Friday, February 09, 2007

The Question of Tolerance

Thursday's papers reported that a "new international study" has found "Canadians among the world's least bigoted." This study polled citizens from 23 Western countries. It gauged the general level of intolerance of following different groups: immigrants in general; people of another race; Muslims; Jews; and homosexuals.

The "Canadian" component of these findings somewhat ironic considering that the day before a BC provincial cabinet minister was forced to resign over a profanity-laced, insulting message with extreme anti-American sentiment directed at one of his constituents. Even more disheartening, were the letters to the editor the next day supporting this kind of behaviour and sentiment.

But back to the question of tolerance. Tolerance as defined by the Canadian Oxford dictionary: a willingness or ability to accept or allow without protest or irritation. Canada is a multi-cultural nation and given our vast geography and weak population we have always had the luxury of keeping a healthy distance from our neighbours which, lets be honest, in many cases helps to keep the peace. We as Canadians are also very sensitive to what is and what is not politically correct. As a result, I would hazard a guess that most of us know which answers to give whether or not we actually believe it. The reality is one only has to look in the papers to see that "hate crimes" are alive and well.

There is of course the question as to if Canada experiences more or less of these sorts of crimes or intolerances than other countries. Aside from the Toronto hate crimes unit which publishes a detailed annual review, complete with ethnic breakdowns and trends that date back to 1993, it seems that other police forces are either reluctant to give these sorts of details or do not have them. In fact one article suggested that Quebec being "very sensitive to our international reputation of being open, tolerant and socially progressive" has a "great reluctance to deal with hate crimes." They fear it would "jeopardize our image."

Finally, when you have large immigrant populations, there is the question of what sort of racist prejudices newcomers bring with them. Immigrants often have different cultural and ethnic residues which they bring to their host country. I, in fact, have been witness to a situation where two Canadian born individuals of different ethnic backgrounds held their parents' prejudices and almost broke into a fight with each other when they first met based solely on their hatred of the other ethnic group.

Don't get me wrong, Canada is a great place to live, but obviously there are a lot of issues surrounding this topic and I am curious to know if Canada actually does meet the mark as one of the least bigoted nations.


jb3ll3 said...

Carla, As an American, it always 'feels' much more tolerant in Canada. Having said that, I have never been more insulted and more assaulted verbally, than when in my own living room by one of my best friends who is from Toronto. So I guess, I can share your continiuing inquiry on some level.

But not when I am in Canada, because I love it sooo much. Same for the people.

(interesting that Canadians would even talk about being tolerant! I like the honesty of Canadians.)

BurdockBoy said...

I believe Canada deserves the label as one of the least bigoted nations. Canada seems to honour the cultures of immigrants (a patchwork quilt), while here in the states many believe immigrants should adopt "American Ways" (If I hear the melting pot analogy one more time I'll freak out). The failure to assimilate leaves many Americans resentful because ignorance keeps them from learning about their neighbours.

Plus we have the fundamentalist south.

Carla said...

Jb3113, I'm glad you feel welcome and comfortable in Canada. And yes, there is much discussion here about tolerance and how far we should go in terms of being tolerant and where the threshold should be where we perhaps become too tolerant and no longer protect those citizens who are already here. I suppose that what it boils down to is if incoming cultures are peaceful and mean no harm to others than we should be inclusive. Overall, we would like Canada to remain a peaceful nation.

Burdockboy, I agree that we should take the opportunity to learn about the cultures of our neighbours. We are so much more enriched when we do. "Melting post" does seem to be bantered about fairly often.