Canada’s multiculturalism: A circle, ever edging outwards

April 22, 2016

Globe and Mail |

6 Degrees: Experiments in Pluralism is an essay series devoted to exploring Canada’s emerging identity as an experimental society. This essay by John Ralston Saul was published in the Globe and Mail.


“Seen from outside the country, our attitude toward immigration and citizenship often seems to make Canada an outlier – problematic, a contradiction, sleepwalking to disaster, even unacceptable as a real nation-state .

Over the last month in several European countries, I found that many people, of all backgrounds, educations and beliefs, were quicker than ever to say Of course, you can believe in these things. You have a big country. You’re a new country.

Neither is true. We aren’t big. For the last hundred years most immigrants have gone to a handful of big cities. And we aren’t new. As a settler society we are the product of 400 years, most of it spent going through the same economic, political and social dramas as other Western countries. We are the oldest continuous democratic federation in the world – beating Switzerland by a few months. We are the second- or third-oldest continuous democracy of any sort in the world – 168 years without breaking up, without a civil war, a coup, an absolute monarch, a dictator.

When I find myself explaining to Europeans why our system of inclusion and diversity more or less works, I inevitably go back to those non-racial Indigenous ideas which leave space for multiple identities and multiple loyalties, for an idea of belonging which is comfortable with contradictions, which shifts humans from their autocratic role as masters of the universe to one more integrated into the place itself. This is an approach to values which is the opposite of the European-U.S. understanding of the monolithic citizen melted into a pot of national uniqueness.”

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