|The old flag|
Time to man battle stations, lads. True patriot love is commanded in all thy sons. This opinion piece just appeared in the National Post. It tries to paint the Canadian Red Ensign as a symbol of hate.
To be fair, the article claims that this is being done by groups on the “alt-right.” An anonymous spokesman for “Anti-Racist Canada” explains “racists have adopted the Red Ensign ‘to represent a time when Canada was a “white man’s country.”’” Caitlin Bailey, speaking for the Canadian Centre for the Great War, says “it has turned into a white nationalist symbol.”
It might be true that some racists have chosen to use the Red Ensign as a symbol of their beliefs. I do not know. I do not follow any racist web sites or organizations. Perhaps Mr. Hamilton does. However, the occasion for the present piece is the flying of the Ensign by the “Proud Boys” who visited (Hamilton says “confronted,” which does not seem a fair description to me) a recent anti-Canadian protest in Halifax. The implication is that, if the Proud Boys flew it, it was as an expression of racism.
The piece begins:
“When five members of the anti-immigration, alt-right Proud Boys strode into a Halifax park on Canada Day to confront Indigenous protesters, the Canadian flag they carried was more than 50 years out of date.”
This is a slander of the Proud Boys, the Ensign, and of Canada.
The idea seems to be that, from this point on, anyone who flies the Red Ensign is to be considered a racist. So much for Canadian heritage.
If you go to the Proud Boys official web site, they list one of their founding principles as “Anti-Racism.” They add, for good measure, the statement “We do not discriminate based upon race or sexuality.” They sure don’t make racists like they used to.
Accordingly, this National Post article is properly understood as an attack, not on racism, but on Canadian traditions. As well, perhaps, as on freedom of speech.
The parallel the piece itself draws to the Red Ensign is the Confederate flag in the US.
That comparison is deeply offensive. It is insulting to Canada and the Ensign. No Canadian government has ever endorsed a policy comparable in its moral depravity to slavery. Or rather, they have, and it is abortion—something implicitly endorsed, I suppose, by flying the Maple Leaf, but not the Red Ensign.
But it was even wrong for the left to suppress the Confederate battle flag as a “symbol of racism.” It might have been to them—but they had and have no business or right to impose their own racist views on others. Recently, a woman attending an auto show in Toronto area caused a major commotion over the presence of a model of the “General Lee,” the car featured in the old “Dukes of Hazzard” TV show--because it had a Confederate flag painted on its roof. I guess that is what we can expect soon with images of the Red Ensign.
|The hateful object|
The flag commonly called “the Confederate Flag,” however, was not the flag of the Confederacy: that was the Stars and Bars. It was the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. That is an important distinction. It commemorates not some policy of some government, good or bad, but the men who fought under Robert E. Lee. It is arbitrary to assign a political meaning to it: flying it honours the 250,000 or so men who died fighting under that flag.
|The real Confederate flag.|
But weren’t they fighting for slavery?
It is unlikely that many of them thought so. Almost none were themselves slave holders. In their own minds, they were fighting for their homes, their honour, their wives and children. Some were fighting for states’ rights, for the principles laid down in the American Declaration of Independence: the right to secede and to form their own government.
So too with the Red Ensign. The primary reason for flying it—and the obvious reason why it appeals in particular to military men, like the Halifax Five—is that Canadian soldiers fought and died under that banner at Vimy Ridge, on D-Day, in Italy, in Korea. It is a dishonour to their memory if we no longer fly it.
On Quora, Geoff Olynyk intelligently did a word search for “red ensign” on the two best-known Canadian right-wing web sites, Small Dead Animals and Five Feet of Fury. He found much love for the Red Ensign, but no trace of any racist associations. The racism seems to be entirely on the part of the left.
Still, if people like Graeme Hamilton, who wrote the National Post article, seriously believe the Ensign, one of our national symbols, is in danger of being co-opted by racists, the proper remedy is obvious: we should consider it our patriotic duty to all fly the Red Ensign everywhere immediately, to ensure that it cannot be. If he or anyone else calls instead for it to be taken down, they reveal their true agenda: an attack on Canada’s heritage.
I suspect this of indeed being their real agenda. They hate the Red Ensign because it, unlike the Maple Leaf, includes references to Canada’s European cultural heritage: the Union Jack in the top left quadrant, the English and Scottish lions, the Irish harp, the fleur-de-lys. The problem with it for them is that it acknowledges and commemorates that Canada developed as an extension of specifically European civilization.
But this is simply fact. If you deny or dislike this, you deny and dislike Canada. Canada exists because a large group of American colonists were determined to maintain their connection to Britain, when the US split away. They joined another large group of colonists, already here, who were determined to preserve their French and Catholic culture, and refused to join the US on those grounds.
One might object to the Ensign on the grounds that it does not, and of course cannot, include symbols for every ethnic group present in Canada: nothing for the Germans, nor Chinese, nor Haitians. But besides being impossible, this is unnecessary. Simply being from somewhere else is not the issue. It was the desire to preserve the British and French cultural connections, not the German or Haitian, that created Canada. For Chinese or Italians, it surely made little difference culturally whether they emigrated to Canada or the US.
Deny the British and the French connections, and you deny Canada’s reason to exist. Why, then, are we not Americans? Why should there be a separate nation in the northern half of the continent?
Save and defend Canada. Fly the Red Ensign.