#WS3330G Stranger at Our Gates by Valerie Knowles

The purpose of the book, Strangers at Our Gates, which is authored by Valerie Knowles, “describes briefly the different kinds of immigrants who have settled in this country over the centuries and the immigration policies that have helped to define the character of immigration in various periods” (p. ix). Stating the obvious, and similar to Knowles, racism played a role in Canadian immigration policy.

Knowles’ historical analysis of Canadian immigration policy adopts the Doctrine of Discovery. The Doctrine of Discovery follows that England discovered North America and this doctrine is used to justify settler invasion. In other words, in Canadian history, those with the biggest guns win, literally and metaphorically. This point also emphasizes the concept of history as a social construction, which speaks directly to the question of power. Dr. Anton Allahar in Hidden From History states, “It is often the view of the most powerful that carries the day and that is remembered” (p. 245). The historical exploration of Canada’s immigration policies speaks to these differential power relations and more specifically, historical silences and the erasure of people and events in Canada’s history. While Knowles’ statement that racism was prevalent within these legislative discourses is correct, I posit that racism was also a method for social control. With my big, bright red and white Canadian thinking cap on, I see our immigration policies acting more like a security blanket for maintaining the Canadian Identity. This begs the question, what is the Canadian identity?

Today, immigration policies are centered on the Canadian philosophy of multiculturalism. Multiculturalism as a policy first began to enter Canadian legislative discourses in the late 1970s and the early 1980s, under the Trudeau and Mulroney eras respectively. It was officially adopted in 1985 under the Canadian Multiculturalism Act. Even though many Canadians seem to adhere to this multiculturalism identity with pride, I suggest that the idea that Canada is a multicultural country is misleading. Multiculturalism is much more of a “cloak” to disguise the racism prevalent in Canadian society. Multiculturalism says that as individuals, newcomers can celebrate their own distinct cultural values and ideals but only if Canadian values and ideals are bought into first, or more precisely, if you assimilate first.

So returning to the initial question on Canadian Identity, I present a closing question: How do you think racism within immigration legislative discourses play a role in maintaining Canadian identity? And, do you think that much has changed within immigration policy over the years especially with respect to racism? 

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4 comments

  1. “How do you think racism within immigration legislative discourses play a role in maintaining Canadian identity?”

    The term “Canadian identity” is problematic and meaningless. My parents left from Europe to Canada: a country that spoke their language, practiced their religion, ate the same kind of food and where the political left/right landscape was familiar. They really came to another version of Europe.

    I feel I live in a country that glorifies and inflates its history and accomplshments. The number of children who died in residential schools for instance is in no Canadian history book. No Canadian knows the number! We apparently won every war we participated in, we apparently commited no atrocities, we apparently were on the “good side”!

    None of the languages spoken by the first inhabitants here are official or even taught in school. Our culture is completely devoid of anything that has to do with First Nations. If there is a Canadian Identity, it is clear that it is one too many in this country don’t identify with.

    Listening to any political commentator on TV, and it is not hard to figure out that government policy is driven by some kind of fear of invasion! Has anybody heard the racist rant on the Roma people by the government-friendly SUN TV???!!!! It’s shameful, something out of a Goebbels cookbook!

    Immigrants themselves today when they do finally arrive here are more likely to be poorer and not have their skills recognized. It’s ovious, that they hold the jobs that nobody wants to do: pizza delivery, taxi, cleaning… As a permanent resident, they don’t have the right to vote and are also at risk of being deported, if God forbid, they’re found guilty of some minor offense.

    Finally, they get to take a course and pass a test that glorifies Canadian history and have to swear allegiance to the Queen of England, a foreign head of state that does not even live here!

  2. Incidentally, and very apropos, I stumbled across this news-story about a woman who died in the custody of a private security firm contracted by the Canadian Border Agency. Troubling for so many reasons: the silence of the authorities, the detainment and deportation over an unpaid transit ticket, the detainment by a private security firm and no word on if she was here , in fact, illegally. Shameful!!!!

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/mexican-womans-death-in-cbsa-custody-sparks-call-for-accountability/article16601293/

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