Several weeks ago I sat in a living room in Santiago, Chile, watching coverage of the FIFA U-20 tournament.
Before it even began, nightly footage showed the players sightseeing in Canada, cruising on Niagara's Maid of the Mist, going on rides at Canada's Wonderland (though famous, they're still teenagers) and experiencing, as one player said, "the opportunity of a lifetime to travel here."
In Chile's first game against Canada, shots of Chilean-Canadian fans, many of whom fled during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, waving both Canadian and Chilean flags were prominent. Although I'm not usually given to nationalism and sometimes make fun of Canuck flags on backpacks, my eyes started to well up.
Earlier in my trip through South America, when people asked how immigrants were treated in Canada, I wavered, not sure if I believed the hype. But at this exact moment, I totally believed. The Chilean news media spoke of our legendary quality of life, beautiful stadiums and perfect execution of such an important event. I couldn't wait to get home after experiencing all this love, and when I finally did I felt euphoric walking through the cosmopolitan streets of Toronto. That is, of course, until Friday morning, when I received an e-mail from a Chilean friend telling me of the rage brewing in Chile over the mistreatment of some of their most famous citizens.
Though each side has given a different version of what occurred after the game on Thursday, July 19, any one of the versions should cause embarrassment for Canada.
Even if police were attempting to pre-empt an alleged fight between a heckler and a player, how could such a small matter possibly justify attacking foreign guests?
Although the truth is not yet clear, let's use the event as an exercise in self-reflection: if an English-speaking team had been involved, would they have been tasered and pepper-sprayed?
Mere days after Stephen Harper's diplomatic visit to Chile, Chilean politicians are heatedly suggesting cutting off ties, and our embassy in Santiago has required special protection. In the minds of average Chileans, Canada is no better than the U.S.
Police Chief William Blair issued a press release Friday saying the force would "look in detail into what happened to see what changes, if any," need to be made, suggesting there might be better de-escalating tactics than the ones officers chose last Thursday.
An investigation into what went wrong at Exhibition Place must be more than an internal matter for police bosses; it needs a full public airing before it's lost and forgotten in the media shuffle.