All posts filed under: Canada

My Journey from Born Again Christian to the Church of Woke—And Halfway Back Again

My Christian faith died thrashing in 2004. It was the thick of summer, and I was a hyper-earnest teenage bible-thumper volunteering my time for a church-mission trip in the slums of Tijuana, Mexico. I was partway through a Sunday-School lesson with a small group of boys when my youth pastor—a man I considered equivalent to a Jedi Master, religious mentor, and rock star all rolled into one—tapped me affectionately on the crown of my head. He awkwardly stepped through our cross-legged circle en route to an ominous black cruiser with tinted windows that was idling outside. Somehow, I understood immediately that this would be the last time I saw him in person. Earlier that morning, I’d woken up inexplicably crying and dehydrated, in the midst of murmuring my way through a desperate prayer of some sort. I’d recently finished The End of the Affair, a Graham Greene novel in which the spiritually embattled protagonist concludes his story with this line: “O God, You’ve done enough, You’ve robbed me of enough, I’m too tired and old …

I’m a Professor from an Immigrant Family. Please Stop Telling Me That My University Is Racist

On June 24th, the University of Calgary leadership team published its response to an open letter, dated June 9th, from hundreds of students, alumni, and faculty. The original letter had called on the university to make a series of anti-racist statements, and commit to a series of actions to address racism on campus. The specific statements and actions were helpfully catalogued in the open letter. While the university president declined to give details on his plan of action, he declared in his June 24th response that “it is no longer adequate to simply not be racist, it is time to be anti-racist”; and that “systemic racism exists, and we allow it to live on when we fail to address it meaningfully and with urgency. There is systemic racism at UCalgary, and it is incumbent upon us to tackle this challenge with vigour and purpose.” This is all very familiar. In recent months, we have seen countless organizations re-affirm their commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), tout all the good work they have already done …

On Remembrance Day, Celebrating Two Canadian Prisoners Who Took Down an Entire Shipyard

To compensate for Japan’s manpower shortage during World War II, the country’s military commanders often shipped their prisoners to the Japanese mainland, where they worked as slave labourers in mining and heavy industry. As someone who made such a trip after my own capture in 1941, I can attest that the journey to Japan was terrifying in and of itself. Because the Japanese didn’t mark prisoner transport ships with a red cross or some other agreed-upon symbol, thousands of prisoners were lost at sea when unsuspecting American submarines mistakenly torpedoed some of these transports. One such ship, the Lisbon Maru, carrying about 1,800 British POWs from Hong Kong to Japan, was sunk in the South China Sea on October 1st, 1942, by the American submarine USS Grouper, whose captain had no idea of the precious cargo in the hold. Eight hundred and forty-six prisoners died, either by drowning, or were shot by the Japanese as they tried to swim clear of the wreck. This was the backdrop when the first group of 1,180 Allied prisoners—including …

R.M. Vaughan (1965–2020): A Beautiful Mind Silently Extinguished in a Time of Fear

We were extremely close for about five years. He was my confidante and my support system. We were best friends. Never lovers—though many thought we were. It was a dark time for me, and I needed him. Canadian gay writer Richard Murray Vaughan (1965–2020) was found dead by police in Fredericton, New Brunswick on October 23rd—10 days after being reported missing. No foul play is suspected. This is in part a remembrance of R.M. (as he was widely known, including to his friends), but also a reminder that the campaign against COVID-19 can create its own kind of harm. I don’t pretend that this essay is one Richard would have authored (though he did write about COVID-19 and mental health shortly before his death). He and I were different men and different writers. But I do think my old friend would have agreed with at least some of what I have to say. I met Richard when he entered my office at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre—142 George Street, Toronto—in 1991. Initially we talked about …

What We Owe to ‘The Boys in the Band’—and Other Classics of Gay Film

Ryan’s Murphy’s new Netflix production of The Boys in the Band is a time capsule of gay life in New York City, 1968. A group of friends, all but one closeted, get together for a birthday party that makes Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf look like a strawberry social. Shame, guilt, fear, and self-loathing rip through a night of pills, alcohol, and panic attacks, ending with the lines, “Show me a happy homosexual and I’ll show you a gay corpse,” and “If we could just not hate ourselves so much… If we could just learn not to hate ourselves quite so very much.”  I was 18 when I saw the original production, alone, and 19 when I saw the 1970 film adaptation, also alone. I furtively entered and exited the theatre both times, terrified that someone I knew might see me at a show about gays. Would they wonder if I was gay, too? If they guessed, then what? I could end up like those characters, cast off by friends and family, no hope, …

How We Lost Our Way on Human Rights

Sir Roger Scruton died on January 12th. He was a philosopher, public intellectual, provocateur, novelist, composer, lawyer, organist, and Fellow of The British Academy. Scruton wrote more than 50 books, as well as countless literary articles and journalistic columns. His work attracted opprobrium—but also much admiration. In 2017, I joined a small gaggle of admirers from around the world for 10 days of philosophizing with Sir Roger. At the time, I had recently left my position in university administration and teaching politics to work as CEO of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. We attended seminars and excursions, and typically ended our days with hours of conversation over long dinners and musical performances. One afternoon, I found myself alone with our host in his study. Scruton, as I was already aware, was skeptical of the direction in which the human-rights movement was headed. He agreed wholeheartedly with what others would call first-generation human rights—in his terms, “claims for liberty” drawn from natural law. In particular, he defended the idea of individual agency, which …

At Dalhousie University, Ideology Comes First, Science Comes Second

The massive COVID-19 death toll in the United States—206,000 and counting—shows what happens when science becomes politicized, and people make health decisions on the basis of political ideology. Donald Trump was originally dismissive of coronavirus and the efficacy of masks. On the other side of the political spectrum, meanwhile, liberal contagious-disease experts lined up to tell Americans that it was fine to join massive street protests in June and July, so long as the participants were on the side of social justice. It is one thing to pollute the liberal arts with absurd misinformation and vapid grievances. But when actual science is subordinated to ideological cults, there are real-world consequences. The same unsettling pattern is now playing out in and around the Atlantic Canadian city of Halifax, whose radicalized political culture I wrote about for Quillette back in July. Over the summer, a group of Indigenous-run lobster fishermen began flouting federal rules by creating a small out-of-season fishery in St. Mary’s Bay, off the west coast of Nova Scotia. These fisheries are closely regulated, in …

The Misguided Campaign Against Journalistic Objectivity

Locked down in a northern Ontario cottage over the summer, I found myself listening to CBC Radio’s Sunday Edition, an eclectic three-hour weekly morning show hosted, until his recent retirement, by veteran journalist and broadcaster Michael Enright. On this particular Sunday in July, guest host Anthony Germain interviewed Candis Callison, a University of British Columbia professor who teaches in both UBC’s Journalism department and its Institute for Critical Indigenous Studies. The subject of conversation was her recently published book, co-authored with fellow UBC professor Mary Lynn Young, Reckoning: Journalism’s Limits and Possibilities. “Objectivity is ‘the view from nowhere’ and potentially harmful,” announced CBC headline-writers when the interview was aired. “Is objectivity an outmoded value in journalism?” Later, it was asserted that “more and more people, including many journalists, are questioning the sanctity of objectivity—especially when the arbiters of what’s objective truth and what’s opinion are largely the mostly-white, mostly-male people who run most newsrooms. [Prof. Callison] argues that objectivity in journalism is illusory and that it reaffirms the outlook of a white male-dominated world.” Prof. …

Keeping Male Bodies Out of Women’s Rugby

From November 2015 until February 2020, World Rugby, rugby’s global governing body, incorporated guidelines established by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on transgender participation in sports. According to these rules, males who wish to self-identify into women’s rugby could do so if they committed to reducing their testosterone levels to 10 nmol per liter or lower for at least 12 months. (The average level for men is about seven times that level.) During this period, instances of biological males playing in the women’s game increased, and some participants began to express alarm. One rugby referee posted on the website Fair Play for Women, for instance, that “being forced to prioritize hurt feelings over broken bones exposes me to personal litigation from female players who have been harmed by players who are biologically male. This is driving female players and referees out of the game.” Another wrote, “I volunteer my time to officiate matches because I love my sport. But I won’t continue much longer if I have stay quiet about the unfairness I see on …

Don’t Listen to the Outrage. ‘Cuties’ Is a Great Film

If you’d asked me a month ago what could possibly break through a news cycle dominated by the biggest global pandemic in a century, the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression, and the worst civil unrest in the United States since the Civil Rights Era, a diverse, French arthouse film about four 11-year-old girls trying to win a dance competition wouldn’t have crossed my mind. Yet since its recent release on Netflix, Cuties has broken through the noise, and how. I wish it were for the right reasons: For instance, because Senegalese-French director Maïmouna Doucouré has written and directed a brilliant, award-winning first feature drawn from her experience growing up as an immigrant kid caught between cultures. Or because it’s alive with tenderness and heartache: a grittier, cross-cultural Eighth Grade about friendship, the love of a parent and child, and our longing to fit in, no matter our age, no matter the price. Or because it’s alive to injustice without preaching or judgement. But no. Cuties has broken through because of grotesquely false …