Published on Thursday, July 3, 2003 by The Nation
Canada: Hippie Nation?
by Naomi Klein
Canadians can't quite believe it: Suddenly, we're interesting.
After months of making the news only with our various communicable diseases--SARS, mad
cow and West Nile--we're now getting world famous for our cutting-edge laws on gay marriage
and legalized drugs. The Bush conservatives are repulsed by our depravity. My friends in New
York and San Francisco have been quietly inquiring about applying for citizenship.
And Canadians have been eating it up, filling the newspapers with giddy articles about our
independence. "You're not the boss of us, George," Jim Coyle wrote in the Toronto Star. "So
much for nice; we're getting interesting," wrote conservative columnist William Thorsell in the
Globe and Mail. Polls are showing that it's not just that Canadians are becoming more
forward-looking and groovier, it's also that the United States is lurching backward, retrenching
into more conservative values. According to Canada's summer bestseller, Fire and Ice: The
United States, Canada and the Myth of Converging Values, by pollster Michael Adams,
Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 are twice as likely to worry about crime, "moral
decline" and ethnic conflict as their Canadian counterparts.
Four events have contributed to Canada's newfound status as Hippie Nation:
(1) The Liberal Party government of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien didn't support the US-British
invasion of Iraq ("opposed" would be far too strong a word, since we maintained troops in the
(2) On May 27 the Chrétien government introduced legislation to decriminalize the possession
of small amounts of marijuana. People caught with up to fifteen grams will get the equivalent of
a parking ticket. US drug czar John Walters has promised to "respond to the threat."
(3) On June 17 the Chrétien government announced it would introduce legislation to legalize
gay marriage. This will bring the entire country into compliance with a court ruling that has
already made it legal in the province of Ontario. US gays and lesbians have been flooding into
Toronto to get hitched.
(4) On June 24 the government announced the opening of the first "safe injection site" in North
America in Vancouver, which averages 147 overdose deaths a year. The publicly funded facility
will provide needle exchanges and health assistance to heroin addicts. Walters calls this one
"state-sponsored personal suicide."
So, does all this peace, love and drugs really mean that the United States and its closest
neighbor and ally are parting ways? Much as I'd love to report that I really do live in "Soviet
Canuckistan" (as Pat Buchanan has taken to calling us), it's mostly hype.
When he was elected in 1993, Chrétien pledged to reopen the North American Free Trade
Agreement and negotiate a better deal for Canada. He immediately broke the promise. Now,
months away from the end of Chrétien's decade in office, Canadians are keenly aware of how
much independence we have lost under the agreement.
Our economic dependence on the United States is staggering: Almost 40 percent of Canada's
gross domestic product comes from exports to the United States. More troubling, particularly
given the Bush Administration's unquenchable thirst for oil and gas, we have traded away our
right to put Canadian energy needs before those of the United States. A little-known clause in
NAFTA states that even in the event of a severe energy shortage, Canada cannot cut off its oil
and gas exports to the United States--we can only reduce the flow south by the same rate as
we reduce our own domestic consumption.
This dramatic ceding of power to the United States is Jean Chrétien's true legacy, which is
why, in his final months in office, he's racing to be remembered as a principled man. But
Chrétien's last-ditch attempts to declare Canada's independence--significant as they are--can't
mask the fact that on trade and security, the Liberals are following Washington more
obediently than ever.
We are pushing, with the Bush Administration, for NAFTA to be expanded into all of Latin
America. Our government has made only tepid efforts to save Canadian citizens born in
countries identified by the US government as "sponsors of terror" from being photographed,
fingerprinted and otherwise humiliated when they enter the United States. Immigrants and
refugees inside Canada suspected of having terrorist ties are being detained for long periods
without charge, then tried in secret, with key evidence withheld from their attorneys. And to
bring our policies further in line with the United States, Canada has also lifted its ban on
deportations to Algeria, where returning refugees face serious dangers.
It seems there is no peace and love left for the most vulnerable sectors of our population.
There is another reason Chrétien's nose-thumbing at Washington should be regarded with
skepticism. Every poll shows that when Chrétien steps down, he is going to be succeeded by
his archrival, Paul Martin. By passing a bunch of laws that piss off the Bush Administration
and then retiring, Chrétien wins on two fronts: He gets to be remembered as the man who
rescued Canada's sovereignty, while Martin gets stuck dealing with the fallout. Watch for
Martin, who represents the right of the Liberal Party and is the favorite of the business
community, to do whatever it takes to get back into Bush's good books, even if it means
overturning Chrétien's last-minute laws.
This much is predictable. The wild card is how the Canadian people will respond. Will we
embrace obedience once again, or will we demand more of this whole independence thing?
Well, so far there are no signs of retreat.
The Pentagon may be developing a high-tech form of "gaydar" to monitor the northern border,
and John Walters may well be diverting funds from Colombia to launch "Plan Canuckistan."
But we are not afraid. For a country that has been boring as long as we have, there may be
something more addictive than sex and drugs: being interesting.
Naomi Klein (www.nologo.org
) is the author of No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies
(Picador) and, most recently, Fences and Windows: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the
Globalization Debate (Picador).
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