Celebrating Canada Day?

Talk about conflicted!

In a month or so I will have been a resident here for 42 years. I have been fortunate enough to live and work all around the world, and there is no place I would rather call home than Vancouver. One of the proudest days of my life was 35 years ago when I became a Canadian citizen; I cried with joy that day, and I am tearing up now as I think of it.

So far as I recall, I learned nothing about Canada at school other than the death of Wolfe and the bravery of the “colonial” troops at Dieppe. Canada only began to exist for me as a real country (as for so many others my age) when Pierre Trudeau, the patrician-hippy, launched himself onto the world stage and danced around the Queen. When I got a job and first landed here in 1978, Canada was genuinely a new found land for me, so different from the class-bound society I grew up with.

In the last four decades I have tried to learn as much as possible about this country and its history. In the beginning, I was proud that Canada’s treatment of the First Nations did not descend into the genocide practiced by the Americans. Like many others I have been aware for a long time that the Residential School system was a despicable attempt to rob the original peoples of their land, their language and their heritage. That was bad enough, but theft, discrimination, and forced assimilation seemed to be the limit of it. Now, especially now, we know that that might have been the least of it.

The unmarked graves of one thousand children have already been found, and I am certain those numbers will grow by leaps and bounds once proper searches are completed. It is certain already that many or perhaps all of those “schools” — operated by “Christians”, for God’s sake — were in fact factories of death and degradation, designed to eliminate the indigenous population one way or another.

Combined with the ongoing refusal to this day to provide proper housing, education and water to many “reserves”, the legacy of the Residential concentration camp system is a deep and indelible stain on our history.

I am proud to be a Canadian and I love so much about the place and its people. But that stain makes it impossible to sing our praises on Canada Day.

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