Long a symbol of unity and goodwill, the Maple Leaf has been cynically co-opted

A couple of years ago we were out of town for a wedding. During a sudden rainstorm I ducked into a shop to buy a ball cap. It was Roots so the options were limited and pricey! I chose a black one emblazoned with a Canadian flag.

It’s become my Canada Day hat. Most of the time it sits on the top shelf in our hall closet.

The other day, another rainy day, I reached for a cap and my hand found the one from Roots. I like the hat. It’s probably the best made, and certainly the most expensive, ball cap I’ve ever owned. But I couldn’t wear it.

I love Canada. I’m a born and raised Canadian and have lived most of my life in this country. A few years living in the U.S. served to remind me, more than a hat could, of my Canadian roots. But I couldn’t bring myself to wear the cap because of the way our flag has recently been used.

In February, I took part in a fundraising walk in support of Windsor’s Downtown Mission. Our group walked on County Road 50, against the flow of traffic, and enjoyed relative safety on the bike lane.

There was a moment when the driver of a big pickup truck coming toward us signalled and then moved over to the other lane to give us a wide berth. Several of us waved our gratitude. The driver tooted his horn in reply.

As the truck sped away and back into its lane we noticed it was decorated with Canadian flags. There were also some profane words about the current Prime Minister, who has been labelled by a local political candidate as the “one of the, if not the most, hated men in Canada.”

It was too late to shield the eyes of the kids in our walking group and hard to explain to them why we were cheerfully waving at the truck.

Members of the walking group, who come from a variety of political leanings, expressed concern the driver (and the kids in our group) might interpret our happy waving as agreement with the sentiments expressed on the sides and back of his vehicle. Rude words waving in the wind alongside our flag.

And that’s my problem with the Roots cap. If I wear a Canadian flag in public will I be seen as expressing love for our country or hatred for our elected leader? Another way to say it is to ask whether our flag, long seen as a symbol of unity and goodwill, has been cynically co-opted for divisive purposes.

I am the padre of the Harrow Legion and take quite seriously the commitment to uphold the values of our country and to support those who wear a uniform to protect Canada. I come from a military family and have grateful memories of my uncle, who served in several peacekeeping missions and proudly wore our flag during his service in some very dangerous places.

My uncle was deployed on UN missions to places in which the rhetoric of hate was used to justify heinous acts of violence. Canadians have historically put their lives on the line to keep people who’ve been fired up with hatred from killing each other and innocent bystanders.

There is no place for hatred in our political discourse. Those who make targets of our elected leaders, who deem it acceptable to spew their hatred and aim personal attacks at them, should be called out for their immature, bullying behaviour.  

Darrow Woods is the pastor at Harrow United Church. He lives in Kingsville.

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