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Part One: Multiculturalism in Canada
"Homage to a Woman, to a Country"
Cégep de Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, Quebec
Winner: Mathieu Da Costa Challenge, Best Artwork 2010–2011, Ages 16–18 Category
Description: This oil painting consists of two parts: Michaëlle Jean on the right, who served as the 27th Governor General of Canada, is kissed on the cheek by a small child. The left depicts an orange, red and yellow background of maple leafs. In the top left corner, there is a picture of the Earth. In the middle, there are black and brown fi gures representing mothers and children, and in the bottom left corner, fl ags from different countries around the world.
Canada, from the very beginning, has been a diverse society with a history of accommodating newcomers and its citizens. Diversity in Canada was built on three main pillars: the Aboriginal, French and British peoples. Over time, this diversity has been complemented by millions of newcomers to Canada with various ethnic and religious backgrounds.
Canadian society is becoming increasingly diverse. Canadians experience diversity every day, in their interactions with their neighbours or in the workplace, in the classroom or in their families, in the media or at sporting events. Diversity is a Canadian fact of life and is an integral part of our identity.
Part of that experience is shaped by demographic change: Canada is home to over 200 different ethnicities, and diversity varies greatly from region to region. According to the 2006 census, visible minorities, for example, accounted for 16.2% of Canada’s total population. Projections from Statistics Canada indicate that this diversity is likely to continue to increase in the future, with 29% to 32% of Canada’s population expected to belong to a visible minority group by 2031.
With increased immigration from non-European countries, Canada is also becoming a society that is more religiously diverse, and demographic projections indicate that this trend will also continue, as seen in Figure 1 below. By 2031, it is projected that non-Christian religious communities will represent about 14% of the total population of Canada (versus 6.3% in 2001).
Source: Statistics Canada, 2010.
Approaches to Multiculturalism
Multiculturalism is the Government of Canada’s policy framework aimed at managing diversity and the challenges that may arise. In so doing, the Government of Canada is helping all Canadians participate in society to their full potential. Canada’s approach to diversity has traditionally balanced two objectives: to encourage integration, and to ensure that the broader society is welcoming and that it accommodates diversity.
Multiculturalism in Canada is embedded in law in the form of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act. It is part of a larger legislative framework that includes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Citizenship Act, the Employment Equity Act, the Official Languages Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. In addition, most provincial and territorial governments have enacted their own multiculturalism legislation or policy frameworks.
However, “multiculturalism,” as a term or an ideal, has been subject to much debate recently, especially in Europe. Countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have declared that multiculturalism has failed to adequately integrate segments of their respective populations.
Similar debates are occurring in countries – like France, for example – that do not subscribe to multiculturalism, which suggests that the crux of the issues discussed is not directly related to an ill-defined notion of multiculturalism. Rather, the debate seems to point to other factors, including historical context, national or cultural identity, and immigration and integration policies. In contrast to the European climate, other countries, such as the Government of Australia, have reaffirmed their commitment to multiculturalism.
Canada is not immune to the kinds of debates witnessed elsewhere in the world. Almost since the inception of the Multiculturalism Policy in 1971, multiculturalism has elicited debate. In recent years, the issue of accommodating minority religious groups has thrust Canada’s approach to managing diversity to the forefront of public discourse. However, unlike other countries, Canada’s approach to diversity is embedded in a broad legislative framework and is supported by policies, programs and services developed and delivered by all levels of government across Canada. The Canadian approach to diversity has encouraged the evolution of a dynamic, successful and highly diverse society, which Canadians cite with pride.
Canada’s Legislative Framework
- The Citizenship Act (1977) lays the foundation for the rights and privileges of Canadian citizens.
- The Canadian Constitution Act (1982) divides responsibility for immigration and integration between the federal government and the provinces and territories.
- Section 27 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982) specifies that the courts are to interpret the Charter “in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canada.”
- The Canadian Human Rights Act (1985) provides equal opportunity for all Canadians and protection from discriminatory practices based on age, sex, ethnicity, colour or disability.
- The Canadian Multiculturalism Act (1988) reaffirms multiculturalism as a fundamental value of Canadian society and establishes a unique model for inclusive citizenship.
- The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (2002) affirms the fundamental principles of non-discrimination and universality in immigration.
Building an Integrated and Socially Cohesive Society
Public opinion on diversity and multiculturalism indicates that Canadians are generally supportive of multiculturalism. A recent Focus Canada poll (2010) indicated that 86% of respondents viewed multiculturalism as important to Canada’s national identity, in keeping with past survey results. Survey data also indicate that Canadians are concerned about issues related to immigrants and the long-term integration of ethnic and religious communities, including the adoption of Canadian values. More broadly, these issues have an impact on the ability of all Canadians to participate to their full potential in fostering an integrated, socially cohesive society.
Although Canadian society is generally cohesive, challenges remain. These include tensions over the “reasonable accommodation” of cultural and religious traditions; the persistence of racism and discrimination; marginalization and exclusion, which can result in poverty, as well as potentially foster extremism; limited socio-economic integration and opportunities for certain Canadians; and declining civic participation and an overall lack of knowledge of our history and political institutions.
The key objectives of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration’s Multiculturalism Program were modified in 2009 to address the various challenges by placing more emphasis on building an integrated, socially cohesive society, while promoting intercultural and interfaith understanding and fostering citizenship, civic memory, civic pride and respect for core democratic values. Other countries are facing similar challenges and that is why the program is also focused on international efforts to address racism and discrimination, including anti-Semitism.
Although the Department leads Canada’s Multiculturalism Policy, all federal government institutions have a role to play and must take into account Canada’s growing diversity. Institutions are constantly adapting to provide services and implement policies that are relevant to and reflective of Canada’s evolving society. They continue to work together, with other levels of government, with public and private institutions and with civil society on new initiatives and long-term solutions.
Debates over the nature of multiculturalism are not new. They have occurred consistently over Canada’s history and will likely occur into the future. In many ways, it is a sign of a healthy, mature and cohesive society that these debates can occur in a peaceful and respectful manner. It is through these types of discussions that we continue to grow and progress as a nation.
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