A New Vision of Multiculturalism in Canada.


By Shamsul  Islam


Canada’s embrace of multiculturalism makes it one of the most desirable countries in which to live. It is the single most important reason why I migrated here from my native Bangladesh 15 years ago. As a social and political activist at both the federal and provincial level I have come to realize that the vision of multiculturalism envisaged by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau three decades ago has unfortunately stagnated.


Multiculturalism is in trouble because our political leadership can’t decide whether it serves any purpose in the current climate of fear over terrorism and a global recession. One group is trying to prop up multiculturalism without a constructive plan to enhance its core values while another group is trying to tear it apart ignoring it's current relevance.


Restoring the relevance of multiculturalism requires us to alter our language. It is a fact that Canada is a nation of minorities, probably the only one of its kind. And while there is no clear majority the term ‘visible' minority is regularly deployed as if it stands in opposition to a known ethnic majority. In this context, the term ‘visible minority’ is perceived as having racist overtones particularly when it is coupled with policies that marginalize a vast number of citizens from political participation.  


If one were to unpack the implications of the term ‘majority’, one will see that it applies not only to Anglo-Saxons but to the Irish, French, Russians, Romanians, Italians, and Greek Canadians. Common ethnic features and perhaps also adherence to a common religion unite this disparate ‘majority’. There is nothing homogeneous about this group.


And yet this so-called 'majority' is entrenched in the upper echelons of our society and is favored politically and economically. This group not only has political and legal legitimacy, but because it is a racial formulation, it undermines the cherished ideals of our liberal democracy particularly the values of equality enshrined in our Charter. Insisting on a ‘minority’ ‘majority’ bifurcation of our society mitigates against the multicultural vision that so many beyond our borders admire us for.


The first step in reviving the ideals of multiculturalism is to expunge from our discourse the terms ‘minority’ and ‘majority’. These categories are racist and they distort our collective commitment to citizenship.


Worst, by insisting on casting citizens into groups of minority and majority, newcomers to this country are trapped in a system of structural discrimination when it comes to issues of settlement, employment and social mobility. Today, we are witnessing the rise of ethnic ghettos in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Vancouver. This is a stark reflection of the derailment of multiculturalism. Instead of taking the path of cultural tolerance and social inclusion our current brand of multiculturalism has us going down the road of cultural intolerance and social exclusion.


Immigrants are asked to be grateful for the privilege of living in Canada while accepting that they may never achieve the social and political status of the entrenched majority. Our system is designed to benefit that ‘majority’ at the expense of the ‘visible minority’.




New immigrants who get jobs face a glass ceiling in their respective professions that restricts their professional growth. There is little or no representation of immigrants in various professional areas and this has eroded the confidence of those who are considered to have been ' successful'. It has created a parallel world where the majority live is one world while the minority inhabits another. A complaint against the status quo is perceived as ‘whining’ by the immigrants.


Although Canada has been accepting immigrants, its utilization of their professional expertise is marginal. In other words, Canada is wasting the talent pool it has at its disposal. The result is economic stagnancy among ‘visible minority’ communities, high unemployment and now inappropriate employment.


Second generation Canadian university and college graduates are forced to settle for dead-end jobs with minimum wage. Migration to the US is on the rise. These are alarming signs that require new thinking and a new approach.


While there are policies that have to be addressed there are many actionable issues at stake. A great deal of work needs to be done by city councillors and the service organizations at the neighborhood level where marginalization is most acute.


To restore confidence in multiculturalism much work will have to be done at the local level where the emphasis should focus on socio-economic issues rather than celebrating cultural diversity. This is one way our leaders can begin to erode the minority-majority categories that is trapping our true potential as a nation.   


Canada needs leaders with vision and political will to harness our collective potential and turn this nation into one of the richest in the world. We should not accept anything less.


University graduates cannot remain unemployed even if for a month after their graduation. In the current global recession the first generation of recent immigrants are troubled by the prospects that their Canadian born children who are graduating in large numbers from our colleges and universities with top grades, will not find good jobs with decent wages.


Our social assistance program must be reformed since the present system is in tatters and cannot be sustained. The system will trap not only this generation but generation to come in a cauldron of poverty and depression. We are already witnessing that some ethnic groups are overrepresented in our criminal justice system.


Our immigration system must br reformed on the basis of scientific, productive and effective criteria. We can’t justify draining the brain-power from the developing world only to have them do menial jobs and live from pay cheque to pay cheque.


Canada is a great country and a land of opportunity but if the doors of opportunity remains shut for large segments of people Canada will never experience its true potential. We need to reinvest in a vibrant notion of multiculturalism, one that is well suited for the 21st century.