Multiculturalism in its controversial glory: Is Canada a ‘country without a core culture’?
Joe O’Connor | Oct 24, 2012 9:31 PM ET | Last Updated: Oct 24, 2012 9:32 PM ET
More from Joe O’Connor | @oconnorwrites
Dean Bicknell/Postmedia News
Just name it, and we have it here, in Canada, the land of 200 languages — including the two official ones. No matter where people are originally from, nearly 90% of us primarily speak English or French at home.
Canada is a multicultural country. We know that. We are taught it in school and, for Canadians, especially those living in big cities, we see and hear it around us everyday; written on restaurant signs, advertising delectable ethnic cuisine, and on crowded subway cars and buses where chatter abounds in a multiplicity of tongues.
English. French. Chinese. Russian. Spanish. Tagalog. Creole. Just name it, and we have it here, in Canada, the land of 200 languages — including the two official ones. No matter where people are originally from, nearly 90% of us primarily speak English or French at home. It is a robust number, and yet, beneath it, is a head-scratcher of a figure: more than two million speak neither English or French at home, while some 6.6 million people, more than the number of people in greater Toronto, most often speak something other than French or English at home.
Salim Mansur is a political scientist at the University of Western Ontario. He has been described, including in the pages of this newspaper, as Canada’s “angriest moderate.” And what makes him so angry is that nobody, he says, not the media elite, politicians or even the academics, is willing to have a frank and open dialogue about multiculturalism in this country.
Click to enlarge
“Numerous languages spoken inside a country is only a problem, and a lethal problem, when the core identity of that country comes to be increasingly disputed — as is happening in Canada,” Professor Mansur, an Indo-Canadian Muslim originally from Calcutta wrote in an email. “A multicultural country, and officially so designated, has basically indicated it is a country without a core culture, or the core culture that once gave it cohesion, identity, framework, anchor, has been jettisoned to embrace a multiplicity of identities — and thereby the unintended consequence is that there is a void in the centre.”
He argues that Canada, before it became beholden to a Kumbayah notion that everybody should get along and be free to do so in whatever language they choose to speak was, at its core, a liberal democracy. Previous generations of immigrants — Irish, Italians and Greeks, Germans, Russians and Poles, to list a few — who arrived before multiculturalism became enshrined as federal policy in October, 1971, were forced, not by fiat, but out of necessity, to embrace English and/or French because speaking the official languages was key to being a part of the greater Canadian tribe.
“Whatever their particularities immigrants put them aside, because there was a core identity with Canada, and the United States, and it was clearly a liberal democracy,” the professor says. “But we trashed our core value system.”
Or else we simply expanded the definition. Language retention rates of immigrant populations offer a telling story, and, in some ways, tell a similar story to Professor Mansur’s. Italian, Portuguese, Greek, Polish, German — older stock immigrant groups — fully retain their mother tongues at rates far below newer arrivals to Canada.
For example, only 39% of Italians, a group that came to Canada in two great waves at the beginning of the twentieth century and again after the Second World War, are fully fluent in Italian, whereas Punjabi-speaking Indians have an 81.4% language retention rate. That may change for subsequent generations, or it may not.
National Post files
Parminder Singh: English was effectively his first language.
Professor Mansur claims that we aren’t on our way to becoming “Balkanized” as a nation, but that we are already there. Maybe, in some sad instances, he is right. The other day I sat through a murder trial of an Afghan immigrant, a man allegedly unable and unwilling to adjust to life in Canada and to accept that his wife was accepting of Western ways. So he killed her. It is brutal story.
But there are others to tell.
Parminder Singh is 31-years-old, an immigrant, a Sikh, a medical student and, back when there actually was hockey to watch, a play-by-play man for Hockey Night in Canada’s Punjabi-language broadcasts. Lanky, and with a big beard, Mr. Singh was raised in a multi-generational home where English was effectively his first language but Punjabi was the ‘official’ language, a language he needed to master, by necessity, if he wanted to speak to his grandparents.
Mr. Singh’s father drove a truck. His mother worked in a bottling factory. On Saturdays the three generations gathered around the television to watch hockey.
“I would translate the games for them,” Mr. Singh told me in an interview a while back. “It was the one thing we all enjoyed — me in English — and them as a sport.”
We had this discussion at a Tim Horton’s in Brampton, where other men in turbans sat drinking coffee, presumably sharing the news of the day, chattering away in their native tongue. Mr. Singh and I chattered away in English.
It was a snapshot of multiculturalism, in all its glory. It didn’t feel like a failure to me, as Mr. Mansur suggests.
• Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: oconnorwrites
Article posted in Demographic shift, Immigration, Language shift, Multiculturalism, Reports/Statistics/Opinions, etc.