The Next Chapter

Mary Jo Leddy on why (and how) Canada can be a better place

The author and activist discusses her book Why Are We Here and the moral challenges facing Canada in this time.
Mary Jo Leddy, CM is a Canadian writer, speaker, theologian and social activist. (CBC )

Mary Jo Leddy is an author, speaker, theologian and social activist. She's best known for her work with refugees at Toronto's Romero House and her commitment to solving social issues including growing inequality and environmental degradation.

Her new book, Why Are We Here?: A Meditation on Canada, challenges Canadians to think long and hard about Canada's past and present in relation to national identity and how people within Canadian borders have been treated over the years. 

Leddy spoke with Shelagh Rogers about Why Are We Here?

Unanswered questions

"I once heard a story of our past, about a Tsimshian chief on the west coast of what we now call British Columbia. When he met the first European, he said to him, 'Why are you here?' We have no record of what the European answered. But it struck me when I heard this story... that's our question now. It's the question below many other questions that we talk about all the time. 

"In the book, I suggest that we can't really begin to explore the 'why' until we really reflect on where 'here' is. Of course, I'm quoting both Northrop Frye and Margaret Atwood. That's the first question that any country which is a colony in its mind or in reality has to answer." 

The myth of Canada's innocence

"We tend to think of ourselves as the nice guys and the good guys — that people can take advantage of us because we are so good and nice. A lot of that comes out of a colonial mentality, which always thinks that the bad things in this world are done at a 'head office' which is someplace else, whether that's England, France or certainly now Washington and New York. But as long as we indulge in that view of ourselves, we don't realize the extent to which we are quite capable of doing wrong. Not all the wrong in the world, but significant wrong.

"It's very dangerous. We cultivate a sense of powerlessness. There are real ways in which we don't have all the power in the world, but we do have some. When we don't admit that, we don't have the power to do good and we don't acknowledge the evil that we're very capable of doing on our own. And, of course, there are many other examples — residential schools, Japanese internment camps, the worst record in the world in terms of Jewish refugees and so on." 

Canada's potential

"What Canada can be... is a good country and a just country. What I see in the refugees that I live with, most of them, is what they bring to this country. It's not so much about their degrees and their business and their this and their that. They bring this deep hope that we will be a good country and a just country. They don't need us to be a great country, but they desperately hope that we can be good and just." 

Mary Jo Leddy's comments have been edited for length and clarity. 


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