Canada recently released a new Citizen and Immigration guide (pdf) which is meant as an introductory crash-course in Canadiana for new immigrants to our country.
The document is reasonably non-partisan (as it should be), and includes several references to our religious heritage:
The Constitution of Canada was amended in 1982 to entrench the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which begins with the words, “Whereas Canada is founded upon the principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.” This phrase underlines the importance of religious traditions to Canadian society and the dignity and worth of the human person. [pg. 8, emphasis added]
I’m not sure how that phrase relates to the latter, and another way of expressing the former might be “This phrase underlines how conservative Christians have held sway over Canadian government officials for the past 30 years.”
Canadian society today stems largely from the English-speaking and French-speaking Christian civilizations that were brought here from Europe by settlers. [pg. 11]
Of course another way to say that might be “Canada was settled by settlers from England and France,” since I don’t know of other “English-speaking and French-speaking Christian civilizations.” Or maybe Canada wasn’t “civilized” until the Christians came.
The good news though is that it also includes this statement about religious diversity in Canada:
The great majority of Canadians identify as Christians. The largest religious affiliation is Roman Catholic, followed by various Protestant churches. The numbers of Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, and members of other religions, as well as atheists, are also growing. [pg. 13, emphasis added]
Which is a somewhat reasonable shout-out, even though “Non-religious” as a category is second only to Roman Catholics (2001 Census – numbers may be much closer now), so their information isn’t completely accurate (unless you add up all the Protestant denominations). But is is good to know that we’re recognized as a growing group. Of course it continues:
In Canada the state has traditionally partnered with faith communities to promote social welfare, harmony, and mutual respect; to provide schools and health care; to resettle refugees; and to uphold religious freedom and freedom of conscience.
At least the government recognizes it’s breaking of the wall between church and state (which never existed here).
Of course the section on diversity in Canada fails to recognize the equality of gays and lesbians, and the proud fact that Canada is among the few countries in the world that recognizes gay marriage.
Looking through our history we see all the “Canadian Heritage” moments from CBC, and this mention about our role in the abolition of slavery:
Thousands of slaves escaped from the United States, followed “the North Star,” and settled in Canada via the Underground Railroad, a Christian anti-slavery network. [pg 16]
Of course, Wikipedia doesn’t feel it’s necessary to mention the Christian ties of the Railroad in it’s summary, and has this to say about it’s diversity:
"Conductors" on the railroad came from various backgrounds and included free-born blacks, white abolitionists, former slaves (either escaped or manumitted), and Native Americans. Churches also often played a role, especially the Religious Society of Friends(Quakers), Congregationalists, Wesleyans, and Reformed Presbyterians as well as certain sects of mainstream denominations such as branches of the Methodist church and American Baptists.
That doesn’t seem to be a uniformly “Christian” network to be, and further the pamphlet doesn’t really dive into how slavery was Biblically justified, but space is an issue and slavery isn’t as integral to Canada’s history as it was to the USA.
The following history sections quickly brush over confederation, the Riel Rebellions, the world wars and Cold War (with “the democratic nations” versus the “dictators” of Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin and those fleeing “Communist oppression”), and a section on women’s suffrage. There’s recognition of our discriminatory past with respect to the Japanese.
We then get some basic introduction into how our government is supposed to work, and even a brief mention of the fixed election dates (with a convenient exemption):
Under legislation passed by Parliament, federal elections must be held on the third Monday in October every four years following the most recent general election. The Prime Minister may ask the Governor General to call an earlier election. [pg 30]
In other words we have fixed election dates unless it’s inconvenient for the ruling party (which is what fixed election dates were supposed to prevent). It’s good that we finally have it in writing what that law actually means to the government.
Unfortunately, the section on “After an election” neglects any possibility for coalition governments (which is somewhat reasonable given our lack of history with them), and the fact that confidence votes can apparently be prorogued away by the Prime Minister and can result in events other than elections. Of course most of this is finer constitutional law that only comes up once or twice in a life time.
There’s then a little quiz on who your representatives are followed by the idealistic section on the justice system, which Omar Khadr would be happy to know that:
Our justice system is founded on the the presumption of innocence in criminal matters, meaning everyone is innocent until proven guilty. [pg. 36, emphasis in original]
The section on the economy mentions “energy products” but neglects the tar/oil sands or any images of them (they are briefly mentioned in the short section on Alberta on page 49 though).
But overall it’s a reasonably okay document.