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Canada Day and the Forcing of National Identity

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On the 1st of July, we celebrated Canada Day, or Canada’s “birthday”, that was realized on July 1st, 1867 with the Constitution Act of 1867. Basically, with this act, the three separate colonies of the Province of Canada (Quebec and Ontario), Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were united under a Dominion within the British Empire called “Canada”. As you can see, it is not really an independence as such, but the creation of the first nucleus that will evolve slowly into what we call “Canada” today. It was the first act towards the complete independence of the country that was realized with the Constitution Act of 1982.

With this article, it is not my intent to five you a history lesson, but to analyze what is a nation, and what that means for Canada, since on the news or elsewhere we hear phrases such as “across the nation”, “national security”, “national TV”, or “national anthem”, etc. As we can see, the word “nation” is used often. But what constitutes a nation, and can the residents of a country such as Canada be considered a nation?

According to Herodotus, a nation is a sum of people defined by a common ancestry, a common religion, a common language, and a common culture. Basically, it is an entity that has a common manner of communication.

So, according to Herodotus, but also according to scientists of the German School of Thought, the characteristics of a nation are defined by a common ancestry, a common language and common traditions, something that is totally true for nations such as the Greeks, the Germans, or Serbian, etc.

On the other hand, the Americans, the Russians, the Swiss, the Canadians and others identify themselves as nations, without fulfilling all the characteristics of a nation according to Herodotus or the German School of Thought, in general. For example, they differ in language like the Swiss or do not have a common tradition like the Americans or the Canadians. That is why, other scientists, those of the French School of Thought, support that the main defining element of a nation is having the sense of community, the sense that the people comprise a nation, a national community, and the way is which they identify themselves is common.

But, if we compare the level of national identity and unity, it is obvious that the Americans for instance, or the Russians, are more patriotic and have a more heightened sense of national identity than the Canadians. Why is that? Maybe we need to start at the beginning, how these nations were formed. Let’s take Canada and the U.S.A. for example: in contrast to Canada whose independence was granted, the Americans fought for theirs. Later they also went through a civil war. Their war of independence from the British Empire and later their civil war, identified and forged them into a national community with common values, purpose and vision. Similarly, the Greeks fought for their independence from a foreign nation, the Ottomans, they also went through a civil war, and have constantly waged wars or participated in social struggles since antiquity.

Where I want to go with this is that it seems, apart from the defining characteristics of national identity or consciousness as those are defined by Herodotus, the German or French Schools of Thought, there is also the factor of common struggles, be they struggles for independence from a foreign nation, social struggles as was the French Revolution for example, or political struggles as are civil wars, or revolutions against some regime, as was the revolution against the dictatorship in Greece in 1974.

So, the struggles of a sum of people, where many times you need to give your life, this in my opinion, constitutes one of the strongest motives to form a national consciousness or identity. And I ask myself, which struggles for independence or social struggles have the Canadians accomplished? And if they fought against the U.S.A. in the war of 1812, where they boast that they burned the White House down, did they fight as Canadians or as British colonists? The same is true for their participation in the world wars. And coming back today of multicultural Canada: who feels Canadian and why? What unites them and defines them as Canadians? How about the francophones of Canada, how “Canadian” do they feel? Every now and then, they want to do a referendum to secede from Canada. And if we were to agree that the Canadians do constitute a nation according to the French School of Thought, if there is a war, say a hypothetical invasion of Canada by another country, who will fight for Canada? Will its residents unite in a common front, or will they scatter and each one will go to their own country of origin? When you haven’t fought for any national or social ideals as a united entity, what does unite you? When things are just given to you and you haven’t struggled for them, will you value them or take them for granted? So, what is the future of Canada? If hard times befall Canada like an invasion or social turmoil, will Canada be able to survive, or will it disintegrate? If it is to survive, then a strong national identity is required. How can Canada accomplish that on its ethnic and cultural diversity of its residents?