Ivana Caccia, Managing the Canadian Mosaic in Wartime: Shaping Citizenship Policy, 1939-1945 (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010). 359 pages.
Reviewed by Mario Nathan Coschi (McMaster University)
Ivana Caccia’s Managing the Canadian Mosaic in Wartime examines Canadian government policies concerning ethnic minorities during the Second World War. While many existing works center on the marginalization of certain ethnic groups deemed a threat to national security, Caccia focuses on attempts to mobilize ethnic minorities to support the war by integrating them into the national fabric. During the war, Caccia contends, with the pressing need to marshal all of Canada’s resources to support the war effort, including human resources, the issue of integrating ethnic minorities became a matter of national concern. Hitherto, policy-makers had seen the issue as a local one, affecting only places where there were a large number of immigrants. (p. 4) She therefore studies the advisory Committee on Co-operation in Canadian Citizenship (CCCC) and its administrative Nationalities Branch, part of the Department of National War Services, which were established to promote good relations between the government and ethnic minorities and secure the participation of the latter in the war effort. Caccia examines the papers of the politicians, government officials, and other elite men who were involved with the CCCC and Nationalities Branch found at the Library and Archives of Canada. She argues that, during the war years, these men “produced and legitimized a new discourse of national self-identification and put in place institutional structures to serve as vehicles for its validation,” which paved the way for the creation of a distinct Canadian citizenship after the war. (p. 8)
Although N.F. Dreisziger argues that there was no debate over how to integrate the various ethnic groups into Canada’s social fabric, Caccia maintains that this was not the case. (p. 6) While policy-makers held differing attitudes towards ethnic minorities, the direction they took was also influenced by the need to balance conflicting goals such as winning the war, integrating “foreigners,” defending a Canadian “way of life,” and guarding against Nazi and communist sympathizers while avoiding alienating Canada’s ally, the Soviet Union. Thus, there was no consensus over how the integration of ethnic minorities was to be accomplished resulting in policies that were at times ambivalent. Along with these concerns, simple pragmatism played a role in determining how the government dealt with ethnic minorities. Officials, for instance, chose Tracy Philipps to head up the Nationalities Branch, despite the fact that his paternalistic approach differed from that of top policy-makers, partly because he was ready, willing, and able to take on the role. That he came recommended by British authorities also worked in his favour. (p. 112-114) Conflicting personalities, budgetary constraints, illness, and frequent personnel changes also influenced the operations of the CCCC and Nationalities Branch.
Caccia’s work is, however, too focused on a small handful of intellectuals, particularly Tracy Philipps, in striving to create a new national identity during the Second World War. She devotes an entire chapter to detailing the career and life experiences of Philipps prior to his arrival in Canada in 1940. She argues that his career, which took him, in various capacities, across Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, influenced the controversial paternalistic approach he took to dealing with ethnic minorities while heading up the Nationalities Branch (p. 89). Strangely, while she goes into great detail about the operations of the Nationalities Branch during Philipps’ tenure, Caccia gives comparatively short shrift to the period after his unceremonious departure in May 1944, which she discusses briefly in the last half of the final chapter. During this period, the Nationalities Branch, which was renamed the Citizenship Division, began to focus on citizenship education as a means of integrating newcomers and preparing for a peacetime mandate.
Even when she discusses broader forces such as changing public attitudes towards racial or ethnic difference, Caccia is too narrowly focused on the role of a small handful of elites. Caccia primarily examines the papers of figures such as Philipps rather than the ethnic groups with whom they interacted. As a result, she pays little attention to the actual objects of the government policies in question, the Canadians of non-British, non-French origins. She contends that, at the time, “the voices of ethnically marginalized Canadians were not part of the mainstream political discourse” and so as a result they seldom appear in her book (p. 9). When they did “speak publicly on their own behalf,” Caccia suggests that it is because they had been “awakened” to do so by Philipps and the Nationalities Branch. (p. 159) The most vocal ethnic group in Caccia’s book are Ukrainian communists. They opposed Philipps because of his strident anticommunism and opinion on the future of the Ukraine rather than because they articulated their own views on a unified Canadian identity and how best to attain it. She only briefly mentions the Canada Press Club which included members of the ethnic press and sought to promote national unity both during the war and beyond (p. 156-157), or the Canadian Unity Council, which was created by several ethnic organizations and whose leaders resented Philipps’ paternalistic Nationalities Branch and felt they could provide a more effective alternative to it. (p. 195) In her conclusion, Caccia contends that public recognition that ethnic minorities, as well as women, needed to play, and actually did play, a vital role in the war effort brought about a rethinking of their status and roles as citizens. Could this be, at least in part, because these ethnic minorities and women began to demand equal recognition as citizens in view of their contributions and sacrifices during the war?
Managing the Canadian Mosaic in Wartime provides insight into the inner workings of a government office and the many factors, both macro, such as changing public attitudes, and micro, such as conflicting personalities, which helped shape government policy. What remains to be done is a fuller appreciation of how ethnic Canadians played an important role in shaping the discourse of national self-identification, rather than being an inert mass until spurred into action by members of the Canadian political elite.