Why does it not simply eliminate all questions on ethnic origin and religion?

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Why does it not simply eliminate all questions on ethnic origin and religion ?

The tongue ever turns to the aching tooth. That must be the case with letter-writer Stéphanie Rajotte and columnist Brian Kappler who both complained about pervasive ethnic tagging in the May 8 issue of the The Gazette. The former criticized reporters for parsing a Bloc MP’s ethnic origins, while the latter is incensed at StatsCan’s nosy questions on ethnicity in the current census. But do they realize that this tooth has been aching for a very long time?

The preamble to Q17 in the current long - very long - questionnaire boasts disingenuously that "information on (Canadians’) ancestral origins has been collected since the 1901 Census to capture the changing composition of Canada’s diverse population". In that Census whose planners made no attempts to be politically correct, people were advised that: "The whites are, of course, the Caucasian race, the Reds are the American Indians, the Blacks are the African or Negro, and the Yellows are the Mongolian (Japanese and Chinese)." In addition, since miscegenation was inevitable even in a society that frowned upon it, the Census documents pointed out that: "Only pure Whites will be classed as Whites; the children begotten of marriages between Whites and any one of the other races will be classed as Red, Black or Yellow, as the case may be, irrespective of the degree of colour."

Had these been the musings of a drunk in a tavern, they could be ignored. But no, they came from the state and the results were, and are, used by people who establish policy. For example, as these questions began to appear in the Census, Canada adopted policies restricting entry and limiting the freedom and movement of certain categories of people it so blithely tagged. Monstrosities came down such as the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, which practically stopped all immigration from China between 1923 and 1947, or the White Women’s Labour Law in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and BC, which aimed to prevent Chinese restaurant and laundry owners from hiring Whites. The latter was only abrogated in 1969 in some places.

Requiring people to define their ethnic origin and their religion is the antithesis of citizenship. However it is couched, the effect is to promote differences among us and past has shown that when such data are put in the hands of people with dubious goals and motives, they serve to discriminate. Government should lead the way in fighting discrimination. Why does it not simply eliminate all questions on ethnic origin and religion.

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

See also