Thursday, 22 September 2016 13:31

Alberta Needs to Rethink French Curriculum

Commentary by Salim Valji in Edmonton

Memorizing adjectives and pronouns did little more than create a resentment for having to learn French in the first place. Meanwhile, speaking the language took a backseat.

The sentiment above is true for many students who grew up learning French in Alberta, including myself. Lessons often consist of listing the gender pronoun (le, la, les) of nouns, and writing simple, declarative sentences.

Entire classes would be spent learning, relearning and being tested on memorization techniques like DR MRS VANDERTRAMP. Homework was more of the same … verb charts, fill-in-the-blanks and vocabulary.

See a trend here?

Throughout elementary and junior high, the method was always memorize first, ask questions later. Speaking French was never a priority until high school and accent training was seldom mentioned.

Learning to hate French

I queried my friends on social media: I was not alone. 

“My experience was terrible as well! I took French for eight years and can't speak a word if it,” one friend wrote. “It was all memorizing nouns and watching videos. It's such a beautiful language. I really wish they had taught it better. I’d love to know it.”

Another added: “I learned more German in four months than I did French in eight years in school. I think using an online program like Duolingo and setting goals might help. Also, so many BS tests on conjugating verbs made me hate French.”

The most profound comment came from someone somewhat older who said that like hundreds of others, she hated going to French class as a student. It speaks of a system that doesn’t know how to educate its students on Canada’s other official language.

Moving to a bilingual setting

When I was 20, I moved to Montreal. Despite taking French courses for 13 years, I was completely unprepared to live and work in a bilingual environment. It took me minutes to form short phrases, my vocabulary was extremely limited and I barely understood what was being said to me.

My perspective changed even further when I moved to France to work as an English Language Assistant at a high school in the Parisien suburbs. Alberta, and the rest of Canada, can learn much from how the French teach second languages.

From my first sessions with 12-year-old students, I could tell that they already spoke better English than I did French. Their sentences were clear, vocabulary strong and they knew how to express ideas.

Communication of ideas is what my role was focused on. I’d take groups of 10 to 12 students to my classroom, and, in my authentically Albertan accent, speak English to them. Often times, the lessons were planned with their English teacher, based on what they were learning in class.

The topics we talked about included the civil rights movement, the lives of historic figures like Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi and differences between North American and European culture.

Sometimes, I’d pose an open-ended question on the whiteboard and cross my fingers hoping that my students would pipe up.  That method usually led to great, enjoyable conversations —like the time where we spent an entire class talking about the sitcom “How I Met Your Mother” and how Robin Scherbatsky embodies certain Canadian stereotypes.

My students would speak their ideas and I’d correct them in real time. I was always amazed at how well they could speak about complex subjects in English.

The two most common mistakes they made were not pronouncing the h sound for words like “home” and “happy,” and saying “the” as zee or “there” as zerre. Beyond the simple correcting of grammar, my students received a language education I never had as a student … speaking and writing with someone fluent in the other language.

They learned to understand my accent. They questioned my usage of certain vocabulary and mimicked how I said things.

Need for spontaneity

So much of communication is situational and spontaneous: Where an event took place, what the score was, why someone was late for something.

The method of memorization forces students to retrieve information they retained and disposed of years ago. It also fosters a distaste of learning the language — the second anything becomes a chore, it becomes something we detest. It’s impossible to expect students, in the middle of conversation to recall what they were force-fed in some classroom years back.

It’s understandable that revamping the province’s French curriculum may not be high on Alberta Education’s priority list. Opportunities to speak the language organically are extremely limited—less than 25 000 of the province’s 3.6 million people identify French as the language the speak most often at home.

That being said, we need a conversation about whether the memorize-at-all-costs approach should be retired. Right now, that approach is leading Alberta students to despise — as opposed to appreciate — the French language.

Salim Valji is a media professional based in Montreal, Quebec. He is originally from Edmonton and has worked in Paris and New York City. 

Published in Education

by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga

Although a mass expulsion in 1755 resulted in their dispersal, the Acadians of present day New Brunswick and Nova Scotia remained undaunted and, upon their return, revived their cultural roots.

The Acadians are the descendants of 17th century French immigrants. For 100 years, they lived as a French colony called “Acadie.”

Under British rule since the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, they did not want to bear arms in the event of war and were recognized as neutral subjects within the colony from 1730.

During the War of the Austrian Succession, Governor Charles Lawrence of Nova Scotia refused to trust them because of their religious and linguistic affiliation — Catholic and French. In 1755, the Acadians were deported in small groups to British and French colonies around the Atlantic.

“They (the British) saw them as an obstacle to the larger empire that they wanted to build in North America,” says Maurice Basque, a scientific advisor at the University of Moncton.

Several thousand Acadians died during deportation of illness, drowning and starvation.

Today, as a global strategy, Acadians are working to revitalize their traditions and bring back Acadians from around the world to their origin in Canada.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“[The] 300,000 Acadians that you find today in Atlantic Canada speak French on a daily basis and [call] themselves Acadians.”[/quote]

The return of the Acadians

The Acadians were allowed to return after 1764 on humanitarian grounds. They rebuilt their villages in eastern Canada and began rebuilding their culture.

“[The] 300,000 Acadians that you find today in Atlantic Canada speak French on a daily basis and [call] themselves Acadians,” says Basque.

The Musée des Acadiens des Pubnicos et Centre de recherché in Pubnico-Ouest has preserved Acadian history and culture since 1653. It prominently features the Acadian craft of quilting.

“We have workshops and classes that we give to people who are interested in keeping the traditions alive,” says Bernice d’Entremont, museum coordinator.

With new techniques and sewing machines, quilting is not usually done the way it was 350 years ago. But at “Quilting Bees”, d’Entremont and others enthusiastically teach the art of hand quilting to a new generation.

 “There is a pride in doing the quilting and having it displayed,” she explains.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]In eastern Canada, the Acadian flag proudly flies next to the Canadian flag.[/quote]

Acadian revival

With time, Acadians have become “open-minded.” Basque says that they have proudly adopted Canadian identity. In eastern Canada, the Acadian flag proudly flies next to the Canadian flag.

Basque adds, “Canadian identity is very elastic.”

Now many Acadians work at the international level with Francophone organizations that focus on the youth. Association acadienne des artistes professionnel.le.s du Nouveau-Brunswick supports individual, French-speaking artistes and collectives.

The association, through its immigration initiatives, invites people to delve into Acadian artisan and take missions to other countries. 

René Cormier, president of the Société nationale de l’Acadie says, “We go to promote this region as the real region; we bring with us artists so the people of other countries can see, hear and feel what we are.”

They organize the World Acadian Congress every five years, which invites people from all over the world. The objective is to promote Acadian culture as an active and present part of the Canadian community.

“Our objective is to contribute to the development of Canada — what Acadian people can bring through the development of our culture,” says Cormier.

The group has members in almost all the provinces of Canada. They work for Francophones’ immigration that includes post-graduate students, young entrepreneurs and artisans.

Cormier adds, “We [are] really an organization that brings people together, not only to talk, but to work together.”

Future challenges

Among the challenges facing Acadians today is creating a closer relationship with the First Nations people of New Brunswick and helping them preserve their language.

“Acadians are Francophone and should understand, in my opinion, the wish of the First Nations to keep their languages, so the first languages of this continent won’t disappear,” says Marque.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]It’s still mostly what we could call traditional white.”[/quote]

Historically, the Acadians were allies of the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet First Nations who taught them how to survive extreme cold, dyke marshland, fish, farm, and locate spices and medicines.

“I must say as a historian that there is lots of goodwill, but concrete actions may be missing,” suggests Marque.

Acadians also need to build bridges with new groups that are arriving in Canada. New Brunswick is one of the least multicultural provinces in the country. “It’s still mostly what we could call traditional white,” Marque explains.

Marque concludes, “But the city I live [in], Moncton, is changing. More people that are arriving and settling here with different cultures, Acadians are now opting to the cultures of the world that are becoming part of their culture now.”

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Published in History

by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga

Many leaders of the East who fought to decolonize their countries from Western authoritarian rule were also educated in the West. Upon returning home, they became trapped in a mental rift – they owed their education to the Western system, which also worked to colonize and ruin their countries and people.

This dichotomy is relatable to the main character of Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains, a novel by Canadian author Yasuko Thanh.

It was usually lawyers or social scientists who became leaders and policy-makers to fight rigid authoritarian powers. However, in Thanh’s story, a group of Vietnamese nationalists enlist their friend – the refined, educated Vietnamese physician Dr. Georges-Minh Nguyen – to poison the French general and his garrison.

Dr. Nguyen has a medical degree from Lycée Condorcet in Paris. What he owes to the French and how they’ve taken over Vietnam clash to carve rifts in his psyche and cause him to slowly go insane.

The close-knit group of friends makes up a revolutionary cell called the Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains. They plot revenge on the French for the oppression they forced upon the Vietnamese – an act they hope will send a message to the colonizers that revolution has begun in Vietnam.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Most of the doubt was gone from his mind now. He was quite certain he could kill a man.”[/quote]

Justifying revenge

The book is based on the true story of the Hanoi Poison Plot of 1908, which took place in Saigon.

Dr. Nguyen is overcome by the guilt of the prospect of killing someone, until his pregnant wife escapes a rape attempt by a French soldier.

“Though he hadn’t told [his friend] Khieu about the rape his anger about it had made him steely. Most of the doubt was gone from his mind now. He was quite certain he could kill a man. Part of him was looking forward to trying.”

Khieu, a determined member of the revolutionary group, has his mind set on plotting revenge. His commitment is what allows the plan to continue.

However, the plot is foiled when cooks at the garrison confess to it, providing the names, places and dates of the plan to a priest. This forces the Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains members to flee to other provinces.

Dr. Nguyen avoids capture, but must leave his wife and his newborn son behind after they are caught by French soldiers.

“He’d never imagined kissing her for the last time. Not once. He’d never imagined last times for anything. He simply ran.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]It sheds light on how discrimination by French imperials aimed to make the Vietnamese feel shame and responsibility for their plight.[/quote]

Laying blame

The book depicts the era of the French colonial period in Indochina, during which people were suffering from social deprivation and using drugs to quell their anguish. It sheds light on how discrimination by French imperials aimed to make the Vietnamese feel shame and responsibility for their plight.

Dr. Nguyen encounters a French doctor at the Centre for Infectious Disease Control to discuss the “Paddy Fever,” or yellow fever. He is taken aback when Dr. Michaut calls the Vietnamese “teachers of moral vice” because he believes they have “corrupted” the French soldiers.

“What was this man on about?” thinks Dr. Nguyen. “If only he didn’t need his help, his lab, his equipment, he’d pop him in the jaw.”

Instead, Dr. Nguyen suggests Vietnamese boys engage in prostitution in opium dens to pay for their own opium habits, or to acquire goods they can’t afford.

From the French doctor Michaut’s perspective, the offence is less evident: “I don’t include you in these comparisons. You studied in Paris, like me,” he says to Dr. Nguyen.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Vietnam’s colonial history reflects some of today’s challenges of occupation and abuse of people’s land.[/quote]

Suffering under colonialism

Thanh tells us stories of capricious characters that go to great lengths to overthrow their colonial oppressors. Her characters survive living amongst imaginary, yet dangerous, ghosts.

She takes us to a savaged, but vivid, colonial Vietnam, where streets are filled with fierce threats in the form of killing, rape and rebels’ chopped heads mounted on bamboo poles as warnings.

After his marriage with Dong, Dr. Nguyen lacked solace and drifted away from his wife. Once, in conversation with her, he justifies his absence by explaining the historical colonization of Vietnam by one power or another, resulting in turmoil and agony for the country’s women.

“Our country is in crisis," he said. "Men abandon their families and leave their wives in charge of feeding the children. The women have no money and they do what they must to survive. This country was the possession of the Chinese, and now is the mistress of the French. For a thousand years we’ve lived under the dominion of others. It’s why everyone’s going mad.”  

Vietnam’s colonial history reflects some of today’s challenges of occupation and abuse of people’s land. In war zones like Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and many others, colonialism results in the total disarray of a country’s inhabitants, and leaves their attempts at survival and revolution against past oppressors unfulfilled as they are quickly taken over by new ones.

Thanh’s novel shows that the lust for power results in horror and misfortune for the colonized and is ultimately reflected in the truest form of human tragedy – the loss of innocence.

Tazeen Inam is passionate about both print and electronic media. She has a master's degree in mass communications, has worked as a senior producer and editorial head at Pakistani news channels and has contributed to BBC Radio Urdu in London, England. Inam is presently pursuing a course in digital media studies at Sheridan College.

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Published in Books

by Matt D’Amours in Montreal 

Is there any topic touchier in Canada than Quebec’s identity politics? 

It might be easier to answer this question from the outside looking in, but for us Québécois, conclusions are a bit harder to come by than they might be in what is (mostly) affectionately referred to as the “ROC,” or the “rest of Canada.” 

Questions of identity become even harder to reconcile when, as in my case, a person is saddled with dual identities that appear to be at odds. 

On one side, I am an “old-stock” Quebecer – a descendant of French settlers who were sent to establish fishing operations in the Bas-Saint-Laurent region hundreds of years ago. On the other side, I’m the grandchild of Italians who left behind farmland in Italy to immigrate to Canada in the mid-20th century — with only $5 in their pockets, as our collective mythology never fails to underline. 

Then there is the ever-divisive issue of language. I grew up in a household where Dad spoke to me in French and Mom spoke to me in English. Having learned these languages at the same time, my speech is accent-free on both sides, leading Francophones and Anglophones to simultaneously conclude that I’m “one of them.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Bill 101 doesn’t protect the French language as much as it does those who speak it,” Verboczy writes, alluding to the anxieties that French was being phased-out of Quebec culture . . .[/quote]

Somehow, I’ve always maintained a delicate balance between these two backgrounds, and the question of identity has never preoccupied my life. However, I’m fascinated by the issue of Québécois identity, which is often presented to Canadians through the lens of inflammatory think pieces in Anglophone media. 

I was delighted, then, to come across the thoughtful book by Akos Verboczy titled Rhapsodie Québécoise, in which the author explores the dimensions of identity — politics, heritage and language — from the perspective of a Hungarian immigrant who “became” Canadian. 

Or, rather, became Québécois? 

A Hungarian in Montreal 

Verboczy’s account of moving from Hungary to Canada in the 1980s examines many issues that remain hot buttons. As a pre-teen, the young Hungarian arrived in Montreal when opposition was growing against Quebec’s controversial Bill 101, the infamous language law passed in 1977 that gave French precedence in the province. As a result of this law, immigrants are required to send their children to French schools in order to ease their integration into Quebec society. 

Verboczy writes that immigrants were quickly informed by others in their new communities that Francophones were “principally welfare-receiving, uneducated racists” — a sign of resentment against Bill 101 and its purveyors. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The charge of ingrained racism seems to be echoed from within our culture as well.[/quote]

But Verboczy ended up embracing the language which he was forced to learn, and spends many pages sympathizing with the concerns that led to the language law’s creation. He points to the monolithic influence of American products in Quebec and the resulting dominance of English-language culture. 

“Bill 101 doesn’t protect the French language as much as it does those who speak it,” Verboczy writes, alluding to the anxieties that French was being phased-out of Quebec culture — anxieties that persist today. 

Is Quebec really racist? 

From my observations, the suggestion of overwhelming racism in Quebec seems to have been adopted as pure fact. I’m reminded of a recent column on Gawker, which offered Americans a guide to moving to Canada if Donald Trump becomes president of the United States. When Quebec is brought up, it’s framed as an unwelcoming society, and the article’s comments mirror this characterization. 

The charge of ingrained racism seems to be echoed from within our culture as well. Verboczy decries a speech made by Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois — the student spokesperson of the 2012 “Maple Spring” — in which he proclaimed that “if there is a Québécois tradition to conserve, it isn’t poutine or xenophobia.” 

“Pardon? Xenophobia, a tradition?” Verboczy asks in response. “In my view, we’re actually thinking, disgusted, of that uncle at Christmas lunch who said that it’s unbelievable, this unreasonable business of Hassidic Blacks who impose themselves with their halal pork.” 

He argues that caricatures of a rustic Quebec that is closed-off to foreigners have become accepted conventional wisdom over the years. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Verboczy doesn’t shy away from tricky questions regarding the experience of Canadian immigrants, and not everyone will agree with his conclusions.[/quote]

Where are we going? 

Such is the title of Verboczy’s final chapter, in which the immigrant-turned-defender of the French language and Québécois culture reflects on modern questions of integration.

He points to the unique challenges posed by 21st century communication technologies, which allow newly arrived immigrants to remain in constant contact with their countries of origin. Verboczy says this can slow down the integration process for immigrants, as it can “give the illusion that they never left their countries.” 

In response, the author places a greater onus on immigrants to adapt to their new surroundings, arguing “they must accept that their identity will change, and that it will have to superimpose itself on a backdrop that already has its colours and reliefs.” 

Verboczy doesn’t shy away from tricky questions regarding the experience of Canadian immigrants, and not everyone will agree with his conclusions. However, Rhapsodie Québécoise explores these issues with boldness, nuance and humour that is, in my view, mostly absent in mainstream media analysis.

Verboczy confidently strikes back against charges of an intolerant Quebec, offering an important perspective that is often drowned out in polarized debates surrounding the province’s identity politics. 

Matt D’Amours is a Montreal-based journalist who focuses on politics, social justice and Montreal’s protest movements. He was born and raised in Montreal’s multicultural borough of Ville Saint-Laurent, where cultural diversity is an everyday fact of life. Growing up speaking English and French simultaneously, D'Amours inhabits a space between Anglophone and Francophone – between Canadian and Québécois – which affords him a critical eye towards identity politics.

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Published in Books
Friday, 11 March 2016 19:23

‘Fredy’ Takes on Racism in Quebec

by Elvira Truglia in Montreal

The death of 18-year-old Fredy Villanueva, shot at the hands of police in Montreal North, inspired Fredy, a documentary play by Annabel Soutar about the 2008 shooting and the response from the local immigrant community.

The playwright set out to look at what happened from all sides and leaves audiences to reach their own conclusions about a story that provokes anything but indifference.

Const. Jean-Loup Lapointe shot Villaneuva during an altercation that started after police found Villaneuva and his group of friends playing an illegal game of dice. Villanueva’s death provoked a riot, stirred allegations of racial profiling and immersed the Villanueva family into legal battles with the Montreal police that lasted for years.

A coroner’s inquest was launched into Villanueva’s death. After a five-year wait, the coroner’s report came out in 2013 and says mistakes were made all around, but there was no foul play by the police.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The dynamics of power relations within the legal system and between the police, majority communities and immigrant communities are at the heart of Fredy.[/quote]

The report left many unanswered questions about the circumstances and investigation surrounding Villaneuva’s death. Written by Annabel Soutar, Fredy was created as a space to look at these questions and encourage audiences to reflect on race relations.

Fredy plays in French at Théâtre La Licorne until March 26.

One of the play’s main themes is how Montreal immigrant communities believe they are targeted and treated unfairly by police. In 2011, a Quebec Human Rights Commission report backed these claims, calling out the systemic racial profiling and discrimination of racialized youth.

In the eight years following Villanueva’s death, reports on migration issues have made regular headlinesin Quebec. Last year, Quebec Human Rights Commission surveys raised red flags about religious intolerance, as well as ethnic and racial discrimination.

”I think Quebec should have a deeper conversation about how to integrate immigrants into our society, and if our institutions treat people equally and if we are indeed a racist society,” says Soutar, who was recently named one of Canada’s 2015 artists of the year.

A contentious play

The dynamics of power relations within the legal system and between the police, majority communities and immigrant communities are at the heart of Fredy.

Seven actors play multiple characters and cover five years’ worth of court transcripts and verbatim texts from judges, lawyers, police, media, hospital staff, family and the youth questioned by the police on the night of the shooting.

“We don’t really have access to the court, and all of a sudden to have access…to hear the facts, what was really said about this subject…I learned a lot of things,” says theatre-goer Yannick Chapdelaine.

What makes documentary theatre so powerful is the verbatim text, the voices of real people, as spoken in private interview or public record.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The play you will never write already exists, it is in the memory of those who didn’t give you access.”[/quote]

In Fredy, whose voices are actually heard remain a subject of contention. Notably absent is the voice of Fredy Villanueva. And, although his mother Lilian Villanueva collaborated early in the documentary process, she withdrew her support when she found out the playwright interviewed a police officer.

Theatre-goer Angel Mota thinks one of the strengths of the play is hearing many perspectives. “I was moved when the anonymous police officer said Fredy’s death also affected the police officers involved and their families,” says Mota.

“I do think that Fredy is a victim, but you have to prove it, and I think the play proves it very well,” he adds.

What stood out for Florence Blain was how the play brought out the human perspective, even on the police side because we tend “to put people into boxes right away; there is immediate judgement,” says Blain.

But Lilian Villaneuva is seeking justice for her son and, according to the play, questions the motives of the playwright to include the police perspective in her documentary.

“The play you will never write already exists, it is in the memory of those who didn’t give you access,” says Ricardo Lamour speaking as himself on stage. He is both an actor in the play and member of the family support committee, a citizen group created after Villaneuva’s death.

Lamour was also the person mandated to pull the plug on the support committee’s participation in the play. Soutar’s last minute efforts to reach out to Le comité de soutien à la famille Villanueva worked to restore trust and landed Lamour a role as the judge in Fredy.


Soutar’s choice to include the tension between the family and herself in the play acknowledges her self-described position of privilege writing about a poor immigrant neighbourhood in Montreal North.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Things won’t change if we don’t change representation in Quebec, in the public sphere.”[/quote]

Casting several actors in colour-blind, age-blind and gender-blind roles was another important theatrical decision that questioned assumptions about social roles.

“We had a vision that a black person should be able to play a white person, an old person should be able to play a young person and men should play women. In fact…sometimes you hear the language more clearly if you`re not thinking about the physical envelope of the person who’s speaking,” says Soutar.

Fredy’s legacy

Lamour wants theatre-goers to remember that “they (the police) killed this guy representing diversity, representing the new face of Quebec, this young bright man by the name of Fredy who was protecting his brother.”

“The support committee would like to see bolder action for social change. I think they remain skeptical about the theatre’s ability to provoke that change,” says Soutar.

“Prejudices about minorities killed Fredy Villaneuva,” says Mota. “Things won’t change if we don’t change representation in Quebec, in the public sphere.”

He wants the conversation to go beyond Théâtre La Licorne. “We need to start representing minorities in the movies in Quebec, in TV, in other plays,” says Mota.

Debates about Quebec’s lack of diversity on screen recently resurfaced during the Oscars whitewashing controversy.

“We need to…have a reflection on police, on its purpose and its inability to create wealth for our popular neighbourhoods; they actually kill it,” says Lamour.

The real litmus test will be to see what happens after Fredy closes.

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Published in Arts & Culture

by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City

Twenty years after voting in Quebec’s referendum on sovereignty, immigrants in the province say cultural relations are improving, but more progress is still needed.

In October 1995, 2,362,648 Quebecers voted against the provincial government’s move to make Quebec an independent state. The ‘no’ side won in Quebec’s second referendum on the issue, with 50.58 per cent of the vote.

For many immigrants, the result represented a challenge to the old notion of Quebecois identity.

“What we were hearing before ’95, which we don’t hear anymore, is pure laine,” says Simon Jacobs, who immigrated to Canada from England in 1989.

Pure laine, or pure wool, is used to refer to Quebecers whose ancestry can be traced to the original French settlers of the province.

Jacobs says that everything Quebec wanted, in terms of maintaining its identity and creating its own laws, already existed, but that important questions about Quebec’s monetary policy remained unanswered.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“People were saying, ‘I’m American. I’m Syrian. I’m Italian,’ but I didn’t hear, ‘I’m Canadian.’”[/quote]

He says he voted against separation, though he wasn’t sure if he would remain in Quebec at the time.

“I did not feel this was home,” he adds. “I think after the referendum, I had a change of attitude, and that change of attitude was, ‘Damn it, this is where I live. This is my home.’”

Voting in favour

But not all immigrants felt that federalism was the answer to the question of what constitutes Quebecois identity.

“I didn’t feel pride,” says Abdallah Ghazal about his arrival in Montreal from Syria in 1968. “People were saying, ‘I’m American. I’m Syrian. I’m Italian,’ but I didn’t hear, ‘I’m Canadian.’”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Anything that’s divisive to harmonious relationships is not good for multiculturalism.”[/quote]

Ghazal, an agronomist, went on to teach high school science and biology in Victoriaville, QC. In 1995, he voted in favour of sovereignty, and says the decision was largely influenced by the ideas of René Lévesque, founder of the Parti Québécois and defender of Quebec’s independence.

“I admired him because he talked about separation, but also an association with Canada,” says Ghazal. “We would stay a unit of Canada with our own culture and way of life. That’s why I voted ‘yes.’”

Effects of divisive politics

The Parti Québécois, led by then premier of Quebec, Jacques Parizeau, orchestrated the referendum and promoted the 'yes' campaign. As the results were revealed on the night of the referendum, Parizeau proclaimed that the 'yes' side had lost due to “money and ethnic votes.”

“From the standpoint of harmonious relationships between communities in Quebec, I think it was very divisive,” says Jack Jedwab, Executive Vice-President of the Association for Canadian Studies and the Canadian Institute for Identities and Migration. “Anything that’s divisive to harmonious relationships is not good for multiculturalism.”

He adds that the effects were not as “devastating” as they could have been because Quebec society is more interested in harmony than in division.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“[T]here’s not that big of a difference between Toronto and Montreal in terms of how immigration and integration are managed.”[/quote]

Ghazal says he was encouraged by efforts of the provincial government that followed to secure rights over Quebec’s immigration policies and preserve the French language.

“I’m for the preservation of Quebecois identity,” he explains.

Jedwab says that while most Quebecers value diversity, Quebec decision-makers often associate multiculturalism policies with the federal government.

“It’s been suggested to Quebecers that multiculturalism is associated with ghettoization, or preserving one culture at the expense of the culture of the majority of the province,” he says. “The reality on the ground is there’s not that big of a difference between Toronto and Montreal in terms of how immigration and integration are managed.”

Jacobs says it’s wrong to underestimate the degree to which policies from the federal government can be manipulated on the part of separatists to cause “a rift,” and points to the niqab debate of the 2015 federal election as a recent example.

“I compare it to a marriage,” says Jedwab of Quebec’s relationship with Canada. “You’ve got to work all the time to make it vital. If you don’t do that, it breaks up.”

He says that for him, and the majority of Quebecers, divorce is not a desirable option.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The lack of exposure of the general population outside Montreal to different religions and cultures is the biggest problem here in Quebec.”[/quote]

Challenges faced by today’s immigrants

Jacobs, now president of the Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network, teaches history and works in tourism in Quebec City. He notes that as an oral minority, he faced different challenges than visible minorities face in Quebec.

“The lack of exposure of the general population outside Montreal to different religions and cultures is the biggest problem here in Quebec,” he says.

Ghazal says that he too did not face the same challenges as many immigrants in Quebec experience today.

“I was raised in a private French college,” Ghazal shares of his upbringing in Syria. He says he arrived in Quebec with several of his peers who went on to become engineers and doctors.

Ghazal married and raised two children in Victoriaville, where he worked as a teacher until his retirement 15 years ago.

“Today, many who arrive with diplomas like me find it more difficult to find employment,” he says. “A lot of engineers and doctors come here and are not recognized.”

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Published in Arts & Culture
Wednesday, 30 September 2015 13:45

Niqab as an #Elxn42 Issue? Ridiculous.

by Shireen Ahmed in Mississauga, Ontario 

The recent decision by the Federal Court of Appeal that ruled in favour of Zunera Ishaq, who challenged the ban on the niqab at Canadian citizenship ceremonies, has resurrected a non-issue into an election topic. 

During last week’s French language leaders’ debate and in the political commentary that followed, the niqab, and related ruling, was consistently brought up as an issue. Incredible, considering the Charter of Rights protects the rights of a woman making her own choices. 

“Never will I say to my daughter that a woman has to cover her face because she is a woman,” declared Conservative leader Stephen Harper at the debate. 

But would Harper allow his daughter to cover her face if she ever chose to as allowed by Canadian law? Smug about not forcing a face veil, he is also ready to coerce women out of one. 

While ignoring statements by Muslim women who have said that they have chosen to wear niqab of their own volition, Harper continues to weave the veil – which less than two per cent of Canadian Muslim women choose to wear – into political discussions. 

Ignoring important women’s issues

Harper should not get to mansplain what is appropriate for Muslim women while consistently ignoring many issues of concern to women.

By obsessing over the niqab, he is taking our eye off important discussions we should be having on eradicating domestic violence, supporting youth programs or social services for young women and ending the atrocious gender pay gap in Canada.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Canadians do not get to decide what a woman may wear.[/quote]

Irrespective of polls claiming that an overwhelming majority of Canadians dislike the niqab, a woman’s right to choose what to wear is paramount.

Canadians do not get to decide what a woman may wear. Women get to decide why they wear it and how they want to practise their faith.

Having an opinion on a woman’s outfit, however irrelevant, is normal. But making it a focal point of a federal election is ridiculous.

Muslim women do not need ‘saving’

It is 2015 and instead of focusing on a plan to eradicate or even address violence against women, Harper is trying to distract Canadians by polarizing discussions while on the campaign trail. 

Should we copy our neighbours to the south and begin discussions on women’s reproductive rights or reconsider whether or not a woman should drive, or better yet, vote? 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]If we are stuck in a system where one of the most pressing election topics is whether or not Canadians are okay with Muslim women making choices about body autonomy and clothing, then it is a worrying time to be Canadian.[/quote]

If we are stuck in a system where one of the most pressing election topics is whether or not Canadians are okay with Muslim women making choices about body autonomy and clothing, then it is a worrying time to be Canadian.

Elections can be boring and frustrating. But the process should be used to reflect on important conversations about issues that matter to Canadians, governance and our country, not reductive discussions that are insignificant on the wider scale. 

During the French debate, NDP leader Tom Mulcair said, “It’s not by depriving these women of their citizenship and their right that you’re going to help them.”

Therein lies the problem.

Muslim women do not need to be helped nor do they need saving. They have a constitutionally accorded right to make their own choices.

Shireen Ahmed is a writer, public speaker and sports activist focusing on Muslim women in sports. She is an athlete, advocate, community organizer, and works with youth of colour on empowerment projects. She is a regular contributor to Muslimah Media Watch, a global sports correspondent for Safe World For Women and works on the Muslim Women in Sports website. Her work has been featured and discussed in Racialicious, Policy Mic, The Globe and Mail and several more. Ahmed’s blog Tales from a Hijabi Footballer, where her passion for sport, politics and women’s issues collide, has been recognized by Sports Media for its candid discussions. She is currently working on her first book.

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Published in Commentary

by Rosanna Haroutounian in Montreal

Thursday night’s French language debate in Montreal featured more discussion of immigration and refugee policy than any other leaders debate thus far in the federal election.

The first debate to feature all five leaders was also the first one in which they deliberated the recent court decision to allow women to wear the niqab in citizenship ceremonies.

On Sept. 15, a three-judge panel ruled that the federal government’s ban on wearing niqabs during citizenship ceremonies violates the Citizenship Act.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]In Quebec, 93 per cent of respondents were in favour of the requirement that niqabs and burqas be removed during citizenship ceremonies.[/quote]

However, a public-opinion poll, released on a government website on the day of the debate, found 82 per cent of respondents favoured the requirement that niqabs and burqas be removed during citizenship ceremonies. In Quebec, 93 per cent of respondents were in favour of the policy.

Conservative leader Stephen Harper ordered the poll, which was conducted by Léger Marketing in March.

“If a man cannot impose his will on how a woman dresses, then we should not have a state that decides how a woman dresses,” said Justin Trudeau, leader of the Liberal Party.

He said that the state’s role should be to defend the rights of minorities and women, and that Harper and Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe were using the issue to play on fears and division.

“This is a question of equality between men and women,” said Duceppe.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Duceppe said he would ban women from wearing the niqab while taking oaths, voting, and administering and receiving public services.[/quote]

He pointed out that leaders of Quebec’s provincial parties and several mayors support a bill proposed in the National Assembly in June that would ban public-sector employees from wearing clothing that covers their faces.

Duceppe said he would ban women from wearing the niqab while taking oaths, voting, and administering and receiving public services.

“I'm so surprised to see the Bloc Québécois, once so progressive, about to embark into the arena on a matter this divisive,” said NDP leader Thomas Mulcair. He also said Harper was using the court’s decision to distract voters from other issues.

Mulcair added he favours the existing rule, which requires women to unveil and identify themselves before taking the oath.

“Our position for a long time has been that when you join the Canadian family, you should not hide your identity,” replied Harper.

Following the Federal Court’s ruling, Harper said the Conservatives would appeal the decision if re-elected.

Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, said the niqab debate was a “false debate” and distraction from issues such as the economy, jobs and climate change.

May also questioned why, in a discussion about women’s rights, there was no mention of an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Refugee crisis debates continue

The leaders were also questioned about the refugee crisis.

“We have already said more refugees, faster, but while still protecting our security and assuring the selection of the most vulnerable refugees for our country,” said Harper. “This is not the time to just open our doors. It’s not responsible.”

Trudeau said Canada should be doing more at the humanitarian level and that his party would like to see 25,000 Syrian refugees come to Canada. He added that during the Vietnam War, Canada accepted 60,000 refugees who made a positive impact in cities like Montreal.

“We could accommodate 10,000 Syrians very quickly, not wait until 2018,” said Duceppe.

Duceppe said the parties should work together with organizations, provinces and municipalities to intervene in Syria and prevent genocide, as was done in Kosovo. He said Muslim women are the main victims in this crisis.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The system to help refugees does not work. As an MP, I worked with Syrian Canadians. It’s very difficult because there are too many rules.”[/quote]

“It’s clear that the federal government has not succeeded in their commitment to accept 10,000 refugees,” said May. She added that the federal government achieved its budget surplus by cutting spending to refugee programs.

“The system to help refugees does not work,” she said. “As an MP, I worked with Syrian Canadians. It’s very difficult because there are too many rules.”

Trudeau said the Harper government made cuts to health care for refugees, but Harper rebutted this stating that the only time people were turned down from receiving health care was when they had made false refugee claims. He maintained that Canada’s refugee program is one of the most generous in the world.

Mulcair said his government would accept 9,000 refugees by Christmas and 46,000 in the next few years.

Challenging Harper on Canada-Saudi relations

Mulcair and Duceppe asked Harper why Canada continues to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia while knowing about its human rights violations and support of ISIS. Both party leaders pointed to the case of Raif Badawi, a journalist who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison by Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court for insulting Islam, among other charges.

Badawi’s wife lives in Sherbrooke, QC, where she has appealed to provincial and federal leaders to support freedom of the press and extricate Badawi from prison.

“We've indicated we would welcome Mr. Badawi, who is not a Canadian citizen, at any moment,” said Harper. “But it's not right to punish workers in a factory in London, [Ont.] for this. It doesn't make sense.”

Leading up to the Oct. 19 election day, there will be a bilingual Munk Debate on foreign policy held Sept. 28 featuring Harper, Mulcair and Trudeau and a second French debate, hosted by TVA, on Oct. 2 featuring Duceppe, Harper, Mulcair and Trudeau.

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Published in Politics
Thursday, 01 January 2015 05:00

Bilingualism: A Canadian Advantage

by Corinne Cécilia

Bilingualism is arguably what sets Canada apart from the rest of North America – it has historically been the strength of our nation. However, of late, there is some cause for concern. While the demand for second language skills is growing both locally and globally, the number of bilingual people in Canada is on the decline. There are many causes for this slow down, in particular challenges within the education system, but research shows there are also several promising solutions that could help reverse the trend. For starters: newcomers.

 Not only do immigrants tend to support bilingualism as an integral part of the Canadian identity, many also wish to learn French. According to Voices of New Canadians: Factsheet for Educators, part of a study published by the Canadian Parents for French, 60 per cent of Allophone parents feel that learning both of Canada’s official languages would benefit their children. Furthermore, Statistics Canada reports that “in many cases, immigrants who could speak more than one language reported knowledge of English or French, in tandem with a non-official language: 61.2 per cent were able to converse in English or French and one or more non-official language(s).”

It is not surprising, then, that young immigrants are well represented in post-secondary institutions that bet on linguistic diversity such as York University, which in 2012, opened Canada’s first Centre of Excellence for French-language and Bilingual Post-secondary Education based out of Glendon College. Thirty per cent of the college’s students are Francophones hailing from Canada, Europe, Africa, the Caribbean and beyond; graduates are expected to develop a demonstrated proficiency in two or more languages. This groundbreaking landmark is evidence of the economic and social value of multilingualism, the challenges of a global world and the high level of academic achievement concomitant with reaching literacy in multiple languages. Graduates of the liberal arts — the social sciences and humanities — are in high demand for jobs in government, business, non-governmental organizations and more, in Canada and internationally,” reports the school’s website.

It is clear that York is a trendsetter in the bilingualism arena, and it is vital that others catch up.

Second language skills in the workforce

Dr. Yves Lostanlen, manager of Siradel North America, ahigh-tech firm providing geolocalized data and advanced software to manage and deploy city-wide information and communications technology infrastructure (in particular wireless) that services both the private and public sectors, says all of his staff members in Canada are from different nationalities and cultures and speak three or more languages; in fact, almost all speak at least French and English. Inevitably, English is the common language when discussing technical and business issues, however, work is “a social universe,” explains Dr. Lostanlen, who is also an adjunct professor in the communication group at the University of Toronto.

“In order to create social connections,” he says, “understanding cultures, languages and traditions is not only fascinating, it also plays an essential role in increasing productivity. Promoting French as well as other major languages is certainly desirable, even indispensable to make interpersonal communication and business more effective.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]As Canada diversifies its trading partners, entering into free trade agreements with the European Union and other nations, the general population mastering two or more languages is more relevant than ever.[/quote]

Canadian organizations doing business with government agencies, or subsidiaries of multinational companies all need staff that can speak a second or third language. “Thales is a global business and we are built around recruiting internationally, especially in the transportation sector of [the company],” says Michelle Forbrigger, Vice President of Human Resources & Communications for Thales Canada Inc., a global technology leader in the defence and security, aerospace and transport markets. “The skills we have difficulties finding are signalling designers and system safety engineers. We also need bilingual staff in certain areas such as human resources and communications. We can arrange interviews in French and English, and other languages such as Mandarin.

What’s true for business organizations is true for our nation. As Canada diversifies its trading partners, entering into free trade agreements with the European Union and other nations, the general population mastering two or more languages is more relevant than ever. As the International Federation of Language Teacher Associations puts it: “There is growing awareness that languages play a vital role in development, in ensuring cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue, but also in attaining quality education for all and strengthening cooperation, in building inclusive knowledge societies and preserving cultural heritage, and in mobilizing political will for applying the benefits of science and technology to sustainable development.” 

Such evolution creates excitement, and has led many to wonder: How well do school programs prepare students to master French as a second language? If we are serious about the benefits of bilingualism and the need for students to prepare for today’s global economy, are our language programs adequate and sufficient?

Bilingualism inside post-secondary institutions

In his essay “Bilingualism: A Canadian Challenge”, Dr. Bernard J. Shapiro, a Professor of Education and Principal Emeritus of McGill University, suggests the main issue lies at the post-secondary level. “Canada’s second official language is more widely taught in our elementary and secondary schools than was previously the case, and immersion programs in the second official language have been a very welcome development. Canada’s colleges and universities are, however, a complete failure in this area. Not only have they not adjusted their curricular offerings to take advantage of the increased bilingualism of their entering students, it has also not seemed to occur to them the great national service they could perform by insisting on (or at least encouraging) bilingualism as a standard of a "Canadian" graduation.” 

Incidentally, critics of Canada’s official language policy can’t be ignored. Sceptics have been questioning the costs and failure of what some call ‘enforced national bilingualism’, pointing to the fact that “real bilingualism in this country is quite geographically isolated” as Stephen Harper puts it in his opinion piece published in The Toronto Sun on July 15, 2011. And, however unpopular this observation may be, it’s not unusual to hear Canadian individuals and businesses perceive Quebec’s Charter of the French Language (also known as Bill 101) to be oppressive.

Opening to the world

Surely there is no single, best way to address such a complex challenge as the decline in bilingualism. But there is a wealth of public and private initiatives to get inspired by, and build upon, as the nation aims to develop French language skills among Canadian learners.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Learners need to practice in real-life settings, and experience French as a Second Language (FSL) beyond the class and homework – from home stays to school exchange programs.[/quote]

Experts agree that second-language exposure plays a key role in the retention of bilingualism. French immersion programs are essential, but overall they don’t seem to produce fluently bilingual graduates. Learners need to practice in real-life settings, and experience French as a Second Language (FSL) beyond the class and homework – from home stays to school exchange programs, and from summer camps to trips to France organized by Canadian Parents for French – thus creating abundant opportunities to embrace the French culture as an exciting global community to be part of.

Learning new languages thoroughly requires efforts that can only be sustained by a strong interest, a true commitment that no official policy can artificially create, nor hinder. Personal motivation is paramount to success. Correct writing is admittedly the biggest challenge when learning French. Not only should educators spot learners who are particularly talented in that area and support them, but also collectively, they must encourage and reward learners who work hard at improving their writing skills. Scholarships and awards, such as the national essay contest created by French for the Future, are extremely important tools.

Canadian businesses know the importance of incentives. “No one can deny it; mastering both official languages is important career-wise,” says Elaine Pichette, a human resources business partner with Thales in Montreal. “It is a competitive advantage, but it needs to be nurtured.” So when employees express the wish to improve their language skills, the company supports them.

Raising awareness about bilingual career opportunities is equally important. According to an independent report released by Colleges Ontario in 2014, 85.9 per cent of Collège Boréal’s students find employment after graduating – ranking higher than the provincial average graduate employment rate of 83.4 per cent. “Our graduates are fully bilingual,” says Pierre Riopel, President of Collège Boréal. “Nowadays, it’s an added value that they can sell. It’s a competitive advantage in terms of customer service. The fact that Francophone colleges exist gives legitimacy to multilingualism.”

Discords over Canada’s official language policies (the Official Languages Act in particular) have fuelled the ‘two solitudes’ for too long. Isn’t it time we bury the hatchet, move beyond the past and stop making excuses? It is time to change the subject and embrace a new-century ideal of multilingual literacy.

Corinne Cécilia is the Managing Editor of Maison & Demeure, the sister publication of House & Home. Corinne is passionate about publishing and has worked as a researcher, columnist, writer and editor with Canadian and international magazines and media outlets. An adept of foreign languages and lifelong learning, she was the French editor of Education Canada magazine from 2007 to 2011. Corinne holds a Master’s degree in Anthropology. 

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Published in Commentary
Saturday, 03 May 2014 14:34

Canada Before Canada

by Books Editor Abby Paige

Review: The Orenda, by Joseph Boyden, Penguin Canada (Fiction, 2013)

It’s easy to keep track of how long my citizenship study guide has been on my nightstand, because it arrived in the mail, acknowledging receipt of my citizenship application, the same month I gave birth to my son. I naively attempted to study the guide during those bleary early weeks of parenthood — naively because I always ended up falling asleep and because, two and half years later, I have not yet been contacted for my test.

Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship is a bureaucratic document, but that’s not to say it is without imagination. Albeit in bland and simplistic language, the guide articulates a vision of Canada, part historical, part aspirational, which immigrants are expected to embrace — or at least parrot — in order to gain citizenship. One of the ideals most prominently positioned in the guide is that of Canadian multiculturalism, and its emphasis is justified. Indeed, it’s why many immigrants come here. Somewhat interestingly, Canada’s multicultural fabric is described as primarily a consequence of immigration: “over the past 200 years, millions of newcomers have helped to build and defend our way of life.”

This makes a bit of a muddle, however, of the 200 years before that. Canada’s “three founding peoples,” we’re told, are Aboriginal, French, and British,” but “Canadian society today stems largely from the English-speaking and French-speaking Christian civilizations that were brought here from Europe by settlers.” Anyone who has lived in Canada for any length of time knows this to be factually true, and yet framing Aboriginal Canadians as peoples of the past is troubling. If Canada is a multicultural nation, as my guide professes, how do its native peoples contribute to that diversity?

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]If Canada is a multicultural nation, as my guide professes, how do its native peoples contribute to that diversity?[/quote]

First contact

For the past few weeks, Joseph Boyden’s novel, The Orenda, has also been in residence on my nightstand. It is a story of “first contact,” the moment in the 17th century when New France was just coalescing, before the crowns of Europe fully understood the wealth of the Americas, and those few Europeans who did set foot in the New World were largely on their own. It is, in a sense, a Canadian origin story, of the time before country, commonwealth, or colony, when aboriginal peoples sensed both the risks and rewards of relationships with the Europeans, if not the speed with which one would outweigh the other.

The novel, Boyden’s third, is narrated in the voices of three main characters. Bird is a prominent warrior among the Wendat people, who lived in much of present-day southern Ontario, particularly near Georgian Bay. Considering his status as a war-maker, Bird’s is a sympathetic and sometimes even tender voice, perhaps because his narrative is addressed to his departed wife, who along with their daughters was murdered by a Haudenosaunee war party years earlier. In revenge, he leads an attack on a small group of Haudenosaunee early in the book, killing several and taking prisoner a young girl whose family is among the dead.

Snow Falls, who is accepted into Bird’s community as his adopted daughter, provides the second narrative voice. She is understandably resentful of her captors, and when she isn’t exacting revenge outright, she’s searching for ways to subvert her adopted father’s plans for her. She often provides stark reminders of the divisions and commonalities between native peoples. “My people are a farming people, just like these Wendat,” she says, early in her captivity. “We are part of this earth. We speak similar tongues and grow the same food and hunt the same game. Yet we’re enemies, bent on destroying one another. I don’t understand it.” Snow Falls’ ferocity is exciting, and keeps the whole novel dimensional, preventing it from becoming a simple power struggle between two masculine points of view, the martial Bird and the proselytizing Christophe Crow.

Crow, our third narrator, is a French Jesuit dispatched from Quebec to make inroads with the Huron peoples farther inland. Bird’s people take him in reluctantly, hoping to cement their budding trading relationship with the Europeans. Crow is well-meaning, but prudish and arrogant, by turns moved by the exotic beauty of the “sauvages” and horrified by what he perceives as their brutality and unabashed sexuality. His clumsy attempts to preach Christianity in the Wendat language are tolerated, but mostly met with a mixture of boredom and laughter. He is such a fish-out-of-water, tumbling down embankments and wobbling canoes, that we, like Bird, are almost convinced of his impotence.

Historical dynamics

These three characters guide us through the evolution of Bird’s community over roughly a decade, as it is transformed from a vibrant village of several hundred to a wandering band of few dozen souls, reduced through several waves of disease, crop failures, and an escalation in warfare with the Haudenosaunee. These pressures coincide with a greater influx of French settlers and European weapons. (The British are mentioned only in passing, but the fact that the story is written in English, which none of the three characters would have spoken, hints at a further wave of upheaval on the horizon.)

These are historical dynamics of which most readers would be aware. But if Boyden’s book is history, it’s history on a human scale, deeply complicated and unnerving. The violence of the book is troubling — some critics have maligned it as too vivid — and the manipulative methods to which the Jesuits resort to win souls are similarly unsavoury. Yet these complications add to the novel’s richness rather than detract from it. Without painting anyone as a villain, Boyden is able to suggest to the reader how deeply strange Aboriginals and Europeans must have been to one another — and perhaps continue to be. And yet, they are able to approach a fragile interdependence, too fragile, unfortunately, to survive the greater forces at work.

Released last September, Boyden’s bookhas been shortlisted for numerous national literary awards, and this spring it won CBC’s 2014 Canada Reads contest, which sought to name “a novel to change our nation.” I would agree with the assertion, made as part of that contest, that reconciliation with Canada’s native peoples is long overdue and among the greatest social justice issues of our time.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]It is a novel that asks us to find our future in our origins.[/quote]

If we envision Canada as a truly multicultural society, where the historical and current contributions of all groups are honoured, we ought to be equally aware of all three of our founding peoples. The Orenda seems like a good place to start in developing that awareness. It is a novel that asks us to find our future in our origins. Likeness is attractively easy and comfortable, but in the end, in a multicultural society we are bound together by something more complex: the shared effort to find common ground where none may be readily apparent and (to borrow a phrase from my citizenship study guide) forge “unity from diversity.” This is what Boyden’s characters struggle to do and likely what many Aboriginals and Europeans did in the early days of their encounter. Boyden has picked up a thread of Canadian history that was dropped, one that might be key to holding our multicultural fabric together.

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Published in Books
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