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…

Rant: Canadian History in Quebec Schools

Back when I was in school, Canadian history was one of these subjects no one rBoring Canadian history in Quebeceally studied hard for because unlike math and physics, it wasn’t a subject that determined in what program you could be accepted. I feel a widespread lack of interest in Canadian history in Quebec. Canadian Children’s introduction to their country’s history is in school and Quebec’s curriculum is probably why they think it’s so dull. Here’s why the Quebec history program is so boring:

 

Canadian history is depicted as a long, boring feud between the French and the English

Canadian history in Quebec is taught as the French’s struggle for cultural and national recognition against “les maudits anglais” (the damn English. English here refers to English-speaking Canadians). This struggle has been fought through some battles and a lot of paper signing. What were French-Canadians and English-Canadians doing else besides feuding with each other? How was society back then? How did both ethnic groups think? This narrative presents Canada as one-dimensional. History can’t come alive only through treatises and a limiting perspective.

French-Canadians and English-Canadians are not the only ethnic groups in Canada

Long before the French and the English arrived in Canada, there were various indigenous peoples. They seem to be a footnote in the school curriculum because after the first chapters, they are no longer mentioned as if they disappeared in thin air. Some French-Canadians have Irish surnames such as Bourque (French version of “Burke”) but barely anything is said about Irish migration during the Great Famine and the Fenian raids. When John A. MacDonald colonized the Prairies, he sent by train many immigrants from Eastern Europe there but little is said about them. He could send them by train because Chinese workers built the railroad. I can go on and on but listing various ethnic groups is not the point: there are many ethnic groups in Canada and they influenced its history.

Quebec Doesn’t Exist in a Vacuum

That’s right! Canada follows a federal system which gives each province many freedoms, among others, the freedom to have their own education curriculum. Quebec’s history program is so focused on Quebec that you almost forget there are other provinces and the United States to the south. The English-speaking provinces and the United States do have relations with Quebec. Since there is so much complaining about the English language, why not talk about the surrounding areas and how they influence Quebec?

Too Little Is Said About Immigration and Multiculturalism

If you live in a big Canadian city like Montreal, you’ve probably seen people who were neither French-Canadian nor English-Canadian. There have been waves of immigrations at least since the time of John A. MacDonald and immigrants is a recurring theme in Canadian media. Who are these immigrants? Why are they coming to Canada? Why are there waves of immigration? Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s multiculturalism is still shaping Canadian society. You would assume such an important part of Canadian history and society would be talked about in school but, nope, it isn’t.

A Curriculum that Dulls the Mind

My former university history professor said at the beginning of his course “To understand a country, you need to understand the politics. To understand the politics, you have to understand the history.” The school curriculum seems to be meant to keep Quebecers from understanding the country they live in. To make matters worse, this one-dimensional vision of Canadian history keeps Canadians from asking important questions such as “where are we going as a country and what should we do”? I guess school isn’t supposed to produce citizens who have serious thoughts about their country.

Agree? Please share your comments!