Hundreds of Canadians are participating in the Canadian Difference project, an initiative of Trent University's Canadian Studies Department, which engages people in an unprecedented national conversation about what makes Canada…Canada.
A bilingual, interactive website, launched in July 2016, Canadian Difference provides resources and a forum for the discussion, which explores how Canada has succeeded, or failed, at accommodating diversity across the country.
"The idea was to develop a constructive conversation that builds understanding of how the process of mutual accommodation works," said Dr. Heather Nicol, acting director of the School for the Study of Canada at Trent, who heads up the Trent team managing the project. "How can examples of successful accommodation help us to move forward in addressing important issues, such as our relationships with First Nations and new Canadians?"
The Trent team is comprised of faculty, staff, and graduate students in Canadian Studies and Indigenous Studies programs. "The grad students, in particular, are playing an active role in the project, from assisting with topic selection, facilitating the discussions, and managing social media," said Professor Nicol.
Currently, there are seven distinct online discussions taking place, based on one of three major themes: First Nations, Muslims in Canada, and Canada in the World. The discussions are moderated by subject matter experts, influential thinkers, and key community members.
"With the help of our amazing moderators we have had some very interesting conversations which have been both engaging and enlightening," Prof. Nicol said. "The discussions around Muslims and gender, as well as First Nations and the law, have been spectacular.
The Trent team is currently working on expanding the project beyond the website forum, including an online course to engage people in the theme of mutual accommodation, as well as workshops and conferences.
Prof. Nicol points out that the Canadian Difference project provides an opportunity for Canadians, from all backgrounds, to pose particular questions on a salient topic, and to interact with subject matter experts and fellow Canadians about ways that things can be improved. "If there is something they are wondering about, or have an opinion on, they can help build interest in that topic," she said.
She is encouraging anyone with an opinion to share to join the conversation. "Joining in is an opportunity to help shape something positive," she said. "The more people participate, the more the site becomes a forum for thinking and discussion and that's important."