After Lethbridge: What is a Canadian, anyhow?

Surprise, Canadians are racist too! Not that you had to look far from our flagrant erasure of Indigenous culture and history, or the massive disparity between indigenous, black, and white folks in demographic statistics such as carding or prison populations. For some reason it seems that lots of Canadians refuse to consider those things racist; however, when in Lethbridge a woman started hurling racist insults at a group of strangers at a restaurant for “not speaking English,” there’s no way Canadians should have recognized it as anything other than bonafide vitriol. I’m surprised by how many people tried to defend what she did. Even an MLA implied in a now-deleted Tweet that those men “deserved” it to some degree.

Regardless of if they had done something wrong, that doesn’t justify verbally assaulting total strangers, and it certainly doesn’t justify racism. I’ve written a lot of stuff about racism though, and it’s fairly clear what she did was wrong. Instead, let’s talk about what it means to be Canadian since that woman basically regarded herself as superior to those men by virtue of being “born Canadian.”

Being Canadian isn’t about speaking English, being born here, or being willing to conform to Canadian societal norms. Being Canadian is about wanting to live here, in harmony, with other folks. That’s really all that we as Canadians have right to claim, considering the folks who established this country weren’t even from here, and by today’s standards would be considered anything from illegal immigrants to an invading force.

The distinctions between a Canadian citizen, a permanent resident, and an undocumented immigrant are mostly semantic. I, a Canadian citizen by birth, wasn’t required to take a citizenship test. There’s no proof I’m qualified to be a citizen the same way those who have applied and paid for citizenships are. I wasn’t evaluated on my merit to acquire the right to take up space here, and there is no proof that I provide the same benefits for my community than those who have been evaluated. The difference between myself and permanent residents who’ve lived here for most of their lives is random chance of birthplace and the pile of government documents and fees they had to fill and pay to get permanent residence status.

Permanent residents are every bit as affected by our country’s politics and yet they can’t vote. Undocumented immigrants, who weren’t born here but risked coming for a better life, still contribute to society and need the same social supports as anyone else. Being or not being a citizen is a vestige from times where the world was less connected. The world is shrinking, and as we become more connected the arbitrary barriers we’ve erected between ourselves should be phased out.

If someone wants to live here and contribute to society, we don’t need to make them take a values test, because the very fact they chose to come here means their values and ours must align. If someone wants to live in a country where the air hurts your face for eight months of the year, they’ve already paid their toll; we don’t need to charge them for citizenship.  

Being Canadian is about wanting to come here, to stay here, to live, laugh, learn, and prosper here. We shouldn’t pretend there’s anything more to it than that.

Related Articles