By Darren Lum
When my father came to this country at 15 with a duffle bag of clothes and a hope for a brighter future he knew little about Canada. He just knew it was a start of another chapter in a place he now calls home.
For him it was an opportunity to find a new life, make money to send home and to leave the only place he knew in Macau, a country at the time that was still rebuilding after the Second World War. The Canadian flag we know now wasn’t even around when he saw snow for the first time on the winter night he arrived in Toronto, which was just before the final push via an anxiety-inducing train trip where all he could see out his window was black and a blur of passing trees for hours on his way to Timmins where he toiled away serving drinks and food, and mopping floors day after day at his uncle’s restaurant/bar for three years. He eventually returned to Toronto to resume his education and spent a lifetime working long hours in far-flung places like Flin Flon, Manitoba to make a life and raise a family. His life, my life and my brothers is tied to this country like so many immigrants and their children. I wonder what I’d be doing, if he stayed? So, when he flies the Canadian flag it’s with this understanding. He is in many ways what contemporary Canada is built upon. This isn’t to ignore the Indigenous peoples of this country, who were here long before and had an established society.
My father is like many who don’t consume a lot of news. He’s not fully cognizant of how the flag has been co-opted in the last few months by a segment of the population that feel their freedoms have been taken from them during the pandemic by health measures to reduce the transmission of a virus that has left the world reeling. He just sees them as disgruntled Canadians protesting with the flag. The flag still holds the idea of a dream fulfilled. He always says it’s a free country and they can do what they want.
Yes, a free country. Despite the perception we’re losing our freedoms, the reality is we can go where we want and see who we want for the most part, with little interference. The occupation of Ottawa was an exhibition of that, as is the ongoing processions that have been held.
Perspective is a powerful thing though.
Read about how the Chinese Communist Party has handled the pandemic, and it’s clear their idea of a lockdown is one where no one is allowed to leave their residence, let alone travel to Florida to see Mickey Mouse. Yes, we have had health measures imposed. And, yes, there has been government mandates that have confounded.
The flag can be co-opted for causes that don’t fit our idea of what it should be. It can be what it is, which is representative of a country with a history that includes opportunity for some, tragedy for others and pride for all with perspective. At 155 years, we’re a young country. Our flag is even younger. It came to be on Feb. 15, 1965 after much political debate. When someone talks about how our veterans from the last great war fought under our flag they’re taking a page out of the American patriotic playbook. The Canadian Red Ensign flag is what they fought under and was part of the resistance to the flag we now have.
With the invasion of Ukraine, and with the subsequent attacks on civilians by Russian soldiers, it’s clear what the loss of freedom can mean for some. My father knows what war is about first hand, witnessing the brutality and the loss of freedoms that come when occupiers invade your country. He carries those invisible scars now.
My father will always see the flag for what it means to him: an opportunity and a dream fulfilled for a brighter future, which became the present that enabled his sons to be in a place where they can write about how they feel for a place that they call home.