Multiculturalism Act 1989

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.

In introduction, I will be discussing the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, which you can find here if you are interested in reading/skimming for better understanding.

“Neil Bissoondath argues in Selling Illusions (1994) that multiculturalism leads to ethnic and cultural segregation and the ghettoization of cultural groups rather than to an integrated community” (CanLit guide).  When you consider the idea of nationalism in Canada from the viewpoint of race and ethnicity, it immediately becomes apparent that the the concept of “nationalism” in Canada is of white European origin and construction.  Introduction of the idea of multiculturalism did not erase the distinct lines drawn by white Anglo-Canadian society.  When it comes to multiculturalism policy, the main role of inclusion is focused on performative displays of diversity, for example: food, dance, song, art.  Little focus is given to policy that will affect actual social change and correct social injustices.

The white, Anglo-Canadian hierarchy is never forgotten in the supposed steps towards a multicultural Canada.  When recent immigrants or visible minority groups are welcomed into Canada, they are greeted by this hierarchy, which works to enforce gratitude, “forming a host/guest hierarchy” (CanLit guide).  In a similar position, Indigenous peoples “have resisted being categorized in the frame of multiculturalism, as their societies predate the formation of the nation-state of Canada” (CanLit guide).  However, Indigenous peoples should rightfully be playing the part of “host” in the “host/guest” hierarchy.  Instead, they have received little acknowledgement or gratitude for the sharing of their lands, and have alone experienced enough social injustice to call into question the concept and ideals behind Canada’s take on multiculturalism.

An important feature of the Multiculturalism Act, and arguably one of its most damaging flaws is its focus on individual origins.  This, by its very nature, prevents the presented idea of Canada as a nation of “we,” instead promoting a nation of “me,” or “us” and “them.”  Canada, in comparison to The United States, is known as a mosaic, rather than a melting pot, but this does not seem to be a truly accurate description or division, especially when considering the Canadian justice system, which is based on an English model, and slow to adapt to change.  That our justice is based on a single, separate nation’s justice system defies the inclusion of multiculturalism.  This becomes a problem with situations where the cultural practices of minority groups collide with white Anglo-Canadian Law, such as with the niqab and the citizenship-swearing oath.  The woman in this article is perfectly willing to remove her veil for security reasons, but refuses to do so during a citizenship-swearing ceremony just because someone else doesn’t like it.  (I’d like to note that she did remove it before hand to prove her identity, but did not want to leave it removed to swear the oath, as this is not a security concern).

Police and protesters exchange words near the camp's checkpoint during a recent stand-off.

“Police and protesters exchange words near the camp’s checkpoint during a recent stand-off.”

On the topic of cultural management, Canada’s multiculturalism label again fails.  There are many examples of Indigenous peoples occupying/protesting on their ancestral lands against unwanted development or encroachment, such as this one.  These protests, most often non-violent, are met with police force. This response emphasizes the issues surrounding multiculturalism in the sense of communities, borders, and state-power.

Coleman describes white civility as romantic notions of nationalism founded on a British perspective and sense of civility.  Coleman emphasizes two major points in his discussion: 1) nation building has a fictive, romanticized, element and 2) the only way to maintain the fiction is to practice forgetfulness.  When applied to multiculturalism, both of his points seem relevant.  Multiculturalism may have been thought up with good intention, but it does not actually force those in power (white Anglo-Canadians) to give up or share their power with other cultures, rather it is a romanticized concept possibly meant to placate or to provide a pat-on-the-back to “white civility.” When this idea of multiculturalism is called upon by minority groups and Indigenous peoples, Canada seems to have a policy of forgetfulness that determines anything outside of the white Anglo-Canadian comfort zone as dangerous (or harmful to those in power keeping their power).

Works Cited

Browne, Rachel. “Canada Wants Muslim Women to Take Off Their Face Coverings for Citizenship Oath | VICE News.” VICE News RSS. VICE News, 14 Sept. 2015. Web. 08 July 2016.

“Canadian Multiculturalism Act (R.S.C., 1985, C. 24 (4th Supp.)).” Legislative Services Branch. Government of Canada, 01 Apr. 2014. Web. 08 July 2016.

“Nationalism, 1980s Onwards: Contesting Multiculturalism.” CanLit Guides. UBC, n.d. Web. 08 July 2016.

Trumpener, Betsy. “RCMP Planning Mass Arrests at Pipeline Protest Camp, Northern B.C Chiefs Fear – British Columbia – CBC News.” CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 28 Aug. 2015. Web. 08 July 2016.

“Unist’ot’en Camp/Vimeo.”  Digital image. CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 28 Aug. 2015. Web. 08 July 2016.

5 thoughts on “Multiculturalism Act 1989

  1. Hi Gillian,

    This was a poignant reflection on the state of ‘multiculturalism’ in Canada! I really appreciated your comments on the “state of the union” by referencing news stories and events from Canada’s recent past.

    I liked the connection that you made between Coleman’s perspective on White Civility and the real state of multiculturalism in Canada. I would agree that our approach to multiculturalism focuses on projecting an image rather than actually seeking to create engaged communities of diverse peoples. I think we see this clearly in the way that communities are formed. (Check out this link to a Vancity article that illustrates this point:

    Communities in Canadian cities (and suburbs) are fairly homogeneous; meaning that cities are often divided into smaller groups according to particular ethnic, cultural, or other commonalities. It doesn’t take a statistical expert to drive through parts of Surrey or Abbotsford and see the divisions between neighbourhoods that are primarily white and those that are not. The fact that this is normative in Canadian communities speaks to the romanticized version of multiculturalism that Canada prides itself on. And the only way we can continue to stick to this story is by forgetting our own experiences.

    To play devil’s advocate slightly, I wonder how much control “we” have over the outworking of multiculturalism. In my experience, it is natural for people to gravitate towards those that they consider “like them”. So, although we might change the meaning of “white civility”, is it possible to create truly integrated communities when so many of us (regardless of cultural, ethnic, educational, etc. backgrounds) would prefer to just “remain with those like us”?

    I’d love to hear more on this. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about for years and I’m always looking for more opinions on this topic to balance out my own views (which, as it happens, are almost perfectly summarized in your post).


  2. Hi Gillian,

    Thanks for your excellent analysis of the Multiculturalism Act. It provokes me to think – does multiculturalism work in its truest sense? Diversity can be celebrated, but do we need certain amount of commonality, and as you’ve noted, a “host” culture for a polity to work? An example would be – I speak three languages, but I accept and respect that in this province, English is the lingua franca. Would most people in B.C. using the English language by default a necessary condition for a multicultural society to function? If so, then there has to be a dominant culture, with other cultures being celebrated perhaps in romanticized ways, and as performances?

    – John

  3. Hi Gillian,

    I really enjoyed your post this week. I also addressed this question and chose the Multiculturalism Act as well. To me I was incredibly curious to view this act from a different perspective because normally it’s associated with a positive connotation and a positive relationship to what defines Canada. However, I understood what Coleman meant when he discussed nation building as romanticizing views as well, it leads to glossing over hard facts. In a world when all anyone wants is to belong to a group, to a bigger community, forgetfulness comes all too easily when wanting to see the positives in something. Did you have a similar contradiction after reading Coleman’s work?



  4. Hi Gillian,

    This is another post of yours that I very much enjoyed reading, and I applaud you for bringing up many crucial controversies with the Multiculturalism Act. In particular, your observation about the focus on individual origin hit home for me: we preach the acceptance and respect of each other’s beliefs and cultures, yet in the process of implementing this notion we segregate these origins and leave them to fend for themselves. For example, why would we have highly-concentrated residential and commercial developments of just one ethnicity (Chinatown, Indiatown, Little Italy etc) and not streets filled with cultural fusion of everyone’s origins? As I ponder this question myself, I’m curious to see if you think segregation of cultures brings more support to one ethnicity (easy access to support for new immigrants) than harm, or vice versa?


  5. Hi Gillian,

    I really loved your thoughts on the Multiculturalism Act. In my own I neglected to include current examples of how these policies fail to actually serve Canadians, so it was really interesting to have some references and links to look at. You mentioned in the beginning that the act focused on the performative acts of diversity and I am embarrassed to say that I was blind to the stereotypes that things like food, festivals, heroes and holidays enforce. I watched a TedTalk on that very thing. My favourite part was when the woman asked, “While your kids are eating tacos on Cinco De Mayo, do you really believe their thinking about the Mexican resistance of French occupation?” This favouritism of the performative aspects of culture really tends to trivialize the lived experiences of those people.

    Thanks for sharing all your insights 🙂

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