Multiculturalism In Canada

Multiculturalism In Canada

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Canadian Multiculturalism, Same as it ever Was? (an essay by Kathleen Hoyos)
Abstract: After the Second World War ended, Canada was no longer mainly composed
of its two dominant ethnocultural groups, French and English, but rather constituted by
polyethnicity; meaning, Canadian culture was made up of many different ethnic groups.
Since then, Canada has actively embraced multiculturalism and on 12 July 1988, the
House of Commons passed Bill C-93, ‘An Act for the preservation and enhancement of
multiculturalism in Canada’. The Canadian multicultural experience has been much
portrayed as a celebration of ethnicity where different cultural groups share their
customs and learn from each other. However, it is recently being rumoured that the
multiculturalism hype is not all it is cut out to be and segregates communities rather
than integrate. According to Canadian authors Keith Banting and Will Kymlicka, “in
much of the world and particularly in Europe, there is a widespread perception that
multiculturalism has failed” (44). In this paper, I examine some recent common issues
of concern, especially, racism and discrimination, through the literary expression of
Canadian playwrights and writers such as George F. Walker, Cecil Foster, and
Mordecai Richler. These writers are not meant to represent any ethnic group as a whole,
but rather try to project a general feeling about the nation in individual ways. I will
finally explore the idea of how perhaps multiculturalism in Canada is evolving into
another state since migratory patterns and the social circumstances that Canada is facing
in the 21st century have changed. Today, the idea of celebrating different ethnicities and
customs is no longer as important as celebrating the transcultural or “transnational”
aspects of relations between individuals and groups of immigrants.

Keywords: multiculturalism, transnationalism, transnational literature

The use of Multiculturalism, as a term, within the Canadian perspective, is best stated

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by Harold Troper in The Encyclopedia of Canada’s Peoples, where he acknowledges
that multiculturalism has been used to:

refer to several different, but related, phenomena: the demographic reality
of a Canadian population made up of peoples and groups representing a
plurality of ethnocultural traditions and racial origins; a social ideal or
value that accepts cultural pluralism as a positive and distinctive feature of

Canadian society; and government policy initiatives designed to recognize,
support, and–some might argue –manage cultural and racial pluralism at
federal, provincial, and municipal levels.i

In looking at Troper’s description of multiculturalism, the first point that is noted is
Canada’s pluralist society. But how diverse is Canada’s society? And how has the
present changed from the past? We seem to forget that even previous to European
settlement, Canada was already widely settled by various different aboriginal groups
with cultural and linguistic differences: Canada’s First Nations. Therefore Canada’s
pluralist society is not a present day phenomena, but rather an intrinsic characteristic to
Canadian lifestyle that only keeps expanding with time.

Polyethnicity holds an inherent value in Canadian society and culture since Canada
proclaimed its own ‘Multiculturalism Policy’ in 1971, making Canada the first country
in the world to officially implement a legislative framework for multiculturalism. Then,
in 1982, The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms included multiculturalism as an
important part of the Canadian identity, which meant that the charter specifically
recognized multiculturalism as a Canadian value. Finally, in July 1988 the Conservative
government passed the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, which formalized the
government's multiculturalism policy "to recognize all Canadians as full and equal
participants in Canadian society" by establishing legislation to protect ethnic, racial,
linguistic and religious diversity within Canadian society.ii

Thanks to this policy, today Canadian society is widely known for its multicultural
mosaic, consisting of different social communities who co-exist, regardless of
differences in ethnic origin or religious belief. Around the world, the Canadian
multicultural experience is much portrayed as a celebration of ethnicity where different
cultural groups share their customs and learn from each other. However, according to
some scholars, this heavenly state has presented “a major shift in the general trends
regarding immigrant integration in the western democracies” (Banting and Kymlicka
44). Canadian authors Keith Banting and Will Kymlicka argue that “the present trend
stirs away from multiculturalism and towards social cohesion and integration. Whereas
the 1970s and 1980s exhibited growing support for, and experimentation with,
multiculturalism, the 1990s and 2000s have witnessed a backlash against it, and a retreat
from it” (Banting and Kymlicka 44). However, this global backlash and retreat is
primarily promoted by European states. The dominant narrative about multiculturalism
in Europe blames multiculturalism for a variety of ills. Some of these ills are “the
residential ghettoisation and social isolation of immigrants, and the increased
stereotyping, and hence prejudice and discrimination, between ethnic groups” (Banting
and Kymlicka 45).

The works of the Canadian writers I examine here give us model examples of some
issues of concern such as racism and discrimination that are very much present in
Canadian society. Canadian playwright George F. Walker critically challenges the
concept of multiculturalism in his play Heaven, where the interaction between various
different ethnic groups has nothing to do with bliss, but rather turns out to be a bitter
battle of long-held grudges and prejudices. Walker himself has experienced some of
these grudges and prejudices, as he comes from a working class family in east end

Toronto. The play questions the concept of multiculturalism by making it apparently an
ideology that could only be attainable in heaven.

In the play there are five characters, each representative of a specific ethnic group, that
coincide in a nearby park, on the outskirts of a city. The park which happens to be the
stage for this Canadian representative society is the perfect setting because it draws us
away from an ethnic neighborhood or enclave, giving us an area where the characters
are on neutral ground, therefore avoiding ghettoization and placing the real emphasis of
the play on how these multi-cultural characters co-exist, interrelate and influence one

Critics argue that multiculturalism promotes ghettoization and balkanization, and
encourages segregation and discrimination. It leads its members into a sole awareness of
its own kind, highlighting ethnic, religious and cultural differences and in the end,
distorting the view of a shared Canadian identity. In the play Heaven, Walker shows us
some of the typical problems that can arise between segregated cultures or cultures that
do not accept intermarriages. In the following fragment of the play, David, a Jewish
rabbi, attributes the failure of Jimmy’s marriage to the fact that he is not Jewish.

David: I never had anything against you…I was against your marriage
that’s all.

Jimmy: Against it? Is that what you call it. You were a fucking pain in the
ass. We loved each other [my wife and I]. Get it? And all we heard was this
crap coming from these two ancient tribes we were trying to escape. Your
fucking synagogue was almost vibrating with collective distaste. And my
old man died well, basically in a bigoted rage. The Catholic way. The
Jewish way. All the ways. Fuck you. Fuck your people. Fuck your ways.
My marriage isn’t fucked because of her career, or my callous ways, it’s
from fifteen years of trying to keep all you assholes at arm’s length. (Walker

Jimmy, who is also the main character of the play, expresses his frustration with the
restricting norms and conditions sometimes shown by ethnic groups, perhaps as a
consequence of ethnic enclaves. Jimmy ascribes the failure of his marriage to religious
differences and the socially negative reception of intercultural relationships. Banting
and Kymlicka declare that the debate over multiculturalism focuses “primarily on the
social integration of newcomers into the mainstream of Canadian life” (53) and two of
the three traditional indicators they principally rely on to analyse this debate are
residential location and intermarriage:

There is (…) little evidence of entrenched racial concentration in poor
ghettos. A study tracking residential patterns in Toronto over time finds
that black and South Asian migrants follow a traditional assimilation
model: initial settlement is in low-income enclaves shared by their own
and other visible minority groups, but they disperse in the longer term to
higher cost neighbourhoods dominated by white people (…). While rates
of intermarriage vary significantly across immigrant minorities, the 2001
census revealed striking proportions of mixed couples among some

minority communities (…). Hybridity is an increasing element of
Canadian multiculturalism. (Banting and Kymlicka 53-4)

In his book Essays on George F. Walker: Playing with Anxiety, writer Chris Johnson
closely studies Walker’s work and critically analyses most of his plays. He explores the
social and cultural contexts in which Walker writes and acknowledges that a central
aspect in his plays is his “compulsion to place his anxiety on the page and on the stage”.
Excessively uncontrolled anxiety is Walker’s approach to denouncing all of society’s
evils; racism, discrimination, and religious warfare. Walker uses savage satire on
religious affiliation of any sort and comments on how Einstein called the dominant
world religions the religions of fear. Kymlicka (2010) confirms that, in Canada, the
place of religious diversity within multiculturalism has not yet been adequately debated
or explored. In fact, he claims that “religion is now the most controversial domain of
multiculturalism” (Kymlicka 18).

Jimmy: Speaking of Pakies… the Islamic faith. There are some pretty
zany guys hiding out in that religion. The Taliban…How many women can
you kill in the name of Allah. What’s the record so far. Those thugs should
be dragged into the new millennium no matter how much they kick and
scream. You know Einstein called the big three, the Christian, Jewish,
Islamic faiths. The religions of fear. They all gotta go. Really…We can’t
get anywhere holding on to them. They’re anti-evolutionary…I used to say
that to Judy…How can you be part of a faith that doesn’t like you…Like
my mother. And my sisters. Good Catholics…But their church despises
them. On some fundamental level. It does. (Walker 81)

Jimmy is a human rights lawyer, with working class roots, who turns cynic and
launches a one-man crusade against the hypocrisies of racism, religion, and the
politically correct. Johnson refers to “Walker’s working class roots as a central starting
point for understanding…[his] point of view,” and the use of vulgar and coarse
language in his plays to depict hypocrisies. Walker also resorts to rushes of words,
chopped chunks of language and exclamations to help get his point across. Sometimes
repetition and hyphenation does the trick as well:

Jimmy: I’m a government lawyer, Judy. I’m a fucking dickless wonder.

Judy: Who doesn’t listen, but I remember when you did. And to a whole
lot of people, me included but immigrants mostly, you were some kind of
hero. You helped those people when they couldn’t get help anywhere else.

Jimmy: Yeah well…fuck them.

Judy: Fuck them? Why, Jimmy. How did we get to fuck them.

Jimmy: Mostly because of what they bring with them. Their tribal
conflicts. So fuck the Vietnamese-hating Cambodians. And the
Cambodian-hating Koreans. And the Jamaican-hating Trinidadians. And
the Albanian-hating Serbs…hating Croats and whoever else…and yes
while we’re at it, Jude, fuck the white European male and everyone he
hates. And all the Christian-hating Muslims and Muslim-hating Jews and
Jew-hating Christians and gay-hating Christians and Muslim-hating
Christians. And black and white and yellow and red and so on and so on.

Fuck and double fuck them all. And if it disappoints you that I feel that
way well…fuck you too I guess. (Walker 58)

At the end of the play, although Jimmy is left confronting an afterlife that further defies
his expectations of life, there is still a sense of reconciliation and an opportunity for
multiculturalism. There is hope for a possible understanding of different cultural groups
in a community or, as Walker suggests, in one single ‘Heaven’.

Surprisingly, Walker is not the only Canadian writer who uses the concept of ‘heaven’
sarcastically to describe Canadian society in a book title. Cecil Foster, Barbadian-
Canadian who immigrated to Canada in 1979, has written a collection of essays entitled
A Place Called Heaven: The Meaning of Being Black in Canada (1996), which mainly
explores why people of Black origin feel alienated from Canada’s multicultural policies
and how they try to overcome this feeling. According to H. Nigel Thomas, the essays
that comprise this book “document and analyse the various ways by which Toronto’s
Blacks try to keep a step ahead of psychological and cultural death in the urban
wilderness of hopelessness and contempt that the dream [of the Promised Land myth]
has brought them to” (Thomas 488).

While Thomas asserts that “there is no such body of people called a Canadian Black
community nor for that matter any possibility of creating one, Foster, … argues the
reverse… [and claims] that Blacks are linked into a community by the common
experience of oppression” (Thomas 486-487). Foster also claims that Canada’s racism
against Black people is due to the part it played during colonialization. He illustrates
this process by referring to the “dehumanizing mythology Euro-Canadians invented to
dispossess First Nations.”iiiHowever, he also admits that Caribbean and African Blacks
are, to a degree, also at fault for the racism practiced against them because when they
first arrive to Canada they accept menial jobs and therefore also accept to be treated as
menial or as the colonized. Nevertheless, Banting and Kymlicka’s research seems to
demonstrate exactly the opposite. They state that “critics of multiculturalism sometimes
argue that Canada’s record of integration [within immigrants] is explained by … the
fact that Canada’s immigrants tend to be more highly skilled than immigrants in other
countries [and therefore] can more easily move into the labour market” (60).

Foster claims that

No matter how [Blacks] strut their perceived differences, most Canadians see
[them] as forming one homogenous group. And how [Blacks] are seen and
treated by Canadians at large might, in the end, be the deciding factor. For how
[they] are perceived will govern how [they] react to the wider community,
determine whether [they] can ever become genuine Canadians, [and] settle what
conditions … [they] live [under] as individuals. In other words, this … implies
how [Blacks] are to survive collectively as a community … and [their] place …
in Canada. (Foster 21)

While Banting and Kymlicka concede the following:

The fact that Canada has officially defined itself as a multicultural nation
means that immigrants are a constituent part of the nation that citizens feel

pride in; multiculturalism serves as a link for native-born citizens from
national identity to solidarity with immigrants. Conversely,
multiculturalism provides a link by which immigrants come to identify
with, and feel pride in, Canada. (Banting and Kymlicka 60)

Mordecai Richler was born in 1931 and raised on St Urbain Street in Montreal. His
grandfather immigrated to Canada from a Galician shtetl in 1904 to be a peddler on the
Main, which later became the Jewish ghetto. Richler’s grandparents immigrated to
Canada long before English-French bilingualism became an official federal policy.
Therefore, Richler was educated in English, not French which is the first official
language spoken in Montreal, the second being English. This, along with the fact of
being Jewish, caused Richler to experience double racism. However, in a fragment from
his story “The Street”, he says, “Actually, it was only the WASPS who were truly hated
and feared. ‘Among them,’ I heard it said, ‘with those porridge faces, who can tell what
they’re thinking?’ It was, we felt, their country, and given sufficient liquor who knew
when they would make trouble?” (Hutcheon and Richmond 36).

Richler expresses a view of multiculturalism as serving a political function. He claims
that although “multiculturalism was a deliberate cover-up of earlier mistakes,” since
Canada was one of the countries that brought to safety the smallest number of Jews
during the Nazi regime, only about 5000.iv This has slowly led Canadians to
“voluntarily support the myth”. In the 1950s Canada opened its immigration policies to
allow the entrance of less “preferred” immigrant groups. Soon after, Canada realised
that, despite its tireless efforts to be a homogeneously WASP country with an adjacent
French region, it could no longer deny its multiethnic population. Subsequently, Canada
took the first step in expressing its multicultural identity and later on established its
Multiculturalism Act. Once it was decided to actively adopt multiculturalism as a
policy, it was performed

with the explicit assumption that cultural diversity is a good thing for the
nation and needs to be actively promoted. Migrants are encouraged—and
to a certain extent, forced by the logic of discourse—to preserve their
cultural heritage and the government provides support and facilities for
them to do so; as a result, their place in the new society is sanctioned by
their officially recognised ethnic identities. (Lucking 243)

For Richler, the true ideology behind multiculturalism is the government’s intent of
incorporating ethnic groups into the definition of Canadian identity. However, he does
admit that even though its purpose may not have been of pure good intentions, its
outcome has certainly demonstrated welfare for Canadians. There was a time in Canada
when not being of English or French descent meant being the Other. Hence minority
groups had to choose which dominant ethnic culture they would abide by and this, for
Richler, depended on what was good for the Jews:

Our parents used to apply a special standard to all men and events. ‘Is it
good for the Jews?’ By this test they interpreted the policies of Mackenzie
King and the Stanley Cup play-offs and earthquakes in Japan. To take one
example – if the Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup it would
infuriate the WASPS in Toronto, and as long as the English and French

were going at each other they left us alone: ergo, it was good for the Jews
if the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup. We were convinced that we gained
from dissension between Canada’s two cultures, the English and the
French, and we looked neither to England nor France for guidance. We
turned to the United States, The real America. (Hutcheon and Richmond

Richler clearly describes how on special occasions minority groups identified
themselves by either siding with the English or the French, depending on the
circumstances and the events in play. On any other day, they just simply did not fit into
the Canadian identity and went back to the status of the Other. Some immigrants
decided on not going back to the Other status at all and opted for an in between, free
flowing status, a neither here nor there status.

In the article “Neither here nor there: Canadian fiction by the multicultural generation”,
Carolyn Redl, makes a distinction between writers before the Multiculturalism Act of
1988 and writers after the Act, naming them the writers of the ‘multicultural
generation’. She explores whether fiction by transcultural writers of this generation
differs from fiction written by earlier writers to determine if legislated multiculturalism
has promoted increased tolerance of ethnic differences. Redl concludes that
“Transcultural fiction written prior to the Multicultural Act depicts characters in the
process of becoming Canadians … [and fiction written since the Act,] depicts characters
who are physically present in Canada and physically absent from another country. They
are neither here nor there” (28), therefore lacking a sense of belonging to a single place,
but rather belonging to more than one place at the same time. They are transnational
migrants. Transnational migrants are not expected to have a single identity or national
allegiance. In fact, most Canadians are “trapped on the cusp of two [or more] worlds, a
fact symbolized by the hyphen [or set of hyphens] in their hyphenated ethnic labels”
(23). Redl claims that the Multiculturalism Act originated hyphenated Canadians and
now new Canadians are “automatically labeled by their countries of origin, Chinese-
Canadians, Italian-Canadians [or Chinese-Italian-Canadians] and so forth, rather than
simply Canadians” (23). Whether hyphenated or not, Canadians and multiculturalism
are represented by (in Suwanda Sugunasiri’s words) an “ocean fed by many a river in
which flow the tears and joys of our 70 or so cultural groups, and the merging of those
rivers has not left any of the waters unchanged.v

In conclusion, whether or not the Multiculturalism Act of 1988 has moved beyond
simple politics and into general practice in Canadian society is very much debated by
many people. Even though Canada has always been, since its origins, a polyethnic
country, it has not always been the ideal model of immigrant integration or co-existing
cultures. However, examining research and analyzing Canadian fiction can give us a
pretty good idea of the place that Canada occupies in its aim for successful integration
of immigrants. In this paper I have examined both research articles and literary works
by Canadian authors to try to determine whether multiculturalism plays any significant
role in Canada’s success or failure. Canadian playwrights and writers such as George F.
Walker, Cecil Foster, and Mordecai Richler, address crucial issues inherent in a
multicultural society, such as racism, cultural confusions and tensions, and project a
general feeling about the nation in individual and pluralized ways. There is no doubt
that Canadian literature is becoming more globalized and this is precisely why it is

important not to make a rash decision on Multiculturalism, with its various
interpretations and wide variety of discourses. Some critics claim that the only remedy
is either the abolition of multiculturalism altogether, or perhaps a post-multiculturalism.
I agree that perhaps multiculturalism in Canada is evolving into another state. The
migratory patterns and circumstances that Canada is facing in the 21st century have
obviously changed. The idea of celebrating different ethnicities and customs is no
longer as important as celebrating the transnational or “transcultural” aspects of
relations between individuals and groups of immigrants. The voices and visions of
Canadians have pluralized into a transnational culture creating one single globalized
culture. Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman has expressed that living within multiple cultures
is a reality of our times, but truly achieving the concept of a single human race is our
purpose and

Works cited

Banting, Keith and Will Kymlicka. “Canadian Multiculturalism: Global Anxieties and
Local Debates.” British Journal of Canadian Studies, 23.1 (2010).

“Canadian Multiculturalism Act.” Justice Laws Website. Web. 5 Dec.
2012. 2 Dec. 2012.

Encyclopedia of Canada’s Peoples.

Troper, Harold. Multiculturalism. Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Toronto,
Ontario, Web. 2 Dec. 2012

Foster, C. Sleep on, beloved. Toronto, Canada: Random House, 1995.

----. A place called heaven: The meaning of being Black in Canada. Toronto: Harper
Collins, 1996.

Hutcheon, Linda & Marion Richmond, Eds.. Other Solitudes: Canadian Multicultural
Fictions. Toronto: Oxford U.P., 1990.

Johnson, Chris. Essays on George F. Walker: Playing with Anxiety. NInnipeg, Canada:
Blizzard Publishing, 1999.

Kymlicka, Will. “The Current State of Multiculturalism in Canada and Research Temes
on Canadian Multiculturalism 2008-2010” (A report biten for the Departament
of Citi-les-hi and Immigration Canada, 2010).

Lucking, David. “Between Things: Public Mythology in the Works of Mordecai
Richler,” Dalhousie Review, 65, 1985.

Redl, Carolyn. “Neither here nor there: Canadian fiction by the multicultural
generation.” Canadian Ethnic Studies. 28.1 (1996): 22-29. Web. 24 Nov. 2012.

Smith, C.. Chris Johnson. Essays on George F. Walker: Playing with Anxiety. Theatre
Research in Canada / Recherches théâtrales au Canada, North America, 21, jun.
2000. .
Date accessed: 12 Nov. 2012.

Thomas, H. Nigel. "Cecil Fosters’ Sleep on, Beloved. A Depiction of the Consequences
of Racism in Canadian Immigration Policy." Journal of Black Studies. 38.3
(2008): 484-501. Web. 24 Nov. 2012.

Walker, George F. Heaven. Burnaby, British Columbia: Talonbooks, 2000.

i The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples, ‘Multiculturalism’.

ii “The Canadian Multiculturalism Act.” Justice Laws Website.

iii Foster fully elaborates on this concept in Where Race Does Not Matter.

iv In None is too many: Canada and the Jews of Europe, 1933-1948; Irving Abella and Harold Troper,

v Toronto Star, Saturday Magazine, 7 January 1989, p. M24.

vi I have translated the original quote by Zygmunt Bauman. “Muchas culturas: ésa es la realidad. Una sola
humanidad es un destino, un propósito o una tarea de ideales.”

The essay was written by Kathleen Hoyos and was originally published in:
Coolabah, No.13, 2014, ISSN 1988-5946, Observatori: Centre d’Estudis Australians, Australian Studies Centre, Universitat de Barcelona

Kathleen Hoyos is a lecturer of Postcolonial Literatures in English at the
University of Barcelona. She holds an MA in Construction and Representation of
Cultural Identities and is currently a PhD candidate at the University of
Barcelona. She is member of the Australian Studies Centre. Her areas of interest
and research are postcolonial literatures and cultures, diaspora and

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