New approaches to multiculturalism: from reasonable
accommodation to integrative multiculturalism
While multiculturalism is a long-established
policy in Canada, since the beginning of the 21st century, there have been some
debates about the need for new approaches.
One reason is the fact that despite multiculturalism, the economic
integration of ethnic immigrants is no longer as fast as in the 1970s
and 1980s. In addition
to economic considerations, there is an on-going debate about the potential conflict
between collective rights and individual rights. There is a fear that multiculturalism
marginalize ethnic Canadians by keeping them prisoners within their own
minority groups. Thus instead of furthering integration,
multiculturalism may lead to the formation of ethnic enclaves
detrimental to Canadian unity.
importantly, in the early 2000s, several episodes revealed a certain uneasiness
about how far Canadian society should go to accommodate the
demands of immigrant groups. They were linked to the emergence of
religion as a new and important element of cultural identification, a
factor which was not as important when multiculturalism was born in the
1970s and 1980s.
2004 in Ontario, several Muslim groups lobbied for the
establishment of courts following the Islamic sharia law to
arbitrate on family matters, a proposal which caused a lot of
emotion before it was turned down. It was widely felt that in
this case the defense of religious customs contradicted the Canadian principle of women's equality,
the Charter of Rights and Liberties.
2007 in Quebec, religious incidents, including demands by the
Hassidic Jews of Montreal, led to the appointment of the
Commission on Accommodation Practices Related to Cultural
Differences (Bouchard-Taylor Commission). The Commission
investigated the issue of "reasonable accommodation" and make
recommendations “to ensure that accommodation practices conform
to Quebec’s values as a pluralistic, democratic, egalitarian
While multiculturalism was not rejected, the emphasis was on integration and the adoption of a common set of core Canadian
values. This recent concept is known
multiculturalism”. It argues that the knowledge of Canadian
symbols, values, history and institutions is an important
element of integration. It emphasizes unity in diversity, with
the idea that all ethnic and cultural groups make up a
multicultural society but share a common Canadian identity. It
encourages a patriotic vision in which each individual must be
first and foremost a citizen of Canada. This view was defended
by the Conservatives, in power from 2006 to 2015, and is clearly
expressed through the new citizenship study guide (the guide
that immigrants use to prepare for the written test that must be
passed to become a Canadian citizen) that they published in
Amartya Sen, "Multiculturalism: unfolding
tragedy of two confusions." Financial Times, August 21, 2006
Frédéric Boily, "Retour sur la Commission Bouchard-Taylor ou les
difficultés de fonder l’avenir sur le pluralisme intégrateur",
Revue internationale d’études canadiennes, N° 45-46,
2012, p. 219-237
Raymond Blake, “A new Canadian dynamism? From multiculturalism
and diversity to history and core values”, British Journal of
Canadian Studies, volume 26, number 1, 2013, pages 79-103.
Trudeau on Immigration and Multiculturalism
The return to
power of the Liberals in 2015 has been accompanied by a renewed support
for immigration and multiculturalism, a policy first introduced by
Justin Trudeau’s father. Like his father before him, Justin Trudeau sees
Canada as a country that has no precise national identity, but only
shared political values. This is very different from the Conservatives’
belief in a common Canadian identity.
with a strong national identity — linguistic, religious or cultural —
are finding it a challenge to effectively integrate people from
different backgrounds. Canada doesn’t have that dynamic. There is no core
identity, no mainstream in Canada. There are shared values — openness,
respect, compassion, willingness to work hard, to be there for each
other, to search for equality and justice. Those qualities are what make
us the first postnational state.”
with Justin Trudeau in Guy Lawson, “Trudeau’s Canada, Again”, New York
Times Magazine, December 8, 2015.
Trudeau’s renewed support for immigration is expressed through symbolic
gestures as well as new public policies.
members of the cabinet are of immigrant origins, like Harjit Singh
Sajjan, the Minister of National Defence, a Sikh-Canadian born in India,
or Ahmed Hussen, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship,
government has planned an increase of the immigration quota: for 2017,
the immigration target is between 280,000 and 320,000.
the Conservatives, who gave priority to economic immigrants, the
Liberals are increasing family class and humanitarian immigration (although
economic immigration remains the primary category) through the following
the budget for family class immigration
to resettle more refugees
processing times for family class and humanitarian immigration
conditions to obtain citizenship
Justin Trudeau appears to aim at widening Canadian multiculturalism by strengthening the recognition of religious diversity.
He has repeatedly emphasized the need for religious toleration,
especially towards Muslims. In August 2016, he defended the right of
Muslim women to wear the burkini and remarked that “Canada should have
gone beyond tolerance… to aim for acceptation, openness, friendship,
month, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police announced that Muslim police
women would be allowed to wear the hidjab; this addition to the regular
uniform was implemented to encourage Muslim women to apply for jobs in
In January 2017, after the Trump administration banned
immigrants from 7 Muslim countries, Trudeau pledged that Canada would
continue to welcome immigrants regardless of their religion.
Justin Trudeau, "Au Canada on devrait être
rendu au-delà de la tolérance"