Questioning Canadian Multiculturalism

Debunking the Fragmentation

Critique of Multiculturalism

Essay by Lloyd L. Wong    Photos by Myungsook Lee














Lloyd L. Wong is  an Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology, University of Calgary: Citizenship and Social, Cultural and civic Domain Leader: Prairie Metropolis Centre. His research is on Racism; Ethnic Discrimination; Immigration; Ethnic/Immigrant Entrepreneurship; Transnational Communities; Diasporas; Citizenship.




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Multiculturalism has never been accepted wholeheartedly by Canadians whether it was in the form of public philosophy, official state policy, or actual practice on the ground. For example public opinion polling in Canada has consistently found that a significant minority of Canadians disapprove of multiculturalism in Canada and in recent years this figure has been around 25% of the population. In terms of anti-multiculturalism sentiments amongst politicians and political parties, it should be noted that at the federal level the strongest criticism of official multiculturalism, as state policy, came from the Reform Party of Canada in the 1990s before it merged with the Progressive Conservative Party in Canada to form the present day Conservative Party. In the 1991 policy manual of the Reform Party this opposition was clearly stated as follows: ¡°We would end funding of the multiculturalism program and support the abolition of the Department of Multiculturalism¡± (as quoted in Kirkham, 1998, 257).

Since we are approaching almost a decade into the post 9/11 era public discourses and sentiments of anti-multiculturalism have become solidified in several countries in the world including Canada. This sentiment has been fuelled by the link, in public discourse, of terrorism with multiculturalism. Thus events such as the Madrid bombings in 2004, the London bombings in the summer of 2005, and the terrorist plot by the Toronto 18 in 2006, have been cited by critics of multiculturalism. Part of this public discourse involves academics. For example, sociology professor Dr. Mahfooz Kanwar from Mount Royal University in Calgary made the following two comments to the Calgary Sun newspaper in 2006 shortly after the Toronto 18 arrests: ¡°Multiculturalism has been bad for unity in Canada. It ghettoizes people, makes them believe, wrongly, that isolating themselves and not adapting to their new society is OK. It is not.¡± and ¡°Multiculturalism creates nations within a nation and divides the loyalty of people¡± (from Corbella, 2006a, 2006b). These two front page newspaper quotes subsequently landed on the websites of several conservative anti-immigration and anti-multiculturalism organizations as credence to their cause that immigration and multiculturalism were not good for Canada.

While the anti-multiculturalism discourse in Canada has many themes two prominent ones are illustrated by the above quotes. First, as the argument goes, multiculturalism emphasizes differences and thus naturally it is divisive and undermines social cohesion and common identity in Canada. The imagined ramifications of this lead to the second theme which is that multiculturalism¡¯s emphasis on difference potentially and ultimately leads to a clash of cultures in Canada. This theme is a microcosm of the global ¡°clash of civilizations thesis¡± (Huntington 1993, 1996) that became very popular amongst ultra-conservatives in the United States after 9/11. So a central aspect of this anti-multiculturalism discourse is based on the perception and claim that multiculturalism is not working, or perhaps has not worked, and is segregating (rather than integrating) diverse ¡®racial¡¯, ethnic, and religious groups. In other words, the perception and claim is that multiculturalism policy, and the reality of ethnic enclaves in Canadian cities, contributes to a fragmentation of Canadian society and makes social cohesion difficult if not impossible. However, where is the evidence that this fragmentation and clash of cultures is actually happening in Canada? Aside from the rare and isolated and highly publicized incidents such as the Toronto 18, and the evidence that racism still persists and affects many racialized peoples, the evidence experientially in terms of peoples¡¯ everyday lives suggests that diversity in Canada has not lead to divisiveness and that there is a relative calm and no clash of civilizations or cultures. Thus the ¡°fragmentation¡± and lack of social cohesion criticism is overblown. What really exists in Canada is difference at the sub-cultural and personal levels of values. Canadians have never had a set of common values and have diverged on matters such as abortion, capital punishment, gun control, the welfare state, same-sex marriage, etc. and in a democracy this is certainly acceptable.

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DIVERSE 5th Issue

We are pleased to announce that DIVERSE 5th issue, Summer 2011 has been released.  

12 Diversity in Canadian Workplaces What are the obstacles to a better form of ¡°diversity¡± in the workplace?

- Open Door Group

- BC Workplace Diversity Inclusion Awards

6 BC¡¯s Diversity through 30 portraits



2 ThePower of Exchange A Historic Collaboration between Germany¡¯s

Premiere Art Collections and Canada¡¯s First Nations

28 Ezra Kwizera  Born in Uganda to Rwandese refugee parents, Canadian Musician and genocide  survivor speaks on the art of  forgiveness and of adapting to Canadian culture

42 Dana Claxton  

The Mustang Suite: Questioning mobility, freedom and autonomy 


24 Gung Haggis Fat Choy in Vancouver, BC: The Diversity of Canada      

38 Denise Brillon Breaking barriers in the fashion world



32 Pysanky¡¯s Resurgence

Joan Brander¡¯s contribution to the renaissance in traditional

Ukrainian egg art


10 Publisher¡¯s Note

27 Benefits of being a bilingual writer

31 Canadians come in all differences



35 News Briefs on Multiculturalism

36 Publisher¡¯s Picks


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