On July 1st, 2017 Canada will celebrate its 150th “birthday”. There will be much fanfare all over the nation leading up to the big day, much discussion about the grand accomplishments claimed by our nations and its people, and, hopefully, much reflection too.
Canada didn’t spring whole from one of the three oceans it borders in an explosion of magma welled from deep within the earth. There was no nova terra. Our varied geography was not void of humanity and culture prior to its “discovery” and subsequent claim by Europeans. Prior to confederation, this land was already a wealth of nations with a rich heritage and history of its own. Canada, named in the 16th century for the Huron-Iroquois word for settlement or village, was born in conflict and genocide – facts that we are only beginning to grapple with today.
Celebrating our young nation means celebrating the positive history of Canada since confederation while dealing with the truth around its creation. While we invented basketball, we appropriated lacrosse. We produced 25 Nobel laureates and sent aboriginal children to roughly 130 residential schools, where we stole their language, culture and family relationships from them. We sometimes helped freed slaves from the U.S. but also participated in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. We responded when the world called us up during both World Wars while denying voting rights to women and prisoners, a disproportionate number of whom were aboriginal. With all the debate south of our borders, it feels like gay marriage has existed forever in Canada, but the right to marry (and all the rights and obligations that entails) for gay couples is actually very recent and only the product of intervention by our judicial arm. Celebrating our nation means celebrating our successes together while acknowledging our failures – moving forward together in a time when the world seems hell bent on division.
Canada in 2017 is perhaps the most diverse nation in the world. In 2015, the Legatum Prosperity Index found that 92% of Canadians felt that our nation was a good place for immigrants, ranking 1st place. It further found that 92% of Canadians felt that our nation is tolerant of ethnic minorities, ranking 5th overall. Every major religion is represented in Canada – free to build and worship in churches, mosques, gurdwaras, mandirs, temples and the like. Canadians are equally free to not worship anything at all. People are every gender and sexuality are represented as well. We are a country of people from all over the world, protected at least in theory by law from discrimination.
Sounds like an Eden, no? Sure but not really. Racism lives here. Discrimination lives here. Intolerance lives here. Inequity lives here. And as events in Quebec City yesterday prove, hate also lives here. All of that exists despite our diversity. Our Charter, part of our Constitution and the most important expression of our collective values, guarantees us all sorts of protections from discrimination but our governments, our courts, institutions, businesses and people have at times failed to live up to its spirit. Adding to the internal struggles we face, Canada exists in a world in crisis with a dangerous level of intolerance thrusting us toward, rather than away from deepening conflict.
The Canada 150 project aims to tell the story of our diversity. To discover together where we have failed, to acknowledge and help heal those failures and, equally important, to discover together where we have succeeded. Hopefully, this reflection, will help to inspire and further strengthen our unity in diversity.
We will be featuring, beginning in February and continuing throughout 2017, 150 stories – a tiny sample of what makes this nation great. Throughout the project, we would love to hear from you with the names of those who you believe should be featured, and with your own stories of diversity (the challenges and the successes). We’re looking forward to working with as many people, from as many backgrounds and experiences as possible.
Peace and love all,