Following the discovery of the remains of an estimated 215 children in a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia, activists have been calling for the cancellation of Canada Day.
Last week, 751 unmarked graves were also discovered on the grounds of a former residential school in Saskatchewan.
The city of Victoria, BC, announced it would cancel its events planned for July 1st. Other municipalities cancelled their Canada Day celebrations.
Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole condemned the boycott: “We are not a perfect country. No country is. There is no place on this planet whose history can withstand close scrutiny. But there is a difference between acknowledging where we’ve fallen short and always tearing the country down.”
“I can’t stay silent when people want to cancel Canada Day. I’m very proud to be Canadian and I know most people are as well”, O’Toole added.
In Calgary, some Indigenous people called for the city to “scale back or cancel Canada Day celebrations as the nation grieves hundreds of children who never came home from residential schools”, according to the Calgary Herald.
In response to the Herald article, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner wrote a statement on her Facebook page.
“I am grateful and proud to be Canadian. Our nation affords hope and opportunity to many. The freedoms I enjoy, particularly when compared to many other places around the world, are not lost on me. I acknowledge and celebrate this.”
“However, it is a dangerous fallacy to act as though Canada is perfect. There are grave inequalities that many here still face, and gross injustices perpetrated on the land we stand upon that have yet to be remedied.”
“The discovery of the remains of 215 children at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, and the subsequent news of 751 unmarked graves at the Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan must be Canada’s moment of reckoning with these facts.”
Rempel acknowledged the lack of proper education about the darker portions of Canadian history: “Like many of us, my primary education was largely silent on the injustices perpetrated, past and present. The first time I really remember reading anything about the barbarism of the residential school system was when Stephen Harper issued the apology for it, even though the last one closed while I was in high school.”
“But the unmarked graves of hundreds of Indigenous children – and the knowledge that there will likely be more found – must jolt all of us into action, now. Justice must be brought for past actions, and the present must be righted. Ending the deplorable living conditions many face while living on reserve, ending systemic racism, stopping more indigenous women from going missing – and so much more – must be Canada’s priority. We must place the same level of importance on solving these issues than we did the COVID-19 pandemic, and more.”
Rempel writes that Canadians should celebrate the “good that exists in our nation”, while also remembering the injustices committed, and seeking justice.
“While we should celebrate the freedom and opportunity Canada affords to many, we absolutely cannot revel in false exceptionalism. To do so, while we mourn hundreds of children unceremoniously put in unmarked graves – who died after being taken from their homes, subjected to abuse, deplorable conditions, and cultural genocide, while in the custody of the Canada – would be the antithesis of what Canada now purports to stand for as a nation. Justice compels us to look at Canada Day through the eyes of an Indigenous person and act accordingly.
“Some will argue that potentially altering how we approach Canada Day this year may negatively impact Canadian culture, or diminish our history. But listening to Indigenous voices and incorporating mourning for these children, and reflecting on what happened and what comes next into a day on which we traditionally give gratitude for the good that exists in our nation is only right and just. There also must be commitments to action.”
“So yes, I think we should be proud and grateful for the good that exists in our nation. But we cannot use that celebration as an excuse to continue to blind ourselves to a truth we have never adequately confronted, or allow it to exacerbate the pain of injustice; we must listen to Indigenous voices and act.”