Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Reflections on Canada Day 2021

In the wake of the twin tragedies in Kamloops, British Columbia and London, Ontario, The Toronto Star recently posed the question as to whether Canadians should celebrate Canada Day at all this year, or turn this July 1st holiday into a national day of sombre reflection instead.  My answer is that we should celebrate.  I am heartbroken by what happened, but I am also heartbroken by the level of animosity toward the country I call home.

Let me be clear.  I am not opposed to a national day of mourning and sombre reflection per se.  In fact, I strongly support such an initiative.   However, I don’t think that it should take place on Canada Day.  Canada Day is a day to celebrate this country, not to dwell on its flaws and dirty laundry.  This does not mean that Canada is perfect and above criticism.  It is most definitely not an endorsement of the “my country right or wrong” mentality.  I am deeply agonized and saddened by the sorry history of the residential schools and the brutal attack on the Muslim family in London.  There are no words to express the horror of those two atrocities.  It is not my intention to minimize what happened. 

I would argue, however, that Canadians need to celebrate Canada Day more than ever in 2021.  We are still suffering through a long, nightmarish pandemic.  The situation has improved, but we are not out of the woods yet.  The Delta variant is threatening to curtail our progress and many people have not received their second dose of the vaccine yet.  COVID-19 has caused enormous physical and mental anguish.  A large number of us have lost our loved ones, our businesses and our homes. 

For just one day, can we stop beating our head against the wall?  On July 1st, can we not think of our achievements instead?  Canada is still the land of Terry Fox, Alexander Graham Bell, Tommy Douglas, The Famous Five, Lester Pearson, Thérèse Casgrain, Dr. David Suzuki, Pierre Trudeau, John Diefenbaker, Dr. Norman Bethune, Dr. Frederick Banting, Marshall McLuhan, Oscar Peterson, Emily Carr,, Viola Desmond, Margaret Atwood, Tom Longboat, The Group of Seven, Lincoln Alexander, Pauline Johnson and Alice Munro.  They are not perfect people, but they and countless other Canadians have made great contributions to humanity and to and a more just society.  They have excelled in their field of endeavour, whether it be music, art, politics, law, literature, sports or medicine and science.

On Canada Day, we would do well to remember these historical facts:

* In 1793, Upper Canada, now Ontario, introduced the Act Against Slavery, becoming the first territory in the British Empire to pass legislation leading to the gradual abolition of slavery in its jurisdiction. 

Canada is still the country that gave the world insulin, liberated the Netherlands and Sicily from Nazis, ended the 1956 Suez Crisis and instituted the practice of peacekeeping, for which Lester Pearson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957.

* In 1948, A Canadian, John Peters Humphrey (1905-1995), was instrumental in drafting the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights,  Humphrey, a native of  Hampton, New Brunswick, was a legal scholar, a human rights advocate and a professor at Montreal's McGill University.

* In 1979 the Canadian government, along with the CIA, helped six American diplomats evade capture during the seizure of the United States embassy in Tehran, Iran.

* The  people of Gander, Newfoundland provided hospitality and a friendly atmosphere to stranded American air travellers during the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.

* In a world where democracy seems to be losing ground to dictators, despots and authoritarians, Canada is fortunate to have a parliamentary democracy and a free press, however imperfect.  We can change our governments and criticize our leaders.

People and governments are imperfect.  No country is immune from racism and Canada is certainly no exception.  Should Germans refuse to celebrate the achievements of their country because of Hitler and the Nazis?  Should Americans take a pass on their July 4th Independence Day because of slavery and segregation?

Canada is not Utopia, but we certainly try to acknowledge our shortcomings and our terrible historical deeds.  Unlike some countries, we seek reconciliation and issue apologies.  Refugees risk their lives every day to come to this country.  Immigrants continue to arrive here in search of a better life.  It is one of the freest nations on earth.  From the Atlantic Ocean to the Rocky Mountains, this is a beautiful country.  I am proud to be a Canadian and I will definitely be celebrating Canada Day this year.

- Joanne     

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