Following announcement of the discovery of the remains of more than 215 children at the site of the former Kamloops Residential School and the killing of a Muslim family in London, Ont., by a deranged young man, a number of politicians and activists have called for either the outright cancelling of Canada Day festivities or a transformation of the holiday into a day of sombre remembrance and atonement.
Victoria City Council has cancelled its virtual Canada Day celebrations and stated that July 1 should be an “opportunity for thoughtful reflection and examination of what it means to be Canadian in light of recent events and what we already know from our past.”
Some think that Canada Day needs to change entirely. A professor of sociology and criminology at Toronto’s Sheridan College told the Toronto Star that “Canada Day needs to turn into a day of mourning, not celebration. … In fact, it should be the Day of Reconciliation, a day to be solemn and sad, wear your orange shirts, spread awareness about the existing inequalities.”
But such calls, whether motivated by notions of punishment or atonement, are misconceived. As renowned political theorist Hannah Arendt noted, the idea of collective guilt is “the quintessence of moral confusion.” She wrote, “Where all are guilty, no one is; confessions of collective guilt are the best possible safeguard against the discovery of culprits.” To punish an entire nation for the actions of a small number of bad actors is absurd.
The theme uniting Canada Day’s detractors is that instead of cherishing and celebrating our nation’s outstanding achievements, we should spend the day reflecting on the blemishes on our historical record. Like every country that exists or has ever existed, we are not without faults. But listening to various tendentious accounts of Canada’s benighted history brings to mind a line from a Charlie Pride song: “When people say that life is rough, I wonder compared to what.”
By what historical yardstick is Canada being measured?
So rather than taking justifiable pride in our international and well-deserved reputation for decency, fairness, and tolerance, Canadians now need to repudiate their inheritance and feel disgrace and shame. Like a Medieval pope surveying Christendom and finding nothing but unrepentant and incorrigible sinners, it turns out that we Canadians are bad to the bone. Hence the best way to celebrate Canada Day is to mortify the spirit in a countrywide auto-da-fé. July 1 should be an occasion for national self-flagellation and breast-beating mea culpas. The idea that we might be proud of our nation and our cultural inheritance or manifest any sign of patriotism is now declassé.
Only fools, scoundrels, or the terminally naive would not look askance at Canada’s history of colonialism, oppression, and domination. Or so the critics tell us.
Displays of repentance and atonement might please the detractors, but ultimately, such exhibitions will only further add to social divisiveness and the unravelling of civil society. If a multicultural nation such as Canada is to succeed, it can do so only by imbuing its citizens with feelings of solidarity and mutual respect. At day’s end, what democratic polities most require are what Tocqueville famously labelled “habits of the heart”—that is, ways of being in the world that reduce social frictions and allow us to live and prosper together. During these fraught times of wokeness and identitarianism, what is most required in Canada—as indeed in every nation—are ways of binding citizens to one another in acts of “political friendship.”
Fortunately, we have had far-sighted leaders who understood the necessity of friendship in bringing together sharply different cultures across a vast geographic region. For example, we can reference the camaraderie between John A. Macdonald and George-Étienne Cartier, Confederation’s guides. The bonds of mutual affection betokened by the concept of “friend” are reflected in the many “Friendship Centres” across the country, where indigenous and non-indigenous people come together to share traditions and learn from one another.
John Von Heyking, a professor of political science at the University of Lethbridge, has written extensively about the significance of friendship to political life. In his book, “The Form of Politics: Aristotle and Plato on Friendship,” he looks at how friendship provides a moral horizon in which politics takes place. He writes, “The more we can leaven political life with our experiences of sunaisthetic friendship, the greater chance we have of bringing decency, justice, and political friendship to politics.”
For von Heyking, festivity is central to the notion of political friendship. It is carnivals, fetes, celebrations, and holidays that bind citizens to one another. He cites as a paradigmatic example one of Canada’s most famous civic festivals, the Calgary Stampede. The Stampede, he writes, “transforms the workaday world of the ranch worker into a playful celebration of universal humanity, our relationship with the animal world, and the cosmos.”
And it is this quest for a “universal humanity,” one that transcends ethnicity, religion, race, or gender, that best captures the aspirations of Canadians and their institutions. It is this aspiration that we celebrate on Canada Day. Moreover, our longing for universal humanity—however imperfectly realized by imperfect Canadians—infuses our democratic institutions, which draws immigrants to our country, all of whom arrive with justifiable excitement and expectation.
Paul Michel, special adviser to the president on indigenous matters at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, B.C., told the Star: “I will always celebrate Canada Day because I know lots of our allies are non-Indigenous and they stand beside us. It’d be tragic if we say ‘eliminate Canada Day,’ because then I think the ugliness, the negative and the racism rules.”
Mr. Michel is right. It would be tragic if we eliminated Canada Day.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has necessitated that Canada Day festivities take place mainly at home. So on July 1, my wife and I will invite a few close friends, open a bottle or two of Merlot, and together we will toast our great nation, our absent friends, and our great good fortune of being Canadian. I suspect it is a scene that will be recurring throughout the land.
Patrick Keeney, Ph.D., is an academic, a columnist, and associate editor of C2C Journal.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.