There are growing calls across the country to cancel Canada Day celebrations this year, in the wake of recent discoveries of almost 1,000 graves at residential schools in Canada.
Under the slogan of #CancelCanadaDay, a number of rallies are being organized in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Manitoba on Wednesday, July 1, in solidarity with the Indigenous community.
There is anger and grief among many Canadians following the discovery of an estimated 751 unmarked graves at a former Saskatchewan residential school site. This came just weeks after the remains of 215 children were found at another former residential school site in B.C.
“We will not celebrate stolen Indigenous land and stolen indigenous lives. Instead we will gather to honour all of the lives lost to the Canadian State,” said Indigenous rights group Idle No More, which is spearheading the national rallies.
The group is urging Canadians “to come together and disrupt the celebration” through banner drops, sit-ins, round dances, service disruptions and ceremonies.
In Regina, Sask., Prairie Crowe, a community activist, is using Canada Day as an opportunity to further bring to light the grief being felt among Indigenous Canadians.
Crowe is aiming to collect 751 backpacks, each one adorned with an orange hand cutout. The backpacks will then be put on display at the legislative building in honour of the estimated 751 unmarked graves found on Cowessess First Nation, Sask.
She organized a similar display of 215 shoes in memory of the children whose remains were found in Kamloops, B.C., last month.
Crowe said this year, Canada Day needs to be a day of “collective mourning and grieving, not celebrating.”
“Out of respect for your neighbours, friends, family, Indigenous friends and family, we’re grieving and Canada Day is a good day to mark it, a good day just to grieve and reflect and heal and talk and share together,” she told Global News.
Crowe said people in Regina were finding other ways to mark Canada Day that are not celebratory such as gatherings, smudge walks, runs and vigils.
Several communities in Saskatchewan, including Melville, Wahpeton Dakota Nation, Meadow Lake, Flying Dust First Nation, Lac La Ronge Indian Band, La Ronge and Air Ronge have pressed pause on the festivities.
Melville Mayor Walter Streelasky told Global News there will be events in the community, including fireworks and a parade, later this year.
“It’s not that we’re saying, no, not Canada Day, we’re saying let’s postpone this,” he said.
Cities call off plans
Amid COVID-19 restrictions, other cities are also taking a more sombre approach and ditching the celebrations in solidarity with the Indigenous people.
Victoria, B.C., was the first city to cancel this year’s events and now others, like Kelowna, B.C., and Belleville, Ont., are doing the same.
In Ontario, the city of Pickering is “shifting the direction of Canada Day activities to focus on education reconciliation and reflection,” Mayor Dave Ryan announced on Thursday.
With confirmation that the Rotary Club of Guelph has cancelled its annual Canada Day celebrations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the city is also urging its residents to use the day for awareness and reflection.
Premier Doug Ford has not taken a decisive stance on calls to cancel Canada Day celebrations. But he said Monday that Canada Day should be “a time for Ontarians to reflect” on what has happened to the First Nations communities in the past decades.
“We’re there to support them with any resources, anything they need,” he said during a news conference in Bracebridge, Ont.
In New Brunswick, a growing list of communities have already cancelled their July 1 plans.
The Village of Cap-Pelé was the first municipality in the province to announce it was cancelling July 1 festivities this year. New Maryland, Rogersville, Bathurst, Saint John and Fredericton have also followed suit.
The City of Fredericton said Canada Day will be a quiet one this year.
“We have been looking at everything from fireworks to a virtual concert. But in the end, due to a number of factors, including the pandemic, we have decided against proceeding with any events this year,” said Federicton Canada Day committee co-chair Paul Wentzell in a June 22 statement.
“Given the situation regarding our indigenous communities a quiet day of reflection may be the best way for our community to spend the holiday,” he added.
Last year, many of the big public events and gatherings were cancelled or moved online, as the country grappled with the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Once again, high-profile shows usually drawing in thousands to Parliament Hill in Ottawa have been called off amid the ongoing threat of the coronavirus. A virtual fireworks display is set to start at 10 pm E.T on July 1.
Speaking on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said this Canada Day would be a “time of reflection.”
“This coming Canada Day, I think we all need to pledge ourselves to doing what we can to continue that effort to make Canada better, all the while respecting and listening to those for whom it’s not yet a day of celebration.”
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole speculated that he could be the only person running to be prime minister who is proud of Canada — though he says he still wants the country to do “better.”
O’Toole, speaking in an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, argued that it’s not out of the question to celebrate Canada while recognizing “where we’ve fallen short” and rededicating “our efforts to do better.”
Many Canadians on Twitter said they would not be celebrating the national holiday this year.
Cancelling Canada Day celebration is the “right move,” said Mara Mallory.
“902+ unmarked graves, thousands without clean drinking water or adequate housing, unmitigated systemic racism…. We need to change our relationship with First Nations, starting with some deep reflection on Canada Day, she Tweeted.
Terrill Tailfeathers said: “Whenever I see a Canadian flag I am reminded of the oppression and genocide of my people. There’s no pride in genocide.”
Sabina Vohra- Miller, co-founder of the Asian Health Network said: “As much as I love Canada for all that it has given me as an immigrant, I cannot celebrate Canada Day this year. I am grieving alongside our Indigenous Peoples and my heart hurts for all the lives lost, lives that didn’t matter, lives that were systematically erased.”
Meanwhile, others also opposed the idea of cancelling the holiday altogether and instead called for addressing the root cause of the problem.
“Excuse me, why is this #CancelCanadaDay hashtag trending? No offense, but Canada Day is CANADA’S BIRTHDAY/ANNIVERSARY, we can’t just cancel it, it’s a time for all the Canadians to come together and be as one celebrating how far the country’s come since 1867!,” wrote one Twitter user.
Another said: “I don’t agree with #CancelCanadaDay, I do agree residential school deaths are a blight on our history. Canada Day is about the country today and it means a lot to many Canadians including me. We need to stop blowing things up symbolically and start fixing wrongs directly.”
— with files from Global News’ Heather Yourex-West and Joe Scarpelli