The hypocrisy of multiculturalism in Canada

To outsiders, Canada is a land synonymous with multiculturalism and acceptance. Yet, Canadians seem to be all too eager to reject an integral aspect of their global identity.

On October 3, the Angus Reid Institute and CBC released the results from a national polling partnership and found that 68 per cent of Canadians surveyed wanted minorities to increase their efforts to assimilate into Canadian society. In comparison, only 53 per cent of Americans who were asked the same question believed it was the responsibility of minorities to adjust.

This is an interesting discrepancy, given America’s reputation for not always being the most open to immigrants. However, the overarching issue at hand is what it means to be Canadian. Is Canada a melting pot, like our neighbours down south, or is it a cultural mosaic? This question, in my opinion, is best answered based on how others in the global community perceive Canada. Foreigners views Canada as an accepting and multicultural society, and rejecting this perception is also a rejection of Canadian culture.

Since 1988, the year Pierre Trudeau passed the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, multiculturalism has been an integral part of written Canadian policy. Yet people are increasingly vocal about wanting immigrants to assimilate into Canadian society. Some of the stereotypical complaints by those who support assimilation are: immigrants must learn English, immigrants don’t value hard work or ambition, and immigrants who don’t assimilate become isolated from the community.

As an immigrant myself, I would like to introduce some truths to debunk these stereotypes.

Almost every country in the world teaches English to some degree in schools. The vast majority of immigrants already have a conversational knowledge of English. Just because you don’t like an immigrant’s accent, or if their sentences aren’t grammatically correct, that doesn’t mean you can’t understand them. Most Canadian immigrants are from Asia and the Pacific, where there are already rigorous English language classes taught in schools. In today’s globalized world, an inability to communicate in English is detrimental to one’s ability to become successful, particularly in business and academia. Additionally, in order to apply for permanent residence or citizenship in Canada, adult immigrants must pass a standardized exam that tests their English ability (either results of a third party test like the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), proof of English education in Canada or abroad, or the equivalent of Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) level four or higher in speaking and listening). Immigrants already speak English, and if you’re so concerned about speaking a country’s native language, perhaps you should become fluent in Korean or German, before you leave for that semester abroad.

The idea that immigrants are lazy has always baffled me. The majority of immigrants (63.4 per cent) are economic immigrants. That is, immigrants who come here to work. Economic immigrants are already skilled workers, highly educated, and often leave behind comfortable lives and stable jobs to better their standard of living in Canada and attain better lives for their children. However, you often find immigrants working as janitors, waitresses, or other undesirable jobs because Canada doesn’t recognize many foreign degrees. Consequently, some immigrants take whatever available jobs that will allow them to support their families. Other immigrants will spend many years and tens of thousands of dollars to pay for further education at a Canadian institution so that they may work in their field.

Culturally speaking, many people assume that those who don’t assimilate into Canadian culture will be isolated from the community, and may dismantle preexisting communities. Yet, I find immigrants are far from isolated, because they form their own communities. There are Arab communities, Chinese, Cuban, and countless others. Communities are not static; just as people and demographics shift and move, so do communities, and there is no reason why immigrants should be excluded.

The discussion of Canadian culture also prompts the question: what is Canadian culture? Canadians are known for moose, snow, and people of all different backgrounds and ethnicities who coexist peacefully in a multicultural society. Pierre Trudeau made multiculturalism a constitutional right in 1982 and in 1988 Brian Mulroney passed the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, and those who reject the cultural mosaic of Canada are the ones rejecting Canadian culture.