It is impossible to think of Canada Day this year without a long and somber pause to reflect, before anything else, on the unmarked graves of Indigenous children that have been found in recent weeks at Canada’s residential schools, and the atrocity that The Guardian newspaper describes with powerful outrage in an editorial today.
Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, in 2015, called the residential schools, and the no less shocking and inhuman ‘Sixties Scoop,’ in which children were seized and placed with non-Indigenous families or institutions of the state, a ‘cultural genocide’, and it is the remains of little children that bear witness to this bitter truth this First of July.
As a father, and a grandfather, I cannot begin to imagine the terror and suffering, the trauma and the utter desolation and loneliness, of the innocents snatched from their families and dragged away so that the Catholic church and the state authorities could proceed unhindered to beat their culture out of them. Nor can I glimpse more than the very edges of the horror that must have enveloped their families and communities, like a cloud of death itself, as the sound of their children’s voices was stilled and replaced by the void.
I cannot imagine what kind of people could do this, to children, to other humans.
I understand those who question the very meaning of Canada Day itself, and call for celebrations to be cancelled, or for Canada Day to be erased from the calendar, as those children were erased.
Yet I would prefer to believe in a different path, a path that brings Canadians together, to acknowledge their unity, their shared history and pain, and their shared future.
But this is a path that can only be founded on a full acknowledgement of the truth, the full disclosure of documents and records by both church and state, and by tangible and commensurate compensation and support for those whose lives and communities have been devastated in this way.
This is the last 1st of July that Rob and I will spend in South Africa, before we return home to Toronto, in September or October. We will be glad to be home, glad to reconnect with our family and friends, glad to live in our own house once more, on our own little street – glad for all that Canada means to us and the decency and compassion I would like to believe that Canada still characterises.
Meanwhile, tonight, we will raise a glass, both sad and hopeful, first, to the innocents, and second, to a more honest, a more just, and a better Canada.