Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Defining "Canadian-ness"

In an article that appeared in the Dominion paper, Susana Ferreira discusses how the definition of being "Canadian" is difficult (in the context of immigration, in particular), and that this difficulty is part of how one defines "Canadian":
The question of Canadian Identity is a familiar and prominent one. Canadians spend so much time agonizing over our lack of solid, touchable, definable identity that it has practically become a national pastime. Some would argue that it is this agonizing itself that best defines our national identity.
She goes on to suggest that a firm identity of who we are requires a firm identity of what we are not. I think that most would agree that Canadians certainly know what they are not, and that this knowledge does nothing to tell them who they are: Canadians are not American (or, to a much lesser extent, British or French).

Ferreira blames Canada's laissez-faire attitude regarding identity to the "broad embrace of Multiculturalism."

She outlines how "Canadian-ness" is built: "The process of nation-building is tied to space, language, education, and common or shared knowledge." For Ferreira, Multiculturalism is a barrier to a shared space, language, education and knowledge. She states, "Canadianness becomes something obtainable via assimilation to White, Western mindsets and practices."

Sumayya Kassamali and Usamah Ahmad continue with similar sentiments in suggesting that Canada is built on the ideals of tolerance, democracy and justice. They also identify the difficulties faced by immigrant communities even in a supposedly multicultural society.
Nationalism always works to shroud status quo relations and exploitation by constructing an imagined commune to which one must be emotionally and viscerally committed. There have thus been charges that if certain groups do not accept dominant mores, they have no reason to be here. We are forced into celebratory nationalism or are labeled "Enemies Within" who need to be exorcised (or deported).
While these two articles provide scathing criticisms of Canadian nationalism and especially multiculturalism, they point to inadequacies of the Canadian "imaginary," to borrow from Kassamali and Ahmad. Do other countries suffer with similar problems? Or perhaps as Ferreira suggests, "Canadian-ness" must make the Other suffer, and thus (I would argue) suffer itself, in order to remain "Canadian."

Sources: Susana Ferreira, "Multiculturalism: It Hurts Us All," The Dominion (6 November 2004); available from; Internet; accessed 8 April 2008. Sumayya Kassamali & Usamah Ahmad, "Wounded Sentiments: Multiculturalism, the 'Toronto 17,' and the National Imaginary," The Peak 123:7 (19 June 2006); available from; Internet; accessed 8 April 2008.

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