Differences, More Similarities

My friend, Neil Remington Abramson, recently wrote to me about a poll on the attitudes of Canadians towards multiculturalism. I wonder how many respondents were from minority cultures, or how the study controlled for such. What does the term “Canadian attitudes” mean?

Neil wrote as follows (reproduced with permission):

The Association for Canadian Studies has released a new poll (“Muliculturalists With Concerns”). 45% of Canadians agree, and 49% disagree that “immigrants should give up their customs and traditions” to become more like the majority population. 51% agreed “the majority should try harder” to accept the customs and traditions of immigrants. 80% said young people should make a greater effort to preserve their families’ cultural traditions.

This is reported in “Canadians Divided on Multiculturalism: Poll” by Randy Boswell in the Vancouver Sun.

For me, the key words are that immigrants should become “more” like; and that the Canadians should “try harder”. “More like” is less than “like”. There are some core values in Canadian culture that immigrants should accept or we should be able to bar their entry. The commitment to democratic process you have been arguing is one, and no honor killing, or female circumcision, and learning English or French, depending on where you live. And “trying harder” is less than just accepting, and that is fine too. People should not be compelled, because it is the compelling in part that ensures the incomplete acceptance.

I suppose that if the world economic malaise grows worse, immigration will become less supported. Immigrants take jobs that the existing population would otherwise have. It’s interesting that last month there were 60,000 new jobs in Canada but only 100,000 in the US, which is 10x bigger. Our unemployment rate went down (7.2%?). The US rate is 9.2%, the way they count; but 16% the way we count; and as much as 22%, if you look at the regression line for workers in their economy that was steadily increasing to 2008, and then miraculously went down since.

I would expect immigration would become very unpopular in the US, if it is not already

I often wonder what it means to be a nation, and whether multiculturalism is beneficial to longer-term national identity. A nation cannot be a collectivity of ethnic or cultural enclaves–or can it? The Association for Canadian Studies is the same organization that reported concurrently about the unease of “Canadians” with Muslims (“Groups and Intergroup Relations: Canadian Perceptions”), which was reported as follows:

Muslims face negative perception in Canada, study suggests

By Randy Boswell, Postmedia NewsOctober 15, 2011

Just 43 per cent of the 2,345 people polled by the Montreal-based Association for Canadian Studies expressed “very positive” or “somewhat positive” perceptions of Muslims, while atheists (60 per cent) and aboriginals (61 per cent) also drew relatively lukewarm responses.

Meanwhile, seven other groups generated positive perceptions from respondents. Chinese people, who narrowly topped the results at 75 per cent, were followed by Protestants, Blacks and Hispanics/Latin Americans (all 74 per cent), Catholics (73), Jews (72) and francophones (70).

The category “immigrants” prompted positive responses from 68 per cent of those surveyed.

The results were drawn from an online poll covering a range of issues and conducted by the firm Leger Marketing between Sept. 20 and Oct. 3. The survey is considered to have a margin of error of two per cent, 19 times out of 20.

ACS executive director Jack Jedwab said the markedly more negative response to Muslims is matched by similar polling results in Britain and the U.S., making clear that the challenge of improving perceptions of the vast majority of Muslims who reject Islamist extremism is a multinational task.

“Most of these perceptions are built around images that people see globally,” said Jedwab.

The similar findings in other Western nations “suggests this isn’t a Canadian-specific issue . . . I’m not saying we shouldn’t have programs” and policies in Canada to improve general perceptions of Muslims, “but the impact of those programs is limited if we don’t have global cooperation.”

The results of the new poll echo the findings of a previous ACS survey just ahead of last month’s 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which showed that a majority of Canadians believes conflict between Western nations and the Muslim world is “irreconcilable.”

That survey of 1,500 Canadians in early September showed that 56 per cent of respondents see Western and Muslim societies locked in an unending ideological struggle, while about 33 per cent — just one-third of the population — held out hope that the conflict will eventually be overcome.

Together, says Jedwab, such surveys highlighting the widespread unease towards Muslims are forcing a rethink of the prime challenge facing Canada and other Western societies in terms of ethnocultural relations. A decade ago, he said, the prevailing view was that promoting social harmony in these countries would depend on overcoming language conflicts or easing general tensions between “whites and all visible minorities.”

Instead, “what’s emerging now is a focus on Muslims vs. non-Muslims,” he said. “The outlet for people’s prejudice has been displaced by the focus on Muslims.”

In fact, the latest ACS poll showed that while 58 per cent of respondents mustered positive views about “relations between visible minorities and whites,” barely half as many — 30 per cent — were positive about “relations between Muslims and non-Muslims.”

Canadians’ negativity towards Muslims is reflected across the country in the new poll, but most strongly in Quebec. Debates in that province about what constitutes “reasonable accommodation” of minorities — sparked partly by concerns about Muslim head scarves — have been more pointed than elsewhere in Canada.

Only 35 per cent of respondents from Quebec expressed “very positive” or “somewhat positive” perceptions toward Muslims. The results were higher in other parts of the country: Atlantic Canada (48 per cent), Alberta (48), B.C. (46), Ontario (45) and Manitoba/Saskatchewan (39).


I sometimes wonder if we forget that countries constantly evolve over time, and that national identities end up reshaped as a matter of course. State-sponsored multiculturalism may accelerate the process, and cause degrees of negative social tensions. Without state-sponsored multiculturalism, communities evolve and integrate as the nation evolves. Many people of Dutch descent don’t speak Dutch, while the majority of people of Chinese descent still speak either Mandarin or Cantonese. My abilities in French are not from my family, despite being descended from a family that was quite important at one time in Quebec history. I am 1/4 French, 1/4 English, 1/4 Irish and 1/4 Welsh. My maternal grandparents both spoke Welsh, while my paternal grandfather spoke French. What is my multiculture? Should I care, and who should I blame for what I might have lost? Should I feel differently if I am yellow, brown, black or blended?

Sometimes when I am in certain stores and I look around, because I am seeing so many colours other than my own, when I see so many clothes styles other than my own, when I see so many hijabs and other head coverings, I will catch myself when wondering “what has happened to my country?”. Remembering one day in Toronto, late 1970s, when an elderly person was trying to get onto a crowded streetcar at Dundas and Yonge. He must have been around 70 years old. Looked up at the crowded car as he strugged to get on. “Goddamn DPs”, he said. Had no idea what he meant. Looked it up: “Displaced Persons“. The post World War II changes were a source of resentment. No apparent appreciation that many on the streetcar did not entirely choose to be there; circumstantial forces, such as war, destruction and concentration camps.

Goddamn DPs today; easy to spit, at least figuratively.

I haven’t been back to my childhood home of Saskatoon for over thirty years. Expect everything to remain the same. All such childhood paradise. All such illusion. Cities change, nations change. Key seems to be to get used to the acceleration, where discomfort is generally less called for, and more self-induced.

Somehow, Procol Harum’s “Power Failure” comes to mind:

About brucelarochelle

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2 Responses to Differences, More Similarities

  1. I grew up in Saskatoon from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. Canada was certainly not multicultural, in the same way as these days. The biggest group was Angliphone, but in those days we distinguished among English, Scottish, and Irish. The next biggest group were likely Mennonite, followed by Swedish. Regina was different, because the 2nd biggest group was German. I guess Saskatoon was surrounded by 1st Nations reserves, but you saw very few Natives in town, and few lived there. Years later, we heard stories about how the police discouraged Natives from coming to town. I vividly remember the 1st time I saw two black women walking down 2nd Avenue, in downtown Saskatoon. I had never seen anyone with that color of skin, and found myself staring, though I knew it was rude. I tore my eyes away, and found everyone else on the street was staring, too. I don’t think any of us meant any harm, though if they’d all been staring at me, I wonder what I would have thought? It’s different, seeing really “different” people, live in person, rather than on TV, which was likely just in Black and White, in those early days

    Actually, I know very well what it is like to be stared at, from being 6 foot 9 and Caucasian, walking down streets in China, 15-20 years ago. It’s a bit disconcerting, and you watch for any sign of trouble which is very rare. Or being Anglo, and feeling the possibly hostile glances, and occasionally rude comments, of Francophone nationalists in Quebec. Sigh… You don’t have to go all the way to China to be perceived as alien.

    I read a commentary once about why “we” pick on Muslims. The idea was that since the Russians resigned as our threatening enemies, we needed a new great enemy and it was either going to be Islam or China. Lesser enemies, like Iraq, were insufficient in the long term.

    Why? How does the military industrial complex justify the incredibly profitable expenditures on military hardware, if there is no fearful enemies to save us from? And from a Jungian point of view, we need a power of darkness to prove to ourselves that we are the power of light and goodness. We project all our hostility on our enemy, seeing them as unjustifiably hating us, and seeing ourselves as blameless.

    But this enemy must be a worthy enemy. Gadhafi was an enemy, but for the most part and irrelevant one. Even Al Qaeda is pretty small, unless it implicates a billion Muslims in a bunch of countries. There sure has been a lot of negative press about the unreasonable, fanatical Muslims. If I lived in Nazi Germany, I might suspect it was propaganda, if every time there was a bombing or act of violence in the world, the media attributed it to Al Qaeda and those Jihadist Muslims. But propaganda like that couldn’t happen here, right? Not in a democratic country, with a free press?

    The Muslims who don’t favor terrorism, likely most of them, will have a heck of a time proving they are not in league with terrorists. It is well known to be difficult to prove you didn’t do something, and stories of goodwill don’t selL in the media like fear mongering. Didn’t I hear recently that the US had been unable to prove that there had never been weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, because they had never found any evidence to prove it? The Muslims may have the same problem. What is the absolute proof of something for which there is no evidence it exists?

  2. My experiences (or lack thereof) with aboriginals in 1960s Saskatoon are similar to those of Neil, though I didn’t realize that there had been initiatives to dissuade them from settling in the city. I can’t find any direct support for this statement, though I found out that aboriginals were only permitted to leave the reserves as of 1951, and that for some time Saskatchewan aboriginals were the most impoverished in Canada. When I searched “aboriginals kept out of Saskatoon”, I encountered references to the “Starlight Tours”, where intoxicated aboriginals were dumped by police on the outskirts of Saskatoon, sometimes in the middle of winter, resulting in freezing deaths.

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