The Changing Canadian Identity

02/13/2013 07:16 EST | Updated 04/14/2013 05:12 EDT

A common misconception by most Canadians is that all immigrants (regardless of country of origin, religious background, ethnicity) face a common set of experiences (opportunities and challenges) as a group. There-in lies the basis of misunderstanding of the immigrant phenomenon by most Canadian-born residents.

The immigrant set can be generalized in to two distinct groups. Lets call one group CONGREGATES and the other DISSIPATES.

The Congregates, upon arrival to a new country/city/environment, tend to be drawn to those most similar to them. This behavior can be oft-times mistaken as cliquish or xenophobic to an outsider of that Congregrate group. In reality, it is simply a matter of simple economics and practicality. Language barriers of the new environment tend to foster immediate group cohesiveness among the Congregrates (who presumably share their native language). The group bonding overcomes all individual deficiencies and works as a shield against external bias and prejudices that a congregate member is more likely to face as an individual. Everyone looks out for the other within this group. As a result, there is not much incentive to move beyond or outside of the group, even for employment reasons. Over time, the group bonding becomes more rigid thus making it ever more impractical (or harder) to move outside of the group.

Dissipates on the other hand tend to be sole survivors. They either don't wish to belong to any identifiable group out of their own volition (for personal, social, religious, political reasons) or because their particular identifiable group is so small or dispersed that group bonding is impractical. As solitary survivors, these individuals tend to immerse faster and harder in to the mainstream culture. They adapt and rewire their behavior to learn, integrate and exude attitudes and the lingo of the people of the "visible majority". However, the acceptance by the junta is not always reciprocal. The Dissipate is after all an outsider attempting to enter the circle of trust. Thus Dissipates traverse a path of the nomad - belonging neither here nor there - but moving on nevertheless and never looking back.

From social, economic and political viewpoints this perspective matters a lot. Canada is a young nation of relatively small population that is evolving through its generous immigration policy. While the case for diversity and talent and population growth for sustainability of this nation is commonly touted in the media, there is another aspect that is often overlooked.

It is true that Canada does have varying regional identities of some sort. One can broadly identify the English Canadian identity, the francophone identity, the Native Indian identity and so forth. But the immigrant identity is much more diverse and, for most part, in direct contact with the so called English Canadian identity.

What happens if the Congregates persist on indefinitely? Will it lead to social ostracization reminiscent of the Paris riots etched in our memories from not too long ago?

The Province of Quebec has been contemplating this very same question as they felt their Quebecois Francophone identity was dissipating. It appeared to them that it was no longer just enough that newcomers in the Province had to learn to speak French. Immigrants had to also exude a strong desire for adopting the Francophone culture.

How can our nation's immigration policy be altered to accommodate this attitude (viz. less congregation, more dissipation into mainstream society)?

First, while all existing criteria for selection and acceptance of applications to enter this country permanently are valid, there must also be an element of being able to judge how likely the person is going to immerse and adapt to the Canadian identity. This can be easily resolved through the various foreign offices that serve as first point of contact with the potential newcomer. The officers of the consulate are trained to understand the local culture well. They are best placed to make an informed non-biased judgement on how likely it is that a particular applicant will become a Congregate or Dissipate in Canada. By no means is this intended to be a bias in the selection process. It is simply a matter of adding an element to already vast and complex selection criteria in place.

Second, policies need to go beyond job-training workshops and ESL classes. Classes must stress the importance of establishing Canadian values that must be respected by everyone just as a Canadian would be expected to respect the culture and traditions of a foreign country.

An interesting phenomenon that can be readily observed by anyone is that in large urban centers that are generally multicultural and diverse, the congregate phenomenon tends to happen more than in small urban locales where the dissipates tend to proliferate better. A reason behind this can be attributed to availability syndrome. More congregate members available = easier to form insular groups. So if social policy allows incentives to locate to small urban centers, then it is likely to see positive net benefits to both the new settler as well as to the local community.

Movements away from the core lead to seismic shifts. To maintain stability it behooves all people in the nation to continue to define and preserve its core identity and share these common values while also respecting individual traditions and cultures. The expectation is that the newcomers leave behind some of their "excess baggage" at their departing airport and try on some "new clothes" upon arrival in Canada.