We’re celebrating Multicultural Week in Saskatchewan, but a few days ago in Regina and Ottawa, ugly signs of racism and hate were evident in graffiti attacks on several private dwellings, a playground and four different places of worship.
Vulgar words and degrading white supremist symbols, scrawled by cowards at night, are intended to drive wedges of fear and division. But the communities’ reaction, across religious and cultural lines, is most often a strong expression of solidarity against such reprehensible conduct.
This instinct to condemn intolerance and to stand with those who have been victimized is crucial. It sends an important pan-Canadian message that there is no social licence for hate – not in Canada.
Ours is a young country with a small, but complicated population, beginning with Indigenous peoples, and then the Norse and French and British explorers and settlers, and then wave-after-wave of enriching immigration.
And today Canada includes every ethnicity, colour and creed, two official languages and many cultures – the diversity of the whole world – mixed together, not in a melting pot, but as an intricate mosaic, and strung out sparsely across the second-largest landmass on the face of the earth. And from all that complexity we have forged a nation.
The Aga Khan, an honourary citizen of Canada, has described this country as the finest expression of pluralism the world has ever known.
Queen Elizabeth has noted that Canadian citizens are not asked to deny their forebears or forsake their inheritance, but only that each of us should accept and value the cultural freedom of others, just as we enjoy our own.
Prime Minister Trudeau has long championed the point that Canada is strong and successful not in spite of our differences, but precisely because of them. In 1982, his father enshrined multiculturalism and the Charter of Right and Freedoms in our Constitution.
But we shouldn’t think that all of this goodwill is our automatic birthright. We cannot be careless. Our history records some painful failures.
The internment of Ukrainian Canadians in World War One and Japanese Canadians in World War Two. The Chinese Head Tax. The Komagata Maru. The Voyage of the Damned. The election of a Saskatchewan government in 1929 with the perverse involvement of the Ku Klux Klan. A hundred and fifty years of failure in reconciling with Indigenous people. Internet slurs about recent refugees. And that graffiti.
The truth is we always need to work very hard at the principled values that bind us together. Our sense of fairness and justice. A spirit of generosity. Compassion. Caring and sharing. Open hearts and open minds. Pride in our vast diversity.
Better perhaps than most countries, we have practised the creative art of accommodation – to make room for one another. To reach out. To listen to each other. To bridge differences. To try very hard to understand one another.
And once we have listened and understood, Canadians are typically prepared to act with and for each other together. Not because it’s in the narrow self-interest of some comfortable majority. Not because we HAVE to. But because we WANT to. Because the action we take together is right for the fair and decent country we aspire to be.
And thus, Canada is a triumph of the human spirit – built and held together, not so much by the force of law or the force of arms or force of any kind, but by our common will. And that kind of nation-building – the Canadian way – is a never-ending process.
Canada is now and ever will be a precious and delicate work-in-progress. It depends on us, all of us, always, together. And we dare not take it for granted.
Multicultural Week helps to remind us.