On Tuesday April 19, 2016, I was a witness on behalf of the Mosaic Institute to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration hearings regarding Bill C-6 “Bill C-6: An Act to Amend the Citizenship Act.” This is an edited version of my remarks.
Today I hope to desensationalize some of the ideas about those seeking Canadian citizenship and what it means to be Canadian.
I have a visceral understanding of the refugee and immigration experience, simply because I was brought up in its shadow. I understand in the heart of my hearts the value and power of Canadian citizenship. Both my parents left their ancestral homes not because they wanted to, but as a result of antisemitism and persecution.
My parents’ immigration experience and the work I am involved with today at the Mosaic Institute have informed my life and I have learned much that may be helpful to this committee.
Firstly, people love being Canadian. Whether they arrived yesterday or have been here for generations, there is something about this country that inspires. Our work has proven that our diversity is one of the reasons people quickly ascribe to and adopt Canadian ways of life.
In 2014, we received a grant from Public Safety Canada to conduct a study titled The Perception and Reality of Imported Conflict in Canada. This research was conducted as part of Public Safety Canada’s efforts to “shed light on terrorism and how best to address it in Canada.”
When citizenship is achieved, it is treasured and harnessed. I say harnessed because it becomes a vehicle by which people’s lives are improved.
So, we asked the question: to what extent, if any, do Canadians with connection to countries in conflict import that conflict to Canada?
After surveying 5,000 Canadians across the country and speaking to over 220 Canadians connected to countries in conflict, we determined that, for the most part, Canadians do not import their conflict here.
In fact, one-fifth of the people we surveyed told us that they were no longer as one-sided about “their” conflict — that being in Canada had helped them to be empathetic and recognize larger factors driving these conflicts.
One of the reasons given for this attitudinal shift is that people were able to connect with others who have experienced conflict. Essentially, they realized that they are not alone. The shared element of being Canadian gives people a common ground, and a foundation upon which to build their lives.
We have also found that, when citizenship is achieved, it is treasured and harnessed. I say harnessed because it becomes a vehicle by which people’s lives are improved. Work is rewarded. People are safe. Access to education and other social services is available.
Comparatively, Canadians are fortunate, and new Canadians recognize this fact. Ninety-four per cent of people we surveyed feel attached to Canada, with 78 per cent considering themselves first and foremost Canadian. That is almost eight in 10 of those surveyed.
Truthfully, unless you are a member of our indigenous peoples, we are all immigrants, regardless if you gained your citizenship yesterday or 16 generations ago.
In fact, more new Canadians supported this statement than second-generation Canadians. This is resounding evidence that the majority of those seeking Canadian citizenship do become personally connected to this country, and in doing so decide to contribute richly to Canada.
There are some who will dismiss my statements because of recent tragic events in Canada. To them, the fact that a person perpetrated such acts in a manner connected to other acts around the world must mean that the person came to Canada with the intention of harming this country. To those with this view, I would respectfully disagree. However, our research indicates that, while people do not import their conflicts, they do import their trauma.
When this trauma is left unchecked it can lead to social isolation and a disassociation from Canada, particularly when it is exacerbated by other barriers such as discrimination and economic exclusion. But when Canadians are able to fully participate in society, not only do their lives improve, they also help improve Canadian society as a whole.
Truthfully, unless you are a member of our indigenous peoples, we are all immigrants, regardless if you gained your citizenship yesterday or 16 generations ago. Historically, immigrants and refugees who adopted Canada as their country of choice contributed to the development of Canada’s social, economic and civil fabric. Today we stand on their shoulders.
My experience over the three decades of work in the plurality that is Canada confirms to me that Canadian citizenship is earned, valued and that our diversity is indeed a source of great strength.