In a little known publication to celebrate New Brunswick’s bicentennial in 1984, C. Alexander Pincombe wrote in The Birth of a Province: “The waves of immigration, especially the “famine Irish”, together with the Acadian Renaissance, have had a profound effect upon our socioeconomic, cultural and political development. Today New Brunswick’s ethnic diversity and multicultural aspirations are a far cry from “the envy of the American States”. It may be summed up quite easily, in that “democratic techniques were necessary for effective settlement of the province.”
Whether to flee oppression and conflict, or in search of a better life, whatever the reason people have been migrating across the globe for thousands of years. This reality is no different in New Brunswick where newcomers have and continue to play a vital role in shaping our province. But today’s dialogue about immigration seems to focus predominantly on our own demographic challenges and economic shortfalls, and minimize the humanitarian aspect that Canada, its provinces and its territories are renowned for. As we debate about immigration and diversity takes an increasingly emotive turn, there is a real need to bring facts and rational argument back into the fold in support of inclusiveness.
Despite early shortcomings, immigration has always been a cornerstone of Canada’s growth policy. In the seventies the federal government deliberately embraced the notion of the “cultural mosaic,” valuing diversity within society. To this day Canada ranks consistently among the world’s most tolerant and accepting nations in the world. This was certainly exemplified in this province by the many organizations and individuals like church groups, municipalities, government agencies and other volunteer associations that have been working tirelessly to help Syrian families find some stability by providing accommodations, identifying employment opportunities and seeing to their wellbeing. While these collective efforts to welcome refugees have not all translated into permanent settlements as has been reported, it should serve as a reminder to continue finding innovative ways to improve retention rates.
In a 1986 scientific article published in the Journal of Community Psychology, David W. McMillan and David M. Chavis explain how communities work and the characteristics that are necessary to build a lasting sense of community. The authors describe the four factors that must be present as Membership (creating a sense of belonging), Influence (a reciprocal sense that it matters), Integration and Fulfillment of Needs (the events that bind people together); and Shared Emotional Connection (with the history of that community). In practical terms, we feel this sense of belonging to a community by the connections and relationships we build within it.
We all need to play a part in making our communities more inclusive by recognizing the societal changes that are taking place. Inclusiveness enables all people to participate in social, economic, cultural and political life on the basis of equality of rights, equity and dignity. New Brunswick was one of the first provinces in the country to enact human rights legislation in pursuit of that ideal. Since 1967, the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission has been the agency responsible for the administration of the Human Rights Act, and a key component of our mandate is to forward the principle that every person is free and equal with dignity and respect. Over the years the scope of the Human Rights Act has evolved with changes in public attitudes and was expanded as new areas of discrimination were addressed to better protect the most vulnerable: namely women, people with disabilities and minority groups.
Next year the Human Rights Commission will commemorate its 50th anniversary and we invite every New Brunswicker to celebrate the fundamental contributions that human rights have and continue to make to the pursuit of prosperity and equity in this province. Or as C. Alexander Pincombe so eloquently said: “All New Brunswickers, from the native people to the most recent immigrants, can enjoy the right to participate in the Bicentennial programs. They may take pride in the achievements made by all those who came here in the past and, with faith, face the future with confidence.”
Marc-Alain Mallet is the Director of the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission