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"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope

Banner photo
Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Friday, May 30, 2014

The legacy of Edward Cornwallis

There's a debate currently raging in Halifax about the city's founder, British Governor Edward Cornwallis, who founded the city in 1749. The agitation is centred on a statue of the Governor in Halifax's downtown Cornwallis Square:
Last May, an unknown vandal spray-painted “Self righteous ass” on a statue of Halifax founder Edward Cornwallis, the 18th century British military governor who once placed 10 guinea bounties on Mi’kmaq scalps. In 2001, someone else doused the statue in red paint and scrawled “killed natives” on its base.
At the city’s 250th birthday party, an actor dressed as Cornwallis was forbidden from speaking and in 2011, a Nova Scotia school was renamed to scrub out Cornwallis’ violent legacy. And now, some Haligonians are wondering whether they even need a statue of Cornwallis at all. 
The debate is largely about a contentious proclamation Cornwallis issued in an attempt to deal with a violent uprising by Mi'kmaq natives who were targeting the British settlements in Acadia. It reads:
His Majesty’s Council do hereby authorize and command all Officers Civil and Military, and all his Majesty’s Subjects of others to annoy, distress, take or destroy the Savage commonly called the Micmac, wherever they are found,” it read. “[And] promise a reward of ten Guineas for ever Indian Micmac taken or killed, to be paid upon producing such Savage taken or his scalp.
We have a tendency to look at historical issues like the Cornwallis administration through the lens of modern grievances. The "Scalping Proclamation" is indeed horrific by modern standards, but it must be taken in context. The Mi'kmaq weren't exactly Boy Scouts - there had been a series of brutal Mi'kmaq attacks on British settlers in Acadia leading up to the proclamation, and indeed the Mi'kmaq themselves were being paid by the French to collect British scalps. In a 1749 raid on Dartmouth, across the harbour from Halifax, a month before Cornwallis' proclamation, Mi'kmaq warriors attacked a British party cutting firewood:
On September 30, 1749, about forty Mi'kmaq attacked six men who were in Dartmouth cutting trees. The Mi'kmaq killed four of them on the spot, took one prisoner and one escaped. Two of the men were scalped and the heads of the others were cut off. The attack was on the saw mill at Dartmouth Cove, which was under the command of Major Ezekiel Gilman. A detachment of rangers was sent after the raiding party and cut off the heads of two Mi'kmaq and scalped one.
To prevent the French and Wabanaki Confederacy massacres of British families, on October 2, 1749, Governor Edward Cornwallis offered a bounty on the head of every Mi'kmaq. Prior to Cornwallis, there was a long history of Massachusetts Governors issuing bounties for the scalps of Indian men, women, and children. Cornwallis followed New England's example. He set the amount at the same rate that the Mi'kmaq received from the French for British scalps. The British military paid the Rangers the same rate per scalp as the French military paid the Mi'kmaq for British scalps.
Despite Cornwallis' efforts to defend the community, in July 1750, the Mi'kmaq killed and scalped 7 men who were at work in Dartmouth. In August 1750, 353 people arrived on the ship Alderney and began the town of Dartmouth. The town was laid out in the autumn of that year. The following month, on September 30, 1750, Dartmouth was attacked again by the Mi'kmaq and five more residents were killed. In October 1750 a group of about eight men went out "to take their diversion; and as they were fowling, they were attacked by the Indians, who took the whole prisoners; scalped ... [one] with a large knife, which they wear for that purpose, and threw him into the sea ..."
In March 1751, the Mi’kmaq attacked on two more occasions, bringing the total number of raids to six in the previous two years. Three months later, on May 13, 1751, Broussard led sixty Mi'kmaq and Acadians to attack Dartmouth again, in what would be known as the "Dartmouth Massacre".
Certainly, Edward Cornwallis' legacy in Canada is not without controversy, but that doesn't mean his significance as the founder of one of Canada's oldest cities should be expunged from our collective memory. Halifax as it is today would not exist were it not for Governor Cornwallis. Canada in the 18th century was a brutal, violent place, and for those who make a fetish of our "proud peacekeeping tradition", the colonial wars are an embarrassment. That doesn't mean we should pretend they didn't occur and flush all references to them down the memory hole.

Edward Cornwallis is an important figure in Canadian history, and he deserves a statue in the city he founded. Here's a suggestion - put up a statue of a Mi'kmaq warrior in the same park (or better yet in Dartmouth) and look on it as a teaching experience.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Kathleen Wynne deconstructed

This campaign ad for the Ontario Liberal Party has recently hit the airwaves, and in it the very first words that Kathleen Wynne utters perfectly encapsulate everything I despise about modern liberalism in general, and the Ontario Liberals in particular.

The line is "I believe that government should be a force for good in people's lives". It sounds innocuous - who could argue with good things for people? What's the matter with me - do I want government to make people miserable? Here are the key words that raise my hackles:

Liberals love government. They believe that government has a moral duty to centrally manage every aspect of society to smooth out the bumps in the road of life for all citizens. More government is always a good thing. Believing that government should maybe back off and let people make their own informed decisions about things like smoking tobacco, wearing bicycle helmets, buying beer in corner stores and saving for their own retirement just gives liberals the heebie jeebies. If it saves one life, it's worth it, isn't it?

There's an unsettling undertone of authoritarianism in the liberal world-view. People must be forced to do the right thing - not necessarily by armed police, but by vast bureaucracies and myriads of pettifogging regulations enforced by legions of inspectors and commissioners. People must be forced to support programs deemed to be for the good of society, not necessarily at the point of a gun but by confiscatory taxation that removes a citizen's discretion to spend money on things that he chooses for himself.

The heavy-handed influence of the state in people's lives is always justified, in the mind of a liberal, by the argument that it's for the common good. This pre-supposes that it is possible for a diverse population to agree on what constitutes the common good; the job of doing this is left ultimately to the government itself. The concept is also used to stifle dissent - people who disagree with the government's agenda for good are labelled racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, or anti-environment. Whatever the government deems worthy of its warm embrace is then protected from criticism in the name of the common good. What kind of monster would argue against good things? "The issue is settled" - thus spake the Premier.

People's lives
Here's the nub of the liberal ideology. We're not arguing about things like filling potholes, collecting garbage, building highways or defending the borders, all of which are legitimate roles for government. Liberals want to be intimately involved in people's lives. To a liberal, government has a duty to prevent people from making bad decisions and to force people to make good ones, and the government knows better than you do what is good for you. I bristle when I hear things like this from politicians. Society is made up of individuals making individual decisions, for good or ill, and they should be left alone to make those decisions and to enjoy their property except when another individual is at risk of harm as a result.

Kathleen Wynne is portraying herself as the kindly mother-figure who will lead us all to the sunny meadows of a prosperous Ontario where we all live forever in peace, harmony and equity. This of course must come with a massive intrusion of the state into the lives of individual citizens, and the past eight years of Dalton McGuinty preaching the same sermon has shown where this leads.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Adventures in bureaucracy at Passport Canada

My sister is planning a trip to the US this summer and needed to renew her passport. I was planning to be in Ottawa this week anyway, so I told her I'd drop off her completed application package at the Ottawa office of Passport Canada, which is where it would have ended up if she had mailed it. Sounds simple enough.

A certain pettifogging torpor permeates large organizations, and never so much so as in government departments that are immune to competition. Such was the case at the Ottawa branch of Passport Canada. When I arrived, there was a single long queue of customers and no signage of any sort with instructions for the perplexed. It seemed obvious that I should join the queue, so I did. When I got to the front there were eight wickets with clerks behind them. I waited for one to open up (it was wicket #4) and then approached. The guy behind the glass said "Do you have a number?" I replied "No, I didn't know I needed a number." He said "You need a number." I asked "Where do I get a number?" He gestured back towards the queue and said "Over there."

I asked the commissionaire where I was supposed to get the aforementioned number- he said "You have to line up in the queue and then go to wicket 1 or 2." Sigh. I rejoined the queue and worked my way to the front a second time.

With my number in hand, I was told to sit in the waiting area until my number was called. A few minutes later I approached Wicket #5.  The following conversation occurred with the clerk, whom I'll call "Betty".
Me: "I'm here to drop off a passport application for my sister." 
Betty:  "Do you live at the same address?" 
Me: "No." 
Betty: "Do you have a letter of authorization from your sister to drop off her passport application?" 
Me:  "No, it doesn't say anywhere on the form [which is three pages long, by the way] that I need a letter of authorization." 
Betty:  "Well, you can't drop off someone else's passport application without authorization. Can we call her to get her to authorize you?" 
Me:  "No, she's not available during the work day. She signed the forms, isn't that enough?" 
Betty:  "No." 
Me:  "So let me get this straight. If she had just mailed the forms to Passport Canada, you would process them, but if I drop off the exact same forms right at your office, you won't process them?" 
Betty:  "That's correct. It's a totally different process." 
Me:  "Of course it is. Just give me back the forms - I'll mail them."
So I left the Passport Canada office in a funk, drove across town to a post office, paid $2.05 in postage and mailed the package to - you guessed it - Passport Canada, Ottawa.