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…