Douglas Todd: Forgotten struggle for Canadian ‘unity’ leads to ‘silos’

The language-related tensions in Richmond have been simmering for some time, whether over Chinese-language signage only or this disturbing example of condo board proceedings (even if private bodies are not required to use English or French).

In terms of how widespread these kinds of issues are, Dan Hiebert’s various studies indicate Canada’s ethnic enclaves more diverse than you think, study finds. And overall, I don’t find the government’s message only being about diversity given the common values language that it also uses.

This may be more of an issue in Richmond (that should be taken seriously) than widespread, which is, accordingly to the 2011 NHS, 53 percent of East and Southeast Asian origin:

Andreas Kargut moved out of Richmond forever on the weekend that Canada marked its 150th anniversary.

The effort that Kargut, his immigrant wife and others put into fighting for the right to have their strata council meetings conducted in English, not Mandarin, had caused too much grief.

Kargut and six others filed a complaint last year with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal because they couldn’t participate in the Mandarin-only meetings in their 54-unit complex.

Former B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh lamented how the strata council’s discrimination against Kargut illustrated the rise of ethnic and language “silos” in Canada. But Kargut said local politicians ignored their plight.

The language battle in Richmond, where half of residents are ethnic Chinese, is one of many challenges to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and many small-l liberals who proclaim that diversity can only be celebrated.

While creativity definitely can emerge within the many manifestations of diversity, liberal platitudes censor questions about the real tensions that can also be provoked by diversity, a word that means difference.

Trudeau is among those heading into dangerous territory because he is not following the example of his prime minister father, Pierre, in standing up for English and French — and for the ideal of unity.

“When my parents immigrated from Germany, they knew there was an expectation for them to learn English so they could join the workforce and earn a living to provide for their family,” Kargut said in a posting on a Facebook page called Richmond’s Changing Neighbourhoods.

“Why is it then if a person immigrates from China they don’t need to learn English and can discriminate against English-speaking Canadians to the point of causing financial hardship?”

Many Canadians are asking similar questions. The Pew Foundation discovered only 21 per cent of Canadians believe place of birth is important to whether one is an authentic citizen (one of the lowest rates in the world).

But Canadians do care about English and French. Three in five Canadians agreed “being able to speak our national language(s) is very important for being truly Canadian.”

The dispute over language barriers is not only worrying whites. Longtime resident Ken Tin Lok Wong told Richmond News many of the city’s controversial Chinese-only signs are in a dialect known mainly to newcomers from the People’s Republic of China, which Wong says signals many are not willing to integrate.

Yet it’s Kargus’s departure from Metro Vancouver that is one of the more stark illustrations of self-segregation in this city, in Toronto and in Montreal, which are becoming increasingly defined by ethnic and language enclaves, whether South Asian, Chinese or European.

The kind of frustration felt by Kargut is something liberals in the U.S. are finally starting to note — as they try to come to terms with why the diversity-celebrating Democrats are constantly losing election campaigns.

Atlantic magazine has two articles in this month’s edition exploring why Hillary Clinton alienated former supporters among the white suburban and working classes, while methodically wooing Hispanic and black voters.

In “How the Democrats’ Lost Their Way on Immigration,” Peter Beinart notes one of Clinton’s prominent campaign images showed her surrounded by Spanish-language signs.

“Americans know that liberals celebrate diversity. They’re less sure that liberals celebrate unity,” says Peter Beinart, who credits Barack Obama with the ability to do both. Justin Trudeau doesn’t perform the balancing act, but his father stood up for ‘national unity.”

Barack Obama would not have done that, Beinart says. The former president once said he felt frustration when he’s “forced to use a translator to communicate with the guy fixing my car.”

With the National Academies of Sciences recently reporting new immigrants to the U.S. are learning English more slowly than their predecessors, Beinart maintains Democrats should put teaching immigrants English at the centre of their immigration agenda.

“Americans know that liberals celebrate diversity. They’re less sure that liberals celebrate unity. And Obama’s ability to effectively do the latter probably contributed to the fact he — a black man with a Muslim-sounding name — twice won a higher percentage of the white vote than did Hillary Clinton.”

Source: Douglas Todd: Forgotten struggle for Canadian ‘unity’ leads to ‘silos’ | Vancouver Sun


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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