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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

Letter from the Editor

Globe and Mail
Tuesday, Jun. 6, 2003

I feel the need to write again about The New Canada, the series we launched with great fanfare last Saturday. Today we present the fourth instalment, and it speaks to issues fundamental to our success as a country.

In the front section, you will read what I found an unsettling account of middle-class youth, particularly the males. Michael Valpy sat down with graduates from the class of '94 at Kitsilano Secondary School, near the high school he had attended in Kerrisdale, B.C.

We discover that almost a decade after graduation, many are still travelling, in Michael's phrase, on "a slow boat to wherever it is they're going." They are well educated but unfocused. I hear similar stories from friends with children about 10 years older than my own. Their kids are half here and half there. These days, the average Canadian child lives at home -- gulp! -- until 27.

As a highly focused person, I find this worrisome, perhaps unduly. What's wrong with smelling the roses along the road to responsibility? Then again, maybe we have made our kids too comfortable.

Whichever the case, there is another reality out there, too. It is the reality of the so-called generation-and-a-halfers, the children of immigrants who have arrived in Canada in the past two decades. Some were born here; others came as children. They tend to be our new overachievers.

On the Focus front today, you will find in Fahima Osman a profound counterpoint to the drift of the class of '94. Her story speaks powerfully and poignantly to the best values of Canada, its social mobility and meritocratic principles.

Several months back, a newspaper article contained a throwaway line about the fact that Toronto's large Somali community is without a single practising physician. Somali immigrants therefore can turn to nobody within their own community about their most intimate health questions. Nor can they point their young people to a medical role model.

We found this extraordinary. We asked Erin Anderssen to check it out and to find out if there was a Somali-Canadian in medical school who soon would take up the mantle as her community's first Canadian-trained doctor. Erin is a young journalist herself. She brings to this paper, along with many colleagues of her generation, an indefatigable spirit and intelligence, and a gift for storytelling.

But Erin comes out of middle-class Nova Scotia. The star of the show, as it should be, is really the subject of her profile, Fahima, whose glowing face graces our front page today and who can be seen again in the Focus section in scrubs. I'm not going to give away the story, other than to say certain passages made me choke up. The hunger of the previously excluded, or at least those who so badly want to be included, is as beautiful to see as it is vital to our collective success.

It is people like the Osman family who ensure that we remain a New World nation.

My maternal grandparents came to Canada in 1929, assisted by an uncle who had left Russia a penniless youth 25 years earlier and then worked his way through medical school washing dishes. So Fahima's story resonates for me, as do many other installments in The New Canada.

Last week we read about the wedding(s) of Parvinder, a Sikh Canadian, and Maricar, a Filipino-Canadian. The wish of their siblings, that the newlyweds would serve as groundbreakers, reminded me of the kind of barriers that existed in my own family in the early 1960s. I am the youngest of 12 grandchildren. My cousin, Terry, on the older end of the spectrum, was the first cousin to marry.

She met a guy from St. Catharines during first-year university. He wasn't Jewish. The prejudices of the day compelled them to marry secretly. But we all grow up. Ultimately, six of the cousins would marry Christians; I was one of them. By the time, Janice and I arrived at the altar 20 years later, both a rabbi and a minister were there to greet us.

(It is true, as Janice points out tirelessly, that the rabbi, the host of the service, provided significantly less than equal billing to his collared counterpart. But still.)

Canada, of course, is an ever-changing project. The new Canada we are watching emerge every day out of heightened social liberalism and increasing multiculturalism is not the first manifestation of a new Canada.

In the first decades of the 20th century, this country was transformed by urbanization and the settling of the West through a wave of immigrants, largely from Eastern Europe. The fabric of the nation was restitched over two decades.

Again in the postwar period, the country was changed by a second wave of immigration, largely of blue-collar workers from southern Europe.

Just look at our federal Parliament today and the sons and daughters of that postwar group who have taken places there as fully fledged Canadians. Imagine how their parents felt to see their children elected as representatives of the people.

Still, there is something special about the new Canada we are forging today. It is far, far more diverse. It is far, far more liberal. It celebrates individual choice over conformity while still adhering to common values. It is providing a model to the world of how all nations will live at some point in the 21st century.

If you want a great example of that future, go meet Fahima Osman and her family on the Focus front.



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