For the first time ever, American life expectancy has gone down. Okay, so it only dropped by a couple months, but it is still a startling indicator of the fall of our once life-enhancing civilization. It is interesting to point out that Americans share food tastes, much media, and a large land mass with some Canadian cousins whose life expectancy is not only a few years higher, but continues to rise. Before you all jump to the conclusion that access to free public healthcare is the only factor, there are plenty of other ways that Canadian culture keeps growing healthy people.
Let’s start with obesity. True, in terms of body weight, Canadians are more likely to resemble the population of America’s leanest state, Colorado, than America’s fattest state, Mississippi. It’s not news that obesity leads to heart disease, cancer, and stroke, the three leading causes of deaths. And Canadians have a great running start from birth with lower infant and toddler mortality rates linked to access to healthcare and well paid one-year maternity leaves that promote breastfeeding.
But let me also tell you about a few subtle ways that Canada protects it’s people from death by accident or crime. Take gun control. Canada’s history was founded on the hunting and fur trade. I think it’s fair to say that I probably have met more hunters in Canada than the United States, yet I’ve never laid eyes on a gun in that country. That’s because gun storage laws are very strict. Plenty of people have lost their hunting guns simply because they were not locked away enough to deter a hot-head from a bad decision. Also, the Canadian government does not recognise self-defence as a valid reason to acquire a firearm in Canada. So, no hunting license, no gun. Deaths by gunshot are, not surprisingly, quite low in Canada.
Then there’s the drunk driving stats. There’s a zero tolerance law for any driver under the age of 22. For young drivers, a sip of Molson Canadian can cost you your driver’s license if you get behind the wheel. And, did you know that on big “drinking days” like New Years Eve, most major Canadian cities make all public transportation free. In addition, during the entire holiday season, there’s a national non-profit organization called “Operation Red Nose” (a nod to Rudolph’s sleigh guiding and the nose associated with too much imbibing.) With no questions asked, a kind volunteer will show up at any party or bar and drive a drinker home. This Canada’s drunk driving accidents are less than the US.
Finally there are a mariade of subtle laws designed to protect women from crime. When a teen waitress was murdered while walking home from her part-time job in Ottawa, the government stepped in and told employers that if they schedule any teen employee past ten p.m., they must also provide safe transport home. Then there’s the famous prostitution laws to protect female sex workers from violence at the hands of a John or pimp. Prostitution is legal but solicitation is not. Any person may contract with another person in Canada to exchange sexual companionship for money or other things of value, whether that relationship lasts an hour or many years. In terms of prostitution, the law against solicitation means business must take place in a private car or home. No visible street marketing. But in that home or car, if a sex worker feels threatened, she can safely call the police for help without fear of her own arrest. Secondly, while prostitution is legal, pimps and Madams are illegal. No third party manipulators in a woman’s life.
While some Americans may interpret these Canadian laws as being intrusive on capitalistic freedom or people’s individual rights, Canadians tend to see it as being protective. Clearly America is a higher risk society. Our citizens, through our love of individual rights and freedoms, have earned ourself the right to even harm ourself. Yes, in America we are free to work a risky job, leave a gun out near a child, and even eat ourself silly. Sadly, unlike Canadians, we aren’t given adequate maternity leave, top-notch public education and medical care, in order to ameliorate those risks. Yes, in America, we are free to have a declining life expectancy.