How can countries around the world build inclusive societies at a time when people seem to be more divided in their beliefs about what citizenship is? Is Canada a successful model to emulate? These questions were posed to four speakers from the Institute for Canadian Citizenship’s 6 Degrees conference, hosted in Toronto earlier this week, when they appeared on The Agenda with Steve Paikin.
“I think one of the problems with Canadian multiculturalism is that we’ve felt like we’ve let the policy take care of it,” said Abdul-Rehman Malik, a journalist and former Torontonian on the verge of British citizenship. “We have an official department, we have some nice programs. But what about political power? Can multiculturalism at times be disempowering? Does multiculturalism in Canada paper over the cracks? The cracks are there.”
Pico Iyer, a writer based in Japan, noted that Canada’s multiculturalism, despite some flaws, is still beyond what’s going on elsewhere. He said Canada is “putting [multiculturalism] on the table and thinking seriously 'how are we going to construct a new society?' Where England and the U.S. are backing into it reluctantly, Canada is seeing it as an opportunity.”
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Malik and Iyer, along with Josef Haslinger, literature professor, novelist and head of PEN Germany, and Denise Dresser, a political science professor in Mexico, also discussed how their home countries have handled the Syrian refugee crisis, immigration policies and domestic problems such as poverty and crime. They talked about the politics of fear that some believe has driven Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, Donald Trump’s U.S. presidential campaign and Germany’s vacillation on acceptance of Syrian refugees.
The Agenda panel was shown a clip of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent conversation on diversity and inclusion with London’s newly-elected Mayor Sidiq Khan at the 2016 Global Progress Summit in Montreal. On the question of integration of immigrants, Trudeau said, “When we think about integration and success we can’t be overly impatient. We need to be respectful and keep a solid pressure and forward movement articulated. But we do have to know that pressure of particularly the second generation will be faced … between having to choose between their identity and their religion and their community and their school[s].”
Khan agreed, but in what some panel members thought was a contradiction to Trudeau, he added, “The time of laissez-faire, integration is going to happen by itself, just chillax … those days are gone.”
Dresser, who declared herself a Trudeau fan, said we need only look to how Canada has welcomed 25,000 Syrian refugees and is keeping the door open to more for proof of a successful approach to immigration. She mentioned that in Mexico, it’s been difficult to get beyond issues of poverty, crime and domestic violence to think about a philosophical “third-tier problem for third world countries.”
Malik acknowledged that the panellists are speaking from a point of privilege but added, “I’m not happy as a Canadian, as a British citizen to rest on the laurels of what I think my society has achieved when in our own societies economic marginalization, poverty, homelessness continues.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Britain had voted to leave the United Kingdom.
Watch The Agenda's panel on citizenship: