A movement to cancel Canada Day—the national holiday that commemorates the country’s confederation birthday—has been picking up momentum across the country. Thus far, celebrations of the holiday have been called off in Victoria, British Columbia, Wilmot Township, Ontario, and at least one First Nation out of respect for the Indigenous community’s grief this year.
The hashtag #cancelCanadaDay has been trending on Twitter, with many saying it’s an inappropriate time for jingoistic posturing when we should instead be raising awareness about anti-Indigenous racism and Islamophobia.
On Friday, Victoria’s council voted to scratch its virtual Canada Day celebration after the discovery of the remains of 215 students buried on the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. The news shocked the country and led the federal government to launch an investigation into other potential school sites across the country.
Last week’s deadly attack against a Muslim family in London, Ontario has led to more calls to abandon the holiday.
The city of Victoria said in a statement that the celebration will be replaced by a summer guided by the Lekwungen people featuring local artists. Mayor Lisa Helps said the council will also consider “new possibilities.”
“There are moments when family and community members experience great loss, and we have no words, we stop, sit, and grieve in silence with them. This simple silent action can convey support in a powerful way that is felt rather than heard,” said Angie Hallman, councillor of Wilmot Township, which is west of Kitchener.
David Pratt, the vice-chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, agreed with the decision from Victoria and said it’s a “really good idea” to cancel Canada Day celebrations.
Many Indigenous communities have also released statements declaring they won’t be celebrating the holiday. “It will, in fact, be a day of mourning for their community,” Pratt said.
Victoria councillor Marianne Alto, who co-authored the motion, said the decision came after she witnessed a traditional ceremony by the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations marking the finding of the residential school remains. The online broadcast was going to be presented by the First Nations, but Alto felt uncomfortable proceeding this year because the Indigenous community was in mourning.
“While everyone will mark Canada Day in their own way on July 1, now is a time where the city can take leadership and provide an opportunity for thoughtful reflection and examination of what it means to be Canadian in light of recent events and what we already know from our past,” she said.
Keewaywin First Nation in Ontario also declared this week that it will no longer acknowledge Canada’s birthday.
“Keewaywin First Nation calls on the federal government to carry out exhaustive investigations of all former residential school grounds across the country, until then, Keewaywin will mark Canada Day as a day of mourning,” a statement by the First Nation read.
The statement continued to say that July 1 will be used to pay tribute to residential school students and their families, as well as “acknowledge the role the Canadian government and the churches played in the attempted genocide of Indigenous people.”
Residential schools for Indigenous children existed in Canada from the 17th century until the late 1990s. It’s estimated that over 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children were taken away from their families and communities while being required to attend residential schools. Students were punished by the Canadian government for speaking their Indigenous languages or expressing their identities. Thousands of children died while attending residential schools. The last one closed just 25 years ago.
“Cancel Canada Day for 215 years maybe,” suggested radio broadcaster and Tlowitsis Nation member Gunargie O’Sullivan to CityNews. She added that many people struggle around the Canada Day period, and that canceling celebrations is the bare minimum that can be done, considering how the country has treated Indigenous families and children. “I think we asked for too little, and that we got sidetracked by these little hashtags instead of focusing on what it is we want outside of half-mast lead, canceling Canada Day.”
O’Sullivan asked Canadians who usually celebrate to holiday to instead use the day to reflect on the country’s dark history of anti-Indigenous racism.
“I want the average Canadian … I want you to really, really reflect on how you are treating Indigenous people,” she said. “When you see us, how does it make you feel—does it make you feel like you want to dismiss us, or do you want to invite us?”