Jack Granatstein: Canadian Children Are Only Being Taught Part of the Story

[.L. Granatstein was director and CEO of the Canadian War Museum and author of Who Killed Canadian History?]

Does History matter? Is it, as Allan Greer wrote here last week, usually presented in Canada as an "uncritical celebration" with topics bathed in "national piety?" Sometimes, it is, but not in our schools.

Most often, Canadian children are made to wallow in the sins of the past, being told of a Canada that oppressed minorities, natives and women and, moreover, despoiled the environment. It's all true, but it's only part of a much more complicated story we never tell our children.

One example: Professor Greer is right that students are taught about the internment of Japanese Canadians in the Second World War. They certainly are, over and over again, even though Japanese Canadians were not interned -- a specific term referring to the incarceration of enemy aliens whose interests are watched over by a Protecting Power. Instead, Japanese Canadians were evacuated from the West Coast and moved to townsites in the British Columbia interior.

This was a great injustice, but there were reasons why the state acted as it did. People were frightened, fearful of Japan attacking the West Coast, fearful of spying and fifth-column activities. The main Japanese Canadian newspaper had been publishing paid Japanese government propaganda for some time and, while that was legitimate when Japan and Canada were not at war, it looked very different after Dec. 7, 1941. Moreover, military and political advice from B.C. was unanimously in favour of evacuation.

Why not teach the full story? Because the "internment" story is now part of Canadian historical orthodoxy and better at making the point that Canada was a racist society and that we have a past full of shame. In the age before the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or so we are taught, Canadians lived in a racist, brutal society where none had rights. After the Charter, the new multicultural Canada blossomed forth and we all live happily ever after. A few choice examples of our sinful past can be used to compare and contrast with the present.

The orthodox version of our past, Allan Greer to the contrary, is a story full of black marks. This completely fails to serve anyone's interest.

Instead, what we must do, in my view, is to teach children, those born here and those who immigrated here, that Canada struggled to become a democracy through the efforts of its men and women. We fought wars -- contrary to the school texts, Canada did more in the Second World War than maltreat Japanese Canadians -- for democracy and freedom and we struggled to advance liberty at home.

We made dreadful errors, but we tried to atone for them. We learned to vote out of power the governments we disliked, and we didn't drag our disgraced leaders through the streets and behead them.

We created courts that function properly, we learned to live by a system of laws and, while corruption is not wholly absent, the vast majority of Canadians (like me) have never been asked for a bribe in dealing with government at any level. Most (like me) would go to the police if we were.

In other words, Canada is not the failure that, incredibly, we tell our children it is. Canadians live in a society that works. Canada is a success story, and that is the reason that so many immigrants want to come here and why so many refugees press against our shores.

comments powered by Disqus

Subscribe to our mailing list