June 27 is Canadian Multiculturalism Day!
Dear colleagues and friends,
June 27 is Canadian Multiculturalism Day! The year 2021 marks a particularly special milestone as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Canadian Multiculturalism Policy.
In 1971, Canada became the first country in the world to adopt multiculturalism as an official policy, aiming to preserve the cultural freedom of all individuals and provide recognition of the cultural contributions of diverse ethnic groups to Canadian society. In 1982, multiculturalism was recognized by section 27 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,and in 1988, Canada promulgated the Canadian Multiculturalism Act.
The initial idea behind multiculturalism was brought to popular attention by John Murray Gibbon’s 1938 book “Canadian Mosaic: The Making of a Northern Nation”, which challenged the US-born idea of cultural assimilation, known as the “melting pot.” However, it was not until the 1960s that multiculturalism emerged as an object of national conversation about Canadian identity.
Prior to 1970, much of Canada’s immigration was from European countries. However, the Immigration Act of 1976 lifted some restrictions on immigration from non-European countries. The ensuing shift in demographics prompted calls to rethink multicultural policies with a focus on the need to combat discrimination. As a result, equity or rights-based multiculturalism increasingly defined the policies and programs of the 1980s.
The patriation (take back from Britain) of the Canadian Constitution in 1982 added a Charter of Rights. Section 27 stipulated that the Charter “shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians.” While the section created a basis for how other sections might be applied, it did not provide a legislative framework for multicultural policy and therefore did not prescribe what government had to do to implement and advance multiculturalism. Canadians began to associate multiculturalism with other basic human rights and freedoms enshrined in the Charter, such as freedom of expression and freedom of religion.
On July 21, 1988, the Canadian Multiculturalism Act received Royal Assent. The Act aims to 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 that participation. It recognizes and promotes 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.
During the 1990s, federal multiculturalism policies and programs placed greater emphasis on eliminating barriers to economic and social participation of immigrants and designated minority groups. In 1995, the federal government passed the Employment Equity Act that, among other things, required that information be gathered in order to determine the degree of the underrepresentation of persons in designated groups, notably the country’s visible minorities. Since 1996, the census has collected information about visible minorities in Canada and multiculturalism aimed at eliminating racism and discrimination, assisting institutions to become more responsive to Canada’s diversity.
With his 1995 book “Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights”, philosopher Will Kymlicka emerged as one of the leading proponents of multiculturalism. In a later publication, “Finding Our Way: Rethinking Ethnocultural Relations in Canada (1998)”, Kymlicka presented evidence that multiculturalism did not decrease the rate of immigrant integration. Using data on naturalization rates for immigrants, levels of political participation among ethnocultural groups, and rates at which new Canadians can speak an official language and rates of intermarriage, Kymlicka argued that the multiculturalism policy has worked, and that there is no evidence that it has promoted ethnic separateness.
In recent years, there has been a greater acknowledgement and acceptance of mixed and multiple identities in Canada. Most Canadians think of multiculturalism as a demographic reality that acknowledges the diverse ethnic makeup of the Canadian population.
While most Canadians appear favourable to the ideal of multiculturalism, research suggests that support for the accommodation of religious diversity is more divided. Recent hate incidents of attacks on religious minorities including Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs and their places of worship have led to calls for reporting and more effectively addressing and preventing hate crimes against religious minorities.
On Canada’s Multiculturalism Day, let us renew our commitment to call out and eliminate hate crimes, hate speeches and online hate at work, in schools and in the society at large.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions, suggestions or comments.
Stay safe, stay well!
President, National Consultation Team