As I accepted The Ukrainian Weekly’s gracious invitation to write a regular monthly column from a Ukrainian Canadian perspective just before both Canada and the United States celebrate their national holidays, I thought there would be no better way to launch this column than to focus on these holidays and what they really stand for.
Actually, there is very little confusion of what America’s July 4 Independence Day celebrates. It represents the signing of a statement adopted by the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, in which 13 American colonies, already at war with the Kingdom of Great Britain, would regard themselves as 13 independent sovereign states no longer under British rule. It took seven more years of war before this independence became reality under the 1783 Treaty of Paris, and by that time the 13 colonies had already signed the Articles of Confederation that were to bring them all together as the United States of America.
Many people erroneously believe that the July 1 Canada Day is somewhat similar. The website of the U.S. History Channel comes right out and boldly declares July 1 as Canada’s “Independence Day.” This is quite wrong. Nor is it correct to identify July 1 as Canada’s birthday. July 1 celebrates the passage of the British North America (BNA) Act by the British Parliament on that day in 1867. This act united three British colonies – Canada (which had existed as a political entity under that name since 1791) with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick into a Confederation and bestowed both a Constitution (the BNA Act itself) and Dominion status upon this new union. Dominion status provided the largest degree of autonomy within the British Empire, but the Parliament of the United Kingdom (the official name adopted in 1801) still maintained ultimate control over both the legislation of this Dominion and its foreign policy.
By 1914 Canada had expanded on a massive scale. Two years after Confederation, the territory of the Hudson’s Bay Company, known as Rupert’s land, was ceded to Canada. Out of this, three new provinces were created – Manitoba in 1870, and Alberta and Saskatchewan in 1905. The addition of Rupert’s Land also provided a territorial link with the far-flung western colony of British Columbia, which joined in 1871. Two years later the colony of Prince Edward Island joined. The last British colony to join the Confederation was Newfoundland in 1949.
1914 also drilled home the brutal reality of what British control over foreign policy meant. On August 4 of that year the United Kingdom declared war on Germany and all of its Dominions and other forms of colonies were brought into this conflict whether they liked it or not. Canada suffered enormous casualties during this war, due, in large part, to the incompetence of British generals. But Canada’s losses paled beside those of neighboring Newfoundland in proportionate terms. On July 1, 1916, nearly the entire 1st Newfoundland Regiment was wiped out at Beaumont-Hamel on the first day on the Battle of the Somme. It was also to have a traumatic effect on the Ukrainian pioneers who had begun to arrive on a massive scale after 1896. Over 5,000 Ukrainians were interned as “enemy aliens,” as they had come from the Austro-Hungarian Empire with which Canada was now at war.
But this war also led to a drive for independence among all the Dominions, which became effective on December 11, 1931, with the passage of the Statute of Westminster by the British Parliament. Not only Canada, but also Newfoundland, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa and the Irish Free State, got full control over their own legislation and their own foreign policy. In 1939, in order to underscore this newly obtained independence, Canada waited a full week after Britain had done so to declare war on Nazi Germany. And this took place only after a debate and vote in Canada’s Parliament.
But while the Statute of Westminster established independence over legislation and foreign policy, it still did not grant full sovereignty because the BNA ACT remained as the Constitution and remained under the control of the British Parliament. It was not until the Constitution was patriated in 1982 with a made-in-Canada amending formula that Canada became a fully sovereign nation. With that the name of our national holiday was officially changed from “Dominion Day” to “Canada Day.”
Between 1931 and 1982 several other vestiges of colonialism were also removed. Canadian citizenship was established in 1947. Prior to that, Canadians were officially designated as British subjects. In 1965 Canada finally got its own flag, and it wasn’t until 1980 that Canada got an official national anthem (“O Canada”), as opposed to the royal anthem (“God Save the Queen”), which still remains as such.
As citizens of both our countries set out to celebrate our respective holidays, it would also be beneficial to reflect upon the longstanding friendship we have enjoyed. We have been at peace since 1814, and our boundaries are often referred to as “the world’s longest undefended border.” Our cooperation in countless fields and the free flow of goods across our borders has brought prosperity to both.
But there are clouds on the horizon. This year July 1 not only marks the 151st anniversary of Canada’s Confederation, but also the official launch of Canadian sanctions imposed upon the United States in retaliation for President Donald Trump’s own sanctions on steel and aluminum, imposed under some bizarre pretext of Canada being a security threat.
This impending trade war will be mutually destructive and have severe consequences for both countries. This is something even the White House is well aware of. An internal analysis by the White House Council of Economic Advisers has concluded that a trade war with Canada will hurt economic growth in the United States. The presidential administration has attempted to keep the lid on this analysis, but The New York Times has made its contents public.
When America’s founding fathers wrote the Constitution of the United States, they very wisely enacted a system of checks and balances on the executive branch of government that can be put in place whenever a president chooses to act in a very unwise manner. A critical body in maintaining this system of checks and balances is the legislative branch of government – namely, the U.S. Congress. Thus, American citizens who are concerned about the potential conflict our two countries may be headed for should let their elected representatives know exactly how they feel.
So, as we celebrate our national holidays this year, let us all work together in a constructive way to maintain this remarkable friendship that has endured over two centuries.