In praise of landlords

After all, they let us get away with a lot

There was an interesting story on the CBC the other day.

It was about the growing abuse landlords face from tenants, who ‘work the system’ to avoid having to pay their rent.

“Landlords powerless as tenants get free ride” proclaimed the story. The sense of outrage was palpable.

In the case of the BC landlord at the heart of the story, she claims she’s lost $20,000 “in lost rent, legal fees and clean-up costs” to a tenant. The tenants seemed very nice and respectable when they first arrived…but once they were moved in, they apparently displayed a very different side, refusing to pay rent and making a general mess of the place. Every time she tries to call them to account for their actions, they file appeals and legal maneuvres which prevent her from collecting what she’s owed or asserting her rights over her home.

“It’s almost like an invasion, but it’s condoned by our system” she complained to CBC.

Organizations representing landlords claim this is happening across the country. They want stricter enforcement of the law and a streamlined legal process to protect the landlords’ rights.


Shocking, hey?

It’s a pity most Canadian media can’t seem to focus the same critical lens of analytical outrage on struggles to protect aboriginal/First Nations/Inuit rights, because in a nutshell that CBC story encapsulates exactly what Idle No More is all about. Only instead of a handful of landlords, it’s over a million aboriginal people in this country who are being maltreated in their own home.

In the world of aboriginal-Canadian relations, the aboriginal communities are analogous to the abused landlords in this story. When Europeans first began arriving, they signed landlord-tenant agreements that they called treaties, outlining what they would do and what they would provide in exchange for a place to build and grow. (Granted, these treaties were often signed after disease and violence had already been deployed against aboriginal peoples, but let’s stick to the analogy.)

Only now, the tenants – federal and provincial governments – have become unruly. They’ve decided they don’t want to pay their rent. And they’re exploiting every loophole at their disposal to avoid paying their landlords what they owe, and to dodge having to recognize the rights of the people whose land they are living on.

Deadbeat tenants

The most shameful thing about the Canadian government’s role as a deadbeat tenant is that there’s absolutely no sensible reason for it. Short of greed, that is. Canada is an incredibly fortunate place. There’s plenty of land, plenty of resources, plenty of potential wealth to be shared. That logic is as true now as it was 500 years ago. The problem, is that too many of those in power are too greedy. They want to hoard as much as they can of it all. They want to avoid sharing and giving it away.

They want to avoid paying their rent.

And there’s no need for it. In a country with strong, well-developed institutions, education and health systems, public infrastructure, and with relatively little history of strife and violence (despite the Conservatives’ efforts to stoke our militant rage against Americans with their bizarre War of 1812 publicity campaign), Canada has had every opportunity to provide a model to the world. Instead, the white guys in government decided to be greedy and as a result Canada is increasingly being singled out as a rogue nation when it comes to indigenous rights.

In 2006, Canada was one of only four countries in the world to refuse to ratify the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.


Can we say rogue nation?

And besides, it was a non-binding statement. WTF were we trying to prove? That’s sort of like voting against “Peace on Earth”!

Well, you don’t get much more rogue than that. Why did 144 countries vote against Canada?

Because the overwhelming majority of the world recognize that Canada’s position – and actions – are wrong. (thankfully, so did Canada – four years after the fact. It was the second-last country to sign on, in 2010)

Canada’s rogue status when it comes to honouring its commitments and relationship with aboriginal peoples has too many insidious roots to examine in depth here. From violated treaties, to ignoring the internationally-condemned waves of violence being directed at aboriginal women and girls, to the residential school system, Canada’s relationship with aboriginal peoples might be the darkest burden it carries. Indeed, many scholars argue that the internationally reviled – and now defeated – system of South African apartheid was in fact modeled on Canada’s policy toward aboriginal peoples. As Maria-Carolina Cambre of the University of Alberta wrote: “The majority of sources characterise Canadian apartheid in the Canadian Reserve System as a root of South Africa’s Bantustans.” (She explores the question of which country influenced which in an interesting 2007 article in the South African Journal of Political Studies.) Suffice it to say that in the face of such extreme policies of institutional violence that have been directed against aboriginal peoples for so long, it is laughable (in a tragi-comic sort of way) to see pro-white media pundits calling Idle No More activists ‘extreme’.

A sad example

Take education funding, for instance. Federal funding for aboriginal post-secondary education has been under a 2% growth cap since 1996, despite inflation and despite the fact that the aboriginal population is growing at a faster rate than the overall population.

2%?! I’ve had landlords spring 10% rent increases on me, and act like they’re doing me a favour!

Anyway, it’s been estimated that the cap has – since the year 2000 – contributed to preventing over 10,000 aboriginal students in this country from receiving the post-secondary education that is their treaty right.

Meanwhile, education funding for the provinces during this period has increased at more than double the rate, despite declining enrolment in many cases.

Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus double standard.

Grim. Sad. Unnecessary.

The growing pressure and activism of the Idle No More movement is a reflection of the growing seriousness of this problem. What was once an issue of inequity is beginning to become an issue of life and death. The lack of clean drinking water, poor health conditions, lack of educational opportunities, increased suicide rates and disproportionately high incarceration rates among aboriginal/First Nations/Inuit communities can all be blamed squarely on the shoulders of a Canadian government that has decided to play greedy instead of fair, refuses to participate in any decisive and comprehensive engagement with indigenous communities, and denies its treaty partners the resources, services and financial due it committed to when the treaties were negotiated.

A deadbeat tenant, living the high life at the homeowner’s expense.

It’s a real surprise those tenants haven’t been given the boot yet. For that, they can thank the system, which is spiked in their favour. They can also thank the goodwill, patience and tolerance of the homeowner.

But they shouldn’t count on it lasting forever.

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