Canada saved me. For me, it’s more than a great country—it’s a feeling of being permanently safe, of being a man with dignity and human rights. I have this idealistic concept of a place where people are always kind and polite. So when something contradicts this image and damages my dream, I find it hard to accept. At the same time, the moment I arrived in Vancouver I felt an affinity with Indigenous people. As a Syrian asylum seeker, I could feel their pain. As refugees, we have also been forced to leave our land. We have also been forcibly disconnected from our heritage and roots. We also left behind the ones we love with no chance of going back to our previous life.
As we discover the unmarked graves of Indigenous children, it amazes me that the calls for action concern whether or not we should celebrate Canada Day. This is not the right question. Cancelling celebrations provides moral support for those who are grieving, but we need to take other steps. We need to deal with this reality once and for all. It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be painful, it will bring up a lot of memories, but we need to deal with it. Canada Day should be a day of action, real action. We should celebrate Canada by setting the record straight and honouring a community dealing with trauma.
We are writing tomorrow’s history, the one our kids and grandchildren will read one day. Canada has a global reputation as a champion of human rights and, as a human rights advocate, I want to see us stop differentiating between causes. Whether you are fighting for Indigenous rights, LGBTQ2+ or Black Lives Matter, you are fighting for human rights. It’s the same all over the world and, if we can agree on that, it will unify us. Every day can be Canada Day. Celebrating this country is not about having a couple of drinks and lighting some fireworks—it’s about accepting that we are one nation and that we are all equal. We should celebrate this country by honouring its principles and values. Canada gave me my life back. Let’s begin to do the same for our Indigenous citizens.