As Canada celebrates the 150th anniversary of confederation this year, many of us have become reflective of what this country means to us. As we search for our collective identity as a nation, we often have a tendency of remembering only the positive moments that dot our history. What the documentary In the Name of All Canadians does is show us the sometimes ugly reality for some of this country’s citizens. Commissioned by Hot Docs and told through a collection of six short films, the film takes a look at how Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms changed our course as a nation and ensured certain protections. However, what happens when those laws fail us?
To the people of this country and for many around the world, Canada is known as a beacon of hope where you can live free without fear. That vision is in part due to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. There are times though when it falls short in protecting the vulnerable. In times of stress civil liberties may be put into jeopardy, and we sometimes turn a blind eye to those who have been wronged. The six stories shared in this film are forcing us to look at the unpleasant moments we like to pretend don’t exist here.
One of the common threads shared by many subjects in the film is the fight to retain their culture and heritage. L’Inspecteur looks at language rights, specifically of the French-speaking communities in Manitoba in the early 20th century. As an attempt to anglicize all Canadian citizens, the government mandated that schools would no longer be able to teach children in French and there would no longer be any French-language schools. To enforce this, inspectors were sent to ensure the laws were being followed. Told through first-hand accounts of those who lived through it and animation illustrating the stories, this is a compelling retelling of how people lived in secret and found ways to preserve their heritage. This kind of language policing has been outlawed thanks to the Charter.
In Last Resort we learn about the way of life of the Ktunaxa Nation reserve in southeastern British Columbia and their fight against the Jumbo Glacier Resort being proposed on their land. This story has played out many times over across Canada, as land belonging to First Nations tribes is continually deemed free for the taking by corporations and often times the government itself. Many have fought back—some winning, some not— and the people of Ktunaxa Nation have taken their fight all the way to the Supreme Court. They are fighting for respect of their culture, their religion, and their way of life, something that should be protected by the Charter but is continually infringed upon in the name of corporate greed. The beautiful cinematography showcasing the mountains of the Ktunaxa Nation helps us understand what’s at stake if these people lose their fight.
Lessons Injustice is one of the shorter pieces of the film but is one of the more compelling ones. The story of Danardo Jones is forcing us to look at the racism that still very much exists in this country. Given our incredible multicultural landscape, many may not even realize it’s a problem, or worse, pretend it’s not a problem. This story is told in the context of how, as a father, he must one day have this very difficult conversation with his son that he may face trouble in this country just due to the fact that he happened to born with a certain shade of skin. It’s a reminder that we must continue to work on educating and creating inclusive communities to try and rid ourselves of these harmful blights on our identity.
The rest of the stories woven throughout the film are equally as compelling and present a strong history of how in just 35 short years, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms has worked to shape Canada into a better, more prosperous and inclusive country. It also shines a light our shortcomings and what might happen if we fail to remain vigilant. It’s easy to get complacent with the continued progress of equality for all citizens of this country but as we easily see, there are still many ways the laws continue to fail the most vulnerable. We must continue to work towards being more inclusive, empathetic, and respectful so all of us can live in peace and this examination of how the Charter affects life in Canada sets us in the right direction.
In the Name of All Canadians screens throughout the month of July at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema.