OTTAWA, July 1 (Reuters) – Several cities scrapped Canada Day celebrations on Thursday after the discovery of hundreds of children’s remains in anonymous graves in former Indigenous schools sparked a questioning of the colonial past from the country.
Calls to reduce or cancel the celebrations snowballed after the discovery, starting in May, of nearly 1,000 unmarked graves in former residential schools in British Columbia and Saskatchewan, mostly run by the ‘Catholic Church and government funded.
Traditionally, the holiday is celebrated with barbecues and fireworks in the courtyard, much like July 4 in the United States, but this year Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the day would be “a moment of reflection “. Read more
A #CancelCanadaFete march was held in the capital Ottawa, and Toronto hosted rallies to honor the victims and survivors of Canada’s residential school system. Schools forcibly separated indigenous children from their families, in what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called “cultural genocide” in 2015.
“Canada is coming to terms with its history,” said Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto who studies race, crime and criminal justice.
“I don’t think we can celebrate this country for what it is without recognizing this country for what it is not: a utopia and a bastion of equality and freedom and equal opportunities for all members of society, ”he said.
Canada’s reputation for tolerance was built on its efforts, starting in the 1970s, to create a multicultural society, but inequalities abound for both Indigenous communities and among visible minorities, data shows.
In his Canada Day message Thursday, Trudeau said the discovery of the remains of hundreds of children in former residential schools “rightly made us think about our country’s historic failures” and the injustices that still exist for indigenous peoples and many others in Canada.
“On this Canada Day, let us renew our commitment to learn from and listen to each other so that we can break down the barriers that divide us, rectify the injustices of our past and build a more just and equitable society for all.
Indigenous peoples, who represent less than 5% of the population, face higher levels of poverty and violence and shorter life expectancies.
The unemployment rate for visible minorities, who make up more than 20% of the total population, was 11.4% in May compared to 7.0% for whites, according to Statistics Canada. In 2020, the unemployment rate for Indigenous people in Ontario was 12.5% compared to 9.5% for non-Indigenous people.
Some 30% of visible minorities and Indigenous peoples feel treated like strangers in their own country, according to an Angus Reid Institute survey on diversity and racism released on June 21.
The discovery of the remains and a deadly attack on a Muslim family in June that killed three generations of members has led to an introspection in Canada on the country’s often touted reputation for tolerance. The suspect is charged with murder and domestic terrorism. Read more
Hate crimes against Muslims increased 9% to 181 in 2019, according to the latest data from StatCan. Some 36% of Indigenous people and 42% of visible minorities said Canada is a racist country, according to the Angus Reid poll.
A number of Muslim women who wear the hijab have also been attacked in Alberta in recent weeks, while in Quebec, a law prohibiting officials from wearing the hijab faces legal challenges, and critics have called the measure form of institutionalized racism.
NDP lawmaker Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, who is Inuk, said she did not feel safe in the House of Commons as an Indigenous woman and announced last month that she would not stand for re-election. Read more
“I don’t think there is any reason to celebrate (Canada Day),” Qaqqaq said.
Reporting by Steve Scherer, additional reporting by Julie Gordon; Editing by Aurora Ellis
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