Multiculturalism and Citizenship: The Status of "Visible Minorities" in Canada

By Jones, Beryle Mae | Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

Multiculturalism and Citizenship: The Status of "Visible Minorities" in Canada


Jones, Beryle Mae, Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal


ABSTRACT/RESUME

It is never a strongly contested view that Canada has "grown up" as a multicultural society. Canada's dynamic process of growth in ethnocultural relations has largely been influenced by three principal forces -- the indigenous peoples, variegated patterns of immigration, and the accommodation of minority nationalities. For the most part, multiculturalism has been distinguished by peaceful social co-existence, underpinned by experience in collective problem solving and passionate public discourse. These frameworks of order and cooperation, characteristic of the Canadian identity, have led to a pragmatic approach in public policy and institution building. Issues relating to multicultural citizenship and integration assimilation, as well as the need for appropriate citizenship education, have been important by-products of this process of growth. The latter, however, are in need of theoretical refinement and a sharper focus on socio-historical points of reference from the minority perspective.

On n'a jamais fortement mis en doute l'opinion que le Canada "s'est developpe" comme une societe multiculturelle. Son processus dynamique de croissance dans les rapports ethnoculturels a ete en grande partie influe par trois forces principales -- les peuples autochtones, les caracteristiques bigarrees d'immigration et l'accommodation de nationalites minoritaires. Dans l'ensemble, le multiculturalisme emergent a ete distingue par la coexistence sociale pacifique. soutenue par l'experience dans la resolution des problemes collectifs et un discours public vehement. Ces cadres d'ordre et de cooperation, caracteristiques del' identite canadienne, ont produit beaucoup de pragmatisme dans la politique publique et la construction des institutions. Des problemes qui portent sur la citoyennete multiculturelle et l'integration-assimilation, ainsi que le besoin pour l'education sur la citoyennete convenable, ont ete des consequences secondaires importantes du processus de croissance. Ce sont, cependant, des questions en grande partie disputees. Beaucoup de ces questions ont besoin d'etre theoriquement raffinees et concentrees d'une facon plus penetrante sur les points socio-historiques de reference de la perspective minoritaire.

Introduction

Increasingly multiculturalism is being perceived in terms of colour, focusing on "visible minorities." This, of course, is a particular perception implicitly accommodated in the language of Canadian public policy and reflected as well in certain of the social demands of the minority constituency. The common currency is acceptance of "cultural diversity" or "cultural pluralism" and the search for solutions to its resulting challenges.

According to Kymlicka, multiculturalism in Canada typically refers to the rights of immigrants to express their ethnic identity without fear of prejudice or discrimination. (1) Thus, for visible minorities multiculturalism translates into demands for the recognition of their cultural differences. It represents a desire to integrate into Canadian society and to be accepted as full members of it. It means ensuring their survival as a distinct community without becoming a "separate society." From this perspective, multiculturalism may be seen as a process-driven concept or movement aimed at modifying Canadian laws, institutions, thinking, and other aspects of mainstream society to make them more accommodating of cultural differences. In this sense, multiculturalism may be seen as a social engineering process to shape ethnocultural relations, relying on the central building blocks of "integration," the manipulation of theories of "citizenship," (2) and changing educational philosophy and strategies. (3) Reinforc ing effects may have come from contemporary concepts of "social capital" and "democratic governance" which, in practice, are presumed to be able to mitigate problems of identity and allegiance.

In practice, the fact that both social capital formation and democratic governance may be able to adjust the terms of integration and build allegiance for social capital reflects the idea of people working together for collective economic and socio-cultural purposes, sacrificing some individual and group interests in the process. …

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