Amir Attaran’s “The Ugly Canadian”: Rhetorical Analysis

the ugly canadian
Rhetorical Analysis of Amir Attaran’s “The Ugly Canadian”

A Rhetorical Analysis of Amir Attaran’s “The Ugly Canadian”


The article, “The Ugly Canadian” aims at convincing Canadians that the government is the tainting the image of the state and correspondingly that there is a gross violation of elementary standards and values both at the national and international level. Likewise, Attaran asserts that Canada is liquidating its internationalism based on the national laws that are showing a dark side of the state. Attaran presents a resounding argument that the government has embraced the concept of “exceptionalism” which has discolored Canada’s progression towards achieving the international honor.

Throughout the article, he dispatches this argument by asserting that the government has taken pride in working in different directions contrary to what the norms profess. For instance, he notes that the abduction of Robert Fowler and Louis Guay; who were Canadian diplomats raised a few eyebrows in spite of them being government envoys. He questions such silence in a distressing manner. He goes further to drive his argument by denoting that the former Prime Minister, Lester Pearson, would never approve the direction the government had taken about its international and national conduct.

Attaran tells of a vast growing evidence of exceptionalism especially within the national context by looking at the legislations and codes of conduct that exist. He gives an indication of foreign trade laws, for instance, the Governor-in-Council gets to decide on which developing countries gets the preference of exporting to Canada at a discounted tariff. Why Attaran asks, does Hong Kong, Israel, South Korea and Singapore get the preference when certainly none of them is poor? (Attaran, 2009).

In further discussion, Attaran points out other wanting areas of concern; public health, corruption and human rights domains. The evidence he gives paints an image of a government that embraces rather than critiquing the loopholes that exist within various systems. Take, for instance, “the state-orchestrated secret kidnapping” which is against the doctrine of enforced disappearance of persons.

Despite Canada having nurtured a global reputation for being a fierce human rights defender, the country is yet to sign UN’s International Convention for the Protection of all persons from enforced disappearance. Attaran pegs this refusal to the fact that Canada is in the actual sense committing the same crimes it should be preventing. 

Significantly, by basing his excavation on various domains where the Canadian government has exercised exceptionalism in an arbitrary and unjustifiable way, Attaran delivers substantial evidence as such successfully achieving the intended goal of critiquing the government’ conduct both at the national and international level which has led to tainting the overall image of the country.

By the same token, Attaran further faults the civil society, mainly his fellow academics and NGOs for taking a back seat and failing to question the defects of the government which has led to drift from internationalism. In this respect, Attaran not only attributes the failure to uphold Canada as a respectable nation to the government officials but the society in large. In this way, Attaran successfully conveys his message that the rot affecting the country is deep rooted in the society and if a change is to occur, it should start from the top level going deep down.


Arguably, the purpose of the article is not to taint the image of the government but rather to act as a critique towards its international and national conduct which has circumvented the standard codes of practice for a sovereign state. By providing a significant amount of information on various areas where the government has failed, the article provides a weighing scale on which the country can assess itself.

Accordingly, the article also puts the government in the limelight for its various activities. This is an important aspect as it empowers the people to understand various violations conducted by the government.  Such an understanding could evoke public disapproval of the activities of the government as such promoting proper change or initiating platforms for facilitating discussions so as to find better ways forward.

Target audience

Notably, Attaran targets the political class at large. These are the people that not only represent the country at the international level, but they also formulate local laws which control the interactions between the citizens themselves, their interactions with various governmental agencies and the state. Arguably, the demeanor of these officials of embracing exceptionalism, which is contrary to conventional norms, trickles down to the society hence causing further adverse effects. 

By targeting the political elite, Attaran delivers on his argument that reforms must commence from top most individuals down to the societal members.

Writing strategies


Notably, Attaran structures the paper in such a way that it allures the reader into developing an interest in the intended goal. He starts off by giving an insight of how two Canadian diplomats were abducted by a shadowy group (Al Qaeda). He further asserts that even though their story has a happy ending, it leaves many questions to be answered.

From this short introductory piece, Attaran can develop his idea of exceptionalism that had been embraced by the government, which had allowed it to deviate from acceptable codes of conduct. He further moves from the international level and gives wide examples of the same concept being applied within the national context. Notably, this structure enables Attaran to develop his story in a smooth manner as he can move swiftly from one issue to another. 


Substantially, Attaran sticks to using a formal language throughout the article so as to enable him to deliver his message better. Considering his target audiences are the political elite, it is important that he addresses the issues at hand in a clear manner. Also, by using direct quotations from past scenarios, Attaran can allow the readers to have a flash back to things that they can relate to. This is an upshot to his intended goal as it keeps the reader involved and gives a feel of realness. Also, Attaran uses ridicule and comparison so as to express how Canada has fallen below the expected standards.

The language that Attaran adopts strengthens his argument as he can reach out to his target audience and at the same time connects with the readers

Rhetoric appeals

Expressively, the lack of solid sources to back up Attaran’s claims towards the government’s failures may impact negatively on the intended goal of the article. His focus on technical areas such as security or trade laws without concrete proof on the reasons for the measures taken by the government may not persuade a reader into following his line of thought. Arguably, this forms a weakness for the article; his logos may be questioned especially based on the accuracy of data provided. Also, the historical analogies given may have happened under different circumstances as such making it unfair to put Canada under the same scenario.


Amir Attaran’, (2009). “The Ugly Canadian” in the Literary Review of Canada.,2009.

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