Irving Abella and Harold Troper’s book, None is Too Many, was truly ground breaking when it was first published thirty years ago. It took the veneer off Canadian immigration policy, and as well reminded Canadians that an unhealthy dose of racism was deeply embedded in Canadian attitudes and public policy in living memory of those reading the book in the early 1980′s.
Just as the country had to come to terms with the internment of Japanese Canadians, None is Too Many took Canadians back to a painful fact – like our neighbours and allies, we chose to close our hearts, our eyes, and our doors while six million Jews died. No one can read this book without having to ask some difficult questions – who in Parliament and in politics was challenging this discrimination? The answer is “very few”. While some might try to find partisan comfort in the fact that it was a Liberal government that administered the policy, an even more difficult fact is that it was an attitude that infected broader public opinion and the entire political spectrum. Those seeking a different policy were few and far between.
In our own time, we have to come to terms with our own patterns of deep discrimination. The residential schools issue has revealed a racism that, again, was imbedded not only in policy but in public opinion.
It is sometimes comforting to point fingers at those whose comments are found at the bottom of government memos, but a harder challenge is trying to understand how a wider public opinion was comfortable with, indeed, demanding, policies based on racism and discrimination. Equally important is how that opinion changes.