Lest We Forget: Can Remembrance Day Survive Multiculturalism?

Lest We Forget: Can the National Tradition of Remembrance Day Survive Multiculturalism?

Rose Acacia

Since 1919, Remembrance Day has been a national day to remember and honour those who died defending our freedoms and a greater good.

Since 1921, the red poppy, which grew over the graves of fallen soldiers during World War I, has been worn on Remembrance Day as a national memorial symbol. Bill Maxwell of the Royal Canadian Legion calls the red poppy “a symbol of sacrifice.”

This year a controversy has arisen surrounding what is known as the “White Poppy” campaign. The Rideau Institute, a non-profit pacifist organisation in Ottawa, and a handful of University of Ottawa student activists, hope to have handed out 2500 free white poppies by Remembrance Day, including during the national ceremony in Ottawa. The white poppies with the slogan ‘I Remember for Peace’ were apparently designed with young people in mind, because, according to Steven Staples, president of the Rideau institute, young people want to celebrate peace, to “work for peace,” rather than “celebrate war”.

In a similar vein, Peter Harsnape, a white poppy wearer, has said that “[o]pting for white is against the glorification of war.” This false mixing of Remembrance Day and the red poppy with the glorification and celebration of war is insulting. Julian Fantino, Canada’s Minister of Veterans’ Affairs, calls these and other similar remarks about Remembrance Day and the red poppy “totally disrespectful” and “an offensive attempt to politicize Remembrance Day.”

Canadians have to ask a number of questions : Are young people, with minimal real understanding of ‘military sacrifice’ and what the poppy stands for, being used to promote a particular ideology? Is this white poppy campaign an attempt to change a traditional ceremony, to interfere with and appropriate it, making it stand for something else? Is this one more instance of the politically correct form of multiculturalism assaulting Canada and forcing Canadians to relinquish their heritage, their traditions, the meaning of their ceremonies, and their heroes?

Most Canadians will agree to “multiculturalism” if it means accepting a limited number of people from other cultures. But the term “multiculturalism” now implies that Canadians have to unconditionally embrace unlimited numbers of such people and tolerate the displacement of Canada’s heritage. And these things are to continue, as they began, with almost no consultation and no justification.

How did “multiculturalism” start and evolve into the perniciously meddlesome being it has become?

At the Sixth conference of the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews (CCCJ), held in Winnipeg in 1963, Charles Hobart, an American-born Canadian sociologist from the University of Alberta, “praised Canada” for its type of multiculturalism. Yet the term ‘multiculturalism’ was only first publicly endorsed in Canada by Canadian Senator Paul Yuzyk in 1964 and then further in 1965. According to the German scholar Miriam Richter,

“On 3 March 1964, (Senator) Paul Yuzyk called Canada ‘a multicultural nation’ in his maiden speech to the Senate of Canada. Later, in his opening address at the 1965 Annual Conference of the Canadian Association of Slavists, Senator Yuzyk used the term again, also quoting Hobart, and merged both his and Hobart’s ideas to call for a new Canadian political programme, which he named ‘multiculturalism’.”

At this time, the idea of Canadian biculturalism, not multiculturalism, was prevalent. For example, in the 1950s, the Pearson government had asked “What steps should be taken to develop the Canadian Confederation on the basis of equal partnership between the two founding races (French and English), taking into account the contribution made by other ethnic groups?”

Then, in July of 1963, the Pearson government established the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, which aimed to address this ‘equal partnership’ between the French and the English, as well as a brewing conflict between them. As we all know, in 1763, New France (Quebec) had come under British colonial governance and in 1774 “Francophone Quebecers were to become a subordinate partner in the British colonies in America.”

Until 1951, most of the population of Quebec was French, predominantly a result of internal fertility, and Quebec nationalism was strong. This Quebec nationalism highlighted the subordination of Quebec to Canadian Anglophone sovereignty and the absence of recognition regarding the parity of English and French as the two founding races of Canada. Quebec’s Quiet Revolution arose and sought a possible separation from Canada.

The (B and B) Royal Commission, partly in an attempt to neutralize the danger of Quebec’s secession from Canada, acknowledged the founding roles of the Francophones and Anglophones by establishing French and English as the two official languages, making Canada bilingual. However, it did not consecrate biculturalism as official—partly because of two Eastern European members of the Royal Commission, specifically Polish and Ukrainian, who voiced their concern that biculturalism did not recognise other cultures and ethnicities as equal and valid in Canada. In the face of cultural pluralism, Canada accommodated the existence of the multiple cultures and ethnicities in Canada and established itself as a multicultural rather than a bicultural nation.

In October 1971 multiculturalism was officially sanctioned as a national policy within a bilingual framework. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau proclaimed to Parliament that:

“We believe that cultural pluralism is the very essence of Canadian identity. Every ethnic group has the right to preserve and develop its own culture and values within the Canadian context. To say we have two official languages is not to say we have two official cultures, and no particular culture is more ‘official’ than another. A policy of multiculturalism must be a policy for all Canadians”.

But, it is important to note that at this time multiculturalism addressed the presence of the many European cultures (non-British and non-French) that existed in Canada rather than the myriad non-European cultures that would exponentially grow and take hold in Canada because of mass-immigration over the next few decades. In other words, the official multiculturalism policy of 1971 did not mean encompassing large groups of non-European races, cultures, or ethnicities at this time— precisely because the percentage of non-European ethnic minorities and immigrants in Canada was still very small.

Additionally, the non-discriminatory 1967 points system was not implemented until 1976 and it was not until the increased presence of Third World immigrants and communities, which really began to show from the late 1980s onwards, that the multicultural ideology of Canada would come to mean the inclusion of these groups. However, it can be said that Trudeau had imagined the future of Canada as being open to immigration from the whole world, not just European countries, and what this would entail, and, consequently, had imagined Canada in the near future as a multicultural nation encompassing more than just European ethnicities and cultures.

In fact, Pierre Trudeau called multiculturalism “a big political experiment” that had as its “aim” the testing and refinement of “a theory of how to overcome national or ethnic conflict”. This experiment involved the mixing of

“the populations of existing states even further, with a view to ultimately separating state and nation altogether, thus undermining the psychological basis for an intense and exclusive state patriotism and preparing the way for the necessary transition to a world of semi-sovereign states (or provinces) under some form of global governance. Only in this way could the terrible destructive potential of modern scientific warfare be brought under control.”

 By the mid 1980s progressive conservative PM, Brian Mulroney, expressed his support for multiculturalism by saying that “the Tory Party will no longer allow itself to be called the Party of White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. It stands for multiculturalism”. In fact, “Multicultural diversity was an absolutely indispensable part of Canada’s national identity and to reject it was to reject the essence of this society. Unity did not depend on uniformity. It depended on shared experience, shared values, mutual respect, and mutual goals.” Social unity was no longer conceived in terms of White ethnic, religious, and cultural homogeneity but on a commitment to a multicultural (and thus multi-racial and multi-ethnic) ideology and identity.

The 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms bolstered this heterogeneous view by stipulating in section 27 that “[t]his Charter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians.” Furthermore, the Canadian Multicultural Act was established on July 21 1988. This Act

“…acknowledged the freedom of all members of Canadian society to preserve, enhance, and share their cultural heritage. It saw multiculturalism as a fundamental characteristic of the Canadian heritage and identity and as an invaluable resource in shaping Canada’s future, and it sought to promote the full and equitable participation of individuals and communities of all origins in the continuing evolution and shaping of all aspects of Canadian society.”

By Royal Proclamation, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien designated June 27th, 2002 as Canadian Multiculturalism day.

The establishment of the experiment of multiculturalism as Canadian law and national identity is explained by what William Kymlicka, a philosophy professor at Queen’s University and leading political theorist of Canadian multiculturalism, calls the “deep institutional embedding of multiculturalism”. This ‘embedding’ has been carried out by a series of government funded programs and “government-wide commitment[s] that all departments are supposed to consider in designing and implementing their policies and programmes”, which have been designed to bolster ethnic diversity. These policies and programmes have included:

“…support for academic research and teaching on ethnicity; anti-racism education programmes; support to ethnocultural organisations to organize heritage-language education and multicultural festivals, or to assist in immigration integration services; and support to public institutions to implement reforms to remove barriers to the participation of ethnic groups.”

This ‘embedding’ was also furthered by what Kymlicka refers to as “a long march through the institutions at all levels of Canadian society,” including the churches, schools, media, entertainment, civic organizations, colleges and universities. This ‘long march’ has sought to change existing traditions and historical institutions by mandating multiculturalism into all aspects of Canadian life.

A strategy of the ‘long march’ of multiculturalism is ‘political correctness’. People who are patriotic, who are critical of immigration and the experiment of multiculturalism are often dubbed as politically incorrect. American author Linda Kimball explains that “in order for one not to be thought of as racist or fascist, then one must not only be non-judgmental but also must embrace the ‘new’ moral absolutes: diversity, choice, sensitivity, sexual orientation, and tolerance.” People who refuse to conform to this “uniformity in thought, speech, and behaviour” suffer from penalisation and censorship.

Since the 1970s, millions of Canadians have grown up with multicultural policies and ideology.

Teachers, the media, public speakers, and politicians have entrenched the Canadian public with the message that multiculturalism is an essential aspect of Canadian national identity. National institutions, traditions, and culture have been radically transformed by multiculturalism and the heritage of Canadians has been slowly eroded and forgotten. Today, politically correct multiculturalists are seeking to change the tradition and meaning of Remembrance Day by appropriating the day and its symbolic flower. This falsifies its meaning.

Let us continue to remember the meaning of our sacred traditions and symbols such as Remembrance Day and the poppy. Let us continue to bestow the traditional honour to those who fought and sacrificed their lives for the freedoms and ideals that are enjoyed by the people of Canada today. Let us continue to remember the European roots of Canadian traditions.

Finally, let us continue to have the courage to speak out against ‘political correctness’, which persistently aims to alter Canadian traditions according to the experimental ideology of multiculturalism.