Do The Stories We Sell Ourselves About Nationhood Need to be Explored?

One out of every five Canadians is an immigrant. In our largest cities, as many as half of the people were not born inside our borders.

Ask an average Canadian and they’ll agree with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when he said, “Diversity is our strength. Ask them what he means and they probably won’t know, but they do know diversity is just a word. The action of ensuring the fair application of civil rights, engaged citizenry, and fighting the discrimination that continues to plague Canadian communities proves a much bigger challenge.

What Is The Work of Diversity?

The diversity most often spoken about by politicians is defined as that of race, sexual orientation, and religion. This sort of demographic diversity is easy to evaluate and apply, but it also has the inherent capacity to create stereotypes and cultural assumptions that undermine the ability to strengthen our society through the range of perspectives and experiences individuals bring.

Political slogans have their uses, usually to advance a policy position and claim the high moral ground. But they may also selectively draw on the facts of reality, and massage the truth so that it becomes unrecognizable. —  McGill Prof. Philip Carl Salzman

In this week’s Conversations That Matter episode, immigration and refugee civil rights lawyer Zool Suleman takes Prime Minister Trudeau to task for his uniform, homogeneous assertions about the Canadian value of diversity.

“There are problems,” he said.

Those problems stem from, Suleman says, a complacency in which we build all-encompassing frameworks that cannot be evenly applied because, while Canada is clearly diverse in terms of visible differences, individual diversity and experience are often not accounted for, and therefore marginalized in an effort to create uniform sentiment on contentious issues.

Those hot-button issues include indigenous rights and the environment. Civil rights of refugees and immigrants dominate the headlines with solutions proving far more complex than soundbites.

What Is The Responsibility of Canadians To People Who Come Here?

Is it the responsibility of refugees and immigrants to integrate into Canadian society? Or is it the responsibility of Canadian society to create a system that empowers newcomers to become engaged citizens?

Suleman and others agree there is a fine balance to strike in an ever-evolving paradigm of social, economic, political, and cultural shifts.

“The challenge is how to value each voice for what they are,” he said.

That begins with Canadians taking responsibility through developing and applying program including cultural competency training for employers, advocacy programs, policies that do not promote self-segregation, and tools to ensure that immigrants are able to integrate their professional training and find skill-appropriate work.

It also begins with allowing for a diversity of thought that values individual concerns.

In Defense of Everyone’s Civil Rights


Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees all citizens basic rights.

In order for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to function as it is meant to, it must protect the rights of all Canadians under any circumstance — not in any sort of homogenous form.

How those rights are applied, in particular to visible minorities, is often called into question. One of the most recent and polarizing examples is the Niqab ban in Quebec.

Scott Vroon from talks about how such blatant violations of the charter demonstrate the very reason for having the Charter in place.

Lawyer Mihad Fahmy who serves as the chair of the human rights committee at the National Council of Canadian Muslims wrote in late 2016 that the Quebec religious neutrality laws were anything but.

This is one example of Canadian on-the-ground policies and sentiment proving far more separatist than the high-level praise for diversity from Prime Minister Trudeau.

The Fault Lines of Canadian Democracy

What can we embrace?  What can we not accept? These are the fault lines that are developing within the context of Canadian politics.

They encompass issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, indigenous communities — an expansive series of voices who are speaking with a vast range of concerns related to Canada’s growing diversity and the issues that come along with that complexity.

In July 2017, Sean Speer and Jamil Javani wrote in Policy Options as they examined the growing divide between urban and rural Canadians, which plays out dramatically in the lives of refugees and immigrants.

In November 2017, Angus Reid Institute released a study that showed Canadians have wide-ranging views on religion and its impact on politics, with roughly one-quarter believing religious diversity has negative effects.

University of Toronto Associate Professor Minelle Mahtani and UBC Professor Bruce Baum map out the ongoing and pervasive challenges of race and democracy in their Broadbent Institute article from June 2017.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Suleman believes that a critical place to move forward from is one that includes the difficult discussions about those fault lines in Canadian democracy. Only through integrating them and creating inclusive frameworks that address communities and the issues within them can we come closer to the strength in the diversity of which Trudeau speaks.

“If you say to me what are the challenges: migration is a challenge; the environment is a challenge; the indigenous moment that we find ourselves in is a primary theme that we need to address …The narratives we tell ourselves need to reflect these discussions, and that’s the challenge.” — Zool Suleman.



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