Celebrating National Flag of Canada Day

By: The Hon. Andrew Cardozo

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Hon. Andrew Cardozo rose pursuant to notice of February 13, 2024:

That he will call the attention of the Senate to the Canadian flag as part of celebrating National Flag of Canada Day.

He said: Honourable senators, it is indeed an honour to launch this inquiry on the Canadian flag on flag day, co-sponsored by senators Salma Ataullahjan, Jane Cordy, Lucie Moncion and Rebecca Patterson. I’m delighted that other senators will speak to this subject today and in the days ahead. You will hear a series of short speeches on this topic.

Colleagues, this morning as I walked here to the Senate building, I stopped by the Centennial Flame and marvelled at the flag atop the Peace Tower. I thought of the ceremony that happened on February 15, 1965 — 59 years ago. Then, Lester B. Pearson was Prime Minister, John Diefenbaker was leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, Tommy Douglas was the leader of the New Democratic Party, Réal Caouette led the Créditistes and Georges Vanier was the Governor General of Canada.

I will add that the late former senator Landon Pearson, the daughter-in-law of former Prime Minister Pearson, talked about watching the ceremony with a brood of Pearson grandchildren in the Prime Minister’s office, which was then in the East Block. It was a cold February morning, a lot colder than today.

Getting a new flag had not been easy. Pearson had a deep belief that we needed a made-in-Canada flag that had no colonial ties. He said:

I believe that today a flag designed around the Maple Leaf, will symbolise and be a true reflection of the new Canada.

In 1964, Pearson proposed this publicly at the Royal Canadian Legion convention in Winnipeg, where he really walked into the lion’s den — in fact, the lion’s jaws. The Legion, although an extremely patriotic group, did not want to see the flag changed.

A committee of MPs subsequently held more than 35 meetings and received more than 3,500 submissions from Canadians.

The Pearson pennant featured three maple leaves with narrow blue bars on either side. The version that was approved was designed by historian George Stanley.

The first flag was sewn by Joan O’Malley from November 6 to November 7. She literally sewed it overnight, and is only one of two women to appear in the history of the Canadian flag.

Interestingly, the other woman is Margaret Konantz, one of very few women MPs at the time, a Liberal MP from Winnipeg of Métis ancestry and the only Indigenous person to play a key role in the development of the flag.

The flag was approved on December 15 by the House of Commons after an incredible and not necessarily harmonious debate. The final vote took place at 2 a.m. after a six-month debate.

It then came here to the Senate for a vote. It was approved in the House of Commons on December 15. Are there any guesses as to when it was approved in the Senate? It was approved on December 17. Sober second thought was rather quick.

I think Senator Moodie might have been disappointed because, at best, they would have had just a Committee of the Whole, with no committee examination.

I’m sorry if that was too soon.

At any rate, the Queen gave it Royal Assent on January 28 in London, an occasion that was attended by both Pearson and Diefenbaker, which is important to note because Diefenbaker had been totally opposed to the new flag. However, once it was passed, he was present for the Royal Assent.

The occasion wasn’t overly joyous, however, because the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition were in London for the state funeral of Winston Churchill. Churchill had died on January 24; during the week between his passing and his funeral, our wonderful flag received Royal Assent.

It is fitting that we had a more joyous occasion here on February 15, the day that the new maple leaf flag was officially raised on Parliament Hill for the first time. The maple leaf has become a well-recognized symbol around the world, one that Canadians can wear with great pride. We often hear that other people wear it on their backpacks to pass as Canadians, because they are better accepted that way.

At home and abroad, it means so much to so many. It’s certainly a possession of great pride for every new Canadian when they take their oath of citizenship. That is certainly something I can attest to.

I have two thoughts: First, while the flag inspires great pride for most Canadians, this feeling is not necessarily as prevalent among Indigenous people, as the flag does symbolize the Canadian state and, in some ways, colonialism; it is a state that has not always been kind to Indigenous people and a flag that sometimes flew atop residential schools.

Second, more recently I’ve become concerned that the Canadian flag has been adopted by people who want to see governments removed by undemocratic means and feel an unlawful extended occupation of our nation’s capital and harassment of innocent citizens are fair forms of civil disobedience — people who fly it in protest, sometimes upside down or defaced.

In my own way, I want to say on the record that our maple leaf flag symbolizes us as a country, a people and a society, and we must respect and defend it. It is the flag of one of the best countries in the world, a country that reaches for the top and, unlike most others, is willing to examine its imperfections and work to overcome them. That is the genius of the Canadian state and the enormity of Canadian society.

Thank you.

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