“Old Stock” – by Lesley Apelbaum

October 16, 2015

BLOG Canadian Cropped

At the September 17th leaders’ debate, Stephen Harper emphasized the “Old Stock” Canadians. This was in response to Justin Trudeau’s criticism of his removal of special healthcare services for illegitimate refugees. Harper said his policy was something the “new”, the “existing” and the “Old Stock” Canadians could agree upon.

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The following day, after much public inquiry into what he meant by “Old Stock”, Harper responded:

“I know that that is a position supported widely through the Canadian population, it’s supported by Canadians who are themselves immigrants and also supported by the rest of us, by Canadians who have been the descendants of immigrants for one or more generations.”

He did not exactly clarify what he meant by “Old Stock”, “existing” and “new” Canadians.

Are the First Nations community “Old Stock”? The First Nations who were subject to Lord Jeffrey Amherst’s germ warfare, who were nearly removed from society with the distribution of smallpox blankets? Who faced pressures of assimilation by our government, whose children were taken away from their homes and placed in residential schools? Who were denied voting rights until 1960?

What about Black Canadians? Dating back to the 17th century when the first recorded Black Canadian, Mathieu de Costa, arrived in Nova Scotia as a translator for the French explorer Pierre Du Gua de Monts. Are they “Old Stock” too? The Black Loyalists who travelled north to fight for Canada in the American Revolutionary War, who experienced discrimination and violence despite promises of equality by the British.

What about Stephen Harper, is he part of the “Old Stock”? His Canadian ancestry dates back to the late 18th century.

Nearly a century later, masses of Chinese immigrants began work on the Canadian Pacific Railway. They were exploited with low wages, risked their lives living in canvas tents among the rocky terrain. They were fined with a head tax after the railway was completed and were outright banned from Canada with the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923. Are they “Old Stock”? They did not receive full and equal rights until the Canadian Citizenship Act of 1947.

The Canadian Citizenship Act gave all Canadian residents citizenship and equal rights as Canadians, regardless of their country of origin. The older generations and newer generations suddenly had a common identity. There was no categorization of Canadian. No exclusive rights.

When Harper’s government proposed the ban on niqabs at citizenship ceremonies, the Supreme Court ruled against it, and rightly so. It’s a violation of this act, that people of certain religious practices can be refused citizenship over others. It’s a denial of our basic rights and freedoms that are a part of being Canadian.

Now the 27-year old Canadian-born man convicted of terrorism, Saad Gaya, who has expressed remorse for his behaviour describing it as “shameful” and “politically naive”, is facing the prospect of having his citizenship revoked and being deported to Pakistan. Isn’t this another violation of the Citizenship Act? With all the prisons you’ve built, Mr. Harper… where will you draw the line on who loses citizenship and who doesn’t?

A Canadian citizen is a Canadian citizen. Period. Or at least that’s the way it should be. But when Harper emphasizes the term “Old Stock”, he introduces a separation in the status of Canadian citizens. And as a Canadian citizen, I’m offended.

I’m very proud to be a Canadian. I’m proud of the respect we have for each other in our diversity. We’re not a perfect nation, but there’s a level of equality here that’s unparalleled in many parts of the world.

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