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Legion Magazine – March/April 2002 « Douglas Fisher

Fisher

 

Legion Magazine – March/April 2002

The infamous massacre of Sept. 11, 2001, by Islamic fundamentalists of Americans in their own land led President George W. Bush to “declare war” on terrorism, and he sought and received the support of friendly nations. Jean Chrétien expressed Canadian backing in a popular decision in Canada. So for better or worse we committed to what has to be a long, tortuous course with global significance, particularly in the very basic antagonism in ideas and purposes between Muslim nations and those whose history was shaped so much by Christianity.

Furthermore, the wide range and penetration of the security measures which countries like the United States and Canada have been adopting have had much effect on our economic and social patterns. Month by month it has grown more difficult to believe there will be a return to casualness of so much in daily living in the west before Sept. 11.

For Canadians, so near and close-knit economically and culturally to the Americans, this has meant acceding to match measures which the president and Congress deem vital and very long-term in securing our countries, including our systems and procedures of immigrants, refugees, border crossings, and an interlocking of military and intelligence services—really a subsuming of our military policies to fit with American military and domestic security strategies.

This was the context late in the fall for some hope on my part there would be marked changes in three fields of federal government policies and programs: multiculturalism; immigration-refugees; and the military.

My critiques of these fields had never been hinged on the programs of any political party nor did they clearly fit into either the left or the right side of the political spectrum.

Multiculturalism as national policy first began to firm up in the late 1960s as a “rider” recommendation to go with a much stronger emphasis on official bilingualism and biculturalism advocated by the so-called “Bi & Bi” royal commission. By the mid-Trudeau years multiculturalism was ensconced as federal policy and much mimicked by most provincial governments. It also got recognition in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the reformed Constitution of the early 1980s.

Multiculturalism quickly became politically correct. Any open critic, noting its fracturing effects on widely held, common understanding of our history and our particular institutions could anticipate the tag of “racist.” Multiculturalism posited that the history, cultural beliefs and practices of the various ethnic groups are of equal value and worth. Further, it told members of every ethnic group in the country that Canada entitled them to retain their particular beliefs and cultural practices, and they would have state backing in such retention, without any primacy forced on them to assimilate to what had been the two majority cultures of French- and English-speaking people.

Of course, multiculturalism policy also posited that Canada in its immigration and refugee policy did not prefer any ethnicity over another. In that sense our immigration focus shifted rather quickly from a preponderance of migrants from the United Kingdom and Europe to the present preponderance from Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. These changed basics explain the big shift in countries of origin from those with mostly white people to those with mostly yellow, brown, or black.

Another side effect of Canada choosing to take the route towards a “rainbow” society, reflective of the world’s diversity, is the responsibility it places on our educational system to save us from the playing out in Canada of the rivalries and hatreds which so many immigrants bring with them to Canada—as examples, Croats versus Serbs; Indians versus Pakistanis, and Lebanese versus Jews.

Meantime, on the refugee side of immigration, another drastic change occurred, but it came suddenly. Both Liberal and Tory governments since WW II have supported modestly generous acceptance of displaced victims of civil wars, floods, and famines. Unfortunately—or so I think—the efficiency of the process of opening opportunities to bona fide refugees was made a bureaucratic horror as a consequence of a Supreme Court interpretation in the early 1980s. This used the Charter of Rights to sustain a dictum that any person from anywhere who set foot on Canadian territory is entitled to protection by the Charter and so to all due processes at hand for a Canadian citizen. This piece of generosity has meant a relentless, continuing surge of people dropping from the sky or slipping ashore to declare they have feared for their lives where they were and claim entrance to Canada as refugees. Most such arrivals have had little or no veritable proof of their claim through documentation. Despite a big refugee board bureaucracy with scores of lawyers busy in thousands of hearings, there has been a continuing backlog of such claimants since the decision. The system erected in response to it has cost Ottawa close to $2 billion.

We know most of these sudden arrivals are really economic refugees, not people fleeing from death or torture. They have come because they have heard Canada is the easiest developed nation to get into and stay. They know of our high living standards and the accessibility to our social net. Servicing them has played havoc with genuine refugees, abused or threatened in their home regions. So many of them would come here but are slowed or blocked by the priority given here to the thousands each month who jump the queue and count on the edge given them by the elaborate refugee process.

I have long believed we should have substantial immigration and a regular, but largely separate, refugee program. Globally there are far more would-be immigrants and refugees in need than we could take and handle. Thus it is sensible and fair to be selective. Get the ablest people. Prefer those who speak one of our official languages. Look ethnically for those whose society’s traditions and past records indicate an interest in genuine democracy and ready adjustment to our communities and their economies, rather than collecting in ethnic enclaves or continuing their customs, especially those which limit the freedom and choices of women and girls. And in refugee acquisition, Canada should favour those in direst straits.

The effectiveness of the scrutiny we give to immigrants and refugees was clearly doubted by the Americans and this has forced us to undertake a far tougher grip on those who enter Canada or to appreciate why it will be harder and more complicated to go from Canada to the U.S. In a way American determination has been the suasion bringing Canada towards what is both a more selective and fairer course for immigration and helping refugees. It is also apparent that American requirements have brought forth at the cabinet level a realization the harm and high costs from the Supreme Court decision on instant Charter rights. It seems possible our future policy will cause greater care in approving entry, particularly of emigrants from societies whose values and practices are so antithetical to ours.

But meeting the consequences of Sept. 11 has not done as much for developing a clearer defence policy and a stronger Canadian military as it has augured a narrowed multiculturalism and tightened immigration processes.

For several decades, despite our involvement in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and North American Air Defence, there has been a widening gap between the military usefulness of our Forces, with insufficient or out-of-date weapons, equipment, and transport, and their capabilities in the roles outlined for them or which the government agrees to with the United Nations or NATO.

In October when Chrétien agreed to send ships to join American and British fleets in eastern seas and to ready an army force for security assignments in Afghanistan I wishfully anticipated a resurrection of a powerful Canadian military. This grew stronger in early December when the new auditor general’s first report spent so much data and argument in a thorough revelation of the military’s inadequacies, due largely to reduced spending over many years and more tasks than there was talent and equipment available. The auditor general recommended increased spending of at least $2 billion a year for five years. Further, during the fortnight before the federal budget on Dec. 10 three reports (by a parliamentary defence committee and by two military associations of repute) presented analyses of an over-weak military and firm recommendations on higher spending to remedy this.

The budget’s content spoke a different message, or, put another way, seemed indifferent to the military. Nothing in it suggests more widely used and better-backed ground or air forces. The budget set the increase in military spending at only $1.5 billion spread over five years. Most persons active in or familiar with defence issues and our recent and current capabilities were most disappointed, and said so. Nonetheless there wasn’t much of an outcry from politicians, noticeably not from any in the host of Liberal MPs, including the prime minister and his ministers.

It seems that not even the “war” against terrorism, in close association with the world’s military superpower, has enhanced any imperative in our government to refurbish our military. One even conjures the possibility that what may emerge this year or next is a really startling alternative, and that could be to give up keeping a permanent military with a core of capacity in armed soldiers, flyers, and sailors trained to fight and kill and turning towards a more diverse force, specializing in police and security functions, in concert with communications specialists, engineers, health and social workers, deliverers of aid in food, clothing, etc., better able to aid in emergencies at home or at more effective or positive peacekeeping abroad. And what about defending ourselves? I guess the reality is that our military defence is in our closest neighbour’s hands and guns.

Now let me suggest a book regarding a man and his family once beloved by his own and several later generations. Georges Vanier, Soldier: The Wartime Letters And Diaries 1915–1919; edited by Deborah Cowley, published by Dundurn Press, 2000 (hardcover price $33).

It was during General Vanier’s years as governor general of Canada (1959-1967) that chances came for me to meet him and observe him in both public performances and several quite informal conversations. He and his warmly regal wife had such charm and easy courtesy—serene models of graciousness from the Edwardian age. It was hard for me to imagine a slender young Georges Vanier of 27 years leading troops of the French-Canadian infantry regiment, the Royal 22nd Regiment, through three grim years of trench warfare, winning several major awards for heroism and suffering grievous wounds. What comes through so impressively from the excerpts of his letters home and his diary what a capable officer he was, how prime were his concerns, on the one hand for his men in the microcosm of unit and battle, and on the other hand for his country and the role he wanted it to play for humanity.

Source: BY DOUGLAS FISHER, LEGION MAGAZINE

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