Misunderstanding Canadian Multiculturalism : Joseph Heath

While I would characterize some of the issues differently, a good overview piece on Canadian multiculturalism and Quebec by Joseph Heath of UofT.

The defining debate for the Canadian policy was triggered in 1990, when a Sikh officer in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) requested a modification of the official uniform so that he could wear a turban instead of the traditional Stetson hat. While this created an enormous backlash in English Canada, observers were quick to point out the good news – to wit, that Sikhs in Canada wanted to join the national police force. The accommodation that was being requested – which the multiculturalism policy was broadly understood to license – was quite different from the type of accommodations requested by many Aboriginal groups, or indeed by the province of Quebec, which wanted to opt out of the RCMP entirely and create its own police force.

This revealed an important ambiguity in the concept ‘reasonable accommodation.’ The kinds of accommodations requested by national minority groups, such as French Canadians and Aboriginals, were aimed at changing things so that they would not be required to integrate into majority institutions – that is, so that they could instead create their own, parallel set of institutions. The demand for modification of the RCMP uniform, however, was a sign of an immigrant group wanting very much to participate in majority institutions, and requesting a change in the dominant practices in order to remove a barrier – conscious or inadvertent – to its full integration. The fact that such demands were being made was a sign that the multiculturalism policy was in fact working.

I think he misses some of the nuances between interculturalisme and multiculturalism but is correct that the similarities outweigh the differences (see Table 9: Diversity Paradigms,  Table 10: Multiculturalism/ Interculturalisme Comparison).

Misunderstanding Canadian Multiculturalism : Global Brief.

And some interesting commentary by Heath on a debate between Will Kymlicka and David Miller, on national vs subnational identities:

It is not the case that by adopting a national identity organized around the federal government, immigrants are simply buying into the national-building project of English Canadians. Walking around a major city like Toronto one could get that impression, but that is precisely because there are so many immigrants in those cities. Many older English Canadians are profoundly uncomfortable with the federal project, as witnessed by the fact that the current federal government – which rules, I should note, with essentially no support in Quebec – is very actively trying to undermine it. Thus there is, in Canada, a distinct national identity, at the federal level, which cannot simply be identified with the national identity of either English or French (or, obviously, Aboriginal) national groups. And so to the extent that immigrants gravitate toward that identity, they are not necessarily “picking sides” in the age-old disputes between Canada’s founding peoples.

More thoughts on Kymlika

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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