On Canada Day a few years ago, I inadvertently displayed my large maple leaf flag the wrong way. That is not an easy error to make if one raises the flag on a vertical mast where the stem obviously points down. But I was displaying my patriotism on a front porch pole which was almost horizontal. The stem was facing outward, toward the street. The upper leaf points should have been on that side. Fortunately, there was an astute observer who phoned to gently advise that “my backwards flag was actually signalling distress.”
On this Canada Day weekend, it is perhaps significant that our national flag should signal “distress.” Our nation has been rocked by a series of headlines: recurring accusations of police brutality against people of colour, incidents of misogyny in the Armed Forces, the horrific deaths of a Muslim family of four in London, a local Pride emblem being spray-painted and now those hundreds of unmarked graves of indigenous children who died while in residential schools.
On behalf of the government, our Prime Minister issued past statements of regret and offered several apologies: to Canadians of Japanese and then those of Italian ethnicity who were interned during the Second World War, to past LGBTQ federal civil servants denied promotion, to would-be South-Asian immigrants turned away from Canada in 1914, to the Inuit for governmental mishandling of a 1950s tuberculosis outbreak and to a Saskatchewan first nation for the wrongful conviction of Chief Poundmaker 132 years ago. And this week, he apologized to first nations communities directly traumatized by the discoveries of those unmarked graves.
“O, Canada, our home and shameful land?”
But is Canada really a shameful place in which to live? Many towns are not having firework displays. Do we avoid all celebration or raising of flags today? This year, do we even cancel Canada Day itself? On Monday, a Leger poll commissioned by Postmedia concluded that only 14% of Canadians wanted to cancel our July 1st national holiday. Almost 70% thought having flags flown was still appropriate although only 38% would be raising one themselves. Surprisingly, highest pro-flag sentiment was found among non-white Canadians, most of them immigrants to Canada. (National Post, June 28)
I have had a glimpse of understanding the deep grievances overshadowing this year’s Canada Day celebrations. Years ago, I was Invited to a Cree Nation in Northern Quebec, I heard heart-rending stories of past abuse, neglect, forced separations, illnesses and death.
But, I do not believe Canada is a “shameful” place in which to live. Among the hundreds of countries comprising our world, we constantly score near the top on every measurement of how a nation can be assessed … for happiness (#11), for racial tolerance (#6.) Where else can citizens from 250 ethnicities live together mostly peacefully “under our one big roof?”
As well as recognizing the breath-taking physical beauty and grandeur of our land, Canadians should rightfully be proud that collectively, we have created a society which, while still far from perfect, can be defined by:
— freedom of assembly, religion and speech
—a free press and other media functioning without government censorship
—the right to freely choose our political leaders
—freedom from corruption which plagues so many nations
—belief in the rule of law and an independent judiciary
How then to reconcile our pride in Canada with our growing understanding of the stains on its past and present? A teaching of Gandhi comes to mind. In his autobiography, he challenges the reader “to hate the sin and not the sinner.” Although not found in the Bible, this philosophy has morphed into an over-used cliché within church circles: “Hate the sin; love the sinner.” (I know some “sinners” should not be seen apart from their “sins.”)
On Canada Day this year, we should take time to acknowledge and reflect upon Canada’s historical wrong-doings while we recognize with gratitude its greatness. Out of respect for our Indigenous neighbours in mourning, there will not be fireworks around our home. I will also lower my flag for a time, then raise it again over the balance of the July 1 long-weekend—this time with the right side up.