Fri, Feb 01, 2008 - Page 7 News List

`Canadian' may have a more sinister meaning

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Last week, Canadians discovered, courtesy of an obscure trial in Texas, that "Canadian" does not always mean what they think it does.

This followed the release of an internal memo from Mike Trent, assistant district attorney of Harris County, Texas, in which he congratulates a junior prosecutor because "he overcame a subversively good defense ... that had some Canadians on the jury feeling sorry for the defendant."

The implausibility of there being many Canadians on a Texan manslaughter jury led some to conclude that "Canadians," in this context, might mean "black people," though Trent claims he thought real Canadians were present. And, though noting in passing that the National Post, the ex-Conrad Black newspaper that broke the story, delights in provocation for the sake of it, there does seem to be some evidence that the code is in general use.

It's on the Racial Slur Database, for example.

"It's supposed to be funny and/or informational," its creator said.

It is also, increasingly, on the various blogs that have picked the story up. Apparently, it's most often used among waiters maligning black patrons as bad tippers -- as one blogger put it: "Hey, we have a table of Canadians ... They're all yours."

But it seems the euphemism has been around for at least 15 years, according to another blogger, from Michigan City, Indiana, who remembered "none too liberal white folks" using it about "poor, primarily black sections of town."

Another recalled it being used in a financial brokerage house in New York City.

The question is why. Presumably, it was adopted on the assumption that Canadians are so anodyne and so outnumbered that otherwise unacceptable opinions can be cheerfully expressed in their name without alerting eavesdroppers.

But the motivation might be more confrontational. Some visitors report that in southern states, particularly in rural areas, Canadians are actively disliked -- for their liberalism, their gun control and their refusal to support the Iraq war.

"Raw hate and `we should invade those bastards and kick them out on an ice flow [sic]' rage was quite common," said one.

Perhaps it's time to take a stand, for Canadians, but, more importantly, for maligned minorities everywhere.

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