This Canada Day an ideal time for some thoughtful reflection


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“Part of what it means to be Canadian is to recognize mistakes and learn from the past.”

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/06/2021 (527 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

“Part of what it means to be Canadian is to recognize mistakes and learn from the past.”

Kukpi7 Rosanne Casimir, chief of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc (TteS) in B.C.

Whether by choice or by pandemic-induced necessity, this nation’s Canada Day celebrations will be a muted affair in communities across the country.

Unfortunately, we have to wonder if that’s not for the best for Canada Day 2021.

Following the announced discovery of unmarked burial sites of 215 residential school students in Kamloops last month and the subsequent news of an even higher count of such graves around the former Brandon Indian Residential School site, there have been growing calls for Canada Day’s cancellation this year, as our Indigenous population and Canadians of all political stripes mourn a legacy that has tarnished our international reputation and our country’s self-image.

Cities and towns across the country have been debating whether to carry on with official Canada Day ceremonies and activities, with some, such as the Victoria City Council in B.C. voting unanimously to cancel celebratory programming.

Officials in Red Deer, Alta., have followed suit, with activities cancelled but Canada Day fireworks moving forward — mostly because grants had already been obtained for such a purpose, according to the Red Deer Advocate.

“A lot of people are in mourning — and not just Indigenous people, but everybody,” said Delores Coghill, manager of the Red Deer Culture and Heritage Society.

Canada Day celebrations will not move forward in a number of communities in northern Saskatchewan as well, including La Ronge, the Lac La Ronge Indian Band and the village of Air Ronge.

“Finding these grotesque acts that were done in our nation’s history, it was certainly a time for us to reflect and reach out to our Indigenous community partners, especially in our case where we live in a tri-community,” La Ronge Mayor Colin Ratushniak told CTV. “We reached out to (Lac La Ronge Indian Band) Chief Tammy (Cook-Searson) and council to really understand what they needed from us. It was decided that this year they would focus solely on National Indigenous People’s Day on June 21.”

And while the municipality of Prince Edward County in Ontario will still go ahead with offering funding for already-planned Canada Day celebrations, the region’s volunteer Canada Day Committee, which usually hosts the day’s celebrations, has decided not to do so this year out of respect for ongoing truth and reconciliation process with Indigenous peoples, according to a Global TV news report.

There are likely several other community councils making similar decisions.

But the #CancelCanadaDay movement, which has received far more attention on social media this year in the wake of the ongoing coverage of the unmarked burial grounds, is getting short shrift on the East Coast.

In Fredericton, N.B., planners are moving forward with a virtual performance, and in Moncton, the flag-raising ceremony will move forward, though that city’s communications director told Global News the annual celebration is like to be “much more solemn this year.” And the city of Charlottetown, P.E.I., is set to host a free celebration with music, food “and more,” and there’s little talk of cancellation.

Here in Brandon, it’s a bit of a moot point. Last month, the Riverbank Discovery Centre announced the cancellation of Canada Day events for the second straight year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and instead will hold virtual celebrations on its social media accounts.

“Canada Day is not cancelled, but we need to continue following public health advice until it is safe to have an event of this magnitude,” general manager James Montgomery told the Sun in early May. “Brandon Riverbank Inc. looks forward to once again being a gathering place for celebrations such as these when it’s safe to do so.”

But the reality is, this is an issue that is further dividing Canadians right down a patriotic fault line. Many Canadians feel ashamed of our shared history regarding the treatment of Indigenous peoples throughout this country’s history, and it’s difficult for people to feel in a celebratory, flag-waving mood given the fact there will no doubt be more unmarked children’s graves found in the coming months and years as investigations continue.

There are also those who feel that trying to cancel Canada Day is hurting the memory of what is good about this country. The Times Colonist, for example, penned an editorial this week stating that cancelling Canada Day sends the wrong message, and that cancelling the celebration does not permit a “thoughtful reflection” on what it means to be Canadian. The editorial writer argues Canada Day should be the one time in the year we all pull together and rededicate ourselves to the founding principles that bind us together as Canadians.

“The purpose of Canada Day is to affirm everything good and decent about our country,” the Times Colonist wrote. “It is a means of unifying our population around a set of ideals we all aspire to. It is to celebrate hope and optimism. If we give up on those values, what do we have in their place? Anger and blame are no recipe for bringing a community together.”

Chief Casimir, quoted at the top of the page, too, says Canadians need to learn about the legacy of colonialist policies, and how they resonate today, and that Canada Day could and should be used as not only a celebration of achievement, but also a learning experience for all of us.

We’re not going to advocate for the cancellation of Canada Day, but perhaps we should allow for a muted day of reflection this year.

All Canadians need to understand that the continuing work of building a country — one that we can be proud of — must begin by acknowledging past mistakes, and addressing them boldly, fairly and honestly.

That way, when we move forward, we do so together.

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