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The United States of America: the Neighbour You Don’t Know

Fulbright Canada asked five panelists to share their experience at The Nineteenth Annual International Studies Symposium. Here are their comments…

Dr. Sara K. McGuire

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Dr. Sara K. McGuire is currently an LLM Candidate in International Public and Comparative Law at the University of Exeter. In August 2014 she will be a Visiting Assistant Professor of Intelligence and National Security Studies at the University of Texas at El Paso.

While Canadians often refer to their “friend and neighbour” to the south, how much do Canadians actually know about the United States? The theme of this year’s International Studies Symposium at York University’s Glendon College Campus, “The United States of America: The Neighbour You Don’t Know” sought to answer this questionBringing together scholars from both sides of the 49th parallel, this event examined a wide range of issues including: the American economy, American institutions, U.S. foreign policy, the environment and energy independence, and the American media.

The panel examining the American media raised several key points.  While I had not met the other panelist in advance, Dr. Ian Reilly of Concordia University, the two presentations examined the ways in which various actors in the United States can harness the media in support of their causes.  While my talk discussed the ways in which the media can be used by the state to ‘securitize’ a given issue, Dr. Reilly’s presentation looked at some of the ways in which the media can be employed to fuel social activism.

My presentation, which I titled, “Blame Canada: U.S. Media Narratives in the Post-9/11 Period”, was premised on the notion that, in the post-9/11 period, there was a focused effort on behalf of American politicians and the media to shift the blame for the attacks away from American policymakers.  As a result, the U.S. media fixated on Canada as the weak link compromising the security of the northern border.  The ‘Blame Canada’ media narrative incorporates complaints that Canadian immigration and refugee policies are too lax, and that the Canadian government has not done enough to enforce security at border crossings.  This narrative has been reinforced by popular television shows such as Homeland, Law and Order, The West Wing, and America’s Most Wanted, which have all featured episodes depicting Canada’s security apparatus as disinterested in American counterterrorism efforts.  Ultimately, the U.S. media’s blame Canada narrative has had important implications for the bilateral defense relationship in the post-9/11 period.

This event had an impressive turn out of students and members of the community, given that it started at 8:30a.m. on a Sunday, which is a credit to student organizer, Neena Sethi and her team.  While the Symposium may have sparked more questions about Canada’s southern neighbour than it answered, there is no doubt that it was a resounding success.

Dr. Roy Culpeper 

2010-2011 Fulbright Canada Visiting Research Chair at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

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Dr. Roy Culpeper is a Distinguished Research Associate at the North-South Institute in Ottawa, Ontario, a Senior Fellow of the University of Ottawa’s School of International Development, and an Adjunct Professor at Carleton University’s School of Public Policy and Administration.

The large turnout of students, faculty, and members of the public on a cold Sunday in early spring attested to the high level of interest garnered by the symposium. Officials representing the United States were evidently supportive of this choice of subject. Jim Dickmeyer, Consul-General to Toronto gave the opening address, in which he portrayed the intricate and overwhelmingly positive relationships between Canada and the United States.

This was followed by a series of panels: on the economy, the environment, American institutions, the media, and U.S. Foreign Policy. Each of the panel discussions left ample time for lively floor discussions.

I was the first presenter in a panel on “The American Economy”. In my presentation on “America and the World Economy: Legacy of the Financial Crisis” I set out the enduring impacts of the crisis on the United States, for the rest of the world, and for economic and social policy going forward. My co-panelists included Arthur Cockfield of Queen’s University who spoke about FATCA (the Foreign Account Tax Compliant Act), and Ali Ehsassi, a trade lawyer who spoke about the complexities of the U.S.-Canadian trade relationship.

This and other panels bore out the underlying truth of the symposium’s sub-title. Not only is the Canada-U.S. relationship highly intricate, as Consul-General Dickmeyer attested, leaving many Canadians unaware of the details of the relationship. But also the United States itself is itself hugely complex and thus difficult for anyone (including many Americans!) to fully comprehend.

Congratulations, therefore, are due to Glendon College, and the organizing team of seven students (informally dubbed the “G-7” – who all happened to be women) for their originality and perspicacity in crafting the agenda and organizing a stimulating day of discussion.

Dr. Arthur Cockfield

2012-2013 Fulbright Canada Visiting Research Chair at the University of Texas in Austin

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Dr. Arthur Cockfield is a Professor at the Faculty of Law at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario. He is a member of the Corporate Taxation Reform Expert Panel at the Mowat Center at the University of Toronto. His research on tax law has been featured by the CBC, The Guardian, Spiegel, and The Globe and Mail.

The Symposium was a big hit from my perspective. It brought together experts from Canada and the United States to explore policy issues surrounding the relationship between these countries. My own presentation focused on a story of U.S. exceptionalism.  The United States enacted a tax law in 2010 called the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). FATCA seeks to force all non-U.S. banks, including Canadian banks, to look through their records to find any U.S. expatriates.  Then the banks must send the account information directly to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

In my view, FATCA is a disaster for Canada as it infringes on Canadian privacy rights and effectively turns the Canadian government into an enforcement arm of the IRS. My talk drew from a report I’m authoring for the federal Office of the Privacy Commissioner as well as from submissions on FATCA to the Department of Finance that I co-authored with Professor Allison Christians at McGill.

Dr. Susan Bibler Coutin

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Dr. Susan Biblier Coutin (right), Neena Sethi symposium organizer and Glendon College student (middle), and Dr. Rosanna Furgiuele Associate Principal of Student Services at Glendon College (left).

Dr. Susan Bibler Coutin holds a Ph.D. in sociocultural anthropology and is Professor in the Department of Criminology, Law, and Society and the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine, where she also serves as Associate Dean of the Graduate Division.  Her research has examined social, political, and legal activism surrounding immigration issues, particularly immigration from El Salvador to the United States.

The symposium was a wonderful opportunity for cultural exchange through exploring issues of common interest to U.S. and Canadian residents.  I participated in the “U.S. Institutions and Immigration” panel, which examined three high profile issues: welfare reform, healthcare, and immigration policies.  My own contribution used the experiences of Salvadoran immigrants to describe the human impact of immigration policies.  Salvadorans began immigrating to the United States in large numbers during the 1980-1992 civil war, but, because the U.S. government was supporting Salvadoran authorities and did not welcome these migrants, many traveled without legal status.  After the war ended, migration continued, as individuals sought opportunities and family members attempted to reunite.  By the 2000s, the Salvadoran government estimated that 1 out of every 4 Salvadorans lived outside of the country, with the population of the United States being the largest at 2.3 million, followed by Canada with a population of 161,853.

My own recent research has focused on children born in El Salvador and raised in the United States, and who therefore may lack U.S. citizenship while having only dim memories of their country of origin.  As one young woman told me, “I’m neither a resident nor a non-alien…. It’s like, for a minute you have no identity outside of your house.  That’s what it feels like sometimes.  You’re just walking around, and you’re …  invisible to everything else.  Everybody else is solid but you’re not.”  As newcomers to the United States, migrant youth faced the challenges of living in low-income communities, being misrecognized as Mexican Americans (the dominant U.S. immigrant group), and educational disparities associated with their immigration status.  Yet, despite these challenges, my research indicates that Salvadoran youth have taken action to address these issues.  Young people are working for immigration rights for undocumented students, founding Salvadoran student groups on college campuses, mentoring other young people, and organizing trips to El Salvador to learn more about their own culture and history.  As one young woman told me, “maybe it will take one more generation” to overcome the challenges facing the Salvadoran immigrant community.

By creating a forum in which such issues could be discussed, the USA symposium was invaluable.  I was impressed with the quality of the speakers, the interest displayed by audience members, and the care that went into every detail.  I congratulate the symposium organizers, Glendon College, and the cosponsors for this fine event.

Dr. Howard Greenwald

2013-2014 Fulbright Canada Visiting Research Chair at the University of Alberta

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Dr. Howard Greenwald is a Professor in the Sol Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.  He is a specialist in organizational behavior, health services research, and program evaluation, and has published extensively in these areas.  He received his BA from the University of Chicago and his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.  He enjoys playing blues guitar, back-country skiing, and writing fiction. 

I was honored to be part of the International Studies Symposium at Glendon College last month.

My topic was the Affordable Care Act recently enacted in the United States amidst intense controversy.  Most Americans today refer to the measure as “Obamacare.”  The term was first used as a pejorative by opponents of the act.  Today even President Barak Obama refers to the measure as Obamacare.

The event gave me an opportunity to share my personal views on the scope, nuances, and unresolved issues of Obamacare with a curious and intelligent audience.  Many Americans look to Canada as a model for providing high quality, accessible care to all.  It is encouraging to find that Canadians are interested in America’s attempts to improve its health care system.

But the knowledge exchanged at the Symposium, however valuable it may have been, was not what will linger in my memory.  The items that will endure are the environment: physical, human, intellectual.

I made my first visit to Canada in 1967 for the purpose of helping a friend immigrate to escape conscripted service in the Viet Nam war.  Despite its somber rationale, the trip provided me with the opportunity to visit Expo 67, and, for the first time, taste Indian food.  But more than anything my visit alerted me to the diversity of Canada’s people.  “Canada’s still an immigrant country,” a friend explained to me.

I thought about this during my later visits to Canada: as an outdoorsman on Vancouver Island, an accreditation commissioner at the University of Ottawa, as a parent accompanying my daughter to international soccer matches in British Columbia. I remember being particularly struck by a group of men I met on a BC-Hydro bus wearing the uniforms and insignia of the Royal Canadian Artillery and speaking with each other in animated Chinese.  And of course, everyone, whatever may be his or her ethnic heritage, was cheering Canada’s hockey teams during the 2014 Winter Olympics.

For me, the international flavor yet unitary spirit of Canada culminated at the Symposium.  The students who organized the event comprised a microcosm of Canada’s diversity, combined with the characteristic ability to collaborate.  In my estimation, Professor Awalou Ouedraogo best embodied the meeting’s objectives and reflected its success.  In his graceful, elegant French, Professor Ouedrago gave me a perspective on American foreign policy with which I was completely unfamiliar.

I had never visited Toronto before and it had the vibrancy of my favorite European capitals made so by the immense and visible diversity of its residence.  I spent the rest of my time in Ontario talking with observers and managers of Canada’s Medicare system.  The level of intellectual stimulation which these people gave me was unrivaled.

I hope my Canadian counterparts in the Fulbright program in the United States will take memories with them that are as positive as mine.

Read past posts from Fulbright Alumni:

2004-2005 Fulbright Canada Student, Ruth Dunley, launches National Capital History Day

2013-2014 Fulbright Canada Scholar, Carol Gray, recruits 52 interns

 

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