It appears that I may have developed an idealistic sense of Canada while I was off living in Honduras these last two years. I was thinking of it as a great country with a few problems it needed to pay attention to at the time I left Canada in early 2012, but perhaps the distance - and the contrast with super-troubled Honduras - led me to forget about the "pay attention" part and just remember it as a country that largely had its act together.
At any rate, coming home and learning about some of the messed-up stuff that's actually going on in my homeland has been pretty discouraging..
The stuff around sex work has been particularly unsettling, given my affinity for the people who the rest of us leave without rights, dignity or safe workplaces just because we wrinkle our noses at what they do for a living. It is so, so sad that we're preparing to go backwards with a law that will only make things worse for sex workers.
But the video of the contaminated water pouring out of the huge Mount Polley mine tailings "pond" was another serious wakeup for anyone who thinks Canada's got it all figured out. I could hardly believe what I was seeing, that vast volume of poisoned water just pouring across the landscape. How was it possible, that we would allow a 170-hectare "pond" at a mine to be so poorly maintained that a breach of this size could happen?
These kinds of things - stupid laws, the ignoring of environmental regulations - happen regularly in Honduras, of course. But while I wouldn't want to make excuses for any country, the truth is that the place is relatively new to democracy, poor as hell, badly educated for the most part and has a government style so hands-off and self-serving that it could have only been created by the most Republican of the U.S. Republicans that have influenced the country so heavily.
But what's Canada's excuse? We're comparatively rich, our infrastructure is amazing, and our education system is like a golden dream to anyone from a developing country. We have been a democracy ever since we were born as a country, and at least in theory talk a good game about the importance of democratic processes and citizenship. We are very big on equality, and at times have been brilliant leaders on the world stage with our progressive attitudes and drive to be fair.
Yet here we are, with a chance to do right on behalf of an underclass of sex workers that is largely female and contains the most stigmatized, misunderstood and discriminated-against people in the country, and we are walking backwards - toward greater discrimination, higher risk of violence, deeper inequality. Is this my Canada?
As for that haunting spill at the Mount Polley mine, the weird thing is that we've got tens of thousands of regulations in this country, including I don't know how many that would have something to do with not being allowed to leave your tailings pond to get in such disrepair that it might rupture all over the wilderness. I bet most of us presumed the whole point of having so many laws around things like that was to ensure a day would never come when Canadians would have to see a massive lake of arsenic-contaminated water pouring across our landscape.
And yet there it was. And yes, we can blame the government, as many people already are. But we citizens have been here the whole time that various federal and provincial governments were taking apart the regulatory bodies and stripping away the funding that used to ensure things like tailings ponds got monitored. We reelected the same kind of governments over and over again. We voted for governments that hated to govern, and it is just a little late to lament their failings now.
Anyway. I guess it's just a reminder that no country is safe from bad law-making and stupid thinking (like that corporations could ever be left to monitor their own environmental impact, or that you could "help" sex workers by criminalizing their customers).
I guess I started getting a little dreamy about Canada while I was away. I got thinking that while we admittedly stumble on some fronts, overall we were on the right path. But I'm back in the real world now.