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Opinion

Why I’m planning to celebrate Canada Day

By Thomas Walkom      

I will celebrate it although our history of nation-building includes the usual mixture of bad-faith dealing, intolerance, and greed. I will celebrate it even if some of my compatriots among the country's indigenous peoples do not.

The city expects the area near Parliament Hill to be packed with nearly 500,000 people on Saturday, July 1 to celebrate Canada Day. Photograph courtesy of Geo Philips
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I will celebrate Canada Day on Saturday.

I will celebrate it although our history of nation-building includes the usual mixture of bad-faith dealing, intolerance, and greed.

I will celebrate it even if some of my compatriots among the country’s indigenous peoples do not.

On Wednesday, a group of Indigenous protestors began what they called a reoccupation of Parliament Hill in order to make the point that Canada has not worked for them.

I understand and respect their view. But I will celebrate anyway.

I will celebrate the delightfully prosaic nature of a federation that in large part was created for the practical business purpose of financing railways.

I will celebrate the paucity of jingoes in a country that, at times, seems embarrassed about showing its patriotism.

I will celebrate Canada because this is my place.

I have no other. I choose no other.

That this year marks the 150th anniversary of Confederation is of secondary importance. The melding of four British colonies into one self-governing Dominion in 1867 was a key event in the development of the country we now call Canada. But there were others.

We could date our beginning from the time, centuries ago, when the first humans crossed the Bering Strait into North America.

Or we could date it from 1775, when French Quebecers refused to rise up against the British and join an American Revolution that was reconfiguring the continent.

Or perhaps from 1812, when indigenous warriors under Tecumseh joined forces with British-led troops to attack American invaders.

Or perhaps from the peace treaty that ended that War of 1812, yet granted nothing to indigenous peoples for these efforts — one of many betrayals.

We have long been a work in progress. We didn’t win the right to conduct an independent foreign policy until 1931. Our highest court of appeal rested in Britain until 1949. Our Constitution was not patriated until 1982.

At times, we have resisted becoming a country. New Brunswick was dragged kicking and screaming into Confederation in 1867. So was Newfoundland in 1949. Quebec has come close to leaving twice.

The Métis of what is now Manitoba were one of the few peoples who petitioned (successfully) to join Canada. They were rewarded by being fleeced of their land.

By modern standards, Canada has not always acted in an enlightened fashion. It locked up Ukrainian-Canadians without trial during the First World War and did the same to alleged foreign Reds in the years following.

During the Second World War, it incarcerated Japanese-Canadians purely on the basis of race.

Far too often its treatment of indigenous peoples has been shameful. But not always. In recent decades, the courts in particular have been mindful of indigenous rights.

This is all part of our history. We have to recognize it and deal with it.

None of this means we have to give up on the country.

So I will celebrate Canada on Saturday. Being Canadian, I will probably do so quietly. I will remember the things we have done wrong in the past but also the things we have done right.

I will support the right of indigenous people to protest on Parliament Hill — on land, incidentally, that is claimed by competing First Nations. I will wish them well and hope they reciprocate.

I am not surprised that some of these protestors say they do not feel Canadian. I understand why.

Maybe those feelings will change over time as indigenous and non-indigenous peoples become reconciled to one another.

But even if they don’t, I will continue to celebrate this odd and diffident country. It is my home. It is my homeland.

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