Canadian Identity

Categories: Identity

The dynamics of Canada’s Laws of tolerance, bilingualism and multiculturalism towards non-British descent have changed since World War II (WW II). During the First World War, a term called “Enemy Aliens” was used towards Canadians of non-British descent who were treated very poorly. Many were sent to internment camps where they had to endure harsh living conditions. Equality was not present at the time. It was nearly 26 years after the end of WWII that a formal Multiculturalism Policy was adopted in 1971.

It ensured that all Canadians will have the freedom of belief, opinion and religion. It created a more culturally diverse society which has now become the hallmark of Canadian identity. Another significant development was the introduction of The Official Languages Act 1969 which essentially proclaimed both English and French to be the two official languages of Canada. As a result of these two Acts, Canada has ensured that it is committed to recognizing the rights of minorities in general and of immigrants on non-British descent in particular.

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Both WW I and WW II saw the unfair treatment towards enemy aliens and natives in Canada. Japanese Canadian Internment which refers to the confinement of Japanese in British Columbia (BC) during WW II. Over twenty thousand Japanese were scattered in camps throughout BC where the living conditions were extremely poor, many families were forced to live in small shacks with inadequate heating in the winter months. The internments started in 1942 following the attack on Pearl Harbour when the Canadian Government issued internment orders suspecting Japanese to be engaging in espionage.

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Though there was no official proof that Japanese were involved in any such activities, they were nevertheless placed in such camps. WW I shaped a debate regarding the preferred racial composition in Canadian society. Canadians found the presence of enemy aliens distressing during the war. Germans, Austro-Hungarians and Ukrainian immigrants residing in Canada were forced into labour camps. Suspension from jobs was common and entry into many buildings for the so called aliens was denied. There were 500,000 German and Austro-Hungarian people living in Canada as well as over 125,000 Ukrainians.

At first the government urged fair treatment for these people but as the war continued, Canadians became more suspicious and intolerant of such people. Aboriginals also received unfair treatment from the government. Even though they volunteered by enlisting as soldiers and even making cash contributions for the war efforts they continued to be treated as second class citizens. Ironically, natives were fighting for freedom and victory of the British and the allies in WW II, yet they did not enjoy the basic rights as citizens in their own homeland.

After significant pressure on the Canadian Government, the Indian Act was amended and was not until 1960 that the Aboriginals and natives were recognized as full citizens and were granted the right to vote. Horrific events such as Japanese internments, classifying Canadians as enemy aliens and mistreatment of Native Canadians were a dark period in Canadian history. Many efforts have been made through apologies and cash compensation for the victims. Canada was the first country to adopt an official Multiculturalism Policy in 1971 which resulted in a positive shift towards recognizing minority groups.

The policy ensured that all Canadians have equal rights to keep their identity and believe in what they practice. It created a much more diverse cultural society signifying Canada’s recognition as one of the most progressive countries in the world. Ethnic restaurants, grocery stores and other establishments add colour to the mosaic and creates a rich heritage in times to come. This policy was important because it has allowed people coming in from lesser developed countries to enjoy a better, safe and secure life in Canada as well as enjoy equal rights and status.

Equal rights were a cornerstone in the Multiculturalism Policy with regard to freedom of speech, security, religious practice, access to health care and education. Such liberating features of the Canadian society attracted a lot of prospective immigrants. Upon arrival in Canada, not only did the immigrants improve their standard of living but it also enabled Canada to prosper by increasing population levels, overcoming shortages in the labor market and enabling increased trade between Canada and the home countries.

It sparked off nnovation in various fields and it is worth noting that nearly 35% of all Canadian Research Chairs in various Universities are occupied by foreign born Canadians whereas immigrants only account for 20% of the total population of Canada. After the WW II, it took Canada nearly 25 years to recognize the importance of contribution and acceptance of immigrants in the form of the official Multiculturalism Policy. The Official Languages Act which came into force in September 1969 ensures the official bilingualism in Canada.

Prior to this, Canada was predominantly an English speaking country but this policy ensured that both English and French be considered as the two official languages. It gives the right to Canadians to seek government services in either language although it does not require all Canadian citizens to speak both languages. For example, all Canadians are entitled to receive health care and social services in either language. The Official Languages Act also had a significant impact on promoting French language in the school system across Canada. The French Immersion Programmes offered in schools are a product of this Act.

It also ensures access to English and French education to linguistic minorities. The Act also encouraged widespread use of both languages in commerce and business by requiring all products sold in Canada to be labeled in both languages. Even though the Act fostered the use of both languages, the reality todays is that many Canadians still continue to be unilingual. Canada has certainly emerged as a country, since the end of WW II, as tolerant towards immigrants living here as well as recognizing the Anglo & Francophone cultural fabric of the country.

Enemy aliens from many different nations experienced unfair treatment from the Canadian government for reasons that they were not directly responsible for. The Multiculturalism Policy has changed Canada’s views on accepting these immigrants and treating them as equal. Canada did not just ensure the equality between all races in Canada, but also recognizing the equality between the two official languages of Canada. Thus the last 65 years, since the end of WW II, have shown that the Canadian society and landscape has changed dramatically to accommodate a broad mix of non-British descent immigrants.

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Canadian Identity. (2016, Oct 14). Retrieved from

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