LETTER: Rethinking Canada’s freedom

From reader Charles Jeanes

D-Day has been notably celebrated this month. The Winnipeg General Strike (1919) got somewhat less recent media attention. There is a relationship between these signal events in Canada’s history; both have to do with freedoms and rights Canadians enjoy.

“If you love your freedom, thank a veteran.”

Defeating Nazi Germany was a good result for World War II, since a victorious Hitler would have condemned Europe to a horrible era until the Nazis were overthrown. World War I might have ended in a German victory, and the result would not have been awful for Europe.

But officially, Canada is free because our soldiers fought in European wars, twice. Is this the story we have to keep telling? It’s the story Canada’s “authorities” propagate by many means, in schools, public celebrations, media, wherever authority can insert it into cultural norms. It was the story told (indoctrinated) for past Canadians as they fought those wars.

History tells a less simple tale. War is not how Canada became a free society, nor the U.K. or U.S. Rights — constitutional, legal, political, civil — were won, but not by our wars in Europe against Germany to defend the British Empire. People had to wrest their freedom from domestic enemies, not foreign. Suffrage (the vote) for unpropertied males, for females, and for people of non-British provenance, was won by struggle, not from the goodwill of the minority ruling class who had monopolized power before democracy.

Aboriginals in Canada will not likely celebrate “freedom” with the enthusiasm of Canadians with European roots. Votes for people other than Protestant Christians were begrudged; freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and labour organization (unions, strikes) were won by struggle — violent at times; fighting the established order and government could get one killed by the police or military.

So please, let’s complexify our story of How Canada Became Free. Veterans, take the thanks you deserve. And: every other person who’s fought in causes such as those I have named above, and many I have not, for Canadian liberties — stand tall. You too made this country free.

Charles Jeanes


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