Sex and Violence in Canadian History

This essay is the fourth in a series of four short essays that I wrote for the National Post’s Afterword section. It is critical of the potential takeover of 158 Canadian newspapers by a consortium controlled by an American hedge fund. The Post didn’t run this one. Not sure why…

This is a really odd country. People used to say that we don’t have history; we have weather. But of course we have a history. It’s often been suppressed or distorted by those in power. And it’s world-class violent.

Those who are drawn to write fiction are often compelled to write about crossroads in our histories – personal and national. My novel The Players is set way back in 1670, when English Canada is created in compressed novelistic time, on a voyage to Hudson Bay funded by a Company of Adventurers, international slavers, powerful pirates who’d given up the sea to stay in London and do the banking. Our birch bark canoe and plaid shirt English Canada was born out of the 1660s: vicious, furiously sexual, the men dressed in lace and high heels, wearing shoulder-length wigs. The 1660s is a familiar place. It was a lot like the 1960s: sex and drugs and chamber music.

More recently, in the years after WWII, as we worked hard to destroy Aboriginal culture, we inculcated a national myth that this is a “new” country. Innocent. Good – especially compared with those American bullies. This is how easy it is to create a false national identity.

For a more realistic appraisal of Canadian self-imaging, with a focus on the period leading to the truly scary Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, there’s a wonderful book by the journalist Knowlton Nash, called Kennedy and Diefenbaker: Fear and Loathing Across the Undefended Border (M&S, 1990). Knowlton Nash documents Prime Minister Diefenbaker’s debilitating envy of President Kennedy; Diefenbaker’s neurotic indecision over the threat of nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia, with Canada as powerless monkey in the middle.

Our national self-image is examined in Charles Taylor’s Snow Job: Canada, the United States and Vietnam (1954 to 1973) (Anansi, 1974). Charles Taylor documents Canada’s self-mythologizing as “Helpful Fixer” through “pulpit diplomacy.” But he observes that we were complicit in the Vietnam War; we profited by it, a boom time.

Now we’re at another fog-riddled crossroads in Canadian affairs, complicit in a war initially to be perpetrated by CF-18 fighter-bombers. The injuries to our national security that we’ve sustained by the recent attacks against Canadian military while at home must not blind us to the need for accurate analysis of violence in young men. Culture-free suburbs separated by vast networks of freeways, young men with no creative expression other than violent video games: this is “terrorism.”

“Project Canada” – the code name for Postmedia’s prospective acquisition of 175 newspapers and online news sites – is financed by U.S. hedge funds: this would make our national media an American branch plant. Hedge funds buy up junk bonds, debt and bankruptcies: bottom-feeding. When I look at the photograph of the press conference announcing Postmedia’s plans, I see the ghostly presence of the Company of Adventurers of England, 1670: those old pirates (legitimized by the king), minus the wigs; the financier “Adventurers” who invented a country.

Funny. But innocent people are going to get killed for no gain in security. And we’ll never know our own true stories.