Skip to content

Editor's column: Maple leaf can be what you want it to be

Richmond News editor Eve Edmonds gives her take on the current hesitancy to wave the flag of Canada
USED 2019-04-25-canada flag

“I’m starting to hate the Canadian flag.”

I couldn’t believe those words even came out of my mouth. I’ve always been loud and proud about waving the red and white.

Until the pandemic, I hadn’t missed a Steveston Salmon Festival parade since I moved here 20 years ago. And at every parade, I’d be there with my little paper flag (made available by the federal government) waving away.

...ah, those innocent days of patriotism.

Things have changed, or at least it seems that way — although perhaps patriotism has never been quite as innocent as it appears. The trucker protest in Ottawa in February seemed to drive that point home.

Back to my decidedly out-of-character comment. It happened when we were driving down No. 2 Road and were passed by a big, loud pickup truck (do they not come with mufflers?) with flags flying at windows on either side and a large cardboard sign attached to the tailgate that read, “F*CK TRUDEAU”. Actually, for even more patriotism, it wasn’t an asterisk but a maple leaf.

I don’t have to be a fan of Trudeau to know that driver and I probably have some significant differences of opinion. Those flags and that message on the tailgate signal more than a Canadian who happens to be critical of the current government.

Behind the wheel, I’m assuming (which of course we should never do) are a bunch of values I would find, if not abhorrent (although maybe abhorrent) at least disturbing. But that’s fine, there are lots of people whose views I find disturbing. What gives this an extra twist is using the Canadian flag — my flag. It’s a bit like hearing anti-vaxxers chanting, “My body, my choice,” the very words I chanted years ago at demonstrations in support of abortion rights.

There is something brilliant and unsettling in the tactic of turning words and symbols on their heads.

It can be both empowering and lead to a sense of betrayal, all depending on what side of the fence you’re on. I hated hearing Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In being used to sell window cleaner, yet I applauded the LGBTQ community for claiming the once-insulting word “queer” as their own.

For me, the Canadian flag has a certain meaning, and it’s a meaning I suspect does not jive with that driver’s. But maybe that’s okay because it forces me to face the reality that flag waving also has a darker side.

Just last Canada Day, following the discovery of what may be unmarked graves of children from residential schools, there was a kind of reckoning about our rah, rah nationalism.

The disconnect between what many of us are celebrating on Canada Day and the legacy of residential schools touched off a conversation across the country about what July 1 is really about.

Nationalism is a tricky thing. It feels great to be proud of one’s country. It’s affirming to point to national values and ideals we support and say, “That’s why I wave this flag!” But do we get to pick and choose what values we’re waving for when there’s so little agreement? Even the word “freedom” is up for grabs these days.

And even if we did settle on some definitions and a consensus on Canadian values, there’s always that niggling fact that international conflicts are inevitably rooted in nationalism. Despite the nice words we use to describe Canada, like any nation, we are still defined by our borders. And as soon as we have borders, we have “us” and “them” — the antithesis of inclusion and the root of most wars.

So, how to balance all that with my genuine sense of pride in where I’m from and my desire to celebrate my community?

Well, this may not be a great answer but, yes, we do get to pick and choose what values we’re waving for even when there’s so little agreement. It’s my flag, it’s the truckers’ flag and while it may mean radically different things to all of us, so be it.

Happy Canada Day.