Is it wrong to celebrate Canada Day? Once, it would have been considered strange even to pose the question. Not now. The events of the past few weeks have some Canadians asking whether we should really be saluting a country where such things can happen.
The discovery of the suspected remains of 215 children at a former residential school in Kamloops has compelled us to look again at that wretched chapter in our not-so-distant past. And the deadly attack on a Muslim family in London, Ont., has some of us wondering whether we are the tolerant society we thought ourselves to be.
The city of Victoria has cancelled its virtual Canada Day broadcast “in light of the challenging moment we are in as a Canadian nation.” An online hashtag, #CancelCanadaDay, is gaining traction. A variety of Indigenous voices say it would be deaf and blind to hold a birthday party for a country that perpetrated so many crimes against its first peoples.
Second thoughts are a good thing. Reflecting on the past is a good thing. An unexamined national life is not worth living. This country has much to regret, from the internment of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War to the refusal to take in Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany to the decision to tear Indigenous children from their families and send them away to be schooled in what were often not much more than juvenile prisons.
But it has much to be proud of, too: its evolution from a ward of the British Empire to a strong, independent, unified nation-state; its role in defeating Nazism, holding back Communism and combatting terrorism; its successful absorption of millions of immigrants from around the world. Canada is rightly admired by people all over for its openness and its stability. With its democracy guaranteed by a patriated Constitution and a robust Charter of Rights, it often seems like an island of good sense in a world gone mad. If Canada isn’t worthy of praise on its birthday, then no country is.
Examining its defects, past and present, should not lead us to overlook its strengths. Every nation, like every person, has some of both: failures and triumphs, faults and virtues, shameful moments and admirable ones. It should be viewed in the round, taking the bad with the good. One does not cancel the other.
Because Canada has horrors in its history does not mean its history is horrible. Because many people still experience injustice does not mean there is no justice.
In a polarized, black-and-white world, it’s becoming harder and harder to make these distinctions. It shouldn’t be. We should be able to say at the same time that there are awful crimes in our past and wonderful achievements. It is not denying the past to see some good in it. To say we have made tremendous progress does not mean there is not a great deal of progress still to be made.
To the contrary, recognizing our achievements and progress gives us the confidence to move forward. Look at all we have done. Imagine what we can do in the future.
So, yes, let’s mourn the London four and the Kamloops 215. Let’s pour our hearts into a continuing effort to purge our society of hate. Let’s resolve never to forget what was done to those children. Let’s redouble our efforts to protect the most vulnerable among us.
But no, let’s not call off Canada Day. Instead, let’s take some time to celebrate this blessed land. For all its defects and offences, it is still a wonderful place.
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