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A group of people dance with the Canadian flag.
Jubilant sports fans flew the Canadian flag in 2019 after the NBA playoffs. Since then, the ‘freedom convoy’ has used the flag to try to represent their values. Has the symbolism of the flag changed? THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin

Has the meaning behind the Canadian flag changed? — Podcast

As we approach Canada Day — and the prospect of the return of “freedom” protests in Ottawa — let’s consider the meaning and symbolism of the Canadian flag.

After weeks of the so-called freedom convoy last winter, many of us took a hard look at the symbolism of the Canadian flag and its recent association with white supremacy. Some, like me, felt a new fear or anger at what they feel the flag represents.

But other communities have always felt this way about the Canadian flag.

After unmarked graves were found at the sites of former residential schools, the Canadian flag was flown at half-mast in many places to show shame for our collective history and solidarity with Indigenous communities. And last year on Canada Day, many called for people to wear orange instead of red and white.

Other movements like Landback, Resistance150, Idle No More, Pride and Black Lives Matter have also raised awareness about challenges to Canadian nationalism and belonging.

Both of our guests on this episode of Don’t Call Me Resilient have studied multiculturalism, citizenship and belonging. Daniel McNeil looks at history and culture and the complexities of global Black communities. He is a professor and Queen’s National Scholar Chair in Black Studies at Queen’s University. Lucy El-Sherif is a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto in ethnic and pluralism studies.

a sea of Canadian flags wave above a crowd
Fans cheer and wave Canadian flags before the start of the Canada-Jamaica World Cup soccer qualifying action in Toronto on March 27, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Symbols can and do change

In our conversation, Daniel McNeil said:

The flag can be many different things. But I think the critical question is to ask, why are those who acknowledge its violence depicted as killjoys or marginalized or stigmatized?“

Lucy El-Sherif said:

"We really need to think about what does it mean to be a person of colour living as a settler on Indigenous lands. And what does it mean for us to express solidarity with Indigenous people? The stakes for people of colour are very different.… Whenever we question what’s going on with Canada, [we get]: ‘Go back to where you came from. You should be grateful that you came to this country.’”

For a lot of people, the Canadian flag is a symbol to be proud of: it’s something they feel represents Canada’s multiculturalism, the idea that the country can welcome anyone. They want to fly the flag — whether at a Raptors game, World Cup match or rally.

Some writers of op-eds have pleaded audiences to fly the flag this year, to take back a symbol they feel proud of.

As McNeil said, Canada is defined as:

“welcoming to others … with positive traits of fairness, openness and generosity … we have these feelings that we’re associating with a flag, but [we should also take] seriously how others may associate that flag with pleasure or with joy. And how do we open up space for those conversations about different historical memories?”

Canadian residents from Iran who newly received their citizenship wave the Canadian flags after the citizenship oath ceremony in Vancouver, B.C., in July 2017
New Canadian wave Canadian flags after taking the oath of citizenship during a special Canada Day ceremony in West Vancouver, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Articles from The Conversation


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You can listen to or follow Don’t Call Me Resilient on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to your favourite podcasts. We’d love to hear from you, including any ideas for future episodes. Join The Conversation on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok and use #DontCallMeResilient.

Don’t Call Me Resilient is produced and hosted by Vinita Srivastava. Series co-producers are: Lygia Navarro and Haley Lewis. Vaishnavi Dandekar is an assistant producer. Jennifer Moroz is our consulting producer. Lisa Varano is our audience development editor and Scott White is the CEO of The Conversation Canada. Don’t Call Me Resilient is a production of The Conversation Canada and was produced with a grant for Journalism Innovation from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.


For an unedited transcript, go here.

Sound Credits

Thank you to the following sources for additional sound:

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