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The Long Crisis and How We Got Here

An opinion piece about what Canada is like in 2020.

Some of the old souls still sing “Ô Canada” from time to time, but the Canada from the history books is no more.

Canada is the largest country in terms of territory on the North American continent. Although its population doesn’t match that of the neighbouring NUS, it has become the most productive economy of the continent (even if it won’t last long, since the NUS is catching up). This “Canadian Miracle”, as you sometimes hear in the news, is not particularly exciting, considering what led us here.

You must understand that the fact that Canada didn’t immediately collapse in the 90s probably ended up being more of a curse than a blessing. When the Crash of ’94 happened and the United States collapsed, the TV anchors all over kept parroting the same thing: “Meanwhile, in Canada, things are going well!”

Thing was, it wasn’t going that great over here in Canada.

Hundreds of thousands lost their jobs in 1994 alone and many found themselves homeless. In 1995, things weren’t really improving… and then, the Quebecers had the bright idea to go do their referendum… and they won. At the time, Canada wasn’t in the mood to chat about Quebec independence, however, and, well, things got bad. That was definitely also a major fuckup from our majestic federal government.

For a while, the news were filled with numbers: the number of people who got shot each day, the number of police officers who died quelling a riot, the number of police officers from Toronto going to Montréal to assist, the number of assault rifles the RCMP seized in backwoods Saguenay farm houses… for a while it looked like Canada was legit going to sink into a civil war. It was our version of The Troubles... but in French, I guess, so Les Troubles, or in a more Québécois way, La Marde.

Thing is, Quebec wasn’t the only place which had to deal with stuff like this. There were riots everywhere in the country.

Imagine, for a moment. You do not have a job, you are burning through your cash reserves at an alarming rate and the only thing they show on TV are reports of Mounties in riot gear beating people up. What are your options? It is enough to radicalize someone, and, well, it did.

Riots were a weekly thing in most Canadian cities for years, as the government fumbled the response over and over again. They also had to enact the Law on Canadian Conscription to try and maintain the peace. That did not help.

And while all of that was happening, thousands of people started streaming across the southern border. Well, it was thousands at first, but then it was millions. People from the US, mostly, but also from a lot of other places like from Mexico, Latin America, and the Caribbean. By 1996, the US and most LATAM countries had collapsed and were basically not countries anymore… but Canada was still chugging along! A beautiful shiny city on the hill, we were.

Millions of refugees came to Canada, fleeing societal collapse, wars and climate disasters, hoping to receive the help their own governments couldn’t provide. Reality in Canada was different. Refugees were herded into overpacked camps, were provided some food and shot if they complained that they weren’t actually receiving that food.

Then, of course, things got worse. The food shortages started. It started with the Drought of 98’, but then there was the Wasting Plague in 2000, then the biovirus struck… The refugee camps were already overpacked, undersupplied and badly organized… so imagine what happened when the farmers couldn’t produce food in the Prairies because of the Drought, and then because the crops failed when the biovirus hit? Untold millions just… disappeared. It’s a known fact that there are thousands of unmarked mass graves scattered all over southern Canada. That’s as well at the other thousands of unmarked graves that Canadian colonialism left behind. Future historians will make careers digging those up.

Then, Canada became a slave to the corporations.

You see, it was a miracle that Canada’s government didn’t fold through all of this. That miracle? Corpo-Jesus paid for it. The government accepted help from Militech to fill riot squads and train cops, from All-Foods to get enough rations to feed the population and from Eurobank and Fujiwara to obtain the capital to finance the crumbling infrastructure. Of course, Canada didn’t have the money to pay for any of that. Instead, it paid the megacorporations in IOUs and, most importantly... in political favors.

The signs of what it was all inevitably leading to were visible in plain sight, of course. If Canadians hadn’t been dealing with starvation, riots, boostergangs, separatist terrorism and a refugee crisis, they probably would’ve actually given a shit. Liberal and Progressive Conservative MPs started dropping like flies, replaced with new corpo-aligned MPs. Massive tracts of Federal Land were given away to corporations like All-Foods and Biotechnica. Influential functionaries were fired and replaced with new corpo-aligned ones. New neoliberal nonsense laws were passed to remove oversight for corporations.

Then, in 2004, the megacorporations cashed out all their IOUs. That was the Corporate Coup, a bloodless coup d’État which… basically deleted Canadian democracy out of existence. In a single morning, Parliament gave itself the power to scrap the Canadian Constitution and to write a new one. On June 12, 2004, Canada died in just a few hours.

The new aristocracy

Canada’s new constitution aimed to create the ultimate capitalist two-tiered society. It outlined the rights of two different groups, Plebeians and Patricians – oh sorry – I mean residents and citizens. Canadian residents had most of the same rights as citizens, with the exception that they couldn’t participate in political life. The government created gatekeeping measures for citizenship, for, you see, only the “good Canadians” could now become citizens.

President (yes, president, I know, ew) Cardinal, the nice lady who oversaw the polite overthrow of a democratic government, made the bet that Canadians were feeling pretty xenophobic after spending 10 years dealing with a refugee crisis, separatism and famines. Her government argued that not everyone deserved to be a Canadian citizen and that “the criteria of citizenship could no longer be granted to everyone born in Canada.” Only “productive members of society” could gain citizenship. The process of applying for citizenship was easy (at first) … provided you could prove that you had sufficient yearly income and that you could succeed on a citizenship and literacy test.

Unironically, the whole scheme was pretty genius.

It’s safe to say that almost a third of people living in Canada were already not citizens in 2005. Conservative estimates put the number of American refugees in Canada at 8 million. The real number is probably closer to 12 to 16 million. There were also plenty of people that simply weren’t accounted for. Hundreds of thousands of people were born paperless in refugee camps, in homes, in nomad tribes or on cardboard boxes. In normal times, they would’ve been Canadian Citizens, but because of the crisis, The state had no proof that these children existed. With the new constitution, all these nameless, paperless people became Canadian residents, which was a step up for them.

Then, there was the “Welfare” state period. President Cardinal invoked a variety of measures to lift Canadians out of poverty. Monthly welfare checks, soup kitchens, all that stuff.

"Wow, what a commie" you might think to yourself. No, no, no.

Here’s the catch: only residents could gain access to these wonderful services. Citizens, it was said, could take care of themselves.

To most people, what is the right to vote in comparison to being able to finally feed your child every day and being able to catch up on rent? Half of all Canadians had been displaced during the Long Crisis and were struggling to get back on their feet. After a traumatizing 10 years of death, starvation and violence, who gives a shit about fucking voting?

In the first year of the new system, at least 20% of Canadian citizens chose to apply for residency instead of citizenship. In 2006, 50% of the people living in Canada were not citizens. In the following years, the government kept increasing the criteria for citizenship, which gradually flushed out more and more “undesirable citizens”. In 2020, at time of writing, there are only slightly over 1 million citizens left in Canada.

Citizens are the 1%. Figuratively-literally.

Only citizens can run for political positions like the Presidency or a Consulship. Some corporations working in Canada require citizenship for managerial positions. Most high-level government functionary positions must be filled with citizens. Many cordoned off corpo areas in the big cities require a proof of citizenship or a visa to enter.

Canada, in many ways, is a neo-corporate colony, an experiment in making Europe’s “Golden Kids” into an actual legalized caste system.

The people, meanwhile, are hooked onto the “New American Dream”, or the... Canadian Dream, I guess. Most people have come to believe that you only need to launch a successful business, that you only need to release a hit single, that you only need to get the right job to get out of this common state of hopelessness that we all enjoy. Becoming a citizen is easy and elevates you above the crowd, allows you to play with the big boys and girls, makes you better than the rest of us.

On the news, on the NETstreams and on the screamsheets, we are drip-fed the success stories of successful Torontonian restaurant owners, of Edmonton-born lottery winners, of successful Montréal software developers. Instant celebrities, elected by the talking heads as living proof of how not broken our citizenship system is.

They won’t tell you, of course, how these lucky few almost always lose citizenship after a few years because they make below the minimum yearly revenue, or because they didn’t marry a citizen, or because they were politically ostracized.

The Three Solitudes

You might have never heard the expression of “The Two Solitudes”, but it’s interesting to consider, if you want to understand Canadian society. There are three now, I know, but let me tell you about the first two first.

The idea comes from a 1945 novel of the same name, where the main character is torn between his French Canadian and English Canadian identities and deals with the fact that these two communities refuse to communicate. (Now, Quebeckers might point out that the reason they don't get along is actually "a legacy of colonialism" but whatever).

I’m not really here for a history lesson, but let’s put it like this: Canada was a proudly British colony up until the First World War. During that time, Canada finally “found itself”, like many people do when they go backpacking in the fields of France. Canada, after fielding an actual army, manufacturing its own weapons and organizing its own wartime initiatives, realized that it mattered. Canada, for maybe the first time in its existence, felt convinced of both its Britishness and of its ability. Problem was, of course, that Canada, as a British colony, was a country built upon what remained of the people it colonized. Out of that awkward status quo, Canada invented an identity for itself (mostly based on the aforementioned colonized peoples cultures, but that’s beside the point).

Canada, historically, as always been split between its two white majority populations, the French-speaking minority (the Quebecois, Acadiens, Métis, Prairies Francophones etc.), and its English-speaking majority. And these two groups have never really liked each other. Anglos act superior, Frenchies are told to speak a proper language. There has been an historical divide between these two groups, which ended up with a a lot of political problems and, eventually an almost civil war during the Long Crisis.

It’s important to remember that the Long Crisis started with two closely linked events: the collapse of the United States and the Referendum of ’95 in Quebec. The referendum for Quebec sovereignty swung in favor of the “Yes” camp, due to global instability and Canadian economical collapse. That's what happens when your number one trade partner has a heart attack, I guess.

On the night of the Referendum, the Federal Government judged that “the results did not indicate a clear mandate from the people of Quebec” and that discussions would be postponed until after things stabilized. Not content from this answer, sovereigntists took to the streets. Martial Law was declared. Sovreigntists organized into freedom fighter cells, attacking Federal buildings, Canadian troopers, and police officers. It was a mess. In another world, these freedom fighters would’ve succeeded like the IRA did in Ireland, but, then again... the FIA and NetWatch didn’t exist in the 1920s.

The combined effort of corporate support, FIA-backing and Canadian resources led to a collapse of the movement in a few years. People still remember the violence, however, and the Québécois still hold a grudge.

At the same time, millions of Americans flooded over the border and changed up the Canadian dynamic. Enter, the Americans, the third solitude.

The refugees and first-generation American-Canadians were, and still are, extremely poor. You don’t flee from homelessness in the US to become a “productive and lucrative” Canadian citizen, after all. American-Canadians, in many ways, are a new segment of the working class. Stuck in Canada with zero intergenerational wealth to speak of, they live in Southern Canada: Southern Ontario, the Prairies, British-Columbia, Southern Quebec and over much of the Maritime. Anglo-Canadians and French-Canadians, at least, had the benefits of (sometimes) having some wealth stored up. These two other groups also feel threatened by the presence of Americans. Even with their chronic poverty, American-Canadians are still, you know Americans, and if there’s one thing Canadians need to define themselves against, it’s Americans.

Intergroup relations weren’t helped by the fact that the arrival of American-Canadians coincided with a bunch of other… American things. Gun violence, privatization of healthcare, crass capitalism, the explosion of housing prices… many people who identify as Canadians blame these phenomena on the arrival of the Americans refugees.

Of course, the poor homeless New-Yorker starving in a border refugee camp had nothing to do with all of that… but corporate propaganda ensured that the blame was laid strictly at their feet.

So yeah, Canadians still don’t really get along, it’s just more complicated now.

Do Canadians even have a common identity anymore?

After reading all of that, one could easily point out that, well, it might seem like Canada has lost anything even resembling a common identity. You would be correct. I don't think it really had one to start with, but that's my opinion.

A third of Canadians are American, another third are European, Latino, Japanese, Chinese or American temporary workers, and only the final third distinctly would identify as “Canadian.”

There also was a renaissance of Native American cultures, as hundreds of thousands of displaced refugees and Canadians rejected “Canada” and chose to integrate into a variety of Native American cultures, as a form of counterculture. One such example are the Tiguaqs (meaning "the orphans") in Northern Quebec and Nunavut, an Inuit nomad-like nation that is, in large part, not ethnically Inuit, but has adopted the language, traditions and religious beliefs of the people.

Most urban areas are a hodgepodge of foreign workers being moved around by corporations: Europeans, Americans, Africans and South-East Asians often find themselves working temporarily in Canada. They are only able to communicate in global « streetslang, » the adaptable creole composed of English, French, Spanish, Japanese and so many more languages.

The new Powers that Be in Canada have no interest in forging a "national identity". In Canada, the music is Belgian, the BDs are American, the chrome is French, the families are German and the food is Japanese. Everything good created in Canada is not Canadian: it becomes American, it becomes European, it becomes Japanese when it is judged good enough. The only thing that unites Canada anymore is the money of the wealthy and the laws the corporations uphold through violence and constant propaganda. Corporations know this, Canadians know this, the rest of the world knows this.

Media monopolies, capitalistic greed and societal control can't keep the people down forever, however. At least that's what my naïve side likes to think.

Previous Section: Welcome to the Dark Future (1994-2020)

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This is a fan project for our game of the Cyberpunk 2020 tabletop role-playing game. Most corporations, game rules and in-universe references are the intellectual property of R. Talsorian Games. Some graphical assets are created by Cédric Duchaineau were inspired by assets created by CD Projekt Red or R. Talsorian Games.

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This is a fan project for our game of the Cyberpunk 2020 tabletop role-playing game. Most corporations, game rules and in-universe references are the intellectual property of R. Taslorian Games. Some graphical assets are created by Cédric Duchaineau and Alejandro Olivares were inspired by assets created by CD Projekt Red or R. Taslorian Games.