Well, our new Canadian flag is up on the deck and I am about to celebrate the strangest Canada Day I can ever remember.
It used to be a happy event---parades, kids’ laughter, picnics, fireworks, flags and red and white decorations proudly fluttering on public buildings, places of businesses and homes.
Not Canada Day 2021.
It’s bad enough that we remain under some pandemic clouds and many of us are in a stupor after 18 months of isolation, separation from family and friends, closed schools, job loss, bankruptcy and a heap of other social issues.
There is also another kind of malaise that affects us this year.
We just woke up to find out that Canadians are not such nice people, after all, eh?
How did we not know that for more than a century, generations of our Indigenous kids were herded like cattle, taken away from their families, starved and abused at the hands of successive governments and churches?
Perhaps it’s for the same reason that today many haven’t noticed a growing trend in this country toward intolerance and loss of respect for civil discourse, human rights and democratic institutions.
For example, I know local individuals and business operators who are reluctant to celebrate this Canada Day for fear of offending someone---and even possible repercussions.
I find that disturbing.
One of our local City Councillors revealed this week that he received five threats of violence in the days leading up to Council’s 12 to one vote to give in to demands that the statue of the founding father of Canada, our former MP John A. Macdonald, be booted out of City Park where it was erected by a grateful public 126 years ago.
Some of those threats came from people who said they were at the time among those who set up camp and defaced the statue.
It turns out that the threats didn’t work—at least with this one councillor. Jeff McLaren, who represents the district of Meadowbrook-Strathcona, cast the lone vote against removing the statue and provided his explanation in an article in The Whig Standard.
McLaren says council, without adequate consultation with the public, rushed into a decision that will only further divide a polarized community and impede efforts at reconciliation with the Indigenous community.
McLaren wrote, “Statues are a cultural tradition that has value. To take that away from people is a disservice and a disrespect to their culture and mine. Disrespecting another person’s culture is not part of reconciliation.”
All of McLaren’s fellow council members seemed more concerned with warnings that if the city didn’t take down the statue, demonstrators would remove it and possibly cause violence, human injury and damage to the statue.
Issues such as Canada Day and Sir John A’s place in history and in particular his involvement in the early years of the Indian Residential Schools system are part of what some call “presentism.” That’s the process of judging the past through lens of the present.
Call it what you will, it doesn’t strengthen democracy.
The current, long overdue public interest in residential schools is welcome but hopefully will not lead to violence. Anger and retribution appear to be moving from the political to the religious sphere with the Roman Catholic Church, which operated most of the 130 schools, replacing Sir John A. as the new target of choice. Some churches have been torched.
Victoria, BC was the first city to cancel its Canada Day celebrations and others have followed suit out of respect following recent disclosure of unmarked graves at former residential school sites. More such disclosures are expected in the days ahead.
The graves have become a eureka moment for Canadians all across the country who have been shocked and shamed to the core about our lack of knowledge about a residential school system that lasted for some 125 years, claimed the lives of possibly thousands and created intergenerational trauma that bedevils our Indigenous people to this day.
Here in Kingston, our Council was spared making a decision over Canada Day by blaming cancellation of traditional downtown and Grass Creek Park events on provincial prohibitions on large indoor and outdoor gatherings.
Considering the vote outcome on the Macdonald statue and the speed with which it was expunged as a local landmark, there is little doubt that this council would have voted down any city-endorsed Canada Day celebrations following news about the gravesites.
A city media release blandly suggests the public “Visit Love Kingston Marketplace on Canada Day….celebrate by showing your love for Kingston---shop local stores and visit restaurant patios city-wide.”
Apparently, it’s politically correct to trumpet love for your city but not for your country right now.
And apparently it’s okay to love your city but not the man who was largely responsible for putting it on the map.
Well, I have no reluctance in saying that I intend to celebrate the birth of this nation, the values and ideals for which it stands, my lifelong love and pride of country and my gratitude for being a Canadian.
Canada has taken a hit recently in international media in the wake of the unmarked graves disclosures but there remain countless millions who would give anything to be here.
Truth to tell, we remain a beacon of hope and inspiration around the world despite the self-flagellation that is in abundance at the moment.
This Canada Day, some of our politicians are finding safety in dwelling on our past mistakes like residential schools and obviously believe that the public is more in a mood for grief and remorse than celebration.
I think they’re wrong. I believe we can do both.
Our Prime Minister has declared that July 1 should be used “as a time of reflection.” I will reflect on our mistakes and shortcomings and I grieve for the Indigenous kids and their families who suffered under political and religious leaders who were so wrong and, in some cases, so evil.
But this has been a tough 18 months. If ever there was a time to celebrate our survival and successes, it is now.
If ever there was a time to learn from our mistakes and seriously resolve to make amends and finally fulfil so many broken promises, it is now. Enough rhetoric and assurances of thoughts and prayers. The unmarked graves of innocent kids have shaped public demand for real change.
In this past year, 26,000 of us have died from COVID-19 and we have experienced Canadians at their best. Like the hundreds of thousands who marched off to save us and others from the Nazis and other tyrannies, these modern-day heroes came forward in the millions as front-line workers to heal the sick, comfort the elderly, keep us safe and sustain our economy.
July 1 should be a day when generations of Indigenous people and descendants of immigrants from every corner of the globe come together to celebrate the greatness of this country and the safety and opportunities it provides—as well as its capacity to build a fairer, more just and equitable world for those who follow us.
Oh, Canada. Perfect? Far from it---from its early beginnings right up to today.
But we should ask those who would diminish our accomplishments and undermine our democratic institutions, where on Earth would you rather be?