With Pride, World Cup, and Canada Day happening at virtually the same time, Toronto’s diversity truly is something to celebrate.
I was walking along St. Clair West the other day, and found myself in the midst of a celebration—people gathered along the street and crowded the sidewalks in the middle of the afternoon, waving the white, red, and green flag of Mexico as cars festooned in the same colours drove by blaring sirens and honking horns. The very next day I was riding the St. Clair streetcar along the same stretch and encountered another party, this one involving Chilean flag–waving sports fans.
Clearly, the World Cup is on. And chances are, if you’ve been on St. Clair at other times during the tournament so far, you’ll have seen the flags of Italy, Brazil, Portugual, and other nations waving as soccer enthusiasts from various countries take their moment to celebrate. In other neighbourhoods across the city, you’ll see similar scenes. As usual, Team Canada didn’t make it to the World Cup, but in multicultural Toronto, we can—and do—celebrate the fortunes of nearly every other team in the tournament through cultural and family ties and homeland histories.
It seems particularly fitting that Canada Day, our own flag-waving celebration of national pride, falls in the middle of the World Cup tournament. After all, July 1 commemorates Confederation, the date in 1867 when this country was founded as a bold experiment in embracing diversity. Back then, the various provinces’ largely British and French settlers codified a way of living together that recognized and preserved two different languages, religions, and even legal traditions. While the French and English were often openly racist towards indigenous people and non-Europeans (and even towards each other), the precedent of forming a federation by entrenching respect and protection of their differences in language, culture, and religion was a first step towards multiculturalism that would be expanded and embraced as time went on. Canada is a country formed out of an idea about how different cultures can live together in a free democracy, working under shared principles towards common goals. Our evolving success in doing so remains a beacon to people all over the world seeking a place to live in peace and to prosper—and Canada is ever stronger for their presence and participation in our society.
We saw some of that ongoing tradition reflected in the LGBT refugees profiled on the cover of The Grid last week to mark WorldPride. The stories of those fleeing persecution for their sexuality and identity and seeking refuge here mark an advancement of our ongoing multicultural experiment.
It’s an experiment that develops as we continue to widen our embrace. Canada’s founders expressed—in word and deed—stiff racial and ethnic prejudices against people from many places in the world (especially the First Nations here who faced centuries of brutal attempts at assimilation). Sexism was a default assumption. Our founding fathers never would have foreseen our embrace of sexual and gender diversity. But the principles that led to a constitution that entrenched protections for the (then) Catholic minority, for our two official languages, and for the unique cultural traditions of each proved sturdier than the narrow vision of the world they had at the time. The ideas—diversity, respect, and tolerance—outlasted their prejudices, and indeed those principles continue to help guide us towards inclusiveness.
The results have been far from perfect: Racism persists in Canada and here in Toronto. Our First Nations people continue to struggle under a system that has never acknowledged their rightful place or allowed them to function as self-governing partners in Confederation. It’s only recently that gay and lesbian Canadians have been included—homosexual sex was prohibited until the late 1960s, same-sex marriages have only been legally recognized within the past decade—and just this week, it was reported by Vice that a bill to protected trans people from discrimination and hate crimes appears to have be killed by Conservatives in the Senate. Meanwhile, our immigration system consigns many to a sort of permanent temporary status as employees but not citizens through the migrant worker visas. On Canada Day, even as we celebrate, we should acknowledge we have plenty of work to do.
In a city that has made “Diversity our strength” its motto, we continue to strive to carry on this tradition—just this month the city enacted a policy it first passed last year to become a “sanctuary city,” one in which undocumented immigrants can access city services without fear. And last weekend, Toronto celebrated National Aboriginal Day with various events throughout the GTA. It shows we’re aware of the benefits that come from including the knowledge and experience of every way of living in the world. And even as far as we still have to go, we do so mostly in peace, and in great prosperity. That’s a pretty amazing thing.
That we get to enjoy the celebrations in the street over the coming week—with the rainbow flag paraded beside the flags of virtually every country in the world—is a perfect expression of all that goes into making Canada and Toronto.