Commentary by Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver
Though I have family’s roots in B.C. going back a century, I stumble when cataloging the “unique” values underlying Canadian culture.
The default list reads like a dating ad: Canadians are compassionate, polite, enjoy nature. These, however, are hardly unique to Canada and when stirred together in our post-national pot, the parts fail to congeal into a distinct culture, complete with unwritten rules on family and community interactions.
The sad reality is that Canadians are increasingly a world unto themselves. According to the 2011 census, for the first time ever there were more households of people living alone than there were of couples with children.
If there is a social fabric in this country, it is a giant sheet of bubble-wrap stretching from sea to sea, as both young and old increasingly live, consume and exist in their own disconnected worlds.
Kellie Leitch, a Conservative MP from Ontario, however, disagrees with these cold statistics and trends of social fragmentation. For the former labour minister and minister for the status of women, there is one Canada with one set of distinct values.
The aspiring candidate jockeying for Stephen Harper’s vacated office as Conservative leaderwants to test all immigrants for “anti-Canadian views that include intolerance toward other religions, cultures and sexual orientations, violent and/or misogynist behaviour and/or a lack of acceptance of our Canadian tradition of personal and economic freedoms.”
The statement reads so smoothly it is difficult to discern any sinister edges, such as whether one can wear a burkini at a beach or paddle a canoe in a turban. The ambiguity, however, is reaping rewards for Ms. Leitch.
The dark-horse MP has surged ahead of the Conservative Party leadership pack and into the eye of the news-cycle. The media attention has already started pulling the leadership contest to the right – Tony Clement is now also calling for “enhanced screening” as part of his national security platform.
Ms. Leitch’s policy position, however, is flawed on many counts, starting with redundancy. New immigrants are already subject to numerous checks through an arduous process that can take years. In addition to this, the immigration process intensely screens for any links to criminal or terror groups.
Once an application has been approved, immigrants swear a citizenship oath to uphold Canadian laws – again duplicating Ms. Leitch’s statement.
A robust values-screening test would require exhaustive probes, interviews, possibly polygraph tests and yet, these measures may still fall short in detecting thought crime. Of course, a practical shortcut would be to racially profile applicants but that would be distinctly un-Canadian by Ms. Leitch’s standards.
Based on an orthodox interpretation of Ms. Leitch’s statement, few of Canada’s 300,000 annual immigrants who currently are admitted as entrepreneurs, investors, tech workers, caregivers, grandparents and so forth would make it into the country. Any followers of a faith that does not endorse same-sex marriages, for example, could be labelled as an “intolerant,” including not only Muslims, but also Jews and Christians.
Suddenly the Mexican farm worker or the Filipina nanny are potential pariahs because of their Catholic faith. The Indian or Pakistani IT engineer may not be welcome given the practice of female infanticide in those countries.
This absurdity cuts to the heart of the flaw with Ms. Leitch’s proposal. Placed under a microscope, every culture across the globe will reveal underlying streaks of intolerance.
Ms. Leitch has conflated cultural values with Canada’s secular ideals. Her formula for Canadian values is a mission statement for the modern secular state – it is not a living, breathing, organic culture.
But the Conservative MP’s intent was never a sincere effort to strengthen our sense of national unity as much as it was to divide it. Her statement was an act of feigning concern for national security to wink at Mr. Harper’s power base of “old stock” Canadians. This is Part II of the Conservative Party’s “barbaric cultural practices” tip line.
Across the West, candidates with far greater ambition than scruples are skillfully wielding tools invoking fear to carve out voting blocks. Ms. Lietch is not the first Canadian politician to cloak discriminatory aims under the guise of a benevolent policy.
But when Ms. Leitch’s subterfuge is rejected for a serious candidate, she may be the first to learn the one true Canadian value is that we can all be one and yet be different – without having to be different in the same way.
Jagdeesh Mann is executive editor of the Asian Pacific Post. This comment has been republished under arrangement with the Post.