I had always thought that if you were to choose a country to move to, one of the things to consider was their openness to multiculturalism and how tolerant they were to foreign customs and traditions.
That is one of the reasons why I chose Canada over the United States. Canadians have always been known as open and culturally sensitive. One of the things I have enjoyed the most about living here is the fact that I can get together with my Mexican friends and celebrate our traditions without worrying about what other people may think or say. For instance, in December we organize Posadas and we follow the custom in which half of the people in the group go outside with candles and sing to the people inside a song asking for “shelter”. We also break piñatas on birthday parties singing the traditional “dale, dale, dale”, etc. Furthermore, I enjoy learning about other customs and traditions.
However, I find now that the result of Canada being so welcoming and respectful of its immigrants’ traditions is a lack of identity. Even after becoming Canadian citizens, and studying the Canadian history for the test, a lot of people don’t embrace the Canadian customs and they never really feel any kind of empathy to its traditions. We all mark the national holidays in our calendars but most of the times we don’t know why in May they celebrate Victoria Day, or what Canada Day is all about.
Well, it seems like Canadians are becoming less tolerant to this lack of integration (for the lack of a better word) of immigrants to their culture. According to an article in the last issue of Maclean’s (April 2010, “About Face”, page 20), in a series of polls conducted by the Association for Canadian Studies over the past three years, half of Canadians said they would like “newcomers to be urged to give up customs and traditions and become more like the rest of us”. This article talks about Bill 94, which will mandate that all faces be uncovered when receiving services supported by the government in Quebec (this includes education, health, and even services such as a library, community centre, etc). This would mean Muslim women who wear a niqab taking it off in public places.
The goal of this post is not to say if it is right or wrong to force someone to do something that goes against his/her religion. My intention is just to question how far a government can go to ban specific customs and traditions and if their reasons are legitimate. In this case, Bill 94 reads “uncovered faces are necessary solely for reasons of security, communication and identification” which I think is very reasonable. However, some people, like Christine St. Pierre (minister responsible for the status of women) are adding that the use of such garments is “an attack on women’s rights” and “unacceptable in our society”, so I ask, is that a legitimate reason? It may be from the perspective of the Canadian culture towards gender equality, which means that these people would have to give up this kind of religious customs if they wanted to move to Canada. But will these women actually feel that they have more rights because they uncover their faces? Will they feel more “Canadian”? Will initiatives like Bill 94 integrate all people towards a less diverse Canadian culture?
My personal opinion is that as immigrants, people should be willing to respect the traditions, customs and beliefs of their new culture in order to become part of the society of that country. I think that if I were one of those women who will soon have to take off their niqabs in public spaces, it would be a very difficult thing for me to accept, but if that means living in a place that offers better opportunities for me and my family, I would definitely consider doing it. It is a matter of setting priorities and deciding whether you want to stay in your country and keep your religious customs with whatever living conditions and opportunities, or move to a country that offers a better lifestyle but requires you to sacrifice some of your customs.
As I said at the beginning of this post, one of the reasons I decided to come to Canada was due to its openness to different cultures, however, after 5 years living here I do think that there should be more encouragement from the government for cultural integration and unity.