Let me try to add some balance to recent discussions of anti-Americanism, in Canada and the world, by saying something on anti-Canadianism in the United States. Please don’t break up before I start. It’s typical of Canadians to think Americans can’t hate us, because they don’t care enough, or even pay enough attention, according to an ambiguous headline (U.S. Thinks Little Of Canada: Poll”) in the National Post.

Interestingly, this mirrors a disbelief leftists often feel on learning their phones might be bugged or meetings infiltrated. “Oh surely the cops [or ruling class, etc.] don’t take us that seriously” — as if politics is really about self-esteem.

As a scrap of evidence, here’s an item from my reader mail, under the subject, Outrageous American Hating Leftie Wimp: “Without America, you Canadians would be living in igloos. Get down on your knees and pray thanks to almighty God that we’re your protectors!”

It’s not exactly common but there’s a persistent strain of this stuff, especially since September 11. (Along with many Americans who look to The Globe and Mail and other Canadian sources for what they call rationality, balance or sanity.)

There are also public items, such as George W. Bush’s failure to mention Canada among his other allies during his State of the Union speech or his tardy regrets over the U.S. bomb that killed four servicemen. These are in the realm of slights, a significant social category, and may be meaningful, given the number of people involved in what comes out of the President’s mouth or doesn’t.

O Canada has been booed at U.S. hockey arenas and singer Robert Pomakov, who does anthems, had his Canadian flag burned by a crowd chanting “U.S.A.” in the parking lot outside a game in Long Island.

For more content in the rancour, take the attitudes of U.S. elites toward our health-care system. There is a long history of animosity for its resistance to U.S. corporate incursions and for the bad example it sets (“the Canadian model”) since polls tend to show most Americans would like a similar system.

So a paper like The New York Times, seen as the far left of the mainstream, frequently attacks and vilifies it: Canada’s Health Care Shows Strains; The Single Payer Trap; Canada’s No Medical Model.

Looking further back, I recall a Toronto conference on writers and human rights at which the great Russian poet-in-exile, Joseph Brodsky, who had become a U.S. citizen and patriot, said there was no reason to follow the agenda set out by “the Canadians.”

He said he “worried” about “you Canadians,” because we lacked a clear, pro-U.S., anti-Soviet focus. Of course, he had a right to his views. What I’m commenting on is the use of “the Canadians” with the implication: mushy and sanctimonious.

These cases range from light to less so and all I’m saying is I think they have some meaning. I consider hostility, conflict and hate parts of normal human experience that are to be dealt with rather than wiped out or criminalized. I’d rather know about them than not. The black joke that went around about the bomb in Afghanistan being payback for Canada’s Olympic gold in hockey was a comment on that undercurrent, that’s all, as was Jean Chrétien’s milder version about U.S. penalties on our lumber.

Why the uptick in these indications since September 11? I’d say on that day many Americans experienced an attack not just on their territory — unprecedented in itself — but on their national sense of exceptionalism and moral superiority. They reacted by insisting more than ever that their country is uniquely righteous, and rejecting all criticism of its behaviour. Either you’re with us or with the terrorists.

Even mild dissent from the official view, and even in areas unrelated to September 11, must now seem more threatening than it did, precisely because their nation has experienced a greater threat than it ever has. If anything like a set of alternate standards, or just a few demurs, exist right across the border with nice old Canada, those might seem particularly irritating.

Please don’t take this to mean I think we should worry about U.S. hostility or crankiness. I feel it’s interesting to know what they think about us and try to understand why, but it says far more about them than about ourselves. I found the uproar in Parliament and elsewhere over 60 Minutes’ “exposé” of our refugee policy embarrassing. But Canadians have always been prone to overreaction.

In 1886, the Brantford-born journalist and novelist, Sara Jeannette Duncan, wrote an exasperated essay in a Canadian magazine called The Week. She described how serious Canadians get when Americans occasionally wonder about why we act as we do, “whereupon one of them tarries in Montreal for three days, ascertains, and prints in Harper’s magazine that it is our Arctic temperature!” Come to think of it, my first published piece of journalism was an article in Harper’s magazine thirty-one years ago, doing my best to explain Canada to American readers.


Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.