Working Towards an Open and Just Society
Closing Thoughts on Phase 1 of the Right to Remain Project
by Herb Varley
Canada likes to present itself to the world in a certain way. The image of Canada is often that of an open, tolerant, society; one that anyone can come to and thrive in, just as long as they work hard. One thing that we have learned over the course of the “Right to Remain” project is that this image of Canada is largely a work of fiction. This is not just based on my personal experiences, but what we’ve gathered after hearing and sharing the stories of the hard realities of the people in the Downtown Eastside. The question now is, “How do we make the image of a tolerant Canada a reality?”
We have already taken a first step; we have shared some of the hidden history of Canada. When acts of violence are brought upon people because of their ethnic background it is usually treated as a one-off incident. The brutal suppression of Indigenous rights is treated as a thing of the past. As we speak there are people in Unist’ot’en who may face serious jail time for defending land that neither they nor their ancestors gave up or sold. Similarly, the old days of conjuring up the ‘’Yellow Menace’’ is said to be an embarrassing thing of the past. But as I write this, the housing crisis in BC is blamed on some vague kind of Chinese foreigner. The simple fact of the matter is that the Right to Remain is constantly being challenged. The methods are less brutal and not so out in the open than in the past. Does that make these acts of violence any less hurtful? We have to share our stories in order to learn from the past and look out for warning signs that our “Right to Remain” will be challenged next.
One may ask, “What is the right to remain?” People might say that nobody has the right to remain, that it’s a “silly idea.” They may believe that no group of people should get special treatment. But I argue that the right to remain has a long history. That some groups of Canadians have had special treatment, based on their wealth, the colour of their skin, the God they worship, or their gender, or some combination of these. The “Savage” was made up in order to keep Canada “Civilized.” The “Yellow Menace” was made up in order to keep Canada (mostly and often) “White.” The list goes on. It seems that the image of Canada only includes people who can successfully assimilate into whatever these “special” Canadians decides is tolerable.
I’ll let you in on one last secret. Politicians don’t make change, people do, and politicians make policy after change has been made.
So all we need to do to change the image of Canada into an open and tolerant reality is to be the change we want. Eventually the politics should follow.
Revitalizing Japantown? – A Right To Remain Exhibit
October 24 – January 31, 2016
A creative repossession of the human rights legacies of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES). This multi-layered exhibition looks at the contradictions, co-optation, commemoration, heritage, and redress that have shaped the DTES, as unearthed by a three-year Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC)-funded research project.
Revitalizing Japantown? Public Programs are free and open to the public.
Saturday, October 24, 2-5pm
Talks by Dr. Jeff Masuda & Dr. Audrey Kobayashi followed by Opening Reception
Saturday, October 31, 3pm
Film Screening of Right to Remain documentary by Greg Masuda
Saturday, November 28, 2pm
Right to Remain Artist Team talk and Pie Chats, in collaboration with the ‘Seeing the Whole Picture’ Project.