Nova Scotia

Dalhousie student union faces backlash for not celebrating Canada 150

A fierce debate has erupted around the decision by Dalhousie University’s student union not to celebrate Canada Day on campus or partake in the nation’s 150th birthday.

Decision was 'an act of solidarity with our Indigenous members,' says VP

Dalhousie University's student union wrote on Facebook that it is committed to 'unlearning the narrative of Canada 150 and decolonizing education.' (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

A fierce debate has erupted around the decision by Dalhousie University's student union not to celebrate Canada Day or partake in the nation's 150th birthday.

The Dal Student Union passed a motion saying it wouldn't endorse the celebrations or hold events for Canada Day on campus. 

The decision was "an act of solidarity with our Indigenous members," student union vice-president Alex Hughes told CBC's Information Morning.

Hughes said the executive recognized that this year's celebrations are an act of colonialism, and that the elected body plans to continue its "unlearn 150 campaign."

Not representing students

But not everyone is on board, including one graduate student who wrote a scathing opinion piece in the National Post this week. Michael Smith argued that the union is censoring opposition and not representing the views of all students.

Mary MacDonald, a representative on the council, voted against the motion which she said was presented just moments before the vote. 

MacDonald said the decision infringes on the Charter rights of students. 

"It proposes to essentially ban Canada Day as a policy of the DSU, so the implications are very wide and far-reaching, she said. 

'Personalized backlash'

Hughes acknowledged the stance has not been popular with everyone, many of whom have spoken out on the student union's social media pages. Hughes said much of the outrage has been directed toward one executive in particular.

"We think it's really alarming that one of our women of colour executives is the person receiving this personalized backlash," said Hughes.

She added that many of the student union's executive members ran on platforms of equity and inclusion and that they're fulfilling their mandate.

"When there's 18,000 students you're never going to be able to appease everybody, so we think that supporting the most marginalized voices on campus is the best way for us to do our work," she said. 

'Disrespectful language'

In a statement, the university said the school is increasingly concerned about the tone of the debate.

"This is an opportunity for positive and productive dialogue on an important issue, related to identity and community... 

"However, this important conversation is at risk of being diminished by disrespectful language targeting individuals and groups."

With files from CBC's Information Morning and Paul Palmeter