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The History of Prejudice and Discrimination in Canada

(from the Canadian Encyclopedia Online Youth Edition)

Prejudice and Discrimination in Canada

The history of Canada is largely the history of the meeting of different cultures. It is therefore the history of tensions between those cultures and of prejudice felt among these groups toward one another.

Europeans and the Aboriginal People

The early European settlers held strong prejudices about the Aboriginal people. Europeans considered those who did not share their Christian beliefs or their technical advances to be inferior to them. They even denied that the Aboriginal people had religious beliefs, and tried to "save" them by converting them to Christianity.

Not all Europeans held these views. Many French traders were drawn to the freedom of the Aboriginal way of life and took Aboriginal wives. The French and later the English worked closely, as partners, with the Indians in the fur trade. However, when the trade ended, the Aboriginal people became an obstacle to settlement. Europeans man wanted the Aboriginal people's land and pushed them aside. Canadians believed that the only hope for the remaining Aboriginal people was to teach them to act and think like themselves.

In the 18th century, the government began a policy of confining Indians to small pieces of land, called reserves. Indian affairs were settled by the government without consulting the Indians. On the reserves, Indian children were sometimes removed from their families to go to far-off residential schools. Traditional customs were discouraged, even forbidden.

French and English

The animosity between French and English settlers had its roots in the CONQUEST of 1760. The French population was placed under British rule. The two groups had different cultures. The French were Roman Catholic and the English were Protestant, one of the widest gulfs in European society at that time.

The French Canadians obtained freedom of religion from the British government and had rights in Canada that were not given to Catholics in Britain at the time. Nevertheless, they were aware of discrimination, and bitterly resented it. After the REBELLIONS OF 1837, Lord DURHAM came to Canada and reported that the French Canadians had no culture or history. He suggested that the French be swallowed up by the British as soon as possible. The French refused to disappear and as they gained confidence, they began to assert themselves in the defence of their rights. Their strong presence in the successive governments of the Province of Canada caused hostility among some English Canadians. The creation of a separate and largely French-speaking province of Quebec at Confederation in 1867 was intended to solve this problem.

The conflict between French and English broke into the open again very quickly. The restriction, or outright elimination, of French-language and Catholic religious rights in several English-speaking provinces was seen as discrimination by French Canadians. The execution of Louis Riel in 1885 was bitterly resented by many French Canadians, who regarded his rebellions as justified by English Canadian prejudice. Canada's involvement in several wars also bred misunderstanding. So has Quebec's QUIET REVOLUTION which some English Canadians see as an attempt by French Canadians to dominate over them.

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