Children deserve to celebrate Canada Day

June 30th, 2015

When I was growing up in Montreal, Canada Day, then called Dominion Day, truly meant something to my family. My grandfather landed on Canadian shores in 1906 and, as the children and grandchildren of immigrants, our family loved the spirit and essence of the day. It is our country’s birthday, after all.

We celebrated by watching the fireworks display in Old Montreal from the mountain that gave the city its name, Mont Royal. Ice cream in hand and warm evening air on our backs, I began to appreciate from a young age that Canada is a country worth celebrating. If anything, Canada Day is a day for family and friends. It is a day of subtle recognition rather than bravado. Of innocuous patriotism rather than the kind of extreme nationalism one might observe in other countries. The way Canada Day is celebrated from coast to coast and to the North — and even abroad — is quintessentially Canadian.

Unfortunately, many children in Canada this week will not be able to celebrate Canada Day in any real way. No fireworks, no ice cream, no parade or flag waving, perhaps no father or mother too. These are some of the 4,392 minors who have been in immigration detention since 2005 — that’s more than one new minor detainee per day since 2005. Indeed, the number of children behind bars might be more than double that figure, as those detained with their parents and those born in Canada are not always counted.

Perhaps naively, I didn’t think Canada was a place where children were placed in indefinite detention, at least certainly not in those numbers. The fact that many of these kids’ parents have not even been charged with any crime only adds to the story, which was recently covered by Macleans magazine under the title ‘What are babies doing behind bars in Canada?’

When I thought of the opportunities and freedoms that were afforded to me in my youth and contrasted them with these innocent young Canadians, it left me cold.

The report provided details of one particular Canadian-born child who has been in such detention since birth. Although his mother is stuck in immigration limbo, her son can, in theory, leave the facility at any time. In practice, however, his mother would have to give him to child-protection services because she has no one to look after him on the outside. These are not the kinds of damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t ultimatums that Canada should be handing out. Particularly when innocent children are involved.

Another Canadian-born eight year-old girl was whisked straight from a Grade 3 classroom in Toronto to the detention centre, where she and her Ghanaian-born mother have lived ever since. She receives a few hours of schooling each week, but nothing like what she should be receiving. Her social development has stunted and her opportunities for personal development are drastically reduced, perhaps forever.

Canada, as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, has committed to the proviso that children should be detained only as a last resort. But these cases are far from last resort. These are children — Canadian children — who only want to go to school and make friends. Other countries have managed to find alternatives. The U.K., for example, allows families and children seeking asylum to be detained for a maximum of 24 hours before they are referred to social services, which must find them temporary housing. In Sweden, asylum-seeking families with children are typically released within six days to a caseworker, who finds them somewhere to live pending their claims.

As we celebrate Canada Day this year, let us first and foremost think of those innocent children living on Canadian soil who have been caught up in a system that doesn’t belong in the twenty-first (or even twentieth) century. There is no defence for such a policy.

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2 Responses to “Children deserve to celebrate Canada Day”

  • On July 3rd, 2015, Kashmir khan Omaid said ...

    Hi, My dear sir David Cohen! i hope you will accept my best regards and a gift related to Canada Day Celebrating because i don’t have some things else to serve you according to Canada Celebrating Day i hope you will accept it from me:A BRIEF HISTORY OF CANADA
    The first people in Canada crossed the Bering Straits from Asia. In the north the Inuit lived by hunting seals, walruses and whales. They also hunted caribou. On the west coast people hunted deer, bear and beaver. They also fished. On the plains people lived by hunting buffalo. In the east people grew crops of beans, squash, maize and sunflower seeds.
    The first Europeans to reach Canada were the Vikings. In 986 a Viking called Bjarni Herjolfsson was blown off course by a storm and he spotted a new land. However he sailed away without landing. In 1001 a man named Leif Eriksson landed in the new land, which he named Vinland (it was part of Canada). However Eriksson did not stay permanently. Later the Vikings did establish a colony in North America but they abandoned it because of conflict with the natives.
    However after the Vikings Canada was forgotten until the end of the 15th century. In 1497 the English king Henry VII sent an Italian named Jean Cabot on an expedition across the Atlantic to Newfoundland. Cabot discovered rich fishing waters off the coast of Canada.
    Then in 1534 and in 1535-36 a Frenchman named Jacques Cartier (1491-1557) sailed on two expeditions to Canada. On 10 August 1535 (St Lawrence’s Day) he sailed into the St Lawrence River, which he named after the saint.
    However no permanent European settlements were made in Canada until the early 17th century. In 1603 a Frenchman named Samuel de Champlain (1567-1635) sailed up the St Lawrence River. In 1604 he founded Port Royal in Acadia (Nova Scotia). In 1608 de Champlain founded Quebec. (The name Quebec is believed to be an Algonquin word meaning a narrow part of a river). In 1642 the French founded Montreal. The new colony in Canada was called New France. By 1685 the population of New France was about 10,000. By 1740 it was 48,000.
    In the early 17th century French missionaries such as the Jesuits attempted to convert the natives of Canada to Christianity – without much success. Meanwhile the French settlers traded with the natives for furs and farmed the land. Unfortunately they also brought European diseases like smallpox, to which the natives had no resistance.
    However the English were also interested in Canada. In 1610 Henry Hudson discovered Hudson Bay. (In 1611 his crew mutinied and set him adrift). In 1631 Thomas James led another expedition. James Bay is named after him. Then in 1629 the English captured Quebec. However it was returned to France in 1632.
    In 1670 the English founded the Hudson Bay Company. The company was given exclusive rights to trade with the inhabitants of the Hudson Bay area. They traded with the natives for skins and furs. Meanwhile rivalry between the British and the French in Canada continued.

    After the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713) France was forced to recognize British control of Hudson Bay and Newfoundland. The French were also forced to cede Nova Scotia to Britain.
    However more conflict between Britain and France was inevitable. During the Seven Years War (1756-1763) the two nations fought for control of Canada. In 1758 the British captured the French fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island. Then in 1759 General Wolfe captured the city of Quebec. (Wolfe’s victory at Quebec ensured that Canada would become British rather than French). Then in 1760 the British captured Montreal. Finally in 1763 the French were forced to surrender all their territories in Canada to Britain by the Treaty of Paris.
    The British were then left with the problem of how to deal with the French Canadians. Wisely they decided to treat them gently and the Quebec Act of 1774 allowed the French Canadians to practice their own religion (Roman Catholicism). The French Canadians were also allowed to keep French civil law alongside British criminal law. By 1775 Canada had a population of about 90,000. The colony was flourishing.
    When the American Revolution began in 1775 the Americans hoped the French Canadians would join them. However they were disappointed. An American army entered Canada in September 1775 and captured Montreal in November. However an attempt to capture Quebec in December failed and the American soldiers retreated in 1776.
    After the American Revolutionary War about 40,000 Americans who remained loyal to Britain migrated from the newly independent country to Canada.
    Then in 1791 the British parliament passed another act, which divided the Lawrence River Valley into two parts, Upper and Lower Canada. (Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were not affected).
    Meanwhile exploration continued. George Vancouver (1757-1798) sailed along the west coast of Canada in 1791-94. Vancouver Island is named after him. Alexander Mackenzie (1755-1820) traveled from Great Slave Lake along the Mackenzie River and reached the Arctic Ocean in 1789. In 1793 he crossed the continent by land and reached the Pacific.
    During the American War of 1812 the Americans invaded Canada but they were repulsed.

    Meanwhile in the early 19th century the population of Canada grew rapidly boosted by many migrants from Britain. A shipbuilding industry flourished in Canada and canals were built to help commerce.
    However in the early 19th century many Canadians became dissatisfied with their government. In 1791 both Lower and Upper Canada were allowed an elected legislature. However the king appointed councils with executive powers. Yet both French and English speaking Canadians wanted a more democratic form of government.
    Eventually in 1837 some Canadians rebelled. Louis Joseph Papineau led an uprising of French Canadians. However the rebellion was soon crushed. In Upper Canada William Lyon Mackenzie, who became the first Mayor of Toronto in 1834, led the insurrection. In 1837 he led an uprising, which was quickly crushed. Mackenzie himself was killed.
    However Canada finally gained democratic government in 1867 when Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were federated as the Dominion of Canada. Canada then had a strong central government, which ruled from Ottawa, the new capital. The first prime minister of Canada was Sir John Macdonald.
    Manitoba was made a province in 1870. British Columbia joined the confederation in 1871. Alberta and Saskatchewan joined in 1905.
    In the late 19th century and the early 20th century the population of Canada grew rapidly. The Canadian economy also expanded rapidly helped by the spread of railways. A transcontinental railway, the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed in 1885.
    Many Britons migrated to Canada and in the early 20th century many Eastern Europeans also migrated there. Vast areas of land were turned over to farming and manufacturing industries boomed.
    Meanwhile in 1896 gold was found in the Klondike district of the Yukon and a gold rush ensued.

    More than 60,000 Canadian men died in the First World War. Meanwhile Manitoba was the first province of Canada to allow women to vote in provincial elections in 1916. Women in Canada were given the right to vote in federal elections in 1918. By 1925 all provinces except Quebec had granted women the right to vote in provincial elections. Quebec finally gave women that right in 1940.
    The 1920s were, in general prosperous years for Canada. However like the rest of the world Canada suffered in the depression of the 1930s. Canada suffered from a huge drop in exports of timber, grain and fish. By 1933 unemployment had soared to 23%. The government introduced relief works but economic hardship continued throughout the 1930s. The depression only ended when the Second World War began in 1939. However during World War II 45,000 Canadians were killed.
    In the late 20th century the population of Canada grew rapidly. In 1951 it was 16 million. By 1961 it had risen to 18 million. After 1945 people from Southern and Eastern Europe flocked to live in Canada. From the 1960s many immigrants came from South Asia.
    Meanwhile during the 1950s and 1960s the Canadian economy boomed and Canada became an affluent society. Meanwhile television began in Canada in 1952. However things turned sour in the 1970s. In the early 1980s Canada suffered a deep recession and unemployment rose to 11%. There was another recession in the early 1990s. Yet Canada recovered.
    In 1995 the people of Quebec voted in a referendum not to secede from Canada. Then in 1999 North West Territories was divided into two and a new territory called Nunavut was created.
    Meanwhile in 1993 Kim Campbell became the first woman prime minister of Canada.
    Like other countries Canada suffered in the recession of 2009. However Canada soon recovered. In April 2012 unemployment in Canada stood at 8.1%. However by September 2013 it had fallen to 6.9%. Today Canada is a prosperous country and it has vast natural resources. Today the population of Canada is 35 million.

  • On May 31st, 2016, Anonymous said ...

    Nice to read it !

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