A fresh start for the International Issues Discussion at Ryerson

[T]he first International Issues Discussion (IID) lecture of the school year was held last Wednesday at Ryerson University. It brought out a mismatched crowd of history students, seniors, and even families. While the crowd may not have filled up the inordinately large lecture hall, there were enough people to inspire an engaging discussion about Canada’s role in the war of 1812.

Founded by Arne Kislenko, a history professor at Ryerson, the IID series began in 2005 and they have come a long way since then. The student-led organization has covered issues such as Russia under Putin, the Middle East revolution and the rise of China. Last year, “Following the Current”, a successful series based on news media and global affairs garnered affluent Canadian foreign correspondents to speak at the series. Most discussions have one speaker that is a season veteran in their field come to teach and explain a subject or issue to the best of their abilities.

This week, Dr. Carl Benn, the chair of the department of history and formerly chief curator of the City of Toronto’s museums, spoke on the subject of the bicentennial of the war of 1812. It seems like a daunting task, to discuss the events leading up to a war that took place 200 years ago that changed the face of American-British relations, but Benn did not mislead his listeners.

Benn framed his lecture over a myriad of subjects, including First Nation conflicts, the European side of the war, and the conflicts ongoing in North America that were completely independent and parallel to the war of 1812.

Focusing very largely on the aboriginal movements accompanying the years of the war, Benn stated how the native communities were centuries ahead of us in terms of learning to accept other cultures. The British and Americans had very different perspectives on First Nations issues, but the hostility and divide created by both sides caused these native communities to want no part in their confrontations.

The discussion ended with questions from the audience, with a participant asking Benn if he thought Canada was now truly a free country. Being pressed for a direct answer, Benn said we have come a long way in 200 years but that compared to countries as large as ours, we are more independent than ever.

The next IID series, “US Elections: A Republican Party in Ruins”, will take place on Oct. 10th at 6:30pm, and Geoffrey Kabaservice will be speaking.