the Gauntlet

Multiculturalism done right

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently declared that the policy of multiculturalism in Germany has "utterly failed." This comes as many European countries are dealing with the tensions and difficulties resulting from immigration and immigrant populations combined with current economic hardship. Here in Canada there has also been renewed discussion of multiculturalism, with The Globe and Mail featuring it as one of the eight topics of discussion in its "Our Time to Lead" series and with the continuing debate, especially in Quebec, over "reasonable accommodation."

Multiculturalism has been for many years a national value in Canada, but concerns over integration of new immigrants, the formation of ethnic enclaves and the accommodation of different cultural and religious practices have led some to share Merkel's negative assessment. Some of this criticism is justified. But rightly understood and enacted, multiculturalism is a worthwhile and just policy.

Essential to this issue is what is meant by "multiculturalism." Chancellor Merkel put it this way: "This multicultural approach, saying that we simply live side by side and live happily with each other has failed." This is reminiscent of former Prime Minister Joe Clark's comment that a multicultural Canada is a "community of communities." The idea here is that each cultural community keeps mostly to itself while attempting to live harmoniously beside other communities. There is, it seems, no requirement of interaction or common life in this picture. If this is what multiculturalism is, then Merkel is right, it is a failure. One can see how this can lead to isolationism, antagonism, unjust practices and an absence of national unity. It is true that multicultural policies in Canada have occasionally slipped towards this perilous state ­-- multiculturalism at its worst. But such cases have been in the minority. It should be, and can be, so much better.

As Pierre Trudeau said in his speech introducing official multiculturalism in Canada, multiculturalism at its best is simply the full expression of individual freedom and the right of a person to live in a manner of their choosing according to principles of their choosing (within appropriate limits). It should not mean that people live in ethnic communities in Canada as if a small piece of their home country had been transplanted to their new one. Living in a country means participating in its social, economic and cultural life. This is perhaps what is meant by "integration." The flaw in most discussions of integration, however, is that it is often contrasted with multiculturalism, as if retaining one's cultural heritage is incompatible with participating fully in the life of one's new country. In certain extreme cases, it may be, but this should not lead us to abandon multiculturalism. Instead we should improve and strengthen it.

Retaining one's cultural heritage and practices is possible while becoming part of a new country. Of course certain practices, for example female circumcision, honour killings and so on, will not be tolerated. There must be, among cultural differences, shared values. Respect, tolerance, compassion and openness are among these values, as are recognition for the fundamental rights enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. And it is no imposition to ask that all newcomers to the country undertake to learn English or French if they cannot already speak one of these languages.

The recent Quebec court decision regarding the wearing of a niqab during court testimony (they must be removed if the fairness of the trial is jeopardized) struck a compromise solution which, while not perfect, is exactly the kind of approach that should be taken with issues of accommodation. Matters of culture are matters of conscience and though we cannot accept just anything, a diversity of lifestyles, world views and practices can be accommodated, encouraged and debated within a framework of shared basic values.

The reality is that the problem situations are the exception, not the norm, but are magnified by media attention and the finger-pointing of demagogues. They are a serious concern, but it is always important to highlight the successes, strength, dynamism, and possibilities for innovation that diversity produces, just as much as we strive to address the serious problems.

Europe was perhaps less prepared for multiculturalism than Canada was, and we can use our experiences to assist other countries in developing sensible policies. Here at home, however, we must not cease trying to build the pluralistic yet cohesive society which we desire. As the philosopher Charles Taylor has said, multiculturalism is always a work in progress. But suitably understood and enacted, multiculturalism is a virtue of liberal democracy which should not be abandoned.




I must agree with the German Chancellor. There are many ethnic enclaves in Canada and many who choose not to speak or learn any of the official languages of this country so Canadians must truly stop kidding themselves. Another negative result of multiculturalism is when pple are allowed to retain their own unique cultural identities it leads them to regard those that are different than they are as lesser human beings regardless of their skin colours or the typpes of countries they left to move to Canada there are many in Canada who are very racist. The Star mths ago published a study on discrimination among ethnic groups in Canada. Racism is a serious issue in this Country and the racists are the ones who are using the race card themselves and yes I am an immigrant as well as an ethinic person! WAKE UP CANADA!!

Have you ever stopped to think WHY some immigrants are racist? Because they were \"allowed to retain their own unique cultural identities\", right? That sounds kind of like.... what you, Merkel and the ultra-right in Europe are suggesting.

\"it leads them to regard those that are different than they are as lesser human beings.\" Indeed. Hence, we should do away with all idiotic feelings of nationalism and cultural loyalty both from \"Canadians\" and from \"immigrants\" and especially from racial supremacists. Because what you seem to be proposing is that the solution to people retaining their culture and being racist as a result is for us to retain our culture and... be racist as a result?

As a visible minority (or so \"THEY\" label me), the belief by many, especially those on the left, that Canada somehow is some sort of “Mecca” for a so-called Multicultural Mosaic success story is naive. Mr. Trudeau and Canada did not invent the concept, nor have they come close to perfecting it. I used to write extensively for one the major local newspapers in Toronto about the dangers of Canadian \"official\" multiculturalism and I see many of the issues that I raised then, now being borne in this society. I emigrated to Canada in 1969 as a young boy, and I can honestly tell you that I feel less comfortable in the Canada created by Pierre Trudeau and others, than I did as one of only a few \"brown skin\" children at school in Toronto in the 1970\'s. I consider myself a \"centrist\" and it seems as though many of those on the so-called “left” believe that \"assimilation\" is a form of prejudice and is supported only by a \"racist\" mentality. However, Canada\'s flawed \"official\" multicultural mosaic policy has resulted in the \"Ghetto-ization\" and segregation of the society, instead of working to be a blending formula. As a person of very \"mixed\" ethnicity, one who represents \"the blending of genes of diverse nations”, living in this new “multicultural mosaic” of Canada has been made very difficult. For people like myself are either labelled \"other\" or are flippantly assumed and lumped into the group to which we \"physically\" appear to belong. Have a look at the categories of the Canadian census. What right do “THEY” have to tell me that I must choose one of “THEIR” categories? If Canada truly wants to be a \"multicultural\" society, it should be discouraging the use of \"labels\" and \"divisiveness\", but encouraging the blending of various cultures to work together to become \"ONE\". Unfortunately that is not happening, and I predict that this will sadly be the cause of great unrest in the not too distant future. I was brought to Canada by my parents who came to Canada to provide their children with more opportunity, not necessarily for a \"better\" life. My parents did not come to Canada to change it or to re-create what they had left behind. They came to Canada to embrace what it had to offer, and to hopefully see their children contribute to what they believed would be a more enriched life. My parents have been deceased for sometime now, but sadly I can only imagine how disappointed they would be to know that after having lived here now for over 40 years, I feel more alienated in a society to which I have given and received so much simply for not ghettoizing myself, but for assimilating into it.