WORKING TO MAKE CANADA A TRUE COMMUNITY OF COMMUNITIES
“Writers and poets have always searched for the Canadian identity; almost instinctively, Canadians have tended to say that they are French Canadians or English Canadians or Ukrainian Canadians or whatever, or simply new Canadians. But what is Canada itself? With the charter in place, we can now say that Canada is a society where all people are equal and where they share some fundamental values based upon freedom.”
Pierre Elliott Trudeau
Classical democratic theory always viewed democracy as a set of institutions, which both promoted and depended upon the full rational development of the individual. For the political observer of the Canadian society it is clear that we are a nation of many nationalities, many races, many religions, bound together by a single unity, the unity of freedom and equality. As we have entered the new millennium, it is more important that the place of every minority group in our democracy not be obscured by ignorance or prejudice. It is also important that members of every minority group have the ability to discuss and consider together their special problems so that these problems may find expression for the benefit of our broader society.
It is also common knowledge that the mainstream society considers with an open and sympathetic mind the problems and difficulties of the various minority groups in order that the democratic system will benefit them to solve the problems within the social perimeter of our communities. It is obvious that the political, social and economic progress of our society in general depends upon the achievement and the well being of all sections of a multicultural community, regardless of language, ethnicity, color or place of origin.
This is exactly the role of the Ethnic Press of our Great Country to demonstrate that our liberties, our democratic ways of life, our freely elected representative government make it possible for us to participate, agree or disagree among ourselves over ideas and institutions without bitterness, in our mother tongue. This is in fact the secret that the various race or linguistic groups, which were divided abroad, are united here, in Canada. To this point the Ethnic Press of our Country has a history of more than fifty years, informing, educating and entertaining the community it serves.
The history of the Ethnic Press of Canada is long and complicated as our Country of immigrants has been evolving over the years from a society of two founding people (English and French) to such of multicultural and multilingual communities. It is a well known fact that at the early years of mass immigration to this Country immigrants spoke mostly in their native tongue. For example in some provinces like Saskatchewan, the majority of the citizens spoke mostly Ukrainian rather than English or French. In some areas of Ontario, German used to be the language of the majority and in some other areas the majority of the citizens understandably spoke other languages.
It is known that the first ethnic paper “DER NEUSCHOTTLAENDISCHE CALEDAR” was published in German, in 1877. Since then, other ethnic communities have managed to have publications in their own heritage language. The Canadian Almanac for 1905 listed eighteen foreign language publications in Canada. In 1911, the Slavic Press first mentioned the existence of the Ukrainian and Polish newspapers. In 1916, more foreign-language newspapers were published in the Canadian West than anywhere else in the world. By 1931, the Croatian, Russian and Slovak Press were established in Canada.
Following the huge influx of European immigrants at the end of the Second World War, a number of educated individuals realized the need for the creation of media in order to communicate with the members of their communities and express the concerns of the communities to the respective Governments in Canada. They tried to inform their fellow immigrants of the happenings in the old country as well as interpret and advise them on the ways, habits, laws, the political system, and their responsibilities towards the new country, Canada.
In 1965, there were more ethnic publications as the Greek, Italian, and Portuguese communities established themselves in great numbers in Canada. It was at this time that the first publication in Greek appeared in Toronto. It was created by Dimitri Zotos, a Greek immigrant and intellectual who realized the importance of the existence of the medium for the advancement of the few thousand Greek-Canadians into a strong community in Toronto.
1950 was the year of the creation of the Ethnic Press Association of Ontario. On March 9, 1958, the Canada Ethnic Press Federation was founded in Ottawa. It was a joint venture of the Winnipeg Ethnic Press Club and the Ontario Ethnic Press Association.
The first convention took place in February 1962 in Winnipeg. The convention was a “success” as editors from Montreal and Vancouver also participated. During the business of this convention, three more Ethnic press associations were formed: The Ethnic Press Association of British Columbia, The Ethnic Press Association of Quebec and the Ethnic Press Council of Canada (Ontario). The Federation according to its own statement was “An organization of ethnic language publications that united to serve common interests.”
In the 1980s, the Federation organized a few national conventions in Toronto, in an effort to bring under its umbrella every single one of the 120 ethnic publications that were published in the country.
During the 1990s, the federation disappeared due to cutbacks of government expenses and the lack of leadership .The only organization that managed to survive, as a representative body of this industry, was the “Ethnic Press Council of Canada”, which undertook its historical responsibilities to help build today’s Canadian Multiculturalism.
During the last 26 years, the Council’s structure, its work and approach to making Canada a true multicultural community have undergone a number of changes from in order to meet the emerging needs of the modern
Partnering with Multicultural Press Federation and about eighty other media organizations, the Council under its formal name of “Ethnic Press Council of Canada” began exercising its influence in the late 1990s, as part of a collective voice of the ethnic media. It began shaping the national debate on the kind of multicultural and multiracial society Canada should have. To that end it organized various events to sensitize Canadian society about ethnic culture and their importance in a pluralistic society. At the same time, it started serious negotiations with the various levels of government to identify the role of the Ethnic Media in the Canadian Mosaic.
In the early 90s, the Multicultural Press Federation was dissolute mainly due to the death of its principal promoters. This left the Ethnic Press Council of Canada again as the only representative of the industry and the Council became the voice of the Ethnic Media of Canada. For over six years, the board of directors carried the torch of the Council by organizing annual cultural events to promote its profile and give visibility to the Ethnic Press. Thus, through its public relations work, the Council did help to promote and shape the Canadian Multiculturalism.
The emerging issues in the new millennium in the Canadian society, taking multiculturalism one step further and integrating ethnic communities into main stream of Canadian society, needed different policy orientation and strategies. Hence, a small group of knowledgeable people in this area decided to reshape and restructure the work of the ethnic press. Among them were Thomas S. Saras, Arnold Auguste, Dr. Bhausaheb Ubale, Bill Fatsis, Hassan Zerehi, Jack Jia, Nabbil Saad, Maria Garcia, Srimal Abeyewardene, Enzo Di Mauro, Herman Silochan, and Dat Nguyen. Among other things, they accepted the challenge to shape the organization and turn it to a forum where the various concerns of each community could be discussed. The group also decided to work towards bringing all the members of the Ethnic Media together by bridging traditional enmities and antagonisms among different nationalities rooted in their conflicts and thereby
bringing former opponents here as friends.
The group’s strategy was to fold:
To build the capacity of its members by empowering them through
technical assistance, training, obtaining postal concessions and other financial and allied help;
To integrate the ethnic media into the mainstream media, thereby making the former a powerful tool to shape the tone and texture of the Canadian public policy.
To achieve these twin objectives, the Council decided to enlarge its role to encompass the electronic media. Since it is a national organization it is important that its scope and composition must be reflected in its name. As a result, its name was changed from Ethnic Press Council of Canada to National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada.
The past few years we have witnessed profound changes in conditions under which our press has operated. The post war European immigrant population has become adjusted to the new ways of life and the older generation is gradually being replaced by the young, first generation Canadians. New waves of Asian and African immigrants replaced the old European stream and the new realities have enhanced the importance of the Ethnic Press.
Eventually the Council’s work and importance have been well recognized by the governments in Canada at all levels. In this connection, an organized attempt started in order to establish contacts with the Federal and Provincial Government. During the last three years politicians like Toronto Mayor Lastman, Premier Mike Harris and Premier Ernie Eve, Ontario Opposition leader Dalton McGuinty, NDP Leader Howard Hampton, the Chief of the Toronto Police Department, Canadian Heritage Minister the Hon. Sheila Copps, Immigration Minister the Hon. Dennis Coder, The Hon. Jean Augustine, Secretary of State for Multiculturalism, the Department of National Defense, the External Affairs Canada, and others, have had interactive sessions with the members of the Council.
As a follow up of all these sessions, the Government of Canada through the Hon. Sheila Copps, Minister for Heritage, encouraged the officials of Heritage Canada, to establish a staff working group to foster close working relations with the Council. Throughout the years, it has been found that these personal contacts and discussions with the ministers and government officials have emphasized the importance of the work our publications have done, and are doing, in serving their readership, a vast segment of Canada’s citizens, whose sole source of information is a newspaper in their mother tongue. All these efforts have gained recognition of the value of our work and its place in the development of good Canadian citizenship.
The success of these collective efforts has been reflected in a number of initiatives jointly undertaken by the Council and the Department of Heritage Canada. Among them: the decision of inclusion of the members of the ethnic press in PAP (Heritage Canada Publications Assistance Program), in order to lessen the burden of postal expenditure, a privilege that has been enjoyed for so many years by the Canadian mainstream media. This is the first time in the history of the Ethnic Press of Canada that its members feel that they are treated as equal partners in the Canadian mainstream media (Anglophone or Francophone media).
By accepting this policy the Department of Heritage Canada, for the first time ever, demonstrated a real policy of inclusion of all the members of the media, giving them the opportunity to feel that they are finally included as equal members in the family of Canadian publishers and communicators.
In addition, the Department has encouraged the Council to organize an annual “ETHNOMEDIA WEEK”, in the last week of August. Apart from cultural events during this week, members of the community are recognized for their services to the community. Similarly, the department has also provided support to organize consultative conferences and a proposed National Conference of the Ethnic Press and Electronic Media, scheduled for the spring of 2004.
Through such dialogue and co-operation, we â€“ both individually and collectively – can make considerable contributions to our democracy and to the multicultural fabric of our society. Such a collective endeavor will help us prevent any form of oppression, injustice or hatred which is a wedge designed attack on our peace-loving Canadian multicultural society.
In this context, we share the vision of the late R.H. Pierre Elliot Trudeau, when he said in his Memoirs: “I feel that the Canadian people and I did dream together of such loves in challenging times – love for ourselves, love for our country, love for more peace and justice in the world. To some extent, we rebuilt, renewed, strengthened, and completed this country we all carry within ourselves.”
To that end, the Council owes to Hon. Sheila Copps, the visionary and charismatic Minister of the Crown, the great debt of gratitude for her leadership in dealing effectively with issues affecting ethnic communities, for her advice, encouragement and support to us. We are also thankful to the special team of management of Heritage Canada, for translating the Minister’s vision in more practical terms by way of their support and understanding of our difficulties and many problems, which we are facing on a daily basis.
We are equally thankful to Premier Mike Harris, Premier Ernie Eves, the Speaker of the Ontario Legislature and the Hon. Carl DeFaria, Minister of Citizenship for Ontario, for sponsoring our meetings by providing us space at the Main Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
Finally, we must express our sincere appreciation for the excellent team- work of our executive members as well as all the members of the organization for their enthusiastic participation in the various projects we have carried out all these years. Whatever has been accomplished could not have been possible without the understanding, participation and support of our members, and their publications’ editors and publishers.