Waterloo Region Record

Let’s make Canada Day a national day of reckoning

‘Instead of singing the national anthem, let’s pause and reflect on the many lives that the building of the Canadian state has cost’

- SHIRA LURIE Shira Lurie is the University College Fellow in Early American History at the University of Toronto. She holds a PhD in history from the University of Virginia.

Canada Day is just a few weeks away, but in the wake of the discovery of 215 children buried at Kamloops Residentia­l School in British Columbia, many people are in no mood to celebrate.

In fact, #CancelCana­daDay has trended on social media amid calls for a national day of mourning. Skeptics may scoff, but it’s worth thinking about what Canada Day means and what purpose it serves.

In simplest terms, Canada Day commemorat­es Canadian Confederat­ion, when the colonies of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the Province of Canada (Ontario and Quebec) joined together into a single Dominion on July 1, 1867. It is, in essence, a celebratio­n of the formation of the Canadian state.

It is no accident that the symbols that abound on July 1 signal allegiance to the federal government’s political and military power: Canadian flags, the RCAF Snowbirds and the national anthem.

These displays equate patriotism with loyalty to the state. And so, Canada Day leaves no room for reflection or critique. Most troublingl­y, it erases the many victims of Canada’s nationhood, in both the past and present.

These victims include the First Nations, which faced the genocidal violence of settler colonialis­m; the people of African descent who laboured in bondage and suffered decades of repression; the Asian immigrants who endured unsafe work conditions, exclusiona­ry immigratio­n practices, and internment; the women who lived without legal standing or protection; the LBGTQ-plus community which struggled for its right to exist; and so many others.

But the crimes of Canada are not confined to the past.

Today, 33 First Nation communitie­s do not have clean drinking water, there is a national crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and the federal government has taken residentia­l school survivors and First Nations children to court rather than pay reparation­s and financial assistance.

Racism and inequality have filled our prisons with Black and Indigenous peoples.

Anti-Muslim hatred has been legislated in Quebec and enacted in our streets, including two of the deadliest anti-Muslim terrorist attacks in recent history: the 2017 shooting in a Quebec City mosque and the mowing down of a Pakistani family in London just a week ago.

Hate crimes against Asian and Jewish people in Canada are also on the rise.

“We’re an example to the world because of the way we treat each other,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau proclaimed in his 2019 Canada Day address. If that’s true, the world should look for a better role model.

Canada Day asks us to celebrate the national story as one of uplift and progress.

It leaves no room for histories of dispossess­ion, enslavemen­t, internment, or discrimina­tion.

Our leaders tell us that Canada is worthy of celebratio­n. That is what Canada Day is for.

These demands for an unthinking patriotism serve only to reify status quo power structures and deny the experience­s of marginaliz­ed communitie­s.

Amid a climate emergency, rising inequality, rampant racism, opioid epidemic, housing crises, and a persistent pandemic, we might ask ourselves if July 1 could be put to better purposes.

Instead of cancelling Canada Day, let’s reimagine it.

Instead of whitewashe­d stories that omit centuries of injustice and trauma, let’s tell the truth about our past and confront the challenges of our present.

Instead of uncritical­ly celebratin­g institutio­ns, let’s demand actions and policies that build a better future.

Instead of nationalis­tic speeches from politician­s, let’s listen to the wisdom of Indigenous and community leaders who have been protecting the land and its people for generation­s.

Instead of singing the national anthem, let’s pause and reflect on the many lives that the building of the Canadian state has cost.

No fireworks. No flags.

Let’s make July 1 a day of reckoning. Perhaps then we might create a Canada worthy of our celebratio­n.

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