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O Canada: Anthem Overload

When someone raises a flag on Canada Day, sure, terrific. Bob and Doug forever. When it's time to honour our brave war veterans, no doubt, they're the champs. But when I attend a game to cheer on the local collection of rink-circlers, I don't feel it's a relevant or appropriate place for the anthem.

"Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." - Samuel Johnson (April 7, 1775)

I had just settled into my seat, a deep purple lumpy thing that soon would have my sciatic nerve twitching. A tub of popcorn braced in my left hand, tilted slightly to the west, that my wife might graze as well. My right arm, graciously inside the armrest (I am nothing without manners), strained to keep still the weight of my giant cola beverage, its icy refrigeration cubes numbing my fingertips and palm.

My feet, stationary for several minutes now, had ceased to aimlessly manoeuvre to a fresh spot; I had grown accustomed to the sticky relationship I had made with the floor. We would be one for the next two hours, an affair of convenience and -- cleanliness be damned! -- I was okay with it.

And then came the bugles. Wretched brassy plague of the beast! How dare you disturb my fragile peace, interrupting the righteous flow of 14 commercials into nine trailers into several warnings regarding smartphone etiquette into the nearly three-dimensional feature film I had paid $37 for us to moderately enjoy!

"All rise, and please remove your caps."

No! Infernal meddler! Why must I rise for the anthem prior to my local cinematic experience?! Why? O Canada why? Keepful God? Commanding sons? Why?? The year was 1958.


I consider myself a good Canadian. When I'm abroad I am polite and people think, "Oh he's so nice and make him say aboot again." I am socially liberal and fiscally responsible. I am deeply passionate about ridiculous things and tend to declare those passions while speaking into my chest. I know curse words in a dozen languages. I like beer. I am stereotypically amusing and harmless. I am Canadian. I get it.

When someone raises a flag on Canada Day, sure, terrific, I'm with you. Bob and Doug forever. When it's time to honour our brave war veterans, no doubt, they're the champs. Pass me another Tim Horton's maple glaze. But when I attend a game to cheer on the local collection of rink-circlers or orb-dribblers or base-yankers, I don't feel it's a relevant or appropriate place for the anthem. Surely not any more than it would be prior to a picture show at the local cinematheque.

I would like to see us free ourselves from the guilt that not being a rah-rah patriot makes you somehow less than Canadian. Our understated nature is a significant part of what makes Canada so fantastic and so livable and so special. When asked, I am from Toronto first, Canada second. This isn't because I don't value my citizenship; it's because I put my community first. What matters most to me are the places I feel and touch, the people I feel and touch, the drunk tanks I feel and touch.

I know Taos, Los Angeles and Buffalo far better than I do Victoria, Thunder Bay or Yellowknife. And -- gasp! -- I may have more in common with the residents of the former cities than the latter. Doesn't make me a bad Canadian.

I am proud of my country -- assuming I don't stare directly at 24 Sussex Drive -- but I might feel more in common with someone in urban Helsinki than someone in northern Ontario. I might feel more kinship with an English speaker in Kolkata than a French speaker in Laval. Doesn't make me a bad Canadian.

It is a fast-changing world. Communication technologies are altering our social associations, ever-reshaping our identity. Religiosity and patriotism change slowly. This past month provided galvanizing moments to which I questioned what identities I was committed.

June began with the commemoration of D-Day, the infamous 67-year-old battle fought on the shores of Normandy, France, where hundreds of thousands of troops -- American, Canadian, British and international -- made a heroic assault on five beaches held by Nazi troops. Like many around the world, I salute their efforts and their courage.

That said, I am not a patriot. I'm all for nationalism when it arrives in the form of the elderly staging battle reenactments in local dog parks, or as an essential element in the back-story of a 1980s-era wrestling villain. On a personal level, I tend to place nationalism in the same bag I do religiosity: if you believe in it, fine, but don't tread on me.

As an insatiable sports fan, one of my guilty pleasures is the consumption of sports call-in radio. It's mostly banal fare, but occasionally it strikes a nerve. On Monday, June 6, Andrew Krystal, host of the aptly-named The Andrew Krystal Show on Sportsnet Radio The Fan 590, dedicated much of his program to cynically suggest we should eliminate anthems prior to sporting events. His genuine motivation was to scold non-chest-thumping patriots, those he feels forget to celebrate the liberties provided to us by the spoils of bygone wars. He asserted that "sports and war go together" and that we Canadians are "lazy and sick" due to our lack of patriotism.

"They say Vancouver is Canada's team but there is only one Canada's team and that's the Canadian military." - Andrew Krystal (June 6, 2011)

Radio shock-jockery is low-hanging fruit for inflammatory rhetoric, I know, but this attitude grew exponentially as the Stanley Cup Finals developed over the middle of June, with most media outlets insisting fans across Canada should rightfully root for the Vancouver Canucks because it was the patriotic thing to do. (Never mind that Boston had seven more Canadians on their active roster.)

Maybe this form of blind patriotism appeals to some, but I don't see the positivity to it. What metrics are being used to determine correct levels of patriotic fervour? Should I root a little less for Dominican Jose Bautista's moonshots than Toronto-native Joey Votto's dingers? It's all so confusing. Maybe, to measure all this, we need some sort of government-mandated Patriot Act. (Perhaps a poor choice of titles.)

Now, as June has passed into July, and another Canada Day celebration comes and goes, I'm content to honk a horn or be awed at a fireworks display in honour of Canada. But I don't want to doff my cap before attending a show at the Horseshoe. I don't feel the need to clear my throat and belt a few prior to my salad bowl at Fresh. And I do not want to stand and salute and feign solemnity before the opening pitch.

Andrew Krystal's brand of nationalism has always represented -- for me -- exclusion as much as inclusion. I don't want to stand for an anthem if it means hailing invented gods and armed men and specifically men. That is not the spirit in which I watch and support a local sports team whose players may have derived from any and all points on the planet. It is not in the spirit to which I am proudly Canadian.

I like being from a place that's ethnically who-the-hell-cares. Order your double double and move to the end of the counter. I like being from a place that doesn't need to puff out its chest. I like being part of the less than one per cent of the planet in on our little secret.

So happy birthday Canada, happy birthday to a series of lines on a map and guard booths on a road, but really happy birthday to tolerance wherever it resides. I don't need an anthem before a local event to remind me to be a good citizen. The magic of living in Canada is the opportunity to be a "good Canadian" in a whole lotta different ways.

O Canada

Our home and native land!

True patriot love in all thy sons command.

With glowing hearts we see thee rise,

The True North strong and free!

From far and wide,

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

God keep our land glorious and free!

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

- Justice Robert Stanley Weir, 1908

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