Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Commissioning "Founding Races" and Settler Colonial Narratives

Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Commissioning "Founding Races" and Settler Colonial Narratives

Article excerpt

Eve Haque's pioneering work, Multiculturalism within a Bilingual Framework, invites us to think about royal commissions and the role that they play in politics, public policy and administration. But, uniquely, this book also reveals the central role of royal commissions in narrating a racial order and settler colonialism at pivotal times in Canadian history and politics. This important and timely study provides critical insights into Canadian debates on race, language, culture and, specifically, the intertwined concepts of multiculturalism and bilingualism. In this review I focus on two themes in Haque's work in order to reflect upon the following: first, the role of royal commissions, and specifically, the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, in narrating the nation, a racial order, and settler colonialism; second, the use of contested concepts such as "founding races," "other ethnic groups" and "newcomers" and the ways in which the B and B Commission attempted to stabilize and normalize these inherently unstable concepts and identities precisely at a time when they were losing their coherence. Finally, this review concludes with the urgent need to confront Canada's colonial present and to decolonize white settler colonialism.

Haque's book engages in a close textual reading of the B and B Commission's use of language, nation, and race. She deconstructs the dividing practice evident in the constitution of separate and unequal groups like "founding races" and "other ethnic groups (Haque 2012, 4-5, 50-60) and the silence, if not narrative expulsion (Sassen 2014), of indigenous peoples in this official effort to narrate a nation. In the process, the book illuminates the under-studied role that royal commissions often play in narrating the settler nation state (e.g., Blake et al. 2011) and, also, in narrating a hierarchical racial order and colonial present. Haque also maps what she calls the durability of the white-settler bilingual/bicultural formulations in the present, and its contemporary mode of ordering racialized immigrant Others" (see 9-30).

Haque's meticulously researched book draws on interdisciplinary scholarship in the humanities and social sciences in order to remind us that royal commissions and commissions of inquiry have served many purposes in Canada, among them helping to build social knowledge and social consensus. They have been used to help policymakers clarify how we define a political problem or craft a social policy solution. Academic engagement, especially among political and social science scholars, has been central to the relative success of royal commissions as a governing instrument. "The scale of the research, the co-optation of the scores of scholars from all parts of the country to this endeavour, the publicity associated with their reports--these and other features of commissions of inquiry made them a central mechanism in the reconceptualization of Canadian federalism" (D. Smith 2010, 37). Jane Jenson refers to them as "commissioning ideas" and notes that they "set out the terms of who we are, where we have been and what we might become" and they are the "locales for some of the major shifts in the ways that Canadians debate representations of themselves, their presents and their futures" (Jenson 1994, 39-40; Haque, 30). Haque's work makes clear that "public inquiries do not just gather facts; rather, they authorize certain forms of social discourse, which ultimately become truths because of the supposed neutrality of the inquiries themselves" (Haque, 24; Anderson and Denis 2003, 381).

The book reminds us that royal commissions have played a major role in public policymaking since before Confederation. The British colonial government established various inquiries including Lord Durham's Inquiry on the causes of two rebellions in Lower and Upper Canada in 1837 and 1838 (Haque, 43, 86-7, 144, 265-8). In Chapter 3, "Preliminary Hearings and Report" (52-92), Haque discusses the B and B Commission's Preliminary Report, which compares the situation in the 1830s with the conditions that gave rise to the B and B Commission (87). …

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