Multicultural Revisionism and the Falsification of Canadian History
by Ricardo Duchesne
Official Coat of Arms of the Dominion of Canada
The falsification of the historical record for the purpose of creating a past that fits with the ideological goals of the present has been a common characteristic of revolutionary regimes seeking to legitimize themselves by portraying their actions and goals as if they were continuous with the aims of history or the venerable beliefs of the past.
Perhaps the most egregious example of “illegitimate historical revisionism”, as contrasted to the legitimate re-assessment of the past on the basis of improved evaluation of records, is the complete re-writing of the history of Russia by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union; particularly during the reign of Stalin in the mid-1920s to early 1950s; history was not only written according to the “correct” Marxist theory, but state officials commonly went about erasing major historical figures from documents, books, and even photographs (PDF) the moment they were deemed to be “enemies of the people”.
This illegitimate revision of the historical record is also happening in Canada, but in a way that is difficult to detect, for it does not involve any book burning, outright denials of certain events, or use of forged documents. It is taking place in a rather calmed, reasonable way; the protocols of “verifiability”, “peer review”, and “openness to criticism” appear to remain intact.
This reasonable falsification is particularly visible in regards to the books I have in mind, that is, general surveys of the history of Canada, which are intended to be summations of the existing state of knowledge, not polemical exegeses, but overviews for undergraduate courses, rather than books concentrating on specific topics, or openly about subjects that are inherently ideological such as women’s history, history of the head tax, or the history of Indian reservations. Still; these surveys cannot escape the dominant leftist culture, however neutral they may appear.
Basically what has happened in the writing of general histories of Canada is that historians have been acculturated to view the older narrative in which Canada was seen as an Anglo-Saxon nation, or as a nation of two founding peoples, as an “imposed monolithic mythology”, to use the words of John Ralston Saul, the putative philosopher of Canada. “Monolithic” means that it is bad, and “mythology that it is not true. Portraying Canada as “richly diverse”, a “complex cultural mosaic” from its origins, means that one is a historian who can grasp complexities, one is “subtle” and “nuanced”. Academics love to use these words whenever they describe their ways of thinking. Writing that Canada was fundamentally a British nation is an indication of crudeness and rigidity.
What about the facts? Well, historians have further learned from the more ideologically oriented social scientists that the “old style of history”, which took for “granted” Canada’s Anglo identity, was a discourse “socially constructed” by the dominant Anglo men of Canada. The “facts” narrated by these dominant white male historians cannot be seen independently of their efforts to construct Canada’s history in a way that suited their racist inclinations. Now historians know better. They are more “sensitive” to the long suppressed diverse voices of Canada’s past, and, in this vein, they have constructed a new discourse that better captures the “complexity” of Canada as “multicultural nation” from its beginnings.
This concept of a “discourse”, with its notion that the way we think about history and social reality cannot be understood in the language of the natural sciences, because thinking is always a product of the “disciplinary structures of knowledge and power”, is quite ambivalent as to whether the new history of Canada, as a multicultural nation-in-the making, is really a more accurate portrayal of the past, or simply an effort to re-conceptualize the past, however fictional that past may be, for the purpose of bringing forth a new historical reality, a multicultural Canada, that will no longer be a fiction.
The methodology of “discourse analysis” (PDF), in the true spirit of postmodernist theorizing, really wants to have it both ways; on the one hand, it wants to portray the “old historical narratives” as mythological discourses expressing the power of certain elites, rather than the actual historical record, but, on the other, it is always ready to fall back on the notion that there are no facts outside a system of “disciplinary structures of power”, whenever someone points out that the facts don’t support the new discourse. If someone presses them about their own current “disciplinary power”, they will reply that their aim is to liberate former oppressed minorities from the structures of the past and create a better, more diverse, tolerant, and free Canada.
Nevertheless, while historians are operating within this matrix of postmodernist ideas about the discursive nature of reality, they themselves, particularly when writing surveys, tend to avoid the convoluted postmodernist discussions of their social science colleagues. The overall pro-multicultural atmosphere that pervades every institution and media has had a more straightforward impact upon them. They want to be good citizens working for, rather than against, a harmonious multicultural society in which, as the Government of Canada instructs us, “the value and dignity of all Canadian citizens regardless of their racial or ethnic origins, their language, or their religious affiliation” is affirmed in the historical experience of Canada. The thought of emphasizing the overwhelming influence of Anglo Canadians, or French Canadians in Quebec, strikes them as impolite, inconsistent with the goal of encouraging “all citizens” “regardless of race” to “take pride in their ancestry”.
Accordingly, Canada’s history has now been thoroughly redefined as a history of “diverse immigrants”, with the Anglo and the French portrayed as immigrants with the same historical status as other immigrants. The true founders are the “First Nations”, or, Aboriginals, English, French, “other Europeans”, West Indians, Asians, Africans, Sikhs, Chinese…all immigrants, since, after all, as Pierre Trudeau once said, we should not view Canada as a nation fixated in the past but as a fluid nation always in the making through the arrival of new peoples.
“Canada’s Diverse Peoples”
J.M. Bumsted, Canada’s Diverse Peoples
I will offer two examples of this illegitimate revisionist writing. First, a book by the well-known historian, J. M. Bumsted, Canada’s Diverse Peoples (2003). Intended to help readers “better appreciate” diversity to enable “all of us to interact more effectively” with multiple races, Bumsted opens the book questioning the claim that Europeans “were the first to discover this land and the first to settle it”.
From the very beginning of human settlement of this continent…North America was sheer diversity. This land was a veritable quilt of peoples and tongues. The ultimate arrival of Europeans complicated, but did not really alter, this pattern.
He uses quotation marks in reference to “the French and the English as the ‘founding peoples’ of Canada” on the grounds that it “completely ignores the previous presence of the Aboriginals”. He bemoans the restrictive racial immigration policies, and then sets out to construct a new narrative of Canada as a nation progressively moving toward a multiracial society in which everyone is accorded full equality, concluding:
By the year 2000 it was abundantly clear that Canada had won its campaign to impose the concept of multiculturalism upon the nation.
This passage comes from the last chapter revealing titled “The Future”, which announces:
From the very beginning, the land that became Canada was a multiracial place, the destination of a constant flow of new immigrants of varying ethnicities.
Canada’s “Political Nationality”
Roger Riendeau, A Brief History of Canada
The next book is by Roger Riendeau, A Brief History of Canada (2007). Not so brief at 400 pages, Riendeau, Vice Principal of Canada’s historic Innis College at the University of Toronto, opens his book asking “What is Canada? What is a Canadian?” Amazingly, he cites a few words that George-Étienne Cartier, who played the key role in bringing French Canada into Confederation, expressed in 1865, in which he envisioned, apparently, Canada as a “political nationality” open to peoples from all religious backgrounds, races, and nations in the world. Riendeau cites Cartier’s statement that with Confederation Canada “would form a political community with which neither the national origin, nor religion of any individual, would interfere”.1
From this statement alone we are supposed to believe that Canada was always meant to look like Chinese-dominated-Richmond and South Asian-dominated-Brampton. This is a misinterpretation bordering on falsification. Cartier meant that Canada would be a confederation of provinces with their own local institutions, rather than a single legislative union like Britain or a British Dominion in which French Canadiens would be compelled to assimilate.
It is very anachronistic for Riendeau to say that “since 1867” Canada’s inhabitants, “whether they are descended from the Aboriginal, French, Anglo-Saxon, other European, Asian, African, or Latin American cultures” have shown an inclination to see themselves as members of a common “political nationality”, or have “survived as a distinct national community”, a nation based solely on political values regardless of race and culture. It is also quite fictional to describe the native landscape before Europeans arrived as “multicultural and multilingual”, as well as to say that the peoples of Canada have always felt that what made them Canadian was not their ethnicity or culture but the mere fact that they were “bound by a common experience” as inhabitants of the same country.2
By “common” he means that all the inhabitants were somehow forging a sense of political identity that transcended their ethnicity and culture. Yet, as is evident from his own narrative, the entire history of Canada prior to the 1970s goes against this notion of a common political nationality. Not only were the British well aware of their Britishness, and for this reason preferred Anglo-Saxon immigrants, which Riendeau otherwise knows disapprovingly, but the actual “common” experience of the nation was overwhelmingly British/European outside Quebec. This is what the statistics say. Riendeau’s own demographic and ethnic proportions cannot hide this reality. He observes, for example, that whereas prior to the late 1960s “almost 90 percent of immigrants were of European origins, by the early 1970s [suddenly] about half came from other regions including the West Indies, Africa, South America, and Asia”.3
This is not a historian who invents facts and alters photographs. His acts of manipulation are more “subtle”. What he wants students to believe is that Canada’s past already contained the seeds of its current multiracial trends. “Canada has always been a multicultural society”.4 He enjoys writing about the “changing racial composition of Canada” in relation to the influx of non-French and non-British European immigrants.5 He does not enjoy saying Canada was still 96 percent racially White as late as 1971, when multiculturalism was officially announced.
He would rather blame the government in the early 20th century for “inculcating British-Canadian beliefs in citizenship, democracy, and the Protestant ethic”. He thinks they should have started promoting multiculturalism from the beginning. Canada was “universally racist, inasmuch as the concept of a multicultural society still lay…in the future”.6 Canada became what it was always meant to be inasmuch as immigration restrictions against non-Europeans were abolished in the 1960s, the Multiculturalism Act of 1988 was legislated, and the ceiling on immigration was raised from 100,000 to 250,000 in the late 1980s.
It never occurs to Riendeau to ask why academics across the Western world are making exactly the same argument about how the “political nationality” of Britain, France, Belgium, Sweden, Italy, Greece, Ireland, Norway…was always meant to be about the creation of multiracial nations from the beginning? That Canada has always been uniquely diverse is not unique to Canadian historians; it is now a pervasive fabrication among historians across European-created nations. They want all European natives to believe that the current diversification is continuous with the very origins of their nations.
This is not your Stalinist form of falsification, but it is the biggest falsification of history ever promoted; the complete denial of nationality to all Europeans in their own homelands!
 Roger Riendeau, A Brief History of Canada, 2007, p. xv
 p. 385
 p. 332
 p. 382
 p. 331
 p. 229