National Post · Nov. 16, 2011 | Last Updated: Nov. 16, 2011 4:08 AM ET
Among Canadian immigration opponents, there is a popular narrative that goes like this: Newcomers to this country want our generosity, but not our values. They arrive on our shores with their hands outstretched, refuse to learn English or French, go on welfare and reject Canadian liberal values in favour of retaining their old-world backwardness and bigotry.
As it turns out, for the vast majority of immigrants to Canada, none of this is true.
Earlier this year, Jacob L. Vigdor, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a conservative American think-tank, published a study titled Comparing Immigrant Assimilation In North America And Europe. In it, he examined the most recent data on the rates of assimilation of immigrants to Austria, Canada, France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. His conclusion: "Immigrants from Canada rank first in terms of overall assimilation."
(For the purposes of measuring assimilation, Mr. Vigdor examined economic, civic and cultural indicators - including educational attainment, earnings, occupational prestige, employment status, labor-force participation, citizenship attainment, military enlistment, language skills and the decision to marry a nativeborn spouse.)
Our status as number-one assimilator manifests itself for almost every single geographical category of immigrant - including Chinese, Southeast Asian, African and Eastern European. Mr. Vigdor also found that Muslim immigrants to Canada rank first in overall assimilation as compared to Muslim immigrants to other Western nations.
"Two facets of Canadian immigration policy may help explain the rapid integration of foreigners into Canadian society," he concluded. "First, the path to citizenship in Canada is short and easily travelled.... Second, Canadian immigration policy places a distinct emphasis on attracting skilled migrants. Thirty percent of foreign-born adults in Canada have college degrees, while the rate is 23% in the United States and 10% in Spain and Italy.... The link between immigrants' level of education and their degree of assimilation is strong."
A bar chart contained in Mr. Vigdor's report is especially telling: Canada is the only nation to score higher than 80 on his assimilation index. The United States - and every studied European nation except Portugal - scores below 60. More than 80% of Canadian immigrants naturalize within 10 years of coming to Canada. In the United States, the 80% level isn't realized, on average, till immigrants are stateside for four decades.
"Multiculturalism" may exist as a popular catchphrase in academic circles and some forms of government literature, but the reality of Canadian life, especially since the Tories came to power, is that newcomers to this country are expected to adapt to our values, not the other way around.
All this helps explain why Canadians react with so much revulsion and shock when some unassimilated immigrants do violate our norms - by shrouding women in burkas, imposing female genital mutilation on infants, sending teenage girls abroad for forced marriages, or, most tragically, killing their daughters in the name of "honour." These are the vile exceptions to an otherwise benign rule.
It is wrong to say, as some commentators suggest, that honour killings have become "common" in Canada. Nor is it true that they are exclusively associated with Islam: The scourge of honour killings originates in pastoral, tribal regions across the Middle East and South Asia, including Christian, Sikh and Hindu societies. In these areas, honour killings are motivated by the idea that women have no independent will or identity, and are merely an extension of a clan's status, expendable once they "fail" in that role.
This is the anti-Western mindset that infects Mohammad Shafia, the Afghan-born patriarch who allegedly organized the drowning of three of his children, along with his unloved first wife, in the Rideau Canal. To his thinking, his daughters' adoption of Western dress and dating customs was a form of "treason." After his daughters' deaths, he called them "filthy" "whores." In words that will echo long beyond his trial, he declared to his surviving family: "Nothing is more dear to me than my honour."
News reports of the Shafia trial are upsetting and awful - never more so than when the court heard that the father had asked "the devil" to "s--t on their graves." Yet there also is some edifying value in this spectacle for that minority of Canadian immigrants who approve of Mr. Shafia's repellent attitudes. Throughout the trial, Mr. Shafia, his son and his second wife are not shown to be "honourable" in any way. Rather, they are portrayed as figures of absolute contempt who, if convicted, will lose everything they have.
In some Third World countries, "honour killings" are treated lightly by courts. That is not the case in Canada. Just the opposite: Most of us see retrograde notions of "honour" as an especially horrible motive for murder. As tragic as the deaths of Mr. Shafia's wife and daughters were, the ensuing trial at least allows Canadian society to drive home a powerful message to those few immigrants who need to hear it.