Whoa Canada

July 1 is more than another off, or at least, it should be

By Paul Berton and Lorrie Goldstein
The Edmonton Sun
JULY 1, 2008

It's supposed to be an important national celebration, but has it become just another day off? Seems many Canadians have trouble mustering feelings of patriotism and pride on Canada's birthday? Sun Media's Paul Berton and Lorrie Goldstein wonder why.

PAUL BERTON: You'd think Canada Day would be the most important holiday of the year. It seems many people treat it as just a day off.

LORRIE GOLDSTEIN: Stands to reason since we barely teach our children Canadian history and don't explain to immigrants and refugees what being a Canadian means. If we won't take pride in our country, why should anyone else?

BERTON: I don't know about that. Canadian history is taught pretty well in schools, and I think immigrants and refugees are among the few who really appreciate Canada Day.

GOLDSTEIN: The refugee issue proves my point. I support taking in genuine refugees. But Auditor General Sheila Fraser has just reported we've lost track of 41,000 failed refugee claimants who were supposed to be deported. That's two-thirds of all deportees. How can any self-respecting nation allow that to go on, year after year?

BERTON: There's no excuse. But I'm guessing many of these folks may know as much about the Maple Leaf and Medicine Hat as those born here.

GOLDSTEIN: I agree with you that many immigrants are among our most productive, loyal citizens. But too many others use us as a doormat. Remember the evacuation of Lebanon a couple of years back? That was a classic case of dual citizenship run amok. While we had a moral obligation to rescue them from a war zone, why are we bestowing citizenship so easily on people who are obviously Canadians of convenience, not conviction? They treat Canadian citizenship merely as an insurance policy, while actually living abroad.

BERTON: Oh please. Don't tell me you're against duel citizenship?

GOLDSTEIN: No, I'm against the abuse of dual citizenship and the abuse of the refugee process. What's more, it's relevant to the issue we're discussing, the general lack of interest in Canada Day, other than as a day off work. A country that hands out citizenships like candy and is content to lose track of thousands of failed refugee claimants without any consequences, is a country that lacks pride in itself. So why be surprised when many citizens lack national pride as well?

BERTON: Well, you're simplifying it. First, many, many of those 41,000 failed refugee claimants have simply left Canada quietly. They're not here, so how can we be expected to keep track of them? Second, even if the figure was 41,000, it is miniscule in comparison to those in other countries around the world. Yes, it's unfortunate that some people acquire a Canadian passport and then leave for economic opportunities elsewhere, but Canada is often on the receiving end of that equation too. We get the benefit of many people who work here when they should be helping their own countries. Finally, you know better than to say we give out citizenships like candy. There are many problems with the process, but generosity isn't exactly one of them.

GOLDSTEIN: Actually, Canada accepts a much higher percentage of refugee applicants than most developed nations. As for immigrants, yes, many people all over the world are lining up, in the right way, to get into Canada, and patiently waiting many years to do so. That's why so many Canadians are cynical about the immigration and refugee process, where those playing by the rules suffer while those ignoring them (not legitimate refugees, but failed claimants who disappear to avoid deportation) are easily able to exploit the system. Not something to celebrate on July 1, is it?

BERTON: Losing track of people is not something to celebrate, but the problem is not as big as you suggest. Many of these folks simply leave the country before being deported. And given that so many people are trying to get into Canada, you'd think more of us would be celebrating simply being born here.

GOLDSTEIN: Agreed. I also agree that many immigrants are among our most passionate Canadians. Heck, studying for the citizenship test gives them a better grounding in our history than most of us who were born here have. I'm simply saying there are logical reasons for why it's happening, starting with the fact our politicians and governments often downplay the pride and values we should have. Even expressing support for our soldiers has become controversial, as in if you do so, are you being militaristic? To me, it's completely bizarre.

BERTON: It is indeed a shame that supporting troops is somehow controversial. A far as politicians downplaying pride, it's not just them. Parents. Coaches. Teachers, maybe. So many people don't even bother standing at attention while the national anthem is played, let alone know the words. Or the significance (and multitude) of other Canadian icons. And I'm not just talking about canoes and maple syrup. What can we do to make Canadians better informed?

GOLDSTEIN: Individually? Pride in your country, I think, starts with learning about its history and no, I wouldn't just dump that job on schools. Change starts with every individual. We're lucky enough in Canada that you can go into any public library and learn, for free, about our history. The only people who say Canadian history is boring are those who don't know it. Pierre Berton's books are boring? Give me a break. That said, I'd require a strong Canadian history component in public education. Simply put, you don't graduate from high school if you can't pass the same citizenship test immigrants have to pass. Of course, we'd have to ensure resources were available to teach kids properly — something I'd happily pay higher education taxes for.

BERTON: And while we're at it, how about geography? And not just in school. What about family trips to the Rockies, the Prairies, the Maritimes or the Canadian North, Pelee Island or Yellowknife. St. John's or Tofino or Quebec City? World travel is great, but every true Canadian should travel the country and see the people. And what say we learn more about and support products like Canadian wine instead of automatically gravitating toward those made in France, California or Australia?

GOLDSTEIN: Agreed. Another good investment of public money is getting young people visiting, working and living with each another across the country. Pretty hard to “hate” Quebecers, or Torontonians, or Albertans when you become friends with someone your age from there because their family welcomed you into their home last summer and vice versa. It's hard to dismiss aboriginals as whiners when you see the Third World conditions on many reserves. The best weapon against unfairly stereotyping groups of people is to get to know some of them. And when you travel across Canada, you realize what a great country it is.