For many years I have extolled the virtues of this wonderful country we live in. Regardless of who you are, what faith you worship or where you come from; you have the right to shelter. If you have the good fortune to be clever, able bodied and work hard you can even buy your own house.
Sometimes I forget that these are rights we can never take for granted. We should never overlook the fact that while we live in a country that is a shining example of freedom, there was a time when Canada was not exactly a bastion of human rights.
As a confederation of provinces, Canada could not even guarantee equal rights for all unequivocally until Prime Minister Trudeau created the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982. Prior to that, provinces could and did dole out even basic voting rights piecemeal to different people including Hindus, Chinese, Doukhobors, Aboriginal Peoples and women. These were only a few of many on long and varied lists that were created at will and changed by whim.
We know today that this kind of discrimination is wrong. It is the worst kind of discrimination because it was official. It was the law.
There is still prejudice related to a person’s skin colour or the way a person is dressed. It may be human nature that some people continue to think wrongly about our differences until the day comes when we are all the same. I am happy to see, however, that this kind of prejudice does not seem as prevalent as it once was. It exists today only among the most ignorant portion of society.
It is no longer an issue for a white Protestant man dressed in a suit to go shopping alongside a Hindu woman dressed in a sari. Neither stops to stare at the other nor crosses the road to avoid the other. Both of these folks, however, can be impatient with someone who stumbles with the language or speaks in a heavy accent. I have witnessed that many times.
I wonder if the new prejudice today is audio rather than visual.
I am ashamed to say I have caught myself with impatience for someone’s language ability. I was at a self-serve gas station the other day and the gas nozzle wasn’t working. The man on the intercom was telling me to “make the nozzle twice”. I couldn’t figure out what he was trying to convey. He was simply trying to say, “try it again”. He got his speaking manner backwards because English was not his native language and I became quite frustrated with him.
For me this was especially hypocritical since English is my second language too. You can imagine how low I felt when I thought about that in hindsight.
I felt even lower when I remembered that it was just this past summer that I was in a Tim Hortons shop in Quebec and determinably made my order for lunch in French. It took a while because I was ordering for four people waiting for me out in the parking lot. There was a line up behind me and I imagine they became pretty angry as I stumbled and bumbled with my terrible French. But instead of anger, when I was done I heard, “Tres bon!” and the folks in the shop actually applauded. I stress it was genuine and not sarcastic applause. I am old enough to know the difference. It was such a simple thing yet I was very moved by their kindness and good nature.
Even having experienced that, I maintain that our new prejudice in this country is audio. We are too often short with people who cannot speak the language. We cut them off and give them short shrift for no other reason than they cannot speak as well as we can. We shout at them as if they can understand better if we raise our voice.
So here’s the column this month. When you deal with someone, especially someone in the service industry who needs extra time to speak in English (or French), come on, eh? Cut them some slack. It’s the Canadian thing to do.
Posted: 2010-02-19 08:01:37
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