The Multiculturalism of Canada

I’m still in Canada, and here the debate caused by the arrest a week ago of 17 persons accused of preparing for terrorist attacks in Toronto seems to be accelerating by the day.

The newspapers have several pages a day on different aspects of the story, and there isn’t a TV channel that is not having a talkshow on the issue.

It’s not that terrorism is entirely new to Canada. Way back there was a Quebec Liberation Front blowing up people, and in 1985 Sikh extremists blew up an Air India aircraft killing 329 people.

But it’s still the trauma – much like Britain after the London bombs last July – of finding that you have home-grown young boys and men preparing to undertake terrorist acts.

Canada is truly a immigrant nation. During the past 40 years more than 7 million people have been coming here. And with 30 million inhabitants, it receives in the order of 120 000 new immigrants every year. That’s nearly 1% of the population every year.

There is no doubt that this has contributed to the success of modern Canada. The economy is white-hot, old deficits have disappeared, and unemployment hasn’t been so low for more than three decades.

The boom in energy has undoubtedly made its contribution to this.

It might seem surprising, but the US is importing more energy from Canada than it is from the Middle East. In the booming Alberta province in the West – the centre of the enery industry – unemployment is now down to 3,5% in spite of a large influx of people from other parts of the country.

Canadians are proud of their commitment to what they call multiculturalism – while South of the border in the US the concept preferred is that of the melting-pot.

In a sense, you could argue that Canada never had any choice. With French-speaking Quebec and its urge to be as independent as possible within Canada, the melting point was never an option. Multiculturalism was dictated by the reality of Canada.

And the communities have multiplied as streams of talented people from all across the world have sought to create their future her.

There are now 750 000 Muslims in the country – and close to 60% of those live in the greater Toronto area. That’s where the arrests a week ago happened.

Can multiculturalism survive? Most Canadaians seems to believe that the arrests of the 17 just revealed the tip of an iceberg, but in spite of that the same polls show that a majority are keen to preserve multiculturalism as one of the basis of modern Canada.

That being said, the debate as I have been able to follow it during my days here seems to point towards a somewhat more determined framework for the multicultural society. In these respects, there are echoes here of the debate in the Netherlands in the last few years.

While US commentators are displaying an element of Schadenfreude over the arrests in Toronto, the Canadaian debate so far seems keen to defend the core values of the Canadian multicultural model of a major immigration society.

It’s a debate with relevance for us all.

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