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’
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.