Introduction: Multiculturalism Turns 40: Reflections on the Canadian Policy

Article excerpt

Almost fifty years ago, the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism in Canada, also known as the Laurendeau-Dunton Commission, was established under Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson to investigate the relationship between the English and French in Canada. The Commission's tenure was from 1963 to 1969 and its most significant impact on Canada was the recommendation of the 1969 Official Languages Act. However, during the Commission's hearings across Canada, they heard from many non-British and non-French who refuted the notion that Canada was "bicultural" and who argued that Canada was more than just the two cultures of French and English. The Commission acknowledged this argument, investigated further, and this resulted in one of the six volumes of their final report, entitled The Cultural Contribution of the Other Ethnic Groups published in 1969 as Book IV. Shortly thereafter, in 1971, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau created Canada's multiculturalism policy, within a bilingual framework. This was a first in terms of corporate pluralism in the world. Subsequently, in 1988, Canada's first Multiculturalism Act was passed in parliament led by the Progressive Conservative Government and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

It has been four decades since the implementation of the Canadian policy on multiculturalism. Thus in late September/early October, 2011, in Ottawa, Canada, the Canadian Ethnic Studies Association along with the Association for Canadian Studies, held a joint conference entitled Multiculturalism Turns 40: Reflections on the Canadian Policy. This Conference offered a unique opportunity to exchange views and ideas in Canada's capital on the occasion of this important anniversary. The papers presented addressed not only the specific topic of Canada's multiculturalism policy, but also related topics regarding ethnicity, racialization and immigration. Thus there was a wide range of papers on matters such as the evolution of policy on multiculturalism, current debates over multiculturalism, the impact of multiculturalism on Canadian society, multiculturalism and ethnic identity, multiculturalism and immigrant integration, multiculturalism and official languages, multiculturalism and community formation, multiculturalism and social cohesion, the role of the media and multicultural policy, multiculturalism, equality and social justice, comparing the Canadian approach to other countries. These papers represented a variety of perspectives and academic disciplines.

The next two issues of Canadian Ethnic Studies provide just some of the excellent papers presented at this conference. The reader will find that both of these special issues have a breadth of articles that can be approximately categorized as: 1) historical; 2) theory and theorization; 3) social and public policy; and 4) case studies--multiculturalism on the ground. This first issue is unique in that it begins with the invited address by Maxwell Yalden, former Commissioner of Official Languages and former Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. His talk addresses both the historical and policy dimensions of multiculturalism in Canada. Other historical articles in this issue include Sourayan Mookerjea's assessment of multiculturalism, racism, and post-war nationalism, and Leo Driedger's historical assessment, dating back to the 1970s, of research on multiculturalism in terms of the debates on vision and issues related to identity and rights. …


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