At this point, American mass shootings hardly come as a surprise. We can practically predict the headlines: “mentally unstable man kills [number], harms [number] with assault rifle.”
It's clear that loose gun laws in the United States are a deep-rooted societal problem. Considering the sheer number of recent American mass shootings, Canada seems like a safe alternative to our southern neighbours.
Gun violence isn't the only factor that makes Canada seem like a safer, less violent and generally nicer version of the United States. In the wake of Trump's election, people idealized Canada as a safe haven, free of the bigotry he embodied.
Unfortunately, Canada isn't as much of a safe haven as you might think.
The idea that Canada is a bright country with nothing but maple-syrup, colourful money and mutual respect has been around for a while. It was recently popularized in 2015 when Trudeau was elected along with his picture-perfect hair and his optimistic liberal ideas, which included everything from normalizing feminism to his commitment to international peace. Trudeau became a symbol of everything the nation could be: accepting, kind and open-minded. Since then, the media has tended to present Canada as a beacon of hope and acceptance. Whether it’s on late-night TV sketches or popular clothing brands that capitalize on Canada's reputation, pop culture loves to stereotype Canada as nothing but nice.
Most recently in pop culture, Canada’s reputation as a safe haven was heightened by The Handmaid’s Tale, the award-winning series that made waves at January's Golden Globes. In the show’s first season, characters flee to Canada to escape the systematic oppression present in the United States. Whereas dystopian America is a bleak landscape centred around the abuse of women and the rise of autocracy, Canada remains a free country where, for the most part, people live comfortably.
Certainly, this romanticized version of Canada has a sliver of truth to it. Canada is, in a lot of ways, a safer and more inclusive country than the United States. For example, gay marriage was legalized nationally here 10 years before it was in the States, and our healthcare system is comparatively easy to access.
But Canadian bigotry still exists. To ignore it, or paint over it with a utopian brush, is a disservice to its victims.
Since we’re constantly saturated with American media and news stories, it can be hard to pay attention to the events that are actually taking place here. However, events happening under Trump’s administration are often mirrored in Canada.
While the Charlottesville, Va. riots were taking place in Virginia last summer, Canada had its own slew of white-nationalist events and controversies, many of which occurred on Ontario university campuses. While Trump tried to enforce a trans military ban, LGBTQ2+ individuals were disappearing from Toronto’s gay community — signs to a serial killer that were ignored by Toronto police. While discourse surrounding Trump’s travel ban was taking place, an anti-Islamic rally was occurring right here in London, Ont.
As students, we have a responsibility to include nuanced representations of Canada in our narratives. Our roles as young, educated individuals is to call out the issues present in our society and culture. We need to take a step back and acknowledge that bigotry is still present among the Tim Hortons and beaver dams of the Great White North.
Presenting Canada as perfectly “nice” in our narratives is irresponsible. By celebrating Canada as an accepting, tolerant utopia, we gloss over the fact that the marginalized still have reasons to fear discrimination — we dismiss our responsibility to do better and push for our own social change.
Sure, we're better than our neighbours, but we're nowhere close to perfect.