Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Respect for Diversity over the Holidays

Our Green Values states quite clearly “Respect for Diversity”. This topic is a very sensitive one here in Canada as some feel new Canadians from different countries are trying to push their cultural & religious views on other Canadians. “These immigrants seem to have no problem coming to our country but refuse to meld into our Canadian culture.” This is an issue I hear time and time again from family and friends. My question has always been and will always be, what is “Canadian Culture” exactly? The answer to this question is not universal as most of us can agree in certain areas but cannot agree on other issues especially when it comes to Holidays.

Currently two of the major holidays celebrated in Canada and considered stat holidays, Christmas and Easter, are Christian holidays. If someone from another faith wants their religious/sacred day off from work, they have to book it as vacation time and remember to do it every year, as it is not automatic. It is also up to the discretion of the Employer/Company one works for as to whether they give their employee this requested time off. Is this really fair? Maybe it is fair to someone who celebrates Christmas and thinks this is the norm but to someone who is not a Christian it may mean not celebrating a special time with family and friends and instead working, while others of a different faith get their holy days off from work.

So where is the middle ground? This is so easy, in my opinion, but to others it creates such debates and accusation of one being too politically correct (probably some of the same debates and accusations made when women demanded equal rights). Canada is a Multicultural Society; this is something all Canadians agree upon and most are proud of this. That being said, we cannot celebrate everyone’s cultural or religious holidays and have them off from work, as there would just be too many holidays! Instead, we should put more focus on holidays such as Earth Day, which is currently not a stat holiday but it should be, so that everyone can celebrate this wonderful planet that we all live on and have in common. Canada Day is currently a stat holiday, and is neutral and brings together Canadians to celebrate our beautiful multicultural nation, again something we all have in common. Family Day is a new stat holiday and its about time, a perfect day for families to get together and catch up; we all have families and friends, yet something else we all have in common. Thanksgiving Day is another stat holiday that we already have that is neutral and a wonderful time to get together with family & friends. We should have an official Multicultural Stat holiday so that we can all celebrate our own distinct cultures and or religions and be proud, but at the same time educate ourselves about other cultures so we can be more tolerant. Everyone should have these days off (except those who are needed in essential services) so everyone can enjoy them with friends and family. These are the holidays that we as a society should be making a big deal about as they are inclusive of everyone here in Canada and not exclusive, like Christmas and Easter, which leaves those of non-Christians faiths out of the picture thus separating us. I am not saying in any way one does not have right to celebrate their cultural holidays or religious holidays; I just think it should be done on one’s own time with people of like mind in their place of worship or at home. I know this may be too much to ask in this day and age but its something that we should maybe begin working towards.

In the meantime, we can start working our way to having a truly inclusive Canada and embracing our multicultural and diverse Canadian culture by making personal changes at home. Instead of being offended or accusing people of different cultural or religious beliefs of making a big deal about being politically correct, try seeing it from their eyes. Take the steps not to assume people have the same religious beliefs as you do or cultural practices. During “Christmas” time refer to it as “the holidays” as there are plenty of cultural and religious holidays happening at this time, not just one. (To see a list of some of the holidays being celebrated this season click here) If you are certain of someone’s cultural/religious beliefs then by all means acknowledge this and wish them a happy (insert holiday here). If you are unsure, don’t assume; just greet the person regularly or if suitable, like in December wish them “Happy Holidays” and make this phrase a part of your vocabulary. If you belong to a diverse family, as more and more Canadians do, then respect the fact that not all of them are coming over to celebrate your holiday because they believe in it, some are just attending out of respect to your beliefs and to see family. Do the same and at least send them a card or call them and or acknowledge their cultural/religious beliefs or rotate what cultural/religious celebration the family gathers at; or better yet, get together on Family Day instead.

I think if we all started taking these small steps we would become a much more inclusive society and a lot of hate crimes would slowly go away if we would all just suck it up and embrace our Canadian Culture as one that embraces the diversity of its people. We need to stop letting culture, religion and ideology from separating us. Instead, we should find what we have in common and celebrate that. After all, Respect for Diversity is part of our Green Values.

Dana Clark,
Organizing Chair, Sudbury Federal Green Party Association
Secretary, Sudbury Green Party of Ontario Constituency Association.

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