01/18/2013 05:32 EST | Updated 03/20/2013 05:12 EDT

Want Immigrants to Integrate? Don't Complain When Minorities Get Political

Why is it that when Canadians who are visible minorities get involved in the political process, some people sound the alarm and yell "intruder"? We can always vigorously debate and disagree with each other. But no one should be shunned just for wanting to express their aspirations.


Why is it when Canadians who are members of visible minority groups, or so-called "ethnic" communities, get involved in the political process, some people pull the security alarm switch and yell "intruder"?

In Canada, we pride ourselves on being an open society where we treat everyone equally and respectfully. We consider our diversity to be a sign of strength and richness. We also encourage multicultural communities to break down any self-imposed barriers and to build bridges with the broader community.

Yet, it seems, when members of multicultural communities choose to participate in a political discussion or election, they are viewed with suspicion.They are often accused of being representative of a homogeneous group motivated by foreign or sinister interests.

Therein lies the hypocrisy.

On the one hand, we criticize Canadians who choose to live in silos. We, correctly, argue that societies are economically and socially more productive when all of their members are integrated as full citizens. We call on immigrants to remain proud of their heritage but to abandon any sectarian or ethnic prejudice they may have had wherever they were raised. We stress the importance of individual rights and remind everyone of associated responsibilities.

At times, we even witness some public commentators or politicians lecture immigrants and members of visible minorities to do more to integrate more effectively into society.

Then we see those same voices panic when members of those communities accept their duty and choose to participate in the political process. Suddenly, the accusation of being lazy and disinterested is converted into fear that foreigners are trying to hijack our politics.

Our country is wiser and stronger when we harness the collective experience of our diverse citizens. We should be encouraging every citizen to step forward and offer their perspective.

As a confident and open society that respects each of its citizens and the rule of law, we should welcome everyone's engagement.

It doesn't mean that we blindly and naively adopt every idea proposed. Nor does it mean that every person is to be considered to have equal competence and knowledge.

Each person who participates in the political process brings with them their own perspective, experience and values. Individuals who work in banks will have a perspective shaped by their work experience. Individuals who are male will have a perspective shaped by their life experience. Individuals who emigrate from another country will have a perspective shaped by their home country.

For the same reasons we don't question the loyalty of bankers to their country when they choose to get involved in politics, we shouldn't question the loyalty of members of multicultural communities when they try to offer their input into the political process, even if they appear to be focused on Canada's foreign policy or narrow interests.

We should have more faith in our political process and the filtering effect our political debates have that good ideas will become better and bad ideas will get rejected.

As long as citizens are abiding by the rules, no one should be attacked for wanting to have their voice heard. It is better to engage them than to banish them into their corners which we originally requested that they leave.

Unfair questioning also occurs between "ethnic" communities, when unfortunately one group is suspicious of another just because of its background.

Questioning the loyalty or sincerity of people who look or sound different may resonate with many but it is toxic and damaging to the cohesion of our society. We can always vigorously debate and disagree with each other. But no one should be shunned for wanting to express their aspirations.

That is how Canada was built.

If we truly mean what we say when we say that we are proud of being pluralistic and multicultural, then we should be pleased when Canadians of "ethnic" backgrounds get more involved in politics.

Those who try to plant insidious suspicions between us should be called out.