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Canada 150: No Prescription For Prejudiced Patients

Blaming decades-long bigotry on a foreign leader may make for good copy, but it absolves the culprits of their responsibility for their actions, their words, their ingrained racism.

06/23/2017 13:09 EDT | Updated 06/23/2017 13:09 EDT
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Male doctor taking notes in office.

Canada 150 is upon us. As such, the powers that be recycle the highlights of Canadian history. Perhaps this exercise doesn't provide the introspection required for Canada to mature into a great nation. Too many media have reported that the overly racist Mississauga woman's demand for "a white doctor" to treat her ailing son was "really shocking," or that the behaviour mirrored the ideology summoned by the 45th American president.

Canadians' racist outbursts are framed as an American import. Apparently, bigoted Canadians draw their social cues not from 24 Sussex Drive or the multicultural mosaic that Canada espouses, but from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC.

Not only is this lazy journalism to associate made-in-Canada racial discrimination with a foreign head of state, it is historically illiterate.

Saving Private Canuck

During the First World War (1914 – 1918), Queen's University in Kingston,Ont. housed a military hospital for wounded veterans. At that time, although black immigrants were banned, they were allowed to enter Canada to study. Queen's Medical school admitted Caribbean students from other British colonies –- Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, etc. Many of them were not Caucasian.

Black medical students were described as "hard-working and capable" by the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine. Regardless of their qualifications, black students were tolerated, if not completely integrated into Queen's University's student body. However, the patients they treated weren't as forbearing.

The Canadian military was chiefly a "white-only" club, with very few exceptions. For example, the 48th Highlanders refused to accept black enlistments, stating, "we have, being a kilted regiment, always drawn the line at taking coloured men." The two groups -- Black international students and White Canadian war veterans -- remained essentially siloed.

Near the end of the World War I, Canadian forces which had recently returned to from the war front vehemently resisted being treated by black medical students. Some soldiers insisted that only white medical students be allowed to treat them. The protest prompted Queen's U to bow to racism: the university swiftly removed the offending "negro students." All black medical students, even those who weren't in clinical courses, were expelled in 1918.

[Queen's] University argued that the decision to expel the Black students from the Medical program was not a decision based on the sentiments or attitudes of the university, but it reflected the desires of the general population.

There is no record of apologies nor compensation for the wrongfully expelled students.

Platitudes and Progress

Black students were not readmitted to Queen's University Medical School until the late 1940s. The University of Toronto practiced similar racial expulsion in the postwar period. McGill University Medical School did not admit any Black students until the early 1920s.

Blaming decades-long bigotry on a foreign leader may make for good copy, but it absolves the culprits of their responsibility for their actions, their words, their ingrained racism. Like Queen's University, which pointed to exoteric triggers when faced with immoral behaviour in their midst, today's media is quick to blame extraneous influences for made-in-Canada racism.

One hundred and fifty years is young for a country, but the constant downplay of Canada's intrinsic race problem is getting really old.

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