Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Is Canada a democracy?

One of the articles assigned for NS 115 students this week is an essay by Jessica Kolopenuk titled Provoking Bad Biocitizenship. (

I do not have a background in biology or the medical sciences: that is the domain of my wife who teaches high-school biology to possible future doctors and scientists.

I have spent decades involved in democratic reform, starting in the 1990's. I am inspired by the essay to think about how I might slide it into a domain that I am more actively engaged in.

What is Democracy?

Everyone thinks they know it when they see it, but lets copy a dictionary definition to have a common start.

a : government by the people especially : rule of the majority

b: a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections

Provocation 1: Canadian Confederation was not an example of a democracy

Prior to contact, Indigenous governance wasn't patriarchal. It wasn't narrowly about equality, but special roles granted to various genders. The genders were not binary or defined only by biology.

In most nations or tribes, land was the responsibility of women.   This caused no end of confusion to the patriarchal subjects of Christian Monarchs from Europe who thought of women more as property, and never who they should be negotiating with for use of land.

After disenfranchising Indigenous peoples and denying any women the right to vote, a small group of white males in a set of minority white regions decided they wanted their colonies to be united in a federation.

They asked the foreign country that they were actually citizens of to pass a law to make these colonies into a federation. The first British North America Act was passed on July 1, 1867.  Canadians celebrate the anniversary of the passage of this act of British Parliament yearly, often believing this is the anniversary of the date a democratic country was "created".

Given there were already established nations on Turtle Island (what many of the peoples from the regions I've lived call this contininent), Canada was never an example of nation building, but of often violent nation replacing.

This act created a subsidiary of the British government, incorporating all the laws and systems that were built up over thousand of years of British history. While this minority-controlled confederation was created in 1867, the systems which it imported represent thousands of years of foreign history.

Until the Statute of Westminster 1931 was passed in the UK parliament, Canada was only considered a colony of the British empire and thus had no foreign policy. It is technically false to suggest "Canada" fought in the first world war. Britain entered that war, and thus subjects of the British Empire living on this homeland were sent to war.

Until the Canada Act 1982 was passed in the UK parliament, there was no mechanism for a governing body on this side of the Atlantic to change the Canadian Constitution. While the Canadian Federal Government could change Federal law, and Canadian Provincial Governments could change Provincial law, the UK parliament could change any Canadian law. This was clearly not an example of a democracy given the citizens in the UK (with more than  twice the population of Canada in 1982) each had more control over the laws and systems that governed Canadians than Canadian citizens did.


Part of the myth of Canada is that it has always been here, has always existed in this form, and will always be here. I read George Orwell's book 1984 in 1984, and when thinking about this myth of Canada I always think of the line:

The past was alterable. The past never had been altered. Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia.

I was born in 1968. There are many other people alive today that were born before the British subsidiary government of Canada was solely responsible for passing its own laws. It was only after 1982 that Canada was finally potentially eligible for being considered a democracy, and I'm not convinced the changes made to this point are sufficient.


Whether Canada is less than 3 times my age, 37 years older, 14 years younger, or not yet independently born depends entirely on what you think is required for a country to be considered separate from the foreign nation that created and maintained it through Acts passed by that foreign nation's parliament.

Newfoundland and Labrador weren't part of Canada when my parents were born (in what was then and currently called Ontario). Take note of the separate references to Newfoundland in the Statute of Westminster 1931.

There were 11 "British North America Acts", which the British used to maintain Canada.

Note: Since the 1980's Canada has been returning to its European monarchist roots, allowing power to flow to a few individuals. See: Lets work to fix parliamentary flaws which block holding a Premier or Prime Minister accountable.

Provocation 2: Biased immigration policy and genocide are more offensive versions of gerrymandering

I am not going to describe here how many Canadian Government policies, not limited to the Indian Act and residential schools, represent a genocide against Indigenous peoples. Please do a bit of homework if this is news to you. The TRC final report and the Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls offer a good start.


There have also been hundreds of policies which represented "Affirmative Action for Whites" and encouragement for foreign settlers, not limited to the Canadian Homestead Act which gave "free" land (stolen from Indigenous peoples) to males who would "cultivate" the land and build a permanent dwelling.  This form of government incentivized squatting was then used by the Canadian government to justify forced relocation of Indigenous populations and claims of land cession under clearly White Supremacist policies.

Canada is alleged to have "purchased" Rupert's Land from the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC), even though HBC didn't have legitimate title to any land on Turtle Island. What HBC had was a charter from the British Crown granting them a monopoly over trade between Indigenous nations and Europeans in a specific region, without that pesky possibility of competition. It was named by the British as "Rupert's Land" after Prince Rupert, the first governor of HBC appointed by King Charles II.

Indigenous individuals who swore allegiance to the British crown could become Canadian citizens and be stripped of their Indian status and face full assimilation into the foreign Canadian system. (Official "Kill the Indian, Save the Man" policy).

Over time these combined policies ensured that foreign peoples who were loyal to the British subsidiary greatly outnumbered the Indigenous population.

  • Newfoundland and Labrador join Canada in 1949.
  • Innuit gained the right to vote in 1950.
  • Status Indians gain the federal vote in 1960.

Voter suppression, genocide, and biased immigration policy represent the worst possible forms of gerrymandering, not democracy.

Pretending that this is all in the past and suggesting that votes should now be counted "equally" is only an excuse to inherit benefit from genocide and voter suppression.  The foreign systems that Canada represent were never democratically decided upon, and should never be treated as if they were. The notion that people should inherit benefits, but never obligations, is a very narrow and problematic western worldview.

Provocation 3: If Canada was never intended to be a democracy, pro-democracy advocacy should be seeking to replace the systems called Canada

The claim that democracy (some comically even claim "civilization") was brought to Turtle Island, and that we need to take inspiration from Europe for any democratic systems, is part of the colonial propaganda.  It is a White Supremacist belief that I simply do not subscribe to.

The Europeans who traveled to Turtle Island to set up and join European colonies were subjects of Christian European Monarchs. These European nations were not democracies until quite recently, depending on whether you believe monarchies (constitutional or literal) can ever truly be considered democracies.

While something like the European Union didn't form until 1993 and with Brexit didn't survive a full 30 years before losing a member, the participatory democratic Haudenosaunee Confederacy became 6 nations in 1722, and was a confederacy of 5 nations possibly since 1142 or earlier.

I believe the British call this era the High Middle Ages, no longer being a province of the Roman Empire, but not remotely close to having a democracy.

If what we want is healthy democratic systems, we should start from Indigenous Turtle Island nations which have far more experience than Europeans. The goal should be, piece by piece, to replace the systems of Canada with something built upon domestic Indigenous Turtle Island worldviews and experience.

I know that this change will not happen overnight, and it might not be completed in my lifetime, but this is the direction I will be facing.

The Haudenosaunee Confederacy example

I regularly write about how Canada sent in the RCMP to depose the democratic Haudenosaunee Confederacy, and impose a "band council" that is only responsible to the Canadian Crown. The confederacy continued to operate in secret, but has made its continued presence known more recently. (See also: The Meaning of Elections for Six Nations by Alicia Elliott )

Let me be clear: Not only do I not believe Canada is legitimately thought of as a  democracy, but I recognize that Canada has send in the RCMP to forcibly depose centuries old democratic governments. The RCMP was formally called the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP), and was modeled after the Royal Irish Constabulary which the British used to enforce colonial rule against Ireland. (Listen to more via the Secret Life of Canada)

A first step towards responsible democratic government on this northern part of Turtle Island is for Canada to fully respect the confederacy as the only democratic government that represents the Haudenosaunee Confederacy in nation-to-nation dealings. Canada must also fold the Six Nations "band council" to avoid further confusion that it can represent the nation (especially in anything dealing with land).

After recognizing democracy, Canada should move quickly toward compliance with the Haldimand Proclamation, return misappropriated trust funds, etc.


I use the Six Nations of the Grand River as an example because it is the largest reserve by population on land claimed by "Canada" (See Google map). It badly needs room to expand in order to not force their citizens into more risky assimilation/genocide scenarios within lands more heavily occupied by settlers.

While Canada doesn't recognize the democratic confederacy government, it remains intact and ready to take over full governance. The land situation is also more clear given the proclamation, and all that it requires is for Canada to become the least bit an honorable law abiding nation.  The history of misappropriation of funds and land by the Canadian government is also better documented.  Journalists being arrested by the OPP for daring to report on Six Nations land defenders at "1492 Land Back Lane" trying to stop unlawful settler development on land the confederacy has title to is also well documented.

The Six Nations land defenders at "1492 Land Back Lane" must be properly recognized as pro-democracy Freedom Fighters against a repressive regime, not as protesters in what some consider a democracy.  I know it is uncomfortable for Canadians to use terms like this, as well as genocide, in the context of Canada -- but this is the truth of this system.

The process which lead to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) also started in 1923 when Deskaheh, Chief of the Iroquois League, representing the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, left Canada to go on a mission to Geneva (Switzerland). The need for this declaration itself provides proof of the ongoing human rights violations committed by Canada.

What is wrong with what Canada is currently doing, and what to do next, is far more cut-and-dry with Six Nations of the Grand River. Things get more complex in other parts of Turtle Island, with areas such as Quebec and British Columbia having no treaties and thus no claimed legitimacy for foreign settlements and their British created provincial governments to exist at all.

I discuss some more of the "What's Next" in: Evening with Desmond Cole. Time to put "Canada" to rest?

BTW: Coming into compliance with the Haldimand Proclamation doesn't mean settlers/squatters will be booted out of their homes.

1 comment:

Russell McOrmond said...

Quick note that the "Canadian Confederation" section of the Library and Archives Site seems to have gone missing.

They are still available on

Hopefully LaC won't try to flush that archive if they have been engaged by the government to make Canada's true history less discoverable (What I consider to be the most likely reason for Heritage/CRTC's power grab with Bill C-10).