8.2.1 Official Multiculturalism

Arjun Tremblay

Canada was the first liberal democracy to officially adopt multiculturalism as a national-level public policy. On October 8, 1971, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau declared in a speech to the House of Commons that Canada’s federal government would, from that point on, implement a policy of “multiculturalism within a bilingual framework”. Table 8.4 below highlights the four main objectives and table 8.5 highlights the six programs of implementation of Canada’s policy of “multiculturalism within a bilingual framework.”

Table 8.4 Policy Objectives in the Federal Sphere and Programs of Implementation

Objective Number Policy Objectives in the Federal Sphere
Policy Objective 1: Resources permitting, the government will seek to assist all Canadian cultural groups that have demonstrated a desire and effort to continue to develop a capacity to grow and contribute to Canada, and a clear need for assistance, the small and weak groups no less than the strong and highly organized.
Policy Objective 2: The government will assist members of all cultural groups to overcome cultural barriers to full participation in Canadian society.
Policy Objective 3: The government will promote creative encounters and interchange among all Canadian cultural groups in the interest of national unity.
Policy Objective 4: The government will continue to assist immigrants to acquire at least one of Canada’s official languages in order to become full participants in Canadian society.

Source: House of Commons Canada. (1971, October 8). House of Commons Debates, 28th Parliament, 3rd Session (Vol. 8). https://parl.canadiana.ca/view/oop.debates_HOC2803_10/1.

Table 8.5 Program of Implementation

Program Name Description of Program
Multicultural Grants Activities eligible for federal assistance will include multicultural encounters; organizational meetings for new cultural groups; citizenship preparation and immigrant orientation programs; conferences; youth activities; cultural exchanges between groups as well as other multicultural projects.
Culture Development Program A culture development program will be instituted to produce much-needed data on the precise relationship of language to cultural development.
Ethnic Histories The Citizenship Branch will commission 20 histories specifically directed to the background, contributions and problems of various cultural groups in Canada.
Canadian Ethnic Studies The Department of the Secretary of State will…undertake a detailed investigation of the problems concerned with the development of a Canadian ethnic studies program or center(s) and will prepare a plan of implementation.
Teaching of Official Languages The Federal government…proposes to undertake discussions with the provinces to find a mutually acceptable form of federal assistance towards the teaching official languages to children.
Programs of the Federal Cultural Agencies The programs they will be undertaking will enable all Canadians to gain an awareness of the cultural heritable of Canada’s ethnic groups.

Source: House of Commons Canada. (1971, October 8). House of Commons Debates, 28th Parliament, 3rd Session (Vol. 8). https://parl.canadiana.ca/view/oop.debates_HOC2803_10/1.

According to Hugh Donald Forbes, Canada’s policy of “official multiculturalism within a bilingual framework” was intended not only to serve the purpose of minority recognition and minority accommodation; the government also deployed official multiculturalism as part of a “national unity strategy” (Forbes, 2018, p. 34) to counteract mobilization for independence in Québec in the wake of the province’s “Quiet Revolution.” As a result, Québec scholars criticize Canada’s policy of “multiculturalism within a bilingual framework” for impinging on a national minority’s rights to self-government. In turn, some of these scholars have developed an alternate model of immigrant integration – interculturalism – which is discussed later in this chapter (see section 8.3 Multiculturalism’s Near and Longer-Term Prospects).

Canada’s federal government reinforced and expanded the country’s commitment to official multiculturalism in 1982 and 1988. In 1982, the Canadian Constitution Act achieved royal assent leading to the enshrinement of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section 27 of the Charter requires that “The Charter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians” (Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, 1982, S. 27). In 1988, the Mulroney government passed the Canadian Multiculturalism Act of 1988. The Act created the Department of Multiculturalism and the position of Minister of Multiculturalism, renamed Canada’s official multiculturalism policy the “multiculturalism policy of Canada”, and specified federal institutions’ duties and responsibilities in implementing the policy.

Train tipped sideways behind a cattle farm, one person standing outside the train holding a flag.
Figure 8.4. Dutch train hijacking by nine armed Moluccan nationalists on May 23rd, 1977.

The Netherlands is the first and, to date, the only Western European country to adopt a policy of official multiculturalism. Dutch official multiculturalism is commonly viewed as the by-product of the Minority Memorandum (or minderhedennota), a White Paper on immigration and integration published by the Dutch government in 1983. In this document, the government identified 15 polyethnic minority groups present in the Netherlands and promised to ensure the fair and equal legal treatment of members of these minority groups and to lower barriers to minority participation in Dutch society. The Dutch government adopted official multiculturalism following a string of terrorist attacks committed by Moluccan immigrants and in the face of clear evidence of striking socio-economic disparities between the national majority and polyethnic minorities.

The origins of official multiculturalism in Australia can be traced to the release of the Galbally Report (i.e., Report on the Review of Post-Arrival Programs and Services to Migrants) in 1978. The government commissioned the report after ending racial restrictions in immigration, which resulted in an increase in immigration from Southeast Asia. After the Galbally Report was issued, the Australian government established the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs (AIMA) in 1979. The box below highlights the government’s principal objectives in creating the AIMA.

Why Was the AIMA Established?

  • to develop among the members of the Australian community:
    •  an awareness of the diverse cultures within that community that have arisen as a result of the migration of people to Australia; and
    • an appreciation of the contributions of those cultures to the enrichment of that community;
  • to promote tolerance, understanding, harmonious relations and mutual esteem among the different cultural groups and ethnic communities in Australia;
  • to promote a cohesive Australian society by assisting members of the Australian community to share with one another their diverse cultures within the legal and political structures of that society; and
  • to assist in promoting an environment that affords the members of the different cultural groups and ethnic communities in Australia the opportunity to participate fully in Australian society and achieve their own potential.

Source: Australia. Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs Act 1979 Part II Section 5.

There have been two subsequent iterations of Australia’s official multiculturalism policy, both of which were marked by the release of a national-level policy document. In The National Agenda for a Multicultural Australia (1989), the Australian government declared its duty to protect the rights of immigrants to preserve their cultural identity but also highlighted an immigrant’s obligation to adhere to the rules and values of Australian society. In Multicultural Australia: United in Diversity (2003), the government identified the need to promote “community harmony and social cohesion” (p. 6) post-September 11, 2001 and articulated the importance of official multiculturalism as a means of ensuring both national unity and national security.

Sweden implemented a policy of official multiculturalism partly in response to labour migration and to rights claims by the country’s Finnish-speaking minority. However, according to Karin Borevi (2013), the decision to implement a multiculturalism policy at the national level was also made because “it fitted in well with the national self-image developed in the post-war period of Sweden as a pioneer in human rights issues” (p. 145). Swedish official multiculturalism is rooted in the 1975 Immigrant and Minority Policy. The Policy outlined three main objectives: 1. “[ensuring] that immigrants were provided with conditions equal to those of the native population” (ibid, pp. 143-144); 2. Giving immigrants the choice to determine the degree to which they would retain their culture, on the one hand, and integrate into Swedish society, on the other; and 3. Promoting “partnership [between] … immigrant and minority groups” (ibid; p. 144).

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