The suite et (we hope) fin to the little debate about the census

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The suite et (we hope) fin to the little debate about the census.

What a surprise to see Fo Niemi and Jack Jedwab, two of Quebec's most eloquent anti-racist spokesmen, come out in favour of Statistics Canada's ethnicity questions in the current census even though they appear to agree that in the past such data have been used to discriminate against minorities (letters, May 17 and 19). Their confidence that history will not repeat itself is amazing. Who can guarantee that the most solemn promises made with the best of intentions in peace-time will not be broken in times of war or strife. In the first World War, Canadian citizens of German origin lost their right to vote and in the Second World War, Japanese Canadians were dispossessed and interned. More recently, many Canadian citizens of Arab origin or Muslim faith complained of intrusions by the RCMP and CSIS during the Gulf War­ - see The Gulf Within, by Zuhair Kashmiri -­ as did Canadian citizens of Serbian background during the war in ex-Yugoslavia.

Moreover, some sorcerer's apprentices here and in Ottawa have also talked of partitioning Quebec. They would undoubtedly base their territorial carving on the ethnicity data made available by Statistics Canada.

What is probably the most troubling is that while so many people are striving to break down ethnic stereotyping and end the concomitant discrimination, an arm of the State comes along and legitimates such divisions by demanding that citizens define themselves, whether they like it or not and under threat of a fine or imprisonment, by their own and their ancestors' ethnic origins, by their colour and by their religion.

It is ironic that Quebec is so often accused of the worst evils regarding ethnicity, yet it is Canada that has institutionalized ethnicity to a far greater extent than most other modern states.

Guy Bouthillier
President, Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal

See also