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Which Canada Will You Celebrate on Canada Day?

06/30/2015 08:00 EDT | Updated 06/30/2016 05:59 EDT
Shutterstock / Ferenz

I'm not sure which Canada to celebrate this year. In the past I celebrated John Diefenbaker's Canada, the one that introduced the Canadian Bill of Rights, Pierre Elliot Trudeau's Canada, that birthed the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and Mulroney's Canada that fought to end Apartheid. But in Stephen Harper's Canada, what is there to celebrate?

In Harper's Canada, libraries of scientific materials are destroyed while scientists are muzzled.

In Harper's Canada, veterans go begging for support for the wounds they sustained in wars they fight in defence of Canadian values.

In Harper's Canada, citizenship, now considered a privilege, has two tiers.

On 11th June 2015, Bill C-24, The Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, came into effect. Canadian citizens are now divided into two categories: one category having all the democratic rights of citizenship and the other not. The latter category are those citizens who became Canadian by choice and the former are those who are Canadian by the chance of birth.

Bill C-24 passing into law means that for the second time in my life, I am once again a second class citizen. Deportable. Disposable.

The first time I was considered not worthy of full citizenship was when I was born in South Africa. At the time, my mother was legally bound to take me to a government office to have me racially classified. As a "coloured" person in apartheid South Africa, I was a person whose education was restricted by legal decree, a person without the right to vote, and without the right to protest government decisions.

Now, after 25 years of participating in the celebration of Canada's democracy, I find myself living once again on the margins of full citizenship.

When I started teaching about citizenship as part of the Social Studies 11 curriculum 18 years ago, the list of Responsibilities of Citizenship in government documents included the responsibility to eliminate injustice and racism. That responsibility no longer shows up on Citizenship Canada's website. The Harperized version of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship now includes the responsibility to take care of one's family, but, I assume, only the Harper version of what a family means. It's certainly not the "all my relations" version of who/what constitutes a family that our First Nations uphold.

When Nelson Mandela was released, the very first stop on his first international trip was Canada because it was this country, under the Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, that led the fight for international sanctions against apartheid even though that fight tested Canada's friendships with Margaret Thatcher's Britain and Ronald Reagan's United States. Canada's choice then was on the right side of history because the success of economic sanctions enabled the end of Apartheid.

More than 20 years after the end of Apartheid, Canada once again has an opportunity to choose to be on the right side of history as the world faces the consequences of climate change. But I doubt that it will be Harper's Canada that will choose to do so.

In an ever-warming world, Canada's choices regarding the environment are seen as such a threat to the world that Bill McKibben of the environmental organization 350.org has said that the world cannot afford for Canada to be a "wholly-owned subsidiary of the fossil fuel industry." There is real concern that it will be given that Harper's choices have earned Canada the Fossil Award multiple times.

Every hour of every day the heavy haulers that move soil on the tar sands burn 150 litres to 240 litres of fuel.

Every day toxins from the tar sands pollute our land, our air, our water.

Every year cancer rates increase amongst our First Nations living near the tar sands.

I wonder what Mandela would think of this Canada. It's certainly not the one he was made an honourary citizen of in 2001. It's definitely not the Canada he visited in 1990, four months after being released from 27 years in prison for his fight against injustice.

That Canada was one of hope for a better future for all citizens of our global village.

This Canada is refusing to participate in the fight for climate justice, the fight that recognizes that it's poor countries who pay for the affluent lifestyles of citizens in rich countries.

What hope is there that Canada will join the fight for climate justice when environmentalists like Paul Watson have their passports revoked?

I now worry that the next time I show up at a protest against injustice or environmental degradation that I will be deported from a country that once was a beacon of hope for those living in countries where human rights are denied.

For that reason, I think I'll spend Canada Day 2015 dreaming about a post-Harper Canada. It could be most patriotic thing to do. And then, perhaps if I feel brave on Thursday, I'll join others in the work to restore the Canada I once knew.

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