A nation of polite bigots?

BRIAN BERGMAN December 27 1993

A nation of polite bigots?

BRIAN BERGMAN December 27 1993

A nation of polite bigots?

Nice, polite, open-minded—Canadians wear these stereotypes of civility like a badge of honor. And according to the results of a national poll on attitudes towards racial and ethnic minorities released last week, the Canadian predilection for good manners may extend into the murky realm

of racism. Of 1,200 people polled by Decima Research, two-thirds declared that one of the best things about Canada is its acceptance of people from all races and ethnic backgrounds. At the same time, however, more than half the respondents admitted that they harbor negative views of some mi-

norities—even though they insisted they would never act on or express those views. For many members of visible minorities, such unspoken intolerance is just as disturbing as more overt forms of racism practised elsewhere. Observes University of Toronto anthropologist Jamshed Mavalwala, who emigrated to Canada from his native India in 1960: “In the United States racism is up front: if they don’t like you, they come out with their little handguns and pop bullets at you. But Canadians are in a state of denial

when it comes to racism. We’re just all supposed to be really good guys.”

The poll, conducted on behalf of the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews (CCCJ), also suggests that an increasing number of Canadians question the wisdom of long-standing federal policies on immigra-

tion and multiculturalism. Fully 72 per cent of those surveyed said that ethnic or racial groups should adapt to the Canadian value system rather than maintain their differences, while 41 per cent stated that Canada’s immigration policy allows in “too many people of different races and cul-

tures.” In fact, the Decima poll is just the latest evidence that attitudes towards minority groups are hardening. Similar surveys commissioned by the B’nai Brith over the past decade indicate that anti-Semitic incidents and other expressions of racism are on the rise. As well, a series of classified documents prepared for Canada’s new immigration minister, Sergio Marchi, reveal that half

of the respondents to confidential surveys over the past year exhibited either intolerance or open hostility towards immigrants. The documents, obtained by The Ottawa Citizen, say such sentiments are strongest among those “whose sense of vulnerability during a recession is increased by a belief

that immigrants compete for available jobs.” The Decima poll abounds in signs that Canadians feel increasingly uneasy about the presence of visible minorities. Among the more telling responses: 57 per cent said they sometimes held negative views of minority groups; 50 per cent agreed with the state-

A new poll reveals strong racist


ment, “I am sick and tired of some groups complaining about racism being directed at them”; and 41 per cent said that “I am tired of ethnic minorities being given special treatment.” Decima vice-president Christopher Kelly said he was “surprised by the number of people willing to admit that they held what could be deemed racist views, although they recognized that there is a social

sanction against either talking about or act-

ing on those views. It’s almost the notion of political correctness.”

For CCCJ president Ned Goodman, the survey results contained other surprises— including the finding that most Canadians seem to prefer the American model of insisting that immigrants put their ethnic differences aside and embrace the values of their new home. “We’ve all heard that Canada is a mosaic and the United States is a melting pot,” said Goodman. “What we’re seeing is that because of frustrations with the mosaic, people want the melting pot.” Goodman added that the CCCJ—a private group dedicated to promoting harmony among all segments of society—has sometimes shared those frustrations as it attempted to bridge differences among minority groups.

In fact, some prominent members of the CCCJ say that Ottawa’s promotion of multicul-

turalism has helped to create barriers between groups, resulting in the kind of backlash that the Decima survey uncovered. “I think the concept is wonderful but I’m absolutely against the use of public funds to build ethnic palaces,” says Toronto’s Mavalwala, a director of the CCCJ. “If people want an ethnic identity, it’s a very good thing for them to maintain that. But they should do so internally.”

Another CCCJ board member, Barbara Rae, says that, in the name of respecting multiculturalism, Ottawa has sometimes offended many Canadians and caused greater intolerance towards minority groups. Rae, a Vancouver businesswoman and former chancellor of Simon Fraser University, cites the example of allowing Sikhs who join the RCMP to continue wear-

ing turbans. Observes Rae: “Those traditions belong within their own society and should be preserved and enjoyed, but I think the Canadian tradition has to be respected.”

Defenders of official multiculturalism say objections to the policy are overstated. “All the policy did was validate that people in this country come from diverse backgrounds,” says Karen Mock, chair of the Canadian Multicultural Advisory Committee, a body that advises the federal cabinet. “Multiculturalism isn’t responsible for racism: people are.” But while Mock strongly disagrees with suggestions that Canadians now favor the melting pot model, she says that other aspects of the Decima poll do concern her. According to Mock, the fact that so many Canadians state that too many races and cultures are being allowed into the country “smacks of thinly disguised racism.” In a nation where almost everyone is descended from immigrants, she adds, “what they are really saying is ‘Don’t let so many of them in—the stranger, the person of color.’ ” Canadians being Canadians, though, they would probably be too polite to say it quite so baldly.