Canada’s 149 th Anniversary

Anicka Christine Bakos
is a University of Waterloo graduate with interests in writing, editing and helping Canadian newcomers learn English

Each year on Canada Day special citizenship ceremonies take place throughout the country.‭ ‬I like to take‭ ‬the opportunity each year to reflect upon my experience growing up in‭ ‬Canada.‭ ‬I‭’‬m sure most of us would agree that we live in one of the best places in the world.‭

It‭’‬s no surprise that earlier this year the University of Pennsylvania‭’‬s Wharton School of business and BAV Consulting ranked Canada as the second-best country in the world from among sixty nations in a survey released at the World Economic Forum in Davos,‭ ‬Switzerland.‭ ‬And I think Canada‭’‬s former Governor General the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson would wholeheartedly agree with the survey results.

Recently I had the opportunity to hear the former governor general speak at a lecture at the University of Waterloo.‭ ‬Having arrived from Hong Kong as a refugee at the age of three,‭ ‬Clarkson related some of her own experiences growing up in Canada and reflected on why multiculturalism works so well in this country.‭ ‬Like many of us,‭ ‬she reminisced about being uprooted,‭ ‬coming to a new country and having to‭ ‬“learn new things and new habits”‬.

Clarkson believes that the process of belonging to a new country is an important one.‭ ‬She explained that‭ ‬“When we talk about belonging we have to think of what we belong to,‭ ‬and we can‭’‬t belong unless there is something to belong to.‭ ‬You have to be able to belong,‭ ‬but you also have to be able to criticize,‭ ‬to disagree,‭ ‬and that is fundamental to belonging”‬.

Clarkson believes that Canada has significantly changed for the better.‭ ‬She described Canada as a‭ ‬“white,‭ ‬fairly racist country‭”‬ back in‭ ‬1942‭ ‬where‭ ‬“laws were enacted…‭ ‬to discourage any kind of immigration from China‭”‬ adding that‭ ‬“parts of Canada were intensely racist”‬.

Many of us forget that in fact overt discrimination remained a part of the official Canadian immigration policy up until the latter half of the twentieth century.‭ ‬In‭ ‬1962,‭ ‬new immigration regulations were finally introduced eliminating overt racial discrimination and establishing skills as the main criteria for determining admissibility rather than race or national origin.‭ ‬But it was not until Canada‭’‬s adoption of multiculturalism as an official policy in‭ ‬1971‭ ‬that the cultural diversity of Canadian immigrants began to be promoted as an integral part of the Canadian identity.‭ ‬Clarkson agreed that over the years Canada has become‭ ‬“very good at welcoming people,‭ ‬welcoming refugees,‭ ‬introducing people to new languages‭ [‬and at‭] ‬settlement”‬.

But according to Clarkson,‭ ‬we as a country need to strive to become even better.‭ ‬Clarkson argued that‭ ‬“We also have to feel that all human beings are equal.‭ ‬That everybody is a human being and there is no human being who is more human than any other‭”‬ adding that‭ ‬“That‭’‬s something we have to really internalize because I think it is something that underlies a lot of problems that we face today”‬.

The former governor general described Canada today as‭ ‬“a society…‭ ‬that creates a lateral trust among all equals because we are all equals as human beings,‭ ‬and it’s a key element of our democracy‭”‬ adding that‭ ‬“I think that we have a society that is like a kind of great friendship”‬. She went on to say that‭ “‬It’s very important to know that in order to belong you don’t have to agree with everything,‭ ‬and you don’t have to agree with each other or your leaders.‭ ‬When you come here and you become a citizen you have to say,‭ ‬you know,‭ ‬everything that’s happened in this country up until now I accept and I am part of it now”.

Asked how she coped in her new country in times of difficulty,‭ ‬Clarkson replied,‭ ‬“You look for mentors,‭ ‬you look for people who are going to help you,‭ ‬and that’s what makes me believe so strongly in the public education system‭”‬ adding that‭ ‬“Public education is the single most important thing that we have going for us as an immigrant nation.‭ ‬If we don’t have strong public education we can’t make our values known‭; ‬that is the most important thing”.

Clarkson concluded by reminding her audience,‭ ‬“We have to learn to live in a society of belonging with the levels of discomfort,‭ ‬the difference it brings.‭ ‬Living with that level of discomfort shows sophistication of human activity which differentiates us with what we call the bad side of tribalism.‭ ‬We have to understand that we’ve already created in this country a really remarkable thing”‬.

So as we celebrate Canada‭’‬s‭ ‬149th birthday,‭ ‬let‭’‬s all help to make this the best country in the world‭!

Happy Canada Day‭!

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