Look in the mirror
There has been a lot of anger recently on the University of Regina campus and across the country. URSU’s recent vote to support the boycott, divest, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel has drawn attention not only from outraged students at our own university, but from Conservative Members of Parliament who denounced URSU’s democratically-chosen initiative as racist. Agitating the situation further is Israeli Apartheid Week, an event meant to raise awareness of human rights abuses committed by Israel against Palestinians. At the same time, the Kony 2012 campaign to encourage Western intervention in Africa has divided many university students similarly, with many saying the important thing is awareness of the crimes committed by Kony, while others say the campaign is seriously flawed and disgustingly skewed.
Meanwhile, while students get extremely worked up about issues on the other side of the world, issues in Canada that we could actually do something about to make a difference are ignored. They are ignored because it is not profitable to take action. They are ignored because we refuse to believe that our society is not nearly as squeaky-clean as we want to believe. They are ignored because it is far easier to point fingers at Israel, or Palestine, or Ugandan warlords and demand that they change their ways than it is to do the hard work of improving ourselves.
Consider that our democracy is being steadily eroded by the Conservative government, who are alleged to have instigated a potentially illegal voter suppression campaign to ensure that non-Conservatives could not vote in the last Federal Election. On top of this alleged crime, the Conservatives have been found in contempt of Parliament – a ruling that condemns the Conservative Party for deliberately withholding information from Parliament and the Canadian public they are accountable to and makes them the first government in our history to commit such a crime. Perhaps even more telling, the Conservative government pleaded guilty to election fraud from the 2006 election, in which it fudged its financial records to exceed the national advertising limit imposed on them by the Elections Act.
Despite this evidence, students don’t seem terribly concerned about robocalls or the fact that our country is slowly, but steadily becoming less democratic. There are no angry protests against the government, nor are there advocacy groups on campus willing to rally to demand a full inquiry into robocalls. There are no flashy movies on YouTube imploring us to become aware of the growing scandal happening in Ottawa and no one talks about demanding transparency of the government.
On top of this inaction, perhaps the most frustrating hypocrisy at this university is the stubborn refusal to examine our own past before pointing out the flaws in countries on the other side of the world. For example, the petition to make Indigenous studies a mandatory class is scorned by many students as unnecessary and extreme. For some reason, many people think taking a three hour a week class for one semester is equivalent to implementing a residential school system at our university and so adamantly oppose it that some find it acceptable to scrawl death threats and swastikas on the petition. If you want to talk about anti-Semitism, perhaps you should start there.
The reality is that Canada needs to come to terms with the fact that we are a post-apartheid state and deal with the far-reaching implications that entails. It’s an extremely ignorant view to believe that aboriginals have all the same opportunities as the rest of society and, although the formal systems of repression have been lifted, their scars remain and will continue to remain unless we take some action.
There are reasons that Aboriginal communities like Attawapiskat cannot house their people. There are reasons that Indigenous communities consistently have the highest suicide rates in Canada. And it’s not the fault of Canada’s Aboriginal population.
But action is unlikely. It would require us to take some blame and perhaps do something that might affect the status quo here in Canada. It’s far easier to ignore the erosion of our democracy. It’s so much easier to point fingers at African warlords who kill innocent children with guns than it is to point fingers at ourselves for killing children through poverty and lack of opportunity.
Effective activism is not as easy as clicking a mouse, nor is it as easy as becoming aware of an issue or pointing fingers at far-off people. It starts with determining what can be done and then doing it. Canada is far from perfect and, if we are going to start making the world a better place, we had better start right here.