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Canada: A Botched Mosaic (Part 6)

Editor’s note: This story about Canadian multiculturalism was originally a single 3,600 word article meant for a British magazine. I decided to turn it into a mini-series. It tells the story of Peter, a Lebanese-Canadian youth and his experience of Canadian multiculturalism. He meets different people through his life who influence his thoughts. Although this tale contains many true elements and anecdotes, it is a work of fiction. Read part 1 here, 2 here, part 3 here, part 4 here, and part 5 here

I finally get to the door of my apartment building. What a day! I had come across Didier, Saulo and Saeeda on my way back home. I hadn’t seen them in five years.

Didier complained a lot a year after I had originally met him. Now, he complains about the same things, but this time, even more. He complained about how white Canadians are cold and wary of black people. He complained about how he, a holder of a Master’s degree, could only find small part time jobs such as grocery store clerk or delivery boy. He complained about political corruption. He complained about

A Botched Mosaic

how hard it was to get Canadian citizenship. He complained about Canadian winter. He complained…and complained… But did he consider leaving Canada? No.

Saulo and I crossed paths in a metro[1] station. He was doing all right. Although he had to work some menial jobs to support his wife, he finally got a job as a programmer. His wife also gave birth to a baby girl. He was ambivalent about the fact that his daughter was born Canadian but he tried hard to look happy about it. He hasn’t been back to Brazil and doesn’t plan on returning. He said, with a bit of disappointment, that he doesn’t feel Brazilian anymore and that he doesn’t feel Canada is home. With the same disappointed tone, he said he had it good here in Montreal.

Saeeda was dissatisfied with Canada: she thought the West was superficial and only had consumerism to offer. Besides, her mother in Pakistan was very sick. She decided to return to Pakistan and to her old life.

On my way up the stairs to my apartment unit, I reflected on all the people I have been meeting. Canadian society is as fragmented as the stories I have been telling you.

Even though he wasn’t the first Canadian to see Canada as a country of immigrants, Pierre Elliot Trudeau attempted to create a mosaic in which differences, relativism, lack of ideals and the absence of ideology would serve as the glue that binds the tiles of this mosaic. He tried through bilingualism to show fondness towards Quebec and multiculturalism to integrate immigrants. The beautiful, colourful, harmonious mosaic Trudeau imagined in the ’70s and ’80s didn’t come to be. In 2017, it’s a slab of cardboard with pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that don’t match that are forced to fit into each other and bound together by cheap glue. Because of relativism, those who chose to do so can imagine that this mess is a true mosaic.

Relativism, pluralism and individualism are the foundation of modern Canada. Canadians were so encouraged to pursue their own personal goals that they isolated themselves, physically and socially, from other Canadians. Immigrants, regardless of whether they came to Canada as refugees or “seeking a better life,” tend to gather in the same parts of town, forming ghettos. To some immigrants, “seeking a better life” means breaking away from their original cultures that suffocated them and making the kind of money they believed they could never see in their home countries. Because their home culture is all they know, they mingle only with people of their own ethnicity. Because Canadians focus so much their own little world, they forget they were part of a larger society. The different communities do not talk to each other. Canada went from two solitudes to too many solitudes.

The original two solitudes were the French-Canadians, mainly concentrated in Quebec, and the English-Canadians, spread throughout Canada. The two solitudes are still reflected through Quebec’s desire to secede from Canada and how Quebeckers seldom call themselves Canadians. Canada has been trying very hard to keep Quebec but the union between the two seems forced. Aboriginals were never considered founding peoples and thus were kept out of conversations about the country’s present and future. Their opinions still aren’t considered when it comes to matters such as the construction of oil pipelines and exploitation of other natural resources. In other words, the government tries to force in pieces that want out of the mosaic and force out pieces that should be in.

Of course, some people disagree with Trudeau’s multiculturalism, relativism and all the other ideals Canada is based on. These days, critics of these ideals are called on social media “bigots”, “racist”, “closed-minded” and “ignorant”, which are to Canadians the most terrible of slurs. Instead of debating what should be done to fix Canada’s problems, Canadians will either avoid offending each other or try too hard to be right. There is lots of talking but very little listening. In other words, there is no real conversation among the various groups in Canada about society.    

Currently, in Europe, multiculturalism is being forced unto citizens whereas in Canada, it has been part of the country’s culture for a long time. As we monitor the progress of Pierre Eliott Trudeau’s experiment, we are seeing that the number of solitudes is exponentially growing. Should we continue the experiment for a few generations more to see if the Canadian mosaic will break?

The End


[1] From French “métro”. An underground train. Service in the Montreal metro network is mainly in French.

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