Quebec Culture Lessons for Immigrants

4 01 2010

A few days ago, the Toronto Star ran a series of stories by reporter Andrew Chung on the Quebec government’s new immigration policies. (For the benefit of my growing number of non-Canadian readers, I should explain that while Quebec is part of the Canadian federation, Quebec largely runs its own immigration system). Immigrants to Quebec must now sign a contract promising to abide by Quebec’s values, speak French in public, and attend a 90 minute seminar designed to inculcate such values. The instructor in the seminar visited by reporter Mr Chung stressed the rights of women and homosexuals, which prompted one Algerian immigrant to say that the hierarchy of rights in Quebec “goes like this: children first, then women, then dogs … then men”.

I don’t agree with everything Andrew Chung says in his article. For instance, he states that visible minorities are under-represented on Quebec TV relative to programs in English-speaking Canada or the United States. I don’t know if this is entirely a fair comparison, since almost half the population of the United States is non-white. Moreover, as someone who watches a fair bit of Quebec TV in the interests of improving my French, I can say that there are a fair number of visible minority TV personalities in that province, such as Gregory Charles. Nevertheless, the series by Chung is very interesting to me as a Canadian historian. In recent blog posts, I have spoken about the federal government’s new citizenship guide for immigrants, Discover Canada, and have linked to historian Jack Granatstein’s opinion piece on immigration policy.  Unlike the Quebec integration seminars, the Discover Canada guide says very little about women’s rights and is strangely silent on the issue of homosexuality.

I thought I would bring people’s attention to some online resources on the topic of immigration history. First, have a look at the relevant entries in the Encyclopedia of Quebec history. You should also check out historian Harold Troper’s entry for “Immigration” in the Canadian Encyclopedia.

Folks should also check out this article, which was published just before Christmas: “Quand la tourtière remplace le couscous“. Also have a look at the film Génération 101.

Andrew Cohen on the New Citizenship Guide

27 11 2009

Andrew Cohen, Ottawa-based public intellectual

Andrew Cohen has published some thoughts on the new citizenship test in the Ottawa Citizen. He is much more positive in his assessment of the guide than I am, but he also points out its many curious omissions. He points out that there is no mention of Prime Ministers after Sir John A. Macdonald. As he puts it, “Jim Balsillie (Research In Motion co-founder) and Dr. John A. Hopps (inventor of the pacemaker) are in, but not Mackenzie King or Lester Pearson. Peacekeeping is a footnote. The Golden Age of Diplomacy is ignored.”

Cohen is right to comment on the guide’s silences on huge swathes of Canadian political and diplomatic history. Any guide that is supposed to cover the recent political history of Canada but which leaves out the Prime Ministers and the names of the political parties is clearly not doing its job!  It would be unfair to ask prospective citizens to memorize all of the Prime Ministers, given that some of them were in office for very short periods. I confess that when I am lecturing to university students, I go over the Prime Ministers between Macdonald and Laurier rather quickly. Joe Clark and John Turner also get rather cursory treatment in my course for first-year students. I have to prioritize.  But surely being an informed citizen means knowing a little bit about, say, those Prime Ministers important enough to have international airports named after them. Most immigrants enter Canada through Pearson airport. Shouldn’t they know a few key facts about Pearson?!?!?

Cohen also mentions that “The Constitutional Wars are largely unmentioned, as is the FLQ. This is uncomfortable, but, if we can speak of domestic violence, why not domestic discord?” This is another major omission from this guide. This guide isn’t even good political history (it gets a key date wrong), and it also avoids any discussion of social history. The really big trends of post-1867 Canadian history (i.e., urbanization, industrialization, de-industrialization, secularization, the Demographic Transition) all go unmentioned, which is especially problematic when we consider that most of our immigrants now come from countries that are only have half modernized themselves.   This guide is terrible. Since it will have to be reprinted anyway to deal with the factual errors pointed out by Christopher Moore and myself, it makes sense to start talking about what sort of omissions should be recitified.

After reviewing some of the faults of this guide, Andrew Cohen describes it as “splendid”. I respect Andrew Cohen, but I am at a complete loss to understand how he could use the adjective “splendid” to describe this piece of crap. The fact the old citizenship guide was even worse and essentially ahistorical does not justify praising the new guide to the skies.

Check out Christopher Moore’s list of factual errors in DC.