Canada Day a time for sober reflection about the country's past and its future
The slaughter of a Muslim family in London and the recent discovery of residential school graves have cast a pall over this year's celebration
When I lived in a larger urban centre, I was often called on during the Christmas season to help with funerals for families without a church connection. I had a personal rule that I would never say no to helping with a funeral in that season, even if it was on Christmas Eve.
Sometimes families wanted to discuss “what to do about Christmas” in the shadow of a loved one’s death. Some chose to maintain their traditional events and customs. Others felt it improper or disrespectful to celebrate during a time of mourning. I often heard strong cases made on either side, within one family.
As an outsider, I appreciated the privilege of sitting with a family as they listened to their own hearts and to each other. As a pastor, I felt it was my role to acknowledge and honour their grief, but not to tell them how they should mourn.
When the announcement was made at the end of May that the unmarked, undocumented remains of at least 215 children were found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Residential School, there were calls to cancel Canada Day celebrations. The City of Victoria in B.C. did exactly that after two local First Nations, the Esquimault and the Songhees, withdrew their participation from previously planned online events.
And on Thursday, June 24, Chief Cadmus Delorme of the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan announced a preliminary finding of 751 unmarked graves at a cemetery near the former Marieval Indian Residential School.
There are many people, families and communities who carry stories and grief and grievances associated with the federally mandated residential school system and with the larger, underlying realities of colonialism and racism. How could we who have not lived with those wounds have anything to say about how mourning should happen?
A few days after the Kamloops announcement, there was the terrible story of what is now being called an act of terror. A 20-year-old man in London was arrested for what amounted to using his vehicle as a murder weapon. Five members of a beautiful Canadian family were on foot, waiting at a corner for the light to change, when this man allegedly drove his pickup truck over the curb and ran them down.
The driver has been charged with killing a grandmother, her son, his wife and her granddaughter. Police say terror charges will likely be added.
The only survivor of this cruel and brutal attack is a nine-year-old boy named Fayez Afzaal.
I heard a heartbreaking interview with the mother of one of Fayez’s schoolmates. She said her child wanted to know if they could bring Fazel home to live with them so he would not be alone. The child also told their mother they never wanted to go outside again and later said, if I have to go outside, I don’t want to walk on sidewalks because they are not safe for us.
My hope is that whatever we find ourselves doing on the 154th anniversary of the passing of the British North America Act in 1867, we might take a moment for sober reflection about the kind of Canada we want going forward.
We are a relatively young country even though we are building it on land that has been known, cherished and occupied long before Europeans came. I say we are building it because Canada is growing and changing. Our country is a work in progress.
I think it would do us good to take a breath, stand back a little and think, and remember, imagine, and, perhaps, even pray.
I shouldn’t tell you what to pray for when it comes to our country. We do, after all, value freedom of thought and freedom of religion in Canada.
I will tell you about my own hopes and prayers, which have to do with the life ahead for that nine-year-old boy in London.
I hope we can do better and work together with all people of goodwill, to build, rebuild and fix Canada so that it can be a place where Fayez, who watched his family die, will someday feel safe. I pray that he and his friends, actually all children of all races, cultures, religions, and backgrounds can feel safe, respected, valued and protected. I pray for a Canada in which Fayez can heal and grow and begin to feel less sad and less afraid.
Darrow Woods is the pastor at Harrow United Church. He lives in Kingsville.