Canadians —But Not a Race

A summary of the facts of the “Are-We-Canadian? ” controversy

M. GRATTAN O’LEARY September 1 1930

Canadians —But Not a Race

A summary of the facts of the “Are-We-Canadian? ” controversy

M. GRATTAN O’LEARY September 1 1930

Canadians —But Not a Race

A summary of the facts of the “Are-We-Canadian? ” controversy


JOSH BILLINGS once said that, the trouble with most people was not that they didn’t know things, but that, they knew so many things that weren’t so. Illustrative of this is the procession of articles and speeches bewailing that in the Dominion census Canadians are not recognized as “Canadians;” that Canadian nationality is ignored; that our people are listed in the census and other official publications as Englishmen, Irishmen, Scotsmen, Frenchmen, Germans, as the case may be. During the past ten years this matter has been a subject of constant and increasing controversy, and the .nore it is debated and discussed, the more it would seem to become blurred by misconception and error.

It is charged that according to the Dominion census department a Canadian is not a Canadian; that while Canadians are defined outside of Canada as “Canadians” or “Canadian nationals,” a Canadian citizen living in Canada is compelled to line himself up with the racial origin of the remotest male ancestor of whom he has knowledge; that a man may be born in Canada, may have fought for Canada, lived all his life in Canada, that his father, grandfather and great-grandfather may all have been born in Canada, but that if his great-greatgrandfather came from, say, Austria, he is listed in the census as an “Austrian !”

Statements of this character are made every day. Those who make them indignantly ask why Canadians cannot be listed as “Canadians;” why it should be necessary to perpetuate contact with the past by having citizens of this country listed according to their racial origin? The writer of this article confesses that, until he investigated the facts, he asked such questions and talked that way.

Who is a “Canadian”?

TT IS all an extraordinary misconception. In the first place, the statement that citizens of Canada are not listed in the census returns as “Canadians” is absolutely contrary to the facts. Eight questions in the census are devoted to the political status of our people. The first deals with birth, with nativity. All those who answer that Canada is their birthplace are put dowm as “Canadians”—they could not be put down as anything else. They are Canadians ipso facto. The basic legal definition

of Canadian nationality is to be found in the Immigration Act, which defines a Canadian citizen as including three categories:

(1) Any person born in Canada who has not subsequently become the citizen of a foreign state;

(2) Any British subject who has been domiciled for five years in Canada;

(3) Any subject of a foreign power who has become naturalized and has not subsequently become itn alien or lost Canadian domicile.

There is nothing occult or mysterious or cloudy about that. It is a clear-cut definition of what constitutes Canadian nationality and, consequently, when anyone answers to a census enumerator that he was born in Canada, or that he is a British subject domiciled for five years in Canada, or that he is a German or a Russian or a Pole who has become naturalized as a Canadian citizen, he is put down in the Canadian census as of “Canadian nationality.”

This is not a matter of conjecture, or of supposition or argument. It is an official, demonstrable, ascertainable fact part of the census records. Canadian nationals are put down as “Canadians,” and they are not put down as of any other nationality or citizenship whatsoever.

Defining a “Canadian Citizen”

ON THIS point it is passible that some confusion has been caused by an Act of Parliament of 1922 defining a “Canadian national.” What happened was this: Canada’s part in the Peace Treaty of Versailles, and substquently in the League of Nations, necessitated an enlargement of the definition of Canadian nationality as given in the Immigration Act. In other words, there arose the need of an official definition of the term “Canadian citizen” as distinct from “British subject”—a definition that would be internationally recognized. This act or measure, entitled “An Act to define Canadian

nationals and to provide for the renunciation of Canadian nationality,” defined a Canadian national as:

(1) Any British subject who is a Canadian citizen within the meaning of the Immigration Act;

(2) The wife'of any such person;

(3) Any person born outside of Canada wdiose father was a Canadian national at the time of that person’s birth.

The Act went on to describe the procedure necessary in the renunciation of Canadian citizenship. What it means, stated for the layman, is that we now have a statute establishing a class of “Canadian citizen” within the wider class of “British subject,” this constituting a departure from the time when persons might be admitted to naturalization in Canada who could not qualify as British subjects outside of Canada.

This, roughly, is the story of Canadian nationality, so far as the Canadian census is concerned. Canadians are put down as “Canadians.” They are put down as Canadians if born in Canada. They are put down as Canadians if British subjects domiciled in Canada. They are put down as Canadians if they are foreigners who have become naturalized citizens of Canada. If that be a denial of Canadian nationality, then it is hard to see what could be substituted that would make the subject more clear.

Race vs. Nationality

'“PHERE is, of course, the matter of origin, or “race” as it is called loosely—the matter of the source from w'hich the Canadian people have been derived. This, it must be pointed at once, has nothing whatever to do with the question of present Canadian nationality. “Race” and “nationality” are two things absolutely diverse and distinct. Race is defined as a class of individuals sprung from a common stock or cultural background, or the descendants of the same ancestor, as a tribe of people belonging to the same stock. Nationality, on the other hand, is simply the state, quality, or relation of being, or belonging to a nation, a nation being defined as “any aggregation of people having like institutions,

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Canadians—But Not a Race

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customs, and a sense of social homogeneity and mutual interest.”

In an anthropological or ethnological sense, the term “race” designates a people with some outstanding physical peculiarity—cranial or facial characteristics, stature, color of skin, hair, or eye on the basis of which the human species is segregated into groups such as the black, yellow, red, brown and white races; or such groups as the Nordic, Alpine and Mediterranean. The census of Canada, obviously, cannot pursue enquiry to any length in a field of the last named character, the more so as ethnologists themselves are by no means agreed upon the principles of classification. On the other hand, it is quite possible to secure valuable and perfectly understandable information through the census in this region. What is done, the system followed, is simply this:

First, all persons of the black, yellow, red or brown races are entered as Negro, Japanese, Chinese, Hindu, Indian, Malayan, as the case may be—Orientals being segregated by country of origin. So far as Orientals are concerned, the reason for this ought to be clear; because so long as legislation like our Chinese Immigration Act, or our special arrangements covering Japanese and Hindu immigration, is in force, it is almost obligatory that we know the exact situation and all the facts upon which these policies are formulated. It is not easy to argue against that.

Regarding the remaining elements of the population, those derived originally from Europe—consisting in the main of the descendants of French, English, Irish, Scotch, German and other European colonists—the census question as to “origin” elicits the original place of residence and also the implied cultural surroundings of the family before its transfer to the North American continent. The replies given to the census question indicate the section or country of Europe from which the family originally came, this producing information that unquestionably has a combined biological, cultural and geographical significance. It enables us to know more about the character and composition of the population of the Dominion, throws a clearer light upon the subject of the origin of our people and upon their implied biological strain and cultural background. There can be no doubt about that.

In two further questions under the heading of birthplace and nativity, the birthplace of the father and of the mother of each person is obtained. The purpose, simply stated, is to throw light upon the duration of the family’s residence in Canada. If both the father and mother, as well as the person himself, have been born in Canada, then that person is clearly a third-generation Canadian; as the father and mother could not have been of Canadian birth unless the grandparents were in Canada. In 1921 the number of Canadians of the third generation or more, according to this enumeration, was 4,857,523; the French accounting for 2,295,986.

There is the case of the descendants of the original French colonists. These people possess certain definite rights under the Canadian constitution, and number nearly one-third of Canada’s population. In their case, surely, there exists a very special obligation to record their origin. From a population of not more than 80,000 at the time of the British conquest in 1760, the French stock has grown to a total—between Canada and the United States—little short of 4,500,000 today.

In tracing “origin” in the case of those of European descent, the line is through the father. I am perfectly aware that this system has been assailed as unscien-

tific, and that the question is raised as to how it is possible to achieve accuracy regarding the racial strain of those in whose veins courses a mixture of English, Irish, Scotch, and sometimes French blood. The answer is that the census must be content to be right in the gross; that even the most scientific of systems must be devised to cover general and not particular cases; that by applying the system of tracing origin through the father, the census is enabled—by the law of large numbers—to secure with a fair degree of accuracy the actual racial proportions of our people. In 1921, for example, the census was able to determine, at least with approximate accuracy, that there were in Canada 2,545,496 of English, 2,453,751 of French, 1,173,637 of Scottish, 1,103,276 of Irish, and 294,636 of German origin. And only 18,000 of all those questioned were ignorant of the origin of their family.

Avoiding the U. S. Mistake

’ I 'HE question is asked: Why invoke the past? Why, demand the critics, should not a new and forward-looking country like Canada think only of its present and future? Is it not disruptive to remind Canadians that they inherit differences inter set

The answer is that effective policies regarding population growth can be carried out only by understanding present characteristics, and the latter are largely derivative. .Canada is still recruiting her population to a large degree from outside sources. Her main problem is the assimilation of the diverse elements into a national unity. Such features as illiteracy, for example, as well as tendencies to learn and to speak the national languages, and tendencies toward crime, vary distinctly as between different stocks. Illiteracy, to illustrate this point, persists among the population, sometimes for several generations, very much in direct relation to origin, this notwithstanding the uniform operation of Canadian conditions and environment. Further, intermarriage varies within northern and northwestern European stocks and those of southern and southwestern Europe. Knowledge of this kind is not of theoretical interest alone; it is a question of practical politics.

The challenge is further made: Why cannot Canada follow the example of the United States, where all are listed by the census as American citizens without regard to racial origins? The answer to this is that the United States today would be exceedingly glad if it possessed accurate information about the racial origin of its people. The United States has adopted a policy of restricted immi-

gration based on considerations of the present origin content of its population. The first attempt to define the latter was in accordance with the birthplace statistics of the 1891 census. This method, however, proved inadequate, with the result that an extensive special enquiry had to be made regarding the origin of the American people, this going back to the records of the first census of the Republic taken in 1790, and supplementing these by data on such points as family names.

One final argument remains. It is the argument of those who say there is a Canadian race, that we have evolved •here, on this half of the North American continent, a people with a culture, a background, a patriotism and an entity of their own; a distinct type that should be put down as “Canadian” and as nothing else; that, in other words, just as a mixture of Britons, Romans, Saxons, Danes and Normans are put down in England as “Englishmen,” and Piets, Celts and Norse put down in Scotland as “Scotsmen,” so here in Canada we should forget about European origins and declare that there is a “Canadian race.”

If the people and Parliament of Canada wish to do this as a matter of national policy, nobody can object. If they desire to have all the inhabitants of this country lumped together as Canadians, without any further statements or information regarding their past and origin, well and good. That is a political matter. It has nothing whatever to do with the scientific taking of the census.

It may be well, however, not to fly into the face of facts. And one fact is that, scientifically, biologically and ethnologically, there is no Canadian race. There is no more a Canadian race than there is an American race. The census of the United States does not declare that Americans are a race; all that it declares is that the people of the Republic are American citizens. In this country there are Orientals, Chinese, Japanese, Indians. How can it be pretended or held that people of this class are of the same race as those of our citizens whose ancestors came from the British Isles? Would the editor of MacLean’s, for example, consider himself of the same race as a Hindu in British Columbia, even though that Hindu qualified as a Canadian citizen and, through his family, might have been a Canadian for generations? And, by the same processes of reasoning, how could it be held that the Prime Minister of Canada was of the same racial and cultural derivation as our former Minister of Justice, Mr. Ernest Lapointe? The thing, of course, is impossible.

What we are confronted with, in reality, is that while we are a nation, we are not a race; that while there is such a thing as Canadian citizenship and Canadian nationality, these clearly and specifically recognized in the Census of Canada, there is not and cannot be—not for many years, at any rate—a Canadian racial entity.

“Vital Information”

ONE thing more. Many people in this country talk about the need of keeping Canada preponderantly British, that is, British outside of Quebec. How can this end be achieved, how can we determine exactly where we stand in this respect, if we are going to list everybody in Canada as of a “Canadian race,” taking no account of immigration or of the growth of that portion of our population which is not British in origin?

Nor can the position of a country like Canada be compared with the position of an old land like Great Britain. Britain, actually, has had no great immigration for a period of 800 years. The first census taken in Britain, therefore, was at least 600 years after the country had received any large new infusion of population and, consequently, it would have been absurd and indeed impossible if they had endeavored to list their people according to racial origins. Many years hence Canada will have achieved a similar position, will have evolved something more of a racial type and entity, making it possible to recognize and declare a Canadian type or race. It is not possible at present.

Finally, it is contended that by perpetuating these racial origins, there is a weakening of Canadian unity, a disparagement of Canadianism, a maintenance of artificial barriers and divisions. It is not a sound contention. For what sort of Canadianism can it be that is weakened or defeated by a man simply being required to tell a census enumerator once every ten years, or when he happens to register the birth of a child, that his ancestors came from some land in Europe or from the British Isles?

This whole problem resolves itself into a question whether the Parliament and people of Canada wish their census to place an X-ray upon the population of this country. If we don’t wish the census to be informative, or a mirror or accurate record of the character, composition, origin and cultural background of the population of Canada, then let us eliminate the questions regarding origin. We can ask our people their ages and sexes, their conjugal condition, occupations, and economic and financial position; can ask them thirty-four questions regarding their social and industrial lives, but decline to ask them a question which is undoubtedly vital and fundamental in the building of a nation. If the people of Canada are in favor of that, if they merely desire to lump all our population together, call it “Canadian” and let it go at that, that is their affair. If, on the other hand, they wish to have the people owing allegiance to Canada put down as “Canadians,” with their nationality clearly expressed, and wish to secure, in addition, the most valuable and accurate information regarding their racial origins, then the present system will not be changed.

The whole problem determines itself into whether the census should be informative or otherwise; whether we want much information or little. It is hard not to incline to the belief that when the Canadian people understand the true situation, they will be on the side of the maximum of information. In a nation, as in an individual, knowledge is seldom a loss.