Art by Kyla Schwarzbach

Canada is not your progressive, liberal fantasy

Threatening to move to Canada when the presidential candidate you’re cheering for loses an election is almost as quintessentially American as yelling in front of the TV during American football games. 

Canadians have learned to disregard these threats, but during the 2016 election, CBC and CNN both reported an unprecedented one-third of Americans threatened to move to Canada if Trump won, which sent Canadians into a slight panic. Considering that Canada has around 38 million people today (yes, that means Canada has fewer people than California), 100 million new immigrants crossing the border in the weeks after Nov. 4 would be alarming.

Yet, as a natural-born Canadian citizen, I can tell you Canada isn’t as liberal and progressive as many Americans make it out to be, and I sometimes wonder why the conservative and unprogressive aspects of Canada go unreported.

Take the indigenous peoples. Canada’s track record in relations with them is as abysmal, perhaps more so than America’s. In a recent controversy, we learned that the unmarked graves of thousands of indigenous children were discovered at residential schools, where these children were forced to live and conform to white culture after being separated from their families. The missing and murdered indigenous women haunt roads throughout rural Canada, especially along the Yellowhead Highway between the cities of Prince George and Prince Rupert in British Columbia, now known as the “highway of tears.”

What has Canada done to address this problem? Not much. I would be surprised if you can name one concrete step the government has taken to protect its indigenous population. All the declared holidays and the new indigenous Governor-General Mary May Simon are, dare I say, a distraction from the real problem. 

Although I am confident Simon is an excellent choice for the job, the Governor-General, the representative of Queen Elizabeth II to Canada, is a ceremonial role without executive power. Even if Simon wants change, she cannot realistically do anything. Concrete action is lacking, because in this regard, Canada is contaminated with systemic racism, just like America. Indigenous problems never receive the media attention they deserve.

There’s a real term called “maplewashing,” defined as attempting to hide undesirable or immoral aspects of Canadian society. Maybe that’s at play. 

But why, then, is Canada perceived as the friendly, liberal, progressive dream of the world, the country where everything is perfect and everyone is equal? It’s because Canada is so geographically isolated. The only country it borders is the United States, so Canadians never deal with illegal immigration, overpopulation, and, as a result, scarce resources. In this regard, Canadians are almost like naive children who haven’t seen enough of the problems in the real world and thus believe there are none.

Case in point: Syrian refugees. Hasan Minhaj, one of my favorite comedians, did a segment for the Daily Show in 2016 where he interviewed Canadians sponsoring refugees, all while pretending to be a racist American. Canada came across as the friendlier version of refugee-hating America, and people praised Canada for its kindness in the comments. 

What that segment won’t tell you, however, is what came after. A poll conducted by CBC three years later showed 76% of Canadians favored more skill-based immigration, while 57% (a majority) wanted to stop accepting refugees altogether.

Furthermore, if you break down the racial demographics of Canada, you’ll also realize why Canada never really deals with race-related issues. While roughly 60% of Americans are caucasian, nearly 73% of Canadians are caucasian and only 3% are of African descent. There are not enough minorities in Canada for race-related issues to gain momentum in the first place. Canadians often sit back, relax, and watch as Black Lives Matter and other race-related protests happen across the border.

I love my home country, even though this Op-ed might suggest otherwise. Canada is still more progressive than the US. Canada legalized same-sex marriage in 2005 while it took America 10 years to catch up. During the time of Harriet Tubman, Canada was the endpoint of the Underground Railroad. It had outlawed slavery long before the US did. Canada has more minorities in government and civil liberties are in better shape. Any Canadian will probably tell you how much better it is up north.

At the same time, it’s important for Americans to recognize Canada isn’t perfect. More liberal and progressive perhaps, but far from a hippie fantasy. Canada is a country with a government, Prime Minister, Parliament, laws, and constituents. Sometimes, not all these parties agree, like every other country in the world. So please, for heaven’s sake, stop threatening to move to Canada every election cycle because I’m not sure how much more of this Canadians can take.