Editorial: Reporting your neighbours

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By Korie Marshall, Editor

The federal government just committed to setting up a hotline, manned by the RCMP, “so that citizens and victims can report barbaric cultural practices and can notify authorities that a child or a woman is at risk of being victimized.” Many people are taking to social media to make fun of the proposed hotline, and the Twitter-verse is alive with sarcasm using the hashtag #BarbaricCulturalPractices.

I am glad many people are making light of it, but the hotline is a potentially serious issue. It reminds me of the Salem witch trials, and a 1953 play about them by Arthur Miller called The Crucible.

Miller was inspired by the McCarthy hearings of the 1950’s in the United States. Senator Joe McCarthy made claims there were Communist and Soviet spies and sympathizers inside the American government. The term McCarthyism has come to refer to making reckless and unsubstantiated accusations, but a key part of the hearings was that if you were accused, pointing at someone else and calling them out as a communist could get you off the hook. Just like the young girls in Miller’s play, who were accused of practicing witchcraft. The girls got off by accusing others in their community of practicing witchcraft, which resulted in mass paranoia.

I say Miller was inspired by the McCarthy hearings, but that is probably the wrong word, since he was looking at a very scary situation happening around him that looked to him very much like the historical account of the Salem Witch trials in 1692. In Salem, as the number of arrests increased, a self-perpetuating cycle of distrust, accusation, arrest and conviction emerged, and Miller’s characters in the play reveal some possible ulterior motives for the people pointing fingers. They wanted someone else’s property, or someone else’s husband, and would do anything to
get it.

I see setting up a hotline like this as priming Canada for the same environment of distrust and suspicion that Miller was experiencing in 1950’s US and the residents of Salem experienced in the 1690’s. But I do enjoy the jokes being made about the potential hotline – for example a woman posted a picture of a cat in a black turtle neck sweater, saying her sister’s cat is wearing a burka – should she report her sister, the cat, or both?

I wonder myself if circumcision should be reported as a barbaric cultural practice. Circumcising newborn boys is a common practice in many countries, including Canada and the US, and though it is a religious ritual for some, there are some medical reasons to do it as well. But some see the practice as somewhat barbaric, and some studies in the 1990’s showed that circumcised boys had a lower pain threshold, presumable because the surgery was done without anesthesia. For a time, doctors believed children didn’t feel pain as much as adults, when in reality it is their pain dampeners that haven’t developed – not their pain receptors. It was a terrifying though for my mom when I brought it up to her in the 1990’s.

Suggesting that we spend our tax dollars and RCMP time and effort on a tip line this broad and unsubstantiated is bad enough. But masking the hotline as a way to protect women and children who are “at risk of being victimized” is even worse. It makes everyone a potential victim, and puts everyone at risk of potentially being reported. And I just don’t think that is very Canadian.

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