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The creation of Canada was at core of diversity

0 Comments 03 August 2017

And 150 years later, it is time for all of us to celebrate.

By SHEILA COPPS

First published on Monday, July 3, 2017 in The Hill Times.

 

OTTAWA—In Canada, the 150th birthday bash seems to have taken on a double meaning.

Bash connotes a happy time when everyone joins together in an unforgettable party.

Bash can also mean a chance to take a dump on the very birthday celebration that drew hundreds of thousands of Canadians to Parliament Hill.

Some of the worst birthday bashers were the aboriginal naysayers who erected a protest teepee on Parliament Hill to protest ‘our home on native land.’

They achieved their goal, garnering headlines about legitimate aboriginal grievances that have not been rectified during the lifetime of Canada’s existence.

In so doing, they missed a huge opportunity to build a bridge instead of burning it.

How easy would it have been for the original fathers of Confederation to walk away from the agreement to create Canada because of differences of language and different religion? To welcome those differences into one political construct took courage, and a willingness to reach out.

Real leaders know how to step beyond divides and bring people together.

U.S. President Donald Trump has shown how easy it is to build walls. He nurtured a political base founded on racial and religious resentment.

That strategy was politically profitable in the short term. Demagogues and despots have always understood how easy it is to divide people on the basis of race, religion and colour.

It should be our collective responsibility to support bridge building and decry division.

That is why the decision of aboriginal protesters to try to undermine the nation’s celebratory mood on Canada’s birthday was a mistake. That is why the recent ban on police participation in the Toronto Pride parade was also a mistake.

The Black Lives Matter movement, that spearheaded the police ban, has legitimate beefs related to racial profiling, discrimination and biased treatment by police. So does the gay community.

Some of us are old enough to remember the horror of the Toronto bathhouse raids.

But to go from that unhappy period to a situation when gay supporters from the police join in celebration of diversity can only be viewed a huge step forward.

What does blocking police accomplish in the effort to eliminate bias and discrimination?

If anything, the Black Lives Matter movement is simply reinforcing reverse discrimination. Just like police should not be stopping people on the streets and randomly asking for proof of identity just because of their colour, so parade goers should not ban all police on the basis that some have been, and continue to be homophobic and/or racist.

Surely the intention of leaders in the black, white and indigenous communities should be focussed on bridging the gaps between races, not systemically reinforcing the notion that one group is an overlord of the other.

By attempting to pour cold water on the Parliament Hill celebrations of Canada’s birthday, some aboriginal leaders have done a disservice to their own history.

The indigenous peoples welcomed Europeans to our shores. Without the Mi’kmaq, Montagnais and the Innu, Samuel de Champlain would never have survived Canada’s cruel winters.

So why turn their backs on the very ancestors that their forefathers welcomed?

Some will argue that it is all about making a political point. The point that the birthday of an occupier nation is not worth celebrating.

Really?

After 150 years, Canada as a construct is actually worth celebrating. Is it a perfect country? Certainly not. Have mistakes been made in political and religious leaders decisions to displace children and wipe out indigenous languages in the name of civilization?

Of course, and rectifying the scandalous legacy of residential school deculturalization has preoccupied governments for the past quarter century. To be successful, reconciliation cannot be unidirectional.

All healing involves recognition that the aggrieved and the aggressor will set aside their rancour and reach out to accept the other.

It involves an understanding that supporting police who support minorities is a part of the healing process.

Assuming that the mistakes of the past can only be solved in a one-sided demonstration of guilt simply reinforces reverse prejudice and discrimination.

When those early leaders sat down in Charlottetown in 1864 to fashion a country, they were 153 years ahead of their time.

In today’s global world, different peoples, with different religions, and different languages need to find a way to live and work together.

The survival of the human race depends on it.

The creation of Canada was at the core of that diversity.

And 150 years later, it is time for all of us to celebrate.

 

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.

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© 2017 Sheila Copps.