Thursday, April 14, 2005

Canadians: In Search of Identity

Canadians: In Search of Identity

The French and the English have always fought. Usually they fought against each other; more recently, such as in the world wars, they fought side by side.

North America was at one time held primarily by Spain and France. I say primarily because these powerful countries managed to decimate the native peoples that had lived in North America for thousands of years, either by weapons or by disease, and claim major portions of the continents for themselves.

In the 17th century, England was a rising power in the world. It held some sway in relatively unimportant parts of North America by virtue of having made discovery voyages since the early days and establishing colonies in some of the less convenient areas of the continent.

As the powers of France and Spain were weakening in the latter part of the 18th century, England managed to wrest control of most of North America by virtue of the fact that France and Spain almost abandoned their colonies. When British General Wolfe defeated French General Montcalm in what is now Quebec City, the struggle for control was over.

English businessmen found Montreal, in the French part of the country, a fine place from which to conduct their affairs. Once the dust had settled, French businessmen also secured their positions in the economic affairs of what would become Canada by working side by side with the English.

In the case of war, losers never forget. And winners seldom give losers the opportunity to forget. Canada’s French, more than anything else, wanted to keep their language, their culture and their religion. They wanted the English to leave them alone in those matters, no matter what they did with government. Even though the French had lost, they and their descendants wanted respect from the English.

The English, however, were not big on respecting losers. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, new Canadian provinces passed laws variously forbidding the teaching of French (or any language other than English), forbidding the teaching of any religion that was not Protestant Christian and they displaced French and Metis (mixed-blood French and Indian, dating from the pre-pioneer days of fur trading) people from the frontier territories in Canada’s west.

For the English, there was to be no doubt about who was in control: the English. For the French, there was no doubt about who was being oppressed and whose culture and language were being eliminated. Schools in most of Canada taught British history (Canadian history receiving no recognition), while in Quebec the schools taught the history of the French in Canada.

A few major events shaped and molded Canadians into the people the world knows today.

Because French speaking Canadians were fundamentally opposed to supporting anything that was clearly "English," they strongly opposed conscription of their young men to fight in the two world wars, which they considered to be English (or at least European) wars. To satisfy them in pre-election periods, politicians gave assurances that conscription would not be imposed.

However, elections happened and so did conscription. French speaking Canadians considered this to be a violation of the promises they had received. English speaking Canadians secretly wondered why a government should be allowed to force a young man to join an army, don a uniform, and carry a gun for the express purpose of killing someone. Or, instead, to be killed by an enemy they did not consider to be their personal enemy. Do we have the right, they thought, to refuse to kill on someone’s order? Killing, they had been taught since childhood, was fundamentally wrong.

In 1956, Egypt, supported by several allies, decided that the Suez Canal, built by Britain with the support of other countries, should be closed unless Egypt benefitted from the passage of ships through its territory. Such rights had been exercised since the beginning of trade in Eurasia. The closing of a shipping route from Europe to Asia, however, was not taken lightly by European countries. A war, perhaps a third world war, was about to begin.

The United States rejected the use of war to solve the conflict, though many other countries considered it the only way to a conclusion.

Enter the Canadian ambassador to the United Nations, Lester Pearson. Almost single-handedly, Pearson brought the two sides together, received the backing of the UN, ended the Suez conflict, and received the Nobel Peace Prize for his Herculean efforts.

Canadians took great pride in Pearson’s ground-breaking success. Peace, they came to believe, was possible, if two opposing sides come together to talk and if someone has a proposal that seems worthy to both. Peace through talking, not fighting, became a mantra in Canada. The message following recognition of the first Canadian to receive so much world attention made Canadians want to follow Pearson’s example. Peace, they said, would be their way of thinking from that time on.

The third major event to shape the thinking of modern Canadians was the passing through parliament, under the guidance of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, of bills that made Canada officially bilingual and multicultural. Trudeau, through his persuasive way of speaking, made Canadians believe that these were not just right, but the only way possible to keep their country together. Canadians always wanted to do right.

Canada would now recognize two official languages, French and English, and allow and encourage the preservation and development of the cultures of the people from many different countries who had come to make their new homes and new lives in Canada.

Canada, in a sense, was to be the unofficial example of how one country could act effectively in the same way as the United Nations should act as a world community.

Being peaceful and multicultural of nature, as a result of teaching of these values for half a century, Canadians are now recognized around the world for being friendly, willing to learn about other cultures, neither self-imposing nor self-possessed, and willing to make peace where they could. Other nationalities share these same values, but Canadians have exemplified them to the world.

So it is that we have created LASTfriends, a model for an international community, the closest the world has ever come to a global village.

We Canadians invite you, our fellow villagers, to say hello and share with us your culture and your lives, as we share ours with you.

It is a privilege and an honour to share our world and the LASTfriends forum with you.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems'
June, 2005
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