Because July 1 falls on a Saturday this year, I would like to take a moment to salute my country on its 150th anniversary. I am, like almost everyone, predisposed to think highly of the country I was born in. But for me, there is more to my love of Canada. It’s more than just because it’s a really big mass of land of many different types.
If you’ve been paying attention to Canadian media (social and otherwise) then by now you will have heard a lot of critical messages asking what we are celebrating when other people have inhabited this land for many centuries prior to confederation. My answer to this is that Canada wasn’t Canada before it was founded, and it was the founding of the current country, the current society that I am celebrating, not the arrival of human civilization. That would push the date back several thousand years. But it’s Canada where my ancestors were able to settle and build a better life than they could have imagined under direct English rule or under Russia’s boot. The country they have built is one where we don’t require violent revolutions or election boycotts or resistance movements when our government is elected in a configuration we don’t like. We can get upset about it, but to change it we organize parties and win elections. This isn’t even as common in the world as we would like to think it is. We have an economic system that, though it fosters some structural inequalities, provides a very high quality of life for the general population. These are great things that we can be proud of.
But we know that there are things we should not be proud of. Japanese and Ukrainian internment, the Komagata Maru, the St. Louis, the head tax, residential schools, and the sixties scoop come to mind. To paraphrase John Oliver, Canada has had, and continues to have, endemic problems that need fixing. That doesn’t mean I’m not proud and not going to celebrate. Rather, it is because we talk about and try to do things about those problems that I love Canada. Other countries to to bizarre lengths to hide the blemishes on their historical records. We are not better than them for not having those problems on our record. If there is anything that sets Canada apart, it’s that we are baring rather than covering those faults. I may not be proud of the bad things, but I celebrate the fact that we are having the difficult conversations and working towards improvements. I am grateful that I live in a country where I have access to clean water, fresh food, non-exploitative employment, and world-class healthcare that I can afford. I know that not everybody in this country has the same access to those things but I believe in my fellow Canadians who are working to fix that. I am proud to live in a country that advocates for human rights even while it struggles to come to terms with its own history. I am free to support any political party I choose, then a few years later do everything I can to see that same party voted out of office. I am free to adopt any religion of my choosing, even if it’s not the majority religion or the one I was born into. I know other religious groups suffer far more discrimination than mine, but I am proud to be part of one such group that is actively working to support religious freedom for all. Nothing is perfect.
I can rant on this blog about all those imperfections and occasionally endorse or conjecture some small measure to improve things just a little bit. If all of these things aren’t worth celebrating, then I don’t know what is. Happy Canada Day.