We Must Reject the Attestation

Last week True North reported that George Brown College is requiring students to make an attestation in order to study through online classes. It reads: “As settlers or the displanted, we benefit from the colonization and genocide of the Indigenous peoples on this land. In order to engage in resistance and solidarity against the past and present injustices inflicted on the Indigenous people of this land, it is imperative we constantly engage in acts of awareness and decolonization.” Would-be students must then click “agree” or they do not get access to their classes.

This is the intellectual vice-grip of cultural fundamentalism.

As with George Orwell’s Newspeak, the lexicon here is shrunk and with it our options and ultimately our thinking. I must attest to their definition of reality in order to study; all options are off the table. Am I a settler? How in the world does one engage in resistance against past injustices? What is an act of awareness? How can one possibly decolonize?

This is language obfuscation at its worst. Verbal camouflage. Such a writer is hiding. Heck, if they’d said, “we should all do something to right the wrongs done to Canada’s Indigenous people,” I’d be more likely to comply. This is language meant to alienate, and make you feel like a lost sheep who doesn’t know his way. I just keep hearing, “Are ya’ saved, Brother?”

This is pure test. “All the messages in the media,” says Jean Baudrillard, “function as neither information nor communication, but referendum, perpetual test, circular response, verification of the code.” We are interrogated, questioned constantly: Are you on the team or not? Don’t you want to be like the guy in the beer commercial, and if you don’t, you’re weird… kind of like non-hockey fans in Canada. I feel like I am on the wrong side. I feel like I’m being judged because I’d like to know what the definitions are. Deep down, I feel threatened.

But we’ve been here before. The attestation: To certify that it is authentic. To witness. To bear testimony. To testify. I first heard the word back in 2017 with the dust-up over faith-based groups applying for summer student grants. Trudeau stated, “An organization that has the explicit purpose of restricting women’s rights by removing rights to abortion and the right for women to control their own bodies is not in line with where we are as a government, and quite frankly where we are as a society.” Groups applying had to “attest”—check a box to show what side they were on, or they were denied tax dollars.

Trudeau’s paternalistic comments on “the attestation” and what is enshrined in his version of the Charter got below the skin. My mind roiled: “Listen Trudeau, I grew up in the camp of the Holy Rollers and I know when I am being emotionally hosed.”

There is nothing worse than a preacher who doesn’t respect the intelligence of his audience, even if this is a progressive revival hour.

I cooled down.

I’d been here before. For me it was in religious services, growing up—those hyper-emotional times I was being called to come on side: “Let’s see a show of hands…” “How many people are in the house tonight?!” “How many of you are with me?”

The introverted over-thinker in me scowled at it. All that peer pressure, and getting me to buy into an either/or proposition when I would typically just see a lot of gray; people in the pews looking left and right at who was complying—it robbed me of agency, of choice. No way I’m going to put my hand up.

I’d sit cynically humming, “Hands up, baby hands up; give me your heart gimme gimme your heart…”

My present and eternal state with God had come down to a show of hands?

Anyone who has worked in institutions under the weight of all things COVID knows that the attestation is back; it’s the weapon de jour, dividing us all asunder. “Attest” to our vaccination status. Check that box, show your colors. I might as well wear a ribbon. One university gave professors and students these options: “I have received a COVID vaccination”; “I will be receiving a vaccination shortly”; “I require a religious exemption”; “I am refusing a COVID vaccination.”

It was like a Scantron test. Check box to pass. What about if you weren’t refusing the COVID vax, but just wanted to wait, say, for more evidence? No box for you.

No gray in pandemic land.

Just plant your “I did my part!” sign on your front lawn.

This past term I taught a course on Protest and Media. One of the concerns many students voiced was the pressure they feel online. When BLM promoted its Blackout Tuesday, in which they invited allies to post a blacked out square on their personal social media, many of my students were introduced to the pressure of their woke peers: if they didn’t share the square, they were questioned or even chided by friends: “Why aren’t you commenting on this?” “Your silence is your guilt.”

I’m not humming “Hands up, baby, hands up” these days. I’m thinking of a young Chinese girl smiling and waving her arms while a mob of onlookers, all cultural devotees of streamlined minds devoid of mercy for those who can’t tick the box clap their hands and stomp their jackboots in thunderous time.

Sixty years ago, China’s Cultural Revolution had the loyalty dance. The young girl in the picture sings, “No matter how close our parents are to us, they are not as close as our relationship with Mao.” This was the only dance allowed.

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F.T. Lalonde

F.T. Lalonde teaches Communications at a Canadian college.

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