Mr. Leung asked a member of the audience, "If you like Iran so much then why do you come to Canada?" He then demanded to know: "Why are you here?" Some audience members were so offended by his comments and his dismissive attitude -- which one attendee characterized as "arrogant" -- that they decided to leave the event. Mr. Leung is also the Parliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism. It kind of sounds like a bad joke, doesn't it?
The irony is that it seems to be some Christians themselves who, in an effort to show respect for non-Christians, often pre-emptively remove "Christmas" from their greetings, events, and public symbols. While the intention is laudable, the effort is largely unnecessary. I appreciate and welcome the deep connection Christians have to the symbols of their holidays.
A celebration of our history brings us to reflect on the present. There are certain questions we must ask ourselves. What challenges do Norway, Canada, and other like-minded countries face in our efforts, for example, to promote democracy, protect, and live in an inclusive society with equal rights and non-discriminatory practices? What is our role in the global picture?
When I am nine, my parents and I immigrate to Canada from the wet, hot, and hurricane-ridden island of Cuba. Before May 31, 2002, I have never stepped beyond my beautiful little island, have never seen a landscape without palm trees or the ocean, have never smelt air that isn't rife with humidity with a hint of dog piss, sea salt, and garbage, and I have never wanted to.
I have thus alienated myself from the convention of associating a cultural, national identity to my name. I do not feel like a citizen of said country, but rather, a denizen of the world. I realize my situation is rare and privileged, but I am not insensitive to the many problems revolving national identity around the world.
So when the traditional North American holidays roll around, don't expect me to sanitize them. I don't expect my brother-in-law to dial down Hannukah thinking I'd find it offensive. I don't expect my mayor to skip Eid because I don't celebrate it. I look forward to the Chinese New Year parade and so do my kids. They shouldn't stop it because I'm not Chinese.
It benefits us all to be honest with ourselves and recognize that adopted in 1971, enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982 and further enacted in law in 1988, Canadian multiculturalism is a socio-economic failure that now stains our national mosaic. There is nothing new in pointing out the failure(s) of multiculturalism. However, what has yet to be engaged as a public conversation is the consideration that, as our society's seeping open secret, the socio-economic failure of multiculturalism is what explains the festering phenomenon of black support for Rob Ford.
The amazing thing about our country is that we're still young. Compared to other countries we're like barely-legal young. We're still losing our baby teeth, learning how to walk, working out the kinks and growing into our clothes. And from what I see, the core of what Canadian-ness is, is multiculturalism. So I have problem with Black History Month, and the reason is this: I don't believe we should assign one month out of the year (and the shortest month, mind you) to one race. Why? Because although, yes, it brings awareness to the history and celebrates its triumphs, it sets them apart from the norm, reiterating this whole notion of "otherness."
The fact is our student populations are becoming more diverse, though that's barely mirrored in the staff make-up of most urban schools. And while there is recognition of a need to hire teachers that better reflect the student population, reaching that goal remains a long way off considering the comparably low number of teachers who self-identify as visible minorities. In the meantime, we need to foster culturally sensitive and inclusive schools where student engagement leads to higher graduation rates, the de-glamorization of gangs, and the nurturing of productive citizens of all backgrounds.
Until we find concrete and genuine ways to take into account cultural differences and the institutional power relations that inform that reality in Canada, Black History Month, like multiculturalism, will continue to be sidelined and watered down to satisfy Canada's mythical narrative of togetherness, racial justice and equality.
The Sri Lanka case shows that the declared safety of a foreign country depends on Canadian politics instead of evidence like returned Sri Lankans experiencing torture and possibly worse. Politicians are not an authority on persecution. When they act like one, friends are called safe. Then domestic demands shift and suddenly they balk, tugging along lives with whims.
In terms of visible minorities, the Globe and Mail is doing no better than its national print-based competitors in providing a forum for ethnic Canadian voices. This diverse demographic is projected to grow to a third of the Canadian population by 2030. Is traditional Canadian media doing anything to include, reflect or address their experiences in the multicultural mosaic, building on the wave of the present and future? The examples are few and far between.
The Supreme Court of Canada is the highest court in the country, and the final court of appeals in the Canadian justice system. That's why the latest SCC appointment by Stephen Harper has ruffled so many feathers, as he appointed yet another male to replace Marie Deschamps on the bench, bringing the total count to three women, six men.
There are many differences between the platonic idea of secularism and the secularist statute proposed last week in Quebec. These differences will doubtless count against the Charter of Values, especially in English Canada, where a discrete conception of religious freedom and suspicions of sovereigntist motivations have elicited much scepticism.
During my several visits to Quebec, I have been spit upon, hurled insults at my face, not served at restaurants, and ticketed by traffic police for driving while being Ontarian. I do not speak French and I am not a Francophone. If my experience of Quebec ended with just this story, and with the recent developments of the minority Parti Québécois proposed plan to introduce the Charter of Values as law in Quebec, I would not be hard pressed to imagine the people of Quebec to be one of the most bigoted and unfriendly specimens of the human race the world has ever seen. But I love Quebec.
Multiculturalism is not about dwelling on our differences. It is about emphasizing our commonality. Unfortunately that principle gets lost when multiculturalism gets viewed as a foreign phenomenon designed to "tolerate" immigrants. Policies that nurture interaction between the various communities will reduce suspicion and finger-pointing.