Opinion: National Days dilemma

August 9, 2016

Come Aug. 14 and 15, some in the Pakistani- and Indian-Canadian communities, will fly flags and sing national anthems to celebrate independence days of their respective former homelands — ironically, the very countries they left voluntarily to enjoy the Canadian way of life!

The only flag that we need to fly is the Maple Leaf, writes former diplomat Bhupinder Liddar. ADRIAN WYLD / THE CANADIAN PRESS


The displaying of flags originated on battlefields to identify warring factions. Although national flags have come a long way from serving this purpose, they are still a potent political symbol of nationalism. The national anthem, while evoking emotional sentiments, also sings praises of a country. What fascinates and baffles, however, is that many immigrants were not brought here under duress or against their will, but felt strongly about leaving their homelands and heading here of their own accord.

Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, Vaisakhi or Caribana, are cultural and religious and not political events, and are devoid of evoking dual political loyalty. “Loyalty” is the key word here. Singing national anthems and saluting flags of former homelands evokes images of dual loyalty and patriotism. However, it is not as offensive to see Canadians of Italian or Chilean origins run around waving Italian or Chilean flags during soccer’s World Cup.

Fortunately, in today’s multicultural Canada, one enjoys the luxury and liberty to speak in one’s mother tongue, eat one’s ethnic cuisine, dress in one’s national attire, and partake in numerous cultural events, from coast to coast to coast. All that the new country expects is that political loyalty be to one flag and one national anthem — that of the adopted country, in this case Canada. Enjoy your emotional baggage indoors, but do not display it in public.

The problem of divided loyalties has its roots in Canada’s British political class. Canada’s two political tribes — English and French, imported their historic political and cultural rivalries to the new country, with no regard for the existing indigenous peoples. As a result of English-French battles in Canada, the victorious British designated the Union Jack, flag of United Kingdom, as the new Canadian flag. It flew across the country, with no regard to feelings of French-Canadians, until the current Maple Leaf was adopted as the official flag in 1965.

Foreign diplomatic missions fly their own flags on their office buildings and residences. Foreign national days are celebrated with receptions, hosted by diplomatic missions, on embassy premises or in hotels. Canadians, at large, and those with roots in those countries, are invited and appropriately attend these events. However, it is inappropriate for Canadians to involve themselves in hosting or organizing events to celebrate national days of their former homelands. In 2013, one foreign mission. the Indian Consulate General in Toronto, went so far as to “sponsor” a public event for the Indian diaspora to mark India’s Independence Day.

In 1990s, Ottawa’s mayor decided to fly the flag on the national day of each country that has diplomatic relations with Canada. He would invite Ottawa residents, originally from each of these countries, to mark the national day of their former homelands. Unfortunately, this was no more than a crass vote-getting tactic. It backfired when, in September 2014, Vietnamese-Canadians held a large protest against flying the flag of Communist Vietnam — the very regime they had fled to seek refuge in Canada!

Some may question: “What’s in a flag”? Well, after close defeat of the 1995 referendum on Quebec’s desire to separate from Canada, then-Deputy Prime Minister and Heritage Minister Sheila Copps decreed that all Canadian federal government buildings across Canada should fly the Maple Leaf as a public symbol of the federal government’s presence.

Canada, as a relatively young country, is engaged in building Canadian institutions. What Canadians need to do is to effectively contribute to these efforts and desist from displays of split loyalty and patriotism. As at the Olympic Games, one can participate under only one flag and sing only one national anthem. Hence, at these community events, the only flag that we need to fly is the Maple Leaf, the only song we need to sing is “O Canada”, and the only National Day that we need to celebrate is July 1. It is the least one can expect in return for what Canada offers.

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