I pulled myself into a discussion of multiculturalism and had a surprisingly civil discussion with another respondent. I say “surprising” because it was in the online discussion forum for Maclean’s magazine, a place I normally avoid. [The extremism of the current editorial board has really taken its toll on a once venerable institution.] I suppose I was fascinated with this person’s belief that multiculturalism (and especially his rather relativistic notion of it) is the dominant political value in Canadian politics, an increasingly common belief that nevertheless goes against any serious reading of Canadian politics and history.
[The other person] … Canada is more influenced by America than any non-Christian groups. Shall we start expelling them?
And just look at what the Internet has done to free expression and the invasion of foreign ideas. I don’t think people realize that Muslim’s use the Internet. Is it time to start filtering foreign websites?
Are Francophones to be skimmed off? Atheists and agnostics too? Increasing godless Ontario?
As Canadians we can only define our culture by what it is not. We are a country of immigrants that has changed significantly decade-over-decade, generation-over-generation and if you think asking immigrants to accept our culture will stem the tides of change, you are being very naive.
[My first response] I couldn’t disagree more. Canada is a liberal democracy, and that entails many substantive traditions and obligations. There are many things that we ARE. The Charter is a good place to start, though by no means the only point of reference. At Canada’s core is a moral and legal injunction to respect individual freedom and autonomy. We are also a society that is said to respect the rule of law and equality before the law. Thus, multiculturalism is not the core of Canadianism; indeed, it was an afterthought in the Charter process, and its position in Sec. 27 has a lexical ranking clearly below the individual freedoms and legal entitlements that come in the sections before it.
If newcomers, like both of my parents, can live within these obligations, then there is no problem. If they can’t, then Canada is not a place for them. And if we can’t ask for newcomers to respect these boundaries, then we are a society for which there is little to defend. And to think this is acceptable is what I think is naive.
[The other person] Fair enough. We can apply some cultural definition through our adaptations of British (and French) basis of law and sense of social contract, but socially speaking we are a society constantly in flux, which is why we went from excommunicating homosexuals from many aspects of society 50 years ago to allowing them to marry today, for example.
You say multiculturalism isn’t a core of Canadianism, ranking below individual freedoms and legal entitlements, but I would say that such freedoms and entitlements inevitably lead to multiculturalism by their very nature because it provides in law protection to minority groups from the rule of the majority (J.S. Mill would like it I am sure), resting heavily on the most important word in the Charter; ‘reasonable.’
The point I was making was against the rather disgusting bigotry directed towards a group of people who for the overwhelming part meet our societal obligations the best they can, with each generation meeting them better than the one before.
[My second response] I’d argue that Canadian multiculturalism is a fairly recent phenomenon that has its roots in the rise of “identity politics”, changing post-war immigration patterns and the struggle by many non-Brits and Francophones (including Ukranian and German Canadians) to battle the arrogance of “biculturalism”.
On the other hand, the liberal democratic principles I mentioned earlier have been around much longer, and many scholars argue that the Charter is just an extension and codification of long-held principles and beliefs (much of them inherent in British common law). As such, the changes in recognition that you rightly point out do not represent a fundamental change in our society, but a long overdue and logical extension of the universal promise inherent in liberal democratic societies and constitutions.
I do agree that bigots are never far from view, and often target those who have met or surpassed the “bar”. However, bigotry can work both ways. When I see certain Muslim families arrive on an annual basis to register their kids in our public distance ed. school, I am overwhelmed. The mothers (I think) arrive in a full burqa, they walk in the back, and they are mute [and thus moot]. The fathers control the registration. And I almost never see daughters.
It is obscene. It is the worst form of bigotry I can imagine. Unlike head coverings and religious symbols, which do not block interaction, the burqa is a portable wall of separation.
What is worse is that nobody says a word (out loud). I would lose my job if I objected.
And while I’m sure some would argue this is a “choice”, I recall those lines from Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” – perhaps the best promulgation of Western values in the last 50 years:
… Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I it” relationship for an “I thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness?…