Canada has long been the United States' virtually invisible
neighbor to the north.
But suddenly it is coming out of its shell - and sharpening an
identity that increasingly looks like a slice of Europe on America's
It's moving to become the third nation on the planet to legalize
gay marriage. It's primed to decriminalize possession of small
amounts of marijuana. And it vocally opposed the US war on Iraq.
These moves reflect a growing cultural assertiveness - especially
on the importance of tolerance and multiculturalism, which are
enshrined in Canada's version of the Bill of Rights. The shift is
increasingly putting the US and Canada - the world's biggest trading
partners - on a cultural collision course.
"We look at you Americans and see the [National Rifle
Association], rigged elections, Christian fundamentalists, and pre-
emptive wars," says Michael Adams, author of the best-selling "Fire
and Ice: The United States, Canada and the Myth of Converging
Values." By contrast, Canada is a place that prizes "peace, order,
and good government." It's "a social welfare state where we raise
taxes to pay for transit, housing, and more," he says.
Canada's newfound assertiveness stems, in part, from a growing
confidence in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, adopted in 1982.
It's akin to the US Bill of Rights. But it guarantees, for instance,
equality for women, aboriginal groups, and minority-language groups.
It's led to Canada even having a cabinet position for
And it's one reason for Canada's wide-open immigration policy.
Fully 18 percent of Canadians are foreign born, compared with about
10 percent of Americans. In Toronto, 40 percent of residents are
Recently Canadian courts have also interpreted the charter to
guarantee rights for gays, including the right to marry.
All in all, "It's not just that Canadians are comfortable with
diversity," it's something they are increasingly proud of, says
Andrew Parkin, codirector of the Center for Research and Information
on Canada in Ottawa. "They're now saying this is what makes them
proud to be Canadian."
While the two nations also have their commonalities, Canadians
often have defined themselves as "not American." Now more and more
they're stressing their unique societal openness along with other
intrinsic values. The United Nations, for instance, has frequently
declared Canada home of the best quality of life in the world. …