"Journey to Freedom Day Act": The Making of the Vietnamese Subject in Canada and the Erasure of the Vietnam War

By Ngo, Anh | Canadian Review of Social Policy, January 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

"Journey to Freedom Day Act": The Making of the Vietnamese Subject in Canada and the Erasure of the Vietnam War


Ngo, Anh, Canadian Review of Social Policy


Introduction

On April 30th, 2015, Canada marked its first Journey to Freedom Day (Bill S-219), an Act "respecting a national day of commemoration of the exodus of Vietnamese refugees and their acceptance in Canada" (Bill S-219, 2015, p.1). I am interested in how Vietnamese subjects are now constructed under the weight of an official commemorative day and what the purpose of this Bill is for the Canadian state. I will explore this central concern by using Cold War epistemology to conduct a critical discourse analysis of the texts related to Bill S-219. I argue that this bill constructs the Vietnamese subject as a political subject in tension with those who identify otherwise and serves to erase the Vietnam War with a refocus on celebrating freedom, thereby obscuring Canada's participation and complicity in the war. This paper contributes to scholarship that views social policy as a tool for nation building and will propose Cold War epistemology as a necessary lens to fill the gaps in the Canadian critical multiculturalism literature. First, I will provide a brief demographic outline of the Vietnamese in Canada. I will follow this with a review of the main highlights of the passing of the Journey to Freedom Day Act. Next, I will review my use of critical discourse analysis of elite talk and text. A discussion of the data elaborating on the discursive themes emerging from parliamentary text reveal the ways in which the Journey to Freedom Day Act works as a producer of knowledge. Finally, I will discuss how this official misrecognition fuels community conflicts based on historical war-related identities by a state sanctioned narrative.

Vietnamese in Canada

In 2011, there were 70,725 persons of Vietnamese ethnic origin in the Greater Toronto area (Statistics Canadaa, 2011). The City of Toronto alone counted 45,270 people of Vietnamese ethnic origin with 23,575 having reported Vietnamese as their mother tongue (City of Toronto, 2012). Across Canada, Vietnamese residents ranked in the top 12 most common languages spoken at home in 5 of the 6 largest census metropolitan areas of Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, and Ottawa-Gatineau, and in the top 25 languages spoken at home nationally in 2011 (Statistics Canadab, 2011). In total it is currently estimated there are approximately 300,000 Vietnamese Canadians. During the period of 1970s and1980s, large waves of Vietnamese people migrated to Canada in cohorts, first as conventional refugees who came immediately after the end of the war in 1975/1976, and then many more arrived in the period of 1979 and 1980. This later cohort, commonly referred to as the Indochinese refugees or boat people, came as part of the 60,000 people admitted in the special immigration partnerships between the government and the public (Employment and Immigration Canada, n.d.) The identities these people occupy continue to be derived from being participants, victims, and witnesses to the civil war in Vietnam as part of the larger international Cold War conflicts. While they have physically left the site of military conflict and the Cold War, what they take up in Canada and how they fit into a western society is shaped by the Canadian state project to "settle, adapt, and integrate". The following section reviews Bill S-219 with a highlight on the some of the critiques and conflicts.

Overview of Journey to Freedom Day Act (Bill S-219)

The Journey to Freedom Day Act marks every April 30th as:

A day to remember and commemorate the lives lost and the suffering experienced during the exodus of Vietnamese people, the acceptance of Vietnamese refugees in Canada, the gratitude of Vietnamese people to the Canadian people and the Government of Canada for accepting them, and the contributions of Vietnamese-Canadian people. (Bill S-219, 2015, p.4).

This Bill was introduced in the Senate by Senator Thanh H?i Ngô of the Conservative Party on April 10th, 2014, was sponsored into the House of Commons by Member of Parliament (MP) Mark Adler of the Conservative Party on December 10th, 2014, and was adopted into law on April 23rd, 2015. …

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