Are They Canadian?

By Mavis Gallant
Standard Staff Writer

This summer, while the pros and cons of immigrants were being battled a disturbing thing happened. Fifteen hundred Yugoslavs, most of them Canadian citizens packed their bags and put their money into machinery and government bonds, and went home to Europe.

“Home” is the only word you can use in a case like this, for , as State Secretary Colin Gibson pointed out, they obviously did not feel they belonged here. It is easy to say they were the victims of Communist propaganda. It is harder to swallow the idea that many naturalized Canadians do not consider themselves Canadian.

Since the departure of the Yugoslavs, there is talk of similar movements among the Poles, the Ukrainians, and still other Slav groups. It may be a political symptom. It is also a symptom that the assimilation of immigrants into Canadian life has been badly handled.

How could it be otherwise? There has never been an organized program to teach immigrants the English language, let alone the rudiments of citizenship.

One of the sections in our Canadian Citizenship Act is a tacit admission of this failure. Among the qualifications for becoming a Canadian citizen is this: the person applying must have “an adequate knowledge of either English or the French language, or if he does not have such an adequate knowledge, he has resided in Canada for more than twenty years.”

Thus, the Canadian Citizenship Act bows to the fact that it is quite possible to live in Canada for 20 years and not have an adequate knowledge of either English or French!

Of course, the second generation of an immigrant family goes to school and learns the language. But the laissez-faire attitude of dumping people on the prairies isolating them in lumber camps, and settling there in little clumps here and there has resulted in their clinging together. It accounts for the extraordinary hyphenated-Canadians which still exists. A third-generation Ukrainian will still be called just that though, he may never have seen his family’s native land and may never want to.

It is something peculiar to Canada, for the United States during its immigration period wasted no time making Americans out of the newcomers. Classes were available and they were free. In Canada there has never been a follow up of any newcomer to the country.

In former years when the old pot of gold theory was used to lure immigrants to this country, there was no organized plan for their assimilation. Stephen Leacock airily remarked that all you had to do was leave the Ukrainians alone and in 20 years they would think they won the battle of Trafalgar. That remark has often been quoted by those who oppose training for citizenship.

The record shows that Leacock was wrong. Human nature doesn’t work that way. Leave immigrants alone, as we have done and in 20 years many of them still don’t know what the battle of Trafalgar was. Leave them alone and they become political pawns. Leave them alone and they fight among themselves.

Senator Ralph Horner of Saskatchewan during one of the sessions of the committee on Immigration and labour, emphasized this Applications for citizenship, he said are often made “by people who have been here 30 years and perhaps who do not know who the prime minister is.  At election times the various votes of these people and it is not morally a very uplifting experience…to have their applications rushed through at election time, the only time when any attentions is paid to them.”

Canadian immigrants have had a tendency far more than is the U.S to stay in their national groups, cluster around their national clubs. To a degree, it is normal and natural. Carried to extremes, it means that the newcomers are not absorbed into the life of the country.

Often it means that their political interests centres around Europe and the political picture in Canada holds little meaning for them. Nearly every foreign group in Canada is divided down the middle right and left, and the opinions are violent.

An official in the Canadian Citizenship Branch says this is one of the major stumbling blocks in planning citizenship training.

“If you approach the left group first,” he says, “the right won’t have anything to do with you. Go to the right first and the left won’t cooperate.”

It is all very assert that “Europeans take their politics seriously (which is a foolish generalization). The fact is after several years in Canada they should not feel it necessary to get into an uproar every time a European border moves half an inch. They should be able to see it objectively from a Canadian point of view. If there has never been a clearly defined Canadian point of view, of course, it is our fault, not theirs.

This is not to imply that immigrants do not become useful and happy citizens. The point is that when an immigrant reaches a stage where he does consider himself a Canadian, he does it with no help from the government and little from the people.

Ottawa at long last has realized this and that is why we now have the much maligned Canadian Citizenship Branch. It has caused a good deal of indignation. “We don’t need to be taught how to become good citizens,” cry the editorials. But don’t we?

First we must remember that immigration is starting again after a long lapse. It is only a trickle to be sure and the selection methods and numbers are a burning issue. But between the last wave of immigration in the thirties and the present time many events have taken place.

We have had a war and it has left a strong national feeling which above in the Canadian flag debates; in the Canadian Citizenship Act: in the desire to stop considering Britain’s Privy Council our last court of appeal.

All this means that while the Canadian identity may will still not have jelled, it is well on the way. Immigrants who arrive today are coming, says State Secretary Gibson, “to Canada and not just a part of the British Empire.”

If they are to be granted citizenship, it is reasonable to expect that they will be taught either French or English, depending on where they will settle; that they will learn the history and geography of the country, its traditions, its institutions, it political set up. They should know the duties of citizenship and they should also know their rights as Canadians

These things have never been presented in clear and logical form. Perhaps it is because so many native-born Canadians don’t know their own history and geography and haven’t the remotest idea what citizenship means.

It shows in the citizenship report of the Canadian Youth Commission in Ottawa. This interesting document not yet off the press for public distribution was based on polls, questionnaires and interviews. According to this survey, Canadian youth has little faith in political parties and is cynical about the workings of government. Young persons are ignorant about the functions of the government and the difference between federal and provincial fields. Says the report: “Almost a complete blank was drawn as far as interest in municipal politics.” Civil rights also drew a blank. Four out of five did not know that Canadian citizens of Chinese origins cannot vote in federal elections in British Columbia.

Col. C. A. Krug Acting Commissioner of Citizenship thinks this picture will improve. In many provinces, he says, particularly British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta, a new outlook on social studies has come into force. Instead of the old “civics” courses, new teaching methods are used and pupils made aware of their privileges and responsibilities.

But even here, he admits, there is a drawback.

Most Canadians don’t finish high school. The majority, in fact leaves school at the legal age allowed, at which time large numbers are in grade six or seven. The training may be fine, but they don’t get much benefit from it.

So much for youth. What about adults? Most Canadians probably think of themselves as good citizens, shutting one eye to the pound of butter bought on the black market, the times they haven’t voted, the traffic tickets they’ve had fixed. Obeying the law, more or less, and minding your own business, has come to be synonymous with good citizenship.    

Before the Canadian Citizenship Branch was set up a committee was appointed to look into the question of citizenship with particular reference to immigrants.

Recently I questioned one of the members of this committee.

“What was that committee anyways?” he asked, “I’ve been on so many I can’t tell them apart.

The picture was clarified.

“Oh that,” he said. “It was a damn sham like most of those things.”

“But what about citizenship training for immigrants?”

“Immigrants,” he roared. “Tell them to obey the law. That’s all that’s necessary.”

Fortunately the Citizenship Branch does not reflect his attitude. But it is an indication of the negative outlook of many Canadians.

If that is the picture with native Canadians it is obvious that the problems of immigrants with their language barrier is much greater. One of the jobs the Citizenship Branch has on its hands is outlining a uniform interpretation of the Citizenship Act so that an immigrant applying for citizenship in one province will have to meet the same requirements as he would in another.

The argument is the old question of civil rights. Though citizenship is a federal matter the British North America Act allotted education to the provinces and it sees that night classes for immigrants comes in this category.

It may be enough to snarl the whole program. Premier Duplessis of Quebec, for example has said flatly that the Dominion government can mind its own business and that Quebec will take care of any immigrants in that province.

When education heads of all provinces were invited to meet with the secretary of state a while back, Quebec, and Ontario like the old vaudeville song said, “I shall be there.” Ontario sent a message saying that it was not necessary for a representative from that province to attend since any standard of education the others cared to meet, Ontario could meet. Quebec was silent, and Ottawa officials are maintaining a jittery reticence about the future of the uniform plan.

At present it is not certain whether the other provinces will have to carry on without Quebec. Unless something constructive is offered on a national basis, it is difficult to see how a displaced person settled in a  northern lumber camp is going to qualify for citizenship unless he gets help.

Many immigrants will simply never become citizens. There is no law which compels them to do so. It is rightly considered an undemocratic weapon to hold over a person’s head. Still, many people wonder if a short course in Canadian history and government should not be compulsory for all immigrants.

At the present time there is nothing of an organized nature. A short text called, “Facts About Canada” is given to the incoming stranger, and it is a useful, if not a scintillating document.

It contains facts, as the title implies, about the country and covers such subjects as government, history, weights and measures, the war effort, time zones and so on. It would be safe to say that the average Canadian does not know most of the information contained therein.

At the end of the book is a section called “helpful hints,” which are intended to be of a more personal nature. Here, the immigrant is informed that he would adjust himself to such things as Canadian machinery: that traffic moves on the right; you must not carry a gun without a permit; you should look up the liquor laws in each province; and lastly, religious freedom is enjoyed by all.

The Royal Family is on the frontispiece. It is a good book, but dull. The average person would probably regard it is as an almanac not to be read for pleasure. Such a book is important to a stranger entering Canada. Unfortunately it has not been supplemented with something just plain interesting.

“Don’t you give out any pamphlets?” a citizenship official was asked, “Something bright with picture and simple statements.”

“Pamphlets,” he groaned. “There are too many. Every organization gets one out and a more confused mess you never saw. Not long ago when a ship arrived from Europe, someone from one outfit was handing out pamphlets at the tip of the gangplank. And down at the bottom someone else from a rival organization was taking them back as the immigrants walked down.’

Until something is substituted citizenship will be left up to volunteer groups like the IODE in Ontario which conducts classes on a non-religious non-political basis. Their textbook is excellent particularly the sections dealing with the government and its functions. But because of the IODE’s patriotic character much space is devoted to the Royal Family and so forth. The book opens with this : “As children are members of a family, with father and more as head, so is Canada, a member of a family of nations with the King and Queen as heads.” In other organizations the interpretation might be quite different.

Courses have been given by several groups. But the official view is that voluntary classes have affected only one half of one per cost of the immigrant population.

Even if the federal government should succeed in getting a dominion-wide standard of education and even if every immigrant faithfully studied and practiced good citizenship, there is something else to be considered. It is discrimination against Canadians of non Anglo-Saxon or French extraction. The Japanese are only one instance.

True the children of the foreign-born have often risen to important positions. But how must a member of the House of Commons who bears a Ukrainian name feel when he hears a fellow member rise in dismay because around a certain lake in the prairies “only foreign names are to be found” and “good old English and Scottish names” have all but disappeared.

Suppose this is an extreme case-it still exists. When you force a Canadian of European parentage to look upon other Canadians as “English” or “French” it is natural for him to cling to his own group, to worry about another country and the conflicts, hates, and prejudices of the old world.

It makes it easier to understand why the Yugoslavs fell for stories promising glory in the old country. One of the letters supposed to have been written by a Canadian who returned to Yugoslavia goes something like this: “When we went through to France there was nothing to eat except that we had some sausages and apples from Canada. But as soon as we reached Yugoslavia we were given plum brandy and there was all manner of food and drink. Nobody wants for anything.”

Now anyone who can read knows that the standard of living in Yugoslavia is not higher than in Canada. Therefore, no Canadian, regardless of where he was born would accept such reports unless as State Secretary Gibson says : “We have failed to make them good Canadians.”

“We” does not mean the Dominion government; not entirely. It means every citizen of Canada.”

Montreal Standard, October 11 1947.