A few years ago, a (now deceased) patient of mine was in the office. He had just come out of hospital and he thanked me for looking after him. He then told me I was the best doctor he ever had. It was a touching moment which I’ve always cherished, and was planning on keeping private. But it’s what he said afterwards that I will be reflecting on this Canada Day.
He went on to tell me a little bit more about his life history. I knew that he had immigrated to Canada from Germany, but really not much else about his youth (he was a very private person). He opened up and told me that when he was sixteen, he was a member of the Hitler Youth of the Nazi Party. He fought in World War 2 for the Nazis, where he was eventually shot and captured by Allied forces.
But he also admitted what must have been some very uncomfortable truths for him to retell. He told me when he was a teenager he believed the propaganda about the Germans being the “master race”. He bought into the anti-semitism at the time. He used to look scornfully at people who weren’t white when he was a teenager as he firmly believed what he had been taught – that people of colour were inferior.
After the war, he had a number of odd jobs and eventually immigrated to Canada. In Canada he saw people of all races and ethnicities living and working, mostly respectfully and peacefully together. He worked with, and for, people of many religions and came to realize the errors of his youth. He realized just how wrong the Nazis were in their beliefs. Eventually, he wound up in my practice and I viewed it as an honour and privilege to care for him in the last stages of his life.
I mention this because this Canada Day is going to be one of the most sober ones I can recall. Many are actually tweeting out that we should #cancelcanadaday in light of the many horrific things we have discovered about ourselves and Canada these last few months.
Hundreds of confirmed unmarked graves of Indigenous children, with likely many thousands more yet to be found. Buried in mass graves without anyone to remember them, or their families to carry out traditional ceremonies to honour their children and share their grief.
An Islamaphobic act of domestic terror against an innocent, hard working family in London, Ontario, robbing Canada of four remarkable people who were contributing to making Canada a better place and a better country. Despite the horror and revulsion we feel at this act, there continue to be ongoing Islamaphobic acts such as a man having his beard forcibly cut off, women targeted for wearing a hijab, and attacks on politicians for just saying we must fight Islamophobia.
Anti-Semetic attacks in Canada continue to increase, such as painting swastikas on synagogues and various forms of harassment and violence. A disturbing rise in anti-Asian hate crime and violence, likely incited by people who initially blamed China for the Covid-19 virus. While it’s true that the Wuhan Lab-Leak theory for Covid19 has gone from the realm of tinfoil conspiracy theorist nonsense, to possible, it is egregiously wrong to blame the Asian-Canadian community that has contributed so much to our culture .
And of course, ongoing racism and marginalization of our Black community, even in medicine continues.
I’m sure I’ve missed many groups, but you get the point. This Canada Day, we are coming to grips with the fact that Canada has many flaws and much room to improve. This is particularly true for immigrants like myself who (still) truly believe that Canada is the best country in the world. To see so many failings exposed in a country you love is heartbreaking.
It is right and just and, well, Canadian to think about how we can make Canada a better country for everyone. We must all continue to strive for decency, fairness, equality and fundamental freedoms for all of us. We must come to a fair solution to recognize how we have harmed the Indigenous people to our national shame.
However, this year on Canada Day, I will think of my patient.
I will think about how despite what has happened this last year, there is likely no other country on this earth where an immigrant from Pakistan could be given an opportunity as a child to work diligently and wind up as a small town family doctor. And where that same immigrant, could wind up with a patient from a time and place that held repugnant views.
Canada gave me an opportunity to succeed if I grasped it. But it also gave my patient an opportunity to learn, to grow as a person, to put aside old biases and hatreds. It gave him a chance to get to know other people, and realize we are all human. It gave us a chance to meet, and yes, to learn from each other.
This year on Canada Day, I will think about my patient…. I will think of my friend. I will think about what he taught me. I will think of what we must reclaim.
I will think about the promise that is Canada.