Opinion: True interculturalism starts with multiculturalism

Not quite that simple. While multiculturalism does recognize, acknowledge and accommodate different cultures and religions, this is all within a common legal and constitutional framework.

While interculturalism makes a more specific reference to integration into Quebec francophone culture and society, multiculturalism is about integration into one of the two official language groups, and thus has a similar hierarchy, but one that is more open and flexible in its implementation and evolution:

Those who say they support interculturalism but reject multiculturalism appear to misunderstand both. Interculturalism is not possible without the state’s recognition of diversity of cultures and multiculturalism.

Canada is officially multicultural within a bilingual framework, which demonstrates it is an all-inclusive country. Multiculturalism was institutionalized to recognize diversity and equalize various cultural strands so as to arrive at a more congenial and less hierarchical society, one that does not relegate any to second-class citizenship. It nurtured different cultures, while simultaneously protecting the rights and welfare of all. It provided a context in which disempowered and marginalized communities could demand equality. Multiculturalism stands a step above biculturalism because it means pluralism. While nurturing individual cultures, it ensures preservation of the common good when it comes to rights, liberties, health care, education, shared culture and artistic expression.

In increasingly distancing itself from multiculturalism, the Quebec Liberal Party allies itself with the nationalists’ view that culture, values and the very identity of the francophone majority are threatened when citizens of minority backgrounds, who are visibly and culturally different, don’t conform to the tenets of the majority. The Quebec Liberals, or at least the youth wing, seem to imagine that proposing an interculturalism law will attract the francophone vote, facilitate cultural intermingling and actualize integration without conceding the centrality of the majority culture.

The Quebec brand of interculturalism seeks to integrate minorities, through the mixing of cultures and use of a common language. However, evidence shows that such a model relies heavily on the centrality of a dominant culture, and thus is hierarchical. Equality is not inevitable. It should also be noted that integration also requires an equitable delivery of social, political and economic rights. People of colour remain overworked and underpaid, lack employment equity and professional recognition, are racially profiled and attacked, denied common services, non-represented in public offices and denied jobs due to language, culture, religion and attire.

An interculturalist model, one that is practised in Quebec, is rooted in the idea that the state protects no particular culture but ensures the welfare, rights and common good of its citizens. However, a multiculturalist model, one that recognizes specific cultures, will lead to intercultural relations without compromising the rights, welfare and common good of all, even if the achievement of a discrimination-free society remains elusive.

Quebec’s antagonism to multiculturalism is historical. Multiculturalism is seen as a ploy to defuse the separatist movement. Premier René Lévesque described multiculturalism as “folklore” — saying “the notion was devised to obscure ‘the Quebec business,’ to give an impression that we are all ethnics and do not have to worry about special status for Quebec.”

That view reduced cultures of the Other to mere exoticism, which reveals a lack of understanding of the multiculturalism Lévesque claimed was a ploy against his struggle. For his part, Premier Jacques Parizeau unmasked the hidden divisiveness with his comment about “money and ethnic votes” after the 1995 referendum.

A dozen years later, Hérouxville xenophobe André Drouin advanced a code of conduct that warned against covering faces, stoning adulterous women, committing genital mutilation and dousing women with acid. That and other controversies of the day were enough to prompt Premier Jean Charest to create the Bouchard-Taylor Commission on reasonable accommodation in 2007. That was followed by Premier Pauline Marois’s Charter of Values, and now the Coalition Avenir Québec’s passage of Bill 21.

Majoritarianism is a hierarchical concept asserting that the natural owner of the state is the dominant majority. A majoritarian democracy conveys a message to minorities that they live on tolerance, and it empowers majority to feel superior.

Interculturalism can work only if it relies on multiculturalism. If not, it will be homogenization condemning minorities as inferior.

Source: Opinion: True interculturalism starts with multiculturalism

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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