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Canada well worth celebrating despite tensions over racism, alienation

June 28, 2021

It’s been a rough year and a half in Canada, with emotions running high and negative.

On top of the pandemic, Canadian news media have been dominated by hard stories about the unmarked grave sites of Indigenous residential-school students dating back to the 1890s, a horrifying car attack on a Muslim family in Ontario and a sudden COVID spike last year in anti-Asian hate crime.

Some politicians and activists have responded with cultural self-recrimination. They’ve torn down statues of Canada’s first prime minister, John A. Macdonald. Catholic churches have been vandalized. A city council or two have decided to not celebrate on July 1. On always-divisive Twitter, #CancelCanadaDay trended.

Going only from the headlines, you’d conclude Canada is unusually full of hate, division, racism and systemic racism (unconscious bias within institutions).

But, away from the high-profile accusations, what does the data suggest about Canada? And what do we learn from taking a more global perspective?

An Angus Reid poll this week captures Canadians’ unease. Thirty-four per cent believe “Canada is a racist country.” But a larger proportion, 41 per cent, believe “people who see discrimination where it does not exist is a bigger problem for the country.”

Do these poll results suggest dangerous fragmentation in Canada? Or healthy diversity of opinion? Or both? They certainly show we’re not monolithic, nor particularly cohesive.

Yet it’s always worthwhile to take a larger view, and see ourselves as others see us. To that end, how does Canada actually compare to the world’s almost 200 countries?

Would it shock Canadians to discover, comparatively, we’re doing rather well on the issues above and many more?

Which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t engage in national self-criticism (I have many of my own worries about this country), but if we care about understanding the real world, perspective is essential.

National Post commentator Rupa Subramanya, an economist and immigrant from India, recently defended the country when she chastised NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh for his oft-repeated charge that “Canada is a place of racism.”

One international study Subramanya cited is by the World Values Survey, which reports Canada is among the most racially tolerant countries in the world, with less than five per cent saying that they would not want to have “people of another race” as their neighbours.

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