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Thank God for the hockey hooligans: Coming of age in Canada

By Contributor
June 20th, 2011

By Kevin D. Annett

Poor Canada. Just when we had cleaned up that untidy mess of Indian residential schools and aspersion of mass murder that was so damaging our international credit rating, along come some hockey hooligans in Vancouver to make us look bad again to all those fat tourists and offshore investors we so lust after.

There was this kid I knew in Grade six named Richard Sawchuck, who loved to pick fights. He was a total whacko. Every kid in my Winnipeg elementary school knew that Richard could get egged on to start pounding on some other student with the right goading from the rest of us. But when he did so and the blood started flying, we’d all catch hell from our teacher, who knew the score.

Hockey nights in Canada are a lot like that: an enormous quick-buck culture designed to sell tickets hypes up the fans over the weeks to a point of frenzy for their team, and then wonders why the adrenaline-fed bozos start tearing up the town when their orgasmic hopes of victory aren’t consummated.

The world used to think Canada was an affluent dream world of smiling Mounties, happy Indians and majestic forests hewed by Jolly Pierre the Lumber Jack. But the fantasy is fading, thanks to events like last week’s hockey rampage, which wasn’t the work of a few atypical hooligans, like the Vancouver Mayor claims, but of very ordinary and typical Canadians. Their rage and violence was an unusually honest depiction of mainstream Canada, and its repressed and psychotic nature.

Yes, I said, our repressed and psychotic nature.

I’ve always appreciated the Americans for a single virtue that we lack in Canada: their deep realism about themselves and their own history. They don’t share our dissociation, and our well-bred capacity to lie to ourselves about ourselves. No American ever seems surprised or shocked when I share with them the murderous facts of genocide in their own land – unlike Canadians.

My fellow Euro-Canadians – the kind of people who overturned cars and smashed windows and bones this week in Vancouver – are deeply angry about themselves and their country, but they cannot say why, or even recognize their own condition. We aren’t supposed to get angry and smash things. But I’d say most of us know we’re living a lie, that the British notion of “law, order, civility and good government” that supposedly guides our nation is a crock of shit designed to guard the corrupt interests of a very few people, starting with that silly fiction calling itself “the Crown.”

As individuals, white Canadians are marvelously decent and honest, but as a group, we’re sniveling, self-duplicitous cowards who shudder at the thought of saying no to the Emperor. That’s why part of me rejoiced when I saw the smash-up on the streets of Vancouver. Somehow, the mob of Canucks had lost their fear of authority – for a moment.

Of course, the same men and women who rampaged so freely after the hockey game have returned to their mind-numbing jobs and are once again the kind of repressed, tax-paying, dissociated people who keep the whole mess going. And that fact I find more terrible and alarming than all the broken windows and burning cars.

Pierre Berton once wrote too perceptively that your average Canadian has the mind of a Scottish banker and the heart of an Irish saint, and can’t decide which person to be. That certainly describes my own family to a tee.

My people came to this land in search of a liberty but also a transformation that the Old World could not provide. But the land was vast and strange, too vast really, and in fear we held on to the Old World symbols of authority, of Crown and Pulpit, and tried cramming our searching spirits into them. We are forever yearning to break free from that false mold into a new identity, but until then, we must remain utter strangers to ourselves.

I know that can change. I’ve seen it begin. But as in any deep shock therapy, it will take a few good smash ups before the mental fetters can start to snap enough to let something new start to flow in us.

We’ve always needed a really good civil war in Canada, and the last ones we tried, in 1837 in the east and then among the Métis sharpshooters of Riel and Dumont, went down to a physical but not a moral defeat. Canadians are actually born rebels. We still carry the heart of a searching mystic, determined to be free of every convention and oppression, to breathe the air of liberty that sweeps across our great and beautiful land. We’re just terrified of embracing that heart.

Perhaps when we do so and reclaim our soul, we can relate to the original men and women of this land with something more than a cowardly condescension and a self-serving fear. For the indigenous people have always been our natural blood allies, and they welcomed our first ancestors here not out of pity or ignorance, but because they recognized us as mutual People of the Land.

Frankly, it’s time white Canadians had their own “Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” but one into themselves: a true Caucasian Healing Circle where we can put away forever our false self-image as nice and proper people.

I’ve suggested the idea whenever I speak to my fellow white Canadians, and nobody seems to know what the hell I’m talking about, any more than they can accept the fact that under the toxic influence of religion and empire, our people slaughtered and rampaged against the Indians as brutally as any conquistador.

We cannot yet accept what we did to get this land, and what we acquiesce to, to keep it. Not really. It’s still an abstraction. For how else could we pretend to apologize for the worst slaughter in human history? How else, indeed, do dissociated people act?

All of this absurdity screamed out at us during the Vancouver hockey riots the other night, as is proper: for hockey is our national pulse, a gliding ballet of courage and skill that we alone brought to the world, a beauty born anew in countless small towns and backyard lots where kids learn the art that only we know how to do best.

Like in any family torn apart by its own psychosis, Canadians express their paradox and grapple towards the light we have lost in the midst of that which is most sacred to us.

We are not a lost and angry mob. We are a proud and noble people who have forgotten who we are. For we long to fly again across that majestic, pure ice which is Kanata, a land of eternal promise and freedom where all the wrongs and all the blood can be washed clean.

Kevin D. Annett is a Canadian writer and former minister of the United Church of Canada. He has authored two books about Canadian aboriginals: Love and Death in the Valley and Hidden from History: The Canadian Holocaust.

Categories: GeneralOp/Ed

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