“A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.”
Those words, spoken by Prime Ministerial candidate Justin Trudeau during a debate before he won the job, resonate with me nearly every day.
They were spoken in response to Stephen Harper’s proposal to revoke the citizenship of Canadians involved in terrorist acts.
Fear-mongering aside, that means, in a Harper Canada, naturalized Canadians don’t have the same rights as native-born Canadians, as you can’t revoke the citizenship of the latter.
It’s tempting to wish we could send all evil-doers somewhere else, but … a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian. And where they came from becomes irrelevant the moment they’re sworn in as citizens….they come from Canada, full stop.
The principle that lives in the “Canadian” statement resonates even louder as we celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday as a nation. There are very few nations on Earth that have so unequivocally declared themselves so radically open to inclusion, diversity, immigration, multiculturalism. Canada is experiencing the fastest rate of ethnic change than any Western Nation. If you’re used to thinking of Canada as a cozy melange of maple syrup, moose, Hudson’s Bay blankets and frost-bitten (and very white) noses, you’re living in a country that no longer exists.
A recent article by Postmedia’s Douglas Todd cites experts who predict Canada will be 80 per cent non-white in less than a century, and in Vancouver, where I live, 7 in 10 will be visible minorities in less than 20 years. The Canada that celebrates its 175th birthday will be a much different place.
Simply put, Canada is an audacious experiment in equality unlike any other nation. Many nations have high-falutin sounding constitutions; very few have a Charter or Rights and Freedoms that is fiercely upheld by the highest court in the land, impervious to numerous attempts to get around it in order to fulfill the populist agenda of the day.
We’re all in on becoming the world’s most multicultural nation. It remains to be seen if we’re still all in on peace, order and good government when Canada 175 rolls around.
You can colour me (Canadian spelling) red and white and optimistic all over, mainly because during this transition, we’re led by a visionary Prime Minister who understands and upholds the value of human rights and the need to protect them at all costs.
The costs are not insignificant, especially if you’re of a certain age and gender. White male privilege, a vestige of the colonizing nations, is about to expire. Everyone gets freedom of religion and gender, but no one gets special status or entitlement.
There are some who will argue that this great experiment in justice is founded on a profound injustice – the colonization of indigenous people. There’s no denying that less than three hundred years ago, the English and the French swiped the land from the First Nations and proceeded to systematically extinguish their identity. But the same national project that aims to create a society honestly based on human rights – regardless of the human – also works to restore aboriginal rights based on a finally recognized title. The rediscovery of aboriginal title is as important as the Charter, and together, they represent the world’s most audacious liberal (Liberal ?) experiment.
Of course, the Canadian project is hardly met with universal euphoria. The arguments against are legion. Here are just a few:
Some immigrants don’t share our Canadian values. Indeed, there may be some who don’t believe in equality, tolerance, justice for all, peace, order, etc. But many of them seem to be born here. Most immigrants come here precisely because of those values. Some even risk freezing to death because they prefer Canada even over the United States. When they get here, are we going to give them an attitude test?
Immigration fosters terrorism. Once again, many terrorists are home-grown, and run the spectrum from white, male and young, to not-white, male and young. Male and young appears to be the common denominator, which is more demographic than geographic. Meanwhile, the Minister of Defense is a visible minority from an immigrant family, and he’s an antonym for terrorist.
What about Canadian culture? I love maple syrup, moose etc. And poutine, what about poutine! Frankly, Canadian tropes and clichés are more popular than ever. The 2010 Olympics proved that everyone, native and immigrant, is delighted to be festooned in maple regalia. The thing is, we’ve added a bunch of new festivals and holidays, from Lunar New Year to Nooroz, Vaisakhi to Ramadan. Every day, something to celebrate.
And so it goes. Our sunny ways Prime Minister is way out on a limb, while the forces of chaos saw feverishly away on his branch. Holding us together across hundreds of years and thousands of miles is not for the faint of heart. While many play lip service to the Canadian project, the forces of division are more remorseless than the forces of unity.
Fortunately, Justin Trudeau is not entirely alone in the 21st century. France’s new President, Emmanuel Macron is just as unapologetically sunny. Recently, he dared to say there is no French culture, only culture, which drew a sharp intake of breath from Calais to Cannes, the sharpest coming from his implacable foe, Marie Le Pen. Malheureusement!
But Macron, like Trudeau, recognizes that cultural supremacy breeds systemic racism at a time when global dynamics are determining the culture of the future. When it takes a few hours to circumnavigate the planet and everyone’s a citizen of the global village called the Internet, we’ll never put the genie of internationalism back into the bottle. Instead let’s put racism back in its cage before it runs amok.
To do that, nations must stand on universal values, values that transcend colour or creed. Canada is in the forefront of that movement, a sprightly, somewhat naïve pacesetter that could be in for a bloody nose, never mind a frost-bitten one.
So, on July 1st, Canada 150 Day, it might be a good idea to go out of your way to embrace the Other. It’s what makes us Canadian: Whoever we are and wherever we’re from, we’re all in this together, whether we like it or not.
Might as well, along with our PM, like it a lot.