Today will be my sixth Canada Day since moving to Toronto and, as flags are unfurled and fireworks ring out, I still enjoy the feeling of being, effectively, an outsider looking in on the festivities that mark my adopted home’s national day. Like all such holidays, its meaning and significance tend to vary depending on who you ask. That’s particularly true in a city such as Toronto, where more than half of those of us who live here were born somewhere else.
Canada Day will mean something quite different to those who were offered refuge here – from wars in Syria, Afghanistan or Vietnam, or upheavals in Venezuela and Hong Kong – than it does to Canada’s large and long-standing European, Chinese, Iranian and Caribbean communities, for example. It is a contested date on the calendar for Canada’s First Nations and Indigenous communities, for whom Canada Day is the commemoration of the moment their marginalisation in the life of the nation was formalised and written into law. Many Canadians also tend to find some sense of national validation by looking south to the US – where July 4th celebrations take place this weekend – and gain reassurance that life north of the border feels, in many respects, better and fairer. But the protests against systemic racial bias in the US have taken place just as vociferously in Canadian cities too, sharpening conversations and calls for institutional reform.
This year’s holiday will be more subdued than usual – most official events have been scaled back or called off due to the coronavirus pandemic. But it’s a pause that feels especially potent this year: many communities across the country should take this moment to reflect, demonstrate, unpick and, indeed, celebrate what Canada means to them.