Thursday, July 1, 2010

My Canada Day

It's Canada Day, our Nation's Birthday. Canada is 143 years old. I wonder how many years old Canada is in native calendar years. Canada's first Natives were called lithic stage folk after the lithic stone tools they used. They came across Beringia, the land mass connecting Asia and North America, about 8000 years ago. Future archeologists will call me a computer folk and say that my Canada today was at least 8143 years old.

I'm not working today even though I'm a doctor. There's an immense emergency, police, transportation, education, food network in Canada that our government and private industry administrate so that even when some of us aren't working the whole system keeps going because of well thought up and maintained back up systems.

There is food in the refrigerator. I've made coffee with the electricity driven expresso machine using the clean water from a tap. I've already used the flush toilet in the apartment. It's Laura's apartment. I'm staying with her right now so my puppy Gilbert can have access to her fenced back yard. My calico cat Angel and Laura's black and white cat Tiffany live with us too.

The back yard is tiny with 2 small trees and a bit of grass but it has been immeasurably beneficial for teaching Gilbert to pee outside. We've also sat on the two plastic chairs out there and barbecued some evenings this spring when it was not too cold. Laura's apartment is called a bachelor and is thought very small by Canadian standards, about 400 square feet. Normally one or at most two people live in this space in Canada, In my travels to other parts of the world I know that a dozen or more people might live in a space this large, commonly sleeping in shifts with futons or foamy's rolled against the wall and think it a rather luxurious accommodation.

I normally live on my 39.9 foot sailboat moored in Coal Harbour so Laura's apartment is very luxurious to me. I love having seemingly endless water for showers, central heating and not having to haul supplies up and down across an industrial area and over top of other boats daily. Laura has underground parking and we take an elevator from the parking to her door.

Laura's apartment is in a lovely area near the main hospital which spans several blocks and has specialists and clinics which are world renowned. People fly from all over the world to get health care here that they can't get in their part of the world. We have health care insurance so mostly it's paid for by our taxes, just like the public education and the welfare and pension and disability services, called the social safety net. They are all paid for by taxes on those who work or have wealth or buy, sell or trade. Nothing is free but many people believe this because there are so many supports supplied in Canada as a result of the social philosophy that developed in this country from the Christian Charity movements of the last hundred years.

Christian 'virtues' such as Love or Charity, Hope, Faith, Prudence, Justice, Restraint or Temperance and Courage or Fortitude were the basis of all the social structure and institutions that formed this modern liberal western country. My grandfather who came from Scotland epitomized the virtues of Temperance being very much against "demon" drink, He also believed in diligence and hard work. My father who served in the Royal Canadian Air Force in WWII was a model of Courage. My mother and grandmother were living examples of Love, Charity and Prudence. My favorite aunt, Sally, a very strong Baptist always had hope and faith and always labored for social justice serving with the countless unsung heroes of the Canadian Christian Missionary movement.

Today much of what made Canada Canadian has been corrupted by media and recent governments. Lust is commonly called Love. Prudence is sneered at and people who are prudent are shamed by words like "prude". Charity is seen as weakness. Nihilism often replaces hope and faith. Alcoholism and drug addiction are sometimes even called a 'right'. Rights, so often wrong, by history's standards have replaced the ancient ideas of 'justice'. Often diligence has been replaced by complaining and explaining.

That said, the 'old world' Canada with all it's virtues and some of its vices remains such that the neighborhood this apartment is in has clean streets, neighborhood stores, community centers where families can go to do sports and arts and crafts. There are tennis courts open to everyone nearby. Most of the leisure resources in the neighborhood such as swimming pools and clean indoor basketball courts and indoor hockey rinks can be accessed by all for a pass which one pays about one or two hundred dollars for. Many if not most of the community services are subsidized for children, the poorer and the elderly. Starting at 55 in some cases and at 65 in all, schools, museums, art galleries, theaters, operas etc are half price. There are always special days and special performances.

The whole city is covered by a very efficient bus, sky train and subway system which people can buy yearly passes for at reasonable rates and the poorer and disabled get subsidized or fully supported for.

When it comes to entertainment, Vancouver is probably the richest city for 'free' entertainment in the world. There are always special concerts or showings open to all happening all over the city. When I lived here disabled and had no money except for food and shelter I was never without the arts, having access to the finest libraries in the world, having computers available to me there, going to concerts in the park and hearing recitals at book stores and coffeeshops.

Vancouver has two world famous universities, University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University. In addition to countless nationally and internationally recognized colleges. I've attended for a pittance piano recitals by the greatest young pianists in the world or lectures by world renowned professors and writers. I attend churches where the sermons are given by remarkably learned men and women and the choirs and orchestras are made up of the greatest local artists.

The church Laura and I attend is only 2 blocks from us. We walk Gilbert, the puppy, all over the neighborhood any time of day or night alone or together without any real fear of theft, robbing, being shot, kidnapped or murdered. There was a break in in this building last year. Most of this neighbourhood theft is done by drug addicts trying to pay for their heroin or cocaine. That may be the price that one pays for not living in a 'gated' community. The truth is too that real thieves would target the 'gated' communities rather than most of this neighbourhood because they simply wouldn't know who might be rich in possessions or not. Theives mostly take electronic devices.

I have this iPad today. I've had my own laptop computer for work for some 25 years now. I've owned digital cameras since they became available and had the early cellphones. Right now I have an iPhone. Because of my work I like being linked to the top research libraries and books, the latest information on drugs and able to read Nature and New England Journal of Medicine on my phone. It's really a luxury that I know most don't appreciate but I often think how Einstein or Galileo would have understood and envied me.

Now that Laura has finished her bath we plan to take Gilbert outside to where my Ford Ranger 4x4 truck has been parked on the street without fear of people stealing it. We plan to drive to a very large warehouse store where one can find almost anything anytime from all the world over at a price most Canadians can afford. We are looking for some shelves so that we can put our shoes and other things up high so the puppy won't chew on them.

All the streets have names and the intersections have lights and there are police that enforce the driving rules so even driving across town will be safe. If the police stop us they will only be doing so if we are doing something very suspicious or overtly breaking some rather obvious community, social or traffic law. Much as I like I'm not allowed to carry guns or shoot people I don't agree with in the city. The police are very strictly managed and only very rarely do they do things that are really bad. If they do it usually ends up in the media which is always on the look out for a story of police misbehaviour and that story will remain in the public eye for a year or more. The police who have acted wrongly, though only against the highest standards that are expected of them, not by any 'common standard' that we might normally use for ourselves are then seriously punished by the law. I think of the police as my friends not because I'm a doctor but because I'm a Canadian. I've travelled in so many countries where everyone is afraid of the police because individually they can abuse their power and authority so easily and do.

So Laura and I will drive to this store and purchase a shelf and I'll probably pay for it with a credit card. I don't usually carry very much cash at all. I never really worry about my wallet being stolen in Canada though overseas traveling I am so often afraid of this. Pickpockets just aren't that common in Canada but I wouldn't leave a bag anywhere for long as it might be stolen. However almost all the times I've left valuables someone has picked them up and turned them into the store or authorities and I've had them returned unharmed. This happens all the time in Canada and shows how basically good and honest most Canadians are. I've dropped my wallet several times and had people return it to me. The sad part is that I remember most the one time in my life that it was stolen a few years ago in Canada.

There are no disease carrying bugs in Vancouver. There are no deadly snakes under chairs and there are no crocodiles in the ditches. The dogs are on leash. Even the teen agers aren't a threat to normal people and are only a problem at night in the centre of the city where the bars and discos form a kind of modern red light district for drugs and crime. Like most people over 55 I've stopped going into downtown Vancouver after 10 pm. If I go out for dinner I'm usually home before the drugs and alcohol make the work of the police keeping peace and order without hurting anyone a veritable nightmare. That's the price of living in a relatively free country.

There are more political controls taking place because of the fear of riotting and the G20 action in Toronto is not alone in Canadian history. Here in Vancouver police on horses rode down a group of young people demonstrating peacefully in the centre of the city. Just as in Toronto a few people had broken bones. In my lifetime, we've never even had a Kent State massacre in Canada and certainly no Black Day in July Detroit riots. I've been billy clubbed in a demonstration but the police weren't trying to kill or maim me just get me to move along.

We've had barricades between First Nations and Police and yet somehow our much maligned government has calmed things down and worked things out. Canada is mostly a frustrating country in this regard. When I was younger I was often angry but as I've become older I've become more impressed by the way my country muddles along.

I'm also amazed by what all the immigrants tell me of their countries, whether they are Moslem, Buddhist, Hindu, Pagan, Christian, Jewish or whatever, they all say that Canada is so much better than their country is today. They want to live in Canada. They are ever glad to call Canada their home as my grandparents did.

Now I personally love Canada because of the wilderness. Canadians are great but I've met wonderful people all over the world. What I love most about Canada is the country. The lakes, the ocean, the forests and mountains are amazing wonderlands and playgrounds for me. I am so thankful that my government has parks and forestry people to protect the natural environment. I love that the poachers who come here to do business are regularly caught and punished severely. I am equally angry that the countries that some of these people belong to refuse to punish them when they are sent home. If I was caught in Africa poaching ivory I'd be punished there and by Canada when I got home. Yet we had a terrible time here for a while with visitors poaching bear gall bladders and getting off very lightly. If anything Canadians are frustrated by the 'leniency' of our courts in regards to a whole lot of ecological issues, small fines for pollution, slaps on wrists for having open fires when it's a high risk forest fire time etc.

That said, Canada still muddles along pretty well with an amazing balance between justice and mercy that has resulted in our outdoors being mostly well protected despite the increasing evidence of government officials taking advantages of their positions to make specials deals for themselves at the cost to the environment and future Canadians. Fortunately Canada is also a country with a strong grass roots democracy and advocacy movement so that the likes of Karey Shinn, an individual artist can serve to protect the clean water of the city of Toronto. Here Suzuki Foundation acts as a counterbalance to the increasing monetary pressure being brought by foreign and local investors to pollute what I think of as my 'playground', Meanwhile thanks to the exploration and development of the world famous logging and mining companies of Canada I have roads that take me into this still pristine world of nature.

So its Canada Day and I'm really thankful to be a Canadian. I'm proud I'm Canadian. I'm also thankful that I have taken the opportunity to travel so that I can appreciate what makes Canada a great nation and so loved by Canadians and visitors. There is so much else to find in places where I have travelled, lived and worked. I miss friends and especially miss walking beneath palm trees or seeing pelicans diving or ordering fish and chips on the streets of London, or standing in Jerusalem on a place where people have worshiped God for thousands of years. It's an amazing world we live in and thanks to being a Canadian I have had so many opportunities. Today I am thankful most for my health, my family and friends, my work and my country. Thank you Canada.

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1 comment:

Aim said...

I love Canada, too. For similar reasons, in particular, safety.