Tag Archives: History

I am a Canadian. — John Diefenbaker

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“I am a Canadian,” 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

 

There is hardly a political question in the United States which does not sooner or later turn into a judicial one. — Alexis de Tocqueville

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Despite gains in the movement for marriage equality in the United States, such as the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Proposition 8 by the Supreme Court of the United States in 2013 and the repeal of Amendment 1 in North Carolina by a U.S. District Court in 2014, resistance rooted in cynical appeals to populism and the tyranny of the majority rears its head in Alabama. This is manifest in the looming showdown between Judge Roy Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court and the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) following the repeal of the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment, in a ruling handed down by Justice Callie V. Granade  of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama on January 23, 2015. This is not unlike the showdown that took place between Governor George C. Wallace and President John F. Kennedy in 1963 when Governor Wallace defied the SCOTUS ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, handed down in 1954 that declared segregation unconstitutional. In both cases, support for segregation and for a ban on same sex marriage was overwhelming and Wallace and Moore insisted their respective stands on the issues was justified in that they represented the opinion of the majority of voters in Alabama. Continue reading

At 93, I never thought we would have to debate the definition of marriage — Billy Graham

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Religion and the definition of marriage remain intertwined in the present, just as in the past. Historically, disputes over the definition of marriage concerned marriage, divorce and remarriage. Dispute over these issues in the court of King Henry VIII of England in the 16th century caused upheaval in the Church and English society. Heads rolled, literally, in the process. In the present, there is an ongoing dispute over the definition of marriage or the redefinition of marriage to allow same sex couples to marry. As I view the movement for same sex marriage, defined as marriage equality, in the United States, North Carolina is a focal point. Amendment 1 to the state constitution, enacted in 2012 following a ballot measure, defined marriage as the union of one man to one woman. Amendment 1 was struck down on October 10, 2014 by U.S. District Court Judge Max O. Cogburn, Jr.  It is now lawful for same sex couples to marry in North Carolina, much to the dismay of opponents of marriage equality, including Charles L. Worley and Billy Graham, who object on religious grounds. Heads are rolling, though not literally, in North Carolina now that Amendment 1 is no longer in force. Continue reading

True Islam taught me that it takes all of the religious, political, economic, psychological, and racial ingredients, or characteristics, to make the Human Family and the Human Society complete. — Malcolm X

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Imam  Syed Soharwardy is a respected Muslim cleric and scholar, chairman of the Al-Madinah Calgary Islamic Assembly and founder and president of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada. His research interests in Islam consist of “Islamic beliefs, challenges for Muslims in the western world, conflicts within the Muslim community and interreligious conflict.” (Wikipedia) On August 22, 2014, Soharwardy drew attention to himself in announcing he was embarking on a 48 hour fast to protest the murder of James Foley, an American journalist, by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) earlier in the week. In condemning the killing of James Foley, Soharwardy also made a bold statement declaring there is nothing Islamic in what ISIS represents, asserting:

I want to create awareness about the nature of their work — they are using Islam, they are quoting Qur’an, they look like Muslims, they pray like Muslims but they are not Muslim. They are deviant people, and they are doing exactly everything which goes against Islam. (CBC News Calgary)

In making this assertion, Soharwardy raises an interesting question. Do the actions of ISIS have nothing to do with Islam? Continue reading

The despotism of custom is everywhere the standing hindrance to human advancement. — John Stuart Mill

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The publication of the Wolfenden Report in 1957 was a landmark in the movement that led to the destigmatization of homosexuality across the Western world in that it brought about the decriminalization of homosexuality in England and Wales in 1967. The repeal of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 (48 & 49 Vict. c.69) accomplished this. Section 11 of the Act, in particular the clause known as the Labouchere Amendment, applied to male homosexuality. In short, the clause provided for a term of imprisonment “not exceeding two years”, with or without hard labour, for any man found guilty of “gross indecency” with another male, whether “in public or in private”. In 1953 the Home Secretary, David Maxwell Fyffe, referred to male homosexuality as a “plague over England,” and vowed to wipe it out. In 1954, the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution was convened with John Wolfenden appointed chairman. Continue reading

Piety is not a goal but a means to attain through the purest peace of mind the highest culture. — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

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Years ago I remembered while having a discussion of theology with a group of friends, one in the group referred to himself as a pious atheist. I was taken aback by his comment as piety and atheism were not terms I associated with one another. Piety is most commonly associated with religious belief and practice. Since then I gave this notion a great deal of thought: is secular piety a possibility? This question is worth considering in light of the reality that how one expresses their piety in an increasingly secular society such as Canada has become a contentious issue of late as is evidenced by the controversy surrounding the proposed Quebec Charter of Values (Charte de la laïcité or Charte des valeurs québécoises). The stated aim of the charter is to ensure there is a clear separation of religion and state and that public employees have religious neutrality. What this means is the wearing of ostentatious religious symbols or garb on the job will be prohibited. Continue reading

Much of what is called Christianity has more to do with disguising the ego behind the screen of religion and culture than any real movement toward a God beyond the small self, and a new self in God. — Richard Rohr.

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Some years ago while I ordered lunch at a restaurant in the food court at the University Centre, at the university where I work, I asked the young man serving me if he and his family celebrated the Day of the Dead. I had gotten to know him a little in snippets of conversation we had during times he served me, and I learned he was from Mexico. He replied that they did not as this was a Catholic custom, adding, in referring to himself and his family, “we’re Christian.” I was startled by the remark, though it was not the first time I was confronted with this point of view. The first time I remember being confronted by someone with this attitude toward Roman Catholicism was when I was in my first year at university. I was introduced to people from different Christian denominations on campus and at a meet and greet I was speaking to a man who asked to which church I was a member. When I told him I was a Roman Catholic, he retorted “I used to be Catholic, but now I am a Christian.” Later during my years at university, I was given a book by an acquaintance who was forever trying to get me to join his Church, the title escapes me, but it was the account of a Pentecostal Christian and the subtitle was a young Catholic encounters Christ. Continue reading