Perhaps I should say straight away that I love Canada. Some of my best friends are Canadian. That minimal throat-clearing aside, let me say — as a friendly outsider — that Canada today looks like a nation of ignoramuses.
The incident in Parliament the other week is just one case in point. Standing ovations are very rare things. They should be very special things. When a whole House stands to applaud someone they had better be very sure who they are applauding.
I know that Speaker Anthony Rota has now resigned. But here is the thing. Anybody who knows anything about the Second World War knows that if you were fighting the Soviets in Ukraine in the 1940s you were most likely fighting with the Nazis. It does not require a fine-tuned expert in the era to know this. Almost anybody could have guessed this. If almost anyone knew anything.
It seemed to be the assumption not just of Speaker Rota but of the whole Canadian Parliament that there existed in the 1940s some proto-anti-Putin fighting force and that the great cause of this moment has some direct lineage back to the fight of the 1940s. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy almost certainly guessed this. But it was the Canadian Parliament who was hosting him, the Canadian Parliament who embarrassed him and the Canadian Parliament who have handed the most magnificent propaganda victory to the Kremlin. In a war which Putin pretended to start in order to “de-Nazify” Ukraine, how much help has Canada given by your entire Parliament standing to applaud an actual Nazi?
What makes this worse is that this all comes after a period in which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been perfectly happy to call decent, ordinary Canadians Nazis. To use measures like the de-banking of his critics in moves that have horrified most of the other democracies in the West. When a bank in my country of birth — Britain — was recently found to have de-banked a politician (Nigel Farage) for what turned out to be political reasons not only did the head of the bank resign, but politicians in Britain from across the political system condemned the bank. Such moves are unlikely to be taken by another bank in Britain again. But in Canada it seems to be perfectly acceptable, because at any time the Canadian prime minister and deputy prime minister can claim that their critics are homophobes, xenophobes, racists, Nazis, misogynists and all of the rest.
The world — especially America — has looked on in horror as the Canadian government has tried to curtail speech in the country, and looked on with ever-more horror as Canadians seem willing to go along with this. It seems to be the view of the Canadian authorities that they are capable of deciding at the merest glance who is and is not allowed to speak, what is and is not acceptable speech, what any Canadians can and cannot read and who is and who is not a “Nazi.” These being the same authorities who apparently cannot even perform the most basic Google searches on their guests.
I know that Canadians often like to look down on Americans. But as someone who spends most of his time in America I can tell you that it is the American public who now wonder at what on earth is happening with our neighbour in the north.
The most famous public intellectual in the world right now is Professor Jordan Peterson. Canada should be proud of him. Yet every week we read of him undergoing yet another trial back home in Canada. It was an Ontario court which in August ruled that the college of psychologists could order Peterson to undergo mandatory “social media training” after Tweets which people who had never been patients of Dr Peterson’s objected to. I wonder who in Canada thinks they know more about social media than Jordan Peterson? But it is the professional bodies as well as the courts of Canada that have jumped right into this idiotic place. The governing body for Ontario psychologists thinks that Peterson has committed some crime for expressing his thoughts. It is also noticed — I can assure you — that a Toronto doctor who sexually abused four of his patients was only given a six-month suspension.
But it isn’t just double-standards, or the grotesque politicization of almost every institution in Canada that now catches the eye of the world. It is, as I mentioned at the start, the unbearable stupidity which seems to have trickled down from the top of government downwards.
Take that bizarre moment most in 2021 that I know most Canadians would wish to forget about. The moment when the country went into a bizarre moral panic after one totally unverified report claimed to have found numerous graves near residential schools run by the Catholic Church in areas with First Nations communities. That one unverified report was based on ground penetration radar that was wholly inconclusive. Nevertheless the country went into one of the most disturbing moral panics since Salem.
Canadian media ran reports of the discovery of “mass graves” containing the bodies of children. How many churches were burned as a result? Some estimates say over 80, across the country. These included churches built by First Nations peoples. But it was Canadian authorities that fanned these fires. It was a Canadian law professor who called the burnings “resistance to extreme and systemic injustice.” It was a New Brunswick radio host who demanded “Burn the churches down.” It was the head of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and a former volunteer at the Newfoundland Canadian Bar Association who said “Burn it all down.” And it was Gerald Butts — friend and advisor to your Prime Minister — who said that although burning down churches may not be advisable it was certainly “understandable.”
These are the sort of consequences you get from a society wallowing in unutterable ignorance.
Why, at such a moment, were there not prominent figures with some guts and some knowledge of your country´s history even willing to stand in front of the mob and shout “stop”? Why was the mob not confronted by people saying “You know what — the residential schools were not in fact set up to murder Indigenous children.” Or at the very least saying “Let us wait to consider some evidence.”
None — or very little — of this happened. And all this in a society whose leaders seem to believe that they understand so much about “hate” and “hate speech” that they can actually put a stop to it once and forever if Canadians just put their shoulder to the wheel hard enough.
My suspicion is that very few Canadians are aware of quite how bizarre the rest of the world now finds the country. When it thinks of it at all it sees is a country that used to be renowned for its liberalism now most noted for its proto-authoritarianism. A country whose leaders think they can root out nastiness wherever they find it and are not even informed enough not to give a standing ovation to a former member of the SS.
I could go on. But this jeremiad is really just to say that the problems that Canada is now going through at home and on the world stage seem to come from one deep well-spring. Canadian society is filled with opinion yet utterly lacking in wisdom. This includes any knowledge of the world’s history — but most crucially an increasing ignorance of your own country’s history. I hope this can be turned around. Most things can be. But a country which used to be regarded as dull but decent now looks indecent and lead by dullards.
Douglas Murray is the author, most recently, of “The War on the West” (Harper Collins).