Canada’s multiculturalism policy came together largely in response to the strong separatist movement that took hold in Quebec during the 1970s. Those were the days of the firebrand Réne Lévesque and the extreme Rose brothers, Paul and Jacques.
Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal government developed its multiculturalism policy to demonstrate that all races, religions and ethnic groups had equal status in Canada.
For Quebec this was particularly important, as the primarily French-speaking population remembered well and with distaste the days of Anglo-Saxon dominance.
Generally, multiculturalism policy has served the country well. Most people coming to Canada now have an expectation – and a willingness – to learn English or French and accept Canadian values. New Canadians freely express their ethnic and religious identities without interfering with their ability to become productive.
Unfortunately, this is not the way multiculturalism has worked out in western Europe. In countries such as France, Holland, Sweden and Germany, multiculturalism has become a rather frightening ghettoization that tears at the fabric of their national lives. Muslim immigrants from North Africa, Turkey and the Middle East are not integrating into the mainstream of these countries. Social unrest is the result.
Customs repugnant to the native-born majorities, such as female genital mutilation, honour killings and the notion of jihad, show no sign of dying out in large parts of the Muslim immigrant communities. The resurgence of Salafism and other violent strains of Islam within immigrant communities exacerbates the problem.
To make matters worse, frank discussion of the problem is largely considered to be taboo, leaving such discussion to extreme right-wing groups.
Europe’s version of multiculturalism has failed, tearing at its very foundations.
Canada must avoid Europe’s predicament.
We should recognize what we have done right. Canada’s Muslim community is law-abiding, productive and peaceful, with more than its share of well-educated professionals.
While most Muslims have successfully integrated into the Canadian mosaic, some haven’t. Ghettoization, radicalism and anti-Semitism are the inevitable result.
While our problems are not trifling, on the whole Canada has avoided Europe’s extreme circumstances.
To ensure immigrants successfully integrate, we should continue to make certain that applicants have the skills to provide for themselves and their families. Restrictions on immigrants becoming dependent on government assistance are necessary.
When immigrants arrive, we should help with their housing but not give it at the public’s expense. Public housing can be ghettos in the making.
The children of immigrants should be educated in public schools, not separate religious schools. We must avoid the serious mistakes Europe made.
Similarly, we should ensure that immigrants share Canadian values. We have the cherished right to speak freely and the right to change religions – or accept no religion at all.
Primitive customs such as female genital mutilation, forced marriage, the marriage of first cousins, polygamy and honour killing are absolutely unacceptable. Canadian women are equal and violence towards a woman is a crime. The concept of a holy war must be abjured. New immigrants, regardless of religion or ethnic origin, must accept these basic values or choose a different country in which to live.
To avoid repeating Europe’s mistakes, all levels of government must adopt policies that discourage the ghettoization of all ethnic, racial and religious groups. Our educational system must reflect Canadian values and strongly discourage narrowly-focused separate schools. Preaching hate should bring deportation.
Finally, Canada must solve illegal immigration. Potential immigrants patiently waiting in their home countries can be carefully screened towards ensuring our cultural expectations. The recent problem of jumping the queue by walking into Canada must be addressed. Illegal immigrants should be promptly sent back to their countries of origin.
Canada is a country of immigrants – and a very successful one at that. And we need even more skilled immigrants who want to become Canadians.
But we owe it to ourselves and future generations to learn from Europe’s immigration policy failures. We need to keep Canada’s multiculturalism model alive and well.
Brian Giesbrecht is a retired judge and senior fellow at Frontier Centre for Public Policy.