Sociology 304

Notes for February 2, 1999



A. Introduction


A discussion of culture and the importance of polyethnic rights leads directly to a discussion of multiculturalism. Kymlicka does not spend a great deal of time discussing the Canadian multicultural program in Multicultural Citizenship, although in Finding our Way discusses the Canadian program and its critics. In Multicultural Citizenship, the principles and approaches that Kymlicka presents generally support the type of multicultural policies and practices that exist in Canada..


Definition. Kymlicka provides a general approach to multiculturalism as cultural pluralism, explaining how minorities are incorporated into societies, and how societies accommodate the cultural differences of minority groups and confront the demands of these groups for recognition of their identity (p. 10). He focuses on ethnic groups and national minorities, not on cultural minorities that have emerged out of the new social movements such as youth culture, gays and lesbians, or the disabled (pp. 19-20). Fleras defines multiculturalism as

a set of principles, policies, and practices for accommodating diversity as a legitimate and integral component of society. (Fleras in Charlton and Baker, p. 26).


The federal government publication, Multiculturalism ... being Canadian defines multiculturalism as "the recognition of the cultural and racial diversity of Canada and the equality of Canadians of all origins" (p. 3).


B. What is Multiculturalism?

Part of the difficulty of dealing with multiculturalism is that it refers to a variety of possible practices and approaches. When discussing multiculturalism, both the supporters and critics may move back and forth among some of the following.


Note that the meaning of multiculturalism may be different in other countries and times. While it is primarily concerned with immigrant and ethnic groups in Canada, in the United States it is more likely to concern issues related to racial differences. Also note that the ideal and intent of multiculturalism may be confused with the practice and reality of multiculturalism. Members of some minority groups complain that racism and discrimination exist in Canada and this shows that multiculturalism has been a failure. That is, not all the ethnic inequalities in income and political participation have been removed from Canadian society and there is still very unequal treatment of some minorities in the justice system. While these problems exist and these are legitimate complaints, multiculturalism is not entirely responsible for this. It could just as well be argued that there is not enough multiculturalism.


C. Themes in the Canadian Multiculturalism Act


In the October, 1996 paper, "A ‘Great’ Large Family," Chris Fries and I identified several major themes that exist in the Canadian Multiculturalism Act. While other researchers might identify a different set of themes, or name them differently, the following five themes identify the main features of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act.


These generally seem to be very positive features, although it might be argued that diversity and resource are not so positive. Note that overcoming barriers is not emphasized in the Act, is treated as only one component, and perhaps a minor one. So long as there are major economic and social inequalities, barriers to full participation and equality do exist and multicultural policy may do little to help reduce these barriers. In recent years though, there has been a greater focus of multicultural policy on "antiracism, removal of discriminatory barriers, and institutional accommodation" (Fleras in Charlton and Baker, p. 27). By focusing on social justice as a major theme, the renewed Multiculturalism Program places more emphasis on these issues. At the same time, the phrases "management of diversity," "management of pluralism," or "managing a diverse workplace" have become commonly used in some parts of Canada. These may be a recognition of real problems that will be dealt with in a multicultural manner or they may be thinly disguised phrases for discrimination.


D. Problems with Multiculturalism


Critics of multiculturalism have identified many problems with it, although this is sometimes due to a confusion among the various meanings and uses of the term. Some of the problems are as follows. The first four are from Fleras (in Charlton and Baker).


Divisive. In Mosaic Madness, Reginald Bibby of Lethbridge University has made this argument, claiming that multiculturalism has helped preserve cultures and languages, but this has not had the effect of uniting Canadians or of bringing them together. Rather, it has helped keep people apart and has been one of the factors responsible for contributing to "cultural group solidarity at the expense of broader social participation" (Bibby from Charlton and Baker, p. 23).

This set of views finds expression in ID 080 and ID 071 of the interviews that formed the basis for "A ‘Great’ Large Family." ID080 says "activities may help but doesn’t help integration, but can help preserve culture," and ID071 says "I like it and hate it at the same time. We can live in our culture but we are called minority groups. Appears on job applications. You are different. Never be part of the total." Peter Lamborn Wilson makes a powerful statement concerning the divisiveness and separation fostered by multiculturalism (Wilson from Gingrich and Fries, p. 14).


Regressive. Multiculturalism may help to maintain backward cultures, hinder participation, prevent equal education and opportunity, and maintain exploitation and inequality (Fleras in Charlton and Baker, pp. 26 and 30). By limiting the emphasis on overcoming barriers, and by refusing to deal with the inherent structural inequalities in a capitalist economy, the policy ends up being irrelevant or regressive. Further, the legitimate claims of minority ethnic groups may be ignored or sidetracked by those who claim that there is equality and harmony.


Symbol. The policy may be symbolic in expressing good ideas, but in practice is very limited and has no substance. Resources devoted to multiculturalism may be largely devoted to symbolic aspects of culture, such as ethnic lifestyle, while ignoring the real problems of racism, discrimination, and inequality faced by people in minority cultures. The five themes expressed in the Act may be little more than symbols of what Canadians feel, but with little real meaning. Bibby makes a somewhat different argument when he says that this emphasis on diversity means that there is limited group identity, no group vision, no national goals or dreams, nothing in the value system that marks it as Canadian (Bibby, p. 103). Others have said that with the emphasis on multiculturalism and bilingualism, there is no Canadian identity, and people do not know what it means to be a Canadian.


Impractical. From the left, the argument is often that social class is the central feature of our society, and multicultural policy or practice cannot deal with the inequalities that result from a capitalist social structure. In fact, these policies could become policies of containing or limiting the demands of minority groups, rather than expressing their rights.


Top-down. Peter Lamborn Wilson argues that multiculturalism should proceed from individuals and groups, not from the top down. (See "Against Multiculturalism: Let n flowers bloom," Instead of government sponsored multiculturalism, Wilson calls for local action and "a non-hierarchic, de-centred web of cultures, each one singular, but not alienated from other cultures." He calls this cross-culturalism but argues that "‘multiculturalism’ must be destroyed."


E. Multiculturalism as Official Policy


Canada’s adoption of multiculturalism as official policy is a result of a long series of developments:


1. General Developments within Canadian Society.




2. Policy Developments


The beginning of the development and adoption of multiculturalism as an official or policy level is usually considered to have begun with the appointment of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism in 1963. The aims of the Commission were as follows



The Commission heard reports from many immigrant and ethnic groups who reported that they also needed some recognition. Critics may argue that these groups were only used as a means of countering the French. But the representatives from these ethnic groups represented people who had gained some economic clout and these groups often had been ignored in the past. It was the Ukrainian groups, often from the Prairies, that had the greatest influence here and were most vocal. They viewed themselves as a Third Force and argued that since they were close to one-third of the population they should also receive greater recognition. (Bibby notes that by 1961 other European origins were 23 per cent of the Canadian population. p. 30).


Book IV of the Report was devoted to these groups and outlined a "social policy concerning those Canadians, particularly such of them as wished to retain their ethnic identity and some of their cultural heritage." (Burnet and Palmer, p. 224). The results were that the federal government revised the immigration act and introduced a more equitable points system, and proclaimed the official policy of "multiculturalism within a bilingual framework." (Burnet and Palmer, p. 224).


In 1971, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that the federal government policy would be to:


The federal government established a Multiculturalism Directorate within the Department of the Secretary of State in 1972. Changes in legislation were the Citizenship Act of 1977, the Canadian Human Rights Act of 1977, the Immigration Act of 1978 and the Constitution Act of 1982. These acts generally argued for equality of all, equal rights and benefits of the law without discrimination on the basis of race, nationality, ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability.

the last page is based on Burnet and Palmer, Ch. 12.


Results of policy.


After 1982, focus shifted a little more toward race relations, with conferences and research dealing with racism and issues related to visible minorities, including support to groups to attempt to combat racism.


At the same time, other developments within Canada were just as important, or perhaps more important than multiculturalism programs themselves. Some of the major changes are outlined in document "Policy and Legislative Framework" published by Canadian Heritage. The Canadian Citizenship Act of 1947 meant that Canadians became Canadian citizens and were no longer considered British subjects. The Canadian Bill of Rights was passed by the federal Parliament in 1960. In 1967 the immigration laws and regulations were changed to signal that Canada would accept immigrants from a much larger variety of countries than in the past, and would follow a more equitable policy of admission to the country.


In 1983, the House of Commons established a Special Committee on Visible Minorities in Canadian Society, which made its report in March , 1984. The report Equality Now! called for removing all roadblocks to preventing full participation of all citizens in the cultural, social, economic and political life of the country. (p. 1).


In 1986, an Employment Equity Act required federally regulated employers to provide improved access to employment opportunities for women, disabled, Aboriginal people and visible minorities.


The Canadian Multiculturalism Act was passed in 1988 with the principles being:

(Multiculturalism … being Canadian, p. 19).


The Act outlines some areas in which multicultural policy will take effect and expands the list of 1971 to provide a little more detail.


In 1995, the federal Department of Canadian Heritage launched a review of its programs, with the result of the review being a redesigned Multiculturalism Policy. The new goals of this policy are outlined in the Canadian Heritage document "The Context for Renewal." The three essential goals outlined in this new policy are

It is not clear whether these goals are in addition to the original goals of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act or exactly how they are to mesh with the earlier goals. The Act remains unchanged, but the focus of programs appears to be aimed more at addressing racism and discrimination and encouraging equitable treatment of people of all backgrounds. However, the program has only a small budget and does not appear to be a federal policy that receives as much emphasis as it might.


F. Conclusion


Many questions are raised by this policy and its practice and implementation.

Is it desirable?

What are the standards for judging it? (Bibby).

Does it really mean anything or do anything to change Canadian society?

Does it help the disadvantaged? (Li on ethnic inequality).

Has it ended discrimination and racism?



Conclusion to Multicultural Citizenship


A. Contributions

1. Diversity and Contemporary Society. Focuses on a key aspect of contemporary society and provides a way of interpreting diversity. The argument is at the theoretical level, but the applications noted by Kymlicka are practical ones and are reasonable ways of interpreting and sorting through some of the current issues related to ethnicity, culture, nation, people, self-government, and distinctive society in North America.


2. Liberalism and Group Rights. Connects the traditions of "the priority of traditional ways of life and cultural identities ... [and] a liberal, legalistic perspective stressing the primacy of individual ‘rights’" (Wolin, p. 135). Important arguments concerning traditional and contemporary liberalism. Revises and updates liberal tradition and makes it more applicable for contemporary societies.


3. Culture. Importance of culture for people. Resource and context of choice. Important for (i) freedom and individual choice and (ii) self-identity and belonging. The discussion is a contemporary sociological approach, although stated in more political form. While Kymlicka connects culture to rights, the important point for sociology is the definition of culture, the key role it plays, how it forms a basis for social and political structures, and what are the implications of culture for identity and social relationships. That is, culture is not only a part of the superstructure of society, but it has an independent basis for existence and it plays a key role in individual and group identity, and how these change over time and place.


4. National Minorities or Polyethnicity. Different situations and different rights that emerge from this. For example, distinguishes situation of Quebec or aboriginal peoples from that of Ukrainian or Chinese Canadians.


5. Multiculturalism. Kymlicka provides some strong arguments for multicultural policies and practices in ethnically diverse societies. How much these principles can be applied to other cultural groups that do not have an ethnic basis is not clear from his discussion.


B. Critique


1. Liberal Critique. Might argue that individual rights and freedoms are just that, and they do not extend to groups. In an extreme liberal approach, groups and societies might be regarded as not existing, with all that matters being the individual and individual happiness, choice, freedom, etc.


2. Conflict Critique. Kymlicka is primarily concerned with political rights, and these are largely a product of economic position. Highly stratified late capitalist societies have very great degrees of inequalities in wealth, income, and opportunities. Given the existence of these, the concern with individual and group rights is misplaced, and without greater economic equality, concern with individual or group rights is meaningless.


3. Problems of Definition. In the end, Kymlicka does not seem able to define people, nation, or ethnic group clearly, although he recognizes this as a difficulty and one that must be carefully considered with respect to each group. The nature of rights, self-determination, self-government, etc. are all questionable, although Kymlicka recognizes the difficulty of carefully defining these.


4. Illiberal Cultures. Kymlicka’s comments on these seem incomplete. He does not seem to emphasize the ability or inability to exit from the group. This may be very important for members of immigrant and ethnic groups. If there is a great ability to exit, then the illiberalism may not be a matter of great concern, but if ability to exit is hampered or is difficult, then attempting to apply liberal or other ideals within the group may become important.


5. Social Unity. In the end, Kymlicka is somewhat pessimistic, although he may be realistic. This is not so much a criticism as a disappointment. If liberal ideals are important for individuals and groups, yet lead to situations where social unity cannot occur, so that divisiveness and conflict result, then the values of these liberal ideals become questionable. The critiques of Bibby, Bisoondath, and Peter Lamborn Wilson may not be adequately addressed.


6. Political and Historical Reality. Kymlicka makes a strong theoretical case that group rights are derived from individual rights, and he also argues for tolerance, respect, and rights for different cultural traditions. In practice though, it is not clear that history and current trends support this. Conflicts in Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and the Middle East do not seem to support Kymlicka’s approach, although the liberal tradition is not strong in each of these regions. For a test of the Kymlicka model, Canada and the United States, each with their strong tradition of liberalism, might provide better cases. In each of these, there is both strong support for and many questions about the model developed by Kymlicka.


7. Freedom and Self-Realization. Kymlicka argues that freedom means the capacity to act in accordance with and realize the terms of one’s own cultural tradition, e.g. he notes that "societal cultures are important to people’s freedoms" (p. 80). One problem with this may be that self-realization implies that I "flourish at the expense of other cultures, or by usurping their claims to autonomy" (Wolin, p. 138). Further, Wolin argues that national identity and democratic principles operate at cross purposes (Wolin, p. 141).




Review of Concepts, Terms, Arguments



Midterm Examination – February 4, 1999.


Three sections with choice in each section.

Part 1. Short identification and definition of terms. Last year – four of nine.

Part 2. Paragraph explanations of particular arguments of Kymlicka. Explanation of short quotes from Multicultural Citizenship. Last year – two of five.

Part 3. Essay on one of newspaper articles. Choice of one of three essay topics.


References for Notes on Multiculturalism


Bibby, Reginald, Mosaic Madness: Pluralism Without a Cause, Toronto, Stoddart, 1990.

Burnet Jean R. and Howard Palmer, "Coming Canadians" An Introduction to a History of Canada’s Peoples, Ottawa, Ministry of Supply and Services, 1988.

Canada, Department of the Secretary of State of Canada, Multiculturalism ... being Canadian, Ottawa, Ministry of Supply and Services, 1987.

Charlton, Mark and Paul Baker, Contemporary Political Issues, second edition, Scarborough, Nelson Canada, 1994, p. 26.

Gingrich, Paul and Christopher J. Fries, "A ‘Great’ Large Family: Understandings of Multiculturalism Among Newcomers to Canada," paper presented to the National Symposium on Immigration and Integration: New Challenges, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, October 27, 1996.

Wolin, Richard, "Democracy and ‘Distinctive Status,’" Dissent, Winter, 1997.