From what you’ve seen, how is Canada’s multiculturalism received abroad?

This is one of those funny anecdotes. I was at an event hosted by the Pakistan High Commission here in Ottawa. I met someone new, who shook my hand and said, ‘Thank you for organizing this event.’ I was born and raised in Canada, but someone there shook my hand and thought I was a part of the organizing community, rather than the government of Canada. I don’t think you can take offence to that because it’s an honest mistake — the world is different now, Canada is a different country from what it was 50 years ago. I think that’s something to be celebrated. Occasionally, yeah, it leads to confusion or interesting encounters, but I think that’s actually really rich and a neat thing.

Being born in Singapore and ethnically Malay, people often think I’m Malaysian. [But] we’re moving along as a society, as an international community, to look at things differently and start recognizing that, hey, beyond nationalities and statehood etc., we’re individuals, and we’re persons, in spite of where we’re from.

Whenever you go to any multilateral forum, I know a lot of Canadians will do this, they’ll just put on the Canadian pin, because it helps and creates less confusion. People are genuinely curious anyway, about, well, ‘you’re Canadian, you’re not what I would think of as Canadian normally.’ You can take it one way, and can think ‘wow, these people don’t get what Canada is,’ or you can take it as they’re really interested in figuring out how Canada works, as a multicultural society.

Is there anything you’d like to see the department do to be even more representative?

I know Mahmud mentioned geographical representation, that’s a big thing, in terms of making sure that we truly represent Canada from coast to coast, from north to south, and on top of that, that we’re also representing different values and different experiences and linguistic abilities, to understand more in the diplomatic relations that we do.

We could probably do a little bit better in terms of raising awareness amongst Canadians about how much we would like them to be part of the public service. It’s tough, because there’s a tendency to recruit among the Ontario-Québec region. So maybe we could do a bit more of awareness raising, reaching out to those provinces that are a bit further away, but also looking at our internal policies and looking at how the system in place may not make it easy for those who aren’t well off economically to find their way here.

Even taking a step back from the department — something like Aboriginal representation is something that I think there has been a lot of effort on over the years through employment equity, and through recruitment and encouragement and various different programs.