Canada is coming undone
The nation, widely known and admired for its tolerance and kindness, is fraying thread by thread.
Thread by thread, the idea of lovely Canada is coming undone.
Some, if not many, Canadians are likely to consider my indictment as a click-bait-driven exaggeration or hyperbole. There is, I think, more than a measure of truth in that uncharitable opening sentence.
This nation, widely known and admired for its tolerance and kindness, has changed and is changing in ways that call into question Canadians’ understanding and appreciation of what has allegedly made Canada different from other, much more turbulent and much less generous places in the world.
The discovery over the past two years of mass, unmarked graves of Indigenous children – victims of the cruel, forced assimilation by white, evangelical settlers – has proven, of course, to be a blunt antidote to the myth of “caring, considerate” Canada.
The country is only beginning to confront and make tangible, not rhetorical, amends for that historic injustice and inhumanity.
The notion of enlightened Canada was wounded – perhaps beyond repair – after the usually sedate capital, Ottawa, was occupied in early 2022 by an army of obnoxious extortionists who wrapped their ignorance and selfishness in the maple leaf and claimed the flag as their own with such grating arrogance and certainty.
Like petulant children, they were loud and impatient, consumed by incoherent anger that made them blind to the necessity of sacrifice in pursuit of a greater and common good that the pandemic and extraordinary circumstances demanded of each of us.
The residue of their irritating pettiness and fictitious grievances not only lingers like a persistent rash, but is also being exploited by rank, myopic politicians who confuse tantrums with “freedoms” to sow division and mistrust.
It was a sad, depressing spectacle which confirmed that a familiar, sinister strain of extremism – born of illiteracy and faith in lunatic conspiracy theories – had metastasised into and throughout Canada with all the sorry, corrosive consequences.
The image of a quiet, peaceable Canada has been defaced by wannabe insurrectionists who, despite the incessant honking, bouncy castles and makeshift hot tubs, had real designs to overthrow a sitting government to satisfy their rage-fuelled political aims.
These days, their sick view of “public discourse” is to threaten and intimidate civil servants – online and in-person – with a barrage of coarseness and profanity since they are allergic to what could even be remotely described as a novel thought. They are unrepentant bullies, not so-called “patriots”.
The jarring scene of the deputy prime minister, Chrystia Freeland, being called “a traitor” and “a b***h” by a beefy, T-shirt-wearing lout in the lobby of an Alberta hotel just months after the disinformation “convoy” was evicted from Ottawa is disgraceful evidence of how obscenity has, it seems, trumped Canada’s celebrated civility.
Canada’s character and conscience were shocked again when, on New Year’s Eve, a 37-year-old mother, wife and firefighter died in intolerable pain after waiting for urgent care in a teeming emergency room in Nova Scotia for many hours.
The horror experienced by Allison Holthoff and her loving family was not supposed to happen in a country where universal access to hospitals and the doctors and nurses who populate them is determined not by money or stature, but by need.
The details of what Allison endured not only defy belief but pierce the heart and soul. Her long, agonising death has also revealed that something deep and essential to what once defined Canada has gone wrong.
At a news conference, Allison’s husband, Gunter, recounted their dreadful ordeal in a calm, dispassionate voice.
Gunter carried Allison into the emergency room on his back. He found a wheelchair and ferried his wife into the triage portal to register. A security guard offered the pair some water and a blanket.
Allison, Gunter said, was in “obvious” pain. Nurses arrived and recorded Allison’s vitals and took blood samples. Getting Allison to provide a urine sample was difficult. She collapsed onto the bathroom floor, her pants drooping below her waist. Security guards helped Gunter lift Allison into the wheelchair.
They returned to the main waiting room. Gunter told nurses Allison was “getting worse”. Then, Allison laid on the floor, in a fetal position, to try to relieve the pain. The nurses told Gunter to put Allison back into the wheelchair.
“[I] can’t really blame them,” Gunter said. “There was a lot going on. It was fairly busy.”
Gunter was promised that the “next bed would be ours”. The “next bed” would be hours away.
In the meantime, Allison’s condition deteriorated. Still, they waited.
Finally, Allison was wheeled into an “exam” room. Apart from a bed, a chair and a desk, the room was empty. Gunter returned to the nurse’s station several times to say Allison was in distress. The nurses gave her a bedpan.
A nurse asked Gunter if Allison “was always like this” or “on drugs”. “No”, Gunter replied, on both counts.
Allison told Gunter that she was convinced she was dying. “I feel like I’m dying,” Allison said. “They’re going to let me die here.”
Gunter reassured his wife. “We’re going to get you fixed up.”
As Allison’s pain worsened, she screamed. “Help. Help,” Allison cried out.
A new nurse showed up to retake Allison’s vital signs. Her blood pressure was alarmingly low, her pulse had quickened. Allison was moved to another room and given an intravenous solution.
A doctor suggested that Allison’s pain might be a reaction to marijuana use. Gunter and Allison agreed: the theory was nonsense.
More tests were ordered. Allison was given a drug to blunt the pain. She was hooked up to oxygen and prepped for an X-ray and a CT scan to determine the source of her pain. She seemed to rally.
That did not last. The pain returned with a vengeance. Suddenly, Allison was having trouble breathing. Gunter held Allison’s hand as her eyes rolled backwards.
A nurse declared a “code blue”. Now, doctors and nurses rushed in. They tried to resuscitate Allison, but the damage had been done, and irreversible.
Later, after talking to friends, family and doctors, Gunter decided to cease treatment. “She didn’t look good,” Gunter said. “There was not much chance for her ever having a normal or dignified life.”
This was no “tragedy”. It was, instead, the product of dithering politicians who prefer to call doctors and nurses “heroes” rather than pay them what they deserve to be paid and to starve hospitals of the resources and people to tend to all the other Allison Holthoffs who venture to emergency rooms every day for attention.
“The system is obviously broken,” Gunter said.
It is indeed. Allison Holthoff was another casualty of the fraying – thread by thread – of Canada the good, the thoughtful, the compassionate. Sadly, she won’t be the last.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance