Unlikely Utopia: The Surprising Triumph of Canadian Pluralism by Michael Adams, Viking Canada.
This informative slender volume brings good news about Canadian multiculturalism. It is current, optimistic, sensible and forward-looking. Its author is a well-known Canadian pollster and social analyst.
It is often overlooked that Canada has the highest immigration rate on the planet. However, it was only in the 1960s that Canada abandoned its racist immigration policies and began admitting newcomers according to their skills and qualifications, rather than their nations of origin.
About 100 years ago, J. S. Woodsworth, the first leader of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, argued that it wasn’t a good idea to import Chinese labourers to work on the Canadian Pacific Railway. They were unworthy and would not make good citizens. Actually, work on the railway was not only back-breaking, but also deadly. The Chinese labourers who were hired were engaged in perilous work, and nearly one in 10 was killed on the job.
Despite numerous obstacles, some Chinese workers still wished to remain in Canada. But the federal government at the time imposed a cruel head tax, for which Canada has only recently apologized.
The infamous declaration, “None is too many,” was made by a senior Canadian official as a response to the subject of Canada accepting Jews who were leaving Europe in the wake of the Holocaust.
Immigration wasn’t the only arena in which bigotry was displayed in Canada. In 1933, at the notorious Christie Pits Riot, Toronto residents, displaying swastika banners, tried to ban Jews from the city’s beaches. Japanese Canadians were interned during World War II.
Much has been achieved over time. Once it seemed likely that Canada could never aspire to genuine equality for newcomers, let alone achieve it. How things have changed.
It is noteworthy that 80 per cent of recent immigrants after four years in the country say that if they had to do it again they would make the same decision and come to Canada.
What about Muslims as immigrants? Today, they are about 2.5 per cent of the total population, numbering about 850,000. Islam is, surprisingly, the fastest growing religion in the country. The median age of Canadian Muslims is about a decade younger than the median age of the population at large.
Among foreign-born Muslims, about half have come to Canada in the last 10 years. Thirty per cent have been in Canada from 11 to 19 years, and 17 per cent have been in this country for two decades or longer. About 60 per cent of them live in Ontario, and 20 per cent reside in Quebec.
Despite widespread unfavourable comment and some irresponsible alarm, it is clear, says the author, according to his research, that Muslims tend to share important traits with other newcomers to Canada: optimism, enthusiasm for their adopted country, a desire to improve their lives and the wish to be treated fairly.
In Adams’ discussion of the Quebec “Quiet Revolution,” readers are reminded that Quebecers not only rejected traditional religious ritual and conviction but also many conventions associated with the Catholic Church, such as marriage and a wife’s taking her husbands surname. Quebec has come to have the highest proportion of common-law unions in Canada.
Immigrants to Quebec face a unique experience in this province’s distinct society. But like all of us, they live in accord with our country’s Charter, its laws, its health care, its passport and its people.
Finally, Adams salutes Canada for its success in showing a restless world how newcomers of diverse backgrounds can live together in relative unity, mutual tolerance and understanding.