Immigration Quebec’s area at the welcome center for Syrian refugees in the St. Laurent borough during a tour for journalists of welcoming areas for refugees arriving in Canada, in Montreal Tuesday December 08, 2015. Quebec is welcoming of newcomers, and an opposition to multiculturalism should not be equated with a rejection of diversity, Lise Ravary says.
John Mahoney / Montreal Gazette
Tricky words like nationalism, patriotism and multiculturalism dominate today’s public discourse in much of the developed world. These are essential topics of debate in these days of migration, but there is one problem: these words have different definitions, meanings and populist undertones.An official research document from the Library of Parliament suggests that multiculturalism can be interpreted in three different ways, as a sociological fact, ideology or policy.As a sociological fact refers to a society made up of people of different origins. The ideology is that found in the 1971 Multiculturalism Policy established Canada as a mosaic as opposed to the American melting pot, one key objective of which was to assist cultural groups to retain and foster their identity. And teaching immigrant children their heritage language, culture and history in public schools, something Quebec has done since 1979, is an example of a good multicultural policy, because it facilitates integration.So how do we know we’re all on the same page?If I say I’m against multiculturalism, you may think I am saying that I am opposed to diversity, when what I am doing is stating that I prefer to see immigrants integrate and become non-hyphenated Canadians who do not bring conflicts in their native lands to their new home. This should not be mistaken for a call for assimilation, the aim of Canada’s residential schools for Indigenous people.Related
Let’s be clear, Quebec has never been opposed to being a pluralistic society, starting with Samuel de Champlain, who forged brotherly relationships with Indigenous peoples of eastern North America whom he saw as “nations indiennes.” (Read Champlain’s Dream by American historian and Pulitzer Prize-winner David Hackett Fischer. It is an eye-opener on how this country began.)Every Quebec government since 1971 has officially rejected multiculturalism, an ideology devised by Trudeau père that serious nationalist thinkers believe was meant to destroy Quebec nationalism. Later, Gérard Bouchard promoted Quebec’s own “interculturalism” as an alternative that recognizes the existence of a majority culture, something multiculturalism does not.I have travelled all over Canada and lived in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto. Canadian identity exists, regardless of people’s origin. I don’t understand why Canadians did not condemn Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ignorant and truncated view of Canada as a post-national country.Canadian multiculturalism, whose 2011 redefinition by the federal government includes “improving the responsiveness of institutions to meet the needs of a diverse population,” has far-reaching consequences. For example, judges have been known to consider an accused’s culture of origin as a mitigating factor at sentencing time.Similar debates go on elsewhere. Boris Johnson’s recent demand that immigrants learn English to feel British was condemned by some as “imperialistic” and “racist.”But without a common language, or two — and such shared fundamental values as gender equality, the separation of Church and State and loyalty to Canadian institutions — it’s hard to imagine a harmonious future.Neil Bissoondath raised some important concerns in his 1994 book Selling illusions: The Cult of Multiculturalism in Canada, concerns that remain pertinent. His message: “Canada has sought to order its population into a cultural mosaic of diversity and tolerance. Seeking to preserve the heritage of Canada’s many peoples, the policy nevertheless creates unease on many levels, transforming people into political tools and turning historical distinctions into stereotyped commodities … highlighting the differences that divide Canadians rather than the similarities that unite them.”Speaking a different language helped Quebecers sidestep this cultural tug-of-war. Quebecers know who they are: it’s the rest of Canada that struggles with Quebec’s identity as a nation 400 years-plus in the making, with the help of immigrants along the way.The Coalition Avenir Québec government has just announced it will invest massively in the integration of newcomers: I can’t think of a more generous gesture to people who seek to join us. And telling proof that immigration is not an dirty word for most Quebecers. Unlike multiculturalism as firstname.lastname@example.org