Magazine article The Spectator

All Canadians Are Guilty

Magazine article The Spectator

All Canadians Are Guilty

Article excerpt

EVEN IN a litigious society, it's important to know whom to sue. If you take McDonald's to court, you may get away with it, as did that gal who hit 'em for a gazillion dollars because she'd been scalded when she spilt her coffee into her lap while driving along holding the polystyrene cup between her thighs. But McDonald's will vigorously defend themselves and do what it takes. Their coffee cups now loudly declare `wAR,nvG: CONTE MAY BE HOT' on all sides.

When I turned up the cup, I was impressed to find the warning printed on the bottom, too, although my respect for their thoroughness was offset by the excruciating pain of the burning liquid as it poured through the lid and hit my crotch. I fear it will be some time before my own quarter-pounder is supersized again.

But arguing about the precise temperature of your beverage is far too scientific. Suing a major corporation for more elastically defined offences is much more lucrative. A couple of years back, a Texaco executive was assailed for using the n-word in an illegally taped board meeting: a `transcript' of his words was read out on every network news show as evidence of the company's racist policies. When the original, poorly recorded tape was eventually released and digitally filtered to improve the sound quality, it emerged that the guy had been making some remarks not about `niggers' but about Santa: no racial slur had passed his lips.

Nonetheless, by then, Jesse Jackson, America's number one shakedown artist, had succeeded in using the transcripts of wholly imaginary racist epithets to pressure Texaco into coughing up millions of dollars to sign on with the Reverend's `sensitivity' programs. Naturally Johnnie Cochran, the lawyer who successfully defended OJ in one of his murder trials, has his piece of the action, too. Last Wednesday, he slapped Coca-Cola with a $1.5 billion lawsuit alleging that the company maintains racially biased hiring practices and a hostile work environment for blacks. Coke were stunned: not because, as you might think, the company that taught the world to sing in perfect harmoneee are unlikely racists, but because earlier that very day they'd finally settled a bitter 14-month discrimination suit on the very same issues, and the beneficiaries of that settlement include Mr Cochran's new clients - four black women who used to work for Coke. That's right: four women are suing for $1.5 billion. The lawyers will skim off some $600 million or so for themselves, but that still leaves 225 million bucks apiece for each of the disaffected Coke workers.

But, again, Coca-Cola will mount some form of defence: after all, these guys are businessmen and, while they're happy to throw money at the Revd Jackson's sensitivity rackets to make him go away for a while, they're still minding the store. When you're bandying around charges of racism, what you really need is a client with a big pile of assets who's riddled with abnormally high amounts of self doubt. That's where the Anglican Church of Canada comes in. And, when you think about it, it's amazing that no one came up with the idea before. What does the average wimpy Anglican cleric say when you raise any pressing social problem? `We are all guilty.' He cannot, in law, answer for Bud and Irv and Mabel down the street, but we're entitled to assume from that `we' that he's at least speaking to his own guilt. And so it has proved.

The case goes back to 1879, when the government of the Dominion of Canada decided to set up `residential schools' for Indian and Inuit children and get the Churches to run them. The Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists and Presbyterians were happy to do so as part of their missionary work. The government's thinking was that these schools would help assimilate the natives into Canadian society, which was regarded as an enlightened and progressive thing to do 120 years ago. By the time the last residential school closed in 1996, it wasn't. Assimilating natives into (white) society now comes with a snappier label: cultural genocide. …

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