Multiculturalism And The Canadian Identity Essay

2590 words - 11 pages

Multiculturalism and the Canadian identity.
Introduction
What is Canada? What is a Canadian? Canada, to employ Voltaire's analogy, is nothing but “a few acres of snow.”. Of course, the philosopher spoke of New France, when he made that analogy. More recently, a former Prime Minister, Joe Clark, said that the country was nothing but a “community of communities”. Both these images have helped us, in one way or another, try to interpret what could define this country. On the other hand, a Canadian could be a beer, a hockey-playing beaver or even a canoe floating in a summer day's sunset. A Canadian could also be a “sovereigntyphobe”, refusing to see the liquefaction, albeit political, ...view middle of the document...

In the province, the word multiculturalism announces pejorative meanings. This was due, in part, to the fact that “a federal commission which was charged several years ago with the task of developing policies for Canada, based on its bicultural and bilingual character emerged with a recommendation that Canada think of itself as a multicultural and bilingual country.3”. Francophones, on the other hand, felt that this concept placed them at the same level as minority ethnic groups, thus erasing their thoughts of being seen as one of the country's founding nations.

Religious symbolism and governmental position
In 1985, a request, made by Baltej Singh Dhillon, who asked to allow the addition of a religious symbol to the RCMP's emblematic red uniform, changed the way the force was perceived, in the country. This gesture begged one question: Would a religious symbol be accepted, in any given governmental environment, where religious attire is often seen a source of tension? For many, the RCMP was seen as the pinnacle of Canadian identity. As a result, many groups felt that a turban would not have the same level of symbolic sanctity as the Stetson hat, worn by RCMP officers. The Canadian population also felt that allowing a member of the RCMP to wear a turban would compromise the country's institutionalized identity. Professor Fred Bennett “thought the decision wrong, arguing that ordinary people will perceive a turbaned Sikh as compromising the neutrality of the RCMP.”4. He also “argued that such a change in a state's national institution needs to be resisted, even at the cost of equal opportunity for a small minority.5”. Oppositely, it was argued that “because the RCMP is a national symbol, it should allow the turban to symbolize the country's officially endorsed multicultural identity.6”. The case got through the RCMP's hierarchical layers and the Commissioner at the time, Norman Inkster, got wind of the situation. As a result, Inkster gave his support to Dhillon. This support given by the commissioner echoed in the House of Commons. On March 16th 1990, the Solicitor General, Pierre Cadieux, stated that the policy was amended, thus allowing Dillon to wear his turban in the line of duty. Bruce Ryder stated that “the RCMP changed its uniform policy (in 1990) to bring it into conformity with the concept of equal religious citizenship that had emerged in Canadian human rights law.7”. By taking this decision, Cadieux and the Mulroney government wanted to “accommodate the changing ethnocultural, racial and religious character of Canada.8”.
However, this decision did not please all groups within the Canadian population. For example, a group of retired RCMP officers argued, in federal court, that a turban would infringe their constitutional right to have a secular state, free of all religious symbols. The nucleus of the protest came from the Western part of the country, where the RCMP's symbolization is quasi-sacred. Elspeth...

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