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?