The Canada 150 Conundrum – A Primer

Canada is like a functional alcoholic, and being Canadian means living with one.

Now that I’ve got what may be the most unpopular statement I’ve ever written out of the way, let me explain what I mean. The thing about a functional alcoholic is that they have two completely separate sides to them: the outward persona, and the inner demon. Sometimes, that outward persona is fantastic and well loved, lauded and valued both socially, and within its family. The problem is that there is always the inner demon lurking in the shadows, who we hate, revile, and fear (if not fear becoming). Sadly, the same can be said of our country.

Canada is rightfully well thought of on the world stage. Canadians are known to be practical, hard working, likable, and courteous. We have a track record of bravery, honesty, and humour. We may proudly sew our flag on our backpacks with an expectation of welcome by the world, and we take pride in who we are–and rightfully so. While our patriotism may not be as bold and aggressive as our southern neighbours’, it is a strong undercurrent in our culture, and one that is celebrated more boisterously as we approach Canada Day each year. The trouble is that we, as a nation, have done our best to ignore and forget the terrible things that we have done at home, to pretend that our outer persona and the difference we’ve made beyond our borders makes up for our inner demons–and they fundamentally cannot.

 

As we approach Canada’s 150th anniversary of confederation (birthday, if you will), more and more people have vocally denounced the celebration, rightfully pointing out the injustices that Canada has permitted or directly overseen–particularly, but certainly not exclusively, to Indigenous peoples. Our country, the same one that proved its bravery and nationhood on the world stage during WWI and WWII, has also been guilty of atrocities: we have signed treaties we had no intention of honouring; we displaced Indigenous nations, and committed cultural genocide through residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, and a combination of legislation and policies that are, at best, paternalistic, and at worst deliberately crippling; we interned Japanese, Ukrainian, and German immigrants (and some second-generation Canadians) in camps and sold off their property to fund their keep; we allowed British loyalists from America to settle here, despite their owning slaves, and then did our best to marginalize those slaves, the freed slaves that came to Canada seeking sanctuary, and all of their descendants. There’s more to add, I’m sure, but that should at least provide some context–a primer, if you will–on why there are so many conflicting opinions and feelings about the Canada 150 celebration. And while some of these things predate our confederation, others are all too painfully recent. Internment camps were less than 100 years ago. The Sixties Scoop happened while my parents were kids. The last residential school closed in the 1990s. And our marginalization of Indigenous peoples, and, in fact, the immigrants that we bring into our country either for humanitarian reasons, or economic ones, continues today.

 

These are all things I was unaware of when I was younger, and proudly celebrating Canada Day with a flag painted on my face–an educational failing that we should be ashamed of nearly as much as our original actions. We have brushed atrocities under the rug like an alcoholic hides his bottles, and hid our character flaws and poor behaviour at home behind an international persona of compassion. But there is hope. There is always hope, in the future. We can never truly atone for everything we have done as a nation, but if we can admit our mistakes, own up to our problems, and honestly commit to being better, we can move forward together–and wouldn’t that be one hell of a legacy for our country to have? Wouldn’t that be something worth celebrating?

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