A different kind of Canada Day this year, a time for reflection

Today, July 1, is Canada Day. Happy 153rd Birthday, Canada! Usually, when we think of Canada Day we think of a beautiful summer day where communities have parades, outdoor concerts, face painting for kids, birthday cake for all, and the singing of ‘O Canada’ with great gusto. Followed of course by wonderful fireworks displays when it finally gets dark enough (about 10 pm where we live). Or people celebrate by spending the day at one of Canada’s tens of thousands of lakes and maybe end the day with their own fireworks. It’s a wonderful holiday and Canadians have lots to celebrate.

What a typical non-pandemic Canada Day looks like in Ottawa, our nation’s capital. Image credit: 680news.com

But … this isn’t a normal year. Canada Day celebrations have been cancelled in most places, certainly where we live. No relaxed and happy times mingling with the crowds for local concerts, no face painting, no fireworks, and God forbid any public singing. Who could have imagined?! In our area the city is trying to promote community spirit around this important holiday by having a competition between the north side of the river that runs through our city and the south side of the river. The challenge is for your side to have the best Canada Day home decorations; not quite the same as fireworks, but they’re trying. Go, South Side!

A more doable celebration of Canada Day during the COVID pandemic. Image credit: smithsrvcentre.com

Since we won’t be having the usual Canada Day celebrations, the ones that make most of us feel very good about the country we live in despite the occasional concern we might have, perhaps we can make use of this day by reflecting on why we take pride in our country, but also what we could be doing – and strongly encourage our politicians to do – to make Canada even better as we slowly, eventually, emerge from the global COVID crisis.

Two recent articles in Toronto’s Globe and Mail (which I’m pleased to see no longer calls itself Canada’s National Newspaper) offered some good suggestions in advance of Canada Day. One was an interview with one of our former Prime Ministers, Brian Mulroney, who, as prime minister from 1984-93, was our original free-trader along with his pal Ronald Reagan, and introducer of our first GST (goods and services tax). The piece is entitled ‘Brian Mulroney calls for bold social changes to prepare Canada for a world after COVID-19’ and his suggestions are wide-ranging. He has ideas for massively increased immigration, free trade throughout the Americas, and a call to fully address the plight of our indigenous population. I should add that the online comments for this article were pretty dismissive of “an old white globalist whose ship has sailed”. Wow. Does anyone ever write anything positive or at least polite in online comments?

Quoting from the article, here’s some food for thought:

Mr. Mulroney told The Globe and Mail in an interview Monday that Canadians need fresh new thinking from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and provincial premiers to confront the economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the treatment of Canada’s Indigenous people – which he called the country’s most pressing social issue.

“I consider the aboriginal situation, the Indigenous situation in Canada to be the single greatest blight on our citizenship,” he said. “We can’t move ahead with a new agenda for Canada if we don’t deal with the Indigenous people and systemic racism.”

The other was an opinion piece a few weeks ago by Tanya Talaga, entitled ‘There have always been two Canadas. In this reckoning on racism, both must stand together for Indigenous people now’.  I found it a compelling read, especially in the context of the (hopefully) increased awareness of what systemic racism really means in the aftermath of the George Floyd killing. In Canada, the movement Black Lives Matter really can’t – and shouldn’t – be separated from Indigenous Lives Matter. There are differences, but many of the underlying causes and devastating impacts are very similar and neither should be ignored. Sadly, judging from the online comments, not everyone has had any great awakening about systemic racism; all the more reason to reflect and keep educating.

Tanya Talaga includes a powerful quote from a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1967 to explain what she means by two Canadas. I find this quote particularly relevant as we celebrate a quieter than usual Canada Day and have time to reflect on our country:

In 1967, the year before Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, he gave one of his most powerful speeches at Stanford University on “The Other America.”

One, he said, was beautiful, overflowing with innocence, the milk of prosperity and the honey of opportunity. It was the home of many with freedom and human dignity of spirit, experiencing daily the opportunity to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. “In this America, millions of young people grow up in the sunlight of opportunity,” he said.

But then he spoke of the tragedy of another America, one with an ugliness about it that constantly transforms “the ebulliency of hope into the fatigue of despair.” In that America, millions found themselves living in slums, people perishing in poverty while they live surrounded by an ocean of wealth. But the most tragic is what it does to little children, who are forced to “grow up with clouds of inferiority forming every day in their little mental skies … we see it as an arena of blasted hopes and shattered dreams.”

The description in the first paragraph of his speech pretty well describes what most people I know would say we are celebrating about Canada on Canada Day. Maybe toned down a bit in the rhetoric, because we are Canadians after all, but we feel good about where we live and how we live. However, the second paragraph rings true for more people than not on many of the reserves in Canada, the reserves that the Canadian government established, moved the people to, and now controls, inadequately, through the Indian Act. These words of Dr. King undoubtedly also reflect the Canada that is familiar to many Black Canadians. To grow up with clouds of inferiority forming every day. The fatigue of despair. Assumed guilty by police just by the colour of your skin. To go to school and be taunted. In Canada. That’s systemic racism. That’s two Canadas. That’s not where we should be.

In reflecting on this Canada Day, aside from giving thanks that I was lucky enough to find myself in this wonderful country, full of so much potential for success and also kindness, I’m thinking about how important it is that we all take some ownership in ensuring that as we slowly emerge from the clouds of COVID (which could take quite some time) we don’t go back to the status quo. It’s time to step up to the plate. As our economy is restarted and decisions are made, it is critical that we commit ourselves to a far more environmentally-friendly economy. And it’s past time that we do what it takes to ensure that all Canadians are supported in becoming full participants in the new economy. Fully accepted, fully supported, and fully respected as fellow citizens. One Canada.

Happy Canada Day, everyone. May Canada emerge from this global crisis with a strong vision of doing what it takes to ensure that we have a robust, more environmentally-friendly economy that supports a welcoming, diverse society with a place for everyone.

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7 Responses to A different kind of Canada Day this year, a time for reflection

  1. Loved reading your well thought out thoughts here Jane.. Governments World Wide now need to radically alter their ‘Old’ ways of thinking, because let’s face it the systems which have been in place for hundreds of years are not working.. Especially for those less well off… And Each Nation no matter if Canada USA or the UK where I am from, have all got their status and riches from exploitation of others,…
    So Free trade and yes Fresh New Thinking! …

    The indigenous right around the World from USA, Canada, First Nation’s People, to the Amazon Tribes, to the Aboriginals, all persecuted… And Mass Genocide for the Native American’s … Not to mention the Zulu tribes, in Africa from the British Empire…. China we have the Tibeans, the lists are endless … etc…

    And I feel now as these age old wounds surface again, sides taken just divide us further… Unity is now being called for, and a system that doesn’t just serve the few.. But heals and serves the whole…

    How, when, etc… that will happen, your guess is as good as mine.. But what I do see happening is now people are beginning to Question more… And who are more open to seeing how this system is not serving those it was empowered to serve..

    Much love and Blessings.. Wonderful to catch up here again Jane. ❤

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks so much, Sue. We most certainly agree. I have a modicum of hope that this current wave of awakening on the part of the non-oppressed will continue and some things will change. God, they have to. Otherwise the hypocrisy of hollow words will be so obvious to all that there will be no reason to trust governments. The big question for me is what we can do to help keep his movement alive and bring it strength. Positive strength. Positive for all.

      • You would be surprised at what is happening behind the scenes… And people as ordinary as me and you, are helping facilitate those changes, just by voicing our opinions and helping change other peoples perceptions.. Look up https://www.icandecide.org/ Just one organisation standing up for Sovereignty rights in the health dept.. There are many more who are bringing justice right now… I will not leave there links as too many may spam my comment… But if you look up Del Bigtree… And world health sovereignty summit 2020 with Sacha Stone and also the International Tribunal for Natural Justice… You will see a proper court of law has been set up… Real People from all walks of life committed to uncovering crimes on humanity. Change has already begun, which is why we are seeing such a big resistance right now in the form we are witnessing.. ❤ Much love and stay strong…

        • Jane Fritz says:

          Thanks once again, Sue. There clearly are many avenues to pursue in helping ensure that our countries are prodded vigorously and continuously to improve fairness, justice, and compassion in our societies.

  2. Thanks Jane for a wonderful thinking piece of artistry that certainly makes me proud to be Canadian but sad at the same time for the many who don’t enjoy that same privilege simply because of the lottery of birth. I am hopeful most of the time but saddened when openly racist events happen here in our little town to people I know and respect. But I still hope!

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks so much, Wayne. I keep trying to think about wha some old white last like me can do to help make a difference. Maybe I should talk to some local First Nations leaders and see what they say.

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