Sociology 304

Notes for January 29, 1998


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 this in his book, but the principles he lays down generally support multicultural policies with respect to ethnic groups.

Definition. Kymlicka provides a general approach to multiculturalism as cultural pluralism, 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 cultural minorities although multiculturalism is sometimes applied to women, youth culture, sexual preference, etc. (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).

B. What is Multiculturalism?

Note that the meaning may be different in other countries and times. Also note that the ideal and intent of multiculturalism may be confused with the practice and reality of multiculturalism. Some writers complain that racism still exists in Canada in spite of multiculturalism, and that 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 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 Act. While other researchers might identify a different set of themes, or name them differently, the following five themes would seem to identify the main features of the 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, but rather 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 appears to put 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 them may be thinly disguised phrases for discrimination.

Excerpts from the Canadian Multiculturalism Act

When the Canadian Constitution was patriated in 1982 the Charter of Rights and Freedoms enshrined guarantees of equality and multiculturalism in Sections 15 and 27:

15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and benefit of the law without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

27. This charter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians.

On July 21, 1988, Bill C-93, an Act for the preservation and enhancement of multiculturalism in Canada, or The Canadian Multiculturalism Act became law. The Act currently reads in part:

3. (1) It is hereby declared to be the policy of the Government of Canada to

(a) recognize and promote the understanding that multiculturalism reflects the cultural and racial diversity of Canadian society and acknowledges the freedom of all members of Canadian society to preserve, enhance and share their cultural heritage;

(b) recognize and promote the understanding that multiculturalism is a fundamental characteristic of the Canadian heritage and identity and that it provides an invaluable resource in the shaping of Canada's future;

(c) promote 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 assist them in the elimination of any barrier to such participation;

(d) recognize the existence of communities whose members share a common origin and their historic contribution to Canadian society, and enhance their development;

(e) ensure that all individuals receive equal treatment and equal protection under the law, while respecting and valuing their diversity;

(f) encourage and assist the social, cultural, economic and political institutions of Canada to be both respectful and inclusive of Canada's multicultural character;

(g) promote the understanding and creativity that arise from the interaction between individuals and communities of different origins;

(h) foster the recognition and appreciation of the diverse cultures of Canadian society and promote the reflection and the evolving expressions of those cultures;

(i) preserve and enhance the use of languages other than English and French, while strengthening the status and use of the official languages of Canada; and

(j) advance multiculturalism throughout Canada in harmony with the national commitment to the official languages of Canada.

(2) It is further declared to be the policy of the Government of Canada that all federal institutions shall

(a) ensure that Canadians of all origins have an equal opportunity to obtain employment and advancement in those institutions;

(b) promote policies, programs and practices that enhance the ability of individuals and communities of all origins to contribute to the continuing evolution of Canada;

(c) promote policies, programs and practices that enhance the understanding of and respect for the diversity of the members of Canadian society;

(d) collect statistical data in order to enable the development of policies, programs and practices that are sensitive and responsive to the multicultural reality of Canada;

(e) make use, as appropriate, of the language skills and cultural understanding of individuals of all origins; and

(f) generally, carry on their activities in a manner that is sensitive and responsive to the multicultural reality of Canada.

Themes in the Multiculturalism Act


· Cultural and racial diversity of Canada. 3: 1 (a)

· Preservation, enhancement and sharing of cultural heritage. 3: 1 (a)

· Respecting and valuing diversity. 3: 1 (e)

· Promote reflection and expression of culture. 3:1 (h)

· Languages 3:1 (i)


· Equal treatment and equal protection for all. 3: 1 (e)

· Full and equitable participation 3: 1 (c)

· Equal opportunity for employment and advancement in government. 3:2 (a)

Overcoming Barriers

· Elimination of any barriers to participation. 3: 1 (c)

· Institutions to be inclusive. 3:1 (f)


· Respect, recognition and appreciation. 3:1 (f) and (h)

· Understanding 3:1 (g)

· Harmony 3:1 (j)


· Fundamental characteristic of Canadian heritage and identity. 3: 1 (b)

· Resource in shaping of Canada's future. 3: 1 (b)

· Creativity. 3:1 (g)

· Contribution to Canadian society. 3:1 (d)

· Make use of language skill and cultural understanding. 3:2 (e)

· Value diversity. 3:1 (e)

Note: The numbers and letters in the box refer to the sections or subsections of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act.

Source: Gingrich and Fries

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. Bibby 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, p. 26, p. 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. At the other end, Bibby makes the argument 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).

Impractical. Capitalism and class are the central features of our society, and the inequalities that result from this cannot be dealt with by multicultural policy or practice. 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, 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 at 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. (See 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.

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.

A Multiculturalism Act was passed in 1988 with the principles being:

In 1997, after a program review a renewed Multiculturalism Program was announced by Canadian Heritage.

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.

Mark Charlton 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.

Notes from January 29 class. Last edited on January 29, 1998.

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