Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault says the department’s virtual Canada Day plans will go ahead despite calls to cancel celebrations altogether in light of the recent discoveries of unmarked graves at former residential schools.
In a press conference Tuesday, Guilbeault said the July 1 event, held online for a second year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will host Indigenous artists and musicians and will be a time for “dialogue.”
“We think that this is, and we have started using it as an important moment for dialogue and conversation, we are featuring Indigenous artists and musicians in ways we’ve never seen before for a Canada Day event,” he told reporters.
He said it’s up to individual communities whether they choose to cancel fireworks or other events on the holiday.
In a follow-up statement to CTVNews.ca, a spokesperson for the department said the national evening program will begin by showcasing Indigenous culture and a “solemn moment of reflection.”
Some Indigenous and human rights activists argue Canada Day should instead be recognized as a national day of mourning after remains were found at the former Kamloops, B.C. residential school and the Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan.
Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it should be a moment of “reflection” of past wrongdoings and also the country’s steps to reconciliation.
“Many, many Canadians will be reflecting on reconciliation, on our relationship with Indigenous Peoples and how it has evolved and how it needs to continue to evolve rapidly. We have so many things we need to work on together and I think this Canada Day, it will be a time of reflection on what we’ve achieved as a country but on what more we have to do,” he said speaking to reporters on Friday.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has been vocal about his opposition to cancelling Canada Day and said that both reflection and celebration can take place at the same time.
“When you cancel an event that celebrates our country, you lose the opportunity to not only celebrate the great aspects of our country, and the opportunity to challenge the citizens of your community, of your province, or the country in general to do better in the future,” he said on Tuesday.
“If events don’t take place, you can’t celebrate and you cannot rededicate your efforts for this country. It’s time to build our country up to, to address reconciliation, to address inequalities, not by canceling celebrations or tearing Canada down but recommitting to the principles at the core of this country.”
Asked how he intends to spend Canada Day, O’Toole said he’ll be in his Ontario riding meeting with constituents.
“There’s a small gathering with seniors that will be socially distant, I’ll be visiting with some people in the riding, the events are very subdued. But as I will do this year as I have in the past, I will talk about our country, how we need to do better, but also how I think Canada is the best country in the world, and our commitment to it means we need to commit to reconciliation.”
In Ottawa, where celebrations normally shut down the city, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, Legacy of Hope Foundation, Project of Heart, and the University of Ottawa’s education faculty are organizing a five-stop tour in a number of neighborhoods for participants to reflect on the country’s past.
“Each stop has four steps: to learn, to honour, to act, and to keep learning, through videos and other online resources. Importantly, participants are given opportunities to honour the lives and experiences of Indigenous peoples, respond to calls to action for social justice, and post and share personal messages for action,” the event description reads.
Other groups, such as the Ontario Native Women’s Association, are encouraging all Canadians to wear orange to mark the day.
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