Thoughts On Climate Justice and Nationalism in Canada

by Sonia Grant 

It’s crucial that Canadians know what their government is doing (and perhaps more saliently, not doing) at COP17. As such, some activists here have been talking about how to develop media hooks that will capture the country’s attention. One narrative that comes up a lot in these discussions is that of Canada’s dwindling international reputation. Canada, so it goes, is no longer seen as a gentle peacekeeping nation, but rather as a giant bully.

While it’s true that perceptions of Canada may be shifting among members of the international community, I want to argue that this is NOT the narrative that climate justice organizers should be mobilizing around.  Indeed, I feel that in many ways a discourse around Canadian national pride conflicts with a climate justice analysis.

First and foremost, this discourse  – that Canada was once a global force for peace and must return to those days in order to reinstate Canadian national pride– draws on a deeply flawed interpretation of history that sweeps over a history of colonization and marginalization. It takes for granted a national imaginary founded on stolen native land, and which rests on the continued exclusion of Indigenous peoples, migrants, racialized communities, women, queer folk, and all minorities. To call on Canada to revert to its ‘peacemaking’ days is to dismiss this country’s colonialist legacy and its past and current imperialist interventions in other countries, while at once attempting to evoke within Canadians patriotic sentiments that could serve to further uphold forms of oppression still prevalent in Canada.

I also fear that drawing on Canada’s declining international reputation distracts from a justice analysis of climate change. Canada’s climate policy is not about its image on the international stage. It’s about the country’s historical responsibility to take serious climate action, about its moral imperative to support frontline communities in Canada to adapt to the impacts of a changing climate in their localities. Canada should, for instance, shut down the tar sands, not because the European Union would approve, but because this massive industrial project is destroying the livelihoods of downstream communities, and, if fully exploited, the tar sands mean “game over for the planet”.

But what about the media hook? Is using nationalist rhetoric justified if it means attracting greater public attention to climate change? I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s acceptable to draw on one problematic frame in order to highlight another one. Issues like climate change or imperialism are systemic and inextricably linked. To value one over the other will pose limitations in struggles for systemic change.

I’m not ashamed to be from Canada because, to be frank, I don’t identify as Canadian, although I do love and feel connected to the landscapes where I grew up. Am I instead an Acadian, or a ‘global citizen’? I don’t know. And for me, this sort of identity politics matters less than forging political affinities with folks from across spaces and movements that are committed to the same principles of social justice as I am. However, I do recognize my power and privilege as a person who was born and who continues to live in Canada, and this is why I feel a responsibility to push the Canadian government to start taking climate action. This personal imperative doesn’t come from a place of embarrassment or nostalgia for a false and idealized Canadian identity, but rather from a place of anger and a thirst for justice.


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