Canada Confronts Immigration Integration Question
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Canadians were stunned this week as new details came out about an alleged terror plot to blow up buildings and murder members of the country's parliament. They are asking whether the government needs to do more to integrate conservative Muslims into mainstream society. North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann reports from Toronto.
BRIAN MANN reporting: One in every five Canadian residents is born outside the country. One hundred thousand newcomers arrive here in the city of Toronto every year, most from China and south Asia.
A poll taken last month by the Associated Press found that 75 percent of Canadians think immigration is good for the country, but there's growing concern that some Muslim immigrants don't share core Canadian values, including women's rights and religious tolerance. Randall Hansen is a government-funded researcher on immigration policy at the University of Toronto.
Professor RANDALL HANSEN (Research Chair, Immigration and Governance, University of Toronto): This is a question for any liberal democracy, including the United States. How do we assure that there is a common framework, a common set of rules that applies to all of those groups? We really have to think about making very clear that those are not subject to compromise.
MANN: This week, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation aired a prime-time documentary about Muslim immigration. In the report, CBC journalist Mark Kelley questioned one of the bedrock principles of Canadian society.
(Soundbite of CBC Broadcast)
Mr. MARK KELLEY (Reporter, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation): Maybe multiculturalism is just a nice idea for people who haven't been bombed yet.
MANN: Conservative Muslims here say they do believe in diversity. They're simply choosing to be Canadian in their own way. Aly Hindi is a self-described fundamentalist Imam who heads the Salaheddin Islamic Center.
Imam ALY HINDI (Salaheddin Islamic Center): If integration mean that we have to change our religion, we say no. Actually, we are here in this society to bring the standard of morals up.
MANN: Hindi knew and counseled several of the men accused of taking part in the terror plot. Violence is unacceptable, he says, but Hindi also says many basic Canadian values are sinful, including the notion that women should be free to make choices independent of their fathers and husbands.
Imam HINDI: If she want to remove the hijab or live by herself, I can't force you, but you're going to meet your God soon. There is a judgment day.
MANN: More progressive members of the Muslim community worry that Hindi's brand of Islam is spreading in Canada. Wajid Khan is a member of Parliament with the Liberal Party. He represents Mississauga the suburb where the alleged conspirators were arrested. Kahn is a former officer with the Pakistani Air Force and says that in the past, immigrants arrived in Canada with university diplomas and professional skills.
Mr. WAJID KHAN (Parliament Member, Canada): In the last 10 years, there has been a different kind of an influx from different parts of the Muslim world. People who are perhaps a little bit more orthodox in their beliefs and their dress code and other things.
MANN: Kahn says the government needs to do more to help these Muslims integrate, offering education programs and supporting moderate Imams. That effort will be complicated by the fact that Canada is already a loosely knit society.
French Canadians and native tribes enjoy enormous autonomy. In parts of the country, English is a second language. Ontario's Lieutenant Governor, James Bartleman, himself a Chippewa, says the government should not urge Muslims to change their customs.
Lieutenant Governor JAMES BARTLEMAN (Ontario, Canada): We are not a prescriptive society and saying that, you know, at home this is the way you have to behave.
MANN: The conventional wisdom among Canadians has been that fundamentalist attitudes will soften over time, and for many Muslims, that's exactly what's happening.
(Soundbite of laughter)
This is Cabbagetown, once an Irish neighborhood in central Toronto, now home to hundreds of working class Muslim families.
Sonjo(ph) from Bangladesh and Sabrina(ph) from Ethiopia, both 10 years old, are riding their bicycles. They wear headscarves and say they follow all the rules of Islam, but when asked about their plans for the future, there's no mention of marriage or husbands.
Unidentified Girl #1: My mom wants me to be a doctor. I think doctors are real boring, but you get a lot of money.
Unidentified Girl #2: Maybe a lawyer.
MANN: That's the success story most Canadians hope for, but with thousands of Muslim immigrants arriving every year and with terrorism in the headlines, there's concern that cultural tensions could deepen, mirroring those in western Europe.
For NPR News, I'm Brian Mann in Toronto. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.