By Maheen Nusrat
(London, United Kingdom)
Canada turned 150 years this year. Being a Canadian living in a foreign land away from Canada on Canada Day, yet trying to feel part of the celebration, is hard. All I could muster up was to dress up in my red and white. I started seeing my Facebook feed flooded with pictures of people dressing up in red and white and celebrating Canada day all across Canada. In some ways it was really heart-warming and nice to see so many Canadians of Pakistani origins participating in Canada Day festivities, kids painting their faces with the maple leaf, wearing Canada day t-shirts and hats. It shows the love Pakistani immigrants feel towards their adopted homeland. If we look around the world, Canada is one of the few nations providing some level of sane leadership. Whereas, hate rhetoric is consuming our neighbours down south in the US, and UK is dealing with a Prime Minister who promises to tear up human rights legislation in an effort to fight terrorism. With hate crime on the rise across the globe, but specifically so in the two nations termed leaders of the civilised world, Canada often provides a ray of hope. So, it comes as no surprise that Pakistani-Canadians feel so patriotic towards Canada.
Any of my friends in London know this well that I can be the poster child when it comes to praising Canada. I have lived in 5 different countries and travelled through many, but nothing beats how I feel about Canada. I credit my upbringing in Canada for the large part of who I am as a Canadian. To defend democracy and uphold the principles of democracy; to use my voice to speak against atrocities; to stand up for equal rights for everyone, to stand up for truth and fight for justice; to protect people’s rights to freedom of their faith and freedom of speech are all values that have been deeply entrenched in me because of my years in Canada. It is those very values that also make me view Canada day with cynicism. The reality of our Canadian history is less than perfect. Canada is not the utopian homeland my nostalgia would have my friends in London believe, but Canadian history like any nation is messy. She has her own skeletons in the closet and needs some soul searching and making amends.
As we celebrate Canada day, we need to recognise and honour the foundations of destruction of our indigenous population –on which Canada is built. We need to understand that not everyone views Canada day with the same level of fervour and patriotism because Canada day brings up a different set of reality for a large segment of our population. Actions of our original settlers and Canadians have caused physical, emotional and psychological damage to 2nd and 3rd generation native Canadians. This lesson in history is for all of us-how today’s actions can leave life-long impact on generations to come. This brings me to my next point-why this lesson teaches us how important it is to be engaged politically and demand justice and good governance from our elected officials.
Policies made at the Legislative and Parliamentary assemblies has the potential of leaving a legacy that can either make or ruin generations. British Columbia saw a change in governance after the elections of 8th May 2017- a change that was 16 years in the making. Too many decisions made by the Liberal Government and Christy Clark left many British Columbians poorer and worse off today than ever before. British Columbians sent a clear message on 8th May that the years of Christy Clark are no longer what British Columbians want; Canadians chose hope and inclusion when they rid of Stephen Harper’s oppressive regime of 9 years. This is democracy at play. It may not be perfect, it may not be the best model, but it is a model that allows us an opportunity to express our voices and elect those we see best to represent our interests. Whilst, we may have chosen progressive governments and voted for hope over hate, we have to recognise the dissenting voices amongst us, we have to open our hearts and our ears to the plight of the indigenous communities of Canada. As Pakistani-Canadians, we have a special role to play. We cannot just ask for our rights as minorities, but we must work towards understanding the plight of the indigenous. Our first step should be to educate ourselves on the topic, and if we are able then to join hands in activism and work towards a more egalitarian society. Above all, we must engage in the political process of the country that we now call home. We may be unable to undo the injustices of the past by our founding members, but we have an opportunity to right the wrong by bettering the lives of the indigenous people of Canada.
Canada may not be perfect, but it is the one country that I most closely relate to in terms of my values. It is those values of justice, equality and democracy that makes me take an objective look at our history, but also our present-to call out where and when we fail to adhere to those high standards –and if we continue to do that, then our romanticised utopian view of Canada will become reality.
Happy 150th Canada-True North strong and free. My hope is that we continue to be a beacon of hope and progressive values for the world.
Waan laysa lil insaniilla ma’ sa’aa
That man can have nothing but
what he strives for