From Mosaic to Harmony : Multicultural Canada in the 21st Century
Results of Regional Roundtables
PRI Project : Cultural Diversity
Government of Canada Policy Research Initiative
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Taken from the Executive Summary :
"Canada’s multicultural diversity is a product of three cultural drivers: Aboriginal peoples, the English and French “Charter” groups, and immigrants from around the world. In particular, successive waves of immigration since the 1970s have made Canada ever more diverse in ethnicity, culture, religion, and language. As do most multicultural societies, Canada faces the challenge of respecting cultural differences while fostering shared citizenship, conferring rights while demanding responsibilities, and encouraging integration but not insisting on assimilation.
Recent ethnic and religious-based conflicts and debates in Europe and Canada have renewed governments’ interest regarding the integration of immigrants and their descendents. In Canada, especially following a number of incidents stemming from the complexities of accommodating religious sensitivities, the country’s approach to ethno-cultural diversity has been pushed to the forefront of public discourse.
It is in this context that the Policy Research Initiative (PRI), in partnership with the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and the Metropolis Project, held roundtable consultations in eight cities across Canada: Halifax, Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Calgary, and Vancouver. These consultations included representatives from all three orders of government, community organizations, business, and the media, as well as experts on immigration and diversity. The roundtables addressed two questions: 1) how to foster diversity without divisiveness and 2) whether Canada’s multiculturalism policies need review in light of today’s social and geopolitical realities.
At the roundtable consultations, it was agreed that managing multicultural diversity is a work in progress, evolving over time as social realities change. Regardless of these changes, however, the principles of these policies, such as equality, respect for diversity, human rights, and full participation, shall remain the cornerstones of inter-ethnic relations in Canada.
According to many participants, multiculturalism sets a vision for Canada and a framework for intercultural relations within a single society. That said, most Canadians understand multiculturalism as a policy to facilitate the integration of non-European newcomers and their immediate descendents. While there is general goodwill towards multicultural diversity, participants felt that Canada should not promote cultural differences at the expense of shared Canadian values. In particular, multicultural policies have yet to resonate with younger Canadians, who grew up in a multicultural and global environment. Roundtable results asserted that younger Canadians often find it difficult to pigeonhole themselves into a certain ethnic group – especially those from intercultural families whose ancestries consist of more than one ethnic or religious heritage. They are more likely to see themselves first and foremost as Canadians. With the Internet being an integral part of their life and with the ease of travel, they regard themselves as global citizens. A more relevant question for them would be how to define their Canadian identity in the global context.
It was noted that multiculturalism has become an easy target for failings and challenges resulting from other policies. It was almost universally argued that recent backlash against multiculturalism can be traced to anxiety and fear about the unknown. Many participants described debates about multiculturalism issues, such as religious diversity and the effects of ethnic enclaves,1 as poorly informed and frequently simplistic.
Many of the roundtables touched on the fact that religious diversity lies at the core of many of the current debates about multiculturalism. As revealed by the discussion of “reasonable accommodation” in Québec and elsewhere, and due to the increasing religiosity among new immigrants, this is likely to continue. It appears that religion is a dimension that current conceptions of multiculturalism are ill-prepared to handle.
Roundtable participants pointed out that multiculturalism policies can work only if they are in sync with other domestic and foreign policies, such as those on employment, immigration, health, and international relations. There is a sense that government departments operate in isolation in their respective silos. It was felt that there is little dialogue across sectors and cultural groups.
Discussions on cultural diversity also generally involve only members of visible minorities and newcomers, who represent only one fifth of Canada’s population. Aboriginal groups and those who are not visible minorities are not represented in consultations. This practice reinforces perceptions that multiculturalism is only for visible minorities, exacerbating the “us vs. them” dichotomy."