Ochenski: Oh, Canada! 

Remembering the way we were

Once again, the Indy’s die-hard political columnist has left the autumnal beauty of Montana to hit the road and garner the “view from afar.” This time, it’s up to Canada where, as far as I can tell, decriminalized pot and gay marriage haven’t dragged the friendly Canadians down to the gutter yet. If anything, the country with which we share our longest common border seems to view us as a good friend who has somehow gone crazy—or to be much more specific, as a country that has fallen under the leadership of a truly insane administration.

George Bush’s vicious recriminations toward Canada for not joining his bogus “coalition of the willing” in the Iraq War, however, have not gone over very well here. Along with France, Germany and much of the United Nations, Canada is just one of the countries that found Bush’s post 9-11 frenzy of bloodlust and misguided revenge just a little too hard to swallow. That our nutball president went so far as to smear those nations who didn’t agree with his aggressive war plans as being cowardly, or somehow soft on terrorism, remains a burr under the saddle for Canadians.

The so-called “protests” that certain Americans performed by pouring French wines down the drain is also viewed as rather extreme in this bi-lingual country, where everything from highway signs to food labels are printed in both English and French. And of course the frugal Canadians can see no good whatsoever in the sheer waste of such foolish acts. However, no one seems to mind that similar idiots (especially those in the U.S. Congress) dumped French fries in favor of the inane “freedom fries.” After all, up here, they are simply pomme frites.

While America is wrapped up in its never-ending remembrance of tragedy and its neo-Nazi security scene, Canadians seem most like Americans used to be—happy, kind, open and unafraid. Perhaps that’s because Canada is so multi-cultural that the kind of perversions being instituted by Bush and Ashcroft simply won’t fly here. Exclusion of one subset of humanity, like the Muslim pogrom now sweeping the U.S., would mean the exclusion of all subsets sooner or later. Many in our country don’t see it that way, of course, deluded into thinking that we can persecute Muslims now without persecuting Presbyterians later.

Same deal on the de-criminalized pot. Ashcroft and his ilk have for years made millions of Americans out to be criminals for the simple act of smoking marijuana. What’s funny about it all is how the various states have tried and tried and tried to get the message across that spending bazillions of scarce bucks busting pot smokers is really a waste of police time and taxpayer money. Seattle just voted to demote marijuana violations to the lowest law enforcement priority in their city. Alaska, which has long held that personal possession or use of less than four ounces of pot in your own home is legal by virtue of constitutional guarantees to privacy, has just re-affirmed that decision on yet another legal appeal.

And then there’s the whole medical marijuana debacle. In the U.S., badass federal drugbusters have no problem slapping down those who would provide pot to the critically ill. There’s no doubt that it helps cancer patients have better appetites, or that many prefer it to the dizzying array of prescription drugs with which our country has no problem. But the feds refuse to acknowledge any of the state laws—which is really odd when you consider that Bush ran on a platform of limited federal government and states’ rights. Was he only kidding? No, he wasn’t kidding—it’s just that he didn’t agree with the big, bad federal government under Bill Clinton’s presidency. But now that Bush is in charge of the federal mega-bureaus, well, let’s just say the big stick of the feds has never been bigger, or badder, or deployed as often and with as little just cause against its own citizens.

Quite the contrary on the medicinal marijuana scene up here, where the Calgary Herald just ran an opinion column deriding the quality of the government’s “official” medical marijuana as inferior, full of ground up stems and leaves, tasting bad and working worse because of its low THC content. The column’s conclusion was that the Canadian government should leave the growing to those who do it best—the hippies. Now, does that help put the difference in perspective between the Bush fascists and the Canadians, or what?

No one dreads going through customs into Canada. Their biggest concern remains what it has always been—firearms. While we get crazier and crazier and more and more paranoid, the Canadians just want to make sure we’re not bringing any of that American cold-steel craziness with us when we come north. If you have to be worried about something, being worried about guns—and especially handguns that primarily wind up getting used on other people—seems like an eminently reasonable concern.

The Iraq War garners mention on page five, if that, instead of the daily drenching we are subjected to by our print, voice and visual media. That Americans continue to die there every day is something that is known and viewed as a tragedy, but not ground into every second of your consciousness as yet another reason to kill more “bad guys.”

Somehow, Canada seems to be a lot like Montana used to be, and can still be—a relaxed place where people are friendly and polite and Big Brother seems a long way off. The division spawned by politicians like Bush and Martz, turning citizens against one another on a daily basis for any number of reasons, is simply vacant. The real excitement, at least here in the Canadian Rockies, is the approaching ski season, heralded by the first new snows on the majestic peaks. This American, for one, finds it a very welcome change.

When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Missoula Independent.

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