Cardozo: Canada is celebrating 50 years of multiculturalism, a policy that is working but still needs lot of work

Another article mentioning the 50th:

Multiculturalism is working when the top Canadian health officials giving a recent national briefing on COVID-19 were Dr. Theresa Tam, Dr. Howard Njoo and Dr. Supriya Sharma.

Multiculturalism is working when our top-selling Canadian authors include Thomas King, Dionne Brand, Esi Edugyan, Souvankham Thammavongsa, Michelle Good, Joy Kogawa and Jesse Wente.

Multiculturalism is working when our top Canadian athletes include Andre De Grasse, Leylah Fernandez, Patrick Chan, Mo Ahmed, Bianca Andreescu, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Milos Raonic.

Multiculturalism is working when our Members of Parliament have included Marci Ien, Navdeep Bains, Lori Idlout, Olivia Chow and Ya’ara Saks.

When merit is allowed to work all sorts of talent rises to the top.

Fifty years ago on Oct. 8, 1971 Canada ushered in the world’s first Multiculturalism Policy. As a federal initiative it has always been small as government programs go, but has always punched well beyond its weight. 

Importantly, it has created an ethic, a value, a defining characteristic of Canada that is known across Canada and also across the world. 

Take the TTC bus along Wilson or Jane Sts. and you see a veritable reflection of the world. Take a walk through a food court in a Bay St. office tower, same thing. But it’s not the world, it’s Canada.

Often times people point to the colourful symbols of diversity as its great benefit to Canada: the song and dance, the food and restaurants, the summer festivals, and exclaim how wonderful it is.

To be fair, multiculturalism did begin as a fairly celebratory idea. “Celebrating our differences” was one of the early slogans. And politicians of all parties, then, as now, are always only too happy to attend cultural and religious events. 

But a lot of our success exists because of immigration and the multicultural society we have built. Our health care and seniors care systems only exists because immigrants are the undisputed backbone of it, with doctors, nurses, pharmacists, personal support workers pulling together to save Canadian lives.

The bulk of low paid grocery store and plant workers are immigrants from many countries, working to get our food packed and on store shelves. And all these diverse people work together relatively harmoniously, because they accept the diverse society we have built. 

That’s the good story.

Then there’s another side. Here are the questions worth asking:

  • Why are all the low-wage and essential professions filled by immigrants?
  • Why do many of these workers still face racism in the workplace?
  • Why is there still systemic racism in so many systems — police, armed forces, health care to name three.
  • While many racialized Canadians are highly qualified, why are there many fields where they cannot advance, in the public and private sectors? 

Multiculturalism was designed to be an organizing principle that allows for diverse peoples to thrive together, respecting the diversity that exists, while also focusing on the common ties that bind. And that’s not simple. And despite its shortcomings it still works

So here we are at 50? A multicultural society that does work well in many ways and is a beacon to many societies. But which also has many flaws and many unfinished initiatives towards equality.

Today in 2021, we find a world where divisions with countries the world over are more divided than ever before. 

And here’s the growing chasm in Canadian society and many other societies: On the one hand is the assimilationist view point … make us great again! Time to stand up for our history (the predominant version of it), and stop catering to the growing number of calls for equality.

On the other hand is the growing determination for the rights of the nonprivileged. There are number of calls for equality from different perspectives and they add up to a sizable number of people who more strongly and loudly articulating their demand to be heard and responded to.

As we get more serious about who we are as a country and about our values, we find lip-service isn’t enough. A starting point is acknowledging our past, be that residential schools, or slavery. Yes it existed in Canada.

It means sharing the economic pie, paying better wages, stopping the systemic racism, so that we can have more Theresa Tams, Patrick Chans, Michelle Goods and Olivia Chows.


Statement on the 50th Anniversary of the Multiculturalism Policy

PM statement. No statement by Conservatives (not surprising given silence in platform) or NDP (more surprising given extensive section in platform):

The Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, today issued the following statement on the 50th anniversary of Canada’s multiculturalism policy:

“On this day in 1971, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau announced multiculturalism as an official government policy – the first of its kind in the world – to recognize the contribution of cultural diversity and multicultural citizenship to the Canadian social fabric.

“The diversity of Canadians is a fundamental characteristic of our heritage and identity. For generations, newcomers from all over the world, of all backgrounds, ethnicities, faiths, cultures, and languages, have been coming to Canada with the hopes of making it their home. Today, in addition to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples, people from more than 250 ethnic groups call Canada home and celebrate their cultural heritage with pride – they are at the heart of our success as a vibrant, prosperous, and progressive country.

“Canada’s multiculturalism policy was implemented based on the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism. These recommendations were made upon the urging of diverse ethnocultural groups throughout Canada, a reminder of the lengthy and ongoing struggle for equality in this country. The policy promotes respect for cultural diversity, acknowledges the freedom of all members of Canadian society to preserve, enhance, and share their own cultural heritage, and considers their cultural contributions throughout the country as essential to Canada. The policy received constitutional sanction in 1982, with an explicit recognition that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms should be interpreted in a manner consistent with the multicultural heritage of Canadians. Multiculturalism was then further enshrined into law in 1988 through the passing of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act,which was adopted unanimously by Parliament. This was an important step toward promoting the full and equitable participation of individuals of all backgrounds in shaping a strong, diverse, and inclusive society.

“While the policy continues to give vitality to Canadian society, reflect its multicultural reality, and inspire people and countries around the world, we still have work to do to make Canada inclusive, fair, and equitable for all. This year, several disturbing and divisive incidents motivated by hate have reminded us that prejudice, systemic racism, and discrimination continue to be a lived reality for many Indigenous and Black peoples, religious minorities, and racialized communities. Many also continue to face barriers to social and economic participation, which have only gotten worse during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Today, Canada strives to be a respectful, prosperous, and compassionate country thanks to the tremendous contributions of people of all backgrounds who call it home. As we continue to build a more inclusive and open country, we recognize that a multicultural society is a work in progress. We must continue to promote the values of respect and inclusion that the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, the Charter, human rights legislation, and many other commitments have sought to promote. Along with Canada’s strong multiculturalism policy, we must also recognize the rich cultures of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples, and our commitments to respecting their Aboriginal, treaty, and human rights and advancing reconciliation. This requires us to confront painful truths about our history and society, learn from them, and take meaningful action together to address systemic discrimination and ensure everyone is treated with respect and able to participate equitably in economic, social, cultural, and political life in Canada.

“On behalf of the Government of Canada, I invite all Canadians to find out more about multiculturalism in Canada, celebrate the cultural diversity that makes us who we are, and continue to learn from one another. By appreciating our differences as the source of our strength and resilience, we can build a truly inclusive, vibrant, and multicultural society.”


Wright: Fifty years on, Canada’s #multiculturalism policy remains a pillar of its diversity

Another commentary on the anniversary of the multiculturalism policy:

Fifty years ago today, on Oct. 8, 1971, Canada became the first country in the world to adopt what Pierre Trudeau described as a “vigorous policy of multiculturalism.” Canada’s identity “will not be undermined by multiculturalism,” Mr. Trudeau told the House of Commons, because “cultural pluralism is the very essence” of its identity.

In practice, multiculturalism has meant a series of government programs to fund research, support curriculum development, launch anti-racism initiatives, integrate immigrants and refugees, and promote intercultural and interfaith understanding. It has also translated to continued support for immigration: as written in a Migration Policy Institute study, “Canada may be the only Western country where strength of national identity is positively correlated with support for immigration, a finding that is difficult to explain except by reference to multiculturalism.”

How did such a policy come to be? In broad strokes, it was a product of the post-1945 rights revolution that saw historically disenfranchised groups dismantle inherited hierarchies and demand basic citizenship rights. But in order to exist, the notion of biculturalism first had to be dispelled. Indeed, Trudeau’s policy departed from the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, appointed by Lester B. Pearson in 1963. “For although there are two official languages,” Mr. Trudeau insisted, “there is no official culture.”

From the moment it was constituted, the commission was criticized by non-English and non-French Canadians for incorrectly framing the country it had been tasked to study: Canada was not bicultural, they said, and never had been. Demographically, it had always been multicultural, something Commission co-chair André Laurendeau quickly learned. In his diary, he recounted a January 1964 dinner in Winnipeg, by any definition a multicultural city. Seated next to an Icelandic doctor and a Ukrainian war hero, he found himself “exposed to a veritable assault of multiculturalism” – so much so that he and his colleagues almost missed their plane.

And so it went, in hearing after hearing, especially in Western Canada: bilingualism was one thing; biculturalism was quite another. In its preliminary report released in 1965, the Commission indicated as much when it summarized the views of what it called Canada’s other ethnic groups: “If two cultures are accepted, why not many?” It was a compelling question, but not one the Commission could answer. Four years later, in 1969, it made a series of recommendations – for example, that the National Museum of Man, now the Canadian Museum of History, be given sufficient resources to carry out projects related to “cultural groups other than the British and French” – but it stopped short of recommending official multiculturalism, believing that was outside its mandate.

Mr. Trudeau, however, was not bound by the Commission’s mandate. Nor were the leaders of Progressive Conservative Party and the New Democratic Party. For his part, Robert Stanfield applauded the prime minister’s “excellent words” while David Lewis – who had been born David Losz in a Russian shtetl and who knew the sting of anti-Semitism – struck an eloquent and, perhaps, personal note, referring to cultural diversity as “a source of our greatness as a people.”

To its critics, however, multiculturalism was Liberal pandering to ethnic voters. The Globe and Mail referred to the portfolio of the Secretary of State for Multicultural Affairs as “an insulting political bone thrown at Canada’s ethnic communities” in a 1974 editorial, adding that it wasn’t sorry to see it folded into another portfolio.

But Mr. Trudeau’s commitment to multiculturalism wasn’t cynical. It stemmed from years of thinking about diversity and its accommodation. Federalism was one answer. Bilingualism was another. And multiculturalism yet another. He even included it as an interpretive clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Successive prime ministers followed Mr. Trudeau’s lead in non-partisan fashion. In 1988, Brian Mulroney passed the Canadian Multiculturalism Act. And in 2002, Jean Chrétien declared June 27 Canadian Multiculturalism Day, turning multiculturalism into a national symbol, like hockey and maple syrup.

After making his announcement fifty years ago, Mr. Trudeau flew to Winnipeg where, on Oct. 9, he spoke to the Ukrainian-Canadian Congress. The Canadian mosaic, he said, “and the moderation which it includes and encourages, makes Canada a very special place.” After all, “Every single person in Canada is now a member of a minority group.”

That was true in 1971. It’s even more true in 2021: Canada will welcome 401,000 immigrants this year, a number not seen since the record set in 1913.

Donald Wright teaches at the University of New Brunswick and is the author ofCanada: A Very Short Introduction.

Source: Fifty years on, Canada’s multiculturalism policy remains a pillar of its diversity