Jose Soriano sees Canada as an adventure and a challenge

Jose Soriano entered the pharmacy. It was a warm summer day in Montreal – a perfect day to get outdoors and enjoy the weather. His wife Leydy suggested they get some sunscreen first, so Jose volunteered to go get it. As he walked past the aisles, he spotted a clerk. Thinking he might get some advice, he decided to ask her a question about the sunscreen. He opted to speak French because he was in Montreal and because he thought it would be polite, but he very quickly realized his mistake. His French wasn’t good enough and he was just confusing the clerk. He promptly switched to English, hoping he would be understood, but that failed as well. To his amazement, the clerk continued speaking in French; then she simply turned and walked away!

As a new resident of Canada, Jose says his encounter in the pharmacy was just one of the many cultural challenges he’s faced since emigrating from Venezuela. Experiencing difficulty finding the right sunscreen might be a small hurdle, but it illustrates how even seemingly simple, everyday tasks can become points of miscommunication. Despite that, Jose says his decision to come to Canada is one of the best decisions he’s ever made.

Jose left Caracas, Venezuela when he was 31. At the time, he had limited proficiency in the English language, which he had picked up during his time at university. For this and other reasons, leaving Venezuela was not an easy decision. Not only was he leaving the familiarity of his country, he was leaving his friends and his loved ones.

“Leaving my family behind is still the most difficult thing. It will take years for me to overcome that,” Jose says. Thankfully, Jose’s family who live in Venezuela but are of Italian decent, have been very understanding and supportive. Venezuela has experienced many years of political, economic and social upheaval. Employment opportunities are scarce and crime is a real concern. In fact, when Jose arrived in Canada, he was surprised at how different it was from his home country.

“I was surprised by how respectful Canadians are. They seem to respect the law in every aspect.” It’s not surprising Jose feels this way. According to a 2013 Gallup report, Venezuela is one of the most “insecure” nations in the world due, in part, to a very high murder rate. One of the generally cited reasons for the problem is a dismal economic situation.

Two important criteria Jose considered in selected Canada as the place to start a new life were better career opportunities and the fact that Canada is highly rated on world indexes for standard of living.

Jose’s gamble is paying off. Since coming to Canada, first to Montreal and later to Calgary, he has worked hard to build his skills as a photographer. Being a photographer is a competitive prospect, but Jose feels he has some cultural advantages that will help him succeed.

“I grew up in an environment where you have to fight for what you want. I never got the easy toy, trip or car I wanted. I had to fight and work hard in every sense to get that,” Jose explains.

In his efforts to create a new life in Canada, Jose was not alone. He had the support of his wife Leydy who immigrated with him.

“When I met Jose, he’d been already working on the immigration project to Canada. I had no immigration plans at that moment, but I supported him by agreeing to come together and have a new start,” Leydy says.

Leydy says that one of her and Jose’s primary goals was to adapt to the culture of Canada as much as possible even though Canadians can sometimes make that difficult for them.

“I think Jose has struggled. It’s been difficult for him to get used to starting from the very beginning in another country where you have no friends, no family, no social connections,” Leydy says, adding, “It’s been difficult for him to get accustomed to [Canadian] people not trusting foreigners.”

According to Jose, making friends was easier in Venezuela, whereas in Canada it takes longer to build a level of trust. It’s is one of the things that he misses most about his home. However, he’s got a list of other things too: the food, the hot weather and, of course, his family. Jose laughs and jokes about Canada’s cold weather saying no country can be perfect.

It’s been three years since Jose arrived in Canada. His English has improved steadily and he is finding it easier to communicate. Basic communication is easier, but Jose doubts he will ever truly feel Canadian.

“Sometimes I think I will never feel like a Canadian because I have very strong Italian culture and, of course, Venezuelan. At this age it is kind of difficult to adopt the Canadian culture fully, but I’m pretty sure I will get used to it.”

Although finding his footing in a new country is a lifelong process, getting the right sunscreen is no longer a problem. Now, Jose has bigger fish to fry. He’s been working on his photography business and recently enrolled in a user experience design program at Bloc, an organization specializing in online training. If there’s one recurring theme in Jose’s life it is this: the drive to succeed, despite the obstacles.

“My family and business are my biggest focuses in my life. I think they are linked; one doesn’t work without the other. So, I will keep working hard to achieve my goals and when I get them I will start looking for another challenge to keep me alive.”


Traveling exhibition sparks conversation

The Berger Inquiry

Drew Ann Wake, a CBC reporter and museum curator, is traveling the country educating students about a 40-year-old government inquiry that is now seen as a watershed moment for Canada. But some are worried that recent legislation could undermine the inquiry process. “The Inland Waters Act was changed a year ago. It takes all kind of waterways across Canada out of the public investigation and public inquiry process,” Wake says.

In 1974, the Canadian government commissioned the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry, led by Justice Thomas Berger. Berger had a history in politics, having been elected to the House of Commons at age 29 and the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia at age 34. Yet it was his role as a Supreme Court of British Columbia Justice and Royal Commissioner for the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry, commonly referred to as the Berger Inquiry, that he best known for.

The Berger Inquiry marked a crossroads in Canadian history as the federal government sought to understand the environmental, social and economic impacts of a proposed pipeline tracking through the Mackenzie River Valley, an area inhabited by over thirty, primarily aboriginal, communities.

Three years after the Berger Inquiry was commissioned, Justice Berger released the first volume of his report and the second a few months later. It concluded areas along the proposed pipeline route were likely to suffer significant environmental damage. The economic benefits touted by supporters of the pipeline were deemed undesirable because short-term, low-wage jobs were likely to undermine the traditional economic activities such as fishing and hunting. Finally, the social impacts of the pipeline could be disastrous for aboriginal communities. Justice Berger officially recommended a ten-year moratorium so land claims and conservation could be properly addressed.

At that time, Drew Ann Wake was a young journalist living in British Columbia. Recognizing a story of great importance developing, she travelled the Mackenzie Valley, reporting for the CBC. Now, 40 years later, Wake is still telling the story of the Berger Inquiry in the form of what she calls a teaching exhibition. In the past five years she has brought her teaching exhibition to over 30 destinations across Canada with over half the stops in the Northwest Territories and Yukon. The exhibition has been to major universities across the country and a visit to Dalhousie University is planned, which will mark the first time the exhibition has been to the Maritimes.

The spark that ignited Wake’s university tour happened in 2009 when she found a cache of audio recordings on cassette tapes. The tapes featured the voices of aboriginal elders talking at various Berger Inquiry consultations.

“Some of them were tapes from the formal hearings and community hearings, but others were interviews. I knew nobody else had the interview materials, so I said to myself ‘I have to do something’. The original instinct was to get them into the archives in Yellowknife so that people could listen to them as part of the historical record,” Wake says.

But there was a problem. Some of the voices on the tapes were unknown. Wake and photographer Linda MacCannell decided to see if they could identify the voices by traveling to the communities along the Mackenzie Valley. Along the way, MacCannel captured portraits of people involved in the Berger Inquiry. “As were doing that, we realized that we had enough material to build an exhibition,” Wake says.

The exhibition’s large format photographs, signage and booklets provide the setting for an educational, participatory process normally centered on student debates. However, in September, a group of journalist students at Calgary’s Mount Royal University experienced the exhibition in a novel way. The student journalists played the role of 1970s reporters directing questions to Justice Berger, who was on site to answer questions.

No matter the format of the exhibition, Wake thinks the educational goal is the same. “That’s what has been so fascinating. I say, ‘so what does this experience say to you?’ It’s almost invariable that young people say, ‘well, it makes me question the current process. We no longer have inquiries that are this detailed and this careful in their assessment’,” Wake says, adding, “So I think of this as a dialogue between generations.”

Review of Peter A. Goddard’s “The Devil in New France: Jesuit Demonology”

The essay The Devil in New France: Jesuit Demonology, 1611-50 by Peter A. Goddard is an informative and well researched look at the attitudes and opinions of the Jesuits and early missionaries regarding demonology during the pre-enlightenment period of the early to mid-seventeenth century in New France. Goddard’s opening paragraph focuses on the observations of a number of pioneering missionaries and Jesuits which lends credence to the theory that demonology was alive and well in the minds of these religious men. Quoted or paraphrased sources include Paul Le Jeune, Jean de Brébeuf and Pierre Biard. These sources are especially relevant as they supply the reader with firsthand observations by people that lived in the culture and time in question, namely between 1611-50. Goddard presents ample evidence suggesting Jesuits truly believed Algonquian and Iroquoian peoples where directly influenced by the Devil. Bruce Trigger, Karen Anderson and William Eccles concur that Jesuits had an ardent belief in the Devil and that New France was “truly a fertile ground for the Demon.”

The clash of cultures between European explorers and First Nations people reveals a host of differences in attitudes, beliefs and core values that often led to misunderstandings and even armed conflicts. First Nations were generally matrilineal, while the Jesuits where patrilineal. The multitude of cultural differences led to mutual suspicion and distrust. Although both Europeans and First Nations had colourful and well-entrenched beliefs in the afterlife, the European’s dogmatic approach and religious zeal framed their mission to convert the so-called savages. Since the native’s beliefs were not organized or hierarchical, the Europeans did not consider them to be true religion. They believed that the only path to eternal salvation lay in the acceptance of the Catholic religion through baptism. It can be argued that First Nations people may have been more accepting of Catholicism if not for the fact that many baptized people were struck down by disease and illnesses. The Jesuits exhibited a number of other characteristics that further exacerbated the issue, for example they had a tendency to dress in all black, they had mysterious contrivances, such as clocks and the written word. First Nations relied on oral tradition in the form of stories or songs in order to pass on information and to record their history as a people. These cultural differences led many First Nations to distrust the white men and to think of them as sorcerers and workers of evil magic.

For their part, the Europeans had their own misconceptions regarding the native people. Initially, they were quick to assign devilish influences whenever they witnessed practices they considered to be irreligious.  Dream guidance was one such issue of contention. Jean de Brébeuf states that the natives “consider the dream as the master of their lives, it is the God in their country.” The issue of dream guidance is also referenced in the film Black Robe, released in 1991. In the film, Chimona, the Algonquin Chief, has a prophetic dream about Jean LaForgue, a Jesuit priest who is traveling with them. With great import and reverence he recounts the dream to his men. His dream suggests a course of action, which is interpreted as the need to leave Jean LaForgue, the Black Robe, behind. When one of Chimona’s warriors says, “a dream is more real than death and battle” it further illustrates the importance of dreams to the First Nations people. The early Jesuits saw these dreams as evidence of direct communication between the Devil and the heathens.

The concept of good and evil, heaven and hell, and the struggle between God and the Devil was pervasive during the seventeenth century. The Jesuits used these themes to underscore the importance of conversion. Through the use of illustrations or pictures, Jesuits could communicate exoterically to their intended converts. It is worth noting that when the Jesuits requested images from Europe they asked for demonic depictions of hell, not the gentler and uplifting images of Jesus and heaven. This may have been a tool used to frighten the people into accepting baptism. Contrary to the use of fear and scare tactics, the Europeans also gave gifts as a way to incent co-operation. These gifts included basic tools and implements as well as the highly prized muskets, which according to French policy were only given to “First Nations people that were baptized.”

The ultimate goal of the Jesuits was to bring religion, and therefore salvation, to the natives. They saw this as their heavenly mandate, but their progress was slow and setbacks were common. In order to explain their lack of progress, the Jesuits often referred to the Devil as being the source of their problems. Whether they truly believed this or were using it as an excuse is difficult to determine, but it is clear that explaining natural events in the light of demonology was still an accepted practice.

By 1650 the Devil was seen as an ever-present agent working against the Jesuits in an overarching sense if not in a direct way. This fact is evidenced in the Relations sent back to France. Whether or not the Devil was involved in specific and individual events remained an open question, although skepticism was a growing position among progressive Jesuits. In fact, Jesuits began to interrogate the “unlearned and religiously suspect witnesses” in order to disprove their claims of diabolic activity. The burden of proof for demonic interference, and miracles alike, was being raised. It can be argued that rampant demonology threatened to spiral out of control and therefore needed to be reined in if the Jesuits wanted to maintain their authority on matters of the divine and supernatural. As demonology came under heavier scrutiny it was used less and less as a way to explain the undesirable customs of the natives. Paul Ragueneau was pragmatic in entreating his fellow Jesuits to treat irreligion as mere stupidity. He may have been shrewd enough to know that humiliating the natives by pointing out the silliness of their actions was more efficacious than doggedly forbidding native customs as crimes against God. Paul Ragueneau was also reluctant to attribute dream guidance as direct intercourse with the Devil, rather attributing these claims to “herd mentality and suggestibility.” Using this approach the Jesuits were apt to discredit native beliefs and to substitute their own biased ideas. It is possible the Jesuits were able to discern the tactics of the shamans to  “invent … new contrivances to keep his people in a state of agitation and to make himself popular” because they used these same tactics themselves.

Both First Nations and Europeans had deeply entrenched worldviews. They both viewed the customs and practices of the other party through the lens of superstition and fear. Ultimately, that clash of cultures led to the destruction of many lives, and even the extinction of entire populations. As Goddard’s essay makes clear, the tendency for people to invent elaborate fantasies to explain that which they do not understand is a reoccurring theme. It is a lesson that must not be forgotten, lest we slip back into ignorance and false ideology.

Canada: A History of Environmental Exploitation

Canada is a nation with abundant natural resources including coal, oil, gas, fish and game animals, fertile farm land, rare metals and minerals, fresh water and timber. Although Canada’s resources are abundant, they are not limitless. Striking a balance between economic growth and environmental stewardship has been an ongoing challenge for Canadians since the first European settlers colonized eastern Canada and the Maritimes.

For thousands of years before the arrival of the first Europeans, First Nations people had unrestricted access to Canada’s lands and its resources. First Nations’ impact on the land was negligible and they were able to maintain near equilibrium with nature. Although First Nations hunted many animals, they did not take any more than what was needed to feed and clothe the tribe. Buffalo, deer, beavers, and fish were used as food sources and trees were felled to construct teepees or longhouses. First Nations made excellent use of the resources they took from nature. When a buffalo or deer was killed, the meat was used for food and the rest of the animal was also used for other purposes. The skins, bones, innards and sinew were used to make tools, clothing and cooking utensils. In this way, First Nations people minimized their impact on the environment. Nothing was wasted; their use of natural resources was sustainable.

When European settlers arrived in Canada, they discovered a land that was largely untouched. Forests were plentiful, wildlife was abundant and the ocean waters around the Maritimes were home to colossal fish stocks. Although First Nations people were already established in the Maritimes and along the St. Lawrence River, Europeans did not recognize the rights of the First Nations people. Instead, they began to divide up the land for colonization and farming. They also established large-scale fisheries. The impact on the environment was significant. Large areas of forest were clear-cut to prepare the land for farming. Without trees, whose root systems held together the soil, erosion began to take place. Rich topsoil was washed away into the surrounding river systems and many farms simply dried up.

In New Brunswick, the timber industry was big business. By1826, fully 75 percent of that province’s export revenues came from timber. Historical Geographer Graeme Wynn noted the impact of the timber industry on the local rivers: “Sawdust dumped into the rivers soon became sodden, sank to the bed of the stream, disturbed the river ecology, and obstructed navigation. In suspension it floated downstream, was deposited on the banks and intervals, and drastically reduced fish populations.” Deforestation was negatively impacting the environment, but the economy was being stimulated by the sale of lumber. With a steady supply of wood, the shipbuilding industry in New Brunswick flourished.

Early European settlers put pressure on the environment in a number of ways besides the felling of trees. Across Canada, different regions were facing different ecological pressures. In Nova Scotia, marshlands were drained by Acadians to make room for farms. In Quebec, forests were felled and land was eroded. Around the Maritimes oceans were being over fished. In British Columbia, otters were nearly decimated for their pelts. In the north, seal populations were being reduced by over hunting. Indeed, all across Canada, animals, especially beavers, were slaughtered en masse for their furs, which were fashionable in Europe.

As Canada’s economy became increasingly dependant on trade, the demand for resources intensified. First Nations were not immune to the pressures to conform and trade. Because of a growing dependency on European goods such as guns and iron implements, First Nations began to take more from the land than what they needed to survive. They hunted and trapped as many animals as they could in order to trade with the Europeans. The culture of aboriginal people was being influenced by metropolitanism and a burgeoning trade economy that extended across Canada. Once careful custodians of the land, they were now complicit in the decimation of animal populations. As animal populations declined, the traditional way of life for First Nations people became less and less viable.

Pollution and environmental degradation were not only affecting rural areas, but cities as well. By the early 1900s Canada’s urban populations were facing major pollution problems. Large amounts of sewage and refuse were being generated as cities expanded. Many municipalities simply drained waste into the nearest rivers or lakes. For example, in 1911, city officials in Vancouver hired expert sanitation engineer R.S. Lea to design a sewerage system to deal with the wastewater problem. Lea’s plan involved building a network of sewers to collect waste from houses. The waste would then be routed into larger inceptor sewers and finally pumped into the sea or the Fraser River. This approach demonstrated a belief commonly held in the early 1900s that nature was like a sponge into which pollution could be absorbed.  In his report, Sink or Swim, Arn Keeling illustrates the lack of foresight regarding environmental protection among leading city planners: “Lea’s definition of pollution weighed hygienic, aesthetic, and economic considerations, not environmental quality per se.”

After World War II, Canadians began to prosper and the economy was growing. By the 1950s many newly prosperous Canadians were taking part in outdoor recreational activities. Provincial parks were overflowing with visitors putting natural ecosystems at risk. Early conservationists called for the protection of natural habitats in the form of nature preserves. In Ontario, the government introduced a program of park expansion in response to the high demand for protected parks.

During the 1960s and 1970s, environmental issues came to the forefront of Canadian’s collective consciousness. Environmental protection groups, such as Greenpeace, were founded as citizens sought to affect change. Clean water was of paramount importance. Novelist Hugh MacLennan’s insistence that Canadians should “think like a river” lent support to the general populace’s concern over the environment. Pulp and paper companies and smelting companies were the biggest offenders in polluting the water. Because cleaning up the production process was a huge expense, critics petitioned the government to force companies to share the burden. Detergent manufacturers were also to blame. Their phosphate-laden suds were causing rampant algae, depleting oxygen levels in the water and killing vast quantities of fish. Politicians responded by addressing public concerns. In June 1969, Vancouver’s Mayor Tom Campbell took a swim in English Bay to show his constituents that the water was clean and that pollution was being dealt with, however his critics were quick to point out that there was still more to be done. Because of mounting pressure from environmentalists, including the Pollution Probe, the government agreed to take steps to cut phosphate use.

Although water pollution was still an issue, in the 1970s air pollution from automobiles seized the public’s attention. Both in Canada and the US, regular citizens and environmentalists alike demanded that something be done to curb emissions. Smog covered major Canadian cities including Calgary, Montreal and Vancouver. In 1970, the United States Congress passed stringent new laws to cut back on automobile emissions in their Clean Air Act. Canada, however, did not follow suit by harmonizing their laws to those of their American neighbours. Historian Dimitry Anastakis noted, “In Canada, the federal government and industry focused upon the economic consequences of harmonized emission standards.” Once again economic considerations trumped ecological concerns.

In the 1980s, pressure on government to enact environmental protections reached new heights. Canadians had discovered the ill effects of unregulated economic growth.  Local and national issues dovetailed with global issues such as global warming, acid rain, ozone depletion and the destruction of the rain forest.  Canada responded by signing a number of multilateral agreements designed to address environmental concerns. Although people were looking to the government for better regulations and environmental protections they were increasingly looking to their own consumption habits as one means to reduce demands on natural resources. Citizens organized by forming associations and political lobbies to support a variety of environmentally friendly initiatives.

Passing laws to protect the environment was not easy for regulators. Many of the largest polluters were also important to the economy since they employed thousands of workers. When the provinces attempted to impose controls, companies resisted and threatened to close down operations.

Public support for environmental protection historically takes a back seat to economic issues. When given a choice between supporting job creation or the environment, most people put their immediate self-interest above potential long-term damage to the biosphere. The negative effects of cutting corners by exploiting natural resources in unsustainable ways is often hard to see until much time has passed. In the 1990s, cash-strapped provincial governments found it easier to cut environmental spending than to cut other programs such as health care. Indeed, budgets were so low that existing eco-regulations were often unenforceable due to lack of funding to monitor compliance.

Canada’s history of exploiting its natural resources for economic gain has evolved over time. Many positive changes have been made as a result of increased public awareness. While the fur trade once threatened to wipe out whole species of animals, endangered animals are now protected. Beavers, sea otters and many other endangered animals have made spectacular comebacks. Clear cutting forests have given way to sustainable management of the timber industry. Old growth forests are now protected. Many national and provincial parks have been created. Laws to reduce carbon emissions have been enacted. Water has been treated and cleaned.

Today, many challenges still remain, but many Canadians are now aware that the environment and the economy are inextricably linked. In the 1990s, when Newfoundland’s cod fishery collapsed, around 40,000 fishers and fish processors were put out of work. The dangers of unsustainable exploitation of Canada’s natural resources are generally understood and public support for sustainable development, minimized consumption and recycling are strong. Unless Canada plans for the long-term protection and management of its resources, the results will be dire.  In this, Canada is not alone. The global community of industrialized nations is struggling to address environmental concerns in ways that will not hurt job creation. Politicians in Canada have an opportunity to lead the world in this area, but they are still putting industry ahead of environment. For example, in 2006 when Stephen Harper was elected as Prime Minister, his Conservative government rejected many of the goals of the Kyoto Accord because of the risks posed to the economy. Later, in 2007, Canada rejected the implementation of revised proposals unless all countries agreed to them.

As a country with vast natural resources, Canada’s economy has benefited from globalization through its exports of coal, grain, minerals, oil and timber to countries like the United States, Japan and China. The Canadian economy depends on these key exports for much of its GDP. As history has shown, Canada has faced a number of environmental challenges in relation to the management of industry. As technology progresses, new environmental issues will arise. Historical patterns can help politicians make informed policy decisions as they deal with emerging issues such as genetically modified crops and oil sands production. The history of Canada’s exploitation and subsequent management of its environmental resources is of profound importance for regular citizens and policy makers alike. The challenge now for Canadians is to learn from the past and apply those lessons to the future.