On Sept. 2 of every year, government institutions such as Ottawa City Hall raise the Socialist Republic of Vietnam’s red flag with a gold star to mark its National Independence Day. Just like the Vietnamese-Canadians who demonstrated on Tuesday, I also see this flag as an offensive symbol and an atrocious tribute to a ruthless totalitarian regime that forced us to flee our war-torn nation.
Vietnamese-Canadians see this flag in the same light as Canadians would see the Nazi flag. More than 250,000 Vietnamese-Canadians began their journey in Canada as refugees and absolutely do not wish to be associated with any symbols or flags related to the single-party rule of the Communist regime in Vietnam.
This recurring flag issue is the result of common assumptions made by well-meaning, high-level public servants and politicians who do their best to establish policies that strike a balance between maintaining a bilateral relationship with Vietnam, responding to the needs of the Vietnamese-Canadian community, and advocating for human rights.
The City of Ottawa’s policy is: “In recognition of the ethnic diversity of the population of the City of Ottawa and of its unique role as the nation’s capital, the City of Ottawa will fly the flag of any nation on its national day with whom Canada has diplomatic relations.” However, the city must recognize that, unlike many diasporas in our multicultural Canadian society, Vietnamese-Canadians do not identify with the flag currently used by the regime in power in their country of origin.
After the Vietnam War, many Vietnamese refugees settled in Canada to escape retribution from the Communist North, which forced millions of Vietnamese into exodus. Refugees sacrificed a lot to escape re-education camps, political persecution, and suppression of basic human rights. The only escape route for the Vietnamese was by sea. That is why this group of refugees has become known to the world as the “Boat People.”
The City of Ottawa has a special humanitarian history with the Boat People, because it welcomed over 4,000 refugees under Project 4000, which was spearheaded by former Ottawa Mayor Marion Dewar. Mayor Jim Watson also reaffirmed this relationship with the Black April Day Proclamation on April 30, 2014. Municipal politicians are therefore required to often play a difficult role, where they have to abide by protocol while supporting their community.
Fortunately, more and more Canadians are becoming sensitive to the plight and history of Vietnamese-Canadians who are asking for their identity and their flag to be recognized. As Minister Jason Kenney stated, “the yellow flag with three horizontal red stripes stands as a legitimate symbol of the Vietnamese-Canadian community’s independence, strength and belief in national unity.” This flag, also known as the Heritage and Freedom Flag, stands as a reminder of human rights, religious freedom, democracy and the rule of law. Values that we often take for granted in Canada. Standing against the Vietnamese Communist flag is more than acknowledging the Vietnamese-Canadian identity; it is about denouncing the actions of a regime that denies the intrinsic dignity and the inherent freedoms of every person, which is the foundation of a free and just society.
Canada is home to over eight million people who trace their roots to countries that suffered under Communism. Vietnamese-Canadians are one of those numerous communities who first arrived here in search of freedom. The extent of the list of offensive flags and symbols is quite considerable, but it’s important to understand how their conflicting implications are not always black and white issues. In fact, they can easily become complex diplomatic questions.
That is why the City of Ottawa should follow the examples of other capital cities like Washington D.C. and Paris, who do not display any national foreign flags because they prefer to leave delicate official diplomatic roles and protocols to the federal government.
Thanh Hai Ngo is a Canadian Senator.
Want to read more?