Spirit Quest

Our country, a home and a refuge

By The Reverend Doctor Hanns F. Skoutajan

The Reverend Doctor Hanns F. Skoutajan

It is somewhat surprising and ego deflating that when one leaves Canada for a few days one scarcely hears a whisper about this land, the True North, Strong and Free. It isn’t that this is an unknown land, lots of people have heard about our nation, indeed, it is held in high esteem all around the world. Its just that the day to day happenings that affect Canadians don’t make it into the news, especially if you rely only on Fox or CNN.

I have recently travelled abroad with a group of Americans and it is appalling how little they seem to know about their northern neighbour. Many have never visited us beyond the left bank of the Niagara River.

Years ago in a taxi in Athens the driver recognized my maple leaf lapel pin. He spoke little or no English but with a grin turned and announced "Ben Johnson", the disgraced Olympic athlete. A few moments later he repeated the gesture this time with "Margaret Trudeau" coming from his mouth.

I have been questioned about the state of Quebec separatism on the cruise from which I have just returned. Although our press has been highlighting the role our prime minister has played in recent international conferences, making out as though he saved free trade., no one in Spain or Germany heard much about it let alone know his name or that of his rival Ignatieff . Even in the realm of hockey Canadian professional teams seem to have fallen off the screen.

Lets face it, we are a huge country with a small population, an immense unpolluted space of rocks and trees and muskeg. Many years ago Neville Chamberlain, the prime minister of Britain best known for his collusion with Hitler in the Munich Agreement of 1938 described the people of Czechoslovakia as a "people in a far away country about whom we know nothing." That may be the feelings many have about Canada.

And yet our country has become home and a refuge for people from many parts of the world. Living in Ottawa I am made aware of people from Tibet, Sri Lanka, Chechnia and Sudan, to mention few, who from time to time come with their protest banners to parliament hill.

Early in life I learned the advantage of keeping a low profile, especially in school when unpleasant assignments were handed out or particular individuals were "invited" to the black board or worse, the office. There are definite disadvantages to being "visible or "known."

We have lots of problems from tar sand pollution, seal hunt and our uncertain role in Afghanistan. They keep us busy rather than worrying about our global image. But there is also a spirit alive among us that no matter how insignificant we may appear to others, keeps us concerned and involved with the world. Indeed, Canadians have made significant contributions, militarily in peacekeeping, industrially think of Canadair and the Blackberry. There are names such a Banting and Bethune, Pearson and Louise Arbour, that have made it into news columns. I think it is fair to say that Canadians do not shirk being part of the team.

Image isn't everything. Lets keep striving for peace, justice and the integrity of creation. Keep that spirit alive!

Hanns Skoutajan is author of Uprooted and Transplanted, and The Road to Peace, both available at Canada Books on Line. A documentary film: Hitler's German Foes is based on his first book. He is currently Ecumenical Associate at The Anglican Church of St. John the Evangelist, Ottawa. — Mike Heenan, Literary Editor

24 April 2009 — Return to cover.