By Randy Boswell, the Vancouver Sun | Link to Article
Forty years after the birth of official multiculturalism in Canada - proclaimed by prime minister Pierre Trudeau on Oct. 8, 1971 to be "the most suitable means of assuring the cultural freedom of Canadians" - the once-sacrosanct idea is met today with ambivalence by many Canadians, a new study suggests.
While a new, nationwide survey of more than 2,300 Canadians by the Montreal-based Association for Canadian Studies showed 86 per cent of respondents "enjoy interacting with people from different cultures," the results were closer to a 50-50 split when those polled were asked if "immigrants should give up their customs and traditions" and become more like "the majority" population.
Forty-five per cent of respondents agreed with that idea and 49 per cent disagreed. Likewise, just 51 per cent of those surveyed agreed with the idea that "the majority should try harder" to accept the customs and traditions of immigrant communities.
Yet when asked whether young people should make efforts to preserve the cultural traditions of their families, about 80 per cent of all respondents - across all regions of the country - said yes. The ACS survey, conducted online by Leger Marketing between Sept. 20 and Oct. 3, gathered opinions from 2,345 Canadians and represents a margin of error of two per cent, 19 times out of 20.
The findings, said ACS executive director Jack Jedwab, highlight the enduring tensions and contradictions surrounding the subject of multiculturalism four decades after Trudeau's Liberal government implemented official multiculturalism.
Jedwab said that while "Canadians like interacting with different cultures," the pursuit of the multicultural ideal "gets a little more challenging in its application" through government programs and policies. And while individual Canadians recognize the value of preserving their own cultural heritage, he said, the poll results show "we're not sure about extending that support for preserving cultural traditions to others."
From the outset in 1971, Canada's multiculturalism policy raised concerns that nurturing a mosaic-like patchwork of cultures within a single country could undermine the creation of a coherent, unified national culture.
But Trudeau's Liberals, said Jedwab, were determined to reject the American melting-pot model for immigrants, recognizing that the same approach had sowed division between French and English Canada earlier in the country's history.
Yet even Trudeau, said Jedwab, grew to have "misgivings" by the 1990s that multiculturalism, taken too far, could pose challenges for governments Reflecting a wider societal ambivalence toward multiculturalism, he added, supporters have become more "cautious" in their defence of the policy. In Quebec, the debate has come to focus largely on what constitutes "reasonable accommodation" of certain ethnocultural traditions that may conflict with "majority" values.
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