Canada Reads came to a close today and Kim Thúy's debut novel Ru (translated by Sheila Fischman) won Canada's annual "title fight."
I have to say, that at the beginning of the week, I thought that The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King was the sure choice. When it got knocked out on Tuesday, everything became uncertain. It seemed as if it was all up in the air.
As it narrowed down to Raziel Reid's When Everything Feels Like the Movies and Kim Thúy's Ru, I thought Reid's novel would be the clear winner. With the focus of "which book breaks barriers," the controversy surrounding the novel and ferocious opposition to its subject matter would make it a clear choice. There were clear barrier makers and breakers with When Everything Feels Like the Movies and Ru did not have that distinction for me.
However, my mind was changed over the course of the the last day of the competiton, when Cameron Bailey brought my attention to a much less visible issue, one that needs to be addressed: Immigration. When Bailey said, "A lot of Canadians have become tired of being nice to newcomers," that's when it all sunk in.
The recent niqab debate in the House of Commons illustrates how resistant some Canadian immigration policy makers are to letting newcomers in.
Immigration Minister, Chris Alexander has called the hijab an "indefensible perversion of Canadian values" and Harper himself said last week that Islam is "anti-women," as well as that the niqab is "unacceptable" to the majority of Canadians.
These are not isolated incidents either.
Last week, Conservative MP Larry Miller made offensive remarks about females who desire to wear the niqab while being sworn in as a Canadian citizen. He said, "Frankly, if you're not willing to show your face in a ceremony that you're joining the best country in the world, then frankly, if you don't like that or don't want to do that, stay the hell where you came from, and I think most Canadians feel the same."
This comes at the same time as New Brunswick Conservative MP and former director of communications for Stephen Harper, John Williamson, said that Canada was bringing in too many "brown people" as temporary foreign workers.
It is also important to note that over 25 years ago, Harper served as policy chief for the old Reform Party, which voted to prevent Sikh RCMP officers from wearing turbans.
It seems that Canada has a deeply engrained political issue with immigration.
Can a book change that? Can it break that barrier? Perhaps, but not on its own.
While a book like Ru will not open every Canadian's mind, it can serve to keep these issues alive.
Good literature can open minds.
So, let's see if Ru can help break these barriers through inspiring change. The book needs readers, it needs passion, it needs action, it needs you!
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