Multiculturalism, Transnationalism, and the Hijacking of Canadian Foreign Policy: A Pseudo-Problem?

Article excerpt

Visitors from abroad, and many Canadians themselves, see "multiculturalism" as a defining and positive feature of this country. Nonetheless, since its inception as a federal government policy in 1971, multiculturalism has generated significant critical commentary. The focus and priorities of the policy have changed since 1971, and its various incarnations have been subject to a now familiar bundle of criticisms.1 In its early versions, multicultural policy was criticized for its promotion of symbolic ethnicity and its inability to break down structural barriers to socioeconomic equality in Canada.2 In the 19903 the policy was criticized for promoting cultural relativism, undermining Canadian identity, values, and culture, and fostering ethnic ghettos, as well as preventing the integration of newcomers to Canada.3

More recently, the policy has been criticized for encouraging the development of socially harmful and politically dangerous transnational ties, connections, and identities on the part of immigrants and ethnoreligious communities in Canada. In this new round of criticisms, historian Jack Granatstein claims that multicultural policy facilitates unhealthy transnationalism in the form of engagements in "motherland" issues, dual political loyalties, and the import of "old world" conflicts into Canada.4

My aim in this article is to question what Granatstein sees as the link between politically oriented "unhealthy" transnationalism and the federal policy of multiculturalism. There are three parts to this article. First, I review Granatsteiris argument that draws a causal connection between multiculturalism and socially unhealthy forms of transnationalism. second, I question the link between transnationalism and multiculturalism on historical grounds. I suggest that transnational identities and politics existed in Canada (and the United States) well before the announcement of the policy of multiculturalism in 1971. Third, I examine the wider contextual factors that shape transnational political engagements among immigrants and ethnic communities. I suggest that contextual factors associated with sending countries and the context of reception in Canada shape present-day transnational involvements. I also suggest that multicultural policy may have little to do with the promotion of transnational political connections, actions, and identities.

MULTICULTURALISM AND UNHEALTHY TRANSNATIONALISM

A new twist has been added to the lengthy list of criticisms directed against the federal government's policy of multiculturalism. Some commentators see contemporary multiculturalism as responsible for the promotion of socially unhealthy forms of politically oriented transnationalism that undermine Canadian unity, identity, and foreign policy.

Contemporary critics of multiculturalism often use the same examples to demonstrate that socially unhealthy forms of transnationalism are widespread in Canada and are being encouraged by multiculturalism. One case is that of Croat-Canadians who returned to Croatia in the 19903 to fight in the civil wars in the former Yugoslavia. Some returnees promoted hypernationalist political agendas and participated in ethnic cleansing campaigns; some within the Croatian-Canadian community were accused of morally and financially supporting these causes from within Canada. Another case is that of individuals of Italian heritage who do not live in Italy but who are allowed to vote and stand in Italian elections. In 2006, diasporic Italians elected two members of parliament to represent the interests and concerns of Italians abroad, even though they are citizens of other states. Finally, the case of the evacuation of 30,000 Lebanese Canadians during the 2006 war between Lebanon and Israel is also used to expose socially unhealthy transnational identities. The alleged quick return to Lebanon of many of the evacuees when the war ended raised questions about the obligations the government had towards dual citizens whose connections to Canada were thin. …