Day of Atonement

I was thinking about writing a post about the “controversy” of not celebrating Canada Day this year, when Brittlestar posted the video below and took the words right out of my mouth:

It’s not going to stop me from speaking on this, though.

It does not feel appropriate to celebrate Canada Day today, in the wake of the revealing of over a thousand bodies of children buried in unmarked graves in just a handful of residential schools investigated so far, and the likely thousands more that will be discovered in the weeks and months ahead. It feels wrong to celebrate a country that empowered and encouraged the religious organizations that ran those schools in a concerted effort to rob First Nations people of their language, history, and culture. This is no time for fireworks, though I know this isn’t going to stop people from setting off fireworks in the trail behind my house. I won’t judge these people more than I usually do.

At the same time, I won’t go so far as to say “Cancel Canada Day”. A handful of individuals, in their justifiable horror and anger over what’s being brought to our attention, have strayed towards saying that Canada as a whole is unworthy of being celebrated, ever. One individual on Twitter, who later admitted he’d brought it on himself, asked what good had Canada ever given the world. He was, of course, inundated: the Canadarm. Insulin. Peacekeepers. The fact that we refused follow George W. Bush’s imperialist ambitions into Iraq in 2003. The fact that 26,771 Torontonians came out to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and set a world record for most vaccinations done in one place in one day, in the face of idiot anti-vaxxers who tried to disrupt the process. The list went on.

Brittlestar adds another thing to be proud of: there’s the fact that Canada has made itself a home for hundreds of thousands of refugees, giving them new life after they fled their war-torn homes. True, this happened after we spectacularly failed to do this for Jewish refugees on the eve of the Second World War, but we at least learned, and have welcomed most recently tens of thousands of Syrians into our communities, and have enabled our recent immigrants to build decent lives without forcibly robbing them of their culture.

And there’s one more, and possibly the most important: the many, many Canadians who know that this isn’t enough. This doesn’t wash away or excuse the acts of genocide that were done in our name by the governments we elected through the organizations they empowered. The fact that there are so many voices who say we cannot move on without fixing the systemic issues that continue to plague First Nations’ communities, the fact that these people are willing to take a stand, that’s the Canada worth being hopeful for.

I don’t intend to cancel Canada Day, here, because holidays aren’t always days of celebration. People of the Jewish faith have Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Christians have Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Islam has Ashura. These are not feast days. These are not days with fireworks. These are days to reflect on our sins and to commit to atoning for those sins and repairing the damage they’ve caused.

On this year, on this day, observing Canada Day as a Day of Atonement seems like the least we could do.

P.S. I’m also spending this afternoon getting my second vaccine shot. That seems appropriate for this day as well.

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