150+ Canadians Day 58: Multiculturalism

Image credit: wilderdom on flickr

Multiculturalism contributes to peace as a beacon which policy and culture can move towards.

Canadian multiculturalism is fundamental to our belief that all citizens are equal. Multiculturalism ensures that all citizens can keep their identities, can take pride in their ancestry and have a sense of belonging. Acceptance gives Canadians a feeling of security and self-confidence, making them more open to, and accepting of, diverse cultures. The Canadian experience has shown that multiculturalism encourages racial and ethnic harmony and cross-cultural understanding. – http://www.cic.gc.ca/

Canada was the first country in the world to adopt multiculturalism as an official policy, at least in name, in 1971 by Pierre Trudeau’s government. However multiculturalism as a concept, as well as the accompanying policy and cultural shifts spurred by it, go back a bit further.

The idea is to celebrate the distinctiveness of multiple cultures while sharing the same geographical area, as well as provide them with opportunities to share with eachother. In contrast, the opposites of multiculturalism would be social integration, assimilation or racial and ethnic segregation. Multiculturalism has also been compared and contrasted to the largely American notion of the cultural melting pot, in which distinct cultures sharing an area are intended to gradually “melt together” into a harmonious whole.

So unlike the melting pot, multiculturalism can perhaps instead me imagined as a “salad bowl” or “cultural mosaic”.

Examples of the impact of this policy would be:

  • Canada currently has one of the highest per-capita rate of immigration in the world.
  • Canada resettles over one in ten of the world’s refugees.
  • Approximately 41% of Canadians are of either the first or second-generation.
  • One out of every five Canadians currently living in Canada was not born in the country.
  • Canada receives its immigrant population from over 200 countries of origin.
  • Economic policy plays a role in multiculturalism by inviting those with bright minds, skills, or investments to immigrate
  • Policies supporting global asylum seekers and refugees allow a percentage them to escape deadly circumstances
  • Cultural policies and practices provide a framework by which new and existing Canadians can support and celebrate each other

So if a policy of multiculturalism indicates an intention to equally celebrate racial, religious and cultural backgrounds, then we have certainly come a long way since 1971, but we still have a long way to go.

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy describes multiculturalism as:

The view that the various cultures in a society merit equal respect and scholarly interest.

Further to that, the Government of Canada’s website says:
By (adopting multiculturalism as a policy), Canada affirmed the value and dignity of all Canadian citizens regardless of their racial or ethnic origins, their language, or their religious affiliation. The 1971 Multiculturalism Policy of Canada also confirmed the rights of Aboriginal peoples and the status of Canada’s two official languages.
So as long as issues like missing and murdered Indigenous women, un-prosecuted police brutality, prolonged immigration detention, prolonged boil-water advisories on reserves, blatant xenophobia, weapons sales to oppressive regimes, and other systemic discrimination still exist, we definitely cannot boast to have “Achieved Multiculturalism” per se. It, however, has certainly helped lay the groundwork so Canada, its newcomers and Indigenous communities can get closer towards true equality and reconciliation over time.
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