Wow! After a long hiatus, we’re back to the deconstruction!

When we last left our two heroes…uh…


I’m not even sure how to describe Prime Minister Jack Hemp and Grand Chief Al Onanole.  They’re not protagonists, even though they’re both central to the story and the targets of the villainous Movement’s designs. They’re not antagonists either, even though Douglas Bland treats them with utter contempt.

There’s probably some kind of classic theatre term for a character like this.  A character who’s a victim but also a bad guy and the audience is supposed to boo them when they’re on stage?[1]

So the two…leaders I guess?…have been holding their secret meeting about the uprising which was rapidly turning into an expository argument about Crown-Aboriginal relations in Canada.  It started off pretty damned bad, and it’s only going to get worse from here.

Now I do want to say that, while these arguments are bullshit, they’re not coming out of nowhere.  These are popular arguments in Canada that you can hear in any bar or at any party, usually after a few drinks have gone down range.  A lot of them come from a place of ignorance rather than malice – although if unchecked they will have the same results – and you can sometimes fight your way through that ignorance to educate the person making them.  But you need to be careful doing this. Whatever the origins, these arguments are often passionately held and sometimes your best efforts are just going to end in a shouting match.

The problem with this scene is that both the characters are supposed to be educated, worldly individuals.  And the author is supposed to know better.  By putting these arguments in the mouth of these characters, Douglas Bland is giving them credibility they don’t deserve.

PM Jack Hemp starts us off:

“All right, Al, suppose I grant your claims for the sake of discussion.  Native Canadians are downtrodden; they have dozens of grievances, and seem to discover new ones all the time, by the way.  Sure they’re way down the Canadian scale for receiving rewards from our economy, and those on the reserves suffer more than most – more people in jail, more suicides, more disease, lower life expectancies, and so on.  I’ll buy for now the argument that these problems, especially combined with a booming population of unemployed, often unemployable, young people, are the ingredients for an explosion.  It just needs a spark, an egomaniac for a leader, and boom![Bold is mine]

There is it again.  That fear of a booming population.  There’s so many of them! They’re multiplying like roaches!

Okay so, I personally haven’t been to prison, but I understand that it can be a brutal and dehumanizing experience. I have had to deal with depression and anxiety, and helped friends and colleagues suffering from the same. I’ve had to break the news of a soldier’s suicide to that soldier’s friends. I wouldn’t wish that kind of anguish upon anyone. Brushing off mental health issues and suicide like it’s nothing is seriously ignorant.

Lower life expectancies is something that gets thrown in as an afterthought, and it’s something that can easily be overlooked. Life expectancy doesn’t mean everybody lives to a certain age and that’s it. It’s the average life expectancy, meaning that there will still be some people who live to be eighty or ninety, while others will die in their twenties and thirties to balance things out.

What it usually translates into, within the afflicted population, is a lot of people dying early and suffering with various medical issues as a part of that process. At least, to a higher degree than the majority population. It also (usually) means an absence of elders. The grandparents and even great-grandparents who not only carry the heritage and history of a community, but on a more pragmatic level are often the second-line parents and caregivers who can help raise children while the biological parents sort themselves out.[2]

In simple terms, it’s not only a loss of history, but one of the family support systems that can help a troubled community pull itself together.

“These aren’t new arguments nor are they unique to natives in Canada.  And I know that it’s this picture – which is badly distorted in my opinion, but we won’t argue that point now – that outsiders and trouble-makers point to when they say ‘Canada’s native community is a Third World country within a first-world country.’ Well, let me tell you, Al, I’ve been to Africa and I’m telling you middle-class people in a lot of Third World countries should have it so good. 

So I was tempted to be a lot more snarky here, but I’m going to keep it simple. Africa’s a continent, not a country. It’s a continent with something like 1.2 billion people in it. Now, while the poor in Africa are often really poor, there’s also such a thing as a middle class, an emerging younger generation that’s impressively tech-savvy.

I’m pretty sure nobody in, say, the Nigerian middle-class in Lagos would trade for the Rez.

“Anyway, that’s the argument in a nutshell, is it not? – poverty, past injustice, and unequal present distribution of land and wealth and opportunity create grievances and breeding grounds for crime, social unrest, even terrorist recruits, and it’s our fault, and if we don’t fix it they’re going to come and murder us in our beds.  I get it…don’t necessarily believe it.  There’s lots of situations where you don’t get these kinds of results.  There are no bad communities, Al, just bad leaders.  But that’s the argument and God knows I’ve heard it often enough.   

Hey, speaking of grievances…

So I’ve already invoked Malcolm X as an example of a revolutionary. Interestingly enough he actually got asked a question along these lines during his visit to UC Berkeley in 1963.

A member of the audience – white but identifying himself as coming from a turn of the century immigrant family – asked why he personally should be held accountable for the outcome of slavery and racism? After all, his family never owned slaves, and they faced their own discrimination when they came to America also.

It’s a question that’s been asked sarcastically a bunch of times but this guy sounded pretty sincere, so Brother Malcolm gave him a sincere answer.

 If you didn’t steal the property, you can be held responsible today for being in possession of stolen goods. The book says that the sins of the fathers will be visited upon the heads of the children even unto the seventh generation. And although there are many whites who came here from Europe after 1865, they fit right into the whole, overall pattern of exploitation, of modern slavery, that still exists in this country today. [3]

Yeah, so I got to admit, that’s a pretty good answer, and it really hit home with me when I first heard it.[4] If you receive stolen goods, but don’t care that they’re stolen and seek to profit from them anyway, are you any better than the original thief?

It’s an answer that can carry over to the First Nations pretty easily. On a personal level, I have never directly oppressed any native person in my entire life. I am also a resident of the City of Ottawa, which sits on un-ceded Algonquin land. I may not be an active colonizer, but I’m sitting here in a nice, comfy colonizer’s chair nevertheless.[5]

But Jack Hemp isn’t finished. Remember how I was saying that Bland has written a liberal Prime Minister who doesn’t speak like an actual liberal (or capital-L Liberal)? Well it’s about to become blatant:

Even Jean Chrétien, to his great discredit, used the same tripe in one of his more-than-usually confused and offensive statements about the ‘root causes’ of the 9/11 attacks.  I’ll never forget the insensitivity of that CBC interview – it was all our fault, ‘the Western world is going to be too rich in relation to the poor world.  And necessarily, you know, the poor, they look upon us being arrogant, self-satisfying, and greedy and with no limits.  And the 11th of September is an occasion for me to realize that even more.’ Such crap – I have a grievance so I’m justified in killing indiscriminately.  And it’s just what we’re getting.  In fact, now I’m hearing this argument offered by some native leaders.  So what is it, Al, an iron truth of history or blackmailers’ threats?”

So…the idea that the terrorists might have legitimate cause to be mad is anathema to most soldiers (and conservatives, for that matter). The idea that liberals are whiny equivocators who are too empathetic to recognize pure evil is a popular one in both communities. That’s a bit awkward because, although this passage is a gross oversimplification, it is actually keeping with modern CAF doctrine.

So the modern abbreviation for counter-insurgency is COIN, and it is just this type of war that Canada just recently finished fighting in Afghanistan. While arguments can be made as to just how effective our efforts have been in the long term, the fact remains that we were pretty good a what we did, and we retained some valuable lessons that got turned into doctrine.

From our own COIN manual:

Insurgencies have political aims stemming from a number of sources as a guiding ideology. Regardless of their origins and ideology, all insurgencies will have to some extent legitimate grievances at their root. These grievances may be wide ranging and include political, social, or economic characteristics. They will be exploited by the insurgent forces in order to gain additional support and undermine the authority and legitimacy of the official government and supporting forces. Thus, in order to solve an insurgency and create enduring solutions to conduct in the environment, COIN forces must address these grievances.[6]

The bolding here is from the original text.

The general concept of modern counter-insurgency is that the military dimension is there to buy time and space for the government to settle grievances. Whether social, economic, or legal, the insurgency can only be properly defeated when the conditions that help legitimize it have been altered.

In fact, taking local grievances and interpreting them through a particular ideology in order to launch an insurgency is often the name of the game. Communist agitators throughout the 20th century adapted the works of Karl Marx to the local situations around the world. More recently, the tenants of a particularly militant subset of Sunni Islam proved especially malleable for al Quaeda, and its meth-smoking offspring ISIS.

Jack Hemp’s assertion (and by extension, it seems, Douglas Bland’s as well) is that acknowledging the grievances justifies the insurgency. That in essence the insurgency is an empowerment of the Indigenous people to address their grievances.


The Movement is the one going around saying “Hey, if you’re mad about the drug addiction crisis among our people, you need to join us, because we’re fighting to end it! Why aren’t you joining us? Aren’t you mad about all your native brothers and sisters dying from drugs?”

Therefore uprising, therefore murder.

Hemp and Onanole should be responding with some version of “Fuck off. You guys don’t own this issue and you aren’t the only solution. In fact, if the native people follow you, they’re going to suffer even more!Now it just so happens that we got a better answer right here…[at which point they hopefully roll out the better answer]”

Of course, in order for such an answer to carry any weight, you’re going to have to offer a possible solution to the addiction crisis. You know, acknowledge there’s a problem that some people might be mad enough to kill over….

Well, it’s finally time for Al Onanole to respond.

Onanole leaned forward in his chair.  “It’s neither, none of the above.  It’s a statement about truth and consequences.  You don’t need to be a professor to see the relationship between grievances and violence.  You’re right that it’s not new.  And it’s not just in Canada either.  The really galling thing, though, is that Canadians, your voters, even your caucus, are all for citizens in other countries rising up against tyrants.  We encourage it.  We exploit their grievances to suit our interests or to make us feel better about ourselves.  But when the stream flows the other way, when it’s directed against us, well, then it’s an unjust threat and their leaders are all terrorists. 

So for no reason at all, here’s a picture of the statue of Saddam Hussein getting torn down in Bagdad just after the US invasion, juxtaposed with a picture of a statue of Confederate Gen William Carter Whickham getting torn down by Black Lives Matter protestors last week.

I dunno, just felt like putting those there.

Spoiler alert: The Grand Chief is about to fold on all this principles and agree with Jack Hemp. Despite this, he manages to fire back with a surprisingly strong rebuttal. While his actions in the next few minutes will betray his words, they are nevertheless pretty decent words.

Anyway, you can’t argue away the facts sitting at the table with us this afternoon, prime minister.  The world has a huge mass of disadvantaged people who may someday storm the Bastille.  It doesn’t matter where the grievances came from and who’s at fault.  I take your point that history furnishes too many grievances and sometimes they’re exploited by unscrupulous people.  But there’s lots of things about the world we can’t change sitting here yakking and that’s one of them.

“And here’s another: when you’re hungry and completely frustrated and led to believe that there’s nothing much to lose by fighting and much to lose by not fighting, violence becomes your best friend.  Don’t get me wrong.  These people need to understand that violence is a fickle friend at best.  She gets you killed and others benefit or, more likely, other violent people win out and you’re in a worse place.  What do you think I spend my days telling the hotheads and the angry kids?  We at the FNF think – and I think, prime minister – that especially in Canada’s situation, we can make reasonable changes and demonstrate that there is another way.  But we’re sitting here now having this discussion because we didn’t do it.  We failed to move in any useful direction to win that argument with the radicals and the maniacs, and now we’re all going to pay the piper unless we come up with something convincing and do it soon – like now, in fact.”

Not bad, I think. I’d almost go so far as to say, doctrinal?

Sadly, but not surprisingly, Jack Hemp’s answer doesn’t rise to the occasion. Rather than addressing the very real points that the Grand Chief has made, Bland has Hemp reiterate the mantra of “we failed to fix it before, therefore it can’t possibly be fixed.”

“But Al, that’s my point.  Look, things are so perverted, corrupted in most real Third World countries – we even invented a name for them, ‘failed states’ – that they’re beyond redemption.  Even if Western countries sent ten times as much aid – a hundred times – to places like that, and we somehow made sure the money actually reached the people there – fat chance, and you know it – we still couldn’t rescue every state.  No matter how they got that way, they’re such a economical, cultural, political, and, between you and me, often a religious mess, they can’t reverse their own decline, no matter how much money we give them.

“Al, the idea that if we create a booming economy in every wretched Third World hell-hole the social problems and terrorism will disappear – and the idea that we can create such an economy – is simply doomed by reality.  They need a revolution in social concepts that we can’t engineer and apparently they can’t either.  But Al, this is Canada, not southern Afghanistan.  Here we have a the choice.  So what’s it going to be?

 So I already quoted Malcolm X in this post, but I doubt he’s the kind of authority whom Bland (or any of his supporters) would respect. So let me turn instead to a different authority, retired Gen Rick Hillier to close this post off.

From his memoir A Soldier First:

[In 2003-4] One key leader who had a huge positive impact on the [Afghan government reconstruction] process was Chris Alexander, the Canadian ambassador. Chris and I became good friends very quickly, and we saw many things in a similar light….There was a great synergy in having a Canadian officer commanding ISAF at the same time as we had an ambassador who quickly gained immense credibility with both the Afghans and the international community because of his intellect, decisiveness, personality and ability to understand what was going on in the country.

Then, on January 15 [2006], a suicide car bomber drove into a Canadian convoy near the provincial reconstruction team camp in Kandahar [Camp Nathan Smith] and blew himself up, killing Canadian diplomat Glen Berry and critically wounding three soldiers…

…[the attack] did have a significant effect on our operations on the ground in southern Afghanistan. Berry was the first Canadian diplomat ever killed in the line of duty, and his death caused near panic in the Department of Foreign Affairs and CIDA. Both departments essentially disappeared from Kandahar after that and stayed away for much of the critical period that followed. Berry was, like former Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan Chris Alexander, that rare diplomat who was committed to the mission, active and interested in results rather than protocol and process. After his death, Foreign Affairs scaled down its participation in the provincial reconstruction team and we went from having an active and engaged senior diplomat in the PRT to having just one person under orders not to leave the safety of the PRT camp under any circumstances. That made Foreign Affairs pretty much completely ineffectual at doing their jobs and set our operation in Kandahar back a minimum of two years. Two of the three elements of the government’s so-called 3-D approach – defence, diplomacy and development – were now largely out of the picture.[7]

The 3-D strategy that Hillier is describing here was that mission’s approach to its COIN operations. As far as he was concerned, the loss of diplomatic support badly hampered these operations, not to mention puts the lie to Hemp’s line earlier about the hundreds of millions of dollars wasted in places like Afghanistan.[8] It’s a recognition that, no matter how successful the military side of things may be, the only thing that’s going to permanently de-fang an insurgency is a healthy state.


[1] Just to use a Canadian example, ‘Fifth Business,‘ one of author Robertson Davies’ most famous books (we had to read it in High School) draws its title from such a term.  The fifth business is a character in a play who is not a direct party to a conflict, but acts as a go-between or facilitator for the hero or heroine.  Think Mercucio or the Nurse from Romeo & Juliet.  Although not the star, they often have great deal of nuance and get lots of stage time, making them audience favourites. In Davies’ book, the title refers to the main character, who finds himself as a sort of go-between in other people’s stories.

[2] One of the easier(?) ways for a person with minimal education and a troubled background to make money is to head to the western Provinces. Specifically construction, logging, the oil industry and other such harsh work. The pay is good (especially if you can avoid drinking it away or spending it on luxuries) but it means long periods away from home. As such, having family members who can help raise the kids is vital.

[3] Taken from Malcolm X’s 11 Oct 1963 speech at Berkeley, from the Q&A portion at the end. Thanks to for the transcript. NOTE: There was both a speech and an interview that Malcolm X delivered that day, and it’s the interview that most often comes up when you do a google search. The interview is very interesting as well, and touches on a lot of the arguments that were key to the black power movement at the time, but it’s not what I’m looking to quote here. The interview tends to overshadow the speech largely because it was filmed, whereas the speech exists only as an audio recording.

[4] Full disclosure, I’ve asked this question myself a number of times. Often in an insincere manner. All I can say is that I was ignorant, but I am in the process of learning and improving. Also, speaking from a personal perspective, if you’re approaching Malcolm X for the first time, listen to a recording instead of reading his words. So much of the man’s power came through his voice, and it is genuinely gripping.

[5] Well right now I’m sitting in CFB Borden and it’s not particularly comfortable, but you get the picture. Plus, knowing the way these things go, it’s probably a safe bet that this land got taken in some shady manner as well. It’s too nice a piece of land for someone to part with it willingly.

[6] From the CAF publication Counter-Insurgency Operations B-GL-323-004/FP-003 Chapter 1, Section 1, Paragraph 8. I have reproduced the entire paragraph without editing.

[7] This quote is from two separate parts of ‘A Soldier First,‘ but affirms (at least in my opinion) the point I’m trying to make. The first section is taken from Cp 15 – Kabul, the second excerpt is from Cp 19 – Defensive Manoeuvres. Minor editing done for length.

[8] Although this attack cost the mission two thirds of its power, that third D (defence) wasn’t sitting idle. A few months after Glen Berry’s death, the Taliban would launch a large scale offensive to overrun the Panjiwai and Kandahar regions. This offensive would be crushed largely by the efforts of the Canadian Battle Group in a running series of battles that came to be known as OP Medusa.

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