It is not a new line of thinking: “We are better than America.” It is the subtext to our conversations about how ridiculous Donald Trump is, the inexplicable levels of police violence and brutality, and the general intolerance towards minorities from our southern neighbours. Canadians understand we live in a better place than America, and a significant portion love to discuss this as a badge of honour.
When it comes to social issues, is being better than America really an accomplishment? And how much better are we, really?
By comparing ourselves to such a broken country, we excuse the problems we have here. As Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto, Mississauga notes in a Globe and Mail piece, “we are not as dissimilar as we want to believe.”
Owusu-Bempah notes that Canada and the United States are similar in “over-representation of black and indigenous people in instances of police use of lethal force and incarceration rates.” These rates control for variables like population size, demographic, and frequency of police use of force incidents.
When we say, “we are better than America” it minimizes the actual problems our communities face and marginalizes the voices of those who suffer. Noted plagiarist and Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente provided the perfect example of this in her July column about the Black Lives Matter protest at Toronto Pride.
“But we’re not Ferguson, or anything like it,” wrote Wente in a post shared nearly 60,000 times, according to the Globe and Mail’s social media widgets.
In a roundabout way, Wente (and those who shared the article) suggests that because it is not as bad as the epicenter for racial tensions, the police violence is acceptable. Those complaining should be grateful, because look how bad it is over there.
Would the people who hold this opinion say this to the family of Abdirahman Abdi, the 37-year-old black man with mental health issues who died after a police altercation in Ottawa in late July?
Would the people who hold this opinion say this to the family of Andrew Loku, the 45-year-old black man who was shot to death by police in early July by Toronto police?
How about the indigenous women in Quebec who spoke out against the physical and sexual violence committed by police officers this past March?
What about the other families who lost a loved one due to police violence?
I doubt it, because they would see the real pain this causes to people.
We need to be critical of this pervasive thought. When we hear people saying we are better than America, we need to ask them if we are really doing enough. As long as Canadian police continue to brutalize and attack others, we do not have anything to be proud of.