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Saturday, September 6, 2008

Multiculturalism in Canada

I have never been in favour of government-encouraged multiculturalism. I do not agree that a nation should aspire to be an extension of everybody else’s cultural identity. I believe we can achieve cultural enrichment and diversity without diluting our identity as a people. We should strive to develop a unique identity that embodies the core values that we cherish, most of which are spelled out in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. And beyond our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, there are those characteristics that have traditionally defined us as Canadian: belief in democracy, the rule of law, tolerance, pluralism and peaceful coexistence with our neighbours to name a few.

And, the way I see it, this can be achieved with a sensible set of immigration policies, which would encourage like-minded individuals from around the world to come and help us fulfill our dreams. Newcomers to our country need not belong to any specific religion, or be of any particular colour, race, national or ethnic origin or gender. They should, however, be like-minded. In other words, they need to share our dreams and values. And, so that they can understand us and participate fully in our society, they should be fluent in one of our two official languages within three years of coming to live with us.

Immigrants should be officially encouraged to maintain their traditional cultures so long as doing so does not interfere with them being able to integrate themselves into our society. They should be officially encouraged not to form distinct cultural groups that do not interact with the mainstream. This takes us back to a concept that prevailed up to about the 1970s. Integration not separation should be our model. Living side-by-side – not in ghettos apart from the mainstream – should be our goal.

To be “Canadian” should mean something beyond not being like the Americans. There should be a set of shared values and beliefs that define us. And those who wish to become Canadian should be informed of what these shared values and beliefs are so that they know ahead of time what they can expect here and what other Canadians will expect of them.

For many, a major element of culture is religion. And, although in Canada we believe in freedom of religion, we also believe in separation of religion and state. This is not easily understood (or accepted) by those who live in societies where religion and state are inexorably bound together.

Some think of Canada as a “Christian” society and sometimes generalize by referring to us as Christians. Canada undoubtedly was founded on Judaic-Christian moral values and principles, but, although many individual Canadians are adherents of those faiths, it is incorrect to assume that collectively we are either Judaic or Christian. But why does this even matter?

Separation of religion and state matters profoundly. Canadian law is secular law and is made by representatives elected democratically under the principles of universal suffrage. Our law applies equally to all who live in our country. In Canada, when there is a difference between the law and anyone’s religious law, it is the law that takes precedence.

This brings me full circle, for here is my 1,000 pound gorilla in the room, i.e., how this might affect our Muslim community.

I question whether some followers of Islam can ever reconcile themselves to the concept of an integrated Canadian society, where Sharia law must be subordinate to Canadian secular law, where being a “non-believer” is acceptable and where intolerance and militancy are unacceptable. For most Muslims I doubt this will ever be an issue, but for some there could be tragic consequences.

For the record, I am an immigrant who chose Canada and who believes all Canadians and landed immigrants should focus our loyalty on Canada first and foremost and only secondarily on our country of birth. When I ask myself the question: If Canada went to war with my birthplace, where would I stand? I know my answer is: I stand for Canada first last and always.

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