Friday, June 29, 2012

Happy 30th Birthday, Canada Day!

Sunday, July 1st, 2012 will officially be the 30th Canada Day.  How is this possible, you ask, my gentle readers, when 2012 is the 145th anniversary of Confederation?  Is it because it's the 30th Canada Day since the passage of the revised constitution in 1982, along with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?  It's not a bad guess, but you'd be wrong.

The legislation to change the official name of the national holiday celebrated on the first of July appeared in the form of a private member's bill sponsored by Liberal MP Hal Herbert.  Herbert's bill (C-201 - submitted to the House on 6 May 1980) was bumped way up in the sequence of parliamentary business and brought forth for debate in the House of Commons on the hot afternoon of Friday, 9 July 1982, when most MPs were out of Ottawa.  It rapidly passed through the House that afternoon, with the consent of all of the MPs that were then sitting in the House.  It wasn't until early the next week that ardent partisans of the original name for the day - Dominion Day - caught wind of what had occured.  The story might well have ended here.  As my colleague Raymond Blake at the University of Regina has noted in a number of conference presentations, there had been many attempts since the 1940s to change the name of the holiday.  Some were government bills, others private member's bills, but for some reason or another, none had managed to pass through both houses.  This might well have been the fate of Herbert's bill.

Determined opponents of the name change, urged on by retired Senator Eugene Forsey and others, attempted to make a final stand in the Senate, where more detailed hearings were held on Herbert's bill.  This time, however, the legislation was not blocked, and the Senate gave its assent on 25 October 1982.  1983 was thus the first time that "Canada Day" was officially observed - although the name itself had been popularly used by many Canadians and media outlets over the previous decades.

As many of you doubtless know, the name change was far from uncontroversial, and many still use the original term of Dominion Day.  Whatever you call July 1st, I wish you a most enjoyable long weekend, and hope you spare a thought or two for our country which has done pretty well in holding together for the past 145 years.  For my part, this year I'll be staying home for July 1st, putting out my flag (courtesy of Sheila Copps' flag initative of the mid-1990s), barbecuing Canadian-themed sausages for our friends, and perhaps catching a bit of the Parliament Hill show (the subject of my past research) on TV.

Happy Canada Day!

ETA: In case you've missed it over the past couple of years, here's a link to my article in the Canadian Historical Review about Dominion Day and Canada Day celebrations.  My other published work on this tends to be in edited collections, and so is a little harder to come by online. 

Updated yet again with a new link to the description and recipe for my husband's awesome Canada Day sausages!

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Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Bill 13's passage, GSAs and the Catholic Church

Bill 13, Ontario's anti-bullying legislation, passed third reading in the legislature today.  The bill obtained 65 votes in support from the Liberal and NDP members, and 36 votes against from the Conservatives.

I'm quite pleased that this legislation passed in the final form that it assumed, which incorporated amendments giving students the right to call their clubs "gay-straight alliances" if they so chose.  This measure, of course, has infuriated the Catholic hierarchy, as one might well expect.  One can certainly expect that there will eventually be a court case pitting the denominational rights of Catholic schools in Ontario against this legislation and the rights of the students that the province seeks to protect.

What makes me quite pleased is that if there is to be a court case, the province has now made it quite clear where it stands on the very sensitive issue of explicitly using the term "gay", which the Catholic church rejects.  This means, I believe, that the province will be in the thick of it in a court case, defending its own law, rather than forcing a student group to try to make the case in court against a school board that they should be allowed to call these groups gay-straight alliances, in the absence of clear wording in the legislation to support their case.  I expect that now the financial burden of defending this legislation will rightly fall to the provincial government, rather than students and their supporters who should not have to shoulder the heavy burden of court costs to defend their position.  (And of course, if the courts do rule in favour of the Catholic boards, there always exists the option of a constitutional amendment to remove public funding for the Catholic schools, which would require the consent of only the Ontario and federal governments.)

I'm sure that the next few years will be tumultuous ones on this front as the Catholic hierarchy in Ontario lurches about like a wounded bear, aggrieved by this legislation.  I can only hope that the tide of public opinion, which currently seems to support the students and the province's legislation, holds firm as we move forward.

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