Canada Kicks Ass
Reflections On Canada Day: The Toxic Legacy Of "One Empire"


JaredMilne @ Thu Jul 01, 2021 1:43 pm

I’m writing this on the morning of Canada Day 2021, thinking about all the fascinating things I’ve read and the people I’ve met.

The discovery of the unmarked graves of hundreds of Indigenous children forced into residential schools sent shockwaves through non-Native Canadians. Many people wonder how our governments and churches could have done this, what reason they could have had for it.

The unmarked graves aren’t the only issue Indigenous people deal with, of course. Non-Native people often say Indigenous people should come to Canadian cities to find jobs and better lives, but we often don’t talk about what they face when they actually go to the cities. Harassment is often the least of what they have to deal with, with sexual assault and murder being tragically common, as the many missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls show. There are ample reports and inquiries recommending solutions, but change has been glacial when it comes at all.

Another issue on many Canadians’ minds is Quebec’s wanting to constitutionally declare French its only official language. A lot of Canadians outside Quebec oppose the idea, seeing it as discrimination against the Anglo-Quebecois minority and an attempt to distance Quebec from the rest of Canada. Many people bitterly recall the previous decades’ language and constitutional wars, including Quebec’s two previous attempts to secede from Canada.

At first glance, these two things seem completely separate. The violence Indigenous people face is far, far worse than anything Quebec or any other Francophone Canadians might be dealing with.

They still have a common cause, though-the attempts to forcibly erase Indigenous and Francophone culture, and make Canada an appendage of the British Empire with ‘One Flag, One Empire, One School, One Language’, as some radical Orange Protestant activists put it.

It’s arguably the most toxic and damaging ideology in all of Canadian history.

1. Indigenous Assimilation

“Our goal is to continue until there is not a single Indian that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question and no Indian department.”-Duncan Campbell Scott.

Indian Affairs bureaucrat Duncan Campbell Scott worked from 1879 to 1932, but the move to ‘civilize’ Indigenous people into being solely English-speaking British citizens existed long before him and even Confederation. As early as the 1830s, church-run boarding schools were being opened in Ontario, and rapidly expanded into Western and northern Canada.

The horrors of the residential schools are aptly described by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and don’t need to be repeated here. Suffice to say that their goal was to, as Scott’s quote demonstrates, reform Indigenous youth from the ‘savages’ they were seen as into assimilated British Empire citizens. The actual results, of course, was that the Indigenous students who survived the schools were simply traumatized by being ripped away from their culture. That trauma created a cycle of pain and dysfunction that continued for generations.

Residential schools weren’t the only issue, though. The first Northwest Resistance led by Louis Riel in 1870 was provoked by the Canadian government sending surveyors to map out Rupert’s Land, which Canada had ‘jurisdiction’ over from the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1869. Led by Riel, the Red River Metis and their non-Native supporters weren’t opposed to the idea of joining Canada, but they demanded that their French language, Catholic religious, and Indigenous land rights all be respected.

Everything went to hell when Riel and his government were forced to execute Thomas Scott, part of a group of violent radical Orange imperialists who wanted sole control of what became Manitoba. Many of Scott’s fellow Orange imperialists in Ontario, who hated and wanted to forcibly assimilate Catholics and Francophones, went berserk when Scott was executed. The ‘Canada First’ movement, promoting a singularly Anglophone and Protestant Canada as part of the British Empire, saw Scott as a martyr. Never mind that Riel’s government was the only legitimate one in the area, or that it was defending the Metis’s rights against a racist thug that threatened them-the rights of Francophones and Indigenous people didn’t matter.

The violence and discrimination against the Metis by Ontario Orange settlers coming into Manitoba was one of the reasons for the second Northwest Resistance which ended with Louis Riel’s hanging in 1885. John A. Macdonald was in many ways a moderate compared to the radical Orange imperialists. The radical imperialists’ rage over Scott’s execution arguably forced his hand in allowing Riel’s hanging. Whatever the reactions of Francophone Quebecers and Catholics, the radical imperialists’ reactions would likely have been far worse if Riel received clemency.

The residential schools and the bigotry against the Metis both stemmed from the same attitude towards Indigenous people, one that persists today among many non-Native Canadians. Indigenous people are seen as stupid and backward, unable to ‘get with the times’ and assimilate to become productive members of society. At worst, they’re seen as less than human, dumb savages who deserve to be murdered. Indigenous people are expected to take the sole blame for their problems, without considering the impact non-Native actions may have had, actions whose impacts continue today.

The ‘One Flag, One Empire, One School, One Language’ ideology had its worst impact on Indigenous people, but they weren’t the only ones it impacted.

2. Francophone Assimilation

“As long as Frenchmen learned their laws and history in French, they would remain French in sentiment. Now is the time when the ballot box will decide this great question before the people, and if that does not supply the remedy in this generation, then bayonets will supply it in the next.”-Dalton McCarthy.

Dalton McCarthy was not formally an Orangeman, but he shared many of their views on Canada and the British Empire, particularly the assimilation of Francophone Canadians. He loudly advocated against French as an official language of education and governance outside Quebec, which started with the Northwest Territories (which covered most of the Prairies at that time) abolishing French’s official status in 1892. From there, Manitoba strictly limited French education in 1896, Alberta and Saskatchewan had similar limits when they joined Confederation in 1905, and Ontario abolished French-language education in 1917.

Francophone Canadians were also discriminated against during World War I. Radical Orange imperialist and Militia Minister Sam Hughes refused to create French-speaking units for Francophone soldiers, forcing them to serve under senior officers and officials that didn’t speak French. Francophone thinkers like Henri Bourassa openly wondered why they should fight for a British Empire that wanted to assimilate them. This predictably angered many loyal Anglophones, and Canada became bitterly divided. Never mind that the Orange imperialists were saying that Francophones had to be assimilated and that their language didn’t have to be respected.

The repression of French west of Quebec had far-reaching consequences. Franco-Quebecois thinkers like Lionel Groulx believed that Quebec itself was the only place where they could maintain their French culture. This view continued to develop through the 20th century until the 1960s, when some Franco-Quebecois supported their province’s separating from Canada as the only way they could remain French.

Pierre Trudeau promoted bilingualism as an alternative to separation. Unfortunately, many Canadians outside Quebec didn’t understand why some Quebecois wanted to separate or how French was repressed in their own provinces. The resulting acrimony was one of the causes of the constitutional wars of the next three decades, leading up to the near-catastrophe of the 1995 separation referendum. Even today, many non-Quebecers simply think Quebec’s efforts to maintain its culture are only motivated by racism and hatred of English, when the truth’s obviously a lot more complicated.

3. Forgotten Histories And A Way Forward?

The ‘One Flag, One Empire, One School, One Language’ ideology tried to make Canada a solely Anglophone appendage of the British Empire. It tried to forcibly assimilate and repress Francophone and Indigenous identities and cultures. In short, it’s directly responsible for so many of the social and unity problems we face today.

Many non-Native and non-Francophone Canadians have forgotten these histories. Hence why there’s so much backlash against Quebec’s initiatives, and so much horrified shock when the unmarked residential school graves were discovered. It’s also why there’ve been so many calls to ‘cancel’ Canada Day in recent years. Unfortunately, those calls also led to non-Native Canadians’ seeing them as an attack on their own heritages and wondering if they’re being judged for wanting to feel a positive attachment to Canada.

That’s not necessarily what Indigenous critics are saying, though. At one ‘Cancel Canada Day’ rally last year, Indigenous speakers explained that they weren’t fighting against Canada, or expressing hatred of Canada or non-Native Canadians. Instead, they were speaking out against the racism and violence their communities endured. Speakers for a 2017 rally in Regina specifically denied wanting to ruin non-Native peoples’ Canada Day. They were trying to show how destructive Canada’s development has been for Indigenous lives.

So is there a way forward?

There’s a lot we can be proud of about being Canadian. Our individual family histories and connections, the many peoples who’ve found refuge and built new lives here, our cultural and scientific contributions to the world, our contributions to freedom such as our helping defeat fascism in World War II. That includes Canada’s British heritage-not everyone supported the ‘One Flag’ ideology, as shown by Macdonald’s fights against Francophone assimilation-and the ‘One Flag’ ideology shouldn’t be conflated with Anglophone Canada in general.

But one of our biggest flaws as a country has been our failure to live up to our image of being the nice, helpful fixer. The revelations we’re facing now demand that we do better as Canadians. There are plenty of resources out there we can use to educate ourselves, and lots of different ways we can help, to finally repair the damage the ‘One Flag, One Empire, One School, One Language’ ideology has caused.

One of the best ways is to try and understand where other people living in Canada come from-and that also includes Canadians of different regions like Western or Atlantic Canada as it does Indigenous or Francophone people. There’s often more common ground than we realize. Many Quebecois and Albertans, among others, remain proudly Canadian even when they’re frustrated or angry at certain issues. Many Indigenous people hold out hope for a Canada they could be proud of. Some Indigenous speakers are challenging the rest of us to actually live up to our rhetoric, and become a better country.

It won’t be easy, but I believe it can be done. It can forge a stronger Canada, one that truly ensures justice for all its peoples.

Vive le Canada uni!


Scape @ Thu Jul 01, 2021 1:49 pm

Happy Canada day! I can say that today without the cringe as before it was like walking on eggshells. We tore the Band-Aid off with a GoFundMe and ground penetrating radar. If Canada was great we would never have needed that and done the work with out being begged to do so.

Water under the bridge, now we can get on with the healing and real talks of reconciliation. I have more faith in Canada now since I signed up in '88. I wish it didn't take this level of pain to get here but we got here now let make a better tomorrow for all of us.