Needed: Civil discourse – Winnipeg Free Press

Needed: Civil discourse – Winnipeg Free Press

As I write this article, a winner in the U.S. presidential election has finally been announced, but I wonder who the winner actually is after months and weeks of contentious rallies, violent protests, and vitriolic rhetoric flying from and at all sides.

We Canadians smugly stand on the sidelines and pat ourselves on the back, priding ourselves that we are not like those Americans. The Pew Research Center in the U.S. says that words most used by Canadians about the states include “Trump” and “president” along with negative words such as “chaos,” “confused,” “bully,” “discrimination” and “racism.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford was recently reported to have said: “Thank God that we’re different than the United States and we don’t have the systemic, deep roots they have had for years.”

 Although Quebec Premier François Legault acknowledged incidences of racism and discrimination in Quebec, he quickly moved to say that our discrimination at least isn’t systemic and “it’s not as serious or as widespread as in the U.S.”

Since when is it OK to say that our racism is somehow not as bad as someone else’s and that our discrimination is not as systemic?

Canadians live in an echo chamber in which we have convinced ourselves that we are decidedly courteous, not as racist as the U.S., somehow exempt from systemic discrimination, and we think it is okay to openly promote distrust and antagonism for our neighbour to the south, with full endorsement from the media. In fact, the media is leading the way.

Whatever happened to civil discourse? Whatever happened to respectful dialogue?

When I lived in the U.S. for many years, I never once heard a negative comment about my citizenship when I told people I was Canadian.

We moved to Canada 18 years ago from the U.S.

To work on her pubic speaking skills at the time, my daughter joined the debate club at her middle school. Since she was new to the school and club, as a “warm” and “polite” welcome to Canada, the teacher thought it would be a good idea to assign a topic that went something like this: “Be it resolved that Canadians are better than Americans.”

My son came home from school crying when classmates said they  hated Americans. The media endorses this sentiment and relishes in it. Parents teach their children this mantra.

We cannot claim that we do not have a problem with racism. In 2020, the over-representation of Indigenous people in federal prisons in Canada reached a disturbing high. While Indigenous people account for about five per cent of Canada’s population, they take up more than 30 per cent of the spots in federal prisons, according to CBC News, a 5 per cent increase from four years ago.

The media’s portrayal of Canada as an overly polite nation that may grudgingly have some problems with racism, discrimination, and bullies, but definitely not as bad as someone else, is not doing our country any favours.

Trump has been criticized for granting permission for and the normalization of racist views, whereas Canada’s media appears to have highlighted news which promotes the normalization and  permission for distrust and fear of American people. It’s time we in Canada wake up to serious introspection.

With the United States as Canada’s primary trading partner and closest neighbour, wouldn’t it be in the best interest of Canadians to work on appreciating the bilateral relationship instead of seeing an enemy?

What could happen if, instead of normalizing the contempt of and disdain for citizens of another country, we would sit across from each other and listen with compassion?

U.S. president-elect Joe Biden said: “You always put yourself in the other person’s position, and then also to understand where they’re coming from, whether it’s a major foreign leader or a friend who you have a disagreement with. And it’s also being willing to share credit, give recognition, and share in the benefits as well as in the losses if you’re in an endeavour together.”

We, as the media, need to take the lead in building bridges and civil discourse.

 Helen Lepp Friesen is a community correspondent for Fort Garry. You can contact her at

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2020-11-16 20:21:00

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