When my editor told me that I would get a reaction if I brought up signage in Richmond shopping malls, it proved she knows her audience.
The responses were sincere and thoughtful, but there are a couple of notions that I'd like to examine further.
Both were encapsulated in one letter to the editor that said, "Richmond, it is sad to say, has been a prime example of newcomers being virtually encouraged for their language and culture to trump that of the country THEY have chosen to immigrate to!"
The first idea is that because people have chosen to immigrate to Canada, they're obligated to abandon everything they've grown up with in favour of the Canadian way. The second is despite taking on that obligation, newcomers' are refusing to comply, choosing instead to flaunt their home cultures.
I think that a lot of people, if they've thought about it at all, accept the first as a given - that part of immigrating to a new country is wholeheartedly embracing its values. And they fear that the second is becoming increasingly true. I don't believe either, and here's why.
The days when immigration to Canada was an act of generosity in return for which we expected undying gratitude are long gone.
Consider this. According to a CBC analysis of just released census numbers, "between now and 2020, babyboomer retirements coupled with declining birth rates are expected to produce labour deficits of approximately 163,000 in construction, 130,000 in oil and gas, 60,000 in nursing, 37,000 in trucking, 22,000 in the hotel industry and 10,000 in the steel trades."
2020 is only eight years away. And to paraphrase Swiss novelist and playwright Max Frisch, "We ask for workers, but we get people."
In 2010, we welcomed 280,000 immigrants and an equal number of students and temporary workers (many of whom we'll convert to immigrants) and that's still not enough to meet our labour-market needs. On top of that, we are in a polite, but vigorous competition with the U.S., Australia, the UK and even New Zealand for the world's well educated and talented.
People do choose to come to Canada, but it's not a one-way process. We also invite them. And while we're inviting them, we probe their personal, legal, medical, familial and financial histories in intimate ways that would make a proctologist blush. But nowhere do we ask them about their value systems and their beliefs.
It is the strength of Canada's culture - and the reason that newcomers integrate so successfully after a generation - that we not only talk the talk of multiculturalism, but that we walk the walk, allowing immigrants to find their places in our society at their own pace.
Does that mean we are prepared to tolerate every "old country" value in the name of multiculturalism? Are we nothing more than spineless cultural relativists - one who believes that since all cultures are equally valid, outsiders have no right to "judge" others' cultural practices - afraid to speak out for what we, as Canadians, believe?
I think not. But let's save the heavy artillery for cultural practices that are truly abhorrent.
Take the verdict in the Shafia "honourkilling" trial. Not only were the accused found guilty, but the Canadian establishment reacted with proper revulsion in denouncing the whole concept.
The presiding judge summed up our reaction as Canadians when he said, "It is difficult to conceive of a more heinous, more despicable, more honourless crime. The apparent reason behind these cold-blooded, shameful murders was that the four completely innocent victims offended your completely twisted concept of honour ... that has absolutely no place in any civilized society."
To which Justice Minister Rob Nicholson added that honour killing is a practice that is "barbaric and unacceptable in Canada."
Too obvious, you're thinking? Who could possibly believe that honour killing has any place in Canada? Ask the families of Canadian born Aqsa Parvez, murdered at age 16, Amandeep Atwal, murdered at age 17, Kahtera Sidiqi, murdered at age 20 and Jassi Sidhu, murdered at age 25.
Dr. Joe Greenholtz is a regulated Canadian immigration consultant (RCIC) and a director of Premier Canadian Immigration Co-op. He also sits on the Richmond Intercultural Advisory Committee.