Canada, known for its history of inclusivity and embracing immigrants from all over the world, appears to have forgotten the lessons from its past. Despite years of apologies and reparations for the mistreatment of Canadian immigrants during times of war, prejudice is now forming against Russian Canadians.
Canada prides itself on its diverse cultural traditions, often celebrated through festivals where Canadians of every background can come together. These festivals provide an opportunity to appreciate different cuisines, traditional attire, dances, and directly interact with people of different nationalities. It is a chance to learn about our neighbors and the nations they or their ancestors come from, offering a more immersive experience than simply reading books or taking history classes.
However, the recent decision by the Edmonton Heritage Festival to exclude the Russian pavilion from this year’s event goes against the spirit of inclusivity. Canada is home to over 600,000 citizens of Russian descent, many of whom settled on farms in the Prairie provinces. These immigrants, who fled tyranny, played a crucial role in the development of the West and their descendants have become model citizens of Canada.
The ban on the Russian pavilion is embarrassing and abhorrent, as it unfairly targets Canadians of Russian heritage due to the current conflict in Ukraine. While it is understandable that Canadians of Ukrainian heritage would be deeply affected by the situation in their homeland, it is important to remember that Russian immigrants in Canada are not responsible for the actions of Russia’s government. They have a right to celebrate their heritage and should not be penalized for events unfolding thousands of miles away.
The inclusion of a Russian pavilion at the Heritage Festival would have provided an opportunity for Canadians of Russian descent to interact with others and showcase their rich heritage. It would have been an important statement, demonstrating that they can celebrate their culture with pride while not condoning any political actions. The pavilion was never intended to be political, but rather a celebration of culture and community.
By banning the Russian pavilion, the festival committee has fostered further division. Canadians of Russian descent feel victimized and shamed by a country they have chosen to call home, while attendees of the festival miss out on the opportunity to meet and interact with people of Russian heritage, potentially breaking down existing prejudices.
This act of intolerance is not limited to festivals. Last year, the Montreal symphony orchestra canceled performances by Russian pianist Alexander Malofeev in response to the war in Ukraine. Yet, how does depriving a young talent of his opportunity to perform and denying audiences the chance to enjoy his music contribute to the resolution of the conflict?
Acts of intolerance and xenophobia against Canadians of Russian descent must be called out and stopped. However, the silence on this issue is striking. Canada has a history of mistreating its own citizens during times of war, including the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II and the treatment of Ukrainian Canadians in World War I. While the current situation does not involve internment camps, punishing Canadians of Russian descent for events beyond their control is just as odious.
Canada should be nurturing its citizens of Russian and Ukrainian descent, standing in solidarity rather than creating divisions. It is supposed to be a sanctuary, sheltered from foreign conflicts. History will undoubtedly judge the prejudice directed at Canadians of Russian heritage. If any country should know better, it is Canada.
In conclusion, Canada must recognize and rectify the prejudice forming against its own citizens of Russian heritage. It should embrace diversity and foster unity to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated. By promoting understanding and acceptance, Canada can live up to its reputation as an inclusive nation that values and celebrates its diverse population.