Why Canadian norms and values matter: Mark Milke

Hard not to agree with his general comments but equally hard to square this with the evidence we have that shows the vast majority of new Canadians share these values. But beyond the general values cited – freedom of speech and religion, property rights, the equality of individuals before the law – most of the debates, among ‘old-stock’ and new Canadians alike take place around implementation issues.

And using language like ‘barbaric cultural practices,’ while making some feel better, does not address or engage the people from communities where these are issues. A better approach – one that I suggested without success – was to have a paragraph that talked about the history of greater gender equality, and then note that gender-based violence such as ‘honour killings’ were against the law and values:

Canada’s credo is not robustly “idea obvious,” but it is derived from British and French influences and thus includes assumptions about freedom, the rule of law, the necessary division of power and so forth.

To place these ideas at the pinnacle of a country’s self-understanding means anyone is potentially welcome – provided they commit to the ideas and the norms that flow from them: freedom of speech and religion, property rights, the equality of individuals before the law. Anyone can rally to these; it matters little whether one was born in Buffalo, Beijing, Beirut or Barrie.

Critically, and however imperfectly, countries that practise civic-based citizenship are able to integrate and unite otherwise diverse peoples if the focus is kept on shared, defensible concepts. They run into trouble when they forget that or pretend that all ideas are created alike.

But this assumes a robust defence of desirable norms and a frank hostility to cultural or religious practices that, for instance, subjugate women.

This also has ramifications for immigration and the unrealistic assumption that any potential applicant will eventually integrate and accept existing Canadian norms. (For those who glibly believe this, invite 10 million Texans who believe in the right to bear arms to settle in Toronto, then see if policy discussions and voting patterns are not permanently affected.)

None of this means Canada should end immigration from certain countries. It means being realistic about who is likely to integrate and who will not: A young female physician from Islamabad who wishes to escape oppressive cultural and religious assumptions should be welcome; a 60-year-old village elder from Kohistan in northwestern Pakistan, where five girls were reportedly killed for dancing, probably not.

The least we can do is insist that certain Canadian norms do matter – and without apology.

This is why Justin Trudeau, then the Liberal immigration critic, was wrong to shy away from revisions to Canada’s citizenship guide in 2011 that read: “Canada’s openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, ‘honour killings,’ female genital mutilation, forced marriage or other gender-based violence.” Mr. Trudeau objected to the term “barbaric.” He argued that a government guide should make an “attempt at responsible neutrality” in language, a position he later backed away from.

Countries cemented on a shared set of ideas and ideals will always need to unapologetically demand that anyone who wishes to join subscribe to those ideas and ideals.

Unite around laudable ideas and people will be less likely to fall into the abyss of division created by irreconcilable and unchangeable characteristics.

Source: Why Canadian norms and values matter – The Globe and Mail

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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