2) For this blog assignment, I would like you to research and summarize one of the state or governing activities, such as The Royal Proclamation 1763, the Indian Act 1876, Immigration Act 1910, or the Multiculturalism Act 1989 – you choose the legislation or policy or commission you find most interesting. Write a blog about your findings and in your conclusion comment on whether or not your findings support Coleman’s argument about the project of white civility.

I chose to study the Multiculturalism Act of 1989. I was originally concerned that it was written so long after Coleman decided to end his study of white civility (roughly 40 years). I thought that the advent of state and academic sponsored publishing and the subsequent challenging of ‘white civility’ in the 50’s, had undone the damaging tone of atypical Canadian nation building texts. Fortunately (or unfortunately) the Multiculturalism Act of 1989 contains some policies and rhetoric that reflects the enduring myth of Canadian ‘Britishness’ that buries our violent history.

The Multiculturalism Act (accessed here) was easy to find and simple to understand. It begins with a preamble that necessarily defines the aims of the legislation and the limits of its reach. Some mention is made to “the importance of preserving and enhancing the multicultural heritage of Canadians” (Canadian Multiculturalism Act). An Interpretation section asserts that the federal institutions that must abide by this legislation, does not include

c) any institution of the Legislative Assembly or government of Yukon, the Northwest Territories or Nunavut, as the case may be, or

d) any Indian band, band council or other body established to perform a governmental function in relation to an Indian band or other group of aboriginal people (Canadian Multiculturalism Act)

The rest of the Act outlines ten specific policies of the Government of Canada, and six further practices which are to be adopted by, what the legislation has defined as, a proper federal institution. The policies outlined promise to recognize the existence of racially, ethnically and religiously diverse communities in Canada, promote the celebration of diversity, remove barriers to expressing diversity, ensure equal rights and treatment of all people, and to “advance multiculturalism throughout Canada in harmony with the national commitment to the official languages of Canada” (Canada Multiculturalism Act). The distinct ways that Canadian federal institutions are to honour these policies is by the creation of opportunities, promotion of policies and programs, and development of further specific policies that relate directly to a harmonious multicultural Canada.

While the Canadian Multiculturalism Act says much about equitable and safe Canadian communities, it says little about Canada’s history and fails to recognize the unique presence of Indigenous peoples and the implications of multiculturalism on them. For the reasons listed below, I believe that the Canadian Multiculturalism Act is guilty of proliferating the notion of ‘white civility’.

I found it odd that the Act intentionally excluded self-governing Aboriginal groups from their definition of a federal institution, and therefore exempt from adopting the multiculturalism policies. At first this seemed positive. The Government was allowing the Indian bands to govern themselves, and decide which policies were most appropriate for their communities. After more thought however, I perceived that rather than an exemption, this seemed an intentional snub. By excluding the Indian bands or councils, the Act seems to ostracize them from the realm of legal and legitimate authority. If all Canadians are equal, then why are Indigenous groups excluded from implementing these policies? Does this reject their validity and assert the ‘white civility’ of a seemingly progressive Government?

The Act mentions specifically the presence of people of different origins. This term may sound exclusive, but may also be interpreted as dismissive of Indigenous people. If Indigenous people did not have a distinct origin other than where they still exist, it is as if they have nothing new to contribute to a multicultural Canada. It sounds as though it is assumed that the Indigenous culture is existing already, and does not need any attention or subsequent legislation. If the government were to commit to fixing the current problems caused by colonialism, they would need to admit that they caused them. This refusal to accept responsibility for their criminal actions only serves to protect their fragile ‘white civility’

Furthermore, the Act seeks to preserve the cultural heritage of all members of Canadian society. Unfortunately, it says nothing about reclaiming, repairing or restoring the cultures that are supposedly celebrated. The influences of colonization sought and succeeded in killing the vibrancy of Indigenous cultures. By denying their participation in the snuffing out of culture, language, religion and individuals, the Act again engages in Coleman’s theory of “white civility”.

The specific form of Canadian-ness that Coleman argues was built via literary canons between the nineteenth and twentieth century may not exist today. I argue though, that a new one has emerged in the Canadian Multiculturalism Act- a polite and seemingly culturally sensitive Canadian identity, who through positive sounding and calculated rhetoric, sweeps their sordid history under the rug. These two faced policies contribute to the white civility of Canadian identity, whether they meant to or not.

(In my exploration of multiculturalism, I found an excellent TEDx Talk that briefly explores the seemingly positive multicultural practices such as food, festivals, heroes, and holidays that actually reinforces stereotypes and trivializes important aspects of culture – the link is here)


Works Cited
Canadian Multiculturalism Act. Legislative Services Branch. Canada. 1988. Web. 16 July 2016.