You may be wondering why the paper is full of Canada Day stuff, when it’s still a couple of weeks to July 1. The answer is simple. This Canada Day will be like no other we’ve known in our lifetimes. There will be no community gatherings in Oxford Mills or Kemptville; no parade, no fireworks. The reality of the pandemic which has disrupted all of our lives since March does not allow the usual celebrations this strange year of 2020. So, we have to do things differently.
Some wonderfully creative people in the Kemptville and Oxford Mills Community Associations have arranged a different kind of celebration in co-operation with the Municipality, JuiceFM, and the Times, and this issue is part of that. You will find a Canadian flag in the centre section of this issue: take it out and put it in a front window of your home for Canada Day to show you’re celebrating. There are colouring pages for both children and adults: colour them in and send them in as part of the community competition. Prizes are being awarded and they come courtesy of the participating organisations named above.
There is something overwhelmingly historic about this Canada Day. In addition to the entire pandemic experience, itself a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us (we pray!), the current campaign of anti-racism protests that are taking place all over the world has given us all a sense of change, of revolutionary change in acceptance, toleration of the racism that is systemic in so many places, including Canada. We have so much to be thankful for in this country, but we have too long closed our eyes to genuine oppression and persecution that takes place every day.
There is a precarious balance that needs to be kept here. Canada is not at all perfect. Neither is it all imperfect. That should be obvious, as it reflects the reality of each one of us that goes to make up the country at large. We have to celebrate with wide open eyes, and open hearts, and celebrate what we have while grieving over what we have yet to do. That is not easy, and will often lead to misunderstandings and differences over how much needs to change, and how quickly. But the change is essential, if we are to continue celebrating with a clear conscience and no hypocrisy.
Perhaps I see things differently than some of you. This very week marks 38 years since I first came to Canada. I have been able to do things here I could never have done in 1980’s Ireland. I remember being amazed that, the first day I registered at Lakehead University, I was handed an OHIP card and had full access to healthcare. Amazingly generous country, especially for a young husband and father with three very young children (the youngest was 19 days old). My wife at the time ended up in hospital within the first few weeks of arriving, and I never had to worry about bills and expenses: I had coverage. It may be hard for Canadians to understand what that means to new immigrants.
On the other hand, I have spent the past thirty years working for and with indigenous communities and organisations, doing historical research and writing reports on some of the most egregious acts of injustice and racist behaviour by British and Canadians authorities over the past three hundred years. Coming from Ireland, where we’ve had our own fair share of colonialist oppression, I found it impossible to understand why most Canadians were, and are, generally unaware of this history and its on-going impact on so many of their fellow Canadians.
Things are changing in that regard, albeit too slowly, and racist attitudes are being condemned publicly. But governments and politicians, including the Prime Minister, find it easy to say the right things and make occasional gestures of the right kind, without actually doing anything about the issue in practical ways. So, on the one hand, we have politicians and others giving lip service because they see that is the way things are going. On the other hand, we have those who want to condemn, absolutely and in every case, the entire history of Canada, believing that all politicians, all bureaucrats, all teachers and church people were overtly or covertly racist and out to annihilate all indigenous people.
Nothing is ever that simple: all of us, on all sides, are human beings, with flaws and virtues. There may be no completely good guys, and there were and are most certainly a few bad guys, but we have to build Canada’s future on facts and realities of our history and politics. There were and are people on all sides who knew how to work the system to their own benefit. But there were, and are, so many who are self-sacrificing, generous, fair and determined to do better by all our citizens. In Ireland, we learned a great deal from our history: most of all, we learned that you can’t get to the future through the past. There comes a time when apologies are not enough, when anger and grievances have to be dealt with and acknowledged on all sides, if we have any hope of moving on and making things right. It is not easy. It is not always what we want to do. Anger and grievances can be comforting, giving a sense of identity (if not righteousness). It is up to us to go through this time of confronting our past and our present. Hopefully, this, too, shall pass and we shall overcome.