Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Xenophobes


There was once an open, welcoming and tolerant land called Canada. This land was filled with people from all over the world living together in harmony. Each group brought something unique from their homeland and contributed an interesting ethnic tile to this wonderful mosaic of ethnic identities. This wonderful paradise of multicolored tiles spread from the Pacific to the Arctic to the Atlantic with one exception: the Province of Quebec. In Quebec, people were against the wonderful mosaic. They did not want to be a tile in the mosaic. They did not embrace diversity. They forced their language and culture on everyone.  Basically, they were racist xenophobes… This is the image of Canada and Quebec that is routinely presented in the Canadian media and is believed by many Canadians. Canadian multiculturalism is seen as the greatest of all virtues and the rejection of this idea can only be because of racism and small-mindedness. It is true that Quebecers tend to see multiculturalism and immigration differently than Canadians do but could there be other reasons than simple xenophobia?


Quebec and immigration


Let’s face it; Quebec has a very different history from the rest of Canada. Quebec was conquered by a foreign army and saw foreigners arrive to take up positions of power in its society. After the American Revolution, thousands of British Empire Loyalists settled in Quebec. They obviously did not come to integrate into our society, this was now their country and we were the ones who would have to assimilate. In 1837, Quebecers rose up in arms against their occupiers but failed. The result was Lord Durham’s report. Lord Durham made three recommendations:

  •        The union of Upper Canada ( Ontario) and Lower Canada ( Québec) into a single colony
  •        The assimilation of the French Canadians
  •        The granting of ministerial responsibility, or responsible government

It’s the second one that had people in Quebec a bit worried. The idea was to drown Quebecers in a sea of Anglos through massive immigration from the British Isles.  Durham believed that the political union of Upper and Lower Canada was crucial to establish a loyal, English majority which would anglicise French Canadians and then make it possible to grant ministerial responsibility.  

Immigration was no longer going to be left to such unpredictable things as American revolutions or Irish famines. It was now going to be an organized effort at social engineering to bring about the disappearance of the Francophone population which was still the majority in 1840. By 1850, Francophones had become a minority in the Province of Canada and in 1871 they made up only 31% of the population. Today we represent 23% of the population of Canada and this is in spite of a rather prodigious birth rate that only began to decline in the 1960s. However, we still haven’t completely drowned to the dismay of many in English Canada.

After the initial wave of British immigrants, people from other parts of the world began arriving. In Quebec, where money and power were firmly in English hands, immigrants had little interest in us. Some immigrants did join our ranks, mainly other Catholics like the Irish or Italians but even in those communities the majority could see that it was better to join the English than a poor, powerless minority. It’s only after Quebec’s Quiet Revolution, when we regained control of our society, that we attempted to control the nature of immigration to Quebec. The Charter of the French Language probably had the biggest impact by requiring that the children of immigrants attend French schools. Today, roughly half of all immigrants to Quebec end up as Francophones. It’s still not enough but this will always be a struggle for us as a minority in Canada. It’s true that Quebecers are always ready to go to the barricades to defend their identity but considering our history is it really so surprising? 


Canadian Multiculturalism



Most Canadians see themselves as forming a single nation composed of all Canadian citizens. Their nation is Canada as a whole. Canada is seen by them as a single nation-state and not as a multinational state. There is a Canadian nation but there is no Quebec nation. This was the view of the late Pierre Trudeau who saw Canada as composed of one nation, two linguistic communities, five economic regions, ten provinces, two territories and a multicultural mosaic. Nowadays, most Canadians endorse that view, and so most of them reject the existence of a Quebec nation. They even reject the idea of a Quebec nation within the Canadian nation.

The demand for recognition of the binational and bicultural character of Canada had initially been made by the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism in the 1960s, presided by André Laurendeau and Davidson Dunton. And this demand has been made by all successive Quebec governments since then. Canada, however, adopted a policy of multiculturalism. “Isn't this a way of accommodating the needs of Quebecers?” you may ask. "No", I would answer. Instead of accepting the binational and bicultural character of Canada, Trudeau responded by adopting a policy of multiculturalism that celebrates the cultural diversity of immigration so it cannot be interpreted as a recognition of the existence of a Quebec people.

Trudeau’s fiction of a Canada made up of one nation with two linguistic communities, divorced of national culture and territory, pretends that there is some kind of equality between these two linguistic communities and it tells immigrants that they can chose which ever language they want from sea to shining sea, it doesn't matter. We’re all one nation. Gee, I wonder which they’ll chose, the language spoken by 2 % of people on this continent or that other one. Tough choice! Quebec is then depicted as the bad guy because of its language laws which only allow immigrants to send their kids to French schools. They claim that their objections are based on the principle of “freedom of choice”. But is a foregone conclusion really freedom of choice?

Another thing about Multiculturalism is that it doesn't seem to work so well in other countries like, for example, Sweden. Immigrants tend to become ghettoized and alienated from their host nation. This situation has sometimes even lead to violence and rioting. There’s just something different about the Canadian situation which makes assimilating immigrants almost effortless.

The reality is that Canadians can be so laid-back about immigration because they know that with very little effort on their part, their immigrants, in the long run, will end up as North-American Anglos thanks to the cultural and linguistic hegemony of the giant neighbor down south. After that, you just need a few Tim Hortons commercials to make them into Canadian North-American Anglos. Canadian multiculturalism depends on the dominance of American culture on this continent.

Of course, these forces work against us in Quebec. We know from experience that without any effort on our part, without setting rules and insisting, the same thing will happen here. That is, our immigrants will end up as North-American Anglos, too. So we can't have the same attitude as Canadians. But the Canadian media ignores all context and simply portrays us as bigots any time we try to assert ourselves on these matters.


Is this not xenophobia?


If Canadians feel secure today, that certainly was not the case in the past. There was a time when English Canadians had a palpable fear of the "other" with its monstrous birth rate. It was a fear of this "other" spreading, taking over and destroying what was good and British in Canada. And it needed to be stopped! The British author Hilaire Belloc probably summed up the feeling best when he wrote the following while visiting Canada in 1923:

Hilaire Belloc
"The French are everywhere pressing on the the Orange civilization which has the official machine in its power. They go West and establish islands in the empty spaces.The counter-proposition is to call in immigrants at any price from anywhere and drill them in Orange schools. It is a system now pitted against the grotesque fertility of the French-speakers. The whole thing is a battle between something deeply rooted, indigenous and prodigiously expansive against something imported and with shallow roots"

The answer came with a whole string of anti-French laws that appeared in virtually every Canadian province outside of Quebec. Ontario, for example, began imposing English tests on all teachers in 1885. In 1890, a law was passed stating that English must be the language of education except when children cannot understand it. In 1891, French school books were banned. However, things got worse at the beginning of 20th century which saw a rather important influx of Francophones from Quebec looking for work. A census at the time showed that Franco-Ontarians accounted for 10% of the population of Ontario. This was explosive news! The future Premier, Howard Ferguson, spoke of the "French evil" and said that if nothing were done to stop this invasion of Fancophones it would shake the Dominion to its very foundations.  According to Mr Ferguson, Ontario needed to encourage British traditions in order to have a more "virile race".

Regulation 17 became law in 1912 and basically outlawed French education in Ontario beyond the first two years. It gave the Minister of education the power to fire any teacher that did not comply and the power to suspend entire school boards. The law was modified in 1927 to allow bilingual primary education and some secondary education could also be in French. It wasn't until 1944 that this law was simple not renewed. However, there was no real public money spent on French education in Ontario until 1968. There were no French school boards until the 1980s and Franco-Ontarians did not really regain control of them until 1998 (something they had lost in 1912).

This history is, of course, simply swept under the rug by most Canadians. Isn't this a classic example of xenophobia or racism? Isn't this an example of intolerance against a group of people which literally kept them disadvantaged until recent times? Doesn't this history ever enter into the minds of Canadians when they get up on their high-horses to lecture us about tolerance and inclusiveness?

Obviously not...

1 comment:

  1. Anglo-imperialist presence in Canada equates with three centuries long ethnic cleansing.

    ReplyDelete