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 and 2 here.
I remember a conversation I once had with three good friends of mine at one of their apartments some two years ago. We were debating politics.
“Quebec should separate!” said Jean-Philippe.
“Canada is just a bunch of provinces spliced together.” said Sarah.
Sarah and Jean-Philippe were dating. She was part Mohawk, part French-Canadian and grew up in Oshawa and Toronto. He was from Montreal and spent some time in Toronto.
When Sarah was in high school, the presence and contributions of the French were totally ignored. There was a strong emphasis on British heritage and on attachement to British symbols such as the queen. She even had to sing The Maple Leaf Forever when she was in elementary school before class began. She never believed in Confederation and thought British Loyalism was repulsive. She thought British Loyalism was even more repulsive because of her Mohawk heritage and the fact that her grandmother was sent to a residential school when she was a child. Small wonder Sarah was such an ardent supporter of the Idle No More movement.
Jean-Philippe was a childhood friend; I had known him since grade 2. We both went to the same French-language Catholic school. Canadian History in elementary and high school were both taught as a long boring battle of words and paper signing between the French and “les maudits anglais” (the damn English). There was barely any mention of the relation between indigenous peoples and Europeans. Immigration after colonial times was just a footnote. There was mention of the Irish but not the Fenian raids. The history program seems to have been made to depict English-Canadians as big, nasty oppressors of French-Canadians and not as co-founders of modern Canada.
The differences between the way history was taught in Quebec and Ontario shouldn’t be surprising: the school system is under provincial jurisdiction, not federal. Every province has its own identity but the different provinces don’t necessarily relate to each other. For example, it’s common in Quebec to divide Canada in two: Quebec and ROC (rest of Canada). Canada is a federation made of ten provinces and three territories. Because the Canadian Federal government is not centralized, provinces enjoy a lot of autonomy from the federal government. Territories, however, are very dependent on the federal government because they are not very populated.
Later, our conversation shifted to immigration.
“Immigrants shouldn’t be allowed to stay if they don’t want to learn French and English and adopt Canadian customs,” said Sarah.
“Canada is a big country: there is enough place for different peoples,” said Casey.
“Whatever. I’m not racist.”
Casey was half Micmac, half Acadian from New Brunswick but just like Sarah, she grew up in Toronto. Just like Sarah, Casey’s grandmother did go to a residential school but unlike Sarah, she had never lived in a reserve. She had never really thought of her identity before she moved to Montreal and volunteered in a community centre for Aboriginals. She is not particularly attached to Canada and Canadian symbols: she believes patriotism or support of any ideology for that matter turns people into extremists. She really doesn’t want anyone to think she is a bigot.
Although she doesn’t really voice her opinion or wants to argue about her beliefs, she thinks there is enough room in Canada for Whites, Aboriginals and all who were forced to flee their home country.