The Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF) was created by an Act of Parliament, the Canadian Race Relations Foundation Act(1991), as part of the Japanese Canadian Redress Agreement concluded between the National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC) and the Government of Canada
The Preamble to the Act gives the context for the legislation by referencing other Canadian government commitments:
The purpose of this document is to explore the implication of these commitments for the work that the CRRF performs on behalf of all Canadians.
Significance of the References in the Preamble
The UN Convention defines racial discrimination as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life”.
The Canadian Multiculturalism Act focuses on the concept of origin, which includes the categories listed in the UN Convention. Canadian Multiculturalism is a policy recognizing the equality of individuals and communities in Canada of all origins while promoting their equitable participation in the life of the country in the context of the laws, Constitution and Human Rights of Canada.
It was unclear how Section 27 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms would be used at the time since it did not differentiate among the various cultural heritages in Canada.
Section 27 reads as follows:
27. This Charter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians.
Its main use has been to strengthen claims on the basis of freedom of religion. According to the Court of Appeal for Ontario in Videoflicks Ltd. et al. v. R. (1984), it was stated that section 27 should receive "significance" from the courts, and that the section could reinforce freedom of religion (section 2). The court noted that, if a law limits the free exercise of religion, then the law also does not promote Multiculturalism, since it affects a "part of one's culture which is religiously based." This line of thinking was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Edwards Books and Art Ltd. (1986).
In other words, the Court has held that religion could be understood as part of one’s cultural heritage. Conversely, discrimination on the basis of religion might then be understood in some cases to be a form of exclusion on the basis of origin and thus a subject of concern for Multiculturalism.
The reference to the Japanese Canadian Redress Agreement reinforces the understanding that the CRRF represents the legacy of the generosity of the Japanese Canadian community and their commitment to the principles of justice and equality for all in Canada.
The specific duty of the CRRF to report to Parliament through the Minister Responsible for Multiculturalism highlights its main connection to Multiculturalism Policy, and understanding its mandate as promoting “the full and equitable participation of individuals and communities of all origins in the continuing evolution and shaping of all aspects of Canadian society and to assist them in the elimination of any barrier to such participation”.
The specifics of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation Act further identify the main purpose in section 4 and hence the spheres of activity for the CRRF in order to promote participation and elimination of barriers to same, via:
Because of the central importance of Multiculturalism to CRRF’s mandate, it would be useful to examine the roots of this policy in Canada’s history. The underlying approach to mutual accommodation, so basic to Canadian Multiculturalism, developed over time because of the cultural diversity of the population living in the territory known as Canada today, from the very beginning, a cultural diversity that has continued to evolve and is still evolving. First, the diverse Indigenous cultures developed ways of interacting with each other, ranging from dispute resolution to rules of war and conflict; then came their interaction with Settler French and British ways of life as well as their imperial and local laws and practice; the latter two also interacted with each other; and finally, the same question of accommodation arose from the need to relate to customs and practices of other immigrants as they arrived in greater numbers.
Treaties outlining mutual rights and responsibilities were signed with some Indigenous Peoples by both French and English. In addition, once the British became the main administrative power, these treaties were recognized as binding. The British administration also established legal frameworks that allowed the use of French, religious education for both Protestant and Catholic minorities, and the application of the Civil Code for civil litigation in Quebec. The British administration saw these measures as ensuring their own dominance while fostering loyalty to the Crown and acceptance of British rule, pragmatically recognizing rights to groups who became more and more in the minority, as the British settler population increased after the American Revolution and through the first half of the nineteenth century.
Some non-English groups had been in Canada from almost the beginning of British rule (Jews, who arrived with the British administration, pockets of Scots, Irish and Germans as settlers or as members of the French or British forces). By 1815 these communities had increased their numbers through service in the British army or through coming to Canada as refugees as United Empire Loyalists (including Free Blacks and Black slaves, or later as refugees from slavery) or as immigrants. British groups themselves started to include poor English and Scots, as well as Irish Catholics fleeing the potato famine or dire conditions in the Highlands and elsewhere. The English-speaking population increased significantly, while the French speakers tried to keep up through “la revanche des berceaux” or large families and natural increase.
Confederation to WWII
This was largely the state of affairs at the time of Confederation, when the newly created Canadian government started to promote a British presence across Canada and sought to ensure a greater assimilation of minorities to a British model. Centres of resistance and rebellion developed against this attempt by the first Canadian administrations to impose a British identity on the newly formed country, particularly among Indigenous Peoples, French speakers and provinces who were leery of a federal authority with too much power. Total assimilation to the British model was never achieved but long- lasting resentments and anger developed from these attempts.
In the last half of the nineteenth century until well into the twentieth, increasing numbers of immigrants settled in different proportions in each of the older and emerging Canadian provinces. There, the federal government saw a need for agricultural workers and other laborers and imported them but, depending on their origins, envisioned their long- term integration in different ways. Blacks were not encouraged to come to Canada, and policy tended to rank them low as desirable immigrants. Once in the country, they had the same theoretical legal rights as others, but faced racism and social exclusion. Chinese railway workers, Japanese fishermen and South Asian agricultural workers were assumed to be temporary presences, and their rights were limited. European settlers, depending on their origin, faced social prejudices, but it was assumed they would assimilate over the long term. The rights of Indigenous Peoples were covered by a confusing mix of treaties, definitions of status and local interpretations. Canada evolved into a country of specific rights and laws, depending on region/province, Indigenous status, French or English language, Protestants or Catholic religion, sex, national or ethnic origin.
It seemed impossible that out of all this diversity, a common identity could emerge, and the attempted imposition of British identity on others - while keeping the British dominant - led to tragic consequences during the first half of the twentieth century (continued degradation of Indigenous Peoples, fewer economic opportunities for Francophones, legal and social exclusionary measures against various ethnic groups, incarceration of those considered enemy aliens during war … etc.).
Post World War II
After the Second World War, the racism and hatred towards Jews and others that had led to the atrocities of WWII, awoke the world in general, through the UN, and Canadians and their government in particular, to the need for a clearer expression of equal rights for all. Various human rights instruments began to be put into place both internationally, through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the UN, and subsequently, in Canada.
At the same time, the government of Canada sensed that a number of issues were arising, which could derail the ongoing existence of the country with a nationally accepted sense of belonging.
The first order of business after the War, in order to meet the standards of the UN Declaration and to attempt to create a single sense of Canadian citizenship, was to create a legal status of Canadian Citizenship that could apply to all without discrimination. The government eliminated the status of British subject, which gave individuals who had this status as immigrants, immediate equal recognition with everyone born in Canada. Instead, a Citizenship Act was passed which granted citizenship to all those born in Canada or those legally in Canada but not born in the country, who met all the conditions for Canadian Citizenship. In addition, almost all distinctions, based on ethnic or national origin in terms of the right to vote, or the prohibition to access to certain profession in provincial laws, were eliminated, although the right for Indigenous Peoples to vote was not fully established until the 1960’s.
On another front, strong differences had developed between Quebec and other parts of Canada on the role Canada should play in both WWI and WWII. These differences led to large demonstrations in Quebec and to the rise of powerful Quebec nationalist sentiments, which were also fueled by economic and social inequalities between French and English, and the growing alarm among Francophones at their increasingly minority status in Canada.
The federal Liberal government saw addressing this issue as key to preserving national unity and, in 1963, Lester Pearson constituted a Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism to look at a range of questions relating to French and English education, status, access to services, economic equality, and presence in the federal public service.
Before and during the hearings on these issues, ethnic minorities started to make presentations on the need to write about their status in Canada, to make clear to all their legitimate presence in the country and their equality of status with other Canadians.
First Multiculturalism Policy 1971
Part IV of the Report of the Commission dealt in particular with the issues raised by these groups. It was in response to the recommendations contained in this Part that the Multiculturalism Policy of 1971 was developed. This first policy, which will be called the Trudeau Policy in this paper, was understood as responding to the desire of these communities to be publicly acknowledged in a way that recognized them as fully Canadian, even if they maintained connections to their own traditions or home countries.
At the same time, the final report of the Commission explicitly noted the fact that the status of Aboriginal Peoples would not be addressed, as they had a relationship with the federal government quite different from the relationship of others in Canada, but that the government should assist in the preservation of Aboriginal cultures and languages.
The Trudeau policy was formulated to operate within certain limits; first and foremost, within the framework of Official Languages. Thus, although it was stated that there was no “official culture” in Canada, the context of these words is simply a restatement that people of any origin could be full Canadians. The first duty of anyone in Canada - whether native- born or immigrant - was to learn one or both of Canada’s Official Languages, since the business of the state was to be carried out in these two languages.
This makes the statement that there is no official culture a little inaccurate. To truly learn a language requires becoming familiar with the cultural concepts and objects to which the language refers. As the whole process of integration was imagined as taking place within the framework of English and French, these were de facto the official cultures of Canada, although as more cultural backgrounds contributed to them, these two cultures, it was thought, would be enlarged. The policy was thus one of long- term integration and gradual change over time.
Similarly, it was expected that people of all origins were motivated to participate in and to contribute to Canada; not to isolate themselves within their own particular cultural traditions or silos.
This expectation was reflected in the policy by the notion of cultural sharing between groups, and in the criteria for the program of assistance that would be available to those communities who demonstrated a desire and willingness to participate in and contribute to Canada. It was fully reflected in the debates about the policy in the House of Commons.
There was eventually a strong rejection of Multiculturalism among French speakers, particularly in Quebec and among Indigenous Peoples. The former saw themselves as one of Canada’s founding peoples and therefore did not wish to be considered as just another “ethnic group”.
Indigenous Peoples saw themselves as having a nation- to- nation relationship to the federal government, and as having a status completely different from that of others, and could not identify with immigrant groups or their settler predecessors.
In the public eye, Multiculturalism came to be understood as being “for” ethnic minorities and immigrants. The policy made no distinctions in terms of country of origin or race. Over time, national community groups representing Canadians with origins in India, Pakistan, the Caribbean, the Philippines, Japan and China, received funding alongside groups of Canadian Blacks and of European origin. Some of this funding was for community development in a Canadian context, so it included Board training on questions of governance, accountability, democratic processes of election, etc., especially for organizations more recently established.
It is to be noted that program criteria of the day tended to direct monies for each policy, towards specific groups that each particular policy was perceived as serving: Official Language Minorities, Non-Status Aboriginal Peoples and Métis, ethnocultural communities and organizations that served them, etc.
Multiculturalism Act 1988
In 1988, a new Multiculturalism Act was created. The wording of the Act implied that it was a policy for all Canadians and was to be concerned with the equitable participation of Canadians of all origins. In practice, given the relationship with Indigenous Peoples as well as the relationship with Quebec, and with Official Language minority groups and their reluctance to be associated with Multiculturalism, the goal stated in the Act would be extraordinarily difficult to achieve solely through Multiculturalism.
Furthermore, the framework for the Act was no longer the Official Languages Act but rather Canadian Human Rights Law and more particularly, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. There were no expectations formulated in the Act or in the Policy Statement (as in 1971) on the nature of integration or the need for ethnocultural groups or immigrants to show a desire and willingness to participate in and contribute to Canada.
Very shortly after the Multiculturalism Act was passed, funding to Multiculturalism programs was severely curtailed. This was in part due to the Federal Government’s Meech Lake Accord Agreement with Quebec, which transferred any federal funds related to long term integration in the province to the provincial government. Over the next decade, Multiculturalism funding continued to shrink and funding to ethnocultural communities was almost completely eliminated by the early 2000’s.
Multiculturalism Policy being so broad in theory, and the program so limited in practice, the general purpose and thrust of Multiculturalism was unclear other than as a rhetorical symbol of Canada being an open society where people of all origins could thrive.
Multiculturalism more recently
Under the previous Conservative government, there was an attempt to reinvigorate Multiculturalism by placing it at the core of the concept of Canadian citizenship, as a central value not only to welcome newcomers, but for them to acquire it themselves as they became Canadian and, ultimately, as a standard for all Canadians - whether immigrants or native- born. There was also a renewed outreach to some communities around specific issues.
Since the last election, there has been a different turn on these issues and how they are framed.
It may be inferred that the new approach demonstrates a recognition of the extreme difficulty in building a society where Canadians of all origins can participate solely under the aegis of Multiculturalism policy, which, as noted above, was viewed negatively by significant national constituencies.
The dual terms of ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ have been more widely used, and have provided a broader overarching concept of what the Multiculturalism Policy was designed in part to address, in terms of the full participation of Canadians of all origins.
The terms diversity and inclusion, however, have often come to refer to a range of matters going well beyond the bounds of the question of “Canadians of all origins” as a central focus, and the original separation of Multiculturalism from matters relating to Federal relations with Indigenous Peoples, or Federal policy on Official Languages.
But the terms now seem to include matters of participation relating to disability, gender equality, sexual orientation, sexual identity, religion, Indigenous status, official languages, and perhaps province or region, age, etc., with no indication yet of the limits of the issues that would relate to their use.
Against the backdrop of these complexities, coupled with its funding limitations as a non-appropriated Crown corporation created to deal with matters under the umbrella of Multiculturalism Policy and race relations, the CRRF must concentrate its efforts in certain key areas where it can maximize its impact without impinging on related areas, such as nation- to- nation discussions of the federal government with Indigenous Peoples, or overarching policy relating to official language groups or specific provinces and territories.
In this context, the focus of CRRF activities will be:
In so doing, the CRRF has carved out a specificity of direction under the twin concepts of diversity and inclusion, aimed at promoting the full and equitable participation of Canadians who have a voluntary or socially imposed connection to cultures of origin, and whose members face discrimination and barriers to equitable participation or service relating to the full range of Canada’s institutions, as well as its social, cultural and economic activities.
Where various groups face similar issues relating to hate crimes and hate speech, CRFF expertise can contribute to and form part of overall efforts. Research on hate crimes and examination of possible means to counter them could include crimes on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, disability, etc.
Examples of projected CRRF activities over the next three years:
It is in these ways that CRRF can, within its Multiculturalism Mandate, make significant contributions to Canadian diversity and providing information, research and tools to help ensure equitable participation for Canadians of all origins.