Canada Day muted
Mood tempered by memorials to lost children
OTTAWA • Canadians traded in the traditional red-andwhite garb for Canada Day, donning orange, building memorials and taking part in events as part of a national reckoning with the horrific legacy of residential schools on Indigenous Peoples.
Many of the special events normally associated with Canada Day were either cancelled or scaled back, after hundreds of unmarked graves were found at residential school sites in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.
In his Canada Day message, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the horrific findings at the site of former residential schools have “rightfully pressed us to reflect on our country's historical failures” and injustices that still exist for many.
“While we can't change the past, we must be resolute in confronting these truths in order to chart a new and better path forward. Together, we have a long way to go to make things right with Indigenous Peoples,” said Trudeau, who spent his day with his family.
Chants of “No pride in genocide,” echoed from orange-clad crowds of about 200 in the rain in St. John's, N.L., to the estimated 3,000 who marched on Parliament Hill, where there was a makeshift memorial of shoes, signifying the young lives lost.
In Montreal, marchers held banners that read “bring our children home.” Those in Edmonton and elsewhere had shirts that read “Every Child Matters,” and the flag atop the Peace Tower was at half-mast to honour the Indigenous children who died in residential schools.
In Winnipeg, two statues, including a prominent sculpture of Queen Victoria on the front lawn of the Manitoba Legislature, were toppled by demonstrators. The Queen Victoria monument was pulled off its elevated base and covered in red paint.
And in downtown Halifax, a group of 15 read from the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission about the history and legacy of residential schools.
“Canada is having a reckoning with its history,” said Akwasi Owusu-bempah, a University of Toronto sociology professor who studies race, crime and criminal justice.
“I don't think we can celebrate this country for what it is without recognizing this country for what it isn't: a utopia and a bastion of equality and freedom and equal opportunity for all members of society,” he said.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde used his Canada Day message to call for transformational change in the lives of Indigenous Peoples, including justice for residential school survivors and clean drinking water and healthy homes in Indigenous communities.
“There is an opportunity for all levels of government to act on First Nations' priorities,” Bellegarde said in a video message.
“There is a strong foundation for continued progress, but there remains much more work ahead of all of us. We cannot lose the momentum.”
Conservative Leader Erin O'toole, in a Canada Day statement, said that reconciliation must be a central focus for the future, but the work starts by building up all people in the country, not by tearing Canada down.
“We can celebrate the country that we are and the one we aspire to be,” he said.
As marchers made their way through downtown Ottawa, they passed by a demonstration at the Supreme Court of Canada building of about 300 people, by police estimates, who at times decried the cancellations of Canada Day celebrations and the public health restrictions, lockdowns and mask mandates that have accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic.
The same sentiments spurred protesters in Calgary to swarm and hurtle profanities at Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro, his wife and two young boys at the end of a Canada Day parade, and others heckling of Premier Jason Kenney as he gave a brief speech thanking Albertans for getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
Speaking to the CBC during a visit to an Ottawa farmers' market, Trudeau said he had spoken with people unsure about getting a vaccine who then realized they could do it to help their neighbours and communities come out from the pandemic.
“A lot of Canadians are understanding that this is the path forward,” Trudeau said in the interview.
“But in the meantime, it's a lot of elbow bumps, it's still face masks, it's being careful as we're able to do more and more things.”