10 defining moments that changed Canada in 2015

What a year, right?

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trudeau syrian refugees

Between a heated electoral race, an edge-of-your-seat baseball season and a global humanitarian crisis, this year had moments that were exhilarating, heartbreaking and occasionally unbelievable. These are the stories that captivated us most in 2015. 

The arresting image of Alan Kurdi
Much like Vietnam’s “napalm girl” or the lone protester taking on a tank in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, few things mobilize diplomatic action and stir empathy of the international community quite like a compelling image of war. In the case of the Syrian refugee crisis, it was the small, lifeless body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, who washed up on the beach not far from the Turkish resort town of Bodrum in September. The toddler was one of 12 Syrians who drowned while fleeing to Europe to escape ongoing, violent clashes between Islamic State insurgents and Kurdish forces. The photo, both gruesome and heartbreaking, underscored the extraordinary risks being taken by Syrians in pursuit of a better life and placed Canada’s own refugee policies under scrutiny during the fall election. This week, Kurdi’s uncle, aunt and five cousins landed in Vancouver to start a new life — but surely not without a reminder of great loss.

Canada welcomes new neighbours
In early December, 163 Syrian refugees disembarked a Canadian jet at Toronto’s Pearson Airport. Their welcoming committee? None other than Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister himself. The image of our head of state handing out winter coats became a symbol for Canadian warmth. It also signified a big shift in Canadian foreign policy after months of debate on the country’s immigration laws, electoral fearmongering and skepticism about the feasibility of a thousands-strong resettlement project. Yet despite some pushback, Prime Minister Trudeau committed to welcoming 25,000 new Canadians by February 2016.


Related: How Canadians are helping Syrian refugees


Bautista’s epic bat flip
You remember the flip. You might’ve forgotten what came before, in that hour-long seventh inning of the last game of the ALDS: That it was tied 2–2, that the Jays had retired two Texas batters, that a guy on third scored after a dead ball was determined, in fact, to be live. That play was delayed for 18 minutes while Jays fans rained garbage on the field. That the first three Toronto batters reached base on errors and that a misplayed blooper scored one of them. And then, most likely, your memory kicks back in: Bautista is at the plate and he is crushing the ball and the entire stadium detonates and he flips his bat. Yes, that bat flip was a bad-ass move, well worth memorializing on jack-o’-lanterns and Christmas sweaters. But the context matters, because the flip wasn’t just cool: It was cathartic. After languishing in mediocrity for 20 years, this team had finally made it to the postseason, had galvanized an entire country, had battled back from two games down — and suddenly bad luck and dumb umps were just going to take that from us, and we were powerless to stop it. But then, like all heroes, Bautista reclaimed what was rightfully ours. We can imagine how preposterously good that must have felt but we don’t need to. Bautista showed us.

A whirlwind year for Alberta
In 2015, big shake-ups on the Western front came in the form of a political and economic one-two punch. First, Rachel Notley clinched the premiership, leading the NDP to its first provincial majority in more than 44 years. (Also cool: Her caucus, which has the most female representatives in any Canadian legislature.) But it wasn’t all unlikely wins. With oil prices at the bottom of the barrel, our “Texas of the North” is contending with a fiscal hole of $6.1 billion, skyrocketing unemployment rates and a creeping mental health crisis. Even Notley’s surprise victory couldn’t keep the attention of worried Albertans, who voted the oil issue the biggest news story of the past 12 months.


Related: Five reasons to get excited about Rachel Notley


“Hotline Bling”: Drake’s gift to meme lovers everywhere
Forget the surprise mixtape he dropped in February, his stellar OVO Fest performance and those Serena Williams rumours. In October, Drake gave the world a gift sealed with a kiss from Canada (please refer to his awesome sweater game). After watching the “Hotline Bling” video several times, it’s impossible not to experience the following: confusion, fascination, obsession. Does this mean Drake can dance? Or that he can’t? Or is he just so good at it that he’s comfortable with minimizing his mad skills? It was refreshing to watch a man actually move for the length of a music video, rather than just hanging stoically around women acting as back-up booty. The song itself may have caused many viewers to roll their eyes — namely, all that pining over an ex who has obviously moved on — but you can’t deny the power of a samba beat fused with a mesmerizingly simple set. It’s art, people!

Where Canada landed on the niqab debate
On Nov. 16, Zunera Ishaq received a personal phone call from Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould. The government had decided to drop its appeal to the court decision that allowed Ishaq to wear her niqab during her October citizenship ceremony. As you may recall, Ishaq’s legal fight began when she became eligible to become a citizen and moved to challenge a 2011 provision by then-Immigration Minister Jason Kenney that effectively banned the niqab during swearing-in ceremonies. Though the issue only impacted a tiny minority of the population, the niqab became an incredibly divisive talking point during the election this fall. Ultimately, the electorate deemed the issue a non-starter, and to paraphrase Justin Trudeau, decided that “a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.”


Related: I’m a Muslim voter and I’m sick of hearing about the niqab


An early Christmas for Evan Leversage
The small town of St. George, Ont. rallied to celebrate Christmas in October so that 7-year-old Evan Leversage could experience it one last time. Evan was first diagnosed with brain cancer when he was two, but was told by doctors in September that the tumour had spread, meaning that he likely wouldn’t live to see the holidays. That’s when his family decided to celebrate early, asking neighbours to participate. In the end, more than 7,000 people joined in the festivities, which included a parade, a visit from Santa Claus himself and a ride in his sleigh. Evan died in early in December, in his mother’s arms.

Canada addresses its indigenous issues
Over the last few years, aboriginal issues have been gaining more of a foothold in our national consciousness but 2015 marked a turning point: voter turnout among indigenous people in the federal election was up dramatically, and played a role in the Liberal Party’s sweep across the country; the media stood firm in their commitment to tell the story of Canada’s missing and murdered indigenous women and a national inquiry is finally in the works; and the final report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission forced us to come face-to–face with our shameful history of residential schools. Another pivotal moment was when Vancouver MP Jody Wilson-Raybould, a member of the We Wai Kai Nation, was named the first indigenous Minister of Justice and Attorney-General in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s new cabinet. She certainly has the resume, with years spent as a crown prosecutor, advocate for marginalized people and former regional chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations. She will play a major role in the MMIW inquiry and repair Ottawa’s fractured relationship with Canada’s aboriginal community.


Related: Why the Liberals need to get the MMIW Inquiry right


Because it’s 2015

When Justin Trudeau took office in November, he stayed true to his promise of a gender-balanced cabinet, appointing 15 women as federal ministers. When asked why his choices were 50 percent women, Trudeau responded: “Because it’s 2015.” That seemed like solid enough reasoning on its own, but as Rachel Giese wrote at the time, his picks were also a veritable “dream team”: A crown prosecutor, a family physician, a climate-change expert, a global women’s rights activist who came to Canada as a refugee and a Rhodes scholar are just a few of the roles and accolades this group can brag about.

Omar Khadr surprises us all
Depending on who you ask, Omar Khadr is either a bloodthirsty jihadi or a victim of an extremist father and inhumane treatment by the international justice system. At 15, following a firefight with troops in Afghanistan, Khadr was captured by American forces and became the youngest person ever to be prosecuted by a military tribunal for war crimes while still a minor. He served 13 years in prison — 10 at Guantanamo Bay — before being expatriated to Canada in 2012. But despite his long history of torture and divisive, media-moulded persona, the Khadr that emerged to face the public after being released on bail in May stood in stark contrast to the Harper government’s go-to terrorist caricature. In fact, Khadr presented as surprisingly measured and affable. Sweet, even. As Patrick Reed, co-director of the Khadr documentary Guantanamo’s Child, told CTV in September, “[Khadr had] been in prison for half his life, so you would expect somebody to come out either completely shell-shocked or bitter or angry,” he said. “And the overwhelming sense we had with the two days we spent with him filmed is just how adjusted and relaxed and at peace the guy is.”

Related:
Justin Trudeau’s new cabinet is a dream team — and here’s why
What we need to learn from the life and death of Tina Fontaine
Five ways Canadians have stood up to Islamophobia