Picture Courtesy of Martin Lopatka via Flickr.

The Not-as-Bad Country

The Response to a Tweet That Requires a Blog Post

Desmond Cole on the tragic death of Abdirahman Abdi on July 24, 2016.

For More Information on Abdirahman Abdi’s Death:
Ottawa Man Dies After Police Confrontation
Two Officers Under Investigation

Take an issue, any issue that people in Canada would rather avoid, believe is intractable and unsolvable, or don’t want to expend resources on and inevitably it will be used to justify inaction

The argument goes something like this: “Well this is a problem, but it’s not as bad as it is in the US (its always America) so maybe its not that big a deal. Things are better here than in the US.”

Instantly, all is well because Canada is not as bad or (my preferred formulation) Better-Than the one standard country that seems to count to Canadians.

Whether its hockey or healthcare, even if you have to invent a statistic to make it work, it will appear.

  • A Canadian team hasn’t won the Stanley Cup since before the Internet was a thing, but that’s okay, our hockey team is better than the US’ and we always get that Olympic Gold. 🇨🇦
  • Our healthcare system, across every province, constantly needs high annual increases to continue to function, but at least it’s still better than the medical horror show that is the American system. Costs a bit less too, overall. 🇨🇦

It's a particularly pernicious phenomenon in Canada and now one that seems to be being repurposed in a much more sinister way in the wake of protests from Black Lives Matters — Toronto and the outcry after Abdirahman Abdi’s death.

The Better-than (or Not as Bad) argument is being trotted out to silence activists who fighting the injustices that our fellow Canadians are living with.

And dying from too.


Even in Canada, Black Lives Matter, Matters A Lot

Full Disclosure: I’m not Black and I’m not trying to speak for anyone other than myself here. I’ve never felt afraid of police (even when I was arrested in a foreign country — a story for another time) or had to deal with people casting aspersions on my character because of the colour of my skin.

The Better-Than argument has always been trotted out on the issue of racism, especially in comparison to the United States.

I’m sure I’ve used it an off-handed manner at some point in my life.

I’m also pretty sure that Indigenous people also have some comments to offer on this particular argument.

But its based on a faulty premise: that discrimination and racism in a society, once identified as a problem, can only decrease.

You can overall be ‘better-than’ and still not be better than your neighbour in every measure.

Black Canadians account for about 3% of the population and yet, since around the year 2000, when it was also about roughly 3%, the percentage of Canada’s prisoners who are black has jumped to nearly 9%.

That may not seem huge but as reported by Howard Sapers, the Correctional Investigator of Canada, it has disproportionately impacted black people.

That’s a 70% increase in Black people in Canada’s prisons since 2000.

Does anyone believe that Canadians who are Black have became 70% more inclined to criminality in the last 15 years?

Perhaps, a self-satisfied sense of being better than has allowed racism to start regaining ground in society.

You can be ‘better-than’ and still have specific incidents in which some people and institutions fail to live up to the overall ‘better-than’ standard.

The unlamented and loathsome Harper Government is in large part to blame given how their ‘tough-on-crime’ nonsense that triggered this wave.However as a democracy, we all shoulder the ultimate responsibility.

We tolerated what was happening, believing it couldn’t happen here or even worse, allowing unconscious stereotyping and bias to mute our reactions.

Bad systems enable and encourage bad actors. Bad systems encourage memes to flourish across a society, stigmatizing entire classes of people.

Like all ‘tough-on-crime’ agendas it turned out to be a ‘tough-on-minorities’ agenda and it has succeeded brilliantly at doing what it was designed to do. Over-policing and incarcerating stigmatized people.

Remember all of this the next time that someone tells you that the Conservative Movement in Canada (unlike in the United States, we’re Better-Than after all) is not at all driven by racial anxieties.

You can be ‘better-than’ your neighbour and still not live up to the standard you should expect of yourselves.

While some may pat themselves on the back for the social progress made to date, that can’t be an excuse to pause short of the goal.

Or worse declare victory prematurely.

Racism is not a recent American import. Its something that’s been here from the start and has its own contours and forms. It may borrow from our neighbours but it is still something that is within us. It is still our problem to fix.

Now with the direction that the United States seems to be taking, it will be easier than ever for Canadians to maintain our Better-than status. After all, its going to be a lot easier to be Better-Than a Trumpmerica.


I believe in the idea of Canada and in the ability of Canadians to live up to the ideals we have chosen for ourselves. We’ve come a long ways from being a patchwork to keep squabbling British colonies together.

We’re still a patchwork though and a work in progress. The journey from here to the realization of those ideals is long and much hard work remains.

But we will never actually arrive at that destination if we continue to embrace that Better-Than the United States (or anywhere else) is good enough.

Canada has a serious racism problem. It is not American in origin and it impacts all of us negatively, even those who do benefit from it. It should go without saying that it is also profound moral issue and that as long as it exists, far too many are complicit in it.

It is having a devastating impact on the lives of Black Canadians, Indigenous communities and marginalized and racialized groups.

Equality in society is not graded on a curve. Equality is a pass/fail exam with only one question. Either you have it or you don’t. And right now there’s still a lot of Canadians who don’t have it.

Tomorrow’s Canada needs to be Better-than today’s Canada. And it has to get better each and every day.

A Not-as-Bad Country is just a failure, forever.


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