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  • Writer's pictureKevin Graham

Being Canadian in 2020 means ...

Today, my thoughts are as much to share with my friends to the south as to remind myself, as a Canadian, to consider what it means to be Canadian.

Today, as we celebrate Canada Day, the CBC (our national broadcaster) has asked for viewers to complete the sentence, “Being a Canadian in 2020 means...”

While I’ve submitted nothing to the CBC, I have explored the matter at some length, and am pleased to share a small assortment of my findings with you here.

Like anyone else, I could easily come up with many trite, cute, and snappy conclusions to the CBC challenge, but will resist the temptation. Canada and the Canadian experience is far too deep for this. We’re far too contradictory with each other and within ourselves to be captured and simplified in slogans or bullet points.

“The great themes of Canadian history are as follows: Keeping the Americans out, keeping the French in, and trying to get the Natives to somehow disappear” – Will Ferguson

Ferguson’s satirical writings reflect a Canadian undercurrent with which we have struggled since long before Confederation... and one with which we struggle even today.

We’re a complex nation of people: inclusive yet racist; lovers of peace yet fierce at war when the cause is just; polite beyond description, yet unapologetically barbaric when armed with no more than a stick; more humble than any people in the world, and damn proud of it, too.

We’re very much like so-and-so, we’re told, but somehow not. Somehow, we’re different. But how? Being Canadian in 2020 means... ???

My answer can only be my answer.

That’s it!

My answer can only be my answer. Your answer can only be your answer. While the rest of the world strives tirelessly to define itself, we Canadians are at our best when politely, of course, we decline the opportunity, as a nation, to do so. We are a nation without definition and this is what defines us. We are unified most by an appreciation of our differences, without insisting on any one singular emblem of our identity.

With no small measure of irony, it is our lack of definition, in the traditional sense of the word, that yields our identity. Recognition that we are a salad bowl, not a melting pot... where all sorts of flavours are encouraged to play a role, to be distinct, yet part of a whole that is much much bigger than the sum of its parts.

Any nation’s identity can only reflect its history. At our best, we acknowledge that this means so many diverse histories. Those who would reduce the whole of Canadian history to one sentence or one story do a great disservice to us all. Let us not be drawn there, but rather let us contemplate where we’ve been in hopes of better understanding where we are and where we might be heading.

* As our government recently considered a travel ban from Europe, my friend from pickup hockey, Chris, declared something like, “Hell, yes! Do it! We First Nations people have been voting for such a ban for five hundred years.” Another hockey buddy, Dennis, was told one night to change sweaters and even out the teams by playing white. His under-the-breath answer, heard only by me, was to the effect of, “Damn! All my life, they’ve been trying to make a white man out of me... and the hits just keep on coming!” This is not all of Canada, but for many, it is. This is, and should be, a part of my Canada. I own it.

* Vimy Ridge, France. April, 1917. Many historians will cite this battle as a defining moment for our nation. This is not all of Canada, but this, too, is Canada.

* The Persons Case, 1929. In 1928, Canada’s Supreme Court ruled that women were “not persons” and therefore could not hold a seat in the Senate. As you can imagine, 1928 was not a high scoring year for men in Canada. Led by a small core of women, the Court quickly reversed its position in 1929. Women were enfranchised to vote, federally, temporarily during the War in 1917, made permanent in 1918. Provinces varied in granting the vote to women, with Quebec tailing out in 1940. Asian Canadians? 1948. Inuit? 1950. First Nations members (without renouncing their status and Treaty Rights)? 1960. We are still so young, with so much to learn. This is not all of Canada, but this, too, is Canada.

* Liberation of the Netherlands. April, 1945. An enduring friendship is secured, and remains so, even today. Another defining moment. This is not all of Canada, but this, too, is Canada.

* Lester Pearson, Prime Minister from 1963 to 1967. Key architect of the United Nations role as a peacekeeper. Pivotal in resolution of the 1956 Suez Crisis, thereby a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Formalized universal health care on a federal level, 1966. Introduced Canada Student Loans, and the Canada Pension Plan. Abolished capital punishment. With pride he gave us our humble flag. Took a pass on Vietnam. This is not all of Canada, but this, too, is Canada.

* “Just watch me!” Pierre Trudeau in response to the bombing attacks and kidnappings by the FLQ. October, 1970. On the steps of parliament: “Trudeau: Yes, well there are a lot of bleeding hearts around who just don't like to see people with helmets and guns. All I can say is, go on and bleed, but it is more important to keep law and order in this society than to be worried about weak-kneed people who don't like the looks of a soldier's helmet. Ralfe (CBC reporter): At any cost? How far would you go with that? How far would you extend that? Trudeau: Well, just watch me.” This is not all of Canada, but this, too, is Canada. Don’t screw with us!

* September 28, 1972. Moscow. Game 8 of the Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union. Third period. 34 seconds remaining. Paul Henderson. The goal heard around the world. This is not all of Canada, but this, definitely, is my Canada.

* April 12, 1980. Supported by his artificial leg, Terry Fox dipped his foot into the Atlantic Ocean, turned, and began his hitch-step run to the Pacific, his “Marathon of Hope” to raise $1 million to support cancer research. After 143 days and 5,373 kilometres, the cancer that had taken his leg returned and spread and he was forced to abandon his journey. He died in June of 1981 at the age of 22. From Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, "It occurs very rarely in the life of a nation that the courageous spirit of one person unites all people in the celebration of his life and in the mourning of his death ... We do not think of him as one who was defeated by misfortune but as one who inspired us with the example of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity". The Terry Fox Run. More than 3,000,000 runners annually in more than 60 countries. So far, over $750 million has been raised for cancer research in his name. This is not all of Canada, but it sure as Hell is an important part of it.

* April 17, 1982 (just 38 years ago), we got our own constitution. Finally, in March of that year, the British parliament said, “Okay, we cannot pass laws here in Westminster that apply in Canada.” The next month, the Queen made it official with her signature during a visit to Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Thanks, Mom. On the same day, Canadians received our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, embedding the 1960 Bill of Rights, and more, into the newly patriated Constitution. This is not all of Canada, but we’re thinking about striking a committee to study its inclusion for a few more years. Fine... you’re in. Welcome home!

So, that’s my answer to the CBC challenge.

Okay, let’s be trite!

Being Canadian in 2020 means... learning that we really do place the needs of others ahead of our own.

Sometimes, the rights of the collective supersede those of the individual.

Put on the darn mask. Dammit!

I apologize. Sorry... apologise.

Happy Canada Day!

With respect,

Kevin Graham

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