Canada’s social engineers got themselves into a box by creating what the Bilingualism and Biculturalism Commission called in 1967 “an equal partnership between the two founding races.” Descendants of all other immigrants, who until then had thought of themselves as Canadians, were suddenly excluded from the new definition. To placate them, the engineers declared the country to be multicultural.

In a preview of the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ fundamental flaw (the multicult label preceded the Charter by ten years), Canadians discovered that to define is to limit. It was no longer enough to announce, as Pierre Trudeau did in 1971, “a policy of multiculturalism within a bilingual framework”; that policy would have to be reinforced. “The government will support and encourage the various cultures and ethnic groups that give structure and vitality to our society,” said Trudeau.

To suppose that a culture could not only consist of various cultural and ethnic groups, but that their variety and number could give it structure and vitality, reveals not so much an ignorance of human nature as a determination to change it. To suppose that civil servants closeted in Ottawa could support and encourage anything vital argues a faith in bureaucracy unequalled since the heyday of Beatrice and Sidney Webb. To suppose that a people whose forebears brought civilization to the wilderness could be told and retold that their inherited culture was of no account reveals an underlying aim as mischievous as it is mistaken. Former prime minister John Diefenbaker spoke truly: a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.

We know who we are. Attempts to define us are as naive as they are insulting. Nevertheless, it may be useful to consider what we are not. We are not American, nor are we English or French. We are not German or Iranian or Irish or Japanese, and all that is needed to prove this assertion is to visit the countries where those people live. They are different. This is not to say that all Canadians are the same. We are all different, too, because each of us is unique. But our several uniquenesses are overlaid by a common sense of belonging to the land we inhabit. As our forebears shaped it, so did it shape them; so did a Canadian culture evolve.

In that evolution, the land was the first of two seminal elements. The second was the history and traditions of European civilization in general and of British parliamentary government and the Common Law in particular. From Europe we inherited the accumulation of arts and sciences that marked the growth of European civilization from Greek and Roman times through the Renaissance to and beyond the Age of Discovery. From Britain we inherited a style of government that embodied two important principles: that it be elected by a free vote of the people and that both government and people owe allegiance to a constitutional monarch who symbolizes the people’s enduring traditions. The legal foundation for those traditions is the Common Law. It consists of laws and judgments that evolved over the centuries into a framework of social order to which everyone, high or low, is subject: everyone is free to do anything, except what the law forbids. Such a style of government requires that people assume responsibility for their own actions, guided by a knowledge both of their inherent rights and of their responsibility to exercise them within the law of the land.

Opposed to that style, however, and also residual from European civilization, is one that docs not admit the inherent nature of rights. According to this style, the state assumes the power to confer on its citizens certain rights that it then defines and “guarantees.” Commonly known as the French style, this shifts authority from the people to unelected judges who interpret the people’s claims to various “rights” the state has conferred and may revoke. When Canada’s style of government was changed to the French style in 1982, Canadians witnessed a remarkable event. A revolution was imposed on a free people who were denied a voice in the matter and whose elected representatives had no electoral mandate to impose it.

The history of revolutions tells us two things: first, that they are set in motion by individuals who think, in their pride, that they have all the answers; and second, that after the revolution subsides, after its excesses have yielded to the pressures of time and chance, there occurs a resurgence of the one element that the revolution failed to eradicate—the ethos of the people. That is beginning to happen in Canada.

The Canadian culture that defies definition will continue to evolve, and the synthetic culture the social engineers tried so hard to impose will retreat before the forces of common sense and private feeling.