In recent months, Canadians have been challenged to defend one of the cornerstones of our modern society, namely multiculturalism.
The arrests last spring of 17 alleged terrorists caught for supposedly planning to bomb targets in Toronto plunged the Canadian Muslim community into a series of soul-searching sessions. In the cottage country around Lake Simcoe, police are currently investigating incidents of "nipper tipping," the ugly term used to describe assaults on Asians.
And this week in a Montreal speech to students that was seen as a naked bid to appeal to Quebec separatists, Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe has resorted to preying on the immigration fears of many Quebecers and indeed, many other Canadians.
In his speech, Duceppe blasted the "Canadian ideology of multiculturalism" and said immigrants must "integrate" into Quebec's francophone culture, a view that runs counter to Ottawa's official multiculturalism policy. He added that the other federal parties "are Canadian" and not up to the task of defending Quebec culture.
Duceppe's appalling attack on multiculturalism is not the first to come from senior Quebec politicians.
In August, Quebec Opposition Leader Mario Dumont suggested Quebec has enough immigrants and, while not wanting to cut off all newcomers, he did want to stop further increases.
Regrettably, these two political leaders may just be tapping into a deep well of unease among Quebecers, as well as many in Ontario and elsewhere across Canada, who question whether this country has become too tolerant, has welcomed too many immigrants who don't share Canadian values and is naïve to believe multiculturalism works.
A poll published Tuesday in La Presse found that Quebecers, by a wide margin, oppose virtually all cultural or religious accommodation with new immigrants and other minority groups. For example, 70 per cent opposed females wearing a hijab on a soccer field.
While the poll was limited to Quebec, it is highly unlikely that similar sentiments are not felt, to a greater or lesser extent, in Ontario.
It has been 36 years since Canada became the first country to adopt multiculturalism as an official policy. And in 1985, Parliament passed the Multiculturalism Act, which formally acknowledges the freedom of those who want to preserve their cultural heritage and recognizes the use of languages other than English and French.
And Quebec, like the rest of Canada, is becoming multicultural. Indeed, the province is in the midst of a royal commission on "reasonable accommodation" that is gauging Quebec's feelings on immigrants and how far the province should go to welcome newcomers.
Governor General Michaëlle Jean feels the entire country would benefit from Quebec-style hearings to air these feelings openly.
Clearly, all of Canada continues to struggle through multiculturalism issues and to define what it means to be a Canadian. Few countries have opened their doors to such a wide cross-section of immigrants as Canada and no city has embraced it more than Toronto.
We can be proud of our diversity, of our willingness to embrace a wide range of cultural and religious differences. Yet many of our recent newcomers still face bigotry, racism and job discrimination.
Canada is not at a point that has been reached in European countries like Britain, France and Germany where tolerance for minorities has eroded and riots have broken out. But our elected leaders, as well as every one of us, must remain vigilant to attacks on multiculturalism and ensure immigrants and minority groups are treated fairly and that their integration into Canadian society is as smooth as possible.
Instead of questioning multiculturalism, we should reaffirm the inclusiveness and tolerance that has made modern Canada a success.
Our diversity is a source of strength, not weakness. Millions of new Canadians have settled successfully in Canada over the last 100 years. They and their children are proof that multiculturalism works.
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