How did the First World War affect the treatment of ethnic minorities in Canada?

The end of World War I marked the end of one of most serious military conflicts in the world history. The entire world was involved in the war and Canada was not an exception. However, the end of World War I produced a profound impact on the social, political and cultural life of Canadian society. In this respect, it is important to underline a strong trend to the growth of nationalism in Canada after the end of World War I, which affected consistently the treatment of ethnic minorities in Canada from the part of the government, state agencies and the dominant ethnic group. At the same time, the treatment of ethnic minorities in Canada in the post-World War I period was, to a significant extent, determined by the past experience of relationships between different ethnic groups in Canada which affected the state policies and social relationships between representatives of different ethnic groups. In fact, the post-war era was quite a difficult time for ethnic minorities because the strengthening of nationalism in Canada after World War I increased consistently the superior attitude of the dominant ethnic group toward ethnic minorities, which many Canadians perceived as second-class citizens, though, it is worth mentioning the fact that there was a considerable part of Canadian society that stood on the democratic ground and attempted to maintain a tolerant attitude to representatives of all ethnic groups living in Canada after World War I.

On analyzing the position and treatment of ethnic minorities in Canada after World War I, it is important to lay emphasis on the fact that the post-policies exaggerated deep-rooted biases, which persisted in Canadian society before the war and increased after its end. In this respect, it should be said that, basically, it is possible to single out three major ethnic groups which were traditionally associated with the higher risk of interethnic conflicts and discrimination from the part of the dominant ethnic group in Canada: aboriginal population of Canada, French-speaking Quebecois population and Jewish population in Canada. In fact, these three ethnic and cultural groups were particularly important to Canada and the attitude to ethnic in the country could be assessed on the basis of the analysis of the position of these three groups and the attitude of Canadians toward them.

However, before discussing the treatment of ethnic minorities in Canada, it is necessary to briefly dwell upon the historical background of the post-World War I era and its impact on Canadian society. In fact, the end of World War I brought quite controversial trends to Canadian society. On the one hand, the end to war marked the end to sufferings of millions of people worldwide, including Canada.

Canadian would not suffer from the participation in military campaigns and attacks of enemies and Canadian military units. At the same time, Canadians felt their power since, unlike European countries, they have managed to maintain a stable situation in the country after World War I and there were no signs of a revolution or social unrest in Canada shortly after World War I, while many European countries suffered from social unrest (Bumsted, 29004, p.139).

On the other hand, the successful ending of the war contributed to the emergence of nationalism in Canada because people believed in the ability of their country to conduct independent and effective international policy. However, it is worth mentioning the fact that along with strengthening of nationalism in English-speaking part of Canada, Quebecois nationalism also grew stronger because local population viewed Britain as and, therefore, English”“speaking Canadians, as a primary cause of the involvement of Canadians into World War I. At this point, such a view on Britain was, to a certain extent, justified because Canada could not ignore the position of Britain in its foreign policy at the epoch.

Nevertheless, the emergence of nationalism in both English-speaking and French-speaking parts of Canada led to the increase of social tension and contradictions between ethnic groups comprising Canadian nation. In fact, the radicalization of the society is a natural outcome of the development of nationalism because nationalism is grounded on the idea of superiority of one ethnic group over others, which are treated as superior. Actually, the development of nationalism was probably the determinant factor that defined the treatment of ethnic minorities in Canada in the post-World War I era.

In such a context, it is possible to analyze the position of aboriginal population of Canada, which was probably the most oppressed in the country at the epoch, because historically, aboriginal population in Canada was extremely restricted in its rights and liberties and could not exercise basic human rights at the full scale and protect them in case of the violation of rights and liberties of aboriginal people (Bumsted, 2004, p.195). In this respect, it should be said that the discrimination of aboriginal people has accompanied the development of Canada since the creation of this state or, to put it more precisely, since the start of European colonization. It is worthy of noting that it is only in the second half of the 20th century that some positive changes have started to occur under the pressure of the local communities, basically that of native people, and even under the pressure of international community. Such a pressure was basically determined by two facts. On the one hand, the civil rights consciousness of aboriginal people grew stronger as they got more and more integrated in Canadian society and, therefore, acquiring the knowledge about their civil rights and fully realizing the enormous gap that existed between them and the ruling elite of Canada as well as the rest of Canadian society. On the other hand, there was a growing socio-economic pressure, especially from the part of large corporations, including multinational ones, on aboriginal communities. As the result, their rights, limited they were, were oppressed even more since their economic opportunities became scarce.

Gradually, aboriginal people of Canada faced a dilemma they had to solve: either to continue the lifestyle they had led before and gradually became fully integrated in Canadian society and totally lost their unique culture and traditions, or, alternatively, to struggle for their civil rights and opportunities which should be based on preservation of their communities, uniqueness, national culture and traditions. The latter was apparently impossible in the situation when aboriginal people were simply forced to leave their land either because of the low economic opportunities for the elementary survival or because of the official decisions taken by authorities.

As a result, the struggle of aboriginal people for their rights and land claims became a natural consequence of the dramatic deterioration of their socio-economic position and practically permanent and systematic violation of their human rights they were conscious of. However, after World War I, the position of aboriginal people deteriorated consistently, because their consciousness of their rights was still under-developed, while the dominant ethnic group attempted to maximize its domination in Canada and assimilate aboriginal people into Canadian society. In fact, the dominant trend in the attitude of Canadians to aboriginal people was the attitude to them as second class citizens. This means that Canadians believed they were superior to the aboriginal population, which they believed to be unable to develop their own civilization, while the life of aboriginal people was too primitive. Therefore, one of the widely spread ideas at the epoch was the idea that the aboriginal population of Canada was not worthy of attention from the part of Canadian authorities to maintain their culture and socioeconomic activities. Moreover, the government refused to provide aboriginal population with the financial support or to protect their traditional lifestyle because the country needed to recover after the war. In such a situation, the state readily sacrificed culture and lifestyle of aboriginal people if their lands could be used more effectively by white Canadians. As a result, territories belonging to aboriginal people reduced consistently after World War I (Owram, 1994, p.231).

In contrast to aboriginal people, the French-speaking part of Canadian population could and did oppose to any attempt of discrimination from the part of English-speaking Canadians, who occupied the dominant position in Canada and controlled the national executive, legislative and judicial power. In regard to the relationships between these ethnic groups, the end of World War I brought a new wave of contradictions and debates concerning the position of Quebecois and French-speaking population in Canada. At this epoch, the idea of autonomy or even independence of Quebec became particularly popular and its popularity was determined by several factors.

Firstly, French-speaking Canadians suffered from the underrepresentation of their ethnic, cultural group at the national scale. As it has been already mentioned above, it was English-speaking Canadians that controlled and administered the government of Canada. Moreover, the legislative and judicial powers were also concentrated in hands of English-speaking Canadians. As a result, French-speaking Canadians were not just underrepresented, but they felt their inferiority in Canada, in regard to political and social life of the country, while the region populated by French-speaking Canadians played important, if not to say crucial, role in the life of the entire country. Secondly, French-speaking Canadians were not eager to war for the sake of British crown and they were unwilling to protect strategic interests of Britain, which were historically the enemy number one of France, where French-speaking population of Canada actually originated from.

English-speaking Canadians, from their part, were unwilling to lose their dominant position in Canada and limit their political power in the country. Consequently, they attempted to oppress Quebecois nationalism and, at the same time, they strongly opposed to the enlargement of rights of French-speaking Canadians on the local level, namely the right to autonomy, while the idea of Quebec’s independence was absolutely unacceptable to English-speaking Canadians. Obviously, they were conscious of the fact that the lost of French-speaking part of Canada would undermine the national economy dramatically.

Hence, the end of World War I was marked by the growth of contradictions and tension between English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians. The rights of French-speaking Canadians and their strife for autonomy or even independence were still ignored and the English-speaking Canadians kept controlling the national government, legislative organs and judicial power.

In such a situation, problems of Jewish population of Canada that existed after World War I seem to be quite strange. At first glance, the Jewish community, being smaller than French-speaking Canadian community, was still quite significant in Canada, but this community did not have such a distinct territorial areal and was united mainly on the cultural basis. At the same time, the Jewish community did not represent any threat to the territorial unity of Canada and it did not possess some valuable lands the government could take on the legal basis. Consequently, there were no evident reasons for the mistreatment or discrimination of Jewish population in Canada.

Nevertheless, the end of World War I was accompanied by the strengthening of anti-Semitism, which aimed at the Jewish population and implied the discrimination of Jews in practically all spheres of life. However, the discrimination of Jews in Canada mainly referred to the field interpersonal relations and there was no official policy developed or supported by the Canadian government which could have targeted at the oppression or limitation of rights and liberties of Jews in Canada. In such a way, Jewish community managed to preserve its position in Canadian society, though Jews suffered from the problem of anti-Semitism, which probably resulted from the emergence of nationalism in Canada after World War I.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the position of ethnic minorities in Canada after World War I was far from perfect. To put it more precisely, practically all ethnic minorities suffered from discrimination which strength could differ depending on the influence and social power of the community. In this respect, it should be said that the aboriginal population of Canada was probably in the most disadvantageous position because, even though they had land resources, they could not use them and their discrimination was accompanied by the policy of assimilation and integration in Canadian society. The latter contributed to the destruction of the lifestyle and culture of aboriginal people. At the same time, even such influential, from economic point of view, ethnic groups as French-speaking Canadians or Jews, for instance, were also treated as second class citizens. At any rate, French-speaking Canadians suffered from underrepresentation in the national executive, legal and judicial power, while Jews suffered from anti-Semitism. As for other ethnic minorities, they were also discriminated and the trend to their assimilation was very strong in the post-World War I period.

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