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What does Multiculturalism mean today?

1 open discussion • Led by Stephanie Dotto


Canadians often say that they live in a multicultural society or a cultural mosaic. The idea of multiculturalism is embedded in the Canadian constitution and in Canadian legislation. Popular opinion suggests that Canada is a welcoming and accepting multicultural nation – filling the bill for Mutual Accommodation. But historical events, current political and social practices suggest that Canada is not as welcoming as we might think both for newcomers and Indigenous Peoples. After the Trump... read more
Expert Insights

As a white, middle-class Canadian growing up in the suburbs of Vancouver, I fully bought in to the notion of Canada as a peaceful, multicultural mosaic unique in the world for its welcoming and tolerant attitude. Even though I learned in high school about historical injustices, I still believed in Canada as a country that had progressed beyond those episodes, and I clung tight to that belief. However, after years of engaging with the voices of people of colour, whether through historical documents, academic texts, literature, theatre, and art, I’ve come to think differently.

The brilliance of multiculturalism as a government policy lies in its appeal to our better natures, our belief in ourselves as open-minded, accommodating, and benevolent. The failure of multiculturalism lies in its inability to acknowledge Canada’s history as a colonialist state that followed a policy of cultural genocide against Indigenous peoples, and exploited the labour of marginalized populations for the profit of an elite few. Nor does it acknowledge the continuing legacy of racism and colonialism present not just at the anti-Muslim protests cropping up disturbingly around the country, but also in the deaths of Sammy Yatim, Abdiraham Abdi and Colten Boushie; the Temporary Foreign Worker Program; and the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women, among many other examples.

In its emphasis on “food, fashion, fun, and festivals,” multiculturalism also tends to obscure one of the most important contributions immigrants, Indigenous peoples, and people of colour have made to Canada: our civil and human rights. Whether it was post-World War II immigration reform, the introduction of labour protections and unions, or the ending of residential schools and the pass system, it took people from marginalized populations speaking bravely (and often at great personal expense) about the experiences of their community to drag the Canadian government, kicking and screaming, to higher ground. It would do well to consider the very ethical ways marginalized populations have shaped Canada, as well as to consider the ways that multiculturalism falls short of an ethical commitment to redressing the deep inequalities and injustices of the Canadian past and present.

Back to Discussions Resources & News Articles

The following resources and news articles are key to a good understanding of the subjects being discussed - as identified by the numbered chat bubbles shown below. We encourage you to review them.

Total Resources (13)
For Discussions
Maybe Canadians aren’t more enlightened about immigrants, after all
Published: February 7, 2017 • • 0 DR
What It Takes to Truly Be ‘One of Us’
Added: March 6, 2017 • Author: Bruce Stokes • 0 DR
NCCM welcomes passage of Motion 103
Published: March 23, 2017 • • 0 DR
Is Canada's Multicultural Identity Only Skin-Deep?
Published: March 23, 2017 • • 0 DR
The Wrong Kind of Nationalism: Canada will not go unscathed by Brexit
Added: April 3, 2017 • Author: Laura Thistle • 0 DR
Our constantly evolving Canadian values
Added: April 3, 2017 • Author: Jennifer Ditchburn • 0 DR
The Debate Over Multiculturalism: Philosophy, Politics, and Policy
Added: April 3, 2017 • Author: Irene Bloemraad • 0 DR
Refugees Face Enormous Barriers in Canada, Particularly Women (in Opinion)
Published: April 4, 2017 • • 0 DR
Panel: How to improve media coverage of the refugee crisis
Published: April 5, 2017 • • 0 DR
Multiculturalism: Success, Failure, and the Future
Added: April 6, 2017 • Author: Will Kymlicka • 0 DR
Creating the Canadian Mosaic
Added: April 6, 2017 • Author: Ryan McKenney and Benjamin Bryce • 0 DR
1 Ottawa school + 110 refugee children = new life lessons
Published: April 11, 2017 • • 0 DR
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