A Review Of Multiculturalism In Canada History Essay

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This paper discusses multiculturalism as Canadian official policy and also its politics for it involves far more than an ideology or ethical approach to diversity, in practical results that may even damage Canadian polity due to an air of divisiveness more than unity. Examining the goals and results of multiculturalism one gains a sense of Canadian polity as already rather varied, just as one sees the more political intentions of an approach that can seem Divide & Rule in other clothing, new Canadians especially apt to be localized, even ghettoized, by a presumption of their membership within a particular community of origin. Such distinctions may complicate unnecessarily the nature of a Canadian society sprinkled cross a vast country of distinct regions, its people of very different origins, the newcomer perhaps gaining more from whatever allows a steady adjustment to Anglophone or Francophone Canada, or both.

Multiculturalism as Presented

Supporters of official multiculturalism suggest that it is a mandatory requirement for all advanced democracies in the 21st century. (Kymlicka:1995) If one views the model of globalization and high mobility, multiethnic and multiracial communities forming across the world, one believes that multiculturalism's regard for difference will allow this interaction to be harmonious. However, detractors refer to a 'mosaic madness' that cannot possibly achieve the ideal wanted and also point to questionable points attached to Multiculturalism of which some supporters may be less aware. (See Bibby:1990) Canadians can fail to see the strong role played by multiculturalism's official communities in electoral processes, in effect, 'buying' blocs of ethnic community votes. This has been discussed popularly as a 'divide and conquer' approach that minimizes integration into mainstream politics as the newcomer is encouraged to rely upon the organized community as its source of political advice. Policy that is meant to glorify difference and diversity may actually create distinction, if not prejudice, in that there is less incentive for members of different communities to mix, find common ground, to view one another as fellow Canadians, regardless of their different origins.

One also spots rather an 'industry' of writing on diversity as though a 'problem' when Canada has long contended with arrivals from different cultures that have gradually adjusted, and when the 'problem' is asserted to be solved by an official program that some see to discourage adjustment and settlement, in time, embracing a Canadian culture made of various influences. (Fleras & Elliott:1992) This is fascinating to consider in the city of Toronto where approximately half of a population of 3 millions was born somewhere beyond Canada. Perceptions of situation can be quite different, often skewed, notions of who has power or wealth prone to whatever has been learned within a community of origin that may offer few perspectives. If one speaks with new Canadians, there can be astute awareness in some communities of what governments may attempt in dealing with 'official' or 'recognized' communities, stating that their culture is something they keep alive in their homes but that they wish to join in Canadian society, not in an ethnic segment.

In the last years, the Liberal Party worked hard to attract the interest of Algerians living in Toronto's Parkdale area, most surprised when this informal community said it did not wish an Algerian community centre and that it favoured a Moroccan independent candidate aligned with the New Democratic Party. A typical Algerian, educated in Arabic, French and English noted how living through a civil war, then as refugees in France or elsewhere in Europe, caused a degree of political shrewdness and Canadian Algerians knew to well the techniques of ethnic brokerage attempted by the local Liberal party. Ethnicity, like religion, in their view was not a good foundation for politics or representation. The Liberal Party's way of brokering immigrant communities was plain to the people in question.

Multiculturalism that is said to enable adjustment to Canada is seen by critics as keeping groups insular, removed from one another and unaware of what they or their children must do to succeed in the generic society. For immigrants from ethnically divided societies, wanting to adjust to a Canadian culture and identity, multiculturalism can seem to discourage this activity, an assumption present that one should adhere to 'one's own' although emigration may have involved a strong wish to leave behind a place of origin and embark on something different.

Where do the 'non-ethnic' fit in?

Multiculturalism tends to minimize groups present for perhaps centuries in Canada. (Howard-Massman:1999) By no means every community is recognized and organized. For instance, one finds no recognized Scottish bloc and there is a tendency to refer to Aboriginal Canadians as a mere 'community' when in fact a population of varying nations and cultures sharing a special relationship with the crown in a status like no other Canadian. The Aboriginal experience has been unique, filled with reversals owing to federal policies, paternalism and results of the Dutch, French and British conquest of North America to induce significant displacement and general disadvantage. Nonetheless, a visitor to Toronto could gain the impression that Native Canadians were merely another organized community, no information explaining their special status, privileges or different situations in Canada. Similarly, the newcomer learns nothing of people of French or British descent whose ancestors may have lived in what is now Canada since the early 17th century. One sees how multiculturalism is geared to 'new' Canadians, that it really does not glorify all cultures equally, or tell sub-communities what it is that must be done if their children are to succeed in the so-called 'mainstream' society.

When asking different persons in central Canada how their different ethnic communities were recognized, there were numerous answers, often in reference to original refugee migrants assigned services of their own as needed to deal with hundreds of new arrivals unable to speak an official language of Canada. Others referred to cultural entrepreneurs that worked for recognition. The expression of 'vote bloc' was used without shame in accounts of how Canada came to feature its official Italian or Portuguese or Somali communities. When asking individuals involved in official communities whether their involvements helped them to adjust to Canadian society they spoke instead of how one could subsist within one's community of origin, have politics explained to one, and obtain other advantages. One sees the function of earlier community associations taken on by publicly supported 'official' groups. Richard Gywnn criticized the tendency for ethnic leaders of such communities to keep their memberships separate, away from each other. (1995:234) Life in Canada is to be life in a 'community' manufactured to receive the newcomer. While it is ventured that ethnic Canadians choose whether to join in organizations of the kind or not, the realities of being a refugee arrival of a non-English-speaking immigrant mean that if one wishes resettlement assistance, this is to come from a particular community's offices as means for some groups relatively little choice, at all.

If one needs assistance, as in information concerning the school system, approximate costs of living, or must locate housing, healthcare and emergency funds, one is more or less compelled to be affiliated with the community to which one is said to belong. Neil Bissoondath's work of the early 1990s, reproduced in 2002, Selling Illusions - the Cult of Multiculturalism in Canada, induced sometimes extreme responses in readers agreeing strongly with his positions taken or those denouncing all that Bissoondath had observed as an early 1970s immigrant from Trinidad. Bissoondath wrote compellingly of an "undeniable ghettoization". (2002:111) He noticed an idea of "life transported whole, a little outpost of exoticism preserved and protected" towards reduced interest in exploring and embracing Canadian culture or customs, after perhaps many years in Canada in persons who still did not view themselves as Canadian. (2002:110)

Myths of Multiculturalism

Bissoondath also rejects how multiculturalism has become a racket that exaggerates differences between groups, as opposed to promoting a sense of shared humanity. (2002:98) Gwyn also noted the ghettoization of multiculturalism that could amount to a form of apartheid, the new Canadian never really joining in social or cultural life, especially with Canadians of longstanding. (1995:275) Canadian multiculturalism includes a notion upheld by the uninformed that before the 1980s adoption of the Multiculturalism Act (1985/1988) that new arrivals were forced, somehow, to assimilate. Actually, Canada preferred a motto of unity in diversity as compared to what was expected of immigrants to the United States where a 'melting pot' model was most important. New arrivals made a basic choice of adapting to English-speaking or French-speaking society with the expectation that at least one official language would be learned, families retaining their culture of origin, in the home.

Those to glorify multiculturalism tend to stress the hardships faced by 'visible' minorities as compared to a "mainstream" Canadian culture that is rather a misnomer if one has lived in any Canadian city or larger town in the later 20th century. If this 'white' mainstream exists any longer it is most difficult to spot anywhere on the Toronto transit system, in the city's different universities, colleges, schools, hospitals, or government offices, or other workplaces. There is also a tendency to claim that this "mainstream" society is very racist, or has been extremely racist and exclusionary, as puzzles newcomers having known life in different parts of the United States or the United Kingdom. The politically correct depiction of Canadian "mainstream" society seems to keep persons within their community of origin, too, discussed as blocks 'of colour' and failing to note that the allegedly racist 'mainstream' has supported governments to promote high non-Western immigration. Another by-product of official multiculturalism is its way of keeping immigrants within the large cities to which they first came, small towns or provincial cities referred to as though places of much exclusion and abject racism with one's ethnic fortress in Toronto or Ottawa, Montreal or Vancouver, as the only safe location.

Racism is said to have different forms from ordinary prejudice and discrimination to the so-called systemic racism which means that groups less established in Canada over a long period of time, lo and behold, are less visible in different occupations and organizations. When groups are identified by race as in the notion of a unitary 'black' community one finds a paradox in the different identity and sense of belonging of the Canadian Black community descended from fugitive slaves to reach British North America, generations ago, and more recent arrivals from the Caribbean and Africa after the 1960s, culturally and historically different but asserted to be an official and unitary 'community'. Persons of East Asian descent who could face extreme exclusion in the 19th and early 20th centuries often report that education and contributing to business and professional life caused them to feel something other than a visible minority though designated this way when a recognized and familiar presence for more than a century.

Communities to value education according to their cultures of origin have known upward mobility in Canada, education serving as an equalizer to points where one is not surprised by the diversity of persons one encounters in professional or skilled or propertied settings. In this light, one wonders about the racism and exclusion said to block the progress of 'minorities' and definitely before the day of official multiculturalism that can seem, in worst cases, to really mean a variety of multi-racialism. Bannerji asserted that non 'white' persons were not well represented in Canadian universities as faculty, particularly if women. (1991) On the other hand, one is less clear as to what in particular irks minority scholars, how much is the nature of academic culture, in the first place, or how to account for the often stellar success of minority individuals within academia should there be such racist exclusion. One is left with questions to do with how many scholars 'of colour' have had careers in British or German universities, in societies known to be far more xenophobic, then looking to the careers of Amartya Sen of other notables pondering how chilly the reception has been, over all, for non-Caucasian scholars. Is it a significant problem or one of chilly culture, in an institution noted for chilly culture? The issue grows murkier too when one considers once very anti-Semitic Western cultures in which members of the Jewish community were familiar in teaching institutions.

Multiculturalism and the Ease of Life for 'Whites'

Multiculturalism laments immigrant experience forgetting that the vast majority of Canadians

are immigrants, or descendants of immigrants, so that what is faced as an arrival of the early 21st century is difficult, but by no means the experience it was 50 years ago, or 100 years ago, or at different points after 1630 or so. In worst form, there is the belief that the newcomer is severely disadvantaged. When speaking to new Canadians who employ others, a question of how often they hired 'old' Canadians drew a puzzled response. There is a significant mythology of people of British ancestry having an easy time in Canada, preferred for employment, earning higher amounts and entitled to all sorts of "privileges". If one has volunteered in facilities for homeless people one sees that most of the 'homeless' are persons born in Canada who happen to be Caucasian or Native Canadians. Nevertheless, there is a myth of the 'white' and born Canadian having an easier time in finding secure or well paid or government employment that is most questionable if visiting a civil service facility or examines affirmative action programming.

There can be no definition made of what kind of 'white' person has "privilege", it just is. The former Minister of Multiculturalism, Sheila Finestone, once said that Canada had no national culture as enraged various sectors of the population. Indeed, it is ludicrous to presume that people having lived in proximity for generations in Canada do not feature shared cultural attributes, attitudes, values or shared ideas of what is to be cultivated or what is to be discouraged. Unfortunately this knowledge, unrecognized by Finestone, can offer helpful clues for newcomers otherwise consigned to one ethnic ghetto or another. For instance, in smaller communities it is custom to include everyone at Christmas functions regardless of their religion or avowed atheism. Christmas is a time for hospitality as a feature of local cultures that may or may not pertain to a family's religion or the degree to which the Christian religion is practised. Remembrance Day is observed and in much of central Canada, St. Patrick's Day, along with dozens of formal and informal practices that scholars living in large urban areas may miss.

Unfortunately, multiculturalism can promote a feeling of separation as though one would not invite others to a function held by one's community, although this sense of friendliness and extending oneself to others can be what longstanding Canadians admire and hope to see.

Rhoda Howard-Hassman stressed the reality of 'Canadian' as an ethnic category often ignored with implications for both national unity and multiculturalism. (1999) The new Canadian 'helped' by multiculturalism does not obtain the same sense of achievement in overcoming timeless challenges of migration and resettlement, turning to new work, improving his or her English or French, seeing that children know the customs or attitudes to allow easy friendships with Canadians of different backgrounds and learning about the society joined. The challenging, creative process of embarking on Canada is reduced to a matter of persons being shunted off into one ghetto or another as both Gwyn and Bissoondath describe.


Multiculturalism has defects, however admirable its original ideas and helpfulness in a society that is diverse, regionally dispersed and as new immigration continues from every continent. At the same time, multiculturalism as practice can have the effect of failing to enable adjustment, obscuring the nature of the surrounding society and producing barriers in notions to do with other communities. Political Correctness has had its influence, too, towards notions of a 'white' and always privileged Canadian mainstream that is forever dominant, and somehow conspiring against ethno-racial minorities. Multiculturalism in its publicly funded sub-communities as courted by politicians seems dangerous as an indication of low political development to promise ongoing distinction and isolation, as opposed to fostering efforts to adapt and learn, in time, realizing that one has become Canadian. Unity in Diversity, or Divide and Manipulate?