Printer Friendly

An identity of many: it was in the 1960s that the Canadian government started to rethink its notion of assimilating immigrants.

In 1971, a new government policy was announced in Canada. It embraced multiculturalism; the idea that other cultures could not only exist within the country but enrich it.

The new approach was designed to integrate different ethnic groups rather than assimilate them. The government aimed to work with various cultural groups; aiding immigrants to become part of the country by say, learning one of the official languages. Ottawa also planned to help them retain their ethnic identity and overcome barriers to their full involvement in Canadian society.

Ottawa spent millions of dollars on special initiatives in language and cultural maintenance. It also sponsored programs to help ethnic minorities in the areas of human rights, freedom from racial discrimination, citizenship, immigration, and cultural diversity.

Multiculturalism was included in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, so the courts could balance individual and multicultural rights. For example, freedom of individual expression was limited by the ban on racial slurs or circulation of hate propaganda.

Most first generation immigrants tried to fit in and became proud citizens of their adopted country. Now, curiously, sociologists are spotting a reverse trend within the second generation. Some are going back to ethnic roots sometimes with sinister implications--jihadists, intent on fighting "holy" wars, are popping up among native-born communities.

In the past, immigrants to Canada, to a large extent, left their ancient conflicts behind them when they settled here. Irish Catholics and Protestants didn't kill each other in Canada as they did back home. If Serbians and Croatians weren't exactly chummy they mostly left their blood feuds behind them.

However, many of these groups still raised money for the "freedom fighters" back home. The Irish Republican Army was notoriously funded from North America. The tradition continues in the Sri Lankan community among others with the raising of cash for weapons to continue the conflict back home.

Such activities and restlessness within ethnic communities have made some European nations question the value of multiculturalism--the Dutch and Danes have even canned their policies.

The Netherlands, traditionally one of the world's most tolerant nations, has introduced new measures to improve the integration of immigrants. After the murder of Theo van Gough (the filmmaker who helped produce a film that dealt with the abuse of some Muslim women), the Dutch government tightened immigration rules. Many now have to pass a compulsory integration test on their knowledge of the Dutch language and culture. The government also has clamped down on the practice of importing women for arranged marriages. The city of Rotterdam passed a new "code of conduct" requiring that Dutch be spoken in public. Nationally, the burka (the complete body covering worn by some Muslim women) has been banned.

One state in Germany has told Muslims applying for citizenship that they must undergo a two-hour oral exam that gauges their attitudes on Western life. Others require would-be immigrants to take German-language courses.

Some observers say one of the reasons that multiculturalism is unravelling in Europe is because governments didn't work to integrate immigrant communities there. So, instead of becoming part of society, they tended to develop as separate, segregated communities. The result was not so much multiculmral societies as societies with different groups co-existing but not interacting.

Most British people say they support multiculturalism, even after homegrown terrorists attacked London in July 2005. However, the government says that prospective Britons must take a citizenship test. They have to show some knowledge of the nation's past, an appreciation of its institutions, and an awareness of its customs and laws. After the bombings, Prime Minister Tony Blair said "staying here carries with it a duty. That duty is to share and support the values that sustain the British way of life." In August 2005, he also said he would establish a commission to examine whether cultural integration is moving in the right direction. Mr. Blair explained that "When you've got people who may be here sometimes 20 years or more and who still don't speak English, that worries me. It worries me because I think there's a separateness there that may be unhealthy."

Some say that separateness is a result of social and economic inequities. Muslims in the U.K. have three times the unemployment rate of the population as a whole, the lowest economic activity rate, poor qualifications, and are more highly concentrated in deprived areas of the country.

Some think Canada needs to keep tabs on this development as well. Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson applauds Canada's immigration success. In October 2005, he wrote:

"We are fashioning the world's first truly cosmopolitan society. After laying a solid foundation of liberal democracy--based on the best of the British and French traditions in governance and law--we have imported millions of new arrivals, first from eastern and southern Europe, then from eastern and southern Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa. The result is nothing less than a miracle. Certain cities in Canada ... are becoming the first places where no one race is dominant, where women can live in real equality with men, where it's okay to be gay ... However, there is another, darker truth as well: Governments at all levels have failed to keep pace with what's happening on the street. As each year passes, the disparity between the political superstructure and the social base increases. If we don't fix this problem, government could really start to mess things up."

In general, various polls suggest that Canadians support a multicultural society. They tend to see Canada as an immigrant society. Immigrants have been viewed as assets who help build the nation. But, many still don't think the government's policy works. Critics feel it actually promotes too much diversity at the expense of unity. They say that emphasizing what is different rather than common values divides us. And, they believe that focusing too much on making nice with other cultures threatens Canadian values.

One poll released to The Globe and Mail in November 2006 found that support for multiculturalism evaporates when immigrant religious and cultural practices threaten gender equality. The poll on how Canadians view Muslims, showed that most Canadians (75 percent) think Muslim immigrants make a positive contribution to Canada, and half say they have a positive impression of Islam. But, the 37 percent who said they hold negative views most commonly cited "treatment of women" (21 percent) as a big concern, followed by violence (19 percent), association with terrorism (17 percent, intolerance (11 percent), and extremism (11 percent). On the issue of women's fights in particular, 81 percent of those surveyed believe immigrants should adapt to mainstream Canadian beliefs about the rights and role of women.

"The survey underlines how important multiculturalism is, on the one hand, and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is, on the other. Where they clash, Charter equality fights trump multiculturalism," explained Fred Lowy, of the Montreal-based Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, which commissioned the poll from Environics.

As Jeffrey Simpson put it in his column in The Globe and Mail in September 2005: "Public tolerance for deep multiculturalism is limited, if it means special rules for a particular group."


It estimated that in 2017 haft of the people living in Toronto and Vancouver will be non-white, mostly from Asia.

Between 1991 and 2000, 2.2 million immigrants were admitted to Canada. In percentage terms, the annual intake ranged between 0.6% and 0.9% of the total population during this period.


In Canada's 2001 census more than 200 different ethnic origins were reported, and the proportion of people with British, French, and/or Canadian ethnic origins dropped below half of the total population (46 percent). At the time of Confederation in 1867, most Canadians were either British (60 percent) or French (30 percent). By 1981, the percentage of British and French people dropped to 40 percent and 27 percent respectively. In 2001, the most common ancestries after Canadian, British, and French were German, Italian, Chinese, Ukrainian, and North American Indian. At the time, 18.4% of the population was born outside of Canada, the highest proportion in 70 years, and immigrants were increasingly from Asia.

According to a 2005 study by Statistics Canada, about one in five people in Canada could be a member of a visible minority by 2017 when Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary. And most of them will live in cities, particularly in Ontario and British Columbia.


"... with immigration rapidly turning even the most homogeneous nation-states into melting pots, no 21st-century issue will challenge governments more than fashioning societies in which people of disparate backgrounds and faiths can live together comfortably." Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson, October 2006

"I think Canada should ask something of newcomers, though I have no clue how to do it--not that they assimilate, but that they accept that this is a secular constitutional democracy where displeasure with the status quo is shown at the polling booth, where men and women are equals, where there is no room for quarrels imported from other parts of the planet." Christie Blatchford, The Globe and Mail, June 2006

"In pursuing multicuttural tolerance, Canada has been negligent in reinforcing essential, common-denominator values. Most of those are self-evident: human rights, the rule of law and the understanding that one person's freedom ends where another's begins." Ottawa columnist James Travers, The Record, June 2006


1. In March 2005, the Canadian government released A Canada for All: Canada's Action Plan Against Racism. The Plan's objectives were to strengthen social cohesion, further Canada's human rights framework, and demonstrate federal leadership in the fight against racism and hate-motivated crime. Visit to get involved in some of the program's activities.

2. While critics see government-backed multiculturalism as divisive by focusing on differences, those who support it argue that it encourages integration and gives the message to immigrants that they can preserve their cultural heritage and still participate in Canadian society. Hold a debate on the pros and cons of multiculturalism.

3. While some European countries are tightening immigration rules, Spain's socialist government announced a relaxation of rules in February 2005 under which an estimated 800,000 immigrants, mostly from Latin America and Morocco, could obtain work permits. The country changed its policy in January 2000 from one that focused on controlling immigration to one that saw immigration and integration as a permanent phenomenon. Find out what makes Spain different, and which other members of the European Union are more open to immigrants and why.


Aga Khan Foundation Canada

Canadian Heritage (Multiculturalism):

Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation:
COPYRIGHT 2006 Canada & the World
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:Canada and the World Backgrounder
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Dec 1, 2006
Previous Article:Through the back door: Canada is such a wonderful country in which to live that many people, from all over the world, sometimes take enormous risks...
Next Article:Underclass: even in countries that traditionally have welcomed immigrants, newcomers often are underprivileged and live isolated lives of hardship.

Related Articles
Multicultural policy.
Prospects for the future.
Molding a nation of nations.
Lost direction.
Editorial comment.
Global teachers with globite cases.
Malign neglect.
Underclass: even in countries that traditionally have welcomed immigrants, newcomers often are underprivileged and live isolated lives of hardship.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters