Slow Road to Tol­er­ance

It took a long time for Cana­di­ans to ac­cept each oth­ers’ dif­fer­ences, never mind to view di­ver­sity as de­sir­able.

Canada's History - - CONTENTS - By Al­lan Levine.

It took a long time for Cana­di­ans to ac­cept each other’s dif­fer­ences, never mind to view di­ver­sity as de­sir­able.

News of the mass ex­ter­mi­na­tion of Jews in Europe first be­gan cir­cu­lat­ing in 1942. While dif­fi­cult to be­lieve, and of­ten rel­e­gated to the back pages of news­pa­pers, the sto­ries were hard to ig­nore. One re­port by The Canadian Press out of Lon­don, Eng­land, on June 24, 1943, con­tained the hor­ri­fy­ing claim that Jews in oc­cu­pied Poland were be­ing “steamed to death” by the Nazis. The story by re­porter Scott Young was based on in­for­ma­tion sup­plied from the Pol­ish un­der­ground with de­tails about ma­jor Nazi-run “ex­ter­mi­na­tion camps in eastern Poland.”

The story was in­cor­rect about the grue­some method of death — mil­lions of Jews were be­ing killed by lethal Zyk­lon B gas, not steam — but it was ac­cu­rate in re­port­ing that mass mur­der of hor­rific pro­por­tions was tak­ing place in Nazi-oc­cu­pied Europe. From 1943 on­ward, news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines started car­ry­ing more and more re­ports of the mass killings. Later, the full ex­tent of what had taken place was doc­u­mented at the Nurem­berg tri­als, and a new word was cre­ated to de­scribe what had been at­tempted — geno­cide.

The rev­e­la­tions about the Holo­caust marked the start of a grad­ual shift in at­ti­tudes to­wards Jews and other mi­nori­ties. But it was def­i­nitely a slow jour­ney on the path to the mul­ti­cul­tural tol­er­ance of which Cana­di­ans are so proud to­day. In Oc­to­ber 1946, around the time the first Nurem­berg trial of Nazi war crim­i­nals had con­cluded, a Gallup poll showed that Cana­di­ans be­lieved Jews were the sec­ond-least-de­sir­able im­mi­grant group — the Ja­panese were the least wanted. Ger­man im­mi­grants were far more pop­u­lar, de­spite the atroc­i­ties of the war. Re­gard­less of any per­ceived sym­pa­thy for Jewish Holo­caust sur­vivors, Canada made it ex­tremely dif­fi­cult — as it had be­fore the war — for Jewish as well as other eastern Euro­pean refugees to en­ter the coun­try. Their sta­tus per­sisted as im­mi­grants of which Cana­di­ans should be wary.

The en­trenched prej­u­dice that de­fined Canada as a white, An­glo-Saxon, and Chris­tian coun­try had deep roots go­ing back more than a cen­tury. J.S. Woodsworth, a dis­ci­ple of the so­cial gospel and one of the founders of the Co-op­er­a­tive Com­mon­wealth Fed­era-

It’s hard to say when at­ti­tudes in Canada be­gan shift­ing to­wards a more tol­er­ant, mul­ti­cul­tural so­ci­ety. Per­haps it be­gan with the Holo­caust.

tion (the pre­de­ces­sor of the New Demo­cratic Party), was a saint of a Canadian politi­cian. Yet he be­lieved, as he wrote in his 1908 book, Strangers Within Our Gates, that, in or­der to pros­per, new im­mi­grants should as­sim­i­late the val­ues and cus­toms of Canadian so­ci­ety as stip­u­lated by the WASP ma­jor­ity. From Woodsworth’s per­spec­tive, Bri­tish, Scan­di­na­vian, Ger­man, and French im­mi­grants made much bet­ter Cana­di­ans than “He­brews,” “Slavs,” and “Ori­en­tals.” The prospects for “Ne­groes” and First Na­tions peo­ple were even more dis­mal, in his opin­ion.

Be­fore 1950, few Cana­di­ans who were of Bri­tish or French de­scent would have sub­scribed to the views of Jane Ad­dams, a No­bel Prize-win­ning Amer­i­can so­cial ac­tivist. Ad­dams, who in 1889 opened a set­tle­ment house in Chicago to pro­vide a va­ri­ety of ser­vices to the im­mi­grant pop­u­la­tion, ar­gued that the cul­ture and cus­toms new­com­ers brought with them were of value to so­ci­ety as a whole. Her views were ahead of her time, as were those of Horace Kallen, a Har­vard-ed­u­cated philoso­pher who, in 1924, coined the term “cul­tural plu­ral­ism” to ad­vance the then-rad­i­cal no­tion that di­ver­sity, rather than con­form­ity, was a pos­i­tive devel­op­ment.

In­stead, in an age when the con­cept of race was para­mount, Canadian aca­demics, church lead­ers, physi­cians, so­cial re­form­ers, phi­lan­thropists, and politi­cians ex­pressed grave con­cern about for­eign­ers they viewed as un­de­sir­able, im­pov­er­ished, un­civ­i­lized, and im­moral — in short, a dan­ger to the health and fu­ture of Canadian so­ci­ety. As one Toronto pub­lic school teacher suc­cinctly put it in the years be­fore the First World War, Cana­di­ans are “tidy, neat, and sin­cere — for­eign­ers are not.”

Born in 1874, Wil­liam Lyon Macken­zie King, prime min­is­ter for much of the pe­riod from 1921 to 1948, held typ­i­cal views on race and im­mi­gra­tion. In his di­ary, King rou­tinely re­ferred to black peo­ple as “dark­ies,” ru­mi­nated a great deal about Jews, who he gen­er­ally con­sid­ered “un­de­sir­able” — he went to great lengths to en­sure that no Jews bought prop­erty any­where near his Kingsmere es­tate in Gatineau, Que­bec — and feared an in­flux of “Ori­en­tal” im­mi­grants. On Au­gust 6, 1945, af­ter King was told that the United States had dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, he wrote in his di­ary, “It is for­tu­nate that the use of the bomb should have been upon the Ja­panese rather than upon the white races of Europe.” Un­doubt­edly, he was not the only white Canadian to think so.

In May 1947, in a ma­jor speech on the fed­eral Lib­eral gov­ern­ment’s post­war im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy, King made it clear that Canada would con­tinue to be se­lec­tive re­gard­ing which im­mi­grants it per­mit­ted into the coun­try and that re­stric­tions on im­mi­gra­tion from Asia, in place since the mid-1880s, would not be lifted so as not “to change the fun­da­men­tal com­po­si­tion of the Canadian pop­u­la­tion.” King as­sured Cana­di­ans that he was not be­ing dis­crim­i­na­tory. “I wish to make it quite clear,” he de­clared,

“that Canada is per­fectly within her rights in se­lect­ing the per­sons whom we re­gard as de­sir­able fu­ture cit­i­zens. It is not a ‘fun­da­men­tal hu­man right’ of any alien to en­ter Canada. It is a priv­i­lege.”

King’s ref­er­ence to fun­da­men­tal hu­man rights was aimed at the de­lib­er­a­tions on the pro­posed Univer­sal Dec­la­ra­tion of Hu­man Rights (UDHR). In 1946, the United Na­tions had ap­pointed Eleanor Roo­sevelt to head an in­ter­na­tional com­mit­tee to study hu­man rights and to en­shrine in a char­ter the “four free­doms” ar­tic­u­lated by her late hus­band, for­mer U.S. Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt — free­dom of speech and be­lief and free­dom from fear and want. A Canadian le­gal scholar, John Humphrey of Mon­treal, was ap­pointed di­rec­tor of hu­man rights for the UN Sec­re­tariat and played a key role in draft­ing the UDHR.

For nearly two years, the UDHR pre­sented prob­lems for King and other Canadian politi­cians, such as Lester Pear­son, who was ap­pointed sec­re­tary of state for ex­ter­nal af­fairs in 1948. All ex­pressed con­cerns about how a sweep­ing pro­tec­tion of hu­man rights would be in­ter­preted. Though the UDHR was not in­tended to be a bind­ing doc­u­ment, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment rec­og­nized that there would be a moral im­per­a­tive to ad­here to it, de­spite the vague lan­guage of many of its clauses.

Through­out 1947 and 1948, while the UDHR was be­ing de­bated, Canadian of­fi­cials pon­dered what im­pact the char­ter might have had on the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to in­tern more than twenty thou­sand Ja­panese in 1942 (most of whom were nat­u­ral­ized or Canadian-born), or on its treat­ment of Abo­rig­i­nal Cana­di­ans, who were be­ing de­nied their cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal rights as well as be­ing com­pelled to send their chil­dren to res­i­den­tial schools. In the mount­ing global ten­sion that trig­gered the Cold War, the gov­ern­ment wor­ried, too, about the need to cur­tail the rights of com­mu­nist groups. Ques­tions were also raised as to whether the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s sup­port of the UDHR in­fringed pro­vin­cial ju­ris­dic­tion un­der the Bri­tish North Amer­ica Act.

In early De­cem­ber 1948, there was so much anx­i­ety about the UDHR in Ot­tawa that, on in­struc­tions from Prime Min­is­ter Louis St. Lau­rent (King’s suc­ces­sor) and Pear­son, the Canadian UN del­e­ga­tion in Paris ab­stained from the pre­lim­i­nary vote on the UDHR draft. Thus, in­stead of ini­tially stand­ing with the United States and Bri­tain, whose lead­ers were fully com­mit­ted to the UDHR, Canada found it­self on the side of the Eastern Bloc.

Con­sid­er­ing that a Canadian, Humphrey, had drafted the dec­la­ra­tion, Canada’s re­fusal to vote on it cre­ated a mild sen­sa­tion at the UN gath­er­ing. No one was more shocked than Humphrey: “Although I knew that the in­ter­na­tional pro­mo­tion of hu­man rights had no

Canada’s re­fusal to vote on the UDHR cre­ated a mild sen­sa­tion at the UN.

pri­or­ity in Canadian for­eign pol­icy,” Humphrey wrote later, “it had never oc­curred to me that the gov­ern­ment would carry its in­dif­fer­ence to the point of ab­stain­ing in such an im­por­tant vote. I could hardly have pre­vented the scan­dal even if the del­e­ga­tion had taken me into their con­fi­dence, but I could at least have warned them of the com­pany in which they would prob­a­bly find them­selves.”

A few weeks later, dur­ing de­bate at the UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly on the fi­nal ver­sion of the UDHR, Pear­son at­tempted to ex­plain, rather weakly, Canada’s de­ci­sion to have its reser­va­tions about the draft of the char­ter on the record and reaf­firmed the coun­try’s com­mit­ment to hu­man rights. When the vote was taken on De­cem­ber 10, 1948, Canada, as had been the gov­ern­ment’s plan from the start, sup­ported the UN’s adop­tion of the UDHR, with the hope, as Pear­son stated, “that it will mark a mile­stone in hu­man­ity’s up­ward march.”

It is not easy to mea­sure the im­me­di­ate im­pact of the Holo­caust and the UDHR on Canadian at­ti­tudes, but prej­u­di­cial at­ti­tudes en­dured among a ma­jor­ity of Cana­di­ans. From Bri­tish Columbia to Nova Sco­tia, for ex­am­ple, re­stric­tions against Jews at re­sorts and at golf and so­cial clubs con­tin­ued. While re­search­ing the ar­ti­cle “No Jews Need Ap­ply,” pub­lished in Ma­clean’s on No­vem­ber 1, 1948, Pierre Ber­ton dis­cov­ered that the mag­a­zine’s par­ent com­pany, Ma­clean Hunter, did not hire Jews, ei­ther. “It’s com­pany pol­icy,” he was told.

That same year, a young Jewish fam­ily was in­formed by of­fi­cials at Winnipeg’s Puf­fin Ski Club that their young son could not join be­cause Jews were not ad­mit­ted as mem­bers. It was ex­plained, by the per­son re­spon­si­ble for mem­ber­ship, that “Jews are ag­gres­sive and can take over the club.” Into the 1960s, the McGill Univer­sity Fac­ulty of Medicine “lim­ited Jewish ad­mis­sions to a rigid ten per cent,” ac­cord­ing to his­to­rian Ger­ald Tulchin­sky. And, as late as 1962, two Winnipeg law firms of­fered Jack Lon­don, then a Univer­sity of Man­i­toba law school stu­dent, an ar­ti­cling po­si­tion, only to re­nege on the of­fers once the firms learned that he was Jewish. Lon­don later be­came one of Canada’s top lawyers and dean of the Univer­sity of Man­i­toba’s Fac­ulty of Law.

Black Cana­di­ans also faced rou­tine dis­crim­i­na­tion. In south­west­ern On­tario and Nova Sco­tia — ar­eas where there were large black com­mu­ni­ties — schools were gen­er­ally seg­re­gated un­til the 1960s. In the 1950s, mer­chants in the south­west­ern On­tario town of Dres­den launched a high-pro­file fight to keep post­ing “whites-only” signs on their stores, restau­rants, and bar­ber­shops. In most com­mu­ni­ties, the rules were un­writ­ten. In Van­cou­ver, Toronto, Hal­i­fax, Wind­sor, On­tario, and other com­mu­ni­ties, ho­tels would not per­mit black peo­ple to stay as guests, and restau­rants would not serve them.

In No­vem­ber 1946, Vi­ola Desmond, a thirty-two-year-old black woman from Hal­i­fax who tried to see a movie in nearby New Glas­gow, was forcibly ar­rested and kept in jail overnight af­ter she re­fused the theatre man­ager’s re­quest to sit in the sec­tion of the bal­cony re­served for black pa­trons. More than a decade later, in Fe­bru­ary 1959, a fea­ture story in the Toronto Star about Metro Toronto’s nine-thou­sand “Ne­groes” con­cluded that, though the “bla­tant prej­u­dice of pre-war days has dis­ap­peared, a more sub­tle and sometimes just as acute prej­u­dice has taken its place.” Any­one who was not a WASP was a tar­get. When Ital­ian im­mi­grants rode the street­car in Toronto, it was not un­com­mon for them to hear re­marks such as “dirty wop” or “go back to Italy.”

Many Canadian po­lit­i­cal lead­ers ei­ther shared sim­i­lar at­ti­tudes or de­nied there was a prob­lem. In late 1947, Charles Da­ley, the On­tario min­is­ter of labour, told Rabbi Abra­ham Fein­berg of the Joint Pub­lic Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee of the Canadian Jewish Congress and B’nai B’rith, “these days, racial dis­crim­i­na­tion is to a great ex­tent imag­i­nary.” Like­wise, a few months later, his col­league At­tor­ney Gen­eral Leslie E. Black­well de­clared in the On­tario leg­is­la­ture, “I know of no place on earth where peo­ple are more tol­er­ant than in On­tario.”

Other fed­eral and pro­vin­cial politi­cians took a more re­al­is­tic and en­light­ened ap­proach, rec­og­niz­ing that dis­crim­i­na­tory in­jus­tices ex­isted in the coun­try and ac­cept­ing their moral obli­ga­tions un­der the UDHR to ef­fect pos­i­tive change — whether their sup­port­ers favoured it or not. In May 1947, even be­fore the UDHR had been passed, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment re­pealed the dis­crim­i­na­tory Chi­nese Ex­clu­sion Act of 1923, which had vir­tu­ally closed off Chi­nese im­mi­gra­tion to Canada. The same year, Bri­tish Columbia granted Chi­nese Cana­di­ans the right to vote. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment did the same thing in 1948 when it re­pealed the Do­min­ion Elec­tions Act, which had made it pos­si­ble to deny Chi­nese Cana­di­ans the right to vote on the ba­sis of race. On the other hand, un­til changes were made to the law in 1960, First Na­tions in Canada could vote in fed­eral elec­tions only if they gave up their treaty rights and re­nounced their sta­tus un­der the In­dian Act.

Leslie Frost, premier of On­tario from 1949 to 1961, un­der­stood more than many of his con­tem­po­raries the sig­nif­i­cance of the UDHR. On the twelfth an­niver­sary of the char­ter in De­cem­ber 1960, he re­minded the cit­i­zens of On­tario of “the duty to de­fend the rights of oth­ers.” Yet even he at first had reser­va­tions, be­liev­ing in 1949 that no new laws were needed, since Cana­di­ans were “demo­cratic peo­ple.” He did come to ac­cept, how­ever,

that de­fend­ing hu­man rights was nec­es­sary, es­pe­cially in the bat­tle against com­mu­nism dur­ing the Cold War. As Rabbi Fein­berg told him, “It is a sham to at­tempt to de­fend western democ­racy against com­mu­nism if a man or woman is pre­vented from get­ting a job be­cause of dis­crim­i­na­tion against race, reli­gion, or colour.”

Be­gin­ning in 1950, Frost’s gov­ern­ment passed sev­eral key pieces of hu­man rights leg­is­la­tion. This in­cluded the 1951 Fair Em­ploy­ment Prac­tices Act, the 1954 Fair Ac­com­mo­da­tion Prac­tices Act, and the 1958 On­tario Anti-Dis­crim­i­na­tion Com­mis­sion Act. These and other acts — which pro­hib­ited dis­crim­i­na­tion at the work­place and in pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties and for­bade dis­crim­i­na­tion on the ba­sis of racial or re­li­gious rea­sons when sell­ing prop­erty — were con­sol­i­dated in 1962 by Frost’s suc­ces­sor, John Ro­barts, in the land­mark On­tario Hu­man Rights Code.

Re­search by his­to­ri­ans Carmela Pa­trias and Ruth A. Frager sug­gests that, dur­ing the early 1950s, ef­fec­tive lob­by­ing by Jewish, Ja­panese, African, and other eth­nic or­ga­ni­za­tions ul­ti­mately won Frost over — an­other sure sign that Canada was chang­ing. The premier also cor­rectly gauged a slight shift in pub­lic opin­ion and de­cided to take ad­van­tage of it. And, when chal­lenged, he stood his ground.

When the bill abol­ish­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion in the sale of prop­erty was un­der dis­cus­sion in 1950, On­tario Judge J.A. McGib­bon pri­vately com­plained to Frost, his fish­ing com­pan­ion, “surely we have not ar­rived at the stage of life where the gov­ern­ment is go­ing to take it upon it­self to dic­tate to whom I must sell prop­erty, and whom I must have as my next door neigh­bour. I do not want a coon or any Jew squat­ting be­side me, and I know way down in your heart you do not.” In re­sponse, Frost po­litely told the judge that his in­tol­er­ance was out of date.

Five other prov­inces soon fol­lowed On­tario’s ex­am­ple, but one prov­ince that did not was Que­bec, where Premier Mau­rice Du­p­lessis re­jected anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion leg­is­la­tion on the premise that Que­beck­ers needed only to read the Bi­ble. Du­p­lessis gov­erned be­tween 1936 and 1939 and be­tween 1944 and 1959 and was no­to­ri­ous for tram­pling on civil rights. His gov­ern­ment passed the in­fa­mous Pad­lock Law in 1937, giv­ing po­lice ar­bi­trary dis­cre­tion in clos­ing any es­tab­lish­ment that pro­moted “com­mu­nism” — which was loosely de­fined to in­clude trade unions and other groups.

Mean­while, in Ot­tawa, John Diefen­baker and the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives, who had won elec­tions in 1957 and 1958, passed the fed­eral Bill of Rights in 1960. Diefen­baker, who was a long­time “cham­pion of civil lib­er­ties,” as his bi­og­ra­pher De­nis Smith de­scribed him, en­vi­sioned an en­trenched bill of rights — yet that proved con­sti­tu­tion­ally im­pos­si­ble. In­stead, he set­tled for hu­man rights leg­is­la­tion, which gov­erned only those lib­er­ties that were un­der fed­eral ju­ris­dic­tion. Though Diefen­baker re­garded the Bill of Rights as his most sig­nif­i­cant achieve­ment, it would take un­til the 1982 Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms to legally guar­an­tee Cana­di­ans their rights in the way he had imag­ined.

Dur­ing the 1950s, there were many signs of pos­i­tive change. Across the coun­try, more pro­fes­sional op­por­tu­ni­ties opened up to peo­ple — usu­ally men — who were non-white, non-Chris­tian, or non-An­glo-Saxon. For in­stance, in 1950, Harry Bat­shaw was ap­pointed to the Que­bec Su­pe­rior Court, be­com­ing the first Jewish judge in a Canadian high court.

Vot­ers elected more politi­cians from di­verse back­grounds. In 1949 — the same year First Na­tions peo­ple in Bri­tish Columbia were given the right to vote in pro­vin­cial elec­tions — Frank Calder, a Nisga’a chief, be­came the first sta­tus In­dian in Canada to be elected to of­fice when he be­came a mem­ber of the pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­ture. Ed­mon­ton and Winnipeg elected may­ors who were of Ukrainian her­itage in 1951 and 1956, re­spec­tively. And be­ing a Com­mu­nist Party mem­ber dur­ing the Cold War era didn’t stop Ja­cob Penner, a Rus­sian-born Men­non­ite, from keep­ing his Winnipeg city coun­cil seat in the 1950s.

That decade also saw four cities — Toronto, Hal­i­fax, Saskatoon, and North York, On­tario — elect Jewish may­ors. These po­lit­i­cal vic­to­ries were in­deed sym­bolic of a greater tol­er­ance and a sign — as the Toronto Star sug­gested in 1955, when Jewish Mayor Nathan Phillips won for a sec­ond time — “that race or creed is not a bar­rier to pub­lic of­fice.” There had been progress, to be sure, yet it was equally true that prej­u­dice re­mained a fact of Canadian life, both then and in the years to come.

Skip ahead about five decades. When Kath­leen Wynne be­came the premier of On­tario in 2013 (fol­low­ing the res­ig­na­tion of Dal­ton McGuinty) and then won a ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment in the June 2014 pro­vin­cial elec­tion, the fact that she was a woman and was open-

ly gay was hardly com­mented on. In 2010, Na­heed Nen­shi, who is of South Asian de­scent, be­came the first Mus­lim mayor of a ma­jor city in North Amer­ica when cit­i­zens of Calgary elected him to of­fice.

In Winnipeg’s civic elec­tion on Oc­to­ber 22, 2014, Brian Bow­man, who is Métis, was elected mayor. By any mea­sure, these are re­mark­able achieve­ments and a clear indi­ca­tion that tol­er­ance truly is a defin­ing Canadian char­ac­ter­is­tic.

The coun­try, too, has come a long way in ac­knowl­edg­ing the dis­crim­i­na­tion of the past. In 1988, Brian Mul­roney apol­o­gized to Ja­panese Cana­di­ans for their treat­ment dur­ing the Sec­ond World War; Stephen Harper in 2008 apol­o­gized to First Na­tions for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s abysmal res­i­den­tial schools pol­icy.

Canada has seem­ingly done an about-face since the first half of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury. Anti-Semitism is no longer a fac­tor in the lives of Jewish Cana­di­ans, and racism, overt or oth­er­wise, is no longer ac­cept­able. In 1971, the fed­eral Lib­eral gov­ern­ment of Pierre Trudeau of­fi­cially rec­og­nized mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism as a Canadian pol­icy. And, in 2005, same-sex mar­riage be­came le­gal in Canada, some­thing that would have been unimag­in­able even in 1970.

None of this means, how­ever, that prej­u­dice and dis­crim­i­na­tion have van­ished in Canada. There have been, for ex­am­ple, many al­ter­ca­tions be­tween the Toronto po­lice and black Cana­di­ans since the late sev­en­ties. In Winnipeg, re­la­tions be­tween the city’s po­lice and in­dige­nous peo­ple have been strained for many years. A Probe Re­search poll con­ducted in Septem­ber 2014 in­di­cated that a ma­jor­ity of Win­nipeg­gers be­lieved “there is a deep racial gulf be­tween Abo­rig­i­nal and non-Abo­rig­i­nal cit­i­zens.” Even more telling, a re­cent sur­vey of 2,600 Métis, Inuit and First Na­tions un­der­taken by En­vi­ron­ics, in con­junc­tion with the First Na­tions Univer­sity of Canada in Regina, showed that a high per­cent­age of in­dige­nous peo­ple liv­ing in Prairie re­gion cities feel they are per­ceived neg­a­tively by non-in­dige­nous peo­ple. Di­ver­sity is cher­ished in Canada, and yet a 2009 An­gus Reid poll in­di­cated that sixty-two per cent of re­spon­dents agreed with the state­ment “laws and norms should not be mod­i­fied to ac­com­mo­date mi­nori­ties.”

It is dif­fi­cult to dis­pute the con­clu­sion reached by Toronto writer Mar­garet Can­non in her 1995 book, The In­vis­i­ble Em­pire: Racism in Canada: “we may not be call­ing peo­ple [deroga­tory eth­nic slurs] on the street, but we make it clear that the val­ues we want en­shrined in our in­sti­tu­tions are the val­ues of the found­ing races — white, Catholic, Protes­tant, Euro­pean cul­ture, Western phi­los­o­phy.” The di­vi­sive de­bate dur­ing the 2015 fed­eral elec­tion cam­paign on the niqab and whether it should be worn at a ci­ti­zen­ship cer­e­mony is a case in point. And, while the new Lib­eral gov­ern­ment forged ahead with plans to re­set­tle Syr­ian refugees in Canada, polls taken late in 2015 sug­gested that just un­der half of Cana­di­ans ac­tu­ally sup­ported the pol­icy.

Canada’s his­tory of tol­er­ance has a mixed legacy. From a le­gal and civil lib­er­ties per­spec­tive, there is no ques­tion that the coun­try has made tremen­dous ad­vances in rid­ding Canadian so­ci­ety of dis­crim­i­na­tion. To think that at one time a Chi­nese man could be con­victed for “procur­ing a white woman for im­moral pur­poses” — as hap­pened to Horace Wing in Toronto in 1913 when he tried to hire Min­nie Wy­att to work in his shop — is un­fath­omable to­day. Prej­u­dice might never quite dis­ap­pear, nor likely will racism; it is an un­for­tu­nate as­pect of hu­man na­ture. But at least now, un­like fifty years ago, we rec­og­nize this flaw in our na­tional char­ac­ter and con­tinue to try to im­prove. That has to bode well for the fu­ture.

Learn more at CanadasHis­­er­ance

Bridge­man art li­brary Jewish refugees aboard the MS St. Louis in 1939. Af­ter be­ing turned away by Canada and other coun­tries, the ship re­turned to Ger­many, and about a quar­ter of its pas­sen­gers died in Nazi death camps.

Right: Im­mi­grants de­ported from Canada, 1912. Far right: A Ja­panese Canadian sol­dier in 1917. Be­low: MS St. Louis, filled with Jewish refugees, in Ham­burg, Ger­many, 1939.

Pas­sen­gers aboard the Ko­ma­gata Maru in Van­cou­ver in 1914. They were not al­lowed to come ashore, and most had to re­turn to In­dia be­cause of Canadian ex­clu­sion laws.

Eleanor Roo­sevelt, widow of for­mer U.S. Pres­i­dent Franklin Roo­sevelt, holds a copy of the United Na­tions Dec­la­ra­tion of Hu­man Rights in 1948.

A boy in Africville, a black com­mu­nity in Hal­i­fax razed in the 1960s.

A Syr­ian refugee fam­ily ar­rives in Toronto in De­cem­ber 2015.

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