Dumbing Down Canadian Values

March 9, 2006: Dumbing Down Canadian Values

Dumbing down 'Canadian values'

Father Raymond J. de Souza
National Post

Thursday, March 09, 2006

CREDIT: Ted Rhodes, CanWest News Service
Imelda Penney, originally from the Philippines receives her Canadian citizenship in Calgary.

VANCOUVER – Canadian immigration success stories are rather easily told here on the West coast, where a massive influx of Asians has transformed this city. There are sushi bars on Robson Street and luxury goods stores catering to newly-arrived wealth. The excesses of success — shocking house prices and bridge-choking traffic — are present too, but there is a palpable sense that mass immigration has worked in Vancouver, creating a leading city at the dawn of what might be the Pacific century.

The family work ethic and emphasis on education that mark the cultures of the Indian subcontinent, Indochina, China, Korea, Japan and the Philippines is everywhere evident. Small business owners seem predominantly Asian, as do the high achievers in high school and university.

Racial conflicts are minimal, and the scourge of Toronto violence seems very far away — though there have been many killings within a Sikh community that has known factionalism.

Perhaps that general confidence leads to a greater willingness to discuss immigration frankly. Martin Collacott of Vancouver's Fraser Institute did that in a paper that is being excerpted this week on these pages. Mr. Collacott's report focused more on combating terrorism, but he raises the question of what we expect of our immigrants. He advocates a greater commitment to “Canadian values” — a call that has earned him the usual criticisms. The local paper here had a page of letters, some of which denounced the push for Canadian values as racist.

Mr. Collacott, a courtly retired diplomat, brushes that off, noting that he is married to a Vietnamese woman, and his children speak Vietnamese. “I am part of the diversity here,” he says unremarkably.
The question though is not whether new Canadians are taught more seriously about Canadian values, but which values they are taught.

Our immigration bureaucracy already produces a “values” document, A Look at Canada. The short booklet is aimed at helping would-be citizens bone up for their citizenship exams.

It must be a maddening task to capture the spirit of a country and its identity in a thin booklet — a task usually entrusted in Canada to royal commissions. But the booklet remains pretty thin gruel. We can hardly expect our immigrants to know Canadian values if we don't present them.

Would you be surprised to know that they are advised to join an environmental group? Indeed, the first section after “Introducing Canada” is entitled “Protecting the Environment.” A prospective citizen would be forgiven for thinking that a country that advises him to “throw waste paper or other garbage in designated public garbage containers” and to “join a car pool” doesn't have very much to say about itself.

The principal Canadian values are enumerated thus: equality, respect for cultural differences, freedom, peace, law and order.

Peacekeeping is mentioned, but the sacrifice of Canadian forces in both World Wars is not. The aboriginal origin of the word “Canada” is explained, but not that the usage “Dominion of Canada” deliberately echoed Psalm 72, “He shall have dominion from sea to sea” – echoed again in Canada's official motto: “a mari usque ad mare.”

And so it goes, presenting a country in which no great principles were ever fought for, but providing pictograms on how to mark a ballot. There is precious little in A Look at Canada that would indicate that Canada was a pioneer in the liberal order of democracy, limited government, human rights and the rule of law.

There is little attention to the early pioneers who tamed the land and the entrepreneurial spirit that sustains prosperity today. Fundamental freedoms are put on a par with maintaining folk customs. There is, in fact, little to indicate why someone would want to come here at all, save for the fact that we are very nice to each other and take out the garbage.

My parents are immigrants and, like most of the Asian immigrants in this city, they no doubt had more robust ideals in mind when they chose to come here almost 40 years ago. Mr. Collacott's hope, that the new citizens of today would be as committed to Canadian values as were my parents, depends first upon Canadians being willing to explain what those values are. In a country not united by race or culture, the transmission of those values is essential.

The new Canadians driving the transformation of Vancouver and other cities deserve an account of Canada worthy of their commitment, sacrifice and loyalty. They did not come here to join a car pool.

National Post 2006