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  • Writer's pictureElaine Kelly

How is Canada's Record on Racism?

My novel Forgotten Followers features Joanna, a character of mixed-race struggling with feelings of being unworthy and not belonging. Joanna is affirmed when she sees Jesus reaching out to foreigners to heal them and bring them into the family of God. Do we as Christian churches do the same? How has Canada's dominant culture responded to minorities?

In my previous post, I spoke about Joanna hiding who she really is, imposter syndrome, and the harm to her self-confidence. In separate posts, I speak about Canada's early mistreatment of white immigrants and class struggles, and Canada's Black history. Today I will talk about how Canada's attempts to assimilate various groups went wrong and what Canada is doing as a result.

Minorities have been mistreated in the past, and with each arrival of a new ethnic, cultural or religious group, we have seen a pressure to assimilate while maintaining cultural identity. We have been challenged by diversity and introduced new laws and policies to protect minorities and have learned to accept and appreciate our differences.


Acadia was a French-speaking colony in what is now New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and parts of Quebec and Maine (US). Acadians took an oath in 1730 to remain neutral if there was a war between Britain and France. As Britain brought colonists to Nova Scotia, they were suspicious the French Acadians would not remain neutral. In 1755 Britain asked Acadian leaders to pledge an oath of allegiance to Britain. When they were reluctant, Britain took their livestock, burned their homes, and expelled them. Between 1755 and 1763, Britain deported 10,000 Acadians to South Carolina, and Georgia and some founded the Cajun culture of Louisianna. However, a few Acadians survived, and by the 1880s there were forums to establish Acadian national cultural symbols (flag, slogan, anthem). Today, Acadians have established French education (mainly in New Brunswick) and are making some gains to preserve their rights.

French Canadians

The French had built the fort of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island in 1713, and while the British controlled it for a time, in 1748 France regained Fort Louisbourg. The Seven-Years' War broke out in 1756 and in 1758, Britain captured Fort Louisbourg from the French. After Louisbourg, the British moved to Quebec City and won a battle on the Plains of Abraham in 1759. Quebec City had been founded as a permanent settlement by the French in 1608. Next came the British capture of Montreal in 1760. The Seven-Years' War ended in 1763 with the Treaty of Paris, which resulted in France leaving New France (its North American colony) to Britain.

The French had established a permanent fishing village on the small island of St Pierre in 1604, just 25 km off the coast of Newfound land. At the end of the Seven-Years' War, it was returned to France (in exchange for Cape Breton Island going to Britain) as a base for the fishing industry. It became a permanent part of France in 1816.

Quebec has successfully resisted assimilation by English Canada. There were four provinces in the formation of the Dominion of Canada in 1867: Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia. The British North America Act organized the distribution of federal and provincial powers. Provinces would keep provincial control of education, provincial freedom of education and religion, and health and justice systems. This gave Quebec the ability to protect French-language rights and education, French Civil Law, and French Catholocism. In 1965, Canada admitted that Quebec has a 'distinct society'. However, tensions mounted against assimilation, and in 1963 an organization called the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) was founded.

Its goal was to fight anglophone domination and capitalism and to separate from Canada. The FLQ conducted several bombings in mailboxes, which were painted with both Canadian and British symbols. In October 1970, the FLQ kidnapped a British trade official and then a Quebec politician, whom they later killed. In 1980, during a referendum, federalist parties made promises to Quebec and Quebeckers voted to stay with Canada. However, in 1982, Canada's constitution was amended unilaterally, without Quebec's approval. In 1999, the Parliament of Canada passed the Clarity Act that set out conditions for any future vote by a province to leave Canada and strengthened federalism. Today, Quebec continues to fight to protect its language and culture.


Manitoba became the fifth province of Canada in 1870 when the Canadian government purchased Rupert's Land from Hudson's Bay Company (HBC). However, Metis, Cree, Saulteaux, and Assiniboine rejected HBC's ownership or ability to transfer the land without the consent of the Aboriginal peoples who lived there. No residents of the area were consulted about the transfer. Louis Riel and the Metis led the Red River Rebellion. Historians debate whether Riel was a rebel or a Metis leader fighting to protect his people from Canada. Canada hung Louis Riel for treason and with the rebellion over, Manitoba joined Confederation. Finally, in 1982, Canada recognized and affirmed Metis as one of the three distinct Indigenous peoples along with Inuit and First Nations. Today, there is a Metis National Council and Metis representatives for various regions.


British Colombia joined Canada as the country’s sixth province on 20 July 1871, primarily motivated by the threat of American annexation, the American purchase of Alaska in 1867, and the Canadian federal promise to build a railway linking British Colombia to the rest of Canada. Indigenous people were not part of these negotiations and as a result, indigenous reserves were reduced in size and British Columbia is the only province in Canada to exist on unceded land.

It became a national dream to build this steel ribbon to tie the country together, but it was difficult. Canada brought in 9,000 railway workers, including 6,500 Chinese. Chinese labourers built the difficult segment on the west coast through the mountains of BC in the 1880s. Much of the eastern end of the railway was built by the Irish immigrants. The Chinese were paid less than white workers, had to pay for their own provisions and were given more dangerous tasks such as explosives. Hundreds of Chinese Canadian railway workers died from accidents, winter weather, illness and malnutrition. In addition, the rail line split traditional indigenous territories and native peoples were located in sub-par lands or moved to reserves. The trains brought loads of new settlers who populated the former indigenous territories.

The US and Canada had a boundary dispute around the Alaska panhandle at the start of the Klondike goldrush 1897and the dispute was referred to an international tribunal in 1903.

An earlier treaty defined the border as 56 km east of the ocean coast, and the Canadians defined the coast as where the islands touch the Pacific, and the Americans defined it as where the mainland touches the Pacific. The tribunal and three American votes, two Canadian and one British. The British representative sided with the Americans. The Canadian representatives refused to sign the final decision, but it took effect in any case and a wave of anti-British feelings came over Canada.