Canada: a Botched Mosaic (part 3)

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.

Racists everywhere

“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.

To be continued…

Canada: a Botched Mosaic (part 2)

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.

Some two or three years ago, I was an intern at Canadian Topics magazine. I proofread scholarly articles about immigration there. I was working with recent graduates and postgraduates. I was proofreading some article about low fertility rates among Chinese-Canadian women. I wasn’t sure about what was meant by fertility so I asked a co-worker, Courtney:

Chinese head tax receipt.
Chinese head tax receipt.

“- Courtney, in social sciences, does fertility only refer to the ability to reproduce?

– No, Peter. It can also mean the number of kids women get depending on their means.”

I was surprised to read that the Chinese women who were interviewed for this study were eager to have children while in China but after living in Canada for a short while, their priorities changed. I was equally surprised when I proofread a translation of a paper about African immigrants coming to the Prairies[1]. The African immigrants tended to isolate themselves from the rest of the population and stay with people of their own ethnicity. They didn’t mingle with locals because of language barriers and because they couldn’t relate to Canadians. I thought all of this was strange, so I talked to Courtney about it.

“You know, Canada wasn’t always so diverse: there was a Chinese head tax and non-European immigrants were not accepted except for Chinese and Sikhs.”

Courtney was talking about Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s multiculturalism. Before him, Canada was only interested in accepting white European immigrants. Trudeau desperately needed to populate the country and needed people to work to pay taxes. To satisfy this need, he began accepting immigrants from various parts of the world. But how would he get these new immigrants to integrate Canada? Apply his vision of Canada: a nation made of many diverse nations that coexist within the same borders. The keyword is “coexist”. There is no place for ideology, or wrong or right. All sources of tension had to be eliminated.

Multiculturalism doesn’t seem to be an effective way to increase the country’s population as Canada’s population isn’t renewing itself. The only way to curb Canada’s negative population growth is to allow more immigrants in the country every year.

Courtney wasn’t from Montreal. She said she was from Toronto but she was really from Scarborough which is part of the Greater Toronto Area. Scarborough is an industrialist wasteland where recent immigrants settle. Courtney told me she went to a Catholic public high school that was very poor. It wasn’t uncommon to see girls of her school get pregnant before graduating. From time to time, when there wasn’t much work to do, we would talk about Canadian politics, our high school days, the news and the like.

I thought “brown people” was what Americans called Mexicans when Americans wanted to degrade them but in the Greater Toronto Area, it’s a slur towards Indians (people from India). Her experience in high school was very similar to mine: she went to a public high school in the suburb in which the students were of different ethnicities. There were two differences: she was in Scarborough, I was in Laval (a suburb of Montreal). The other difference was that most students in her school were of Indian or Caribbean origin whereas at my school, half the students were either of Greek, Lebanese Armenian or Haitian origin. The other half was French Canadian. Most students hung out with classmates of the same ethnicity as them. “I didn’t hang out with other Indians. I didn’t want to be with other brown people because their parents knew mine. They were so nosy” said Courtney. I assumed she would have liked spending more time with people of her ethnicity because she knew a lot about Indian history and culture. Yet she truly embraced the values of the Liberal Party under Justin Trudeau such as “diversity” and “inclusiveness”.

 

[1] The provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta which are located in the middle of the country.

 

To be continued…

Canada: a Botched Mosaic (Part 1)

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.

Montreal mosque entrance
The entrance of a mosque in Montreal, Canada. The name has been removed. Photo by Mark Homsany

It’s almost 11 pm. I’ve just gotten off the bus and I’m walking back to my apartment after a long day at work. There is a light breeze blowing. Some men in white tunics sporting long beards are gathering by a street corner. Some women on the other side of the street covered from head to toe were walking side by side and chatting. Then, I hear it reverberating through the night sky:

“Allahu akbar. Allahu akbar. Ashahadu an la ilah illa Allah”.

I was not in a Middle-Eastern country: I was walking on Laurentien Boulevard in the Cartierville borough in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Yes, Montreal truly represents what Pierre Elliott Trudeau wanted Canada to be: a mosaic of people coexisting on a same land in peace and in harmony. A nation made of many nations. A nation of people united through their differences and not divided by emotional values that cause wars such as patriotism. A country that is pleasant and that does not demand many sacrifices from its citizens.

Indeed, multiculturalism, individualism, plurality and relativism are responsible for so much social progress in Canada. Trudeau’s multiculturalism is an experiment never before attempted; we have yet to see the result.

Events such as the Sainte-Foy mosque shooting on January 29th 2017 are signs that the beautiful experiment may be flawed. Alexandre Bisonnette, a white supremacist and a supporter of far-right wing politics, opened fire on Muslims who were praying. Ordinary citizens expressed on social media that they couldn’t believe that such a killing could happen in a country where ethnic diversity is so celebrated.

In light of this these killings, the Canada Pierre Eliott Trudeau began to build seems more like a trade-off than an improvement. Was this trade-off worth it?

To be continued…

Mechanization

She was always stressed, always physically and mentally tired. Her multiple lives were tearing her apart. It isn’t easy to play, for a few hours, the role of a mother; later, that of a working woman; then that of a wife. There is no stopping to take a rest. Oh no! Resting is neglecting responsibilities. When one Cyborg womandoesn’t play one of the various roles, chaos comes like a hurricane. She was obviously wearing herself out. Her situation caused her despair. She believed the best solution was to sink deeper, to let herself be consumed by work so she wouldn’t have to think about fatigue.

On her way to work, she noticed that all her colleagues looked sad. The boss had some bad news: the company went bankrupt. Oh my God! This was saddening news indeed! If she no longer has a job, how could she chase away her dark thoughts, her issues about tiredness? In the evening, while she was lying in bed, her husband asked “Honey, what’s wrong?” She didn’t answer him. She remained seated in her bed with a blank stare. She was thinking about a new way to lose herself in work, to stop thinking about this vicious cycle of role changing and fatigue. The fact that she thought was, for her, a sign of her downfall.

The next day, she began sweeping the already impeccably clean floor back and forth, up and down, north to south, north-east to south west. She prepared a grandiose breakfast fit for a banquet, yet the only person she needed to cook for was her ten year old son. He asked her: “Mom, why do you work when you don’t have to?” Oh you little pest! Children are truly like livestock! They are so ungrateful! They stuff their faces, run around and scream like animals. They only think about themselves. And also, livestock produce milk, eggs, meat and leather whereas children only bring headaches and fatigue.  The mother, continued her machine-like activities without answering her child who had forced her to think, to tread heavily.

The following night, she continued her chores but with more zeal. She didn’t even have time to go to bed last night. She no longer needed to. Her husband came down the stairs and saw an atrocious mess: the food was burnt, cake mix was running down the walls, the sink was overflowing, wet laundry was lying around on the floor, and many screws, gears and springs drew a path leading to the basement. The husband followed the trail and saw his wife. We was no longer thinking. She was metallic grey. Sparks flew out of her shoulder, her arm was hanging and the lid on her stomach was open. On the inside, he saw some wires instead of intestines and instead of a heart, a stone.

 

Note: I wrote this story in 2007 in French under the title “Mécanisation”. I presented it on stage at Montmorency college for a stage production called “La fête de la lecture” in the same year. It was meant as a tribute to Normand de Bellefeuille’s “Votre appel est important”. It was the first story I have ever presented in public. After having seen my performance, two very close friends of mine encouraged me to become a writer. I will forever be grateful for their support.