Multiculturalism Today


Immigration: Success?
Syrian Refugee Initiative
Multiculturalism Today
Limits of multiculturalism
Aboriginal Peoples' Past
Aboriginal Rights Today


1) 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 may 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.


Most 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.


In 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, protected by the Charter of Rights and Liberties.


In 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 society.”

Rapport de la Commission Bouchard-Taylor (2008):


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 as “integrative 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 2009.



Further reading

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. Click here


2) Justin 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.

“Countries 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.”

Interview with Justin Trudeau in Guy Lawson, “Trudeau’s Canada, Again”, New York Times Magazine, December 8, 2015.


Justin Trudeau’s renewed support for immigration is expressed through symbolic gestures as well as new public policies.

Important 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, a Somali-Canadian.

The Liberal government has planned an increase of the immigration quota: for 2017, the immigration target is between 280,000 and 320,000.

Contrary to 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 measures:

- doubling the budget for family class immigration

- commitment to resettle more refugees

- decreasing processing times for family class and humanitarian immigration

- easier conditions to obtain citizenship


Moreover, 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, understanding”.

That same 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 the RCMP.

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"