One may wonder whether Canada is the most tolerant place in the world because Canadians are more enlightened than others. The answer is no. It’s because of our geography and history.
Canada can make an honest claim of being the most open-minded place on earth. For two decades now, Canada has been importing just under 1% of its population annually – 258,000 in 2012, more than five million in total. Most new arrivals come from Asia and the Pacific. No other country can match that. And we all get along with each other very well.
Most countries have a pro and an anti-immigration party. In Canada, each party claims to be more pro-immigrant than the rest.
Canada is bordered by three oceans and is very far away from anywhere except the U.S. Therefore Canada gets very few illegal migrants seeping through its various borders. It’s easier to be tolerant when you don’t get millions of people desperate to get in, as the U.S. and Europe do.
Canada’s cultural geography is also different. Canada was originally a union of French and English, who had been at war in Europe for much of the past 800 years. So the only way to make the dominion work was for each to give each other plenty of breathing room. This respectful distance made it difficult for Canada to gel as a nation, but it also prevented immigrants from feeling they were outsiders in a nationalist club. Thus multiculturalism became the greatest gift of Canadian Constitution.
But things are still far from perfect. The legacy of intolerance and abuse by the Europeans toward the aboriginal community is Canada is a shame. But there is hope. In Inuvik, the Inuvialuit, Gwich’in and non-aboriginal populations (the town is about one-third each) get along remarkably well. Even though there are the occasional tensions and misunderstandings. For the most part, Inuvik is a small version of Toronto or Montreal or Vancouver: a place where people of different cultures live together peacefully.
Lucky circumstances made Canada vibrant, peaceful and cosmopolitan, with a delightful hodge-podge of languages and cultures. It’s our job to keep it that way.
(John Ibbitson is a CIGI senior fellow, an award-winning writer and leading political journalist in Canada. Currently on a one-year leave from The Globe and Mail, John is researching, writing and speaking on Canadian foreign policy at CIGI while he works on a new book.)
Source: The Globe and Mail