Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Canada's core values are strong

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Statistics Canada released a batch of new figures this week that shows Canada's multicultural mosaic is flourishing. Some 200 languages are actively used here and one in five Canadians (6.6 million people) speak a language other than French or English at home.

The data are not that different from previous census figures that showed nearly as many people using a non-official language in the home, but it was all too much for Salim Mansur, a political scientist from the University of Western Ontario, who says it demonstrates Canada is a country "without a core culture."

Mr. Mansur told the National Post that Canada has become "Balkanized" by immigrants who, in his view, are no longer required to set aside their "particularities" and become good, old Canadians. "We trashed our core value system," he said.

Most Canadians would respond to Mr. Mansur in the Canadian way by agreeing he's entitled to his opinion, even if it's factually incorrect.

Canada's core culture, in fact, has never been stronger.

It's centred around a shared story that begins in aboriginal history and picks up speed with the establishment of permanent settlements in the 17th century, the development of responsible government in the 19th century, when a new country was created and expanded from coast to coast to coast, and through two world wars and into the modern era.

Canada is known internationally as a nation not just of tolerance, but of legal rights for minorities and for the two founding nations, as well as aboriginals.

And while the United States emphasizes the melting pot as a national myth compared to Canada's preference for the mosaic, the two countries are not that different in terms of their multicultural personalities, or the fact newcomers eventually take on the habits, customs and languages of their new homes.

As in Canada, roughly 20 per cent of Americans speak a language other than English at home. Spanish alone is the primary language spoken at home by almost 37 million Americans, and language schools are thriving (and well-tolerated) in the United States, despite occasional demands to make English the official language.

It used to be said that Canadians defined themselves as non-Americans, but that uncertainty over identity has not been uttered in a long time. Canada's brand is unique, as millions of new Canadians who chose this half of the continent in which to live will attest.

The country has changed and adapted following many waves of immigration, first from France and Britain, then from other European countries, followed by peoples from Asia and Africa. Each successive wave has added to the diversity and richness of the country as the newcomers started businesses, joined the professions and trades, and contributed new ideas and skills.

Multiculturalism is not a goal or a destination. It is merely a fact of life, a recognition that immigrants bring with them different languages, cultures and habits. It affirms the basic principle that everyone has a right to be themselves, to practise their religion, speak their language and follow their customs. In return, they are expected to be good citizens, obey the law and learn one of the official languages.

It's a bargain that has created a core culture of respect for the dignity of all.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 26, 2012 A10

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