BY IAN PATTISON
This is an expanded version of a column that appeared in the print edition June 25.
Next Friday is Canada Day and despite what some think it’s still every bit the day to be proud of who and what we are.
Who we are is a population of 38 million people rich in history and diversity. What we are is one of the freest countries on Earth, where anyone is at liberty to do just about anything short of hurting other people in some way.
That much leeway in society can easily be abused, and was abused last winter when the so-called “freedom convoy” occupied our capital for a month, fanning waves of discontent rooted in mistrust of authority.
The lasting visual is of marchers and truck drivers hoisting the Canadian flag to ostensibly protest Covid pandemic mandates but actually seek to sow dissension and ultimately overthrow the government.
Since then, anytime anyone sees a Canadian flag anywhere, but especially on a vehicle, it raises the question: Is this some proud Canadian or is it someone who thinks this country is hell-bound and needs force to change direction?
Canada Day is coming and a small minority of extremists has stolen our flag. We need to take it back.
It really is up to us, the majority, because there are no laws against disrespecting, defacing or even destroying the Maple Leaf. There are only government rules on etiquette stating that the Canadian flag “should not be subjected to indignity.”
With no corresponding legislation to enforce those rules, rabble rousers protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are free to misappropriate the flag. And the same gang who abused the flag in protest over the winter is headed back to Ottawa for Canada Day.
If government won’t make respect for the flag enforceable, citizens who care about our national symbol need to do it, need to say so.
If we don’t head this off now, if we let this mindset take hold, we are going to regret it. Above all else, we will let these goons sully the memory of those who fought and died for the Maple Leaf and the Red Ensign and Union Jack before it.
In those days we celebrated Dominion Day. As Queen Elizabeth said on July 1, 1959, “Dominion Day commemorates the birth of Canada as a nation and the first independent country within the British Empire.”
The day eventually came to be known as Canada Day, with the squeaking through of a change to the National Holidays Act on July 9, 1982 under former prime minister Pierre Trudeau.
Canada had chosen its new flag 17 years earlier. Then prime Minister Lester Pearson’s words on the occasion resound with hope and determination: “May the land over which this new flag flies remain united in freedom and justice … sensitive, tolerant and compassionate towards all.”
Today we need a sense of unity and purpose to bridge our ugly divisions and regain that ideal. Remember the country’s unbridled enthusiasm during Centennial Year, 1967? That’s what we need to get back.
Retailers are flogging the flag in all shapes and sizes as our national holiday approaches. Let us all get a Maple Leaf and fly it wherever we are on July 1.
Let’s far outnumber those who might try to use Canada Day as a platform to spew hateful rhetoric about grievances real and imagined. There are plenty of both, but a full measure of Canada’s situation finds a lot more to be thankful for than to gripe about.
There are times and places and ways to register concerns with the state of affairs but Canada Day is not one of those. July 1 is a day to celebrate the inestimable good fortune we enjoy living in a country as lucky as Canada.
Our flag is our symbol to the world. We need to treat it with the respect it is shown abroad. And we need to honour our country on its birthday, not let grievances get in the way.
HERE in Thunder Bay there will apparently be some sort of official Canada Day commemoration but you won’t find it on the city website. Instead you will read that the city “offers Canada Day programming for those who wish to participate, and respects the perspectives and wishes of those who do not.”
It continues, “For many Indigenous Peoples, Canada Day is not a time of celebration, but a reminder of our country's colonial past and ongoing challenges. The effects of the loss of traditional lands and of over a century of systemic racism and mistreatment are still prevalent and felt by Indigenous Peoples today.”
While that is obviously true, and a growing source of shame, there is equal determination to address those wrongs and make up for them.
Perhaps the right balance is to wave the flag, but wear an orange T-shirt. Hope for better starts by acknowledging both the good and bad in Canada.
This city has long recognized its place on the traditional lands of the Fort William First Nation, as it should. It has developed a wide variety of offices and programs aimed at including Indigenous Peoples in the life of the city.
The community is encouraged to find ways to “contribute to reconciliation, strengthen relations and make our country a more inclusive, safe, and welcoming space for everyone.”
Everyone is all of us and it’s time to return Marina Park as the site of a Canada Day that makes the most of collective pride in country.
Last year, due to Covid but also to respect grieving over the discovery of what appear to be mass graves at a number of old residential schools, Canada Day on the waterfront was cancelled.
A year later, the city isn’t saying what it plans for July 1, instead advising people to “stay posted on Canada Day activities at www.thunderbay.ca/CanadaDay.”
Isn’t it past time to outline what’s planned?
Winnipeg has decided to “reimagine” Canada Day right out of existence, as one wag put it, renaming its July 1 gathering "A New Day." It will include a range of cross-cultural programming, including traditional Indigenous drumming, pow-wow dancing, craft stations, and performances. There will be Indigenous-led spaces for ceremonies and healing, but no fireworks.
Longtime former Winnipeg MP and Liberal cabinet minister Lloyd Axworthy criticized the changes in the Free Press Monday.
"I think it's a decision that really needs to be revised and reconsidered because I think right now more than ever, I think Canada needs a Canada Day," Axworthy told CBC News Tuesday.
"We have to bring Canadians together partly to celebrate, partly to be together to understand who we are but also to recognize there's real risk, real pressures. We've got people who are out there on the extremes trying to undermine our democracy."
Canada remains in a funk even as the pandemic subsides for the time being. We ought to feel better about that. But with the economy roiling and the climate in crisis, it can be hard to be cheerful and optimistic.
Canada needs a party to liven up. It needs to feel its pride again. It needs its Canada Day in full.
Ian Pattison is retired after 50 years of award-winning journalism at The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.