It wasn’t that long ago the Maple Leaf flag was a mostly inoffensive, and occasionally inspiring, symbol of Canadian national pride.

Yes, it was also a symbol of our colonial past and the pain that continues to inflict on Indigenous Peoples — there’s been a welcome push in recent years to treat Canada Day as an opportunity to reflect and remember as well as revel. But there was a clear difference between the patriotism our national flag inspired and the more boisterous and aggressive brand that prevails south of the border.

But as with many other things, the pandemic — and specifically the anti-democracy convoy that descended on Ottawa earlier this year to protest public health measures — has changed our flag’s meaning and message for millions of Canadians.

This year, when they see large crowds of people or vehicles waving the Maple Leaf, they’ll have good cause to wonder which version of Canada those people are actually celebrating. Is it the one that champions diversity, respects difference and values the common good? Or is it the one that prioritizes individual freedom and personal liberty, attacking anyone and anything that gets in the way of that?

As London, Ont., resident Blaine Chalk told The Canadian Press, “It's getting a connotation of: People who are the loudest are always the ones waving the flag.”

The Canadian flag is no stranger to controversy. In the lead-up to its creation nearly 60 years ago, John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservatives fought bitterly against the Pearson government’s campaign to replace the Red Ensign, Canada’s colonial flag. He insisted the flag honour Canada’s “founding races” (a term that referred to English and French Canadians, excluding Indigenous Peoples and immigrants), and the debate that ensued over it was described by historian Rick Archbold as “among the ugliest in the House of Commons history.”

In more recent years, it’s been the subject of scrutiny from the other side of the ideological spectrum, as progressives have rightly interrogated its inextricable affiliation with Canada’s colonial roots and the abuses that continue to echo into the present. Far from being a symbol of freedom and empowerment, for many people, it was — and is — emblematic of the ongoing oppression and violence against First Peoples in Canada.

In a way, the anti-vaccine convoy is doing the rest of us a favour by hugging the flag so aggressively. They’re offering up a very visible reminder of how dangerous reflexive nationalism can be, and prompting some much-needed reflection about our own past and how it has impacted different groups of people. We can take this opportunity to dig deeper and do a better job of understanding the full history that we share.

But for all of Canada’s warts, the Maple Leaf and the circumstances in which it was created are a personification of our better qualities as a country. It was the product of compromises made by a democratically elected minority Parliament, not a symbol of unbridled defiance or revolutionary freedom.

And it’s been that spirit of co-operation and mutual benefit that helped pull us through the COVID-19 pandemic in better shape than more individualistic countries and cultures. If we’re going to survive the challenges that lie ahead, from climate change and other potential pandemics to the spread of authoritarian populism, we’ll need to draw on that spirit as often as possible.

Opinion: It wasn’t that long ago the Maple Leaf flag was a mostly inoffensive, and occasionally inspiring, symbol of Canadian national pride, writes columnist @maxfawcett. #Convoy #Ottawa #AntiVaxxers

Now, more than ever, we need things that pull us out of our self-imposed silos and create a sense of shared understanding and identity. We need symbols that encourage us to celebrate what we have in common as Canadian citizens, not double down on our differences. We need things we can rally around together in order to create a sense of common purpose and shared benefit that’s bigger than our own narrowly drawn self-interest.

We need a sense of national pride that isn’t polluted by the toxic politics of the so-called “freedom” movement and its allergy to facts and reason. And we need to remember that it’s still our flag, not theirs.

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"Is it the one that champions diversity, respects difference and values the common good? Or is it the one that prioritizes individual freedom and personal liberty, attacking anyone and anything that gets in the way of that?"

Progressives also value freedom and liberty, but not at other people's expense.
The anti-mandate, anti-vaxxer, anti-masker, fossil-fuel boosting, climate change denier crowd insists on THEIR rights and freedoms while ignoring the rights and freedoms of others.
They insist on THEIR rights and freedoms, but forget their responsibilities and obligations. Rights and responsibilities go hand in hand.
These are the self-centred loudmouths and bullies from grade school who were never socialized and never grew up.

Bobby Clarke vs Paul Henderson.
Anybody who was around in 1972 knows exactly what I'm talking about.

I'd agree that the so-called "freedom" anti-vaxx brigade care nothing for other people's freedoms.

Consider that there is a large overlap between the anti-abortion crowd and the "freedom" crowd and they seem to see no contradiction in insisting on curtailing the freedoms of women while yammering about their freedom not to mask or be vaccinated. For extra irony, they often use the exact same bodily choice rhetoric women use to support their reproductive freedom--two obvious difference being that women getting abortions do not expose others to disease and possible death, and that masking and getting vaccinated are minor inconveniences, not life-changing events, making the freedom rhetoric rather hollow and whiney.

And of course few of them are big on the liberties of First Nations people, or anyone not white really, or gays, or . . . their regard for freedom is a thin fiction.

Do anti-vaxxers obey the rules of the road? A flagrant violation of their freedoms, is it not? Blatant intrusion by the state. "Authoritarian" traffic regulations and enforcement are "government overreach" at its worst.

What happens if "freedom-loving" Canadians insist on their "right" to drive on any side of the road they please?

On the road, it is reasonable to curtail individual freedoms so people can travel safely. In a pandemic, it is reasonable to curtail individual freedoms to limit the spread of disease so all of us can return to normal life as soon as possible.

As for people's right to infect their neighbours, it does not exist. There is no right or freedom to drive drunk, either.

Society restricts our behavior and activities in countless ways, and most of us comply without a fuss. Communal responsibility and civic duty. Such is the cost of living together.
Rights come with responsibilities.

As much as the disrespect that protesters have show to the Canadian Flag and using it as a protest symbol
I have decided to take the soft approach and run the Red Ensign as my display of Canadian pride.
I do wish these anti what ever crowd would design their own banner and leave the Canadian Flag where it belongs, on a flag pole! The First Nations have their flag, LGBTQ+ have their flags...
So get together and find you own.

"We need a sense of national pride that isn’t polluted by the toxic politics of the so-called “freedom” movement and its allergy to facts and reason. And we need to remember that it’s still our flag, not theirs."

Well put.

"Yes, it was also a symbol of our colonial past and the pain that continues to inflict on Indigenous Peoples" You just couldn't resist typing that, could you, Max?

But then Max goes on to say, 'But for all of Canada’s warts, the Maple Leaf and the circumstances in which it was created are a personification of our better qualities as a country. It was the product of compromises made by a democratically elected minority Parliament, not a symbol of unbridled defiance or revolutionary freedom.' Or, did you miss that part?

Yes, quite. A flag flown by people with different views indicates a democracy, as opposed to an authoritarian regime.

The article sterotypes a refugee or immigrant badly served by our immigration bureaucracy against a person who buys Tim Horton’s coffee. We learn nothing about the white person’s economic circumstances and nothing about the brown person’s politics.

Still colonial ways of thinking and speaking seems to me.

We remain a country formed by "evolution" which means a work in progress.

And why not?perhaps reading the entire article would have been the best thing to have done.

What do you mean? That's absolutely true. I guess you've missed the whole residential schools debacle somehow.

I think we have to realize when we see trucks with Canadian flags that the guys in the trucks don't actually differentiate between that flag and the one from some hockey team or other. All that our flag represents to them is the authority of government which means an edifice to knock down for the hell of it, a new, fun activity introduced by Trump and Company.
These guys are simply know-nothing morons looking for attention and a reason to roar something or other. They were nicely and appropriately marginalized in Ottawa on July 1st. Max is right; it's still our flag, not theirs.

To be fair, it's their flag, too, if they're Canadian. I don't like what they're doing with it, but it's just a flag — a symbol of a "nation state," a concept that is the source of so many of today's evils.

Here's an idea (borrowed, not original) for "taking it back": Fly or wave your flag with a sign that says, "Honk if you're vaccinated."

Ah, thanks, dad! :)

Whatever flag we had would be used and/or by whomever for whatever purpose. Even if it were a mangled melange of a Canadian Tire flyer, a Timmy's doughnut and a St. Hubert Chicken Dinner which a gaggle of Canada Geese has had way with through several rounds of recycled grass.

"... it’s been the subject of scrutiny from the other side of the ideological spectrum, as progressives have rightly interrogated its inextricable affiliation with Canada’s colonial roots and the abuses that continue to echo into the present."

Même chose.

Whatever our national(ist) symbols might be, they will always represent our checkered history and, if we try hard, some worthy aspirations for what may come to offset the past, if only to a degree.

As long as the good in Canadians' deeds outpaces the questionable (by some distance much more than a nose) we might be okay.

With a little imagination, we could use the energy generated when we get riled up to ensure that gov't actions lead Canada, and the world, maybe, towards a more positive future. Rather than merely throwing potatoes at convoy truckers.