Sunday June 27, 2021
When parliament recesses for the summer, members who do not expect to run again have an opportunity to speak about their experience. Most of them praise the institution and their colleagues effusively.
Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq didn’t.
Ottawa’s only Innu MP, she launched a blistering attack on the racism and prejudice endemic in a system built around aging white males in suits.
“Every time I walk on to House of Common grounds, speak in these chambers, I’m reminded every step of the way I don’t belong here,” Qaqqaq began.
Even as an MP, she said, “I have never felt safe or protected in my position.” Security guards follow her, suspicious about a seeming outsider – young, female, and non-white – wandering in those hallowed halls.
When security staff stop her, which happens often, she has learned how to act: “As a brown woman, do not move too quickly or suddenly. Do not raise your voice. Do not make a scene; maintain eye contact and don’t hide your hands.”
She was not kind to her colleagues: “During my time in this chamber, I have heard many pretty words like reconciliation, diversity and inclusion. I have been called courageous, brave, and strong… But let me be honest -- brutally honest -- nice words with no action hurt when they are uttered by those [who] refuse to take action. There is nothing — nothing — to take pride in in the legacy this institution continues to not only maintain, but to build and fuel. People in power have choices, and they consistently choose priorities that uphold systems of oppression, leaving babies sick in mouldy homes, parents missing their passed-on children, because these powerful individuals don’t think change is worth the money.
“It would be easier for me to be told that I am wrong and that you disagree, than to be told I am right and I am courageous, but there is no room in your budget for basic, basic human rights that so many others take for granted.
“The federal institution needs to change its own policies and procedures… instead of creating barriers for people like me. I shouldn’t be afraid of going into work; no one should be afraid of going into work. It is possible to create change. It can be started here in the House of Commons and reflected in Canada.”
A common feeling
In an interview after her speech, she commented that she felt she constantly had to look over her shoulder, to see who might be coming along behind her.
That comment could, I suppose, be dismissed as paranoia. Unjustified. Feelings rather than facts.
But it’s the same message that came from Muslims in London, after a driver veered off the road to kill four members of a family out for an evening walk. They feel they have to keep looking over their shoulder.
It’s the same words a stunning Indigenous woman used to describe how she feels walking through an upscale mall in downtown Vancouver.
It’s the same message I heard 60 years ago when I did interviews along the infamous Highway of Tears, Highway 16 across northern B.C. Fear that someone would consider them easy picking. Useable and disposable.
I suspect it’s a fear that many women have, walking home alone after dark.
Unable to empathize
It’s not for me to judge whether their feelings are justified or not. I can only judge from a position of privilege. I have rarely felt that fear.
It shouldn’t be that way. It shouldn’t be that way for anyone, of any race, any age, any gender, any profession, any orientation.
No one should have to live in fear.
I can’t judge her reality. “I asked a minister what he would do in my shoes,” Qaqqaq asked. “If his riding had the highest rates of suicide, with the most homes in need of repair, if women and girls were going missing in his community and children were being taken into the foster care system without regard for their well-being, how would he feel? He couldn’t answer me. He said he would never even try to place himself in my shoes.”
And that’s the core of the trouble, right there. We – you and I, the security staff, the voting public, all of us “aging white guys in suits” – cannot put ourselves into her shoes. And so the system doesn’t change. The stereotypes persist.
Referring to her far-northern riding, Qaqqaq said, “We are facing a suicide epidemic and this institution refuses to care.”
Copyright © 2021 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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I got a lot more letters this week than I’m willing to print.
A few used my musings about the de-thronement of father figures as a vehicle to lash out at women and feminists in general.
A few forwarded examples from the internet – cartoons, jokes, speeches – that illustrated the theme of treating fathers (maybe men in general) as idiots.
A few reacted strongly to the letters I printed last week, which suggested that the killer in London might have been more influenced by misdiagnosed medications than by Islamophobia. For example, people who have themselves benefitted from anti-depressants reacted strongly against the notion that anti-depressants could have contributed to the London driver’s actions. Others objected in principle to blaming his actions on mental illness, thus making mental illness itself a stigma.
Fortunately, a few of you did some thinking about my theme – the value of fathers.
Isabel Gibson noted the statistics about fatherless families: “Maybe any kind of father (apart from outright abusive) is better than none. Maybe that's what the statistics are trying to tell us.
“We have a cultural drive to search for optimal, I think.
“A much younger friend of mine was inadvertently starving her newborn because of pressure from the breast-feeding proponents in public heath to stick exclusively to nursing, even when it was clear it wasn't working. Breast-milk isn't what's "best" for a baby: sufficient nutrition is best, no matter how it arrives.
“It's better for kids when fathers are in the picture. Somehow. Maybe knowing that their very presence matters -- indeed, can be pivotal -- will encourage them not just to be there, but to be there more often, in more ways.
“But being present is where to start.”
Both Tom Watson and Bob Rollwagen saw a connection between last week’s column about fathers, and the previous week’s column about how we develop our values.
Tom wrote, “Last week you wrote about our being the product of our communities. The closest-in community we have is in the home. I'll add to your wonderings: To what degree is our way of being a father patterned by how we experienced our own fathers?”
And Bob wrote, “Parents are probably one of the biggest issues when you have people under thirty having any hate thoughts in today’s world.”
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