Last week I started this series with a common argument: that people who come to Canada should be prepared to become Canadian and “leave their ways at home”. If you missed it, you can read about the irony I highlighted last week here.
This week I’m going to explore another phrase I heard recently: “When I go to another country, I don’t presume to ask them to change the rules for me.”
One key idea that popped into my head following this conversation (No, not during. Following….sigh) is this: Other countries don’t advertise themselves as multicultural. Canada does, and we have been doing so for decades.
What does “welcome” mean?
We can’t say “come and be who you are here” and then add a list of caveats once people arrive.
It’s like my 6-year-old who invites someone over to play and then scoops up toys that she doesn’t want them to play with once they are here and show interest. Ugh.
I think, to be fair, maybe multiculturalism wasn’t thought-through enough. Which is not to say that I agree – I’m just exploring the murky waters of humanity, looking for some insights.
The things we don’t know…
Consider that we don’t know what we don’t know. That there are so many aspects to a culture that we don’t/can’t/won’t know if it’s not ours. So, it’s not a far cry to consider that some of the human rights challenges we have experienced here in Canada and the accommodations we have made (some easily, some not so easily) have come as a surprise.
But, we also have a history of not letting everyone in: some groups were flat out refused (like Jewish people during WWII); immigrants from India were subject to rules that made it impossible to “land” (Bill of Direct Passage); immigrants from China were charged a Head Tax. You can read more about our history of responses to refugees here.
And in the present…
These are just a few examples, and they existed before multiculturalism was a ‘thing’ here. But we still have covertly discriminatory practices today – not everyone “gets in” as easily or as quickly as everyone else, for example.
Coincidentally, just yesterday on CBC radio one I heard a segment on Out in the Open about Asylum Seekers and what life can be like once they arrive in Canada. You can listen to the audio here.
And then, remember the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees that we welcomed in 2016? The target was 25,000 but in fact many thousands more came after this. Remember the many heartwarming stories of communities coming together to provide for, and support the new arrivals?
And what about the 12,000 Eritrean refugees that arrived just a few months ago with much less fanfare?
We have shining moments too – even when the spotlight isn’t on us.
Multiculturalism is a verb
The fact that we pride ourselves on our multiculturalism means that we have to be prepared to live it, not just say it. And not just when people arrive, but consistently over time. It’s a commitment.
And education, awareness, making accommodations, having some flexibility, and changing the way we do things (even changing the rules) is all part of that.