Yesterday’s post on the “Canadian Values” debate prompted an email response from Neil Remington Abramson on the subject. I thought his points were well reasoned, so I asked if I could share them with you, and he graciously consented.
Admittedly I haven’t taken the question of immigrants swearing to Canadian values very seriously because we are constructing a cultural mosaic where we haven’t expected immigrants to melt into a bubbling pot of cultural homogeneity. On the other hand, Lorne raises a good point that one important Canadian value is respect for the rule of law. In addition, we have always expected new Canadians to swear allegiance to the Queen and her successors and that is also a value – support for the monarchy. I swore this oath when I became a Canadian in 1972 and I take it seriously because an oath is a promise, and keeping promises is a reflection of personal ethics.
I am not a monarchist. Given a free choice, if there was a referendum on the monarchy in Canada I would probably vote “nay” to monarchy, and “yea” to a republican system with an elected president. I do not, however, have a free choice. Part of the deal in becoming a Canadian 45 years ago was that I was expected to swear to the Queen and her successors. If there was such a referendum, I would be honour bound to vote for the monarchy, and might even feel obligated to speak in its favour if asked, or if it looked to be a close vote. An oath is a promise. It is evil, according to Immanuel Kant, Soren Kierkegaard, and Confucian beliefs, to break a promise to conform to one’s society’s social values.
While Canadians believe in a variety of values-contents, I would agree that there is a fair homogeneity on values-processes. It is not just the law that Canadians are expected to follow regardless of their contents-beliefs. It is also that we respect the diversity of others’ views and cultural practices. We are for multiculturalism. We are against hate-speech. We are against discrimination on the basis of culture, gender, special needs, and so on. We are in favour of whatever brand of democratic process is the law. I would have no objection swearing to these process values as a free-choosing Canadian. I would have no objection requiring new Canadians to also swear to these.
Then there is a follow-up question as to what to do with Canadians that swear but then violate their oaths – immigrant or Canadian born. I imagine we should think of some consequences sufficiently serious to encourage compliance. These consequences do not have to be severe to have an influence. They could be like the fine you receive in Australia for not voting. They could be like the speeding ticket you receive in the mail from your local friendly photo-radar. They could be like the old ladies in Beijing who could fine you on the street for throwing litter on the ground when Beijing was trying to clean up its act in preparation for hosting the Olympics.
So what do you think? I would agree that Canadians are pretty much agreed on process values. That has been one of the things that has frustrated me in the ongoing debate/discussion surrounding the Conservative Party leadership race that generated the controversy. It seemed people were objecting more to the way things were expressed as opposed to the actual thoughts expressed. Or maybe it was all political. That would explain everything.