Shaping Canadian identity

Co-written by Zara Syed

Syed in conversation with Monsef. Photo by Samantha Moss

Canada woke up on October 20th to a different political atmosphere. Arguments of unprecedented optimism aside, we no longer live in a Harper government. Let’s take a moment to acknowledge that there is no longer someone in charge insisting we call our nation’s government by his name.

That alone is a justifiable cause to rejoice. During the elections, a fire caught amongst Canadians that challenged the years of apathy that election time typically arises within the population. Voting became cool again.

Though there are many issues that we will face going forward, we are on the path to reclaiming Canada’s national identity. In Maryam Monsef’s words, “We’re reclaiming Canada’s reputation on the international stage.”

This was clear at Trent University’s launch of the International Institute for Environmental Studies. Here we were at the Gathering Space in Gzowski, celebrating the launch of a Research Park, when just recently the funding for Experimental Lakes Area research (among many other environmental initiatives) was suspended. The last decade saw the scientist muzzled, and any talk of environmental planning treated like a bad word.

During a locally- held panel called Get Science Right in 2014, Trent professors Kathryn Norlock, Marguerite Xenopoulos, and Brad Easton were trying to raise awareness in regards to slashed research funding. The Big Chill, a report that had been conducted by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), found that “90 % [of scientists] feel they are not allowed to speak freely to the media about the work they do and that, faced with a departmental decision that could harm public health, safety or the environment, nearly as many (86 %) would face censure or retaliation for doing so.”

When discussing the Research Park, there was not a hint of fear within the Gathering Space, there was only hopeful optimism. Notable individuals discussed the future that the partnership between Trent University and Nanjing University will bring, and that future looks quite bright.

It was clear that in that event in that moment within the Gathering Space, we are reclaiming what it means to be Canadian. We are reclaiming what it means to be multi-cultural, environmentally conscious, and innovators that tap into the strength of diversity and creative thinking. Trent University produces impressive alumni, and with the building of the research park, we are sure to bring to this campus some of the brightest minds that this generation will have to offer.

Identity is malleable, and often the shifting sands of politics can affect this identity. The personal reflects the political, and for many, these two are inseparable. As first generation Canadians who were not born here, this applies even more so. Many of you will relate and understand the identity crisis suffered under Bill C-24 (Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act), which affected Canadians who were not born in Canada, had parents who were not born here, or were individuals who held dual citizenship. Comments of “old stock Canadians” were thrown around casually, and the classic question of what it means to be Canadian resurfaced and became a hot topic of discussion.

This was sensationalism for some, but for us, and many like us, it was a deeply troubling situation. To be told that we were a different class of Canadian, a “second” class was nothing an insult. Rather than ponder in a pit of existentialism, we got angry.

Who were we kidding though? It didn’t matter how angry we got, or how many petitions were mailed to Parliament calling out this unjust act; the deed had been done and we were told to sit down and accept it. On this matter, the tides are changing, as the Liberals have promised to rescind this ludicrous bill.

None of us are naive. We know that Trudeau is eerily echoing the gallant promises of change and renewal that America saw during Obama’s “Yes We Can” campaign. Despite this, the facts remain, and in the short time period that he has been in power, Trudeau has made some encouraging moves. There is a resurgence and excitement surrounding the rediscovery of identity. Canada was sleeping, apathetic, and nearing a defeatist disposition.

Our international reputation was disintegrating and we were no long considered a peaceful nation. It is time to rebuild. Time to rebuild our personal relationships with this land, to acknowledge that we are entering a new era that will be more mindful and accepting than the last cold ten years that saw immigration policies quietly become stricter.

A decade is a long time, and we have both spent our developmental years under the Harper government; a government that singled out people of Middle-Eastern and Muslim descent through vicious fear mongering. Growing up as visible minorities who fell into this category, it wasn’t easy.

So, when we click on that Youtube video of Justin Trudeau wearing a shalwar-kameez and doing the goddamn bhangra, and sitting with the people Stephen Harper didn’t consider “old- stock”, we can’t help but feel a little excited, and a little relieved. The worst is over. Perhaps we can heal, Canada, while we all find ourselves again.

About Yumna Leghari 50 Articles
I am currently co-editor along with the fabulous Zara Syed. I'm a Peterborough hobbit, and often find myself writing too much poetry and struggling to be a proper adult. Just kidding, there is no such thing as too much poetry. I spent two years as a reporter before being lucky enough to become co-editor of Arthur. I love journalism of all sorts, but generally focus on music journalism and politics. As a History and English major, I tend to over-analyze everything. Luckily, the journalism world is the one place where that is accepted-one would hope. You can probably find me tucked away in a corner of Peterborough somewhere, scribbling in a notebook frantically over my fourth cup of coffee.