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Judy Rebick is one of Canada's most celebrated and well-known feminist thinkers, critics and writers. She is the founder of rabble.ca.

Why I don't celebrate Canada Day and never have

| July 1, 2013
Why I don't celebrate Canada Day and never have

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I don't celebrate Canada Day, never have.  Political protests that talk about "taking back Canada" make me uncomfortable.  "We," the people who live here, have never had Canada. Even if some people's romantic idea of what Canada was in some distant past when Tommy Douglas was standing for medicare or when Pierre Elliot Trudeau was unwilling to see homosexuality be illegal, I still wouldn't celebrate Canada.  July 1 was the day that Canada was formed. In essence it was based on a deal between Upper and Lower Canada, the British colony and the French one.  It was an unequal deal  that we have been paying for ever since but more importantly both were based on the annihilation of most and marginalization of the rest of First Nations.

When I ask groups who promote this romantic view of a country founded in colonialism why they do it, they usually answer that more people relate to it. I get that standing up for something you are losing is more powerful than fighting for something that never existed before. That's why we won the abortion fight. We set up a clinic and then asked people to defend it against legal and political assault. But isn't our job as activists to educate people not to feed into the mythology that keeps us all divided.

The Canadian Left has suffered from nationalism for as long as I've been an activist. I suppose it has to do with living next door to the United States. Up until recently we have legitimately been able to claim it is better here than there. Now our government has made us an international pariah worse, at least on environmental issues, than the U.S. After all, we let draft dodgers from the Vietnam War and even deserters come here. We let Chileans fleeing Pinochet's vicious coup come here. We made friends with Cuba and stayed out of the war in Vietnam and the war against Iraq. We adopted same sex marriage before almost every other country. We have single payer public health care. We fought for and won the best legal equality for women at least on paper, including abortion rights. And probably best of all, we have a magnificently multicultural country that despite continuing racism at almost every level, people are proud of. Almost all of these things came with a struggle when we had governments that responded to political pressure.

We can be proud of these accomplishments but that's not the same as being proud of this country. In the 1970s nationalism was a significant current on the Left. The Waffle, the youthful left wing of the NDP, was ahead of its time politically on many issues like women's rights, Indigenous rights, self-determination for Quebec and environmental issues but it was nationalist. It saw the central economic problem for Canada as our economy being based on "branch plants" to U.S. industry.

As a young woman who had travelled around the world in 1970 and in particular overland from Turkey to India, I could never accept this Canadian nationalism. On occasion, although they deny it now, some of those nationalists would compare Canada to a third-world country. This I knew to be false. Canada was just a milder version of the imperialist United States -- is how I saw it. 

Later the Council of Canadians formed as a nationalist group who helped to lead the fight against Free Trade.  This was a critical battle but here too I couldn't accept the argument of independence from the U.S. For me it was the arguments about how Free Trade would restructure the economy, export jobs and undermine social programs that made sense. When Quebec got involved in a coalition against Free Trade called the "Pro-Canada Network," we had to change the name to Action Canada Network. To their credit the CoC became more and more internationalist as the free trade fight spread internationally through the fight against the FTAA and then more generally the international fight against neo-liberalism.

Yet Canadian nationalism still seems to have an echo in the fight against Stephen Harper under the rubric of taking back Canada from the Harperite plunderers.

I believe it is in part Canadian nationalism that has prevented most social movements and the political Left in Canada from prioritizing the struggle of Indigenous people.  Despite generations of struggle, from George Manuel’s leadership of the constitutional battles in the 1970’s to Oka in the 1990s to a series of local and regional struggles. I don't think that most of the Left in Canada, including myself, has placed a sufficient priority on actively supporting Indigenous struggles and restoring the treaty to treaty relationships that was agreed to by the Crown prior to the formation of  Canada that is celebrated today.

On this Canada Day, Idle No More has joined with Defenders of the Land to declare Sovereignty Summer. It is a chance for all of us, across the country to support our Indigenous brothers and sisters in the struggle for their rights. They have generously defined their struggle in an inclusive way. As Pam Palmateer has said, "we are your best chance, to protect this land for your children and grandchildren." And that is true. But it is also true that if we want to transform society to be more just and more equal, we have to change the unjust foundation of colonialism on which this country stands.

That's why I don't celebrate Canada Day.


Between June 21 and July 1 -- National Aboriginal Day to Canada Day -- rabble.ca has been featuring a series of articles examining and critiquing the uses of Canadian identity, the resurgence of Indigenous movements for justice, and the ways in which activists and thinkers across these lands are addressing these fundamental questions. You can read all the reflections on Canadian identity and Indigenous struggles on this special issue page





Scallywag, shouldn't you be weighing in over at the National Post, the Toronto Sun or Free Dominion?

You also missed the point of the comment.

@M.Spector: Fair points. But in regards to the treaties, it really depends on which perspectives you're listening to. From what I've read of the Treaty 7 process in 1877, many indigenous peoples regarded the agreement as a peace and friendship treaty, similar to what was signed on the east coast in the 18th century. It was intended to share the land. Nothing was said about giving up the land. First Nations agreed to share only the surface of the ground, up to two feet, if I remember correctly. There were many other provisions – including promises surrounding agricultural equipment, education and medicine – that have been ignored by the settler signees. Adding to the manipulation was the fact that the Crown didn't bring translators for all the tribes – none of the Peigan could understand the deal, from what I recall.

It's important to refer back to the treaties, considering that we're talking about a western legal system that emphasizes written, rather than oral, agreements. That's not to say that it's a correct way of doing things, it's just how it is. INM is arguing a very strong point with this. Settlers are clearly in the wrong, and haven't fulfilled their end of the bargain, at all. There might be room to move beyond the treaties in the future, but that's a decision that Aboriginal communities should make. 

Patriotism is bullshit!
Who the fuck do we think we are?!

This is an excellent article. Canadian nationalism has distorted the English Canadian left, sowing illusions about the nature of the Canadian ruling class, and making it more difficult to mount actions and develop expressions of solidarity with the struggles of the aboriginal and French Canadian nations.

I would only take issue with Judy's reference to the goal of "restoring the treaty to treaty relationships that was agreed to by the Crown prior to the formation of  Canada". I hope she's not suggesting that the era of treaty-making between the settlers and the original inhabitants of Turtle Island was some kind of golden age where the rights of aboriginals were fully acknowledged and respected, or when the nascent Canadian settler state dealt with aboriginal nations on the basis of equality and justice. 'Cause that never happened.

I know that Idle No More places great emphasis on upholding and restoring treaty rights, and as a propagandistic exercise I think that's fine. It reminds everyone that Canada has failed to live up to its treaty obligations. But it's naive to imagine that the ancient treaty process was anything other than a land and resources grab by the settlers. As part of the settler population I feel it is not my place to give any credence to the assimilationist and racist treaty-making policies of the British Crown as a basis for a just and honourable relationship with today's First Nations people. The treaties (to the extent that they actually exist) ultimately need to be superseded by a radical, democratic transformation in both the settler and native societies before either succeeds in achieving social and ecological justice.  

See also: Red, White and Brainwashed: A Quick, Non-Indepth Colonial Day Message

Thanks for the correction bagkitty. 


Personnally, I don't celebrate Canada Day simply because I don't belong to this nation. It would be like celebrating US Day or Sweden day. I don't hate them, but it makes no sense to me. And when Canada does bad things, I don't feel much ashamed, upset about it either, even though I denounce it.

A little fact checking is in order. Canada was not, as the writer suggests the first to adopt same sex marriage:  "We adopted same sex marriage before any other country." The Netherlands was the first (2001) and Belgium the second (2003). While a number of provinces embraced it between 2003 (starting with British Columbia) and 2004, it was not until July 2005 that it was nationally adopted (and this several weeks after Spain had done so, making Canada the fourth nation to do so).

Sounds like Judy Rebick refuses to get on board with loving this country until it fits into the narrow-minded vision of what she thinks it should be. She says “The Canadian Left has suffered from nationalism”. There is as much evidence that the nation is currently suffering from the Canadian left, a movement which I feel more alienated from with each passing day. Proponents of the Idle No More protests are dividing this country with just as much vigor is the Bloc Quebecois. This country gives it’s citizens - including Judy Rebick - a thousand reasons to be grateful, from an generous social safety net, to freedom of expression, to one of the best standards of living in the world. If that’s not good enough, than nothing will be. I have rarely seen an article more entitled or more shameful.


My point is the founding of Canada, which is what July 1 celebrates excluding Indigenous Nations and created the basis of the oppression of Quebec.  It's nothing to do with "ethnic outsiders" whatever that means.  Yes it was done by a class of elites but when we celebrate it, we are celebrating what those elites did


Stevie B wrote:

"And yes the ethnic outsiders who deprive them of their rights are very bad people. But these people are not Canadian."

What are they then?

I'm sorry, but that's a terrible essay. Reads like a early edition of the Soviet Union's "Pravda"... Yes indigenous people's have rights. And yes the ethnic outsiders who deprive them of their rights are very bad people. But these people are not Canadian. Nor is the history of this country only predicated on this abuse. And again, a careful reading of the history of this issue, demonstrates abuse by a class of elites that do not reflect the values of the vast majority of our once great nation. God Bless You, and Happy Canada Day to All
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