In some countries, the national flag is a symbol of exclusion. If your neighbours are flying it, it could be because they want you to know that they see patriotism as the exclusive property of their particular ethnic, religious or racial group.
In some countries, national symbols, rituals and history are invoked to remind everyone who is a full member of the community, and who is not.
In some countries, there is an us and a them, even within the country’s borders.
Canada isn’t that kind of country.
A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian, not just before the law, but in how this country actually lives. No one moving into a new home in a new neighbourhood, and seeing the Maple Leaf in a window or on a front porch, takes it as a sign that nativists want them to get out of town before sundown.
The nation’s symbols, and the history behind them, belong to all of us, equally. They are our shared inheritance.
Among those symbols is the poppy. Contrary to the unfortunate outburst of a certain hockey commentator, there is no evidence that new Canadians are less likely to wear it than other Canadians, nor is there reason to believe that Canadians who immigrated here are somehow less respectful of Remembrance Day, or less thankful for the “milk and honey” of this country.
Instead, Canadians who have chosen Canada tend to have a considerable appreciation for its blessings, often greater than those who were merely lucky enough to have been born here.
And the remarkable, unexpected thing about Remembrance Day is that it has seen a renaissance in the past couple of decades. The passing of the generation of the Second World War has provoked a sense of loss and a desire to preserve the memory of all they endured and achieved. It was, until recently, better remembered among the Europeans they liberated than here at home.
Rather than fading into history, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month has become the country’s most meaningful civic occasion. Canada Day, its bland name emptied of history, is for most of us just the official start of summer. Remembrance Day carries a certain solemnity, and it should.
It’s unfortunate that Don Cherry said what he said, and in the way he did. He’s a national icon; that comes with responsibility. If he wanted to remind people that the poppy matters to him and to many other Canadians, what was called for was a welcoming call to unity, not a cranky accusation.
Instead of falsely lashing out at "you people” for allegedly not wearing the poppy, let’s instead invite all Canadians to consider what it celebrates and grieves, and the pain and sacrifice it remembers. These memories belong to each of us.
Even if you didn’t serve in Afghanistan; even if you don’t have a grandfather who landed at Juno Beach or an uncle who liberated the Netherlands, these things were done by Canadians, in the name of Canada. They are part of your history.
Remembering is a gesture of respect for those who served. It is also, more broadly, a gesture of respect to the Canadians who came before us.
Canada is a trust, passed from generation to generation. You may not have been alive a century ago during the First World War, but the country you have inherited was.
You may have taken the Oath of Citizenship just yesterday but, as a result, the nation’s history and legacy are now yours. The country created in the past belongs to the present, giving privileges to the living, but also creating debts to the dead.
What nobody should want is for a backlash against Mr. Cherry to turn into a backlash against Remembrance Day or the poppy. They are reminders of Canadian unity, our common citizenship and the human capacity to sacrifice for the sake of others.
Ours is a generous country, so let’s try to generously re-imagine Mr. Cherry’s words. Rephrase it as an appeal for the next generation of Canadians, regardless of birthplace, race or religion, to take up the torch and hold it high.
You will make a New Canada; every generation before you has. But Canada past will sleep best if it knows that, along your journey, you did not break faith with those who lie in Flanders Fields.