Renewed calls to cancel Canada Day in wake of residential school gravesite discovery

OTTAWA — There are renewed calls to cancel the Canada Day holiday this year, as Canadians grapple with the recent discovery of an unmarked burial site at a former residential school in B.C.

The hashtag #CancelCanadaDay is gaining traction on social media with many arguing it should be a day to reflect on the injustices inflicted on Indigenous Peoples, including the lives lost at residential schools.

Beyond a hashtag, protests planned by Indigenous rights group Idle No More are set to take place in Vancouver and several Ontario regions on July 1.

“The recent discovery at Kamloops residential school has reminded us that Canada remains a country that has built its foundation on the erasure and genocide of Indigenous nations, including children. We refuse to sit idle while Canada’s violent history is celebrated,” reads the group’s Facebook event page.

On May 28, the remains of 215 children were found at the site of the Kamloops school formerly run by the Catholic Church. Since then, there have been calls by First Nations leaders, human rights advocates, and opposition politicians for accountability and support from all levels of government as well as cooperation by the church to find answers.

Former Truth and Reconciliation Commission chair Murray Sinclair has warned that there will likely be similar discoveries as searches continue at other former school sites.

Supporters of the push to cancel Canada Day would instead like to see a national day of mourning for those who died while attending one of the 139 schools across the country.

One event page titled “#HaltTransCanada for our stolen & murdered children” asks people to join the Anishinabek Nation in a 5-hour protest on July 1, to block the TransCanada highway “one hour for every hundred years of occupation, colonization and resistance from our people.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was asked by reporters Monday whether he supports cancelling Canada Day celebrations this year.

“I believe every single day that we need to focus on reconciliation, that reconciliation has to be a priority,” he said, before pointing blame at the federal government for inaction on this file.

“The Liberal government has said a lot, has said a lot of words and has not followed those words up with action and in doing so has hurt the Indigenous community. Your hopes are built up, you’re optimistic for the future, only for those hopes to come crashing down.”

Similar protests were planned last year following instances of police brutality against Indigenous communities, 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.

On Sunday, the statue of Egerton Ryerson was toppled on the campus of Ryerson University in Toronto after days of being vandalized following the news out of Kamloops.

The statue has long been a source of contention, as Ryerson was known as one of the key architects of the residential school system.

With a file from CTV News’ Nicole Bogart.

If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419

Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here.

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