|The world depicted in P. D. James’ recently adapted novel, The Children of Men, is ravaged by a pandemic of infertility. A mysterious plague has left women barren, schools empty and streets quiet. In James’s vision, there is no hope for the future because, without children, there simply is no future.
With last month’s first look at the data from the 2006 Census, Statistics Canada’s portrait of the nation drew uncomfortable parallels with James’s imagined dystopia. Although the release of this data was widely reported, most news outlets simply borrowed their headline from the first line of the Stats Can press release: “Between 2001 and 2006, Canada’s population increased 5.4 percent.” No mention was made of the fact that “net international migration fueled two-thirds of Canada’s population growth.”
In other words, the population of Canada is in decline. The widely reported “growth” is merely a statistical illusion – not the result of Canadian births, but rather, the influx of immigrants. This telling detail should sound alarms and spark debate. Instead, it will merely provoke another digression into the merits of lax immigration laws and not an examination of the moral crisis that makes this situation inevitable. Such policies are not the real issue and merely accelerate the onset of the complications that they temporarily conceal: the plunging Canadian birthrate.
Immigration is not the issue. The problem is not with “new Canadians,” but precisely, that we now think of migrants in those terms. “New Canadians” should not come to us from distant lands, but from delivery rooms. Immigrants to this country are new Canadians, notnew Canadians. Citizens should not be created only in the oath of citizenship, but rather within the vows of marriage. The new life of a nation should be the product of love and commitment. Too often, it is not.
Thus, the physical plague that James’s novel depicts actually hints at a deeper, more somber sickness – the contagious attitude that sees new life as a burden, not a joy. Children, then, mark the unpleasant (and unplanned) cessation of that interminable adolescence which only ends with middle age, if ever. But such an attitude betrays the very hopeful joy that it seeks so desperately to satisfy. The promise of beauty is only truly fulfilled with the birth of the child.
When the Canadian novelist Yann Martel described Canada as a “great hotel,” he unwittingly hit upon a biblical echo, relevant to this current crisis: there is no room at this inn, which turns away the pregnant woman with disdain. That hotel wanted no part in the miraculous birth; similarly, Canadians turn away from the miracle of every birth. As Hannah Arendt put it: “The miracle that saves the world … from its normal, ‘natural’ ruin, is ultimately the fact of natality … Only the full experience of this capacity can bestow upon human affairs faith and hope.”