Benns’ Belief: Here’s why Canada Day must go on
Roderick Benns is the publisher of The Advocate. An award-winning author and journalist who grew up in Lindsay, he has written several books including Basic Income: How a Canadian Movement Could Change the World.
As Canada Day approaches, we are bearing witness to the shocking continuation of the unearthing of unmarked graves of young Indigenous people. In the process, our collective consciousness has been ripped apart. Our sense of knowing who we are as a people – surely the minimum sense of nationhood — has been shattered.
Over the course of our history, nothing short of a genocide was conducted by church and community leaders, overseen by politicians, in slow motion.
We are quick to topple statues of Sir John A. Macdonald or relegate them to dusty closets, but Macdonald is too easy of a target. Our first prime minister saw the residential school system as voluntary – and that’s the way it was set up under his watch. It wasn’t until 1920, long after Macdonald was dead and gone, that the system became mandatory.
All of these atrocities were led on the ground by the church and enabled by ordinary citizens who knew something was not right but did nothing, overseen by a long line of politicians at all levels of government. In other words, we did this, these generations before us, just as we are doing terrible things right now here and abroad.
The earth is burning. Entire species of animals are going extinct. Other nations and their people’s lives are being torn apart for rare minerals for both our technological advances and our technological addictions. We, as Canadians, are doing this right now, and so much more.
While the scale of what is being uncovered may be staggering, the attitudes that led us here are as old as time. The Canada of a century ago was an openly racist, sexist, misogynistic place. We are questioning our Canadian values now as if these are a static construct. But values shift and change with the time we live in. Today’s norms can easily become tomorrow’s dark aberrations.
In this, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau was right when he said, “A country…is not something you build as the pharaohs built the pyramids, and then leave standing there to defy eternity. A country is something that is built every day out of certain basic shared values.”
The question now is what will his son’s response be? Where will Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lead us on this matter, and if so, will it be demonstrated with real action when it comes to Indigenous people? And how will we meet our responsibility as citizens?
And yes, Canada Day. What do we make of this tool of the masses that has been mostly used for celebration, as the bodies and bones of our forgotten original people come to the surface?
We continue with it in the way it should always be recognized – as a day of reflection. Canada Day should never be just about celebration. It should always be about considering who we have been and who we want to become.
The progress Canada has made decade after decade is not something anyone can dismiss, from labour rights to universal healthcare, to protecting minorities and working toward better economic security for all. If we believe we get a little better with each passing year, then surely we must take pride in these accomplishments.
The unearthing of these graves is a harsh reminder of the Canada we once allowed to take shape. It’s also a clarion call to accelerate progress for Indigenous people, too long ignored in the halls of power in Ottawa.
How we see ourselves today – how we dare see ourselves tomorrow – depends on it.