It is wonderful to witness the outpouring of compassion for the Syrian refugees who are being welcomed to Canada. A lot of work is being done by governments and by the private sponsoring individuals and groups to assist these families to settle in their new environment.
As part of this welcome, there is a good resource booklet produced by Citizenship and Immigration Canada – “Welcome to Canada.” The booklet is full of helpful information for new immigrants, such as an overview of the history of Canada, facts about social service organizations, and a bit about rights and freedoms.
However, I think there are gaps in the vital information which should be provided to them. This essential information should be provided as early as possible so that their adaptation to a new world is made easier.
One of the glaring lacks is that there is little information about accommodations and adaptation for both newcomers and for long time Canadians.
As a society, we are open to diversity, and multiculturalism accepts that new ways of living are possible within the broader Canadian family.
However there are limits to accommodations and there has to be a concomitant expectation for adaptation on the part of newcomers. For example, new Canadians should understand that some cultural practices may be in conflict with our fundamental rights and should be discarded.
These practices may be related to child rearing, children’s education or gender equality within families and in communities. It is not that Canada has achieved all our ideals but it has taken years of struggle to have the rights of women and children recognized.
Canadians can be a melding of diverse values but always within the framework of liberal democracy, Universal Human Rights and our Charter of Freedoms and Rights.
There are some values which are not negotiable such as equality of all and in all environments – public and religious. As a nation we cannot wash our hands off with the weak argument of religious freedom when women are treated as less than equal.
There are no rigid categories of what is included in “Canadian values.” but we do have agreement. What we don’t want to push is the narrow and exclusionary definition of Canadian values as those based solely on the Judeo/Christian traditions. This is neither accurate nor inclusive of many of us who are neither European, nor Christian or Jewish.
One example of the discussion on Canadian values is the Canadian Index of Wellbeing, at the University of Waterloo. It lists our qualities as fairness, diversity, equity, inclusion, democracy, a healthy environment, social programs and civic participation and that these are criteria for our wellbeing.
Another example is the Trudeau Foundation’s national poll of 2011 which found that Canadians value gender equality, freedom of religion, tolerance of others and Multiculturalism as our shared values.
Carleton University Professor Phil Ryan defends multiculturalism and discusses the importance of being fully engaged citizens who are connected to each other by a “web of rights and obligations.”
He lists Canadian values as participatory democracy; reasonable tolerance of diversity; rule of law; stewardship of the Earth; mixed economy; universal health care; payment of taxes; and protection against any discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation.
The other significant values are a commitment to the common good and willingness to learn from the “Other.”
It is fair to assume that it is these values which define us as Canadians. However, there are others such as the Institute for Canadian Values which defines Canadian values as based on “Judeo/Christian teaching” and on nothing else such as indigenous values. This Institute is led by Charles McVety, an evangelical Christian, a strong conservative activist who is against same sex marriage, women’ freedom of choice, evolution and protection of the environment. He is also a virulent anti-Muslim.
Michael Adams in the Globe and Mail, Oct 27/15, questioned why Harper’s stands in the elections did not translate into votes? He concluded that the values of pluralism and the other Canadian values won the day.
As a Western Muslim I happily integrate Western philosophy and ideals with my Eastern identity, as has been done by many Muslims of previous generations. Many Europeans have also embraced teachings of the East, with no hesitation, which is surely how it should be for all of us in this global village.
This means that as a Muslim I do reject those parts of my tradition – of East and West – which are based on patriarchy and unfair to women.
We should elaborate on the concept of “web of rights and obligations” to new immigrants and refugees so they understand that in their adaptation they must examine those cultural practices which may conflict with human rights of the individual.
In Canada, there is plenty of room for accommodations and adaptation but always within the framework of justice and equality as articulated in the Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
A word of welcome to my fellow Muslims: may I please ask that you don’t get your religious teachings from the internet alone. Sadly, there are many so called scholars/sheikhs who are detrimental to us Muslims. For example, some of these men offer some bizarre suggestions, such as that even wishing our Christian friends a happy Christmas is against Islamic teachings. Surely this is utter nonsense and is detrimental to any interfaith dialogue.