This letter will probably get lost on its way to you, as it’ll never find its addressee. That’s because who really knows what you, the addressee, actually is?
Today, most people across your vast landmass will elatedly wish you, “Happy 150th Birthday!” These people and others Canadians across the world will throw great parties and barbecues, attend spectacular public events like parades and festivals, all in the honour of your birthday.
Let’s be plain and open here. You know as well as I do that you’re not exactly 150 years old. This 150th anniversary that people are celebrating this year is in fact the 150th anniversary of confederation, in which four provinces formed the Dominion of Canada. An important step in the creation of the Canada that we know today, but not exactly Canada by this same virtue. Confederation of Canada was just a stage in the development of Canada. Other provinces and territories joined later.
Heck, if we’re making a big deal out of Confederation, which is just one key date in your growth, what kept us from making a similarly big #Canada150-sized deal out of April 1st, 2017? That was the 18th anniversary of the establishment of Nunavut. The Nunavut Act and the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement Act created Nunavut, your newest territory and latest geo-political region to join you. In other words, the Canada and its internal subdivisions that we see on the map has only been around since 1999.
If we put aside the exact meaning of the date aside, and take this anniversary as an opportunity to broadly celebrate the awesomeness of Canada, then I beg you to answer to this question: What about you are we celebrating? What are the traits that make Canada awesome and worth celebrating?
One of your defining features seems to be how you embrace multiculturalism, affirming that your strength is founded in your diversity. You appear to wear this badge of pride more prominently lately given the fear of “others” that is wrapping a cloak of terror around the globe. However, you weren’t always like this, were you? Do you remember the exclusionary policies you set in place to deny Chinese from immigrating in the 1880s? Do you remember the disenfranchisement and internment of Ukrainian Canadians in World War One, and how many of these Canadian citizens were put to work in concentration camps? Do you remember how Japanese-Canadians were similarly interned during World War Two?
Before you tell me that that’s a thing of the past and that today is very different, let me remind you that discrimination still continues today. Funny enough, one of the most extensive cases of discrimination in your backyard is the kind against the people who first inhabited you (the original Canadians, perhaps?): Indigenous Peoples.
Indigenous communities face a host of problems, disproportionately so compared to the rest of the Canada: drinking water advisories, suicide crises and high incarceration rates, to name a few. You’re not giving these due attention either. In May 2017, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) found that the Canadian government still had not complied with the CHRT’s 2016 ruling. The earlier ruling had concluded that the federal government was discriminating against First Nations children in failing to provide adequate healthcare. In January 2017, the suicide of two girls shook Wapekeka First Nation in remote northern Ontario. Although the community had applied for health funding which included suicide prevention measures in summer 2016, apparently the application came at an “awkward time” in the federal government funding cycle.
So if you’re still far from embracing the diversity that is supposed makes you awesome, what else can we celebrate? Maybe the simple, geometric maple leaf that graces the flag?
Excuse my bluntness here, but that is an awfully Ontario or Quebec-centric idea of “Canada”. The southwestern corner of Canada where I’m from isn’t brimming with maple trees like those central regions are (central in terms of political and historical importance, not geography). I only realized this year while I was Ottawa, when I visited a “cabane à sucre” (French for “sugar shack”), how the maple leaf could even possibly become the national symbol.
Visiting a sugar shack is a regional, seasonal event. Come springtime in Ontario and Quebec, once the maple sap starts running, sugar shacks that harvest maple syrup open their doors to the public for weekend brunches of pancakes, omelettes, sausages and more, all drenched in maple syrup. It’s also apparently typical that families will co-own maple farms themselves and make trips to their private sugar shack with close friends.
As I journeyed to a cabane à sucre myself in March, one which required driving quite a while into rural Quebec, my host pointed out that all the trees we were passing were maple trees. All of those average-sized trees lining the road we travelled along, the ones that continued on and on and on by the highway and who knows how far inwards – all maple trees.
With all those trees, I get why the maple was chosen for the flag. However, that doesn’t make it a proper symbol of Canada in its entirety.
Back to the reason for Canada Day celebrations. Celebrating it as your 150th birthday is a misnomer; and celebrating wider denominators of what it means to be Canadian, like multiculturalism or maple leaves, overlooks how those characteristics are unequally, unevenly expressed within you.
That leaves me confused about what I should raise my glass to. You’ll find me hesitantly wishing people I come across, “Happy Canada Day!” and perhaps taking advantage of free cake, but all of it rather awkwardly – just like how a person might act at the party of their friend’s friend, with whom they are not familiar with.
Wishing you all the best on your day, whatever it means.