Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

Practising Sociology

Jan 10, 2015

Not long ago I read Julie Gilmour's fine book, Trouble on Main Street, about the 1907 race riots in Vancouver and their aftermath.

The riots are well known to those of us who live in Vancouver as an embarrassing episode in our city's history. They were spearheaded by something called the Asiatic Exclusion League (AEL), lasted two or three days, and involved the destruction of many properties in the city's Chinese and Japanese neighbourhoods and the physical intimidation of the residents there.

Supporters of the AEL wanted a complete ban on immigration to Canada from Asian countries. Their favourite slogan was "A White Canada for Us."

As we all know, the AEL was on the wrong side of history. In the short run, the government did introduce bans on Asian immigration but these soon gave way to a more open-door policy, the result of which has made Vancouver the vibrant, multi-ethnic place it is today.

But apparently the Asiatic Exclusion League continues, under a new name. A few days ago city councillor Kerry Jang protested the views of a University of New Brunswick sociologist named Ricardo Duchesne who argues that Asian immigration is threatening Canada's, and specifically Vancouver's, "European" character. (Is this what Prime Minister Harper meant when he warned not so long ago about the dangers of "practising sociology"?)

Thanks to an essay on The Tyee website by Crawford Kilian, I became aware of an organization known as the Council of European Canadians. According to its website, this group, of which Professor Duchesne is a proud member, advocates "that Canada should remain majority European in its ethnic composition and cultural character." 

Who knew that more than one hundred years after the AEL, White Canada Forever could still be a rallying cry for a group of pathetic xenophobes who can't come to terms with modernity?