What does Multiculturalism mean today?
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April 24, 2017
OverviewCanadians 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 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 election in the US, and in light of the recent events in Europe regarding refugees and common governance, what about Canada? What does multiculturalism mean for Canadians today? show less
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 However, after years of engaging with the voices of people of colour, whether through historical documents, academic texts, literature, theatre, and art, I’ve come to think differently.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.
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Mutual Accommodation: A Better Way of Doing Things?
Let’s discuss one of the most profound facets of the Canadian experience – mutual accommodation. At key moments in Canada’s past, the need to accommodate difference – between Canadians, with our neighbours, and with our northern geography – has...Explore and discuss