First Published: The Forge Vol. 5, No. 20, May 23, 1980
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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Governments, big business and the media have stepped up their efforts to drive a wedge between Canada’s many ethnic communities and the oppressed nationalities in recent weeks.
Yet the fact is that immigrants share many common hardships with oppressed nationalities under the present system.
The First National Conference of Ethnocultural Organizations, held recently in Toronto, rightly called for improved human rights legislation, an end to racist television programs and the creation of multicultural teaching materials in the schools. “We have to work hard so that racism, stereotyping and discrimination are eliminated from Canadian society,” said conference president Laureano Leone.
But the conference, which had received a $28,000 grant from the federal government, also fell into the Liberals’ trap with a “unity” appeal to Quebec. “Work with us to bring justice to white and black, anglophone, francophone or those of any ethnic origin,” the conference president said.
Such statements, unfortunately, reflect the “multiculturalism” theme pushed by the Liberals: it denies the differences between immigrants, who face discrimination and racism, and those people who suffer from national oppression – the Quebec people and the other nationalities.
Most immigrant groups, such as Ukranians and Italians, generally assimilate within a generation or two into the existing nations in Canada – usually, the English-Canadian one.
But the Quebec people are not simply a linguistic or ethnic group. They form a fully-constituted nation unto themselves. Inhabiting a territory settled by their ancestors over 300 years ago, the 5½ million Quebecois share a common language, culture and economic life.
The Liberals want ethnic groups in Canada to ignore the fact that the oppressed Quebec nation has the inalienable right to determine its own political future, up to and including separation. Quebec Liberal, leader Claude Ryan used the same chauvinist tactics during the Quebec referendum campaign to try to set immigrant communities like the Italians against the Quebecois.
And in the same vein, the Seagram monopoly spent $500,000 to produce a magazine supplement which drowned out Quebec’s right to self-determination in a river of “Canada’s diverse cultural mosaic.”
The “multiculturalism” ploy is also used against nationalities such as native peoples, francophones outside Quebec, Black and Chinese Canadians. Faced with often brutal oppression, discrimination and racism, these groups were never assimlated into the English Canadian or Quebec nations but formed distinct nationalities.
But politicians try to confuse these groups with immigrants to deny nationalties their rights. Take the school question, for example. In Toronto, there was a recent proposal by the board of education to set up separate schools for Ukranian and Armenian immigrants. Such a project would only divide children of working people of different ethnic origins. Instead of separate schools, ethnic communities should get state financial help for special programs within the existing school system or for cultural centers where their children would have access to books and courses in their languages.
Meanwhile, Franco-Ontarians in the same province are denied their rights to a French-language education in their own schools. For over 100 years, Franco-Ontarians have been resisting forced assimilation. They are fighting to regain the separate schools which the government abolished in the early 1900s. Far from dividing working people, such schools guaranteeing equal rights between Franco-Ontarians and English Canadians – will promote unity based on justice.
The rights of nationalities and immigrants must be met by different measures which correspond to their needs – a fact which “multiculturalism” tries to blur over.
It is the same Tory government which denies Franco-Ontarian rights and which condones racist violence against third world immigrants. It is the same federal Liberals who attack Quebec and who passed the discriminatory immigration act Bill C-24 denying immigrants their basic political rights. And immigrants are exploited as cheap labour by the same monopolies which profit from keeping Quebec down.
Contrary to Trudeau’s “multiculturalism” song, the interests of the ethnic communities lie in uniting with Quebec and other national minorities. It was this spirit of unity against a common enemy which prompted several ethnic groups to declare their support for Quebec’s right to self-determination at a Toronto rally May 14.