As we see populist, anti-immigration sentiment gain political traction across Europe and in the United States, we wonder: will Canada be different?
There are at least two ways to look at this question.
In Canada, we have two official languages. We are the home of the most diverse city in the world. We sport multiculturalism and politeness like a global brand. We like to apologize for everything. We have a private refugee sponsorship program. We have a uniquely powerful Charter of Rights and Freedoms enshrined in our constitution. The Crown is our formal head of state. Statistics Canada recently reported that nearly half of all Canadians will be immigrants or the children of immigrants by 2036. We have a Prime Minister who says, “There is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada” and that the shared values of openness and respect “make us the first postnational state.”
These variables, among others, might incline us to think that Canada is somehow ‘unique’ in the world.
Yet the shooting at Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec demonstrates all too painfully that hatred lives here too. A recent poll by CROP-Radio Canada indicated that one in four Canadians and one in three Quebecers is “very or more or less in favour” of banning Muslim immigration to Canada. As many visible minorities can attest, racism is alive and well today, manifesting itself in all kinds of subtle (and not-so-subtle) actions and words. Our comment sections are full of vitriol, too. Along with the rest of the world, we recognize new dynamics at play in our society: such as the immense power of social media algorithms to invigorate existing bias and prejudice. And arguably Canada’s geographical position on the globe has meant that our rhetoric has never truly been ‘tested’ by the kinds of refugee and migrant challenges faced by many European countries today.
Perhaps most importantly, history is instructive when it comes to the potential fragility of multiculturalism. One need only consider the stories of 15th century Spain or 20th century Bosnia and Herzegovina to encounter sobering reminders that diversity requires diligence.
So, will Canada be different? Predicting the future is a foolish game, but I think the uncertainties call for speculation, studying the potentialities, and weighing the probabilities. I am organizing an event on May 29 to ask, ‘Will a populist, anti-immigration agenda come to Ottawa? Probably yes? or, Probably no?’ We will examine the variables related to this critical, national question, with the help of an eminent brain trust of Canadian scholars. In the end, this is not just about predicting the future, but grappling with it — anticipating the nation we will create together.
This event is an opportunity for the London community to wrestle with some more reflective, reasoned, and rational perspectives on how the next several years might unfold against an uncertain and shifting global backdrop. Expert panelists will look at the questions of populism and anti-immigration sentiment from the perspectives of sociology, psychology, journalism, religious studies, and history.
I hope to see you there!