Amid calls to cancel Canada Day following the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential schools, the country’s political leaders are weighing in on how to mark the day.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says this year’s Canada Day should be a moment of “reflection,” to consider Canada’s historic wrongs and the steps being taken towards Indigenous reconciliation.
“The moment we have tomorrow on Canada Day is to have real conversations with our loved ones, with our neighbours, with our friends about what each of us can do to stand as allies to Indigenous people, to shift our own mindsets, behaviours, and supports is what this is all about,” he said speaking to reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday.
In a tweet published on Wednesday, Trudeau said he has asked that the flag on the Peace Tower remain at half-mast for Canada Day to “honour the Indigenous children whose lives were taken far too soon.”
The prime minister will take part in the virtual July 1 event, being held online for a second year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A spokesperson for the Heritage department told us the evening program will begin by showcasing Indigenous culture and a “solemn moment of reflection.”
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has been vocal about his opposition to cancelling Canada Day. He said that both reflection and celebration can take place at the same time.
“When you cancel an event that celebrates our country, you lose the opportunity to not only celebrate the great aspects of our country, and the opportunity to challenge the citizens of your community, of your province, or the country in general to do better in the future,” he said on Tuesday.
“If events don’t take place, you can’t celebrate and you cannot rededicate your efforts for this country. It’s time to build our country up to address reconciliation, to address inequalities, not by cancelling celebrations or tearing Canada down, but recommitting to the principles at the core of this country.”
O’Toole plans to spend the day in his Ontario riding meeting with constituents.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has echoed the need for reflection on July 1.
In a statement with us, the leader said it does the country a disservice when Canadians choose to ignore the injustices inflicted on Indigenous Peoples and that he hopes this is a moment for people to envision what they want Canada to represent going forward.
“This year, people are feeling a little differently about it. I think we should sit with that. I think people are looking at the legacy of Canada and while there’s things that we can be proud of, absolutely, there are things that are really horrible and that are a part of our Canadian legacy,” he said.
“There has to be an honest reflection on the injustice and harm that’s been suffered by Indigenous people and a number of people that have been directly impacted by Canadian policies. I think we can do that reflection and we can move to a better place and I think it’s an important time to do that.”
Singh will be spending the day in British Columbia meeting with Indigenous leaders.
Green Party Leader Annamie Paul has stayed quiet on the issue so far, but in a statement with us on Wednesday, she said she recognizes that while Canada Day is a day of celebration for some, for others it’s a stark reminder of Canada’s colonial history.
“Greens celebrate the beauty and bounty of the lands we live on, while recognizing that such bounty is a privilege that comes with profound responsibilities. This includes a responsibility to recognize that much of what people in Canada enjoy today has come at the expense of others – most particularly the Indigenous Peoples of these lands,” said Paul.
“Canada Day 2021 must be a day to renew our commitment to actively work towards reconciliation, and to respecting Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination.”