Category Archives: History

I am a Canadian. — John Diefenbaker

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“I am a Candian,” is the opening phrase in a notable quotation from the Right Honourable John Diefenbaker (1895-1979) 13th Prime Minister of Canada serving from June 21, 1957, to April 22, 1963. The entire quote reads as follows:

“I am Canadian, a free Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship God in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, free to choose those who govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.” (John Diefenbaker, House of Commons Debates, 1 July 1960)

Yes, John Diefenbaker was a proud Canadian–not only that he was a proud Canadian nationalist. As Prime Minister, Diefenbaker advanced the cause of Canadian nationalism. He envisioned:

One Canada, one Canada, where Canadians will have preserved to them the control of their own economic and political destiny. Sir John A. Macdonald gave his life to this party [Conservative]. He opened the West. He saw Canada from east to west. I see a new Canada – a Canada of the North! (John Diefenbaker, Winnipeg Manitoba, 12 February 1958)

Diefenbaker lived during the first century of Canada’s existence. He witnessed the development by which Canada gained independence from Britain. Until 1931, with the passage of the Statute of Westminster, the British government managed Canada’s international affairs. Diefenbaker saw Canada fight in two world wars and Canadians suffer through the Great Depression. He proudly saw the passage of the Canadian Citizenship Act in 1947. Canadians have much to be proud of in their history.

While Diefenbaker saw all that is good in Canada and being Canadian, he did not overlook the problematic moments in Canadian history. Canadian society was not without issues of unjust discrimination and prejudice. Diefenbaker observed:

From my earliest days, I knew the meaning of discrimination. Many Canadians were virtually second-hand citizens because of their names and racial origin. Indeed, it seemed until the end of World War II that the only first-class Canadians were either of English or French descent. As a youth, l determined to devote myself to assuring that all Canadians, whatever their racial origin, were equal and declared myself to be a sworn enemy of discrimination. (John Diefenbaker, Nowlan Lecture, 6)

Diefenbaker knew of the head tax charged on Chinese immigrants. The head tax, enacted in 1885, remained in effect until 1923. Chinese immigrants to Canada were charged (at its worst) $500 for admission to Canada as landed immigrants. From 1923 to 1947 Chinese immigration to Canada was banned. He knew of the internment of Japanese-Canadians in World War II. He was well aware of the Catholic-Protestant divide in Christendom that existed well into the 20th-century in Canada. I remember my mother telling me that my father had to convert to Roman Catholicism to marry her in 1960. My father’s family is Anglican. It is hard to believe such tribal divisions existed in Canada historically, but it is the reality.

Diefenbaker envisioned Canada as a nation organized according to the values of liberalism and pluralism. In shaping his vision of Canadian society, Diefenbaker was inspired, in part, by the passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a Canadian-led effort. John Humphrey, a professor of law at McGill University, became director of the United Nations Division on Human Rights in 1946. Humphrey produced the first draft of the declaration. When Diefenbaker became Prime Minister in 1957, he set out to enact a piece of legislation–following up the passage of the Universal Declaration of Human rights–called the Canadian Bill of Rights. In addressing the historical issues of unjust discrimination and prejudice in Canada’s history, the Canadian Bill of Rights asserts in part:

 It is hereby recognized and declared that in Canada there have existed and shall continue to exist without discrimination by reason of race, national origin, colour, religion or sex, the following human rights and fundamental freedoms, namely,

  • (a) the right of the individual to life, liberty, security of the person and enjoyment of property, and the right not to be deprived thereof except by due process of law;

  • (b) the right of the individual to equality before the law and the protection of the law;

  • (c) freedom of religion;

  • (d) freedom of speech;

  • (e) freedom of assembly and association; and

  • (f) freedom of the press.

The Canadian Bill of Rights was superseded by the passage of the Constitution Act in 1982 with the entrenched Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

To his credit, John Diefenbaker laid the groundwork for our national identity as Canadians. Despite what so many people think currently, nationalism is not a dirty word. As I grew up the values of liberalism and pluralism–the proposition on which Canadian identity is built–that John Diefenbaker advocated were instilled in me. I remember the Centennial celebrations in 1967 fondly; the swell of national pride Canadians felt in celebrating Canada’s first 100 years as a nation. I am proudly Canadian. I am not ashamed of my European heritage–my ancestry goes back to the British Isles. In keeping with Diefenbaker’s vision, I view the people with whom I interact as individuals and judge them according to the content of their character. I reject the notion that expressing Canadian nationalism is racist, that it is a declaration of white supremacy. No, Canada is not a “post-national state.” Canadians are well within their rights to stand up for their national interest, and Canadian law guarantees them their right to speak up and do so.

I hope Canadians will not lose sight of the fact that Canada is a great place to live and Canadian citizenship is worth fighting for. Yes, John Diefenbaker got it right when he advanced the cause of Canadian nationalism and Canadians would do well to remember as they face the challenges of life in the 21st-century.

Posted by Geoffrey

 

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I think gay men are more masculine than straight men. Because, guess what? They love other men! — Sir Ian McKellen

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I came across an article featuring an interview with Angela Davis Fegan, an artist and LGBTQ activist, in which Fegan condemned the gay rights movement for what she views as its domination by white, straight-acting gay men. She cited the movement for same sex marriage rights with its prescient concern for the legal and financial status of same sex couples to illustrate her complaint, asserting, “the push for marriage was largely about granting real estate and tax benefit rights to straight-acting, white, gay men.” (as cited in POPSUGAR) I am a masculine, white, gay man and view the gay rights movement and the legalization of same-sex marriage in particular as a good thing for all people who experience same-sex attraction and same-sex couples regardless of their sex, race or ethnicity. Fegan is not alone in her condemnation of the gay rights movement for the alleged domination by “white, straight-acting gay men.” Amrou Al-Kadhi, a gay drag performer, is critical of “the glorification of Olympic Poster boy Tom Daley and Academy Award winner Dustin Lance’s relationship. Whilst it is a sign of progress that a gay relationship is celebrated nation wide, it is done in a manner that is “digestible” for a PG audience — a straight-acting Disney-fied gay couple (both attractive, white, masculine), giving gay men a pretty unobtainable ideal of success.” (as cited in i-D Magazine) This made me think about why I took up with the gay rights movement as a masculine, white, gay man beginning in 1989. Continue reading

If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against other things? — Antonin Scalia

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Disturbing reports are cropping up on various news sites concerning a pogrom against gay men in Chechnya carried out under the auspices of the Chechen government. Initial reports from Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta claimed scores of men under suspicion of being gay were detained by Chechen authorities and three reported killed. Details are sketchy, and the Chechen government denied these reports calling them “absolute lies and disinformation.” (as cited in the Guardian) As yet it is hard to know what is going on, but as Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, Russia project director for the International Crisis Group, noted:

I have heard about it happening in Grozny [the Chechen capital], outside Grozny, and among people of very different ages and professions. […] The extreme taboo nature of the subject meant that much of the information was arriving second or third hand, and as yet there are no fully verifiable cases. […] It’s next to impossible to get information from the victims or their families, but the number of signals I’m receiving from different people makes it hard not to believe detentions and violence are indeed happening. (as cited in the Guardian)

For me, these reports coming from Chechnya come as a troubling reminder that despite the gains of gay rights movements in the Western World, notably the decriminalization and destigmatization of male homosexuality, gay men remain a population reviled by various cultural and religious elements in societies across the world. Continue reading

We can always call them Bulgarians. — Samuel Goldwyn (Attributed)

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Dining with my friend Plamen at a restaurant in Sofia.

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“We can always call them Bulgarians,” is a quotation attributed by Wilella Waldorf to “Samuel Goldwyn or somebody” in the New York Post, September 17, 1937. (as cited in The origin of “Bulgarian” as a euphemism for sexual minorities.) The euphemism was used in American cinema and theatre when referring to gay and lesbian characters on screen and on stage starting in the first half of the 20th century. What made me think of this is my recent trip to Bulgaria. I left Ottawa, bound for Bulgaria, on July 14th and returned on July 25th. I met up with my friend Plamen in Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria, and embarked on a whirlwind tour with him as my guide and interpreter. We had a great time. Bulgaria has a rich history and culture going back to antiquity and today Bulgaria is a peaceful and prosperous society. During the tour, we did not visit any gay bars or clubs in Bulgaria. This was not on the itinerary, still, in the back of my mind I wondered what life is like for gay people in Bulgaria. Do gay people live openly in Bulgarian society or do they remain closeted and if so, why? Continue reading

When a man does a queer thing, or two queer things, there may be a meaning to it, but when everything he does is queer, then you begin to wonder. ― Arthur Conan Doyle, The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes

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Geoffrey and Mika in their library.

I cancelled my subscription to what was formerly Huff Post Gay Voices when the editorial director Noah Michelson changed the title to Huff Post Queer Voices earlier this year. Michelson justifies substituting “queer” in place of “gay” on the grounds the “word is the most inclusive and empowering one available to us to speak to and about the community.” (Noah Michelson as cited in OUT) The thinking behind it is people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, etc. form a “community,” that is they share a collective group identity. Following this train of thought, Michelson asserts “‘queer’ functions as an umbrella term that includes not only the lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people of ‘LGBT,’ but also those whose identities fall in between, outside of or stretch beyond those categories, including genderqueer people, intersex people, asexual people, pansexual people, polyamorous people and those questioning their sexuality or gender, to name just a few.” (Noah Michelson as cited in OUT) I get that “queer” is used by some as a blanket term for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, etc., but I heartily disagree with and refute of this point of view. Continue reading

It is an infantile superstition of the human spirit that virginity would be thought a virtue and not the barrier that separates ignorance from knowledge. — Voltaire

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“Virginity is like a balloon; one prick and it’s all over.” So went the punchline of a joke I remember from my high school days in the latter half of the 1970s. At the time virginity was primarily associated with the virtue of teenage girls and young, unmarried women; it was something they were expected to safeguard until marriage. It was an issue for adolescent boys and young bachelors too but in a different way. For a boy during adolescence and a young man, generally, he wanted to give up his virginity very much, and before marriage if possible. The sexual revolution was in full swing at the time. The period between the 1960s through the 1980s saw the legalization of abortion and birth control, the decriminalization of gay sex and gradual acceptance of people engaging in sex outside of marriage.  Nevertheless, I remember a degree of discomfort experienced by some of my classmates in grade ten health class when the sex education portion of the curriculum was presented. Despite the liberalized attitudes toward sex that emerged in the West during the sexual revolution, the age one chooses to give up their virginity (if at all) and to who remains a delicate issue. Continue reading

The Christian does no harm even to his foe. — Tertullian

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In Christianity what is the appropriate response to aggression backed by force? There are, of course, the simple precepts found in the gospels to “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” but does this necessarily rule out the use of force to deter such an act of aggression? On August 18, 2014, Pope Francis addressed this question in commenting on attacks perpetrated by ISIS against ethnic and religious minorities in Syria and Iraq. He endorsed the prospect of a United Nations intervention, noting:

In these cases, where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor […] I underscore the verb ‘stop.’ I’m not saying ‘bomb’ or ‘make war,’ just ‘stop.’ And the means that can be used to stop them must be evaluated. […] After World War II, the idea of the United Nations came about: It’s there that you must discuss, ‘Is there an unjust aggression? It seems so. How should we stop it?’ Just this. Nothing more.”(Business Insider)

The Vatican’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, clarified the Pope’s comment, stating, “Maybe military action is necessary at this moment.” (Business Insider) Is this standpoint consistent with Christian teachings?

Continue reading