For those given to worrying about how well people from different faiths get along in Canada, there has been plenty of evidence of late to feed their fears.
Canada’s various human rights commissions have been doing brisk business investigating perceived slights of one type or the other. Quebec’s “reasonable accommodation” hearings have heard from people who were upset by the sight of women wearing headscarves in Montreal, or by too much kosher food in their supermarkets. And a recent poll by Maclean’s found that many Canadians say they are divided by religion. But whatever religious fault lines exist in Canada, we’re much less divided than Europe, and only slightly more so than the United States. Recent polling by Gallup tried to determine the amount of what they call “interfaith cohesion” around the world, by asking respondents how they treat and are treated by members of other faiths—whether they would object to someone from a different faith moving next door, for example. Respondents were then classified as either “isolated,” “tolerant,” or “integrated.” Among countries in western Europe and North America, only the U.S. had more respondents who rated as “integrated” (and fewer who rated as “isolated”) than Canada.
Analysts differ as to why this is the case. Some contend that the most important factor in determining how people from different faiths get along is how immigrants and their offspring—who are often religious minorities—are treated by their adopted countries.
By this line of reasoning, Canada’s official policy of multiculturalism has been instrumental in creating what Monica Boyd, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto, describes as “an ideology of accommodation.” It has instilled in Canadians—who are already predisposed to accept newcomers because of our long history of immigration—the belief that different groups belong here and that interaction between those groups is a good thing.
On the other side of the debate are those who believe that what matters most is not how the state treats immigrants, but who they are and what they do when they arrive. Randall Hansen, Canada research chair of immigration and governance at the University of Toronto, is in this camp.
“The general point about migrants to North America is that they come here to work,” he says. “They come to a continent where welfare provision is very minimal, where you’re expected to rely on your own work, and where the earning of money and the creation of wealth is tolerated and indeed encouraged. My view is that migrants will respond to the incentive structures that you give them, and so the migrants that are ambitious and want to succeed come here.”
Hansen says migrants in North America tend to be integrated into the job market, while migrants in Europe are integrated into welfare. “It’s a slight oversimplification, but not much of one.” If members of religious minorities are employed, they move up the social ladder and are less likely to be cut off from people of different faiths. “It’s impossible to have dignity without a job,” he says. “Integration is not about all this multicultural business. It’s not about funding Chinese dragon festivals. What’s important is work. Immigration works when migrants work.”