Should we celebrate or mourn? - Keith Roulston editorial
Here’s a Canada Day version of the old question about whether the glass is half empty or half full: should Canadians dress in red and white and wave the flag to celebrate a country that is the envy of many millions in the world or should we wear sackcloth and ashes in shame for our country’s failings?
In Victoria, B.C. the city decided to cancel celebrations following the discovery of 215 remains of Indigenous children at the former residential school at Kamloops. Others followed suit. And that was before the Cowessess First Nation revealed last week the finding of 751 unmarked graves at a residential school in Saskatchewan.
Meanwhile, Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole decried such cancellations. “Let’s acknowledge where we fall short,” he told his party’s caucus. “Let’s ensure we do not cover it up. But let’s also channel the pain of a Canada falling short to build up the country, not tear it down.”
It was certainly a different message than that delivered in the House of Commons by Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, the New Democrat MP for Nunavut, who blasted Canada as a country built on the oppression of Indigenous People and whose history is “stained with blood” in what may be her final speech in Parliament, if an election happens this fall.
Speaking the same day, Bloc Quebecois MP Simon Marcil argued the notion of Canada as a progressive, environmentally friendly, egalitarian and democratic country is false on all fronts, citing examples aimed at proving the country’s essential hypocrisy before finishing up with the declaration “Vive le Quebec libre.”
Then there’s the murder of four members of London Muslim family who were rundown by a car driven by an angry young white man in what police have charged was a terrorist attack. There have been accusations the man represented a less violent but still racist segment of the city’s population. Similar to the question about how we should regard Canada on its 154th anniversary, should London be represented by that hateful killer or by the thousands who turned up at rallies and solidarity marches to support the Muslim population.
Following the hate crime, at least one London immigrant declared he’d had enough and planned on returning to Pakistan. Yet hundreds of thousands can hardly wait to replace him. The government has a goal of 400,000 immigrants a year, and turns away thousands more who have a dream of a better life in Canada.
Mr. O’Toole has a point. Certainly we mustn’t be too easily satisfied and smug. Every good athlete or artist knows that you only reach greatness by constantly examining your weaknesses and working to improve. Countries that want to be great need to do the same. And yet psychologists also point out that to be mentally healthy you need to have a sense of pride and self worth. Someone who fixates on their faults may descend into depression.
For a long time – most of its first century – Canada did not have a healthy sense of self worth. As a child of Britain and a little sister or brother to the U.S., we saw ourselves through the eyes of people who regarded Canada as unimportant. The original people on this continent, of course, were virtually ignored entirely.
Change had been slow, but Canada’s centennial in 1967 brought an enormous boost of pride and led to the creation of theatre, music and other ways to celebrate our own stories, counteracting the importation of British and American movies, plays and music.
I was hoping for another boost of pride when Canada marked its 150th anniversary but Indigenous activists – who claimed there was nothing to celebrate about a nation built on stolen land – and guilt of non-Indigenous peoples, took the fizz out of the party.
Ironically, the very colonialism that is blamed by First Nations activists for the plight of their people also gets in the way of a proper view of Canada. We see ourselves as a young country because too often “history” starts with the arrival of Europeans. We’d see our history differently if we looked at it the way British children learn their country’s story in school: beginning with the islands’ original residents and evolving with the invasions of Romans, Saxons, Vikings and Normans.
Canada’s history dates back thousands of years. The original inhabitants had stories of their own triumphs and tragedies that should be part of Canada’s history. Waves of European refugees fleeing poverty and oppression were part of the story of what Canada is today, not the beginning of history. Millions more immigrants since have broadened the story.
Only by celebrating the entire history of our country can we balance the faults and strengths of this, one of the world’s most blessed countries.