Last week, the Montreal Fringe Festival, the Jazz Festival and Les Francofolies all announced that their 2020 editions were cancelled and earlier today the Montreal Grand Prix announced it wouldn’t happen in June. They’re now not the only May and June events cancelled or postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The City of Montreal announced today that all festivals, sporting events and public events are cancelled until July 2nd. Even if Quebec succeeds in flattening the curve and non-essential businesses are allowed to re-open May 4th as currently planned and more social distancing rules are relaxed in the subsequent weeks, June will look much different in the city known in the summer as Festi-Ville.
This not only means that there won’t be any outdoor concerts or bike races, but there also won’t be any Saint Jean Baptiste or Canada Day celebrations, at least not official ones. Whether or not people will be allowed to celebrate on their own, either at private parties or on Mount Royal, depends entirely on how well we do flattening the curve.
As a migrant, I’ve started to think about the concept of ‘belonging.’ I never truly felt like I belonged to any particular piece of land. Similarly, I never thought of myself as ‘entitled’ to any land. And before I go any further, don’t worry. I will not say anything about ‘feeling like a world citizen.’ This is not what I have in mind.
Belonging, in the sense of holding a nationality, is a strange concept. If you think about it, you will realize that it’s very arbitrary. Some people are born in Canada, others are born in Russia, yet others are born in Turkey. This is a spatial concept of nationality, in which it is implied that you are meant to spend your life where you were born. No one really explains why.
Is it not absurd, though? Let’s take Canada, for instance. All humans born in Canada are called Canadians. I’ll just skip the question asking why that’s the case. Instead, let’s ask: “Since when is this so?”
Many of you know that Canada was not even a thing until July 1, 1867. Before that, the various provinces that make up Canada today were colonies of the British Empire. Then on Canada Day, Canada became a country. United forever, all of its citizens proud bearers of the adjective: “Canadian.”
Is it that simple though? Especially in the case of a settler colonial country. The name “Canada” is not necessarily what the Indigenous peoples call this land that Canadians call “ours.” The adjective “Canadian” is certainly not what they call themselves.
Unfortunately, I cannot claim to be an expert on the semantics of Canadianness. I would, however, like to get you to start thinking about it. As far as I’m concerned, I want to talk about migration and belonging. I bring up the colonial history of Canada for that very reason.
Before Canada, before Britain, before Europeans, there were people living on this land. Through the cunning use of treaties, this land was converted into a political entity, which, in turn, authorized itself with the right to give away citizenships. Long story short, any European settler who came to this New World was an expatriate, or simply put, a migrant.
Unless you are an Indigenous person, you are a migrant on this land – just like I am. But still, because you were probably born here, you are Canadian and I am not. Absurd isn’t it?
I’ve been studying in Canada for the past three years. That also means that I’ve been living here for three years. I’ve been experiencing this land just like any other Canadian – and in fact, I’m probably more Canadian than a three-year-old baby whose parents are Canadians. Yet still, that’s not the case.
There’s something missing in this analysis – or whatever it is that you would like to call this. You see, nothing can prevent me from feeling Canadian if I so darn please. I can freely feel like I belong here, if I so desire. But that means nothing!
Canada is a country and a political entity, not the land it happens to occupy. If the borders of this political entity were placed elsewhere, then that place would be Canada. This political entity has the monopoly over the power to give away citizenships and declare nationalities. It is because of this political entity that a three-year-old baby born to Canadians is Canadian and I am not.
A political entity does not care about feelings. It does not care about historical context. It does not care whether it’s right or wrong. It cares about legitimacy and legality. What determines the legitimacy and legality of a political entity? Curiously enough, it itself does that job. It declares that it is the legitimate representative of Canadians and that it has the legal power to determine who gets to be Canadian.
“But that’s what countries are supposed to do – that’s literally how the current world system works!” Interesting, isn’t it? Surely, this system was once based on the idea that communities should have the inherent right to decide who gets to live with them. But the current world system, as my strawperson has so eloquently put it, is not really a system of communities. A community implies intimacy – a country can hardly be an intimate being.
If intimacy was still a thing in the current world system, I’d be able to go be a contributing member of the community – you know, pay taxes, join the labour force, do community service – and then I’d be declared a bonafide Canadian. But because the current world system is based on countries I have to jump through so many loops. I have to have myself declared legitimate and appeal to appropriate legal customs in order to become Canadian.
My point is, when you’re celebrating Canada Day, make sure you distinguish the land from the country, and the community from the state. Most of us are migrants on this land; but some of us have more rights than others. Why should I allow some artificial entity tell me whether or not I belong here? Why should I have to pamper some artificial entity to grant me acceptance?
I’ve never been overtly nationalist, and I’ve never really felt the need to engage in a public display of affection for my country of birth: Canada. Having travelled throughout the world, nationalism has always bewildered me, made me feel uncomfortable to some extent, but on rare occasion – though there’s been a few — I’ve found pleasure in seeing others proudly parade their national colours. This is only when I’ve felt that it’s a sort of inclusive festivity open to all, a celebration of sharing instead of a chest-boasting competition that emanates close-mindedness and some form of repressed aggressively.
All this to say, I’ve rarely celebrated any national holiday, that supposedly I would be entitled to through my array of nationalities and divergent cultural backgrounds. But this year more than ever, I will not celebrate Canada Day.
This year more than ever the Canada Day celebrations seem void of any substantial meaning. But I can understand why this Conservative government would strive with such ardour to mark the 147th anniversary of the signing of the British North American Act. For the Conservatives, those were the golden days, and if they could revert Canadian society back to that point in time they certainly would.
In the first place I never really related to Canada Day because I don’t relate to exercises in nationalism in general. Once I dug deeper into the symbolic meaning of Canada Day, I truly disassociated. The celebration of Canada Day is the celebration of a certain vision of Canada, an antiquated one. It’s a vision of Canada that does not include a majority of current population of Canada, and that doesn’t take in account the peoples that lived on this soil prior to colonialism.
But given the recent Conservative agenda, Canada Day for me this year has become much more significant than previously. This year Canada Day isn’t just a misfit, an anachronistic celebration; it’s unfortunately become the manifestation of a Canada in which colonialist attitudes are still rampant. Its a celebration of a country in which too many are marginalized and disenfranchised, relegated to the sidelines of society, and stripped of their voices within the Canadian political arena.
The question that must be asked as the Canada Day celebrations are in full-swing is what are we celebrating exactly? Are we supposed to celebrate our allegiance to the flag and to the institutions, the Canadian government? Or are we supposed to celebrate the diversity of this country, the principals and values that Canadians cherish, the potential that resides within this population, this land?
How can we celebrate Canada Day or Canada, when Indigenous communities are in a dire fight to defend their right to their land that was supposed to be guaranteed under the Canadian Confederation. If the 1st of July 1867 is to mean anything to Indigenous communities of Canada, it is certainly a promise to build a nation to nation relationship, a confederation that would include and shape itself with First Nations. Canada Day indirectly is the celebration of a string of broken promises towards our native sisters and brothers.
This 1st of July should serve as a reminder of the shortcomings of the Canadian state in these past 147 years, but also as a reminder that Canada has changed and that as long as we do not built a sustainable relationship with First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities throughout Canada. Canada Day will be but the celebration of a colonial system that might have changed in appearance, but is rather far off from changing in substance. If we truly want to celebrate the diversity of Canada, then we must strive to craft a confederation in which Canadians of all backgrounds are represented, not only Caucasian Canadians of European decent.
We must dissociate the celebration of Canada from the colonial system that was prevalent in 1867. It is my hope that it will be one of the steps forward toward decolonization. Thus the best way to celebrate Canada is to resist… resist the Northern Gateway Pipeline for example.