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Cancel Canada Day: Marches protesting Indigenous injustice held in multiple cities

TORONTO —
TORONTO — Indigenous activists across the country marked a day of mourning Wednesday with peaceful ‘Cancel Canada Day’ marches to shed light on injustices experienced in their community.

Led by Indigenous rights group Idle No More, the “Cancel Canada Day” protests honoured Indigenous, Black, migrant, women and trans lives lost.

“We will not celebrate the ongoing genocide within Canada against Indigenous people,” read a statement posted to the organization’s website.

“We will use our voices for MMIWG2S, child welfare, birth alerts, forced sterilization, police [and] RCMP brutality, and all of the injustices we face.”

Around 200 demonstrators gathered in downtown Vancouver, sharing experiences of discrimination, and discussing the high rate of Indigenous children who are removed from their families by child protection workers, and lack of clean drinking water in many First Nations communities.

In Hamilton, a peaceful vigil was held to acknowledge missing and murdered indigenous women, girls, and two spirits.

A few dozen people were on hand for a rally in Saskatoon, where event organizers spoke about Indigenous peoples struggle to find an identity within Canada.

In Fredericton, N.B., protesters took to the street for an anti-racism walk amid calls to make demonstrations like Wednesday’s march an annual event.

“This is a new beginning to a revolution that we are going to stand and keep fighting,” Halifax resident Sherry Anne Crowe told CTV Atlantic. “This is not stopping today, this Canada Day, next Canada Day or any other Canada Day, until equality for everybody is out there.”

Canada Day comes this year amid inflamed conversations surrounding police brutality against Indigenous communities, recent protests by the Wet’suwet’en Nation against pipelines, and accusations of systemic racism in health-care system in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many say celebrations including Canada Day, Victoria Day and St-Jean-Baptiste Day are symbols of colonialism.

“We have many names for our sacred lands and Canada is not one of them,” says a video posted to the Idle No More Facebook page. “We don’t celebrate Canada Day for the same reason we don’t celebrate the Holocaust. Look at all we lost for Canada to become what it is.”

Jean Becker, a senior director of Indigenous initiatives at the University of Waterloo, says the concept of recognizing July 1 as a day of mourning instead of celebration dates back to the day after confederation.

“People are always saying, ‘Why don’t you get over it? Why don’t you just forget all that stuff and join in and be Canadian and have a good time,’” Becker told CTV Kitchener.

“Well the truth is, all of that stuff is still going on today, and that’s the part that we need to talk about and we need to acknowledge.”

Speaking to CTV News Channel Wednesday, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde admits that Canada has a long way to go in achieving equality for Indigenous peoples, but urged the community to embrace a positive message of hope.

“There is a huge divide that must be closed, and we can only close that divide… by working together and have kindness and love and respect for each other as human beings,” he said.

Bellegarde adds that Canadians Indigenous communities should be recognized for the many contributions they have made to the country.

“We’ve come through a lot of hardships, there’s no question,” he said. “We’ve come through the Indian Act and the residential schools. But we’re still here, and we’re still getting stronger.”

Bellegarde is among top Indigenous leaders who have called for systemic change in policing following the deaths of two Indigenous community members at the hands of police last month.

He says there is “no denying” that systemic racism and discrimination exists in Canada.

“You can’t deny that there is systemic racism and systemic discrimination in all systems, whether it be the health care system, the justice system, the educational system. But in order to deal with it you have to acknowledge that it exists,” Bellegarde said.

“We need more and more First Nations people around decision making tables… once you get more people around those decision-making tables we see ourselves in the system and that will lead to better legislation and better policy moving forward.”

University of Guelph history professor Matthew Hayday notes that Indigenous groups are not the only ones skipping Canada Day celebrations.

“There were stark objections from members of parliament from Nova Scotia who said that, in fact, Dominion Day should be a day of lamentation because of how their province had been forced into Confederation against its will,” Hayday told CTV Kitchener, adding that Chinese communities in Canada organized “Humiliation Day” events to reflect on the racism of Canada’s Chinese Exclusion Act.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the ongoing conversation of racism during his Canada Day address Wednesday.

“Canada’s success is because of its people. People who strive to live up to our shared values of peace, equality, and compassion, and know that diversity is our strength,” he said.

“People who know that, only together, we can build a better country, where every senior has a safe place to live, and where we say no to racism, injustice, and hate. A country where we understand that our work to ensure everyone has an equal and fair chance at success is never finished.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told CTV News Channel that while he’s thankful to be a Canadian, the country still has a long way to go when it comes to addressing systemic racism and inequality.

“I think of Canada Day as a day to celebrate how far we’ve come — and there’s no doubt that this is a beautiful place that we live — but it’s also an important day to acknowledge that there’s so much more that we need to do,” he said.

“It’s an important day, we reflect on some of the successes that we have enjoyed and we’ve achieved, but we also have to reflect on some of the problems and some of the struggles and that we commit to fixing those problems.”

Singh highlighted systemic racism in policing, justice for Indigenous peoples and action on climate change as some of the primary issues still plaguing Canada to date.

“We need to make sure there’s more justice for everybody,” he said.

“I think a lot of the problems of systemic racism are also tied to inequality, things like the fact that people can’t find a good job to get ahead or afford a place to live.”

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