With recent news reports of residential school atrocities, Canadian pride has been replaced by a national shame, making this year’s Canada Day difficult for many to celebrate.
That we as a nation have taken a pause to reflect on our past and to express sadness and shame is a very Canadian reaction to such horrific news, because by and large we are a compassionate, caring people.
There are few nations on this planet that enjoy looking into the darker corners of their past. History books are filled with horror stories and human rights abuses from around the globe, and Canada certainly doesn’t have a squeaky clean history, particularly when it comes to our First Nations.
In a typical year, I use this late June column to write about what is great about this nation, and there is much, and about how fortunate we are to live where we do, and we are.
It is true as some have pointed out, that a decision to not celebrate Canada Day this year does not do anything to repair historic atrocities, but for those who choose to not celebrate this year, the intent is not to repair the past, but to acknowledge it, to reflect upon it, and to express shame on behalf of our ancestors.
At this time last year we were heading into our first Canada Day of the pandemic. All public events were cancelled due to concerns about large gatherings while the virus was still on the rampage. Meaford residents were encouraged to hang Christmas lights in place of fireworks and other traditional celebrations.
This year, the pandemic is still with us as are many of the gathering restrictions, so virtual celebrations have been planned. There will be no fireworks in Meaford, no pancake breakfasts, no log sawing in Bognor.
Many had been hoping that by Canada Day we would have moved past this virus and would have fully opened up and the entire nation would be ready for a huge bash. For many, recent news about residential schools, however, has rightly tossed a wet blanket onto any thoughts of celebrating.
In June of 2018, I penned an editorial entitled We’re Not Perfect, But There’s no Better Place to Live Than Canada, and given recent news reports, that certainly holds true today.
In that editorial I wrote about ‘rights’. I have long pushed back against the notion that we actually have ‘rights’, when what we actually have are a long list of privileges that were afforded to us by humans and can be taken away by humans.
I am also very appreciative of our freedom and our privileges here in Canada. Note that I didn’t say ‘rights’. I know it ruffles some feathers, but I don’t believe that we truly have any rights, and what many think of as rights are in fact just privileges. If a ‘right’ is granted by someone else, and if it can be taken away, then it isn’t a right at all, it is a privilege. We might think we have voting ‘rights’ but governments can change rules should they desire, not that I think our voting privileges are in any danger, but nothing in any society is actually etched in stone. That said, I value our privileges in this country. We have a freedom to travel within our borders without having to produce our papers at checkpoints, we have a solid, transparent, and effective electoral process (though proportional representation would be a nice improvement), and we have the ability to protest and hold our governments accountable. There are a lot of places on this planet where none of those privileges are offered to citizens, so indeed I treasure our privileges.
Among the many privileges we Canadians have is the ability to protest, even our government, and we also have the privilege of choice, and this year many will exercise that privilege and will not celebrate Canada Day.
From my perspective, it is up to the individual. As I have written in the past, I have never considered myself ‘patriotic’, the notion of patriotism makes my stomach churn. That said, I am grateful to live in Canada, I am happy to live in Canada, and there is nowhere else in the world I would rather be. But like many nations, we have a dirty past, and we must acknowledge it, and we must learn from it.
However you plan to spend the Canada Day holiday, be safe, be respectful, and take a moment to reflect on our past, our present, and where we are headed in the future.