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Communities from Victoria to Churchill to Fredericton have chosen not to celebrate Canada Day, as the country grapples with the reality that hundreds, probably thousands, of children lie buried in unmarked graves at former residential schools.

And yet, despite our legacy of abuse of Indigenous peoples, and other acts of racially based violence, a newly released global survey reveals that Canada is less caught up in culture wars than most other countries around the world.

An Ipsos poll of 28 countries, in which people were asked “to what extent do you agree or disagree that [their country] is divided by ‘culture wars,’ ” found that Canada ranked 21st, with only 28 per cent of the population identifying such a divide.

People feel differently, however, once you go beneath the surface. When asked specifically about class, race, ideology, religion and urban versus rural, a majority of Canadians agreed that these issues are divisive.

“We think our foundations are pretty solid, but we see cracks forming,” said Mike Colledge, president of Ipsos Public Affairs Canada. While this country enjoys a global reputation for tolerance and diversity, “we’re starting to realize our publicity isn’t as true as we’d like it to be,” he said in an interview.

Ipsos surveyed just over 23,000 adults online in developed and developing countries. The survey, which was weighted to reflect each country’s demographic profile, does not report a margin of error. It was conducted last December and January and released late last week.

The results confirm that the United States is a profoundly polarized country. Fifty-seven per cent said America was immersed in a culture war. South Africa and India are also deeply divided. Canada was tied with Singapore and Sweden in the bottom third of the pack.

As the country with the highest percentage of people who have a postsecondary degree, few Canadians (33 per cent) ascribe educational divides as a source of tension. And only a minority of Canadians discerned tensions between old and young (38 per cent) and between men and women (37 per cent), which put us among the least divided of countries in those categories as well.

But a majority agreed that other sources of tension are part of Canadian life: between more and less affluent, different ethnicities, progressives and conservatives, city dwellers and country folk, and among religious faiths.

And Canada is on the front line in one aspect of the culture wars: freedom of speech versus what used to be called political correctness. On a scale of 0-7 – with 0 as “people are too easily offended” and 7 as “need to change the way people talk,” Canada ranked fifth, with 45 per cent thinking people were being too sensitive. That was behind Britain, the United States, Australia and Sweden. (That said, 48 per cent inclined toward the “need to change the way people talk.”)

For Sabreena Ghaffar-Siddiqui, a professor of sociology at Sheridan College, the self-perception that Canada is less embroiled in culture wars than most countries reflects a certain hypocritical Canadian exceptionalism, in which “We don’t have issues, we’re not racist, we’re all nice to each other, we’ve very polite, we say sorry all the time.”

Percentage of Canadians who say

there is a great deal or fair amount

of tension between...

69%

...rich and poor

64

...different ethnicities

...immigrants and people

born in Canada

63

...those who are more socially

liberal, and those with

more traditional values

61

59

...different social classes

...people who support

different political parties

59

...the metropolitan elite and

ordinary working people

56

53

...different religions

38

...old and young people

37

...men and women

...those in cities and

those outside of cities

36

...those with a university

education and those

without one

33

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: IPSOS

Percentage of Canadians who say

there is a great deal or fair amount

of tension between...

69%

...rich and poor

64

...different ethnicities

...immigrants and people

born in Canada

63

...those who are more socially

liberal, and those with

more traditional values

61

59

...different social classes

...people who support

different political parties

59

...the metropolitan elite and

ordinary working people

56

53

...different religions

38

...old and young people

37

...men and women

...those in cities and

those outside of cities

36

...those with a university

education and those

without one

33

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: IPSOS

Percentage of Canadians who say there is a great deal

or fair amount of tension between...

...rich and poor

69%

...different ethnicities

64

...immigrants and people

born in Canada

63

...those who are more socially liberal,

and those with more traditional values

61

...different social classes

59

...people who support

different political parties

59

...the metropolitan elite and

ordinary working people

56

...different religions

53

...old and young people

38

...men and women

37

...those in cities and

those outside of cities

36

...those with a university education

and those without one

33

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: IPSOS

But on questions of race and class, “when you peel back and you start to look deeper, that’s when the truth comes out,” Prof. Ghaffar-Siddiqui told me.

For Lisa Chilton, a historian who studies gender and migration issues at University of Prince Edward Island, the real concern is not the percentage of Canadians who identify this area or that as a source of tension, but poor communication among those on various sides of issues.

“The lack of conversation across these various divides is absolutely intolerable and cannot be justified,” she told me. “If we can’t have conversations across different cultures, across religions, across genders, then we’re lost.”

On this most pensive of Canada Days, all of us can look back at a dominion whose past, despite much progress and many accomplishments, also includes patterns of abuse, neglect and oppression of the vulnerable. We may be less culturally divided than most countries, but that doesn’t change the need for honest reflection.

As Prof. Ghaffar-Siddiqui put it: “That very uncomfortable telling of the truth is the only way forward, right now.”

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