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Puneet Luthra has always taken advantage of the Canadian flags his local MP's office gives away so he can raise one at his Toronto home.

“I just think it looks great. I think it’s beautiful,” he said.

But this year, he said, it feels different.

“The sad part is sometimes I wonder what people are going to think if I put the flag up,” said Luthra. “People could think that I'm someone with fringe ideas — like anti-vaxxers and things like that.”

The country is typically awash in red and white on the national holiday, but this year people across Canada are reflecting on their relationship with the Maple Leaf.

The "Freedom Convoy" demonstrations that gridlocked the streets of Ottawa in February may seem a long way off in the July sun, but the memory of protesters draped in flags, waving them while singing the national anthem and hanging them from the trucks whose horns blared day and night is still fresh for locals.

Ottawa is bracing for a new round of protests, with police saying this Canada Day will be "unprecedented and unique" with a never-before-seen security posture.

“People have made everyone confused about the value, the impact and the power of the Canadian flag and that's pretty sad,” Luthra said.

Blaine Chalk said he's felt a shift in his feelings about the flag's meaning since the convoy protests, during which flags were used for what he called "extreme patriotism." While dropping his son off at a recent birthday party, he saw a truck drive by with Canadian flags and convoy-related stickers.

For some, the Canadian flag has taken on new meaning this year. #CanadaDay #CanadianFlag #MapleLeaf

“It's getting a connotation of: People who are the loudest are always the ones waving the flag,” said Chalk, who lives in London, Ont.

But Megan Ball Rigden said it's the country's own complicated colonial history that has her hesitant to embrace the red and white.

“I don't think I would be waving one myself regardless of the convoy, quite frankly,” she said.

Ball Rigden said people in her mom’s generation chose the Canadian flag, and it's close to their hearts for being representative of the “good things that we are.”

She said there's a front yard in her home city of Windsor, Ont., that is “red and white with hundreds of flags.”

“That person's doing it with nothing but love, but I understand it can certainly mean a lot more for a lot of people,” she said.

During the flag debate of 1964, the Maple Leaf was adopted as a kind of symbolic decolonization gesture with francophones in mind, to illustrate an equal partnership with English and French Canada, said Paul Litt, a history professor at Carleton University who studies Canadian nationalism and culture.

“The conservative reactionary forces were totally opposed to the Maple Leaf,” said Litt, adding they wanted to keep the Red Ensign as the nation’s flag for its symbolism of Canadian tradition and ties to Britain.

At that time, English and French Canadians were termed the “two founding peoples,” he said. “You don’t do that anymore.”

Almost 60 years on from that, people in Canada are starting to see their country and its founding in a different way.

“Time passing has really changed our perspective on ourselves,” said Ball Ridgen.

She feels the flag is representative of a political system that oversaw the colonization of Indigenous peoples, noting the discoveries of unmarked graves at residential schools throughout the country.

“I think people are realizing we've really done a good job at branding ourselves in Canada as being kind and loving all the time. But like anyone else, we've had our moments of being the oppressor,” she said.

It’s that reckoning with Canada’s past that led Chalk to buy a Canadian Indigenous flag last year, designed by Kwakwaka'wakw artist Curtis Wilson.

“I felt weird flying the Canadian flag after all those events,” Chalk said.

“I felt strongly that I’d rather fly that. I'm still proud to be Canadian, but I think that we've kind of left Indigenous Peoples by the wayside for a long time.”

“It’s not perfect … but might as well try.”

The Maple Leaf's current moment reflects a general problem with public discourse, Litt said, where there are “extremist” factions at both ends of the political spectrum.

While people on the right may seem to be appropriating the flag, as seen with convoy demonstrators, he said those on the left “set themselves up for it” by rejecting a lot of sacred national symbols.

“If they're going to be unpatriotic, then we'll be super patriotic,” Litt said of the right's thinking.

Canada's national identity has always been contentious, and people can identify strongly with the flag because they project themselves onto that imagined national community, Litt said.

“The reason they love the country so much is because they see the country as representing them,” he said.

“When you start to get these dramatic incidents where there's evidence that maybe Canada means something different than what you imagined it to be — an extension of yourself — that has great potential for dissonance.”

Ball Ridgen said she understands the flag can be a hurtful symbol for some, and a symbol to be proud of for others.

“Until as a country we analyze it together, I guess we need to have a little bit of ‘Canadian understanding’ for how we all see this,” she said.

“I think there is a space now for a bigger conversation. So in that respect, perhaps the convoy did something really good for all of us."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 30, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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The Canadian flag is uniquely clean in that its only symbol is from nature, a splendid, hardy tree that grows most places across this vast country, so it wisely vaults over top of symbols from any particular human tribe or faction, including the usual "coats of arms" laden with historical military meaning. The red and white colour scheme is also fresher and more simplified, dropping the blue. It speaks to a distinctively Canadian ideal of "multiculturalism," a definitively inclusive take that has never been more timely, something that most people here are quietly proud of. The right wing freedumb morons know zero history of this place such as the fact that the Liberals are the ones who brought us the current striking flag that's respected everywhere, not to mention the Charter of Rights and FREEDOMS that they bellow about. Their total ignorance means they should get zero attention, but waving flags of any description is just another knee-jerk shortcut for them. For the rest of us, it's infuriating.
What was done to indigenous people here is a recurring theme in the world, one that is no longer even remotely acceptable. But way back in the day they were scattered far and wide in various tribes, some nomadic, some not, discrete entities unto themselves who survived much. Naturally they fought with each other occasionally, and significantly, had no common OR written language. Their cultures were also variable and worthy, but as far as conceptualizing a "country" as such, they were NOT going in that direction. This made them sitting ducks for colonization by others who had, and were, who boldly set sail on the open seas with that bent, looking for new horizons of wealth and power.
It's been the way of the world after all. HIS story.

As the Iroquois Confederacy and Cherokee Nation, among others, showed, many indigenous nations did indeed seek either independent nation status or, more commonly, federated status within the American republic federation and, eventually within the Canadian federation (as is true in many parts of the former New Spain). What made them sitting ducks was rather a combination of introduced diseases (especially smallpox), conflict with irregular forces of white settlers, notably of Scots and Scots-Irish origin in the USA, and official perfidy of colonial, thence republican and Dominion governments.

It is inaccurate to bandy about the currently hot-button buzz-words deriving from “colony.” Not all whites in the new world supported colonialism or white settlement, and not all indigenous nations opposed it. Colonization is a real thing, no doubt, but the notion that European colonies were established and functioned only for the benefit of their respective mother empires could not very well maintain in the sparsely populated New World where extermination of indigenous peoples by disease or predations by enemies (including indigenous allies of colonial officials) allowed for a kind of free-hold land-libertarianism which was cultivated to recruit for rebellion (as in the Thirteen Colonies’ Rebellion, 1776-83), or for secession (as with the Confederate States of America in 1860).

Perhaps it’s semantics, but much of the encroachments of white settlers into territories reserved first by Britain (Quebec Act, 1763) were not sanctioned or regulated by any colonial authority, nor later by the USA with regard unofficial settlement in officially reserved Oklahoma Indian Territory. The establishment of the latter was neither colony of the USA nor ever really considered candidate for confederation.

Don’t forget that the founders of white colonies in Eastern North America all originated in royal empires where federation, as such, was modelled on outdated notions of feudalism (evident in the peculiar parcelling of land lots in New France under seigneurial and Curial authority), and whose subsequent parliamentary governments were unitary, not federal. The Germanic “federates” of the post-Roman Empire hardly comprised a federation and, indeed, were eventually superseded by the Roman church, the most unitarian—or “catholic”—institution imaginable.

In the vastness and, again, sparse population of the New World (amplified by extreme mortality rates from diseases among indigenous people) could not very well be organized as a unitary colony of the unitary colonial governments of Mother Europe. It’s not that New World settlers couldn’t muster the numbers to affect such a thing, but rather that they had no tradition of it and had to make it up as they went. Apparently, as the US Civil War and current Red-State Blue-State culture wars, as Quebec and Alberta separatism, the Mormon’s aspirational Deseret, the currently aspirational American Redoubt and Greater Idaho all suggest, federalism is not necessarily an enduring, monolithic achievement.

In addition, European peoples had cultivated hate and violence amongst themselves for over a century before emigration to the colonies began —for sectarian, not racial reasons (except, naturally, insisting that fellow whites of opposing Christian denominations were separate and inferior races, with, as usual, no evidence for the prejudice). This culture, transferred to the New World, made organization of charters and crown colonies rather sectional and uncooperative—and especially for Irish and Scottish Gaels who themselves had been targets of official genocide in their homelands and for whom subjection to distant authority was an anathema. The American rebellion might have been inspired by such libertarian sentiments with regard commerce and opening up of new settlement lands, but the confederation strategically necessary to rebel was not by colonists’ nature much approved and required numerous casus bellii to inspire strategic unity. That included scapegoating white enemies to the rebel cause as well as indigenous desire to be fairly confederated. As history shows, even to today’s Red States in the USA, the notion of federalism is variable and vulnerable—even for the world’s only hegemon.

Finally: “HIS story” has become as lame as all the other slogans we hear these days: “decolonization,” “Indian Veto,” and “Consent.” Contrast that with “Reconciliation.”

One of the proposed designs for the flag had 3 maple leaves on a branched twig, one each for Canada's Indigenous peoples, those with French heritage, and those with other ethnic or national heritance.

I didn't like how it was rendered, but thought recognition of First Nations to be a good thing.