For most Canadians, depending on the weather in our locale, Canada Day represents the real kickoff of summer. The kids are out of school, many workplaces are beginning a summer lull, families are looking forward to spending time together outdoors.
Canadians have rarely given ourselves over fully to the flag-waving, sleeve-wearing patriotism of many other countries. There are times when some of us lament this apparent lack of passion for our Canadian birthright, but this seeming lack of passion may well be an innate characteristic of our national spirit: a calm, reserved, nonaggressive attitude that is no less deserving, or indicative, of pride than a more fulsome nationalism.
As we observe events around the world these days, we should probably feel a special level of pride and relief at being Canadian. On every continent, it seems, crises of various proportions and types are roiling. Nigerian girls and Israeli boys are abducted by terrorists. The war in Syria has crossed the border into Israel, with an Israeli teenager dying last week from a roadside attack. Shia and Sunni combat each other in a brutal battle for control over what remains of the state of Iraq, now boiling over into Syria and Jordan – a conflict so multifarious that Western allies find ourselves in the unfathomable position of making common cause with the regime in Iran.
There are 51 million displaced persons in the world today, the highest number since the end of the Second World War. Half of these are children, fleeing violence in Afghanistan, Syria, Sudan, Somalia and elsewhere. Women and religious and ethnic minorities around the world are living in often increasingly hostile environments, with acts against their dignity, and violence to their person at intolerable levels. In Europe, far-right parties are exploiting economic difficulties to spread messages of scapegoating and blame.
A simple glance at any day’s headlines should remind us how lucky we are to be in Canada. We are certainly not without our problems. We have an ingrained history of mistreatment and inequality toward the First Nations of this place, most immediately demonstrated in levels of poverty and health outcomes in those communities that are exponentially worse than Canadian averages, and the murder or disappearance of hundreds of aboriginal women. Nor are we free from other forms of racism or injustice. This is not paradise, though by contrast to much of the world, and for most of us, it comes close.
We are fortunate to share our continent with stable neighbors with whom we share multilateral relations that are among the most peaceful and cooperative of any countries on earth. This fortunate situation is not all a matter of good geography. The comparatively peaceful situation here is not insignificantly a result of the evolution of a uniquely Canadian approach to coexistence across difference. Jewish Canadians and our communal institutions have played an important role in the successes of Canadian multiculturalism.
Our comparatively peaceable nation is also a result of factors including attitudes toward weaponry, which makes our country not immune to violent gun-related incidents, but keeps us far from the crisis situation being experienced in the United States.
All of this should not evoke complacency. We should feel gratitude for our relatively peaceable and prosperous state, but we should feel no less a sense of obligation to making the world better for all people. Our own security and well-being should not relieve us of the obligation to do what we can, as individuals and as a nation, to make things better for people in the world who do not share all of our good fortune. Indeed, our position of relative wealth, health, stability and living standards places on us a greater obligation to act on behalf of others worldwide who are not as fortunate as we are.