op/ed: Canada is not a country of mere aspiration

by Mohammed Hashim and Carey Newman

(July 2021) – As the heartbreaking confirmation of survivor accounts continues and more and more unmarked graves at residential school sites are located, Canadians have collectively grappled with how to process this truth. As yet another racially motivated attack was perpetrated, this time on the streets of suburban London Ontario, Canadians have been forced to confront the deadly hatred that exists all around us. As the pandemic continues, and reports of violence, aggression, and misguided blame make the streets unsafe for many, Canadians are facing the reality that this country is failing to measure up to an idealistic self-image that has been believed for so long.

Many are feeling unsafe from the rise of violent hate crimes, as witnessed across the country. Many seniors are afraid to leave their homes, and some are afraid of wearing their head coverings. Some have removed their Mezuzah’s from their doors, while others worry about the discrimination their kids will receive from the police.

For some these events have come as a shock, unsettling their sense of national identity and pride. For others, the callous tangibility of unmarked graves has made more visceral the number of confirmed deaths released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. And for the families and communities who live these realities on a daily basis, some whose children and loved ones will never come home, it is a time of grieving.

For many who arrived on these shores for a better life, the realization of a country built upon genocide makes celebration feel disingenuous. To them, this country represented hope, safety, and a chance to give their children a better life. Only now are they realizing that the promise of Canada was built upon a bedrock of displacement and pain inflicted upon the Original Peoples of these lands.

In response to all of this we have seen flags at half-mast, heard calls for accountability, witnessed ceremonies, vigils, and gatherings, and through the eyes of the international community, cracks in the veneer of Canada. All of this points toward the potential for a powerful reckoning. It is time for the entire truth of our history and current realities to become part of this country’s national identity.

Canada is not just what has happened in the past, or the reality of the present, because within an ever-evolving identity there is hope for a better future. Our history has seen us inflict much pain, but also make a sacrifice that has brought us to where we are today. Some of us will see only the pride in how our accomplishments have improved our lives. Others will only see the pain that our failures have wrought upon themselves and others, but collectively we must see both. A country that has the strength and humility to continually evolve and get better, is not a country of mere aspiration.

On Canada Day, rather than celebrating the humble exceptionalism that has come to define our collective identity, let us make room for the multi-generational grief that has been brought to the surface by the unmarked graves at residential school sites on the Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc and Cowessess First Nations. Let us not only reflect deeply upon the acts of hatred and violence but take steps to ensure that there is no place for any amount of racism in this country.

Many will see this day as a time to reflect, some will find joy or pride, others will try to look away. This Canada Day cannot be the same as ones before, but in acknowledging everything that we are, we must also find hope in what we can become.

Mohammed Hashim  is Executive Director, Canadian Race Relation Foundation.

Carey Newman – Hayalthkin’geme is Audain Professor, University of Victoria. 

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