Multiculturalism is engrained in the Canadian constitution—as well as in the constitutions of many European nations. The Canadian Multiculturalism Act states that all are equal under the law regardless of their race, national or ethnic origin, color, or religion. Canada was the first country in the world to legislate national multiculturalism. Under this policy, all citizens "can keep their identities, can take pride in their ancestry and have a sense of belonging." Citizens also "have the freedom to preserve, enhance, and share their cultural heritage," and "full and equitable participation of individuals and communities of all origins in all aspects of Canadian society" is promoted. Diversity in Canada is deemed a national asset, and although its constitution allows all citizens equal rights and freedoms, it also requires "equal responsibilities," a factor that has been overlooked.
The cover of the Canadian government's "Annual Report on the Operation of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act". (Image source: Goverment of Canada)
According to Robert Sibley of the Ottawa Citizen:
Even Pierre Trudeau, the key architect of multiculturalism, regretted how multiculturalism had been warped to emphasize an immigrant's identification with his country or culture of origin rather than his assimilation of a Canadian identity. At a private luncheon with MPs in the mid-1990s, Trudeau was asked whether multiculturalism had developed the way he hoped. He replied: "No, this is not what I wanted."
Given the neglect of the responsibilities component, multiculturalism in Canada (and elsewhere) is open to exploitation by special interest groups that threaten the country's national identity and democratic heritage, in addition to homeland security. In Canada, this oversight also bears implications for its neighbor, the United States. Canada was forced to shut down the Iranian embassy in Ottawa after it was discovered to have been mobilizing Iranian immigrants to infiltrate the Canadian government, and spreading messages of propaganda and hate through "cultural programs", under the directorship of Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.
Similar -- though less dramatic -- abuses have also been evident in Canadian courts and Human Rights Commissions [HRC], both of which often seem influenced by political correctness and aspirations to appease special interest groups. Courts and HRCs, which are endowed with sweeping interpretive powers at the highest levels, are left to balance individual rights with that of what they deem to be multicultural rights. The right to free speech, which is a hallmark of democracy, has hence eroded, creating a fear even justifiably to criticize certain groups or offend them. Given the challenges of Islamism in particular to national security, this immunization from criticism is particularly worrisome. What constitutes hate speech, for example, is left to their judgment, which frequently appears subject to erroneous accusations of racism and intolerance. To highlight some examples:
- The high profile cases of human rights lawyer Ezra Levant and political commentator Mark Steyn were directly impacted by the Islamophobia judgment. Levant—who was then publisher of the Western Standard -- republished the controversial Danish cartoons depicting Mohammed in 2006. Syed Soharwardy of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada and the Edmonton Council of Muslim Communities subsequently lodged a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission resulting in Levant's book, "Shakedown: How Our Government is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights." Similarly, political writer Mark Steyn and Maclean's magazine were taken to task by the British Columbia Human Rights Commission for a so-called Islamophobic article in Maclean's -- entitled, "The Future Belongs to Islam" -- following a complaint by the Canadian Islamic Congress.
- The Canadian RCMP issued an apology to the Muslim community for arresting terror suspects during Ramadan, and then reached out to Ottawa Muslims to reassure them that they were not being targeted.
- Niqab security breaches have been evident at airports.
In multicultural Canada, diversity incentives are embraced as the answer to combat racism. One cannot exclude the unfortunate consequences of racism as a societal scourge with harmful social and psychological repercussions that require attention as a human rights issue. Combating racism is also the cornerstone upon which the Canadian Multiculturalism Act was built.
Unfortunately, zeroing in on the verifiable manifestations of racism is a significant challenge: racism is often declared when there is none and therefore becomes hidden under a veil of propaganda, such as the often unwarranted use of the term Islamophobia, propelled by special interest groups. Abdur-Rahman Muhammad is a former member of the International Institute for Islamic thought (IIIT). Muhammad was with IIIT when the word "Islamophobia" was formally created, and having since then rejected the ideology of the IIIT, has revealed the original intent behind the concept of Islamophobia. He states that "[t]his loathsome term is nothing more than a thought-terminating cliché conceived in the bowels of Muslim think tanks for the purpose of beating down critics." Those special interest groups (and their followers) that "beat down critics" fail, however, to decry worse forms of discrimination, racism and abuse that are found in their own cultures of origin. These include race-based slavery, the subjugation of women, honor killings, physical punishments for disobedience and female genital mutilation. This has led activists for equality and human rights such as Irshad Manji, a Muslim, to declare that multiculturalism needs to be abandoned. She states rightly that "the vast majority of the world's known cultures are patriarchal," where the "desires and dreams of men outweigh those of women." This circumstance, she continues, means that "multiculturalism clashes with our country's aspiration to gender equality" and that "the time has come to replace multiculturalism with true diversity."
Manji's fellow moderate Muslim adherent, Salim Mansur, also addressed the "delectable lie of multiculturalism" and advocates its eradication. Far too many intercultural dialogue sessions have focused on the appeasement of immigrant groups while ignoring the human rights abuses from their countries of origin; abuses which many immigrants have accepted as the norm and often seek to protect in an effort to sustain the dignity of their group identity. So while many members of these groups, during diversity dialogue sessions, bemoan the old notions of white privilege, a dominant culture, as well as the victimization of Muslims and other minorities, there is little or no effort to deal with or understand the racism and discrimination that occur between non-white cultural groups globally, as was evident in the slaughter of 400,000 non-Arabs in Sudan's Darfur region at the hands of Islamic extremists, or the racist slavery that still exists in Mauritania among other regions, as well as the widespread subjugation of women in many cultures. Moreover, some of these imported values that find a new home in Western nations go unquestioned by the host society for fear of reprisals from the leaders of these groups, who are quick to label critics as racists. Even justifiable criticisms of an identifiable group can earn one the reviled label of racist, a bigot, Islamophobic and an enemy of diversity. This attitude is now institutionalized in multicultural Canada.
The progress that Western nations and Canada have made in the areas of human rights and correcting past wrongs -- which include mass immigration, multicultural legislation and countless social programs to facilitate dialogue and belongingness -- are equally ignored; as is the circumstance that a large segment of cultural groups immigrating to Canada experience far more freedoms and acceptance than in their countries of origin.
The Right Honorable Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin highlights the dilemmas faced by judges in a multicultural society. She states that multiculturalism to date has served Canada well, using the benchmark that Canada is a "prosperous and peaceful nation that affords its citizens a high quality of life." Despite this, McLachlin is straightforward about the challenges posed by multiculturalism, such as: "inter-group tension," manifested in "discrimination or in extreme cases of violence against members of minority groups on the basis of their 'different' cultural and religious practices." She also points out the "divergent moralities" and values of various cultural groups, and the challenge of national identity that "sees itself as an amalgam of a plethora of cultures" and thus becoming a nation "without its own identity" and ultimately risking "withering away." Her solution is to "work to strengthen our Canadian culture... focus on our common values and beliefs... and use the law."
McLaughlin's words need to be examined closely as a model for the evolution of multiculturalism in Canada as well as in societies where multiculturalism is legislated. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British PM David Cameron and former French President Nicholas Sarkozy have already declared multiculturalism a failure in recognition of the extent to which it encourages group segregation and a lack of a strong national identity.
Yet as a policy, it is unrealistic to expect that multiculturalism will be thrown into the dustbin, labeled as a historic error. Instead, multiculturalism demands an evolution with requisites of responsibility that include an adherence to common values and beliefs under the law. Unfortunately, policies such as the controversial proposed Quebec Charter of Values -- which seeks to ban all religious symbols (including skullcaps and crosses) in state-funded institutions in pursuit of a secular society -- only cause further problems. As Amnesty International pointed out in a statement, "for people, and particularly for women, who might be coerced into wearing a religious symbol, prohibiting them from wearing it will not solve the problem... the people who had coerced them will still go unpunished, while the people who have been coerced will be punished in a number of ways, such as losing their jobs and hence their right to work and risking becoming isolated and stigmatized in their communities."
Despite the impracticality of the proposed Quebec charter, well-intentioned critics of multiculturalism have put forth valuable cases and well-reasoned documentation that highlight the loopholes of multiculturalism. The real answer, however, requires the recognition that multiculturalism to promote equality was enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Based on the principle of human dignity; the Declaration has provided a sound definition of values, which Western nations need to be unapologetic in advancing. The Declaration -- the principal author of which was a Canadian, John Humphries -- is "the milestone document in the history of human rights," drafted by representatives from diverse cultural backgrounds.
It is now necessary to rescue Canada's identity from "withering away" and to resuscitate other Western countries from the foreign infiltrations that have usurped the common values that made these countries great and attractive to immigrants in the first place. Multiculturalism will not disappear, nor will immigration from societies with values inconsistent with Western democracies. As the West faces a continued influx of immigration, it is imperative that we do not limit ourselves to mere criticisms of multiculturalism. Instead, policies need to be established and implemented -- at every level of society -- that would facilitate in a practical way a multiculturalism that includes, under law, responsibility as a central focus -- and on the same level of importance -- as equal rights and freedoms.