09/16/2020 19:46 EDT

Youth Climate Strikers Are Trying To Take Back O’Toole’s ‘Take Back Canada’

They say Indigenous "Land Back" movements used the phrase long before O’Toole or the Tories.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole is seen during his opening speech to members of the National Caucus in Ottawa on Sept. 9, 2020.

A group of youth climate activists are challenging Conservative Party of Canada leader Erin O’Toole’s “Take Back Canada” slogan, saying they actually used it first. 

Members of Climate Strike Canada have filed an application to trademark the phrase, arguing its usage as a message of Indigenous land sovereignty predates O’Toole’s use for his 2020 leadership campaign.

So, yes — they’re literally trying to take back the idea of taking back Canada. 

Climate Strike Canada is a group of high school and university students and Indigenous youth across Canada associated with Greta Thunberg’s “Friday for Future” school strike for climate movement. 

WATCH: What is Erin O’Toole’s plan for Canada? Story continues below.


In a statement released Wednesday, organizer Kyra Gilbert said the group has used the phrase for Indigenous-led “Land Back” initiatives long before O’Toole’s campaign. Land Back refers to the movement to reclaim Indigenous jurisdiction over land. 

“We used ‘Take Back Canada,’ to call attention to the concept of ‘Land Back’ and to issues of Indigenous sovereignty — or the rights we should have to refuse harmful industry projects being built through our traditional lands,” Gilbert said. “For me ‘Take Back Canada’ means ‘Land Back.’”

The group says they aim to trademark the phrase to prevent the Conservative Party from continuing to use it. 

First Nations activist Caroline Crawley addresses the crowd as protesters gather outside the Ontario Legislature for the Climate Strike in Toronto on Sept. 27, 2019.

“We chose to take legal action because ‘Take Back Canada’ in the context of the Conservative Party’s slogan, is racist, historically revisionist and promotes the erasure of Indigenous peoples,” Giiwedinong Kisinaaikwe, one of the youth involved in the process of filing for the trademark, said in a statement. 

“Canada has never belonged to people like Erin O’Toole. Canada was founded on stolen Indigenous land. ”

O’Toole explains phrase

This isn’t the first time the phrase has drawn controversy. 

When O’Toole first unveiled his leadership platform in June, the slogan was slammed by many who argued Canada exists on already stolen land. 

During a Sept. 3 appearance on CBC Radio’s “The Early Edition,” O’Toole defended his use of the phrase arguing it’s about “taking Canada back” from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“It’s time to get serious. We need an ethical and visionary government again and that’s why I’m inviting Canadians to take a second look at the Conservative Party,” he said.

When host Stephen Quinn asked O’Toole about Indigenous backlash to the phrase, the Tory leader said he thinks Indigenous people actually agree with him. 

“I think they think the same way. I think some of Justin Trudeau’s biggest failures have actually been to Indigenous Canadians,” O’Toole said.  

But in the Climate Strike Canada statement, Gilbert called O’Toole’s use of the phrase a “white nationalist dog whistle.”

“It begs comparison to Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again,’ which itself is a thinly veiled call for a return to traditionalism, complacency and white supremacy,” Gilbert said. 

We chose to take legal action because ‘Take Back Canada’ in the context of the Conservative Party’s slogan, is racist, historically revisionist and promotes the erasure of Indigenous peoples.Giiwedinong Kisinaaikwe

Climate Strike Canada member Emma Lim told HuffPost Canada the trademark request was filed in early September and the group expects the trademark process to take eight to 18 months. 

In the meantime, the group plans to send a cease and desist letter Thursday to O’Toole and the Conservative Party of Canada and take further legal action if the party continues to use the phrase. 

O’Toole’s camp did not respond to HuffPost Canada’s request for comment about the trademark.