Since residing in Canada, almost 14,000kms away from my hometown of Melbourne, I have been contemplating aspects of my identity more than ever before. I have lost count of the number of times I have introduced myself as being 'from Australia', immediately distinguishing myself as the outsider, a subject of curiosity for locals. Yet the longer I stay here, the more I feel that I could easily identify with 'being' Canadian. This past week, however, I felt more like a tourist, visiting Niagara Falls, watching the Pride Parade and taking a harbour cruise in Toronto. I spent Canada Day in cottage country doing what many Canadians do, spending time with family, activities by the lake, eating and drinking.
As we cruised along the clear fresh waters of Lake Minden, I noticed the display of patriotism that has become so familiar to me in this great northern land, the Canadian flag that flies from every vantage point, not just on notable days, but every day of the year. I quite like this flag because, unlike the Australian counterpart, it does not include the Union Jack, and is relatively apolitical, with the innocuous emblem of the maple leaf, rather than some potentially offensive reminder of colonization. Flags and anthems are amongst the most overt displays of patriotism, that complex beast that is so readily misconstrued and misused. I detest the lyrics of most national anthems, for their colonialist origins and invariably military/paternalistic fervour. Yet, for some unexplicable reason, I have at times developed a lump in my throat while listening to the swelling melodies played at sporting events, as national champions stand proudly on the podium. This is more about empathy and admiration than patriotism, as I am often equally moved by the hard-fought achievements of competitors from 'rival' teams and nations. I guess there's something compelling about the hand on the heart as a national flag is raised.
At Toronto Pride, I was struck by the disparate ways in which the Canadian flag was displayed, and wondered how some 'true patriots' might feel about this appropriation of their national symbol. The traditional maple leaf juxtaposed with the rainbow flag constituted a striking representation of the celebration of diversity that many Canadians proudly claim to be a marker of their identity. The iconic leaf was emblazoned on PFLAG T-shirts and festooned on community service vans as reminders of Canadians' commitment to fostering a safe, supportive and caring society.
This year, the world famous Toronto Pride parade attracted media attention for reasons unrelated to half-naked men in leather chaps. This year, the parade coincided with the Canada Day long weekend, creating a potential 'conflict of interests' for many traditionalists. My partner and I decided to return from the cottage a day early, to watch the parade. The Mayor of Toronto (Rob Ford)elected to remain in cottage country with his family, sparking both criticism and praise from his constituents (with numerous signs screaming "screw the cottage"). According to Ford, he made the choice of cottage over community because his daughters had complained that they hardly see him on weekends. This 'family first' decision was publicly condoned by Rob's brother, Councillor Doug Ford. Despite the fact that this weekend was traditionally set aside for family gatherings, the debate about the duties of a civil servant is a no-brainer. For the mayor of the city, attendance at Toronto Pride is an essential part of what Sergiovanni describes as "symbolic and cultural leadership". Ford's non-attendance at one of the city's major cultural events signalled where his priorities lay, while highlighting an attitude that still prevails in even the most 'progressive' of societies.
The concept of patriotism is still inextricably tied with notions of loyalty and duty to family (by implication patriarchy), and within the conservative dogma in particular, 'family' is still part of a heteronormative paradigm. As one citizen hypothesized in an online forum, Mayor Ford would surely not have chosen the cottage over the NFL finals. You see, patriotic fervour is analogous with sporting fanaticism, while national pride fosters and aspires to the same ideals of achievement and domination over 'the other team'. Perhaps then, the shadow side of patriotism results from this conflation of pride with superiority, thereby contributing to the presence of xenophobia and the development of a sense of tribalism (the 'us against them' mentality). Those who do not belong to the dominant country, clan or culture are automatically perceived and treated differently. Cue the cries of "Un-Australian" or "Un-Canadian", as applied to anyone who dares to speak against the ruling political parties or espouse values that contravene so-called 'accepted norms'.
Contrary to the status conferred on those who display unwavering allegiance to their country, within both Australia and Canada, there is generally less admiration for those individuals and groups who are courageous enough to express political dissent, especially if they happen to be protesting against ruling conservatives. Patriotism seems to have morphed into Nationalism, as the personal becomes political. For my part, I reject both 'isms', preferring to be proud of the endeavours, achievements and visions of those who strive for human rights, social justice, equity and harmony, regardless of their country, creed or culture. If my job entailed demonstrating my pride of the LGBTQ community and supporters who gather in solidarity to celebrate diversity and inclusion, then I would give up a family get-together at the cottage anyday. After all, surely we who attended Toronto Pride are simply another manifestation of 'family', proudly flying the Canadian flag in a demonstration of 'true patriot love'.
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Fred Hollows Foundation