In recent months and years, much has been made in the media about what constitutes a true Canadian. Under the federal leadership of now former-Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the whole debate veered into increasingly dangerous territory.
It began with bellicose projections of xenophobic fantasies about dark-skinned terrorists in our midst, and eventually settled upon the senseless targeting of Muslim women and their Charter rights to wear what they damned well please.
An unhealthy Islamophobic odium seemed to be the last-ditch effort for a failing government, desperate to appeal even to avowed bigots if it meant garnering enough votes to secure power in the nation’s capitol.
Happily, the Canadian electorate saw through the cynicism and tired of feeling anxious every time they heard the constant governmental messaging targeting the Others, especially when those Others were Canadians like the rest of us.
Canada is a country made up of Indigenous people, immigrant- and refugee-families. And it is a fact that those in power are wise to remember. Because any time those in power alienate any one of the holy trinity of Canadian inclusion, they will run the risk of earning the well-deserved opprobrium of their constituents.
As the national narrative turned ugly, particularly in those days and weeks following the tragedy on Parliament Hill, I paled with anxiety, as did many others, as Bill C-51 was proposed as a remedy to uproot potential terrorists quietly plotting Canada’s destruction.
The bill’s vagueness with regard to defining terrorism per se was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to its objectionable caveats. Its implied threats to weakening personal rights and freedoms for all Canadians were roundly condemned by academics and the legal community right across the country.
But as we began to speculate about how Canadian security agencies might be able to intervene into the lives of Canadian citizens without the foresight and approval of the judiciary, a chill descended and many began questioning whether political dissent could ever be carried out without fear of reprisal from federal authorities.
And I began worrying about activist friends focussed upon environmental concerns. I worried about Indigenous friends attempting to protect their treaty lands from economic exploitation. I felt fearful about voicing my own critique of neo-liberal ideology. And I worried about friends that didn’t match the stereotype of “Old Stock Canadians” that Mr. Harper flippantly referred to during one of the Leaders’ Debates.
Some of my fears have fallen away in the weeks since the Harper-Conservative ouster from office. After all, PM Trudeau has promised to amend Bill C-51 into a more palatable set of laws. And while I may not be keen on the opening gambit of PM Trudeau’s “Sunny ways” election victory speech, I am encouraged, along with most Canadians, to try thinking again about Canada as a place that welcomes Others to become One with the rest of Us. So far, Mr. Trudeau seems to have hit the right notes for many of us.
For many of us, Canada has become home as a result of our forebears planting roots here. As a first generation Canadian, I am grateful that Canada welcomed my parents and encouraged them in so many ways to contribute and prosper.
I wish the same generosity and encouragement to so many friends from elsewhere that have made the Okanagan their home: Humberto from Mexico whose irrepressible mirth and entrepreneurial zeal makes friends of strangers within a minute of being in his company; or lovely Miho from Japan who serves me lunch several times a week with uncommon beauty and grace; or Hamed from Iran who has taught me, through his collaboration with his Tehran-based bandmates in The Ways, that longing can be transformed into melody across cultures and borders and speak to our hearts in a foreign tongue.
In the end, we are all true Canadians. And this country is getting better as more immigrants come to our shores to live their lives with us. Let’s welcome them all. Our communities are becoming more diverse, more interesting, and more compassionate as a result. Sunny ways indeed.
— Jeffrey Loewen is a Kelowna-based writer who plays music by day and politics by night