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What Did Trudeau Mean by Multicultural?
Whenever Canadians, from politicians to academics, are asked what makes their nation unique, they invariably answer “Canada’s multiculturalism and diversity.” Don’t they know that Canada is now a dime a dozen, that almost all Western nations today identify themselves as uniquely multicultural? But it cannot be denied that Canada produced the first Western leader, Pierre Trudeau, who envisioned a constitutional framework, however vague, for the integration of multiple cultures within one nation-state.
As early as 1962, in The New Treason of the Intellectuals, he insisted that Canada was already in possession of a federal constitutional framework, two major nationalities each with their own legal systems and representative bodies, together with other ethnic groups, for the further development of a consciously intended multicultural order in which the government would forego any association with a particular culture and make culture a private affair, much as religion had already become a personal choice across the West.
He further argued that creating a Canada without a collective cultural identity, an Anglo-Quebecois identity, would make this nation a model for the solution of ethnic strife and nationalist aggrandizement across the world:
Canada could offer an example to all those new Asian and African states…who must discover how to govern their poly-ethnic populations with proper regard for justice and liberty… Canadian federalism is an experiment of major proportions…a brilliant prototype for the moulding of tomorrow’s civilization.
It was with this idea in mind that in 1971 he rejected bicultural nationalism for a multicultural identity. Trudeau, we have already noted, was imprecise in his writings and policy announcements about the nature of the powers that different cultural groups would enjoy within the federation. Would culture really be a personal choice, or would it entail giving “every ethnic group” the right to develop its own collective culture within the federation? He did say in his 1971 announcement:
We believe that cultural pluralism is the very essence of Canadian identity. Every ethnic group has the right to preserve and develop its own culture and values within the Canadian context.
Did he mean that the Canadian federation would allow each province of Canada, with their respective ethnic mixtures, the local autonomy it needed to achieve its cultural and economic goals, with Quebec using its provincial powers to develop laws and institutions to maintain its linguistic and cultural characteristics, without imposing Quebecois culture as the dominant culture upon all its residents? Or did he mean that each ethnic group, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, would be given the constitutional right to enjoy, in the language of New Treason of Intellectuals, a “wide range of local autonomy,” or territorial powers?
We know from Trudeau’s governing years that he did recognize the historically dominant status of English-speaking and French speaking Canadians and that he was calling for a Canada with no particular “official” culture, but a Canada in which the smallest ethnic groups would be considered just as Canadian as the French and English. But he had to know that all the major institutions of Canada had been created by Anglo and French cultures/nationalities, and that in affirming the right of every ethnic group to “develop its own culture and values,” he was not actually calling upon all ethnic groups to develop themselves as nationalities, but, rather, to develop themselves as individuals within the already existing framework of Canada’s liberal political institutions.
Perhaps he meant by “right of ethnic groups to develop their culture” that the government of Canada would institute policies to protect immigrants from discrimination by the existing majority cultures, avoid a melting pot in which immigrants and minorities would be compelled to assimilate to a majority Anglo or Quebecois culture, and instead allow minorities to express their distinctive identities, while encouraging them to blend into a larger Canadian liberal multicultural nation in which everyone’s identity would eventually become a private choice.
Multiculturalism: A Program for the Future
We shall return to the varying, conflicting meanings inside the word “multiculturalism” in a future part. What I like to challenge here is the widespread belief that in calling Canada “multicultural” Trudeau was describing a factual reality about Canada. When he said “biculturalism does not properly describe our society; multiculturalism is more accurate,” he was not describing Canada as it was then, a nation with a population that was 74 percent British and French, and 96 percent European. The country was not multicultural in 1971; all the institutions, customs, religious beliefs, languages, modern infrastructure, legal system, education, architectural landmarks were overwhelmingly British and French.
After all, he did say in his 1962 essay that creating a polyethnic Canada would be an “experiment of major proportions.” He was envisioning multiculturalism as a project for the future against the past. Canada was not going to become a “a brilliant prototype for the moulding of tomorrow’s civilization” merely by acknowledging its diverse intra-European identity or by fighting discrimination against a small number of minorities. The goal was to create a new Canadian identity based on the cultures of the world. By creating a Canada based on liberal ideas separated from any founding culture, Canada would showcase itself to the world as “a brilliant prototype” for the solution of ethnic conflict within nation states.
Trudeau blamed nationalism for having created “the scene of the most devastating wars, the worst atrocities and the most degrading collective hatred the world has ever seen.” He inherited and accepted the normative climate of the post-WWII era against ethnic nationalism and racism. He also accepted the notion that liberal rights should be seen as human rights extendable to all humans in the world. But he took the spiral one step further in believing that cultural nationalism, no less than ethnic and racial nationalism, was a major source of human conflict and degradation of the human rights of individuals. The way to break cultural nationalism, he concluded, was to populate the nation with different cultures.
Hugh Forbes, a supporter of Trudeau’s dream, has observed that it was clear from the moment official multiculturalism was instituted in 1971 that its success would “obviously depend on the deliberate diversification of the Canadian population.” Accordingly, during the 1970s, Forbes notes:
Canadian immigration offices were opened in various Third World countries to facilitate processing of applications, and the number of immigrants coming from these ‘non-traditional sources’ increased dramatically (“Trudeau as the First Theorist of Canadian Multiculturalism,” in Stephen Tierney, editor, Multiculturalism and the Canadian Constitution, UBC Press, 2007, p. 38).
Trudeau viewed these immigrants from “non-traditional sources” as members of “vibrant ethnic groups,” and, in full acceptance of the notion that Third World peoples were more substantively cultural than Westerners, he actually said that they
would give Canadians of the second, third, and subsequent generations a feeling that they are connected with tradition and with human experience in various parts of the world and different periods of time (cited in “Trudeau as the First Theorist of Canadian Multiculturalism,” in Stephen Tierney, editor, p. 29).
Canadians on their own, apparently, lacked a real culture other than a set of modern conveniences and a liberal constitution intended for all citizens.
|Mediocre Anglo novelist enamored with Third World vibrancy and curly hair, 1960s|
In pursuance of this prototype vibrancy, the Trudeau administration increased Third World immigration immediately after 1971. There was already a crescendo in Third World immigration after the 1967 Regulations, with the proportion of immigrants from Asia and the Caribbean increasing from 10 percent in 1965-6 to 23 percent in 1969-70. The 1970s saw an acceleration of this trend; of the 1.5 million immigrants who came to Canada between 1971 and 1981, 33 percent came from Asia, 16 percent from the Caribbean and South America, and 5.5 percent from Africa.
Along with these numbers, the Trudeau government took some decisive measures to push Canada in a multiracial direction. An estimated $200 million was set aside in the 1970s (which would equal 1.25 billion dollars today) to assist cultural groups to “retain and foster their identity,” to overcome “barriers” to the full participation of immigrants in Canadian society, to promote “creative exchanges among all Canadian cultural groups,” and to promote among immigrants at least one of the official languages.
A “Directorate” within the Department of Secretary of State was created in 1972 to assist in the implementation of these initiatives. A particular task of this Directorate was to protect the human rights of ethnic minorities, to combat racial discrimination by White Canadians, and to persuade Canadians that immigrant diversity was really good for them. Then, in 1973, an entire “Ministry of Multiculturalism” was created “to monitor the implementation of multicultural initiatives within government departments.” This was soon followed by another bureaucratic body, “Canadian Ethnocultural Council,” to encourage ethnic organizations to participate in Canada’s government. Plans were also put in place for the housing and educating of immigrants, and the removal of “racially discriminatory barriers” across Canadian society.
Between 1971 and 1982, there was an “explosion of academic research into ethnicity” (Freda Hawkins, Critical Years in Immigration: Canada and Australia Compared, p. 227). Eighty-eight scholarly works on cultural minorities were published, numerous collections of papers, and many symposiums on Canadian ethnic groups were held, the beginning of a “bonanza of remarkable proportions” in the study of multiculturalism during the 1980s and 1990s. Multiculturalism, as we will see in the Part 10, would be further consolidated by Trudeau with a new Immigration Act in 1976, a Human Rights Act in 1977, and a whole new constitution, The Charter of Rights, in 1982.
Trudeau, and the liberal establishment, believed that this nullification of Anglo-Quebecois cultural nationalism was necessary to create a “brilliant prototype” for the overcoming of human divisions and the creation of Utopia on earth. Whites were guilty for colonizing the magnificently egalitarian and humanitarian peoples of the the Third World. But now they would be redeemed by creating a multicultural order that would allow the Third World to flourish inside Canada. As Forbes happily put it:
Canadian multiculturalism now promises a way of incorporating the Third World into the First World without domination or oppression.
This is the state of intellectual pathology now dominating the entire Western world.
Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX | Part X | Part XI