Find Backbone and Raise the Flag

Commentary, Aboriginal Futures, Joseph Quesnel

Manitobans may have noticed that flags at federal institutions in the province are still flying at half mast. 

This has been the case since May with the discovery of roughly 200 unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. Since that time, the prime minister had not indicated when the flags should come back up.

This is bizarre and without precedent across the Western world where a flag has not been flown this way for so long.  The reasoning is even more unusual. 

When asked when they will come up, Prime Minister Trudeau replied: “I plan to keep those flags at half mast until it is clear that Indigenous Peoples are happy to raise them again.” 

However, he did not make it clear who exactly who be making this decision or how they would be satisfied. 

In the recent federal election campaign, the issue came up during one of the debates, where Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole challenged Mr. Trudeau to finally raise the flag. This was the only time that so-called “cancel culture” was raised during the election, or in fact, any cultural issues. 

This whole issue shows how far the opinions of certain government and media elites had become disconnected from the opinions of average Canadians. Polls taken in the middle of September showed that a substantial majority of Canadians believed that lowering the flag after the discovery was the appropriate response, yet a large majority of Canadians across Canada now believe it should go back up. 

Not raising the flag communicates two things. The first is that Canadians should not be able to be proud of their country and its achievements and the second is that our government is afraid to anger or disappoint a thin strata of Indigenous activists who would even think to protest returning the flag to its normal state. 

The 18th century French writer and philosopher Voltaire once said: “To find out who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”

In this case, it is a minority of Indigenous leaders and activists.  To be clear, these are the activists and leaders who don’t live on reserves or the Indigenous scholars whose opinions are always extreme and show no concern about Canada’s sense of national self-worth. 

It is certainly not the majority of average Indigenous people, many of whom are veterans or do not believe that our flag should be flown this way forever.

When the issue was initially raised during the campaign, it was mentioned that this was silly given that being proud of this country and attempting Indigenous reconciliation can both happen at the same time. Indeed, the flag represents a country that has abandoned its attempts to officially assimilate Indigenous people and the same one that has enshrined Indigenous and treaty rights into its constitution, unlike so many other advanced industrial states with Indigenous populations. This is also the country that has apologized for the residential schools experience. 

It’s time our leaders showed some backbone and raised the flag and stopped caring what certain elites think. After all, when we honour our flag, we are honouring a country that has come a long way in protecting and advancing Indigenous people. 

Joseph Quesnel is a senior policy associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.