Editorial: On Canada Day, Ottawa deserves a real party

The city that pleasure has forgotten? Ha – we’ll see about that.

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There hasn’t been a big, old-fashioned Canada Day in the nation’s capital since 2019, the « pre-COVID » days. So does Ottawa remember how to celebrate or have we, over the two-plus years of pandemic restraints and other ominous events, truly become the city the fun forgot?

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At first glance, the latter. Amid preparations for July 1, many people are hesitant in the face of unmasked and potentially infectious crowds. Many are also rightfully in conflict over the flag. Are we sending the right signal if we raise our Maple Leaf banners? Will our neighbors equate this with the rude occupation of the city center in winter?

Then there are Indigenous friends and partners, still reeling from the horrific additional details that have emerged over the past year about unmarked graves near former residential schools. Are we going to disrespect them if we spring from national pride?

The focus is understandably on managing the protests throughout this weekend – the festivities moved away from the parliamentary precincts; an enlarged pedestrian zone in the city centre; fences erected around the lawn of the Supreme Court; hundreds of other deputy police officers. How can you have a carefree birthday party under this cloud?

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In a few years, we seem to have changed. In 2017, for example, the year of Canada’s 150th birthday, huge plans unfolded for a party with half a million visitors. Unlike today, this event sparked strong complaints about TOO MUCH security. Families said they waited in line for three to five hours to pass through checkpoints on Parliament Hill. Out-of-town visitors decried the long lines (and lack of restrooms for waiting families) as an inconvenience. Meanwhile, Indigenous protesters set up a teepee on the lawn near Center Block.

The 2018 and 2019 Canada Day activities brought their own missteps. In 2018, teenagers threw firecrackers into the crowd at Barrhaven’s outdoor community party; police ended up pepper spraying a misbehaving crowd and tasering a 15-year-old. In 2019, a great Algonquin chief went on a brief hunger strike right across from Parliament Hill. And in the early hours of July 1 of that year, a man was shot dead in the ByWard Market.

In other words, Canada Day has always been a tricky mix.

Before COVID, we were driving with all that; no large crowd event is ever without challenges. So let’s start again. We are no longer the same Canada that we were in 2017, 2018 or 2019, nor the same capital. But we still love this land, filthy as it is, and frankly we deserved a reprieve. We must not forget the fun. Let’s all go out on Canada Day and eat it.


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