'Shame on Canada': Thousands attend Cancel Canada Day rally on Parliament Hill

A sea of orange shirts replaced the usual red and white on Parliament Hill and in downtown Ottawa on July 1, as thousands of people called to "Cancel Canada Day" following the recent discovery of unmarked graves at three former residential schools.

The Anishnabe nation and Indigenous rights group Idle No More organized the "#CancelCanadaDay" march from the Indigenous Services Canada building in Gatineau to Parliament Hill on Thursday.

In a statement on its website, Idle No More said the gathering was to "honour all of the lives lost to the Canadian state."

"We will not celebrate the ongoing genocide within Canada against Indigenous people," says a statement on Facebook. "Instead we will gather to honour all of the lives lost to the Canadian state, including the many lives lost to residential schools."

Thousands of people, many wearing orange shirts, shouted "Shame on Canada", "No pride on genocide," and "Bring them home" as they walked onto Parliament Hill.

A sea of orange shirts have marched to Parliament Hill. People shouting “SHAME ON CANADA!”, “NO PRIDE ON GENOCIDE!” And “BRING THEM HOME!” They are all here for the recent residential school discoveries. #CancelCanadaDay #CanadaDay pic.twitter.com/jKcIFxeit5

— Creeson Agecoutay (@CreesonCTV) July 1, 2021

Elders and residential school survivors started off the speakers with a prayer.

Elder Claudette Commanda said she was happy to see everyone attending the march and wearing orange.

"If Canada is true to its reconciliation, it is with nations. It is with not corporations and we are the nation," said Commanda.

Commanda added today was a day to honour the children who were recovered at the sites of the former residential schools.

"They were never forgotten."

Elder Claudette Commando reminds everyone that Ottawa and Parliament is on unceded/never surrendered Algonquin Territory. She says she is happy to see everyone show up and wearing orange. pic.twitter.com/HDHCgLCJge

— Creeson Agecoutay (@CreesonCTV) July 1, 2021

Elder Commando says she is emotional with tears that everyone came out and showed up in orange shirts. “Today is not a celebration, today is to honour 215, 751, 185, those children who were recovered and hidden and buried. They were never forgotten.” pic.twitter.com/mfZk34azei

— Creeson Agecoutay (@CreesonCTV) July 1, 2021

"This is not a day for celebrations. This is a day for reflection," said one speaker about July 1 in Canada.

“This is not a day for celebrations this is a day for reflection” says this local chief. pic.twitter.com/CbxEzCj9PZ

— Creeson Agecoutay (@CreesonCTV) July 1, 2021

The Canadian flag on the Peace Tower continues to fly at half-mast to recognize the discovery of children's remains at residential schools in Saskatchewan and British Columbia. Flags are also flying at half-mast at city of Ottawa sites.

"We're in mourning now," said Kathy Jones while standing on Parliament Hill during the rally. "This whole nation is in mourning with us."

Roads were closed in downtown Ottawa and Gatineau as the march moved to Parliament Hill.

"I think we're witnessing a real cultural moment and a really significant episode in this country's history," said John Moses of Ottawa.

Moses carries a photo of his father and aunt, telling CTV News Ottawa the pair are survivors of a residential school. Moses says more needs to be done.

"We need to do all the necessary forensic investigations, we need to settle the land claims, we need to get clean drinking water on reserves," said Moses.

The Cancel Canada Day march and rally on Parliament Hill Thursday was one of several held across the country.

"We don’t want people’s sympathy," said Jones. "We want their empathy, and we want their understanding and we want them to know the real history of this nation."

Last week, a memorial started on Parliament Hill following the discovery of 751 unmarked graves at a former residential school in Saskatchewan.  The memorial in front of the Centennial Flame includes shoes, stuffed animals and messages.

Canada Day events are cancelled in Ottawa for a second straight year due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. Canadian Heritage is hosting a virtual Canada Day celebration at 8 p.m., instead of the usual giant show on Parliament Hill and at Major's Hill Park.

In a statement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged that for some July 1, is "not yet a day of celebration."

"The horrific findings of the remains of hundreds of children at the sites of former residential schools in British Columbia and Saskatchewan have rightly pressed us to reflect on our country's historic failures, and the injustices that still exist for Indigenous peoples and may others in Canada," said Trudeau.

"We as Canadians must be honest with ourselves about our past."

On Wednesday, Mayor Jim Watson urged Ottawa residents to, "celebrate what brings us together and reflect on how we can collectively work towards reconciliation."

"While I look forward to an opportunity to celebrate our county with many residents next year, now more than more than ever it's most appropriate that we take the time to work towards meaningful reconciliation with all partners," said Watson in a statement.

"This is a time to recognize that our country's past practices, which have scarred far too many generations of First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples."

SOME OTTAWA BUSINESSES CLOSE ON CANADA DAY

Some Ottawa businesses decided to remain closed on Canada Day following the discovery of the unmarked graves and out of respect for Indigenous communities in Canada.

The Gilmour and The Merry Dairy both said they would remain closed.

"On Canada Day, we come together to celebrate Canada as one of the best and greatest countries on earth. But to truly be the best and greatest country means owning up to the brutal facts of our past and present," said the Merry Dairy in a post on Twitter on June 1.

"Each of us needs to do our own part to atone, reconcile, and live together as fellow human beings with the respect and dignity each of us deserve."

If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419.

Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here.  

With files from CTV News parliamentary correspondent Creeson Agecoutay