One of the most common stereotypes about Canadians is that they are nice and polite people. Many jokes revolve around the fact that Canada is the country where people apologize about everything.
Recently, an article was published on the BBC outlining the reasons why Canadians are the nicest people on the planet, and how this country can teach the rest of the world.
The article was titled: “Can Canada teach the rest of us to be nicer?” and described Canada as a great destination for tourism.
The article starts by commenting that “Canada may not be the most exotic of destinations but sometimes, exotic is overrated.” This statement is filled with ethnocentric prejudices about what the word exotic means.
The article assumes that Canada is a familiar and nice place to go versus ‘exotic’ destinations. Exotic here is being used as a term that attempts to reduce different cultures to a uniform and static state that can then be essentialized.
The article continues by describing how “we experience Canadian nice as soon as we reach customs” and by stating that “Canada is to niceness as Saudi Arabia is to oil.”
Furthermore, it continues by arguing how “Canadians will apologize for anything and to anything” and that “Canadians aren’t only polite; they’re incredibly humble too, and reluctant to take credit for even plainly heroic acts.”
The picture being drawn about Canada is that it is a welcoming, polite, nice, humble, and familiar place to visit. It is almost described as a distant utopia.
One of the main problems with these types of misleading and ethnocentric articles is the fact that it not only completely ignores reality, but also produces a social construction of a people that can lead to misleading assumptions. This is a question of representation: how is a group of people described, conceptualized, and represented?
Every country and culture is certainly the object of certain kinds of misrepresentations. The issue here is not whether Canadians are polite or not, but how their representation constructs a fairy tale for people unfamiliar with Canada.
Canada is not inherently ‘nice’; it once had a reputation as a peacekeeper and holder of democratic values because its people were firm believers in those values and had the integrity to use those values to inform their decisions. The values of multiculturalism, openness, diversity, and justice were predicated as a formula to describe Canada as a nation.
In recent times, those values and that reputation have been challenged abroad. Firstly, the exploitation of Indigenous peoples in Canada is a long overdue challenge. One of the latest manifestations of the exploitation was the recent refusal to ratify the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People by the Harper administration.
In addition, the Harper administration also has introduced legislation that significantly decreases the ability of Canada to support refugees. Furthermore, there has been much controversy around illegal detention of migrants in maximum-security prisons.
Moreover, the severe cuts to Environment Canada, and the ferocious priority placed on the imminent tar sands disaster is another example of the Harper administration showing no interest in being ‘nice’ to nature.
More recently, the controversial discussion on the bill to grant more ‘surveillance’ powers to intelligence agencies, in the context of the creation of the Islamic State (ISIS), has also generated a feeling of mistrust within Canada.
Maybe some will consider these factors when deciding whether or not Canada is a ‘nice’ country.
There is no doubt that for the most part Canadian peoples are polite and welcoming as well as hard working, democratic, and inclusive. However, we need to be careful in how we construct notions of nationhood based on values that more often than not lead to misleading generalizations and prejudices.