Multiculturalism in Canada: Context and Current Status

By Esses, Victoria M.; Gardner, Rc | Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, July 1996 | Go to article overview

Multiculturalism in Canada: Context and Current Status


Esses, Victoria M., Gardner, Rc, Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science


Abstract

We introduce this special issue of the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science on "Ethnic Relations in a Multicultural Society" by setting the stage for the articles to follow. First, we describe the changing ethnic composition of Canada and we outline Canada's policy of multiculturalism. Next, we discuss the current state of ethnic identity and ethnic attitudes in Canada. Finally, we provide a brief overview of the articles in this issue.

Canada is a country of diversity. In addition to Aboriginal people and the founding British and French groups, there are a wide variety of ethnic groups represented in the Canadian population, including large numbers of German, Italian, Dutch, Ukrainian, Chinese, Black, and Indo - Pakistani people, among others (Kelly, 1995; Renaud & Badets, 1993). Close to 10% of the adult population of Canada are visible minorities, with this figure expected to double in the next twenty years (Kelly, 1995). The psychological study of ethnic relations has much to contribute toward understanding and promoting positive relations among the varied ethnic groups now calling themselves Canadian.

Ethnic relations in Canada are particularly important to address at this time for several reasons. First, there is growing concern about strained ethnic relations in Canada, including awareness of the poor treatment of Native people, rising tensions between French and English Canadians, and prejudice toward visible minorities, who are increasingly represented in the Canadian population (Cannon, 1995; Gwyn, 1995). In addition, because of the increasing ethnic and cultural diversity in Canada, there are now ethnic groups with very different cultural and religious backgrounds and practices who must try to get along in this country (Logan, 1991; Weinfeld, 1994). These diverse ethnic groups are not expected to assimilate to one set of "Canadian" practices but, instead, under a policy of multiculturalism, they are encouraged to maintain their unique cultural backgrounds, while sharing in the Canadian experience (Berry, 1984). This may be a difficult task, given that cultural and value differences have been cited as a potential source of conflict among groups (e.g., Berry & Kalin, 1995; Esses, Haddock, & Zanna, 1993). Moreover, some ethnic groups bring with them histories of conflict in their countries of origin, and itis imperative that these histories do not become part of the Canadian fabric (Gwyn, 1995; Weinfeld, 1994). Finally, exacerbating this situation is the fact that the current economic situation in Canada is characterized by financial restraint and competition over scarce resources. These conditions may lead individuals to question the benefits of Canada's policy of multiculturalism and tolerance of ethnic difference. In particular, tolerance of diversity and support for multiculturalism may be seen as luxuries that we cannot afford in these times (Gwyn, 1995).

In this context, up - to - date research on ethnic relations in Canada is essential. The psychological perspective makes an especially valuable contribution in this regard because of its ability to generate testable research questions, which are addressed through empirical research. In understanding ethnic relations in Canada, these questions must address issues of ethnic identity as well as intergroup ethnic attitudes. Canadian psychologists recognize the equal importance of these two issues, and have focussed on studying ethnic relations from the vantage of both majority and minority group members. The research described in this issue of the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science attests to this comprehensive approach.

In this article, we are pleased to introduce this special issue on "Ethnic Relations in a Multicultural Society" by setting the stage for the empirical articles to follow. First, to highlight the Canadian setting, we describe the changing ethnographics of Canada and outline Canada's policy of multiculturalism. …

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