It wasn’t that long ago the Maple Leaf flag was a mostly inoffensive, and occasionally inspiring, symbol of Canadian national pride.
Yes, it was also a symbol of our colonial past and the pain that continues to inflict on Indigenous Peoples — there’s been a welcome push in recent years to treat Canada Day as an opportunity to reflect and remember as well as revel. But there was a clear difference between the patriotism our national flag inspired and the more boisterous and aggressive brand that prevails south of the border.
But as with many other things, the pandemic — and specifically the anti-democracy convoy that descended on Ottawa earlier this year to protest public health measures — has changed our flag’s meaning and message for millions of Canadians.
This year, when they see large crowds of people or vehicles waving the Maple Leaf, they’ll have good cause to wonder which version of Canada those people are actually celebrating. Is it the one that champions diversity, respects difference and values the common good? Or is it the one that prioritizes individual freedom and personal liberty, attacking anyone and anything that gets in the way of that?
As London, Ont., resident Blaine Chalk told TheCanadian Press, “It’s getting a connotation of: People who are the loudest are always the ones waving the flag.”
The Canadian flag is no stranger to controversy. In the lead-up to its creation nearly 60 years ago, John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservatives fought bitterly against the Pearson government’s campaign to replace the Red Ensign, Canada’s colonial flag. He insisted the flag honour Canada’s “founding races” (a term that referred to English and French Canadians, excluding Indigenous Peoples and immigrants), and the debate that ensued over it was described by historian Rick Archbold as “among the ugliest in the House of Commons history.”
In more recent years, it’s been the subject of scrutiny from the other side of the ideological spectrum, as progressives have rightly interrogated its inextricable affiliation with Canada’s colonial roots and the abuses that continue to echo into the present. Far from being a symbol of freedom and empowerment, for many people, it was — and is — emblematic of the ongoing oppression and violence against First Peoples in Canada.
In a way, the anti-vaccine convoy is doing the rest of us a favour by hugging the flag so aggressively. They’re offering up a very visible reminder of how dangerous reflexive nationalism can be, and prompting some much-needed reflection about our own past and how it has impacted different groups of people. We can take this opportunity to dig deeper and do a better job of understanding the full history that we share.
But for all of Canada’s warts, the Maple Leaf and the circumstances in which it was created are a personification of our better qualities as a country. It was the product of compromises made by a democratically elected minority Parliament, not a symbol of unbridled defiance or revolutionary freedom.
And it’s been that spirit of co-operation and mutual benefit that helped pull us through the COVID-19 pandemic in better shape than more individualistic countries and cultures. If we’re going to survive the challenges that lie ahead, from climate change and other potential pandemics to the spread of authoritarian populism, we’ll need to draw on that spirit as often as possible.
Opinion: It wasn’t that long ago the Maple Leaf flag was a mostly inoffensive, and occasionally inspiring, symbol of Canadian national pride, writes columnist @maxfawcett. #Convoy #Ottawa #AntiVaxxers
Now, more than ever, we need things that pull us out of our self-imposed silos and create a sense of shared understanding and identity. We need symbols that encourage us to celebrate what we have in common as Canadian citizens, not double down on our differences. We need things we can rally around together in order to create a sense of common purpose and shared benefit that’s bigger than our own narrowly drawn self-interest.
We need a sense of national pride that isn’t polluted by the toxic politics of the so-called “freedom” movement and its allergy to facts and reason. And we need to remember that it’s still our flag, not theirs.
“Is it the one that champions diversity, respects difference and values the common good? Or is it the one that prioritizes individual freedom and personal liberty, attacking anyone and anything that gets in the way of that?”
Progressives also value freedom and liberty, but not at other people’s expense.
The anti-mandate, anti-vaxxer, anti-masker, fossil-fuel boosting, climate change denier crowd insists on THEIR rights and freedoms while ignoring the rights and freedoms of others.
They insist on THEIR rights and freedoms, but forget their responsibilities and obligations. Rights and responsibilities go hand in hand.
These are the self-centred loudmouths and bullies from grade school who were never socialized and never grew up.
Bobby Clarke vs Paul Henderson.
Anybody who was around in 1972 knows exactly what I’m talking about.