THE MAIL

THE MAIL

December 9 2002
THE MAIL

THE MAIL

December 9 2002

THE MAIL

‘In Canada, when somebody calls you an intellectual, it’s considered a compliment. In the U.S., it’s grounds

for a libel suit.’ -JOHN ROVERS, Des Moines, Iowa

Who’s the fairest of all?

Why does our national magazine spend so much time worrying about our national identity (“America lite: is that our future?” Cover, Nov. 25)? Rest assured, Canadians aren’t like Americans, and the people who can tell you that quickest are Americans. As a Canadian citizen living in Illinois since 1990,1 am regularly reminded of my origins north of the border in the kindest way. As a neighbour to the most influential country on the planet, Canada, of course, muses over its self-identity. But let me draw an unattractive parallel. It’s like sitting in front of the mirror and wondering if you are beautiful or handsome enough. Stop it!

Phil Brown, Libertyvllle, III.

I thoroughly enjoyed the article “America lite.” Taking a hard—and objective—look at what constitutes Canadian identity should become the subject of more serious debate. The knee-jerk anti-Americanism of the past is hardly justified by the current facts of Canadian living. While living in the States, like any good Canadian I used to boast about the lower cost of health care and the better quality of services, the absence of guns and violence and all the other aspects of Canadian living that used to set us apart. Used to. Under Gordon Campbell’s government in British Columbia, I now pay more for basic public health insurance for my family than I did in the States for private insurance. Car insurance is about double what I used to pay in the States. Traffic in Vancouver is as bad as, if not worse than in Washington. While in Ottawa, pregnant and desperate, I was unable to find a family physician. I was robbed at a public market in Ottawa—something that never happened to me in the States. Not to mention the difference in income that is setting us further and further apart from our American neighbours.

Daniela Ivascanu, Burnaby, B.c.

Canada, while a wonderful place to live, is a bit of an absurd country—a thin line of population huddled along the thousands

of miles of U.S. border. We’re like a small town just outside the gates of the ancient city of Rome. We wear Roman clothes, eat Roman food, speak the Roman language, trade almost exclusively with Rome and we even depend on the Romans to defend us. But we defiantly claim not to be Romans, and we’re incredibly offended when outsiders, horror of horrors, think we are Romans. This would all be very entertaining except that by being so loud, and even rude, in our protest we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.

Stephan Matusch, Lively, Ont.

READERS WERE DIVIDED, PASSIONATELY, OVER OUR WISDOM IN DEVOTING A COVER PACKAGE TO Canada’s relationship with the U.S. There was more consensus when it came to the contribution of the New York Times correspondent in Canada, Clifford Krauss. "Boy am I peeved!” wrote Diane Woodman of Perth, Ont., in a letter typical of a circlethe-wagons reaction. “How dare an American journalist write about what Canada is all about, let alone end with his scathing remark: ‘Can't one be a patriotic Canadian and be critical of Canada too?’ What an idiotic statement.”

It never ceases to amaze me that the Canadian media and intelligentsia continue to regard this nation as an anomaly in the community of nations. We are no more anomalous than Switzerland, Belgium, Spain, Italy, England or France—all of which embrace indigenous populations of divergent ethnicity. We have defined ourselves as successful resisters of American expansionism. The idea that a nation could be defined by its resistance to conquest, rather than conquest or cultural homogeneity, was first articulated by the great Swiss historian, Jacob Burckhardt. The question for us is, can a nation survive without either external threat or hope of conquest? The political map of Europe suggests that it can. Leon Surette, London, Ont.

I got to paragraph 6 of Douglas Coupland’s “Strong and free” (Cover, Nov. 25) before I realized that, hey, this is a humour piece! Coupland says “we’ve reached the point as Canadians where we no longer define ourselves against Americans.” Then in the same paragraph, after listing “our” values, he says, “Canadians also lack the one thing that makes Americans truly American...” Blah, blah, blah. Doug, you’re a riot!

Joan Forsey, Toronto

On par with concerns about our water and natural resources, we Canadians have a gut reaction to the self-serving militarism of our southern neighbour. Americans have an ongoing infatuation with guns and gun culture that fills many outside their country with a deep foreboding. As good neighbours, we must demand that our leaders urge Americans to stop the madness, to stop militarizing the world, thereby transforming old tribal disputes into potentially worldending disasters.There is a thick red line joining their domestic and foreign weapons policies, and they don’t seem to see it.

Ron Charach, Toronto

I was displeased and dismayed by the article “Soul Search,” written by Clifford Krauss (Cover, Nov. 25). While much of his article presents a biased and distorted view of Canada and Canadians, something I have learned to accept from American writers, it was also degrading, which I cannot accept. I take particular offense to the line that “native Canadians are going through rapid social change, moving from dogsleds to the

Internet in lightning time.” Come on, Mr. Krauss, get real! If you’d like to see sparks fly, keep making comments like these! Donna LeDrew Rose, Bishop’s Falls, Nfld.

Bang on! Brian D. Johnson put one in the five-hole when he wrote “Canada is a fiction, a make-believe nation” (“We like to watch,” Cover, Nov. 25). And even though it irks Johnson, Booker Prize-winning Yann Martel also scored with his surrealist notion that Canada is “one of the greatest hotels on Earth.” It is not unusual to meet Americans who can tell you the ship, its captain’s name, date and port of entry and a few other colourful details for good measure, for one or more of their immigrant patriot ancestors. The best I can do is name a few countries of origin, destination provinces and the decade of arrival, or should I say “check-in,” for some branches of the family tree. My family and I checked out almost 14 years ago, but return whenever we can and highly recommend Hotel Canada to our friends.

Preston MacDougall, Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Border crossing

While I sympathize with Canadian-Muslim Adnan R. Khan’s experiences at the U.S. border (“Bordering on panic,” The Back Page, Nov. 25), it begs the question: if some of the same questions had been asked of the Sept. 11 hijackers, would there have even been 9/11?

Steve Bidtnes, Courtenay B.C.

Reading Adnan Khan’s piece, I recalled Greg, an old friend, whom I tried to phone at 8:20 a.m. on Sept. 11 last year, but missed because he had already left for his office at the World Trade Center. Khan’s border-crossing was indeed frustrating, humiliating and frightening. He is right in pointing out the injustice, and possible futility, of targeting people for vigilance just because they are Muslims. But when his ordeal was over, Khan, in his own words, “couldn’t help but laugh” and returned home. Greg’s story had a different ending.

Peter Bartha, Aurora, Ont.

Bear trouble

Grizzly bears may not deserve their reputation as ferocious killers, but it may be reckless to give the impression that they are not dangerous (“Living with grizzly bears,”

Wildlife, Nov. 25). In 1973,1 was attacked by a huge grizzly east of Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories while working hundreds of kilometres from any settlement. I ran, but I fell and it caught up with me. As its muzzle neared my face, in one last desperate effort, I struck it on the snout with my geological pick. It picked itself up, shook its head and wandered off. I wonder now—was it just curious? Friendly? Playful? Rosaline Frith, Ottawa

First, I read Nelofer Pazira’s essay, “War and the West’s betrayals” (Nov. 25). Then I read the article on North Korea, “Inside Kim’s hermit kingdom,” in the same issue. Both made me feel uneasy in the pit of my stomach. Then I read “Living with grizzly bears.” I enjoyed the article, but I couldn’t help thinking the last sentence, “We need to drop old prejudices long enough to reach out and start over,” belonged with the two previous articles. How can we, as humans, possibly think we can stop killing each other, when we can’t even stop killing the bears?

Sandra McAuliffe, Morris, Man.

Dollars to doughnuts

Ron Joyce, ex-CEO of Tim Hortons, “grew up dirt poor and fatherless” in Nova Scotia (“The joy of Joyce,” Business, Nov. 25). Now worth an estimated $700 million, he recently opened a $ 60-million golf club and resort on the province’s northern shore. He says this investment is “giving back to where I grew up.” What a marvellous thing to do— for those who can afford $200 for a round of golf. Just think of the good he could have done for those who are still “dirt poor” by building housing for the homeless, provid-

ing food for the undernourished and playgrounds for underprivileged children.

Bob Thompson, Victoria

Fluoridation

“Biting back against fluoride” (Public Health, Nov. 25) accurately pinpoints a new level of respectability in the growing wave of concern about adding this toxic compound to drinking water. Since the introduction of fluoride toothpaste—with 1,500 times the concentration of fluoride compared to tap water, but not swallowed—water fluoridation has been a dangerous risk to public health, especially to bone health. Fluoride does not work systemically, via ingestion; it works by physical contact with teeth only—and its ingestion is a foolhardy, needless, risk. But decades after fluoride toothpaste came on the scene, the Canadian Dental Association and Health Canada still stubbornly refuse to reverse, or even re-examine, their policies on water fluoridation.

Michael Downey, Toronto

Foreign opinion

I would like to correct the record for Carol Shields and readers of Maclean’s. Allan Fotheringham reported in the Nov. 25 issue (“Foreign home truths,” Column) that I wrote in the New York Times that Ms. Shields “moved to Canada only because she was following her husband.” I never wrote such a thing, nor have I ever said it in casual conversation. I don’t even know if it is true. Clifford Krauss, Toronto

Allan Fotheringham in one shot shows us why the opinions of foreign journalists should always be taken with a large grain of salt (“Foreign home truths,” Column, Nov. 25). The cultural depth of these guys (about as shallow as a 30-second sound bite) is probably what prevents them from understanding what allows and encourages Canadian writers to become international prize-winners. Perhaps they should have asked the three foreign-born writers who were on the short list for the Booker Prize—Carol Shields, Yann Martel and Rohinton Mistry—how they feel about Canada. They are all citizens and they still live here (does that give you a clue?). Carol Shields outlined most eloquently in the Winnipeg Free Press a couple of weeks ago what the cultural centre of Winnipeg (does that surprise you?) did for her writing career. George S. Clark, Winnipeg