Now is not Too Late
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 19 Jan 1978, p. 216-228
Pitman, Walter, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
An examination of the nature of Canada. A look back at our history of Empire. The role of Loyalists. The fulfilled dream of Confederation. The element of diversity. The Quebec Act. The failure of our country which is the relationship with Quebec. The changes to immigration policy in the 1960s. Cultural shock and how it affects the host community. The Task Force on Human Relations, its activities and findings. Canada's nineteenth-century leap forward in the perception of empire. A similar leap forward for the twentieth century? A view of nationhood for the next centuries.
Date of Original
19 Jan 1978
Language of Item
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Full Text
JANUARY 19, 1978
Now is not Too Late
CHAIRMAN The President, Peter Hermant


Ladies and gentlemen: Our guest of honour today, Walter George Pitman, is an educator. As a matter of fact, he has spent his whole life in education as a student, as a teacher, and as an administrator.

He started his career at Keele Street Public School here in Toronto, continued it at Humberside Collegiate and Trinity College, University of Toronto. He changed roles and became a teacher at Bathurst Heights Collegiate, Kenner Collegiate and Vocational Institute in Peterborough, Langstaff Secondary School and, finally, Trent University, where his administrative talents came to the fore and were recognized for the first time. He is now at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute.

However, running throughout Walter Pitman's academic pursuits has been a political strain which is not surprising since, according to William Lyon Mackenzie, quoted in the Colonial Advocate of June 27, 1833, "The man who says he is no politician is either ignorant of what he is saying, or a contemptible selfish creature unworthy of the country or the community of which he is a part."

Probably as a result of this, Mr. Pitman represented Peterborough in Ottawa from 1960 to 1962 and at the Ontario Legislature from 1967 to 1971.

It was during his tenure at Queen's Park that he first came largely to public prominence, since he soon became the education critic and deputy leader of the New Democratic Party and when Donald MacDonald retired from the leadership of the party, Pitman became a candidate.

"I'm exhilarated," he was quoted as saying by The Globe and Mail about that candidacy. "Even if I don't win, it will have been a worthwhile experience--political power is not my only form of self-realization."

Obviously not--since he now leads one of the country's most progressive and newest full-fledged universities.

But politics are still not far in the background and last summer Pitman was again approached to run for the leadership of the N.D.P.

"Maybe the present penchant for nostalgia has now entered politics," he joked in The Star. But on a more serious note and one that is entirely characteristic of him, he also said, "The commitment that I have goes beyond the contract. There are all kinds of faculty, students and staff to whom I owe something. I have had a tremendous measure of assistance and support from them. Nothing would allow me to leave Ryerson with integrity."

Walter Pitman has always been a committed person, which is undoubtedly why on January 11th last year he was appointed by Metro Toronto Chairman, Paul Godfrey, to be a one-man task force to probe the issue of racism in Metropolitan Toronto.

In accepting the challenge, he admitted immediately that he had more questions than answers and realized that the problems he would have to wrestle with would be enormous. But then he was the inter-collegiate 135 pound wrestling champion in 1951-52!

"For God's sake," he said in a Star article, "let's find out what we're faced with and not let it escalate. The time to address the problem is before it becomes pervasive, before too many people are infected and before the need for retaliation and private vigilante actions."

There is no doubt that there is the possibility for prejudice and racial tension in a complex and diverse society such as exists in Toronto. With 54 identifiable ethnic groups, this city has one of the most disparate populations in the world--a fact which is further complicated by that ancient Hebrew proverb which reads, "Opinions founded on prejudice are always sustained with the greatest violence."

Close to a year after taking over on his assignment, Walter Pitman reported his findings to the Metropolitan Chairman--causing the predictable variety and intensity of reaction.

But I am not going to dwell on that aspect of his report, because I am hoping that he will. It is a pleasure for me to introduce to you the president of Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, Mr. Walter G. Pitman, who will address us under the title, "Now is not Too Late".


Ladies and gentlemen: Today I want to examine with you the nature of this country and in doing so reach back into the era of empire honoured weekly by the continued activity of this organization. It is by better understanding our beginning that we can recognize the kind of nation which was created in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and it is particularly important that we understand the empire from which it emerged.

It is not necessary for me to remind this audience that in the last years of the eighteenth century those people whom we have honoured by the title "Loyalist" came from the United States to form one of the charter peoples who have moulded this new land. They came not to be something different than they were, for they brought with them all the traditions of freedom, initiative and expectation of opportunity that they had felt was part of the American heritage. The American Revolution, as one historian has indicated, "produced a nation and a non-nation". When the Loyalists came to form a non-nation, they sought some identity in which to clothe themselves. They were in a sense "anti-American Yankees" but they soon adopted the identity of being British--not Canadian, but British.

It is sobering to realize that the first English-speaking people who came to this land did not come to erect a new nation but rather to retain a loyalty to the Crown, the flag, the governmental system of another nation. Indeed all the great events of our history during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries focused on the British Empire. The war of 1812 demonstrated our intensity of loyalty to the United Kingdom. In Confederation the people of this country fulfilled a dream of creating a united group of British North American colonies and World War I and World War II demonstrated their allegiance to the Crown and their commitment to the survival of that mother country.

The essential point is that one of the founding peoples of this nation did not seek to establish a new identity but rather to establish a basis on which individuals could express their identity within the reality of a new North American nation.

This element of diversity was celebrated further in the relationship between the representatives of that empire and those who were conquered on the Plains of Abraham. The relationship was not characterized by a demand that they should give up their traditions, religious loyalties and their culture. Indeed the relationship was not between a dominant and a submissive people. In 1763 there was the expectation that assimilation could be achieved but very soon it became apparent that this would not be possible. Within ten or eleven years, on a new basis of relationship called the Quebec Act, there was a recognition that the religion and the laws and traditions of the French-speaking people of this country should be respected and should be accepted as valid. It may very well be that the main reason was the hope of their military support against those disloyal colonists already planning an American Revolution to the south--but accepted it was, and these newly won rights and privileges were incorporated within another twenty years in the Canada Act. Subsequent changes in our relationship between the English-speaking and the French-speaking of this country at the time of union in 1841 and Confederation in the 1860s have further extended the expectations of the French-Canadian citizens of this nation. Unfortunately we have not properly articulated all the implications of this relationship. In fact, those who had been a conquered people were to be treated as equal partners in the development of this land. Just as the Loyalist came to the St. Lawrence Valley to be British, so the French-Canadian was given the right to be French in language, Catholic in religion and different in law and custom.

During the nineteenth century we invited a great many other people to share with us the bounty of this land. They came largely from eastern and southern Europe and filled the west in particular with people who would provide food for a developing industrial state. We didn't invite them to the land and ask them to give up their songs, their dances, their food and customs, rather we invited them to become part of a Canadian mosaic, a country in which individuals by being Canadian could express their traditions and their backgrounds. Whereas the American ideal was one of "melting pot", Canada by its original definition promised variety and pluralism. And the same invitation was extended in the 1940s and 50s, and the nature of Canada changed dramatically and irretrievably.

Somehow or other we have not been able to provide one of our charter peoples, the French-Canadian, with the belief that they can in fact fulfil themselves within this union, and recently we have been unable to indicate to those who have come that they can live in peace and security in this country, be Canadian and retain the colour and excitement of their own culture and traditions. This failure has come to focus in the last number of months in the City of Toronto where people whose roots are in the South Asian community believe themselves no longer welcome in this city. A series of serious assaults on the subways surfaced these problems, but the issues had been smoldering for many years.

The seeds of our latest troubles can be found in the 1960s when the government changed the immigration policy of this country and in so doing made a commitment to a multiracial as well as a multicultural nation. This commitment was never fully explained and the implications were never fully outlined. And that may very well be the basic cause for the surfacing of racist violence in the streets and subways of our city.

In the absence of this explanation or conditioning, a kind of cultural shock affected the host community. Individuals in Toronto did not know why they found so many people with different coloured skins on the bus, subway, in the public parks. There was no understanding that this change in immigration regulations had encouraged a large number of able and skilled people to come from the Caribbean. It also extended the invitation to a group of people who lived in many countries but whose roots lay in South Asia. Many of them had brown skins, wore colourful clothing, prepared spicy food, wore turbans, and in general behaved in ways which contrasted with the expectations of those who perceived western ways as universal, superior and unchallengingly Canadian. This phenomenon shocked those who had no idea that changes in their world had taken place and the global village which they had heard so much about had suddenly imposed itself upon them. Toronto instead of being dominantly Anglo-Saxon had become diluted by the immigrant surge after World War II and was now not only multicultural, but multiracial. By the 1970's every Torontonian was a member of a minority group, visible or not.

Certainly economic conditions which we have endured over the past number of years did not assist the accommodation of people of different colours, traditions and backgrounds. Many saw them as those who were taking the jobs which rightly belonged to other Canadians--the fact that the unemployment and the realities of immigration had little relationship at all was ignored. A strange kind of irony arose as there were critics who were claiming that immigrants were collecting welfare and consuming taxpayers' money at the same time as they were taking the jobs from other Canadians, scarcely a situation which was possible under the welfare or unemployment insurance regulations. However, in 1976 and 1977 it was plain that the South Asian community had become the victim minority in Toronto and it was to this minority that a Task Force on Human Relations, set up by Chairman of Metro Council, Paul Godfrey, addressed itself from February to November of last year.

The Task Force did find a disconcerting degree of racial tension emanating from a good deal of racial prejudice expressing itself in Toronto in many different ways. Although the media has tended to focus on the more brutal forms of violence, the physical assault, there were other forms of attack which were equally worrying. The amount of vandalism against the homes and property of South Asians, the name calling, the "hassling", the general existence of an atmosphere in which these people felt unwelcome and unwanted. It was this atmosphere which allowed the hoodlum element to express its hostility through beatings and through overt assaults on subway platforms and to that extent we are all involved. One of the most exasperating forms of violence is the "Paki" joke. It is not, I suggest, a variation on the Newfie and Polish joke, as mindless and denigrating as those forms of humour sometimes are. These racist stories seem obsessed with death, disaster and violence and contribute to a perception of South-Asian people which is positively dehumanizing.

Certainly the attention of the Task Force was focused on the police simply because it was dealing with race and violence and the police must cope with violence wherever it exists whether in the subway or whether in the neighbourhood plaza or the school yard, or in the home of the victim minority. We did not accuse the police of being racially prejudiced or bigoted; far from it, the report indicates our sympathy with the police in the problems which they have and the fact that they themselves are a visible and victim minority, victims of name calling, insults and on occasion, physical violence. Nevertheless we did find major gaps between the expectations of those who were suffering and the services which were being provided to protect them. Part of this gap was a result of the lack of information about policing in Canada and the ability of the police to deal with such matters as name calling and vandalism. The fact is that the police, along with the rest of us, had very little understanding of the background of those whom they were trying to serve.

The Task Force took a look at the settlement services and found that in spite of the direct intervention of all three levels of government, federal, provincial and municipal, there was not an effective network which served each and every immigrant, providing them with information and with support services in the early months, easing the new immigrant into the life and activity of our society. We agreed with the Robarts Commission that these services should be co-ordinated and funded under Metro Toronto's Council. With effective services, immigrants can be made very soon to feel at home and at ease and be given the necessary assistance in finding jobs and finding homes, but most of all given information allowing an understanding of the community in which they live.

The Task Force looked at the schools and found that for all the goodwill and hard work of those who were already producing multicultural programs, the direct issue of racism had not been addressed. We found a need to accept the reality of racism within the classroom and within the playground where it too often existed. We found young people who were hurting, who were being called names and being roughed about as they went from school to home and we found that teachers did not have many tools at their disposal to cope with these situations. Obviously what was needed was a major effort to provide teacher training, to provide curriculum change, to provide a completely different atmosphere in which young people may learn, recognizing as well the need to reach out to the family and neighbourhood in carrying out this purpose.

The Task Force was critical of the media. It was our view that the newspapers, radio and television did not reflect a Toronto which had developed since the Second World War. Toronto was now a collection of minorities and certainly one could read the papers and listen to the mainstream television and radio with very little perception that this was the case. Once again, it was the problem of institutional lag and our feeling was of a great need for the involvement of the various minorities in a dialogue with the electronic and print media in the community and an opportunity for individuals within the minority groups to become actively a part of the media scene.

The Task Force was quite impressed for example by the degree to which the Toronto Transit Commission had taken significant measures to provide greater protection and safety to all citizens who ride on the subways, buses and streetcars in this city. The alarm system, increased security services, the availability of information on what to do if an attack occurs, all of these were major steps in addressing a central problem. As well we were convinced that the City of Toronto had acted wisely in setting up a process whereby all the racist slogans which appeared on fences and walls "white power", "negro go home"--were immediately removed. This effort was a major contribution to Toronto's well-being. Within a year the persistent appearance of such signs in public places has almost disappeared. The actions of a small group of people who were determined that this was not acceptable behaviour in a city like Toronto led to a government response.

Further, the Task Force became convinced of the need for a strengthened Human Rights Commission, making it capable of pressing the cases of those who have been the victims of discrimination in employment or housing opportunities.

The Task Force was also anxious to find ways to bring the leadership of the new minorities into the main stream of our public life. For that reason we suggested that Metro Council take direct action to assure that there were representatives of visible minorities upon commissions and committees filled through citizen appointment and we were anxious that they become a part of the mainstream of our voluntary welfare system as well.

The title of the Task Force Report is "Now is not Too Late" and it was our very considered view that it was not too late--that in fact with a certain amount of adjustment, with a certain raising of awareness and consciousness, with a certain reallocation of the already existing resources both monetary and human, that Toronto could cope with the large number of people who had come from other lands and other traditions. I think this is important because it is in essence the title which I believe to be relevant in addressing all the problems of human relationship throughout our nation. I believe now is not too late in other contexts of relationship.

The British Empire, your honour, is no longer a popular subject of discussion. Imperialism is a pejorative term in our present view of history. However we do know that the British Empire was a major leap forward from any imperialist structure which had existed before. It was exploitive, but there were also positive contributions made to the well-being of people in those countries who were being exploited--in health care, advances in agriculture and so on. Canada led the way to the development of a Commonwealth. A wider freedom and self-government were conceded without revolution, without violence. This was Canada's nineteenth century leap forward in the perception of empire. In the twentieth century Canada faces the opportunity for a similar leap forward in the perception of nationhood and citizenship.

For we have seen that the founding peoples came not to divest themselves of their backgrounds and their traditions but rather to enrich themselves by adding to a desire to be Canadian, a realization that being Canadian could only be fully achieved for them as a fulfilment of all that had come before. We allowed French-speaking Canadians the opportunity to develop a unique culture on the banks of the St. Lawrence. We welcomed people from Europe and from other continents to a Canadian mosaic in which there could be diversity and pluralism. Lately we have been prepared officially, but not consciously, to accept a multiracial society in which people from many different lands with many different religions and traditions of dress and food can be Canadian but be themselves as well.

Thus it would seem that in Canada we are faced with the challenge of moving forward in our concept of citizenship, or losing the nation we already have. For Canada can only exist within an atmosphere encouraging difference and contrast. It is only possible for the French-speaking people of this country to relate to the English-speaking people in the knowledge that there is an acceptance of this diversity and an acceptance of their need for fulfilment. It is only possible to have peace and personal security for all of us if people from many lands can feel comfortable in a community in which pluralism is accepted.

That is perhaps the twentieth century equivalent of Canada's contribution to a new form of empire. Now we must build a society which is tolerant and open and eventually loving, a society which can achieve a high degree of personal freedom in a nation sensitive to community and regional goals. We of all nations have an opportunity to meet this challenge because we have never articulated a truly national identity in purely geographical or monolithic terms. Many people have criticized Canada for this terrible lack of so-called national pride or patriotic fervour, but perhaps our Canadian style provides a chance to be so much more flexible, diverse--and to celebrate and glory in these differences.

It is a mind-boggling leap from the positive concept of empire this club reminds us of, to the need for a redeeming perception of nationhood which both French- and English-speaking peoples can share, to a Canadianism which encourages people from contrasting cultures to express themselves in at atmosphere of acceptance and appreciation. However, I am convinced it is the same mind-set that seeks adventure, glories in differences and accommodates the strange, the unusual, which will make being Canadian an exhilarating experience.

Unity in diversity means an end to the sterility of asking "What does Quebec want?" in order to find the particular constitutional mechanism which will keep those people quiet. It gives a more adequate context to the question "What does English-Canada want?" It is a view of nationhood appropriate to the twentieth century, perhaps the twenty-first century and twenty-second century. It directs our minds away from the negative, the intolerant, the narrow and the parochial. It is a citizenship which comprehends a holistic approach to human affairs, one which includes what we know of healthy psychological needs, one which expresses a truly environmental approach to collective relationships--a new dimension in citizenship, a new empire of the spirit and intellect.

The appreciation of the audience was expressed by Mr. Ian D. C. McPhail, a Director of The Empire Club of Canada.

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Now is not Too Late

An examination of the nature of Canada. A look back at our history of Empire. The role of Loyalists. The fulfilled dream of Confederation. The element of diversity. The Quebec Act. The failure of our country which is the relationship with Quebec. The changes to immigration policy in the 1960s. Cultural shock and how it affects the host community. The Task Force on Human Relations, its activities and findings. Canada's nineteenth-century leap forward in the perception of empire. A similar leap forward for the twentieth century? A view of nationhood for the next centuries.