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4 Weird, Specific Things That Scare Me in Canada

Ottawa, November 2022
Ottawa, November 2022

Canada is generally considered a very safe place to live or explore. Most people picture a peaceful, winter wonderland (even in July or August, for some reason), sugar shacks, frozen lakes, and friendly locals, eh. The only warnings displayed are about bears or ice falling, and the only violence you may witness is hockey players punching each other during a game.

For random daily shootings and serial killers, look south of the border. And for terrorism, wars, major criminal activities or other threats, hundreds of countries come to mind before Canada is mentioned.

Of course, there are people being shitty to people in Canada, but generally speaking, the streets are safe, police forces are trustworthy, and crime rates are low.

Yet, four weird specific things scare me in Canada.

Extreme weather conditions

I’m willing to bet most Canadians have a weather app handy, and it’s not just to check whether it’s patio season yet.

Most people know that winters are long and particularly cold in Canada. Love it or hate it, it’s a fact of life. What you may not suspect is how extreme the weather can be, from blizzards to ice storms, from tornadoes to hurricanes, and from wildfires to floods.

Extreme weather events are getting more frequent and more severe for reasons we all know (and don’t do shit about). You can escape severe weather because such events occur rapidly—in the best-case scenario, you’ll get an alert from Environment Canada and have enough time to shelter.

Extreme weather is not anecdotal. It impacts daily life and it has financial costs. In 2018, six tornadoes cut through Ottawa-Gatineau and caused more than $295 million in insured damage to homes, businesses and vehicles. It took days to get the power back and weeks to clean up the mess. Last spring’s derecho was even worse with mass outages and an entire infrastructure to rebuild.

Add countless ice storms, blizzard, yearly floods and more, and you will understand why we all take weather forecasting very seriously in Canada. And I’m living in Ottawa, which is not a remote city known for particularly extreme weather conditions!

The healthcare system

I’m not being sarcastic here—the Canadian healthcare system scares me.

Imagine not having a family doctor but instead relying on walk-in clinics where you often wait for hours and never see the same doctor twice. Imagine never being able to book an appointment. Imagine being explicitly told it’s “one issue per visit” during a medical consultation. Imagine waiting months or even years to see a specialist or get surgery. Imagine having no one to turn to when facing a health issue, whether you just need medical advice or a referral. Imagine never having the chance to talk to a healthcare provider for more than three or four minutes.

This is normal for most of us in Canada. We jokingly say the healthcare system will keep you alive… and that’s about it.

And I find it terrifying.

Sure, unlike in the US, we don’t have to worry about medical bills. We also have great healthcare professionals, the main issue is access to health services.

It got a lot worse since COVID but it was pretty bad before as well.

Right now, Canada has been dealing with a shortage of kid’s pain medications for six months, and parents are either crossing the border to the US or figuring out how to substitute pediatric drugs with adult Advil and Tylenol. Getting flu and cold medicine for adults is getting hard as well, and apparently, there’s a new shortage of amoxicillin, the main antibiotic. The shortage of medication is crowding the ER amid a major healthcare crisis—a 45-hour wait time for a hospital bed in Ontario right now.

The motto? Don’t get sick. Like, ever. If you do, tough luck, you’re on your own and you’d better advocate for yourself because it’s an uphill battle.

Cities designed for cars

I can drive but since we only have one car, I tend to walk to places.

It’s not as easy as it seems. First, public transit sucks. It’s expensive, unreliable and not developed enough for spread-out cities. Second, you’re dealing with adverse weather conditions for four or five months a year. Finally, cities are designed for cars, not pedestrians—roads can be hard to cross, sidewalks inexistent, and many drivers turn right on red lights without yielding to pedestrians.

Unless you live in the downtown core of a major city, getting around without a vehicle is a daily challenge.

You must be super careful when crossing streets and parking lots because many drivers look out for cars, not pedestrians they don’t even expect to see around here.

And good luck if your car is broken into or if it needs work—you may discover you have no way to get to work, take the kids to school or go grocery shopping. This is especially true in the suburbs where everything is far, and I find the forced reliance on cars for daily mobility pretty scary.

The emptiness of Canada

Other people, bug or feature of life?

I’m a “safety in numbers” kind of person. I can’t help it. I grew up in a city and I have generally good experiences with fellow human beings.

Well, Canada isn’t the place to be for us. In suburbia, no one will hear you scream. I’m only half joking here. Streets are empty, this is not a country where people live outside or share public space. I know there are hundreds of families around us but I rarely see anyone.

Even in Ottawa, you don’t have to go far to end up in the middle of the woods or farmland. This is a big country with many remote corners and areas of wilderness, something to keep in mind when you’re going for a walk or a drive because it may be hard to find someone to help you if needed.

How about you? Does anything unusual scare you where you live?

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