 13 fellow students (six of them white, for those who count these things) publicly expressed their claimed “shock” that Singh had received the Political Science department’s $1,000 David Rayside Undergraduate Scholarship, awarded to “students who have demonstrated commitment and leadership in co-curricular activities, on or off campus, promoting greater public understanding of social and cultural diversity and enhanced inclusion of historically marginalized populations: for example racialized minorities, women, Indigenous communities, immigrants and refugees, people with disabilities, sexual minorities. Award is based on academic achievement and financial need.” On January 31st, …

Circling Back to My Grandfather’s Judaism, Seventy Years Later

I was born in Toronto in 1942. My earliest memories were Jewishly buoyant because of the excitement in my home and close-knit community around the rebirth of Israel as a sovereign nation in 1948. It was only when I was a teenager that I became fully aware of the cataclysm that had preceded this miracle. Until the 1950s, there was a kind of taboo about discussing the Holocaust with children—or even discussing it at all. It was too recent. I knew, but didn’t know. North American Jews needed time to absorb the scope and originality of the horror they had been spared. The public high school I attended was almost entirely Jewish. (Our district was mostly gentile, but almost all the gentiles sent their children to private schools.) Few of us were prepared when our history teacher showed us a film about the liberation of the concentration camps. I was shocked by the newsreel footage of stacked corpses, the skeletal camp inmates staring, stunned, at their approaching liberators, the mound of children’s shoes, the numbers. …

An ‘Anti-Racist’ Mob Set Its Sights on Humble ‘Squampton.’ Here’s How the Town Fought Back

This is the sorry tale of how a confluence of unrelated developments—including the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, the excesses of real-estate developers, an outdoor-sports boom, and the death of George Floyd—transformed what was once a small, gritty western Canadian logging town into a hub of woke lunacy. It’s also the story of a “racist” cream-filled donut, a slander campaign against an Indigenous single mother waged in the name of social justice, and an existential debate about whether a local basalt dyke may be a source of homophobic microaggression. But all in due course. The British Columbia town of Squamish is situated at the tip of island-dotted Howe Sound, nestled between Vancouver to the south and the famous ski-resort community of Whistler to the north. It gets its name from the Squamish Nation, a Coast Salish First Nations community that, as with other Indigenous peoples across Canada, suffered mightily from colonialism—an appalling chapter in Canadian history that the country has taken laudable steps to address in recent years. Though the population is largely white, Squamish has steadily …