Question Period: Canada Day 2021

By: The Hon. Wanda Thomas Bernard

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Hon. Wanda Elaine Thomas Bernard: Honourable senators, my question is for the Government Representative in the Senate.

Senator Gold, in the last few weeks we have witnessed the increasing number of unmarked graves of Indigenous children found at sites of former residential schools in Canada. Those confirmed deaths are further proof of the genocide committed by the Canadian government and the Catholic Church and uncovered by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Indigenous peoples are grieving in the wake of those horrific discoveries. We grieve with them.

On National Indigenous Peoples Day last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said they would “. . . continue to work to do better so Indigenous peoples across this country feel safe and respected . . . .” It is contradictory to go ahead with Canada Day celebrations during this time of immense grief. Many municipalities, including the Halifax Regional Municipality, have recognized that this is not a time for celebration and have cancelled this year’s celebrations to honour those children, their families and their communities.

Senator Gold, will the government show leadership and create space for Indigenous healing and reconciliation by pausing the rollout of Canada Day celebrations?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for your question, senator.

Acknowledging the harm that has been perpetrated against Indigenous peoples is an essential first step on the path toward reconciliation. In that regard, as the Prime Minister has said, the government invites everyone to take time on Canada Day to learn about the knowledge, struggles and perspectives of Canada’s many different communities to both reflect and honour the reality that our history and identity were shaped by First Nations, Inuit and Métis.

The government is, of course, aware of calls to scale back or pause Canada Day celebrations, as the honourable senator suggests, but for the time being there will be some Canada Day activities. They’ll be hosted virtually so that those who want to participate can do so safely from their homes.

But, as the Prime Minister has said, Canadians should also respect those who choose not to celebrate this year.

I also note, colleagues, that, thanks to the recent passage of Bill C-5, starting this year every September 30 will be the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour survivors, their families and communities, and to ensure that public commemoration of the legacy and history of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.

I will conclude by saying that Canada is a vast, diverse country. We are a marvellous country, but we are a work-in-progress.

On behalf of the Government of Canada, I encourage all of us to use the time to reflect on all that we need to learn and come to grips with in terms of our history. Canada is a country with a past that we must confront, but it has a future that we must build together.

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