Multiculturalism, Ethnicity and Minority Rights: The Complexity and Paradox of Ethnic Organizations in Canada

Article excerpt

Abstract

Ethno-specific organizations are often criticized for threatening national unity, diluting Canadian identity, and promoting ghettoization and separatism. Drawing from two case studies, this article examines the role of Chinese ethnic organizations in responding to changing community needs in Edmonton and Calgary. The study results suggested that ethno-specific organizations can be an effective alternative in providing accessible and equitable social services for immigrants because they are more closely connected with and responsive to ethnic community needs. The study reveals the salience of ethnicity as both an important resource and a liability. On the one hand, ethnicity was utilized by the state as a way to mobilize ethnic political support to serve an ethnic-specific community; on the other hand, the same ethnicity also became a device for the state to legitimize its political agenda in multiculturizing ethno-specific organizations with an ultimate goal of assimilation. To build an inclusive society, it is imperative to treat ethno-specific organizations as an integral part of Canadian society and to adopt minority rights that recognize and accommodate the distinctive identities and needs of ethno-cultural groups and their ethnic communities.

Resume

Les organisations ethniques se font souvent critiquer pour menacer l'unite nationale, diluer l'identite canadienne et promouvoir la ghettoisation et le separatisme. A partir de l'etude de deux cas, cet article porte

sur le role d'organisations ethniques chinoises qui repondent aux besoins changeants d'une communaute en evolution a Edmonton et a Calgary. Les resultats de cette etude suggerent que des organisations ethniques particulieres peuvent representer une alternative efficace en fournissant des services sociaux accessibles et equitables aux immigrants, parce qu'elles sont plus etroitement connectees aux besoins de la communaute et y repondent mieux. Cette etude revele le poids de l'ethnicite a la fois comme ressource importante et comme handicap. D'une part, l'Etat y a recouru comme moyen de mobiliser un soutien politique ethnique afin de servir une communaute correspondante donnee; d'autre part, cette meme ethnicite est aussi devenue pour lui un outil qui rend legitime son programme politique visant la multiculturalisation d'organisations ethniques particulieres dans un but ultime d'assimilation. Si on veut construire une societe inclusive, il est imperatif de traiter ces dernieres comme faisant partie integrale de la societe canadienne et d'adopter des droits des minorites qui reconnaissent les identites et besoins distincts de groupes ethno-culturels et de leurs communautes, et s'y adaptent.

INTRODUCTION

The Chinese immigrant group in Canada is one of the oldest, and the Chinese are unique among immigrant groups in Canada "in the extent to which they organize voluntary associations within their community" (Willmott 1969, 30). Since Willmott's original work was published, Chinese ethnic organizations have undergone significant changes. In particular, the demographics of Chinese immigrants have changed dramatically (Guo and DeVoretz 2006a; Li 1998). One of the these changes is that they are no longer a homogeneous group from the rural areas of Guangdong and Fujian Provinces. In the 1980s, Canada attracted a large number of entrepreneurs and investors from Hong Kong and Taiwan. Furthermore, an unprecedented number of highly-educated and professionally trained immigrants arrived from the People's Republic of China during the 1990s. The changing characteristics of Chinese immigrants indicate that they come from diverse backgrounds, and present different needs and challenges. These changes also pose questions concerning supports in the Chinese immigrant community: First, what is the role of Chinese ethnic organizations concerning immigrants' settlement and adaptation under the new context? How have they responded in the past to the changing needs of Chinese communities in a multicultural society? …