FEDS GO BEYOND MULTICULTURALISM MYTHS
By: Louis Musto
It has been 25 years since the federal multiculturalism policy was adopted and put into
practice. Despite this period of time it is still misunderstood by some people.
Multiculturalism, they claim, is about paying immigrants to be different and focuses on
division rather than on building harmony. In fact, actions taken by federal institutions
to promote the cause of multiculturalism can help to dispel common myths.
Multiculturalism is a straightforward concept to grasp. It recognizes the cultural
diversity of Canada as demographic reality. It suggests that everyone should be treated
equally, regardless of their culture and ethnic origin, and given the opportunity to
participate fully in Canadian life.
The purpose of multiculturalism is often distorted to create misguided myths, and used
as a scapegoat for problems that are rooted elsewhere. Critics contend that it is a
convenient way of bribing the ethnic vote by handing out generous grants, or that it pays
people to maintain their cultures and therefore ghettoizes minorities. It follows from
this perspective that multiculturalism threatens mainstream culture and Canadian values,
and divides rather than unites the country.
These arguments are false and are at variance with the intent of the federal policy.
One way to dispel any misunderstandings is to investigate what federal institutions are
doing to meet the requirements of the federal multiculturalism legislation. While the
multiculturalism policy was introduced in 1971, legislation which requires all federal
institutions to apply the policy, was passed in 1988.
Federal departments and agencies are working to eliminate racism and racial
discrimination, overcome problems of integration faced by ethnocultural and visible
minorities, and to promote the shared values upon which our nation is based.
Here are a few examples taken from the 1995 annual report on the operation of the
Canadian Multiculturalism Act:
1.Training at all levels of the RCMP has been fundamentally revised, leading to
the routine inclusion of learning modules on diversity, multiculturalism and race
2.The Solicitor General of Canada supported the development of a holistic
approach to justice and healing by communities such as the Hollow Water First Nations in
Manitoba. This far-reaching study explores a departure from the conventional, adversarial
methods of resolving legal disputes. Community involvement in sentencing and corrections
is central to this approach, which is based on Aboriginal traditions of restorative
justice. The department is also actively involved in issues of police-minority relations
3.The Canada Council recognizes the need to make access to its programs more
equitable for all Canadians. To address this problem the Council provides training of arts
administrators from culturally diverse backgrounds, offers information sessions that
target minority communities from across Canada, and has created the position of Equity
Co-ordinator. Increasingly, the Council recognizes and supports Canadian artists and
artistic companies from minority backgrounds.
4. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and the Société Radio Canada
(SRC) believe appropriate monitoring is integral to all good broadcasting. CBC/SRC
reports dealing with ethnocultural communities and situations involves a stage whereby
people or groups familiar with those cultures are consulted on the portrayal's accuracy
5.The multiculturalism programs of Canadian Heritage funded a major study by the
Conference Board of Canada on diversity and its importance to Canadian business. Over 200
leading Canadian companies were surveyed on their practices for managing diversity, and
those that could serve as models for best practices were identified. Recommendations were
also developed to strengthen trade and investment links by encouraging greater
collaboration between Asian-Canadian and non-Asian-Canadian business people.
6.The Canada Post Corporation receives delegations from foreign postal
administrations that are interested in its operations, technology and overall corporate
strategies. When-ever possible, it ensures that postal employees of all levels who speak
the visitors' language are present, while the Corporation is their host in Canada.
7.Employees at the Vancouver Port Corporation take a two-hour harassment
workshop which includes a component on racial harassment. The course is offered to new
employees once a year.
8.The Canadian Human Rights Commission investigates complaints of discrimination
based on race, colour or ethnic origin. It conducts research on multicultural issues, and
diversity training is provided to employees of the Commission.
3. Experts and Further Reading
Anne Clark. The Pearson-Shoyama Institute. Ottawa. Tel: 613-230-8284 Fax: (613)
Annual Report On the Operation of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act. Department of
Canadian Heritage. 1996.