Canada Day 2022: What is the national celebration and why does it attract protests?

Justin Trudeau cheers unity and reminds Canadians ‘our diversity is our strength’ as Freedom Convoy truckers return to Ottawa

Are convoy protesters a threat to Canada Day in Ottawa?

Canada Day is observed on 1 July every year and marks the anniversary of the day Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick came together as one nation, paving the way for maple syrup, ice hockey, Celine Dion and the country’s many other joyous contributions to world culture.

The colonies were confederated as a single dominion of the British Empire on this date in 1867 under the British North America Act and the celebration was actually known as Dominion Day until 1982, when the Canada Act granted the country its full independence from the UK (although it remains a member of the Commonwealth).

Not unlike the Fourth of July festivities in the US, Canada Day is marked across the country – and by expatriate Canadians abroad – as a national “birthday” party, with concerts, parades, barbecues, air shows and firework displays.

But like another American holiday, Columbus Day, the occasion has been met with tough questions in recent years about its purpose, with opponents arguing that it glorifies the less savoury aspects of Canada’s past and whitewashes the devastating impact colonialism has had on its indigenous people.

Last year, protesters in Winnipeg tore down statues of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth on the grounds of the Manitoba legislature to draw attention to inequalities in Canadian society and the perceived whitewashing of its history.

“There’s a myth among Canadians that colonialism is something in our past and that myth stops us from understanding the inequities and injustices that are ongoing today,” University of Ottawa professor Lisa Howell told CBC.

Speaking in a video posted to social media on Friday, prime minister Justin Trudeau wished his fellow citizens a happy Canada Day and said: “Today, we celebrate the country we love and the people we share it with.

“Canada is home to 38 million people. Canadians who live in cities and towns – big and small – people who are indigenous to this land and those who have been here for weeks, for months, for years or for generations.

“My friends, Canada is strong because of our diversity. No matter what our faith is, where we were born, what colour our skin is, what language we speak or whom we love, we are all equal members of this great country. And today, we celebrate the place we call home.

“Now I know for some, our country’s historic wrongs can make that difficult. But while we can’t change history, we can put in the work to build a better future. One that reflects our values of hope, resilience, kindness, respect and generosity.”

Mr Trudeau’s call for unity, invoking the public spirit that brought citizens together under a common cause during the coronavirus pandemic, was perhaps an acknowledgement that Canada Day has become more contentious and that 2022’s – the first without social restrictions in place in three years – will be unlike any other.

That is because the notorious “Freedom Convoy” of truckers has vowed to return to the capital after their noisy protest against vaccine mandates earlier this year attracted headlines across the world.

The truckers hope to once more make their voices heard on Parliament Hill, ordinarily the focal point of national celebrations on Canada Day, known for its afternoon and evening concerts.

“Canada Day’s a very important day to Canadians. It’s a day where we celebrate our country and all the good things in it. But people, when they come, they need to be lawful. And they need to be respectful of our community,” the city’s police chief Steve Bell warned the organisers, urging them to be on their best behaviour.

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