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Just Answer The Question

by Stephen Lautens


February 4, 2000

Getting ready for the 2001 census, Ottawa is already in a mini-battle over what it means to be a Canadian.

StatsCan wants to ask Canadians about their ethnic origin. They say they have to, because various government departments use the information to dole out programs and subsidies, as well as deliver social services.

In fact, the federal government has been asking citizens about their ethnic origin since 1871.

The problem is, given a choice, more and more people are saying their ethnic origin is Canadian. What a great problem to have.

Until 1996 "Canadian" wasn't even allowed by StatsCan as a proper answer. You had to climb up your family tree until you found someone in a kilt or a kaftan, whether you have anything in common with them or not.

According to reports, StatsCan is again considering dropping "Canadian" as a choice for the question about ethnic origin.

So the new debate is whether Canadians are an ethnic group. Professor Rhoda Howard-Hassmann of McMaster University has written an article that says we are an ethnic group, but our obsession with state-sponsored cultural diversity has scared us away from seeing ourselves for who we really are.

The critics say that recognizing Canadian ethnicity makes it a white man's club - no one of colour can ever be truly included. Baloney. That's the thing about Canada - if you want to be a Canadian and contribute to this great country, you can.

You just have to see the model United Nations that plays hockey in front of my house. Half of the kids are from countries that never see snow.

I'm no idiot who believes prejudice doesn't exist here. Of course it does, but we forget that that people come here from all over the world for a reason.

And it's not just to freeload as some people would have you believe, although there's always a few in every barrel.

It's because we have a pretty good thing going here - something that's unique on the planet.

We've taken some of the best ideas in the world and put them to use. We have a democracy that works more often than not. We value tolerance and education. And there's something about our winters that makes us pull together as neighbours.

We've built a country that is proud but not boastful, safe without sacrificing our liberties. We realize our rights come with responsibilities and "every man for himself" is no way to run a civilized society.

And we're more than just unarmed Americans with health care.

So don't tell me that Canadians aren't an ethnic group. We share a common language, history and lifestyle. That's why we laugh so hard at Red Green, or Bob & Doug McKenzie, or the Canadian jokes they slip into the Simpsons from time to time.

Heck, you know you've made it as a country when they're making fun of you on South Park.

And don't think that people come here because the place they're leaving is so darn great. They come here to get away from all that.

Together we've built a great country. Otherwise we're just one big bus station, where strangers linger on their way through to other destinations.

It's about time we dwelled a little less on where we came from and gave some serious thought to where we are, and how we've made it here together.

And dammit, I am a Canadian, and that is my ethnic group. I don't have another one to fall back on.


Read the reply to this column from the Minister of State Responsible for Multiculturalism, the Hon. Hedy Fry, MP. Click here.


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