LETTER: Use July 1 to honour those Canada has wronged

Iconic  Canadian author Hugh MacLennan  wrote a best selling book over 75 years ago entitled Two Solitudes about the divide between English and French speaking Canadians.

As we weep for the Indigenous peoples of Canada as more horrific stories emerge about their stolen lands, culture and children;  we realize that in fact there are many solitudes who have been unfairly dealt with in the history of this vast land from sea to sea to sea, but none more severely. Understandably some people feel that honouring our nation’s birth on July 1st will represent a diminishment of the pain administered to those other solitudes.

I can only respect their views as I can not even pretend to understand the depth of their suffering. In reading about the pending retirement of Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella on July 1st, 2021 , her 75th Birthday (including Sean Fine’s excellent article in the June 26th Globe & Mail) , this jurist who has championed laws of inclusion and gained international admiration for her lifelong determination to combat discrimination, I was struck by the circumstances and timing of her birth.

On July 1st, 1946 this daughter of Polish Jews who had lost a brother, grandparents and uncles to the holocaust emerged in Stuttgart, Germany to a world which had experienced the most atrocious genocide ever recorded  until later surpassed by the acts of Stalin and Mao.

The family, like so many others, eventually found their way courageously to Canada in 1950 via internment camps; but her Father, a trained lawyer who was not allowed to practice law in Germany was similary barred in Canada. The young Rosalie could have been forgiven if embitterment and mistrust from the tragedies that history had dealt her family were to be her life’s companions in her new land; but instead she developed a strong interest in literature, education and the law, one might imagine almost as a surrogate for her Father and rose to adjudicate some of the greatest human rights cases in our nation’s history, pushed for equality for minorities and righted injustices of historic proportions.

Out of the tragedy of her personal story came a determination to stand up to the tyranny of the majority. She protected the vulnerable; but in spite of her having every reason to believe otherwise, she believed in the capacity of the state for good.

May we on July 1st honour those that our country has wronged ; may we recognize the strength which diversity provides our Country; may we be encouraged to remember the goodness, however imperfect,  that has come from this Canada of laws, freedom, health care and social services and may we, like that young girl who came to our shores 71 years ago be determined to make them permanently applicable and accessible to all.

Respectfully submitted,

Brian Etherington

Picton, Ontario