On Friday, the National Observer website likely received the most Canadian traffic in its history.
An opinion piece written by Amanda Robb titled "A journey with Trudeau from NYU to Brooklyn" was glaringly critical of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the hope accompanying the new leader, and his continued trips into the U.S.
But that's not what serviced the Canadian public's traffic to the webpage - they are used to a lot of opinion pieces about Trudeau, what he's wearing, what his wife is wearing, and if he's hotter than Mexico's president while they search for actual news about the coming and goings of their leader. What angered a lot of people was an off-the-cuff quote attributed to Trudeau. The quote attributed to Canada's leader said the country didn't have colonial baggage like other countries.
I'm not sure Robb knew quite the shit storm she had just started, especially with an inaccurate attribution to a country's leader.
The article was updated later in the day to include the actual quote where the Prime Minister was responding to a question from a student on whether Canada would up their international peacekeeping roles.
"Canada has an awful lot to offer whether it's bilingual officers, whether it's specialists, whether it's a capacity to engage in the world in difficult places without some of the baggage that so many other Western countries have — either colonial pasts or perceptions of American imperialism as a critique that's often out there. That challenge is something Canada is absolutely right to rise to," Trudeau said.
The Q&A around Indigenous issues begins around the 26 minute mark. The remarks in question begin around the 31 minute mark.
It was too late unfortunately since "colonial baggage" had already began trending in Canada. NDP Member of Parliament Niki Ashton stood up in the House of Commons and said "the Prime Minister yesterday in New York told a group of American students that Canada doesn’t have the baggage of colonialism.... Maybe that explains why six days after taking office this government signed a deal to let the Catholic Church off the hook in terms of their financial obligations to residential school survivors.”
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett responded that that document was signed a few days before the Liberals took office, but that's a bit besides the point here. My point is that misquote in a U.S. news site had made it's way into the House. From there, it spread online.
In the context of the original article, people were outraged. It appeared that the Prime Minister, just over a week after a suicide crisis was declared on Attawapiskat and only months after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission final report and recommendations, was dismissing Canada's colonial history.
Unfortunately, it was taken out of context.
In the preceding question in that same Q&A session, Trudeau was asked about the Indigenous relations in Canada. In that answer, he talked about the colonial history.
"We have consistently marginalized, engaged in colonial behaviours, in destructive behaviours, in assimilationist behaviours, that have left a legacy of challenges to a large portion of the people who live in Canada who are Indigenous peoples," Trudeau said.
So there are two major things here. First, this is an important lesson for Amanda Robb, which I assume she won't forget anytime soon. Don't make up quotes and don't attribute things to people in quotation marks that they didn't say - it's never good - but especially when it's the leader of a country. People have Google alerts to either raise Trudeau up or throw him under the bus, the made up quote will be found out. So just don't.
The second major thing has been the fallout from this. People are saying, even within the context of the actual quote and the actual question, Trudeau is still denying Canada's colonial past, present, and activities outside of Canada's borders now. So can Canada talk about other countries colonial pasts and history in a global extent?
On Facebook, I posted that I felt the outrage was over a comment taken out of context and not accurate.
"There is no context in which this wording makes sense," an acquaintance responded, going on to say "The Canadian state still practices colonialism and imperialism globally so regardless of the context he was using, his statement was outrageous."
I'm not sure I agree, but I think it's linked to my position as journalist rather than an advocate.
I think it's important to understand a statement in the context in which it is presented. But I think it's also important to look at an issue, which is linked to your worldview, and have the ability to separate it from that worldview. Each issue needs an intersectional understanding.
In this case, what I mean, is that Canada, specifically when it comes to peacekeeping, needs to see itself and its colonial history. But it also needs to look at how it's colonial history is significantly and intrinsically different than the colonial histories of other western nations.
UN Forces going into Mali will likely have more ease in conversations or even policing if they are Canadian then if they are French, although that's not always the case. Sometimes the French are invited in by the government, but not all parts of the country agree. The British are likely not welcome many places either, or the Dutch, because of their colonial histories. Canada, because of our relationship with the U.S., can be seen as an imperialistic power, or a welcoming one, depending on the circumstance.
In my opinion, recognizing Canada's possible role on a global peace keeping strategy involves understanding that our colonial history is different - and how that can help or hinder the efforts. By doing that, I don't believe it is ignoring our own colonial past and the very real baggage that impacts so many people in the country.
Whether we should engage in peacekeeping efforts and what those should look like are all debates that I think should be welcomed after this comment.
For the current outrage over the "colonial baggage" misquote, I just think maybe we need more words to describe the varied and complicated situations that are happening in a globalized world where issues of post-colonialism are varied and unique, but also paralleled around the world. It's complicated and sometimes our vocabularies don't always work to express that.
Either way to have the intersectional world view, we need to understand comments within the context of where and when they are spoken.
I've been debating on this all day with anyone willing to talk with me. In the end, the conclusion I have come upon is that Trudeau REALLY should have chosen a different word other than colonialism (there are many others he could use) but I don't think that, within the context of the statement, he was dismissing Canada's own colonial history.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
Kelly Geraldine Malone is a freelance journalist, podcaster, and radio producer based out of Manitoba, Canada