Tuesday, 09 August 2016 15:29

We Owe Allegiance to One Flag, One Anthem

Commentary by Bhupinder S. Liddar

Come August 14 and 15, some in the Pakistani and Indian-origin Canadian communities will fly flags and sing national anthems to celebrate independence days of their respective former home lands – ironically, the very countries they left voluntarily to enjoy the Canadian way of life. (A big Indian parade was held in Toronto last weekend.)

The display of flags originated on battlefields to identify warring factions. Though national flags have come a long way from serving this purpose, they are still a potent political symbol of nationalism.

The national anthem, while evoking emotional sentiments, also sings praises of a country. What fascinates and baffles me is that many of these immigrants were not brought here under duress or against their will, but felt strongly about leaving their homelands and heading here of their own accord.

Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, Vaisakhi or Caribana are cultural and religious – not political – events, devoid of evoking dual political loyalty.

Loyalty is the key word here. Singing national anthems and saluting flags of former homelands evokes images of dual loyalty and patriotism.

However, it is not as offensive to see Canadians of Italian or Chilean origins run around waving Italian or Chilean flags during a soccer World Cup match.

Political loyalty

Fortunately, in today’s multicultural Canada, one enjoys the luxury and liberty to speak in one’s mother tongue, eat one’s ethnic cuisine, dress in one’s national attire and partake in numerous cultural events. All that the new country expects is that political loyalty be to one flag and one national anthem – that of the adopted country, in this case Canada.

Enjoy your emotional attachment indoors, but do not display it in public.

The problem of divided loyalties has its roots in Canada’s British political class. Canada’s two political tribes – English and French – imported their historic political and cultural rivalries to the new country, with no regard for the existing Indigenous Peoples.

As a result of English-French battles in the new country, the victorious British-designated Union Jack, flag of the United Kingdom, was adopted as the new Canadian flag. It flew across the country, with no regard to the feelings of French-origin Canadians.

That lasted until the current Maple Leaf was adopted as the official flag in 1965.

Crass vote-getting

Foreign diplomatic missions fly their flags on their office buildings and residences. Foreign national days are celebrated with receptions, hosted by diplomatic missions, on embassy premises or in hotels. Canadians, at large, and those with roots in those countries are invited and appropriately attend these events.

However, it is inappropriate for Canadians to involve themselves in hosting or organizing events to celebrate national days of their former homelands. In 2013, one foreign mission – the Indian Consulate General, in Toronto – went so far as to “sponsor” a public event for Indian diaspora, the “India Day Festival and Grand Parade”, to mark India’s Independence Day. (A similar event was repeated this year.)

In the 1990’s, Ottawa’s then mayor began flying the flag of each country that had diplomatic relations with Canada, on their respective national days, at City Hall.  He would invite Ottawa residents who were part of that country’s diaspora in the capital city to mark the national day of their former homelands.

Unfortunately, this was no more than a crass vote-getting tactic. It eventually backfired, when in September 2014, Vietnamese Canadians held a large protest against flying the flag of Communist Vietnam – the very regime they fled to seek refuge in Canada.  

Reasonable expectation

Some may wonder, “What’s in a flag”?

Well, after the close defeat of the 1995 referendum on Quebec’s desire to separate from Canada, then Deputy Prime Minister and Heritage Minister Sheila Copps, decreed that all Canadian federal government buildings across Canada should fly the Maple Leaf, as a public symbol of federal government presence.

Canada, is a relatively young country, engaged in building Canadian institutions. What Canadians need to do is to effectively contribute to these efforts and desist from displays of split loyalty and patriotism.

As at the Olympic Games, one can stand under only one flag and sing only one national anthem. Hence, the only flag that we need to fly is the Maple Leaf, sing “O Canada”, and the only National Day that we need to celebrate is July 1, when in 1867 Canada became a unified country.

It is the least one can expect in return for what Canada offers.

Bhupinder S. Liddar is a retired Canadian diplomat and former editor & publisher of “Diplomat & International Canada” magazine. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Commentary
Sunday, 09 February 2014 15:13

A Canadian at Euromaidan in Kyiv

by Mark Semotiuk

I had seen the reports. Riot police indiscriminately beat innocent women and children. Tanks were shipped into the city. 20,000 people were transported into the Kyiv and paid to attend a pro-government rally. Provocateurs were paid to start fights so that a state of emergency could be declared. The National Security Agency raided opposition offices with machine guns and closed subways due to terrorist bomb threats. Reports of Russian Special Forces, who were loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin and had no national ties to the protestors, landed in Ukraine. People talked of an impending civil war. I was afraid to go to the Maidan.

The moment I arrived, my fear melted. Tens of thousands of people greeted me to the largest cultural festival imaginable. On stage they played modern pop songs. In the crowd people grouped together and sang classic folk songs. Both the pop songs and the folk songs were about love of country and love of people. Every half hour the entire crowd burst out into the national anthem.

Grandmothers stood in the square until 4 a.m.; students would not leave. People were draped in Ukrainian flags and traditional clothing. Volunteers passed around free food and tea and manned medical tents. Young couples came here on dates. Friends shared stories, sang songs and read poems around fires to keep warm. The people were united against fear.

Through casual conversations, I learned that the people were protesting because President Viktor Yanukovych’s “democratically” elected government lost its legitimacy through corruption. Its power relies on a system of political patronage where supporters are paid with bribes or political favours. Its influence depends on propaganda and fear of economic or physical consequences. Members of the Yanukovych government embezzled money. As if that was not enough, when the Yanukovych government tried to control the people’s protests with fear, the government became undisputedly illegitimate.

Illegitimate government

The protesters told me that words of the Yanukovych government do not match its actions. The Yanukovych government claims that Ukraine cannot strengthen its ties with the European Union because of the short-term economic consequences. Yet it is the Yanukovych government that failed to implement the reforms necessary for Ukraine’s economy to grow. Supporters of the Yanukovych government claim that the West is illegitimately intervening in Ukraine. Yet it is the Yanukovych government that is illegitimately paying people to attend pro-government rallies. The Yanukovych government says that the riot police are necessary to protect the security of the country. Yet it is the Yanukovych government that is beating, torturing and killing the Ukrainian people. Through these actions the Yanukovych government has rendered itself illegitimate.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The protestors know that even after the illegitimate Yanukovych government falls there is a long and difficult road ahead. They talk about how Ukraine must crack down on corrupt practices; reform the pension sector; create an independent judiciary; implement fiscal, exchange rate, and monetary policy reform; and provide for more capital investment.[/quote]

Will to reform

The protestors aspire to modernize the Ukrainian economy so that it can grow. They want to become more economically sophisticated and diversify into different markets. They no longer want their financial well-being to rely on turning under-priced Russian materials into world-market-priced commodities. They point to Poland and other post-Soviet countries that have blossomed due to reforms implemented in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Through an immense outpouring on the streets of Kyiv, the Ukrainian people have shown the political will to bear the cost of these reforms. If the reforms are implemented, they believe Ukraine’s economy will flourish.

For Ukraine to thrive there is one reform that must be made above all. It must be united. The Yanukovych government has a political base, part of which is legitimate. But, in December, as I walked through the barricades separating pro and anti-government rallies, I saw that it was government soldiers who prevented fellow countrymen from interacting. Like Stalin the Russian despot, members of the Yanukovych government recognize that ideas are more powerful than guns.

As EuroMaidan burst out into the national anthem, the government protestors could hear them. Hundreds of the paid protesters stop listening to the political programming so that they could sing along. They longed to be united.

It is a beautiful thing. Every time Ukrainians sing the national anthem they send a message to the illegitimate Yanukovych government. In particular, they finish with the final line:

Душу й тіло ми положим за нашу свободу. І покажем, тобі Віктор, що ми, браття, козацького роду.

We will lay down our soul and our body for our freedom. And by doing so we will show you that we are brothers of the Ukrainian family.

Mark Semotiuk is a Ukrainian Canadian who has been an international election observer in Ukraine on multiple occasions.

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Eastern Europe
Sunday, 09 February 2014 04:15

A Canadian at Euromaidan in Kyiv

by Mark Semotiuk

I had seen the reports. Riot police indiscriminately beat innocent people. Tanks were shipped into the city. 20,000 people were transported into the Kyiv and paid to attend a pro-government rally. Provocateurs were paid to start fights. A state of emergency might be declared. The National Security Agency raided opposition offices with machine guns and closed subways due to terrorist bomb threats. Reports of Special Forces, who were loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin and had no national ties to the protestors, arriving in Ukraine. People talked of an impending civil war. I was afraid to go to the Maidan.

The moment I arrived, my fear melted. Tens of thousands of people greeted me to the largest cultural festival imaginable. On stage they played modern pop songs. In the crowd people grouped together and sang classic folk songs. Both the pop songs and the folk songs were about love of country and love of people. Every half hour the entire crowd burst out into the national anthem.

Grandmothers stood in the square until 4 a.m.; students would not leave. People were draped in Ukrainian flags and traditional clothing. Volunteers passed around free food and tea and manned medical tents. Young couples came here on dates. Friends shared stories, sang songs and read poems around fires to keep warm. The people were united against fear.

Through casual conversations, I learned that the people were protesting because President Viktor Yanukovych’s “democratically” elected government lost its legitimacy through corruption. Its power relies on a system of political patronage where supporters are paid with bribes or political favours. Its influence depends on propaganda and fear of economic or physical consequences. Members of the Yanukovych government embezzled money. As if that was not enough, when the Yanukovych government tried to control the people’s protests with fear, the government became undisputedly illegitimate.

Illegitimate government

The protesters told me that words of the Yanukovych government do not match its actions. The Yanukovych government claims that Ukraine cannot strengthen its ties with the European Union because of the short-term economic consequences. Yet it is the Yanukovych government that failed to implement the reforms necessary for Ukraine’s economy to grow. Supporters of the Yanukovych government claim that the West is illegitimately intervening in Ukraine. Yet it is the Yanukovych government that is illegitimately paying people to attend pro-government rallies. The Yanukovych government says that the riot police are necessary to protect the security of the country. Yet it is the Yanukovych government that is beating, torturing and killing the Ukrainian people. Through these actions the Yanukovych government has rendered itself illegitimate.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The protestors know that even after the illegitimate Yanukovych government falls there is a long and difficult road ahead. They talk about how Ukraine must crack down on corrupt practices; reform the pension sector; create an independent judiciary; implement fiscal, exchange rate, and monetary policy reform; and provide for more capital investment.[/quote]

Will to reform

The protestors aspire to modernize the Ukrainian economy so that it can grow. They want to become more economically sophisticated and diversify into different markets. They no longer want their financial well-being to rely on turning under-priced Russian materials into world-market-priced commodities. They point to Poland and other post-Soviet countries that have blossomed due to reforms implemented in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Through an immense outpouring on the streets of Kyiv, the Ukrainian people have shown the political will to bear the cost of these reforms. If the reforms are implemented, they believe Ukraine’s economy will flourish.

For Ukraine to thrive there is one reform that must be made above all. It must be united. The Yanukovych government has a political base, part of which is legitimate. But, in December, as I walked through the barricades separating pro and anti-government rallies, I saw that it was government soldiers who prevented fellow countrymen from interacting. Like Stalin the Soviet despot, members of the Yanukovych government recognize that ideas are more powerful than guns.

As EuroMaidan burst out into the national anthem, the government protestors could hear them. Hundreds of the paid protesters stop listening to the political programming so that they could sing along. They longed to be united.

It is a beautiful thing. Every time Ukrainians sing the national anthem they send a message to the illegitimate Yanukovych government. In particular, they finish with the final line:

Душу й тіло ми положим за нашу свободу. І покажем, тобі Віктор, що ми, браття, козацького роду.

We will lay down our soul and our body for our freedom. And by doing so we will show you that we are brothers of the Ukrainian family.

Mark Semotiuk is a Ukrainian Canadian who has been an international election observer in Ukraine on multiple occasions.

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in International
Friday, 11 October 2013 00:11

Québec's very problematic Charter proposal

by Richard M. Landau

I grew up in Québec.  We saw nuns in full habit everywhere: in schools, driving cars, the shopping centre.  That Québec … steeped in religion, where penitents mounted the stairs to Montréal’s Oratoire St. Joseph on their knees, has rapidly faded. Under the proposed new charter, a nun in habit, entering a Québec public school to teach, would be violating the Charter. The Charter is very concerned with how people’s choice of attire may offend others.

That’s why, when the current revisionist and, I must point out, minority government tries to claim that a neutral and religion-free society is a long-held Québec value that must be protected, I chortle. You see, if anyone is failing to understand and respect traditional Quebecois values, it is this Charter and this government.

The Marois government tells us this proposed Charter will affirm Québecois values.  That’s modernist revisionist claptrap – a lie.  Traditional Québec values involve home, hearth and faith.  

Were Lalement and Brébeuf a couple of roving environmentalists?  Nicolet a Muslim?  Francois de Laval an atheist?  How do you take all the saints out of Québec and its history? Ste. Catherine Street?   Ste. Thérèse?  La Calvère (the large cross atop Mont Royal)?  Look no further than the French words to the national anthem:  “Il sait porter la croix.”

This is a political wedge issue. It won’t get passed by the currently constituted Assemblée Nationale.  Even if it did, it would never survive Federal Charter challenges.  Suffice it to say, this is part of a thinly, ahem, veiled political agenda aimed at shoring up Mme Marois’s Francophone base outside Montréal and Québec City. 

The Péquistes typically torque language and issues about who is un vrai Québecois, who is pure laine.  They did it once before in attempting to eliminate all English references from the landscape and the history. Such attempts to legislate thinking don’t always take root.  There once was a city renamed Leningrad. As a small island of seven million Francophones in a North American sea of 340 million others, Quebeckers have learned how to circle up the wagons to defend their culture against threats real or perceived. They’ve done well because Québec’s cultural contribution punches far above its weight.

Why this?  Why now?

It seems there wasn’t a problem with ubiquitous Catholic symbols, or yarmulkes or turbans being worn by public servants in the preceding 250 years.  But something has changed.  In Québec, in France and other jurisdictions, governments are reacting to a more demanding and pious expression of Islam from growing numbers of Muslim immigrants.

On the soccer fields and elsewhere, Muslims, women mostly, are being thrust into the forefront.  Ontario, a few years back grappled with whether Sharia law should have official standing.  Now, many Quebeckers, feeling confronted by a small number of Muslim women who wear niqab or burqas, are rejecting the attire.  It spreads: until quite recently there was never any problem with young Sikh men wearing turbans on a soccer field.

So the Québec government wants to draw a line before anyone tells them that the school cafeteria can no longer be serving ham sandwiches and every school must install a wudu (ritual cleansing area).  They respond: “You can wear what you want at home and in private places … but not in a government office and some public places.”

All of this is playing out against the tableau of a Québec society in turmoil, having separated not so much from Canada, but from its rock-ribbed Catholic past. And it is still rebelling.

Attempting Revisionism

Part of the revisionism is the attempt to retrofit notions of separation of church and state into a modern Québec society.  In no North American jurisdiction was there less wiggle room between church and state than there was in Québec, until the last 50 years.  Québec, like Mexico during its La Cristiada anti-clerical period, is now expurgating all past symbols and representations of the Roman Catholic Church. 

The Québec government writes that the best method to respond to religious pluralism…is to have NO public expression of religion.  What Orwellian doublespeak!  You see, they have actually chosen to favour a state religion over the others.  That religion: Atheism.

To the contrary, India as a model.  It is a secular state, which doesn’t mean a state without religion. It means a state where all religions are equal and none is accorded official status.  India, of all places, homeland to four of the major world religions (Jainism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism) and fertile ground adopted by others.

India has a Hindu President, a Muslim Vice President, a turban-wearing Sikh Prime Minister, atheist Defence Minister, and the leader of the largest party is a Roman Catholic.  Has this eroded or destroyed the historic Hinduism or the essential cultural identity of India?  Not as much, some would argue, as the adoption of Western economic and social values. Québec take note.

Flexibility, please …

On the other side of the ledger, religious adherents need to show some flexibility, too.  Time was, if you wanted to live a parochial religious life: you established your own remote colonies.  Familiar examples include: old order Mennonites, Hutterites, Doukhobours, etc. 

Common sense and flexibility must prevail.  Just because you choose to live your religion in an extreme and anti-social way, I don’t have to hire you. For example, in parts of India, the Digambara Jains walk naked through the streets as an expression of faith.  Sorry, no matter how much you invoke Charter rights, that’s not happening here.  Be realistic; the society can’t be bent into a pretzel to accommodate anti-social practices – especially ones that are not obligatory.

Still, head coverings should not be as big a problem as face coverings. Relax, Québec provides us with illustrations of what is and isn’t acceptable.  While these focus on world religions, what is going to happen when a First Nations employee of the Québec government wears a feather, carries a medicine bag, or a pipe?  You see, once you start legislating this stuff, you stray into the maudlin. 

What about an outdoor worker on a bitter cold winter day in Trois Rivières?  Can he or she still wear a ski mask? Yes, I suppose, as long as he or she can prove it was worn for warmth, not belief.

About religious attire

There is a large wave of Muslim immigrants, many of whom have no experience living in a nation where Muslims are in the minority and in which Islam has no official status.  It’s fair to point out that until recently, Muslim women could not cover their heads in Muslim-majority nations Tunisia and Turkey, and it was also once forbidden in Iran. Many Muslims believe such cover is cultural and personal, not fard (a religious obligation).

It’s also worth asking why a Pakistani or a Malaysian woman feels compelled to dress in what is essentially Arabian-style full body cover?  It’s like a Russian wearing a kilt.  The Bible doesn’t command the Mennonites to wear suspenders, I assure you.  In other words, just because someone says it is “religious attire” doesn’t necessarily make it so. Some forms of accoutrements are strictly cultural and, importantly, are non-obligatory.  So, if it is your wish to stand out as distinct from the society at large, you’re going to have to do that with the content of your character, and not your attire. Or don’t expect a public service job.

Some legal consequences

This Québec Charter will lose in a federal challenge based on Charter of Rights and Freedoms protections of religion and freedom of religious expression. 

However, it is most vulnerable to a Charter 27 challenge: "This Charter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians."

Québec is about to stray into the weeds and is going to be portrayed as intolerant.

And if Québec goes so far as to invoke the notwithstanding clause, imagine the scene when the Assemblée Nationale sergeant-in-arms forcibly removes a turbaned MNA from the assembly.  On that day, I dare every sitting member to show up wearing a turban or hijab.

Richard M. Landau has been responsible for adjudicating disputes and enforcing a television network code of ethics in a religious broadcasting setting since 1992.  He is a graduate of Carleton University and the University of Ottawa.  A leader in interfaith dialogue, Mr. Landau has consulted with the U.K. Home Office and the White House Office of Community- and Faith-based Initiatives.  He works closely with leadership in all of the major world religions.  He is author of  "What the World Needs to Know about Interfaith Dialogue."

Published in Commentary

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