On March 17th, 2014, the Mosaic Institute released “The Perception & Reality of ‘Imported Conflict’ in Canada”, a research report produced with the support of the Government of Canada’s Kanishka Project Contribution Program. Mosaic has had the opportunity to share the report’s findings at a number of different venues, including at the launch of the Institute for Diaspora Research and Engagement (IDRE) at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, at the Noor Cultural Centre in Toronto, and at the 2014 Khalsa Day celebrations in Mississauga. The report has also received significant media attention from outlets such as The Toronto Star, The Globe & Mail, and TVO’s The Agenda.
For more information, please click here to download the project report. Scroll down to read the final report’s Foreword by Mosaic’s Executive Director John Monahan.
Foreword to “The Perception & Reality of ‘Imported Conflict’ in Canada”
In early 2012, when Canada’s Minister of Public Safety announced the government’s intention to establish the Kanishka Project Contribution Program (“Kanishka Project”) to support research that would “shed light on terrorism and how best to address it in Canada”1, it did not immediately seem like a natural fit with the work or interests of The Mosaic Institute.
Since 2008, we had become known in part for our research into how Canadians from diaspora communities can enrich the content and direction of Canada’s foreign policy as it relates to the promotion of peace. We had also gained some recognition (and later won a prestigious national award2) for our design and delivery of innovative programs involving Canadian youth connected to different sides of overseas conflicts in peace dialogues and globally-minded service projects. This work had been important, inspiring, and even life-changing for hundreds of young people, but it had not led to any discernible expertise on our part concerning the threat of terrorism to Canada. At first blush, therefore, the announcement of the Kanishka Project seemed notable, but not directly related to us and to our work.
Happily for us, though, we were encouraged by the extremely supportive and collaborative officials of Public Safety Canada to think about the research mandate of the Kanishka Project more broadly and more creatively. We soon realized that one of the guiding premises behind our work – that Canada’s diverse population has memories of or connections to either historical or ongoing conflicts around the world – was extremely germane to the “Kanishka” mandate.
To begin with, we asked whether our assumption that Canadians maintain these memories or connections when they come to Canada was empirically sound, and whether other Canadians’ perceptions of these connections matched the reality of other Canadians’ lived experience. We wondered what effect, if any, such memories and connections might have on Canadians’ ability to form close social attachments with those who at one time would have been perceived as their enemies. And, if Canadians’ memory of overseas conflicts continues to negatively affect them and their interrelationships long after they arrive in Canada, does that mean that the multiculturalism that we herald as a linchpin of Canadian identity could, if managed poorly, lead us down a road towards social division, discord and even violence? Were we already on that road, like other parts of the world that may have at one time felt that they, too, were protected from the rise of terrorism on their shores? What was really going on in the hearts and minds of Canadians with personal connection to overseas conflict, and how should the rest of us respond?
In developing our proposal to pursue these research questions with the support of the Kanishka Project, we opted NOT to begin from the assumption that Canada’s diversity is a challenge to our peace and security. Rather, we began by proposing to ask – given Canada’s ongoing constitutional and policy commitment to multiculturalism, and clear evidence of the growing ethnocultural diversity of our population – why and how is it that Canadians are by and large able to live peaceably alongside other Canadians who might have at one time, or in another place, been their sworn enemies? What were we doing “right”, in other words, such that the diversity of Canada’s population did not appear to represent a threat to either social cohesion or to its close relation, public security? And, if we did discover areas of concern, what could be done to address them? And how might Canada’s lessons and experiences be exportable to other societies struggling to “manage” diversity successfully?
We were also clear from the very beginning that this report would NOT be a study into what causes individuals to radicalize. Other valuable projects have been undertaken by other researchers on that question both in Canada and elsewhere, but our inquiry has been focused specifically on assessing the legitimacy and pertinence of the assumption that Canadians from regions in conflict “import” the violence of those conflicts to
Canada. To the best of our knowledge, no other publicly-funded project in Canada has ever been undertaken specifically in order to test that assumption, and certainly none before on the same scale as this one.
To help us undertake this project, we assembled a group of gifted, committed and impassioned experts. Our research team included Dr. Rima Berns-McGown (Senior Project Advisor and Research Director), Mike Morden (Research Associate), Ahmer Khan (Research Assistant), and Zach Paikin and Amrita Kumar-Ratta (Research Interns). For the design, organization and analysis of a groundbreaking national survey and a series of focus groups, we turned to The Strategic Counsel, under the leadership of Chris Kelly (President) and Pam Ward (Research Lead). The commitment and professionalism of the entire team has been essential to the ultimate success of this project.
And what success it has had.
Almost two years since we began, we cannot imagine what it would have been like NOT to pursue this research. We have been overwhelmed not only at the number of Canadians who have shown interest in the project – with some 5,000 over them rushing to complete an on-line survey (resulting in an enviably low margin of error of +/- 1.46%, 19 times out of 20) – but at the enthusiastic willingness of Canadians to speak candidly about their personal experiences of and relationship to conflict. Dozens opened up in front of their peers in a series of focus groups, and some 200 individual Canadians from all across the country bravely shared their personal stories about the influence of violent conflict on themselves, on their families, and on their relationship to other Canadians in the course of comprehensive, confidential interviews with our research team. As a result, from now on, instead of relying upon assumption or anecdotes about Canadians and “overseas” conflict, academics, policy makers and media will have ready access to a treasure trove of empirical data.
And we believe that some of our findings are truly notable.
For instance, fully 1 in 5 Canadians self-describe themselves as having a close personal, family or community-based connection to one of the eight international conflicts that were the focus of our study, and well over half (57%) of Canadians believe that other Canadians “import” their overseas conflicts with them when they come to Canada. Yet, at the same time, we learned that across all of the conflicts and communities we studied – and regardless of respondents’ age or gender or religion, and no matter where in Canada they happen to live – Canadians with a strong personal, family or community connection to the conflicts we studied absolutely and without exception reject the use of violence in Canada to resolve any lingering aspects of their inter-community conflicts.
Just as notably, while we confirmed that much more remains to be done to increase inter-community trust and social cohesion among Canadians, virtually everybody we spoke with told us how living in Canada has irretrievably changed their perception of and their relationship to those conflicts that often drove them to Canada in the first place.
The very fact that so many Canadians with a personal, family or community-based connection to violent overseas conflict were willing to sit down and share their experiences and perspectives with our research team and to participate either in in-depth personal interviews or professionally moderated focus groups speaks volumes about who we are as a people. In the interests of improving life for ourselves and for those fellow Canadians we don’t even know, we are willing to divulge even deeply-held personal information about painfully sensitive subjects to relative strangers because we want our stories to help to build a Canada that works for all of us and in which we all feel we belong. We are particularly grateful to the 220 individual interview subjects who put their trust in us. Without them, this project literally would not have been possible.
The results of this project have reinvigorated The Mosaic Institute’s commitment to encouraging diaspora communities to work together across their historic divides to become part of the solution to the same overseas conflicts that are often the reason they find themselves in Canada in the first place. More than ever, we are convinced that if leaders from those communities can come to repudiate the use of violence against their former adversaries, and see their conflicts differently by virtue of living side-by-side in a society that is steeped in strong human rights principles and practices, they can also be motivated to demonstrate their shared commitment to building peace through pluralism “back home”.
As you will read in our report – which we have entitled The Perception & Reality of “Imported Conflict” in Canada – we Canadians are a complicated, complex assemblage of people with an all-too-common history of suffering and trauma, yet we have somehow managed to organize ourselves into a functioning, peaceable society fundamentally committed to the celebration of difference and both the pursuit and the promotion of peace. In other words, we may be marked by our connection to conflict, but we are not defined by it.
There is still much more to be studied and learned about how our relationship to conflicts from around the world has influenced the country we are, and the country that we aspire to become. In the meantime, however, we hope you find that this report adds value to this important area of inquiry.
Project Lead & Executive Director
The Mosaic Institute