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Canada’s Multicultural Policies

When the Liberal government, under Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, announced in 1971 that Canada would be following a Multiculturalism Policy, it was the first national government in the world to do so. The government wanted to help immigrant Canadians retain their culture and therefore helped set up cultural organizations. The government also established associations to help immigrants settle in Canada and to become active citizens. Section 27 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms stated that courts needed to make decisions “in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canada.” In this way, Canada became a constitutional, multicultural state.

Canada’s Multiculturalism Act was passed in 1988. It legally established Canada’s multicultural policy and:

  • officially recognizes the importance of Canada’s multicultural heritage and states that the heritage must be preserved and promoted;
  • recognizes the rights of Aboriginal peoples in Canada;
  • states that while English and French remain the only official languages of Canada, other languages can be spoken;
  • states that all Canadian citizens have equal rights, regardless of any differences they might have and regardless of skin colour, religion, country of birth, ethnic background, etc.; and
  • recognizes the right of ethnic, linguistic, and religious minorities to keep their cultures, languages, and religious practices.

Benefits of Canadian Multiculturalism

Aboriginal Beadwork

Canada is a country of immigrants; therefore, it is important that Canada be recognized as a multicultural state. Even some of the very first people in Canada were immigrants who came across the Bering Straight from what is present-day Russia. These first immigrants evolved over time, separated into distinct groups, and became today’s Aboriginal peoples. Each group also developed its own distinct culture. As more immigrants began arriving in Canada, they too brought their own traditions, all of which were added to the mosaic.

In the 21st century, approximately 200,000 immigrants come to Canada each year. All of these people bring their own language, culture, and religion with them to Canada. As a result, Canadian culture is a mosaic composed of all the different cultures in Canada. As the groups settle into Canada, their culture changes to become a completely new culture, such as Chinese-Canadian, Icelandic-Canadian, or Mennonite-Canadian. These new cultures are also added to the mosaic. It is Canada’s commitment and recognition of multiculturalism that act as the glue that holds the mosaic together and unifies it into a whole, cohesive country — namely, Canada.

Elk Island Field Trip

Canada’s policy of multiculturalism makes it a favourite destination for immigrants. They can keep their pride in their ancestry while simultaneously having a sense of belonging to Canada. The 1988 Canadian Multiculturalism Act and the 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms ensure that all Canadian citizens are equal and have equal rights to freedom of thought, belief, and religion as well as equal treatment before and under the law.

Queen contest

Canada’s multicultural nature has given it many advantages. Most simply, it add variety to the daily life of all Canadian citizens. They have a wealth of different ethnic foods to sample, cultures to experience, and music to listen to. Canadians are also exposed to different religious practices and different core values and beliefs. This exposure to diversity helps Canadians become more tolerant of different kinds of people. Being aware of the values of different groups also helps individuals understand why people are motivated to act as they do. Knowing more about a variety of groups can help people dispel the racist ideas that are still circulating today. Once a person knows people of different ethnic groups, he does not believe ethnic stereotypes as easily. People may realize that each separate group is composed of individuals who are essentially just human beings like themselves. The differences in skin colour, religion, or food practices do not affect the personalities of members of the group. As more people are exposed to and begin to understand different cultures, they are less likely to become xenophobic (fearful of outsiders or strangers).

Heritage Festival in 1978

More efficient plane travel and advances in communication technology are making it easier for people from all around the globe to interact with one another. There is a huge increase in information sharing. Researchers working on the same topic in different countries can share information and many businesses have branches all around the world. Canada’s multicultural nature is a huge asset in the international sphere. Many immigrants may have kept up contacts in their country of origin and can therefore continue doing business with them. Researchers in Canada may have established a network in their country of origin with other people working in their field. When they come to Canada, immigrants can maintain their old contacts while forming new ones. They are therefore able to share more information and research with more people.

Laura Vinson

Many Canadians speak another language as well as English or French. This is also important when dealing internationally. More people are available to act as translators or simply to conduct business. Having people from all over the world in Canada also gives Canadians multiple perspectives on issues. Exposure at home to different beliefs and religions may make Canadians more prepared to try to understand and accommodate other people’s culture, traditions, and concerns.

Canadians make an important effort to prevent conflict in their nation. As a result, they are prepared to support peacekeeping initiatives elsewhere. Canadian diplomacy is also helped by multiculturalism. Not only do people speak more languages, but they are also more willing and practised at listening to another person’s or group’s point of view.

Serenata Italiana, Saga of the immigrant

The Canadian government is committed to its policy of multiculturalism and is attempting not to be hypocritical (saying one thing and doing another). The Canadian government is therefore apologizing and trying to redress racist policies of the past. While the past cannot be changed, these actions show that the government today is dedicated to multiculturalism.

Picnic, Norwegian settlers, Bergen, Alberta

The most recent apology was made June 22, 2006 when Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for imposing a head tax on Chinese immigrants at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. The government plans to make a symbolic payment to the surviving people who paid the head tax and to the spouses of deceased Chinese immigrants who paid the head tax. The government also plans to set up a program to fund projects that will investigate immigration restrictions and other discriminatory government measures.

Learn More

Canadian Multiculturalism: An Inclusive Citizenship Canadian Diversity: Respecting our Differences Canadian Multiculture index

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