Canadian Institutions as Meritocracies, Canada has No History of Colonialism? And Other Myths

When Maclean’s magazine’s annual University Ranking was released in November 2010, reporters Stephanie Findlay and Nicholas Köhler interviewed students, professors and administrators concerning campus racial balance and its implications. The resulting story was titled: “Too Asian?”

Among those interviewed were Alexandra and Rachel, graduates of Toronto’s Havergal College, an all-girls private school. When deciding which university to attend they

didn’t even bother considering the University of Toronto because, according to the students the “only people from our school who went [there] were Asian. All the white kids … go to Queen’s, Western and McGill.”

A worldwind followed. Comments posted on the Internet and in other media suggested that by publishing the article, Maclean’s viewed Canadian universities as “Too Asian,” and/or that the editorial staff and writers held negative views of Asian students.

The editorial staff at Maclean’s promptly spoke out in response: “Nothing could be further from the truth,” they said, explaining that the title, ‘Too Asian?’ was a direct quote from the name of a 2006 panel discussion at the meeting of the National Association for College Admission Counseling “where experts examined the growing tendency among U.S. university admission officers to view Asian applicants as a homogenous group.”

The editorial staff went on to explain that

the evidence suggests some of the most prestigious schools in the U.S. have abandoned merit as the basis for admission for more racially significant—and racist—criteria.

They go on to state that “the trend toward race-based admission policies in some American schools [is] deplorable.” They then claim that Canadian universities select students regardless of race or creed.

In fact, this stance was distinctly stated in the original article:

Canadian institutions operate as pure meritocracies when it comes to admissions, and admirably so,

Findlay and Köhler wrote.

This Canadian cannot help but be reminded of the prevalence of such myths, which feature both nonsequitur and grotesque denials of historical (and current) injustices. Despite claims of race-neutrality as a preferred ideal, Canada is actually a racialized society – “race” remains a key variable in influencing people’s identities, experiences, and outcomes.

In addition to Canadian institutions purportedly operating as pure meritocracies when it comes to admissions, it seems that we have no history of colonialism either (insert sarcastic tone here). “We also have no history of colonialism,” says Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

In 2009 the Canadian Prime Minister made the above declaration. And let us remember that this is the same Prime Minister who in 2008 made an official government apology for the residential school system that aimed explicitly to obliterate Indigenous culture and identity.

Such outrageous claims are evidence of profound ignorance and pervasive racism-fuelled historical amnesia and denial, which continue to plague Canadian society.

Kyla E. Doll and Crystal S. Van Den Bussche are undergraduates at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada. Kimberley A. Ducey is a faculty member in the Department of Sociology, University of Winnipeg.


  1. edna

    In the U.S., we have had similar reports of the “Asian invasion” of universities. Most Asian American students, however, are concentrated in a single state, California. Ironically, for some time, in California, the policy of the University of California in its admissions determined that Asians were not considered minority students, an approach that for some time period made it much more difficult for Asian American students to be accepted. This policy like other faulty policies that essentially penalized Asian students for their success and denied their minority status, was, as I understand, changed in the wake of the 2003 Supreme Court decisions. Nonetheless, it points to a kind of double jeopardy for Asian American students not exacted on any other minority group.


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