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We're Not Showy, But Canadians Stand on Guard for What's Important

11/11/2014 05:48 EST | Updated 01/11/2015 05:59 EST

I came across the Berlin Wall unexpectedly, while wandering through Montreal's old quarter. A rough slab of concrete, standing at ground level, washed in light from nearby stores. Stopped in my tracks, I ran my fingers softly across the scarred surface. Afraid to damage this artifact that generations of people had longed to destroy.

This was important, this broken object carried halfway around the world. No longer a symbol of segregation and repression, the fragment was at once almost beautiful. A promise of unity, as real as a whisper in the dark: no matter how strong, all barriers must someday fall. There was irony here, coming as it did from Quebec, on the bones of the fortified city. Irony, and a kind of hopeful truth.

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Remembrance Day is different, this time around. Blood has been spilled at our national monument, as Corporal Nathan Cirillo fell by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. As the entire country knows, he was our honour guard, stationed there to carry our respect for those we have lost. More than a hundred thousand Canadians have died in the service of this country, now so painfully increased by one.

Canada is not a place that celebrates military power. We are more likely to admire our healthcare system or our fine selection of baked goods, because our forces are small and we don't care much for swagger. But there is a tradition, hidden in our anthem and in our hearts. We stand on guard. We protect what is important. We brush off our legs and stand up for what we believe is right, and we respect those who came before. We may not always agree, but we have that overarching respect for one another. I think that is key.

A few days ago, I told the media they were wrong about Canada. Our innocence hadn't been lost in the attacks, and diversity was one of our greatest strengths. I wrote this on a whim, then sat back in shock as my words rippled across the country. Ten thousand people liked or shared my message, standing with me from coast to coast. But not everyone agreed.

My detractors said that Canada was under threat from within. That our people are no longer united, that immigrant foreign non-Canadian "others" have arrived to dilute and usurp our values. My angry critics said that our society was weak, no longer a single true culture. It was almost as if we were -- dare I say it? Multicultural.

As we stand together this Remembrance Day, we should be mindful of the walls that could divide us. This country that so many fought and died for, this place is much more than any one of us can define. Canada is not a melting pot, we are not a cauldron where everyone conforms into a standard Canadian. We are not just anglophones and francophones, speaking our official languages and choosing from two national beers. We are a disparate people, united by circumstance, by love of country, and most of all by choice. Not by religion, upbringing, skin colour, or tenure on this rock. Not even by hockey. We are united because we choose to be, because segregation is stupid, because respect engenders respect, and because the country is big enough to hold us, all of us, and all of our bravest dreams.

When violence strikes, it is tempting to raise up the walls. But as long as we care, as long as we stand on guard, these things cannot change.

And for that, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you.

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