-by Jon Farmer

My dad drove his camper van to town for a few days of work this week. On his first night, before he went off to my uncle's, I rode my bike down to meet him at the local marina for sunset. He was parked where he could work on his reports while watching the water. I rode around the last corner of the gravel path through Kelso Beach Park, swung one leg over the saddle, and cruised up beside. I leaned my bike on its kickstand and stepped into the Volkswagen. We were planning to walk and watch the sunset so after a quick hello I went back outside to lock my bike while dad finished a page.

As I was feeding the bike lock through my back tire, a Dodge Charger drove into the parking lot and pulled up beside us. An official looking font scrawled "Parking and By Law Enforcement" above the front driver's side wheel. The car was new and fierce-looking, covered with the decals of a private security company. My father stepped out of the Volkswagen at about the same time as the driver climbed out of the car.

In less charitable moments I would have described the man walking towards us as a 'rent-a-cop'. He was somewhere in his sixties with a round belly emphasized by suspenders that rested asymmetrically over company issue lapels. He wore a black tie with a handcuff tiepin that matched the set strapped to his belt. I've never been much for self-identified authority figures and leaned against the Volkswagen while the man straightened his cap and closed the distance between us.

Growing up, I admired my father's people skills. As a kid I watched him chat easily with strangers and friends, asking questions and listening to people's stories. My father waved to the security guy and cheerily said "Good evening, how are you sir?"

By then the man was close enough for me to read his name tag. Let's call him Jake. He received my father's greeting with a friendly but curt "I'm fine but it looks like you've got a problem". He went on to say that the owners had asked my father to leave three times and that his refusals to do so were unacceptable. After a little more conversation, it turned out another, much larger motor home had been squatting earlier in the evening. We cleared up the case of mistaken identity and Jake was surprisingly gracious. He did say that we couldn't park for the night in but laughed honestly when I pointed to my ten-speed and said "that's okay, it wouldn't have been comfortable anyway".

I wasn't surprised when Dad started to ask Jake questions. Jake met "Have you always worked security?" with stories from a long-haul trucking career when he and his wife drove rig together, alternating shifts, and stopping only when they needed gas. They would cook full meals on the road. He once made fresh clam chowder in the truck while his wife was driving.

Talk of trucking turned to the challenges of trucking, the benefits of having your own rig, and the companies who don't pay enough. Jake confided that he thought new-Canadians were a problem for the industry but we quickly moved past that to more explicit political commentary. "But you know what really bothers me?" segued into a complaint about RCMP officers wearing turbans with their uniforms.

"They don't look like cops," Jake said shaking his head before adding "they should dress like Canadians".

"What do you mean, dress like Canadians?" I asked.

Up until that point, my father had been politely propelling the conversation with questions, commentary about exploited workers, and the occasional joke. Humouring Jake was fine but I find that I'm increasingly intolerant of intolerance, especially when it's peppered with colonial justifications.

"You can be Sikh and Canadian," I said "Or do you mean white-Canadian?"

"Yeah, white-Canadians" Jake agreed.

I asked Jake if he knew much about the Sikh tradition. He said he didn't and I did my best to remember and describe the five K's and why I thought turbaned police are appropriate. Jake listened and then explained that he thought new comers should adopt the culture of the land they arrive in. I pointed out – in what I hoped was an ironic tone – that it was funny the same rules didn't apply in the 1800s when people came to this land wearing red coats. Jake laughed and said something to the effect of "well, if you lost the war get on with it".

We stood there together, leaning on our vehicles. Cyclists rode by. A couple passed with a dog. The clouds turned purple and pink as the sun dropped towards the trees.

The conversation swung to aboriginal peoples, residential schools, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Jake told us about his native son in law and his grandchildren, the problems he saw with reserves, and how he thought those problems were continuing. He didn't think it was right that aboriginal peoples couldn't mix with the rest of the population. We spoke of the problems with forced integration and about generational trauma.

At some point Jake said "I'm not prejudiced, at least I try not to be".

I appreciated Jake for that, and for listening.

Eventually dad said that we should let Jake get back to his rounds and we said goodbye. Dad and I walked out on the marina's break wall. The water was calm and the grain elevators were still catching the sunset's colour. We chatted briefly about the day but the sun went down and we both had work to do. Our conversation with Jake had taken most of the visiting time we had. That conversation was sad in a lot of ways but it was important.

Lately I'm feeling the weight of colonialism, a heavy sadness that comes with the realization that my country was built – and continues to rest – on others' suffering. If I wanted to, I could avoid that heaviness in my everyday life. I'm privileged that way. It's easy to ignore, and many people do. If your daily life doesn't involve struggle then you must go out of your way to learn about it. High profile reports and films are making that knowledge more accessible.

The week before my father came to town a coalition of local organizations sponsored a screening of the documentary "Highway of Tears" about the missing and murdered women, mostly aboriginal, along a 724 km stretch of BC highway. An activist from one of the affected communities spoke afterwards and the audience circled chairs to share our thoughts. People spoke slowly and the silence was thick with the absence of more than a thousand missing and murdered women. The silence returned when someone asked "but what do we do"?

Colonialism is a system and the problems it causes are systematic; they ripple back for generations on both sides of the treaties. Although most of us are in no position to implement policy changes, we are all capable of educating each other and breaking the silence around these issues. We can challenge prejudice where we find it. It doesn't have to cost much, only patience and maybe some time you had planned to spend another way. After the Truth and Reconciliation report, that seems like a pretty low price to pay.


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