By Renee Sylvestre-Williams
Canada has nine federal public holidays: New Year's Day, Good Friday, Victoria Day, Canada Day, Labour Day, Thanksgiving Day, Remembrance Day, Christmas and Boxing Day. Ontario has two additional holidays: Family Day on the first Monday of February and the Civic holiday on the first Monday of August.
Most of them are secular holidays but the two religious holidays, Good Friday and Christmas, are Judeo-Christian. That makes sense when you look at the history of Canada, a country colonized by the French (Christian) and the English (also Christian despite the tendency to fight among themselves about religion).
With the changing demographic of Canadian citizens, does it make sense to have new, non-Judeo Christian holidays? Should they be official, day-off type holidays?
I say yes. I come from Trinidad, a country where Eid and Divali are national holidays and quite a few non-Hindu and non-Muslim people celebrated or acknowledged them. I've stood in assemblies about Eid and Divali (and African emancipation and Indian Arrival Day, but I digress) in my Catholic school. Trust me, most of us were just happy to have another public holiday. I think most Canadians wouldn't mind more public holidays. Public holidays are awesome.
Besides, people are celebrating their holidays and some institutions are happily (and some not so peacefully) accommodating them. Brampton allows fireworks for Divali but in Hamilton, they're looking at upholding a bylaw that limits fireworks to Victoria Day and Canada Day despite calls from cultural groups.
Institutions who have tried to accommodate other religions in an attempt to be inclusive have found themselves ruled exclusionary. York University used to cancel classes during Jewish holidays. The Human Rights Commission found that this policy was discriminatory considering at the time, 5.8 per cent of York's students were Jewish while 4.8 per cent were Muslim. York University repealed the holidays, claiming that the commission's decision wasn't part of the decision.
Maybe the next step is for the governments at all levels to declare secular public holidays for various religions. In other words, Eid, Divali and other days will be holidays and you can do what you please. Christmas seems to be the best example of your-mileage-may-vary celebrations. Some treat it like a religious holiday, while some people, like me (an anemic Catholic at best), think of it as a week-long holiday culminating with New Year's celebrations and weight gain.
The question then becomes who gets a public holiday?