German Chancellor Angela Merkel has declared multiculturalism in Germany a failure. She is so right.

In the process, however, Canadian commentators have leapt on her words to draw ominous lessons for this country. Reader, beware. They are mostly wrong.

Yes, we have immigrant integration challenges — but nothing like Europe's.

First, Canadians and Europeans have vastly different concepts of what is immigration.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks at the youth congress of her Christian Democratic Union party in Potsdam in October 2010, where she said attempts to integrate foreign workers have utterly failed. ((Thomas Peter/Reuters))

Canada is in a handful of "settlement immigration" countries in the world, along with the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand.

We go out and actively recruit future citizens who, in principle, buy into the deal that is Canada. Immediately on arrival they receive exactly the same civil rights as any other Canadian.

Of course, we also process (badly) refugees and welcome the immediate family of the recently arrived. But these folks constitute a minority of our immigrant intake.

Europe, on the other hand, basically since the economic recession of the 1970s, has seen "zero immigration" — to quote a popular slogan there — in the Canadian sense.

With the exception of multinational corporate executives and high-end scientists, European countries do not seek economic or other future citizens.

So when politicians like Angela Merkel talk about the "failure to integrate" into European society, who are they referring to? Refugees and temporary workers.

On the move

Everywhere you look today, people are on the move, from wars, hopelessness and struggles of one kind or another.

The beneficent and prosperous social democracies of the European Union are favoured destinations for many.

But the problem for Europeans is that they never asked for refugees, even though Germany has asylum provisions that are among the most generous in the world.

In vigorous economic times, though, they did seek out temporary guest workers but never really tried to integrate them.

Lacking the dynamic of recruitment, of sought-after economic immigrants who are consciously adapting to a future of citizenship, Europe's refugees and temporary workers wash up on pretty barren shores as far as their welcome is concerned.

The mosaic factor

There is another big difference with Canada: Our society has become genuinely pluralist.

European societies once were as well: Visit a German cemetery from the First World War and you will see dozens of graves with Stars of David, patriotic, assimilated Germans who were Jews.

Few Jews remain in Germany or Poland or Hungary — where the Nazi insanity shipped millions to their deaths, many even in the dying weeks of a war that was obviously lost.

Nor are there many Italians left in what is now Slovenia, or Hungarians in Slovakia, Germans in the Czech Republic, or Turks in Bulgaria, etc. A massive ethnic cleansing in once pluralist societies created, what the late historian Tony Judt called in Postwar, a "Europe of nation-states more ethnically homogeneous than ever before."


Members of the Civic Alliance of Roma people cover their faces as they protest the French government's expulsion of migrant Roma workers in September 2010. The European Commission has asked France to prove the expulsion meets EU rules aimed at protecting marginalised groups. (Radu Sigheti/Reuters)

Today, the vastly expanded European Union likes to think of itself as the very definition of pluralism. But that is only sort of true.

After centralizing economic and a few other powers, the EU left issues of identity and social policy largely to the member states. It also gave national parliamentary systems the monopoly on electoral politics of any consequence.

The result? Xenophobic, right-wing, anti-Brussels populist parties sprang up in almost every country. Identity-based, they are also anti-immigrant and often Islamophobic.

The wrong lessons

Why Islamophobic? Because it is a reaction to the many refugees and temporary workers who tend to be relatively backward Muslims from such places as the Rif Valley in Morocco or the Anatolian countryside of Turkey.

Their country ways clash with the more sophisticated European populations who never sought them in the first place.

Several years ago, when Canadian embassies were still empowered to get the Canadian story out to the world, we sponsored a conference in Brussels on respective experiences in pluralism.

There, a haplessly sincere Danish minister of immigration claimed Danish feminists were outraged by the village ways of these Muslim men: The sight of their burka-clad wives traipsing behind their husbands insulted four generations of Danish women who had fought to make Denmark synonymous with gender equality.

I went to see for myself and found he had a strong point, not to mention the sort of welfare-shopping that clearly takes place among savvy refugees. Needless to say, the anti-immigrant Danish Peoples Party thrives

You can see similar stories in Holland, France, even Britain, in the form of many second- and third-generation Muslim boys, unintegrated and hostile.

So, yes, Chancellor Merkel is right to talk about "failure," not just for Germany but for Europe at large.

But we would be mistaken to draw the wrong lessons for Canada.

We choose most of our immigrants and they choose us, knowing, we hope, who we are. In principle, we can ensure they commit before admission to our Charter rights and obligations.

What's more, as opposed to most European countries, which tend to receive refugees from a few dominant, often Islamic, countries, ours come from the world's full mosaic and include Hindus, Sikhs, evangelicals and, for that matter, secular immigrants of all kinds.

Germany represents a specific failure of integration: Turkish kids in Germany generally go to schools with other Turks, watch Turkish TV and don't connect to Germany adequately.

Denmark, on the other hand, has earned much higher marks for integrating newcomers into its public school system and labour markets. But the Danes, too, still have concerns and are planning further legislation that will insist residency permits will only be available to those able to contribute to Danish society.

Canadians take a broad view of the requirement to contribute, perhaps too broad. Many of the immigration reforms brought by Stephen Harper's government are overdue and wrongly resisted by Liberal and NDP critics still in the thrall of retro-immigration lobbies.  

But we would be wrong not to be proud of what we have accomplished in pluralistic Canada. Angela Merkel wasn't talking about us.