Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Milton and Multiculturalism

To get some background on this issue, it's important to read a proposed Notice of Motion which came to council May 16 and which was subsequently declared Out of Order by the mayor. Click here for the link.
Mike Grimwood was one of two registered delegates, who, due to the mayor's ruling was unable to speak. I have been given permission to print his presentation here. His is first, then Joanna Matthews'. She is Executive Director, Halton Multicultural Council.

Delegation to Council, May 17, 2010
Re: Councillor day’s Notice of Motion
I understand that this Notice of Motion is not being voted on today, but may be considered for the September 27th Council meeting. I believe the impetus and content of the motion is sufficiently unfriendly and important, that an immediate response is required.
In my considered opinion, the spirit which animates this notice of motion, as evidenced in the correspondence accompanying it, is abhorrent; the notion and intent of the motion itself is odious and offensive, and the rationale behind the motion, if one is so generous as to give it that credence, is so deeply flawed that it is without any merit whatsoever.

The motion attacks a fundamental democratic right enshrined in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedom – “Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly” .

Canadian citizens can vote without threat of coercion or exclusion by the state or political factions or politicians themselves – this is one of the greatest strengths of Canadian democracy, and it cannot be abandoned, ignored or brushed aside, which, as I see it, this motion demanding.

The loyalty of Canadians to their Parliamentary democracy is not displayed through the cheap political trick of a signed piece of paper – simply coming out to vote shows that people believe in the Canadian Parliamentary system and are loyal to Canada’s principles. This motion suggests we should be putting more barriers and hindrances to this expression of support and loyalty. What absolute rot!

By happenstance, I am now reading a book from Milton’s public library – The Pursuit of Glory, Europe 1648-1815, by Tim Blanning (Viking). I had come upon a section dealing with the reaction of European craft guilds to changes in Europe in the 18th century, and when I read the correspondence which accompanies this reprehensible notice of motion, that section came back to me with references made in this correspondence:
“many (guilds) were showing all the negative conservatism of a vested interest overtaken by events: dogged devotion to old techniques (an “oath of loyalty” perhaps?), suspicion of innovation “kangaroo courts known as human rights commissions” perhaps?), resentment of competition (“native sentencing circles” perhaps?) and xenophobia (“multiculturalism”, perhaps?). They were particularly determined to confine guild membership to “their kind of people”.

I leave it you to determine if you find parallels between the 18th century and now.

Much as this motion and the accompanying correspondence disgust me, though, I’m glad it has been brought forward. Certainly, I have a better understanding of the author and his views of Canada and Parliamentary democracy, voting rights and the second freedom enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Certainly, it is better to bring these issues to the fore, rather than letting them fester like maggots in a wound. As the onetime president of the University of Chicago opined – “ A civilization in which there is not a continuous controversy about the important issues is on the way to totalitarianism and death”.

The notion to impose a totalitarian measure such as a mandatory oath of loyalty as a condition of voting eligibility is an important issue, and, no matter that I believe it is a reprehensible, odious and anti-democratic suggestion, it needs to be debated, if only to reaffirm the pre-eminence of democratic principles in Canadian governance.

So too should there be debate on our judicial system. We have seen the current federal government adopt a “lex regia” approach, as expounded in the code of Justinian – “quod principi placuit, legis habet vigorem” – the will of the prince has the force of law. The current government clearly, to my mind, believes it has the force of law in its hands, rather than Parliament, and believes its ideology should be paramount. This is another matter which goes right to the heart of Canadian Parliamentary democracy, and though I totally disagree with the government, and am committed to the pre-eminence of Parliament, freedom of opinion takes precedence, and the matter should be debated.

The suggestion though, that countries such as the United States, Great Britain, Japan, South Korea, Poland, countries which are our allies in the war against terror, and every other democratic country in the world, are “cesspools” is not something for debate. The suggestion that the citizens of these countries – citizens of many who are fighting against terrorism on behalf of Canadians as well as their own country-people – are the dregs and sewage of humanity is grotesque and appalling. It is greatly reminiscent of the spirit of the Nazi superior Aryan race credo – a worthless, unfounded credo which one would have hoped had been confined forever to the dustbins of history. Sadly, this spirit has been resurrected – it is an infamy, and it should be treated with absolute contempt and dismissed back to oblivion and opprobrium.

Michael Grimwood
Milton, Ontario

And here is Joanna Matthews' presentation...

My name is Joanna Matthews and I am the Executive Director of a charitable organization whose mission is to enable every individual regardless of race or ethnic origin to participate as full and active members of this community by fostering mutual respect and understanding. We are a full service settlement organization and we assist newcomers who choose Halton as their home.

When I first worked for the Halton Multicultural Council, my job was to provide anti-discrimination workshops within the Region of Halton Schools. As an icebreaker activity, I would always ask the children to stand and then be seated only when the scenario applied to their family. We would start with anyone who was born outside of Canada…please have a seat…next anyone whose parents were born outside Canada, take a seat…next grandparents, great grandparents…and so on until only those who were native Canadian, our aboriginal people were left standing. This activity established for all that at some time in their family’s history they had been a newcomer to this land.

Our last Canadian Census demonstrated that Canada is more dependent than ever on immigration, as we are not repopulating ourselves at a rate that will sustain the population growth needed for our economic development. Knowing this we see the evolution of our country’s history that moves from a selective or exclusive immigration policy to a more inclusive immigration policy.

To this end, Canada also ensured that all Canadians were recognized for their uniqueness and cultural diversity. During the 1970s, Multiculturalism was introduced as a way to recognize this growing cultural diversity. This became entrenched into official policy in Canada’s Constitution Act 1982.

In 1988, Canada further protected Cultural Diversity through the Preservation and Enhancements known as the Canadian Multiculturalism Act (1988). It acknowledges the rights of all ethnic groups in Canada to preserve and share their unique cultural heritage. It also guarantees equal opportunity for Canadians of all origins.

Many of us here today know someone from any number of ethnic groups, faith communities, countries of origin, genders, sexual orientations that work hard, play by the rules, are good family people, are faithful and law-abiding good citizens of Canada.

Many of us here today know someone from any number of ethnic groups, faith communities, countries of origin, genders, sexual orientations who are deceitful, do not play by the rules, are unethical and hurtful.

Many of us here today hold bias and prejudice in our hearts. Some is based on our experiences, what we have heard from others or from the media, but it is the broad sweeping brush that paints an entire group of people in one light that becomes problematic for Milton. In addition, it is a person who is in a position of power, such as you, town councillors, who have a duty to be rational, reasonable, fair and just in the face of fear mongering that could become problematic for Milton.

This statement of Request presented here today is unnecessary because it already exists. It is called the Oath of Citizenship and it is a legally binding oral and written contract intended to ensure that new Canadian citizens promise to obey the laws and customs of their new country, fulfill their duties as citizens, and recognize the authority of the monarch and the personification of various entities and concepts.

It states…..
I swear / affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to her Majesty “Queen Elizabeth” Queen of Canada, her Heirs and successors and I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfill my duties as a Canadian Citizen.

Many schools and communities in Canada host citizenship ceremonies allowing present day Canadians the opportunity to reaffirm their own commitment to Canada, while new Canadians take theirs for the first time. With that said, I respectfully request that Council not move this item forward.

Thank you,
Joanna Matthews

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