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From sea to sea, Canadian institutions head for rack and ruin

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Stephen Harper, Nuclear Security Summit, March 2014

Something dramatic is happening to Canada. From sea to sea, old institutions are imploding, reputations are shattering, patterns are dissolving. Canadians are losing confidence in old truths. Perhaps it's that under Stephen Harper, the central institution of Parliament itself has fallen into such disrepute.

The common denominator is an arrogant sense of entitlement, mostly for riches, power or sexual domination, that has at last proved self-destructive.

We may as well begin with this week's most sensational institutional fiasco. Yes, it's the CBC again. With a CBC-loathing government that has slashed funding and appointed a governing board of corporate Conservatives, a senior bureaucracy that seems to have little commitment to the grand principles of public broadcasting, a shrinking and demoralized staff, a disillusioned public no longer ready to fight for it, two of its marquee hosts loudly fired and other CBC celebs on the precipice of unethical behaviour -- how many more nails are needed to seal the CBC's coffin? It's far from unthinkable.

In Alberta, for decades an all-powerful energy industry believed it was entitled to a legislature run by its own retainers. That institutional marriage of convenience has now come crashing down, utterly repudiated by Albertans. But will the newly elected government actually be allowed to govern, or will the corporate elite insist on its entitlements -- or else?

In the Senate, a grotesque sense of entitlement and contempt for public service has finally brought the obsolete temple crashing down on itself. Too many Hon. Senators know no honour. Everywhere that financial advantage could be taken, advantage was taken. You'd also think that a prime minister dedicated to reforming the Senate wouldn't think he was entitled to appoint his campaign manager, party president, press secretary and chief fundraiser. In the process, he has helped expose the democratic illegitimacy of the institution.

What do we say about an RCMP that plummets from being the nation's symbol of our strength and decency to almost a national embarrassment? It's true that the Mounties themselves have worked hard over the decades to undermine their own myth, which includes strikebreaking, barn-burning and spying on people like me. Yet its iconic status resisted all awkward truths until now, when in a single week the force was humiliated on three different fronts.

In New Brunswick, as we learned, RCMP brass provided their forces with inadequate weapons, making them easier prey for a Justin Bourque. In Ottawa, the Ontario Provincial Police concluded that the RCMP response to the rampage by Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was "highly inadequate" and it's just dumb luck that he killed only one man. Mountie brass insist "no human error" was involved and no one is to be punished. In B.C., no fewer than 375 former female employees -- 375! -- are fighting a class action suit based on harassment, bullying and gender discrimination suffered at the hands of male colleagues and superiors. How can a federal police force operate when it loses the respect and confidence of its citizens?

There's a shabby link among several of the troubled institutions: Old-fashioned moronic misogyny -- men's brutish conviction that they're entitled to treat women however abusively they want. Uniforms especially seem to bring out the caveman in Canadian men. Cops across the country are routinely accused of caring less for Indigenous women than non-Indigenous ones, including the 1,181 murdered and missing Indigenous females listed by the RCMP.

In fact, the parallels between the Mounties and the Canadian Armed Forces are too blatant to miss. They range from indifference at the very top to the actual behaviour of the troops, not to mention the failure of the Harper government to take any of it seriously.

Here's the question too rarely asked: If Canadian male soldiers treat their female peers in this contemptible way, how do they act when we ship them to foreign lands?

Look at the recent record. First came the report by former Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps documenting the poisonous "sexualized culture" in the armed forces where sexual misconduct was "endemic." Then the haughty refusal by the chief of the defence staff to endorse the need for an independent body for sexual assault victims to turn to. Then the revelations of sexual assault complaints at the Royal Military College, home of the future leaders of our armed forces. Then the verbal abuse and harassment suffered by sexual violence educator Julie Lalonde at the hands of RMC cadets. Then the five months she waited to receive an apology.

Soon many of these cadets will join the regular forces where sexual misconduct is already "endemic" and they will become the brave troops Canadians love to honour.

Canadians have lost confidence, even feel betrayed, by the heedless sense of entitlement that has brought these institutions to their present state of disgrace. Public service, simple respect for peers, commonsense and common decency -- they all seem ideals from an earlier innocent age. It's a sad time for the country.


This article originally appeared in The Globe and Mail.

Image: Flickr/pmwebphotos

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