I am a proud Canadian.
That shouldn’t even need to be said, but before I launch into the rest of this I think I should make it clear right off the hop. I am third generation Canadian, and I have never taken for granted this incredible nation or the people who inhabit it; but this week I found myself both disheartened and disappointed by the response to my most recent blog post.
In that post I shared my excitement at the Pride event coming to Fort McMurray this summer, and I mentioned a controversy I had noted regarding a flag that has surfaced at other Pride events across the country. It is a modified Canadian flag, and as there is no prohibition on modifying the flag it breaks no laws; and yet it has become quite a lightning rod for dissension.
What was most disheartening to me was that when I chose a photo of the modified Canadian flag to accompany my blog post on my professional freelance writing Facebook page, what readers focused on was not the content of my post but rather that image; and while there were a few flag purists in the crowd who simply believe the Canadian flag should never be modified, it became increasingly clear that for others the problem was not with the modified Canadian flag, but rather with LGBTQ Canadian people. And it was very clear that many did not even bother to read the accompanying blog post, reacting solely based on the image that accompanied it, displaying a knee-jerk reaction that was rooted in something far deeper than a simple attachment to the flag.
Within a period of 24 hours, I was forced to delete more comments and ban more people from accessing my Facebook page than I have done in the entirety of the last five years; and the comments deleted and individuals banned were not because they disagreed with me as I am quite okay with that, but rather due to the sheer level of hatred and anger expressed by them. It was an appalling thing to witness in 2017, and it simply reminded me that even though so much has changed, we have a long, long way to go to truly end discrimination based on sexual orientation.
It is intriguing that during the discussion taking place on my Facebook page, another was taking place on the page of a well-known beer manufacturer. This manufacturer was using the Canadian flag to promote beer sales, and in cases of beer purchased one could find one of two flags: one was the traditional Canadian flag, and the other a modified Canadian flag.
It was fascinating to see that for the vast majority this did not seem to raise any sort of concern, and even for those who thought it wrong to modify the flag the response was rather more muted than the virulent expression of disgust I was seeing with the modified Canadian flag displaying rainbow colours.
The dichotomy was striking. And it was very clear that many of the comments expressed about the Canadian Pride flag were rooted not in concern over the flag, but in bigotry and hatred for the people it represented, although those expressing these concerns often tried (in vain) to wrap themselves in the Canadian flag in an attempt to hide their hatred.
It didn’t work. These individuals expressed no concern over the hatred and discrimination faced by LGBTQ people as I mentioned in my post; they showed no outrage over the fact that LGBTQ people continue to face physical violence in our country simply due to their sexual orientation. All their concern and outrage was reserved for the flag, in this version not red and white but rather a rainbow of colours. What was exposed was the undercurrent of bigotry that remains in this nation, and it was deeply troubling to witness it so closely. If I am to be very honest, it broke my heart as I thought of my many LGBTQ family members and friends, who are as Canadian to the core as any of us are.
I am a proud Canadian.
If I walk down a street and see a Canadian flag burning next to a Canadian person burning, let me be clear: I am not going to save the flag. I will save the person, as flags do not have feelings and nor do they feel pain or injury; and yet in this country it seems we are willing to see other Canadians burned through discrimination and even physical violence with nary a peep, yet we will raise a ruckus over a modified flag.
People must come before symbols, no matter what the symbol happens to be. As much as I love the Canadian flag, I think it serves us well to remember that flags are fundamentally “brands”, a way of identifying and unifying a group, but as with all brands they can change. In fact, the Canadian flag (or “brand”) changed in 1965:
And the adoption of the maple leaf flag we now know and love was not without controversy, as my parents told me many resented the change to the current flag and protested it with vehemence, claiming it desecrated and disrespected the “real” Canadian flag. Yet over time we adopted the maple leaf, and in fact few who were not alive in 1965 would even recall that once there was a different flag flying over our nation.
Flags matter. They act as symbols of national pride and unity and they have relevance and importance, but know what matters more?
Living, breathing people of every colour, religion, sexual orientation and every other thing that makes us different and yet somehow also makes us exactly the same. Every single thing that makes us Canadian, in fact.
Canada isn’t a flag.
Canada has a flag.
Canada is the people.
Perhaps we can try to remember that.