Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole speculated that he could be the only person running to be prime minister who is proud of Canada – though he says he still wants the country to do “better.”
His comment comes amid multiple communities cancelling their Canada Day celebrations in the wake of an estimated 751 unmarked graves being found at a former Saskatchewan residential school site.
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The discovery came just weeks after the remains of 215 children were found at another former residential school site in Kamloops. As communities and families reel from the news, some advocates have called on Canadians to hold off on the fireworks and fanfare for Canada Day this year.
“The recent discovery at Kamloops residential school has reminded us that Canada remains a country that has built its foundation on the erasure and genocide of Indigenous nations, including children,” read a post on Indigenous rights group Idle No More’s website.
“We refuse to sit idle while Canada’s violent history is celebrated.”
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O’Toole, speaking in an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, argued that it’s not out of the question to celebrate Canada while recognizing “where we’ve fallen short” and rededicating “our efforts to do better.”
“I’ve spoken about the tremendous role of Aboriginal veterans in our history who weren’t recognized at the time. We need to recognize the fact that they stepped up. So there is so much to celebrate in our country that we have to be proud to be Canadian,” O’Toole said.
“Is it the fact that I’m the only one running to be prime minister that’s actually proud of our country and wants it to do better?”
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Global News contacted the Prime Minister’s Office for comment in reaction to the question. They said they had no fresh comment, pointing instead to the prime minister’s recent remarks on the matter.
Speaking Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the upcoming national holiday and the renewed spotlight on the dark reality that shaped the country as we know it.
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“This coming Canada Day, I think we all need to pledge ourselves to doing what we can to continue that effort to make Canada better, all the while respecting and listening to those for whom it’s not yet a day of celebration,” he said.
“I think all of us need to aspire and work hard to get to the point where everyone across this country will be able to celebrate fully all that this great country is and all it will be able to continue to be into the coming years, and know that if we’re going to be that, we all have more work to do, because that’s the story of Canada: always stepping up with more work to do.”
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NDP Jagmeet Singh voiced a similar sentiment in comments his office sent to Global News. He acknowledged that while there are “a lot of fond memories around the day,” this year, “people are feeling a little differently about it.”
“I think we should sit with that. I think people are looking at the legacy of Canada and while there’s things that we can be proud of, absolutely, there are things that are really horrible and that are a part of our Canadian legacy. It does us a disservice when we ignore the injustice, we ignore the bad parts of our history and the ongoing legacy, the impact of those horrible things that have happened and continue to happen,” Singh said.
“I think on this Canada Day, there will be a lot of reflection. There will be a lot of envisioning of what we want to build for our country and how we can build a better place.”
Indigenous advocates say there are many ways to mark July 1 in a way that is conscious of the pain Canada inflicted through harmful policies like residential schools.
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“I think it’s a day that … Canadians can really take to learn more about the history of their country. Colonialism really was the great cancel culture, and it really allowed for non-Indigenous folks to know very little, or to hold only stereotypes,” said Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society, speaking to Stephenson in her own interview for The West Block.
She said there are “great” documentaries from filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin that Canadians can watch on the National Film Board’s website. Another thing Canadians can do, Blackstock said, is read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action.
“Go and check out what are the calls to action you want to be a part of implementing and get to work,” she said. “That would be a real way of celebrating the values of the country and also honoring the memories of those children.”
The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering with trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.
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