Canadian Multiculturalism Ideology: Mere Tolerance or Full Acceptance

Article excerpt


September 11, 2001 will forever be etched in the memory of Canadians who were deeply affected by the events of that day. This cataclysmic occurrence had a pivotal place not only upon the private troubles of those directly related but also upon the public issues and the consequent public policies of all of us who may not have been as directly touched. Such a life-changing experience will impinge upon the politics of our entire nation. The terrorist act was a political statement at one level which must be addressed politically as well It is noteworthy, given this context of the terrorist attack in the nation to the South, that October 8, 2001 represented the thirtieth anniversary of the political declaration of multiculturalism as a public state policy within Canada What difference does the official policy discourse and ideology of multiculturalism make in the political response to the ethnocultural and racial diversity within and without its national borders?

This three-and-a-half-decade milestone in Canadian history along with Canada's new government affords a timely opportunity to examine the memory of the past, to determine its place in today's society as well as reflect on the future politics of multiculturalism in ethnicizing the Canadian nation. The 1971 political announcement by the Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau ushered in and institutionalized a new process of Canadian ethnicizing that contrasted to a bilingual and a bicultural vision of the previous decade as well as the contrasting melting pot ideology. Interestingly, this announcement was made a day before the Prime Minister was to address the Ukrainian Canadian Congress in Winnipeg. The political expediency of and political pressure on the Prime Minister has been often noted by scholars. The minority groups themselves, in this case the Ukrainians, have had a role in pushing the ideology of multiculturalism into an inclusive full acceptance of rather than mere tolerance for minorities in Canadian society. The transformation of the policy emerged in the changing political, economic and ideological context of the day. Subsequently, the 1980s witnessed the adoption of Section 27 into the Canadian Constitution, under the last political parliamentary mandate of Liberal Prime Minister Trudeau, which assured the preservation and the enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians.

The continued attention of Parliament in ethnicizing the nation was manifest in several ways. The 1984 Equality Now! Report and the 1987 Multiculturalism: Building the Canadian Mosaic parliamentary report both recommended institutionalization of the ethnicizing policy into an act. Accordingly, parliamentarians themselves have played a significant role in pushing multiculturalism ideology towards a more inclusive full acceptance of diversity in Canadian society as a national public policy. The Canadian Multiculturalism Act was proclaimed in 1988 under the auspices of the new Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. The bipartisanship participation of the Liberals and the Conservative parties, along with that of the third and other parties in parliament encouraged the embracing of a wider notion of multiculturalism ideology as a national policy and practice. This paper examines political developments in the managing of Canadian diversity and the resulting new paradigms for ethnicizing the nation as we have embarked into a new millennium. I would suggest that tracing the history in the evolution and transformation of multiculturalism as a state policy (Lewycky, 1992) offers an evaluation of the ideological strategy of acceptance and good will for dealing with the diversity of ethnocultural groups as well as visible minority groups within Canadian society. The term visible minorities has become a somewhat unique Canadian label for all and any minority groups within Canada who are not white. The visible minority nomenclature incorporates all the sociological connotations the label implies as to experiences of overt and covert prejudice and individual, group or institutional discrimination that these Canadians have experienced Lessons of the past can provide for us a direction for the future as well as models for comparative democracies. …