Happy 150th Birthday Canada

Canada Day this year has generated more attention than usual.  For the most part, this is because 150 is a significant number for many.  Another reason is that there has been a considerable protest against the sesquicentennial celebrations on the part of those trying to highlight the nation’s poor treatment of indigenous peoples.  Though the protest can hardly be considered as mainstream as the flag waving and fireworks, it is worth considering the position and purpose of the protesters.

For example, the Ryerson Students’ Union is encouraging people not to celebrate the sesquicentennial.  Among their reasons for the stand is that the number 150 is an arbitrary one considering that the land was inhabited by indigenous peoples long before confederation, that at this point, the 150 years is really a history of exploitative colonialism and that spending half a billion dollars on birthday celebrations while indigenous communities still lack basic necessities is unconscionable.

It’s likely the average Canadian’s response to this might be something like, ‘look, Canada is an amazing country and this is a special occasion; don’t rain on our parade’

So perhaps the problem is the false dichotomy that many are prone to adopting.  Yes, Canada is a wonderful country that I feel extremely fortunate to call my home.  While I can wave the flag proudly, that doesn’t mean I should ignore the shameful legacy of Canada’s treatment of its indigenous peoples.  At the same time, the need for reconciliation does not mean that I cannot celebrate all of the wonderful aspects of the country.

I understand why the protestors have seized on this moment.  When you are trying to raise the profile of your cause, you need to act when most eyes and ears will be paying attention.  The protestors are likely very aware that the timing of the action will frustrate many and maybe even harden their opposing position.  An easy reaction would be to see the dissenters as spoil sports, or worse as traitors.  But the demonstrators are not concerned about popularity; they are interested in righting an injustice.

For me, I will celebrate Canada, warts and all.  I harbor no resentment towards those who are striving to advance reconciliation and move us towards acknowledging a large part of our history that is dishonorable.  I believe it is a fair position to be thankful for all of the nation’s beauty, freedom and accomplishments, and still keep reconciliation as a priority that needs to be acted upon.

Happy Canada Day to all Canadians—may the next 150 be guided by the courage to examine our values in an objective manner and the determination to be a beacon for others in all that we do.