For those of you who are unaware, today is Canada Day. Some of my best memories have been on this date, including camping with family, my first time going up the Calgary Tower as a kid, getting to choose a new book at the bookstore, seeing fireworks with my first boyfriend, exploring celebrations downtown with my siblings, and on and on. It’s a day that brings Canadians out to celebrate together, and makes me feel proud of the beautiful country I am fortunate to call home and connected with the rest of my fellow Canadians.
Connected. What a weird time to use that word. But although it’s true we’ll be spending Canada Day at home this year because of the pandemic, the feeling of connectivity hasn’t left. It’s just changed.
There’s something else different about this year. Everyone being home combined with the Black Lives Matter movement has resulted in a lot of reflection being done on systematic racism and historical oppression within the societies we have inherited and are now part of. Canada isn’t immune to the issues we see in America, and this Canada Day is a good time to reflect on that.
I don’t even know where to start. Maybe all the missing and murdered Indigenous women who’ve yet to get any justice? Victims of police brutality? Internment camps? Denying our government’s role in residential schools or pretending they never even existed?
It’s hard to hold these two versions of Canada in my head: the beautiful home I love and feel so lucky to have been born in, and the result of genocide and colonization and decades of racism and oppression under the guise of an overly friendly international face. It creates this uncomfortable cognitive dissonance.
My first instinct was to choose a side so my brain wouldn’t have to deal with it. Preferably the happy side that wouldn’t spoil all my childhood memories. But to look away is to be complicit, and I have friends, indigenous and black, who do not have the luxury of being able to look away. They have to live with the reality of what Canada is, which is both. Of course, depending on your privilege, your awareness of both sides may be skewed one way over another, like mine.
The truth is, there aren’t two Canadas. There is one Canada, in which both the ideas of friendliness and equality are held up as ideals and systematic racism and oppression continue to exist. Two sides of the same loonie, so to speak. Geographically, it’s a beautiful spread of land. Presently, a country of decent education, healthcare, and people. But Canada has a history and a culture created by flawed people—almost exclusively racist white men—and is therefore a flawed country. We are still working on undoing the damage done over centuries (I know Canada has only existed something like 153 years, but we also inherited institutionalized racism from the UK and France which is what Canada is built on), and damage that is still being done, and we’re only just getting started trying to fight it.
We can be proud of one side of the coin while still acknowledging the other side for its flaws in order to improve. In fact, I’d argue that if we ignore Canada’s flaws and only focus on the positives—values like equality, diversity, and tolerance—we would be negating those very positives and the coin would then have two bad sides. Only by acknowledging the flaws can we address them and begin to make ammends, and only when we’ve done that will the coin be entirely good. It may not happen within my lifetime, but if we work towards that future as a country, that is something to truly be proud of.
Happy Canada Day.