In Canada there are four "designated" groups that are usually associated with the topic of diversity. These groups include; 1) Women, 2) People with disabilities, 3) Visible Minorities, and 4) Aboriginals.
Respecting Our Differences
Canada's experience with diversity distinguishes it from most other countries. Our 30 million inhabitants reflect a cultural, ethnic and linguistic makeup found nowhere else on earth. Approximately 200,000 immigrants a year from all parts of the globe continue to choose Canada, drawn by its quality of life and its reputation as an open, peaceful and caring society that welcomes newcomers and values diversity.
Diversity has been a fundamental characteristic of Canada since its beginnings. At the time of European settlement there were more than 56 Aboriginal nations speaking more than 30 languages. As the French and then the English colonized Canada, treaties were signed that acknowledged Aboriginal nationhood. Linguistic duality was enshrined in law at the earliest stages of the development of the Canadian federation. At a time when it was accepted practice to establish sovereignty through war and cultural domination, there were enough Canadians who believed in the virtues of accommodation and mutual respect to ensure that, with some exceptions, Canada would develop peaceably and the foundations of its diversity would be preserved.
This does not mean that there aren't tensions in Canada that flow from the differences between people. But as these tensions are addressed, Canadians learn to adapt and relate to one another despite their differences. Through practice, we have come to understand that the differences between us do not have to divide us. This encourages citizens who face common challenges to step forward and claim their right to full participation in Canadian society. As a consequence, Canada's concept of what constitutes diversity is expanding. Diversity is moving beyond language, ethnicity, race and religion, to include cross-cutting characteristics such as gender, sexual orientation, and range of ability and age. The same approaches that have helped Canadians develop into a bilingual, multicultural society are now also helping to bring down other barriers that prevent individuals from reaching their full potential.
A broad framework of laws and policies supports Canada's approach to diversity. At the federal level, these include the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Employment Equity Act, the Official Languages Act, the Pay Equity Act and the Multiculturalism Act. Provinces and territories also have laws, human rights commissions and programs that promote diversity. Finally, Canada reinforces its commitment to diversity as a signatory to international conventions including, for example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
However, making equality of opportunity meaningful in a diverse society requires more than constitutional measures and legislation. All levels of government in Canada deliver programs that mobilize communities to promote dialogue and help people overcome barriers to their participation in society.
"Canada has become a post-national, multicultural society. It contains the globe within its borders, and Canadians have learned that their two international languages and their diversity are a comparative advantage and a source of continuing creativity and innovation. Canadians are, by virtue of history and necessity, open to the world." -the Right Honourable Jean Chretien, Prime Minister of Canada, June 2000
Canada's future depends on maintaining and strengthening its capacity to bring together peoples with many differences--even grievances--and building a peaceful society where no one's identity or cultural heritage should have to be compromised. Canada's approach to diversity is based on the belief that the common good is best served when everyone is accepted and respected for who they are, and that this ultimately makes for a resilient, more harmonious and more creative society. This faith in the value of diversity recognizes that respect for cultural distinctiveness is intrinsic to an individual's sense of self worth and identity, and a society that accommodates everyone equally is a society that encourages achievement, participation, attachment to country and a sense of belonging.
"It is my deepest hope that Canada will match its new legal maturity with that degree of political maturity which will allow us to make a total commitment to the Canadian ideal. I speak of a Canada where men and women of Aboriginal ancestry, of French and British heritage, of the diverse cultures of the world, demonstrate the will to share this land in peace, in justice, and with mutual respect."-the Right Honourable Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, April 17, 1982
The longest-standing test of Canada's capacity to balance unity and diversity is the challenge of linguistic duality. We live in an officially bilingual country. Bilingualism is at the very core of our approach to diversity. It has been a defining characteristic of Canadian society from the very beginning of our constitutional development.
With Confederation in 1867, English and French were accorded official, constitutional status and a large range of powers was assigned to the constituent member provinces. Within one province, Quebec, French-speaking Canadians formed a large majority and were able to use these powers to protect and develop their culture. Elsewhere in Canada, the French language gradually came under strain with an influx of immigrants who were either of English origin or were encouraged to speak English.
It was not until the Official Languages Act of 1969 that a concerted effort was undertaken to restore the balance and address infringements of official language minority rights. This Act requires the Government of Canada to give equal status, rights and privileges to both languages in all federal institutions and requires federal institutions to serve Canadians in their official language of choice. Subsequently, with Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982, Canadian parents who are members of the English or French linguistic minority in the province in which they reside were granted the constitutional right to have their children educated in that language, where numbers warrant.
Beyond constitutional and legislative measures, the Government of Canada also works with provincial and territorial governments, community groups, professional associations and volunteer organizations to encourage the provision of services in both official languages. This support includes programs to help expand access to high-quality public education in the minority official language and to offer all Canadians students the opportunity to learn their second official language in school. Partly as a result of these programs, a total of five million Canadians are now proficient in both French and English.
"It is a strength and not a weakness that we are a permanently incomplete experiment built on a triangular foundation - aboriginal, francophone and anglophone. What we continue to create today, began 450 years ago as a political project, when the French first met with the Aboriginal people. It is an old experiment, complex and, in worldly terms, largely successful. Stumbling through darkness and racing through light, we have persisted in the creation of a Canadian civilization."-Her Excellency the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, October 7, 1999
During the latter half of the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, Canada pursued an immigration policy that had as its primary objective supplying a labour pool, first for settlement and agriculture, then to support industrialization.
Through much of this period, Canadian governments gradually reflected society's increasing willingness to accept differences within the population--specifically, the legitimacy of the rights of minorities to maintain their culture and traditions. However, there were also regressive laws during this time that among other things stripped some Canadians of their citizenship rights, such as Canadians of Japanese descent during World War II. In cases like these, Canadian governments failed to provide for the full participation of certain minorities in society and the legitimacy of multiple identities.
After World War II, Canadians and their governments began to see that continued discrimination at home devalued the purpose of the sacrifices that had been made in defeating a racist regime overseas. Beginning in 1950 with the report of the Massey-Lévesque Commission, ethnocultural diversity gradually came to be understood as an essential ingredient in a distinct Canadian identity.
The Bill of Rights in 1960 barred discrimination by federal agencies on the grounds of race, national origin, colour, religion or sex. Changes to Canada's Immigration Act in 1962 specifically stated that "any suitably qualified person from any part of the world could be considered for immigration to Canada, without regard to his race, colour, national origin, or the country from which he comes". As a consequence, Canada's immigration polices gradually became less European and the mix of source countries shifted to nations in Southern Europe, Asia and the West Indies. Substantial increases during the 1970s and 1980s in the number of immigrants admitted as refugees under humanitarian and compassionate grounds further diversified the ethnocultural origins of newcomers to Canada.
"It is hereby declared to be the policy of the Government of Canada to foster the recognition and appreciation of the diverse cultures of Canadian society and promote the reflection and the evolving expressions of those cultures."-Excerpt from the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, July 1988
In 1971, Canada became the first country in the world to adopt an official Multiculturalism Policy. This policy provided for programs and services to support ethnocultural associations and to help individuals overcome barriers to their full participation in Canadian society. In 1982, the multicultural character of Canada gained constitutional recognition in Section 27 of the newly adopted Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It specified that the courts were to interpret the Charter "in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canada". By virtue of this section of the Charter, Canada became a constitutional multicultural state.
In 1950, when the landmark Massey-Lévesque Commission linked cultural diversity and Canadian identity, 92% of Canada's population growth was a product of the birth rate. Today, immigration has outpaced the natural birth rate, and accounts for 53% of overall population growth. Often dubbed "the global village in one country", the face of Canada, particularly in our larger urban centres, is changing dramatically. By 2006, one in six Canadians will be a member of a visible minority. Toronto, the largest city in Canada's largest province, will be the world's most multicultural city, ahead of New York and London. Vancouver, with the fastest growing and most diverse immigrant population in Canada, will be among the world's most integrated cities.
Healing Canada's relationship with its Aboriginal Peoples
Lessons learned through experience with bilingualism and multiculturalism have taught Canada that acceptance and understanding of differences between peoples make collective development possible. However, experience with diversity also shows that inequities must be acknowledged and addressed for a diverse people to move forward together. This is a slow and sometimes painful process, but it is essential if all Canadians are to enjoy the same sense of belonging and attachment to their country. It also serves to familiarize Canadians with the history they share and the obligations that their history confers. These obligations include honouring the proclamations and negotiated arrangements made with First Nations peoples.
Infringements of the human rights of Aboriginal peoples date back to Canada's earliest beginnings. Violations such as the residential school system occurred as recently as a few decades ago. The effects for many individuals and communities are plainly evident. Aboriginal Canadians suffer more poverty, poorer health, higher death and suicide rates and far greater unemployment than their fellow citizens do.
In the modern era, attempts to address the needs of Canada's Aboriginal peoples began in 1973 when the Supreme Court of Canada first recognized land rights based on an Aboriginal group's traditional use and occupancy of land. In 1982, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms recognized and affirmed the treaty rights of Aboriginal peoples to protect their cultures, customs, traditions and languages. In 1996, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples presented a comprehensive five-volume report to the Parliament of Canada identifying the legal, political, social, economic and cultural issues that need to be addressed to ensure the future survival of Canada's First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. Two years later the federal government responded with Gathering Strength: Canada's Aboriginal Action Plan to work in partnership with Canada's Aboriginal peoples to improve health, housing and public safety, strengthen economic development and assist with the implementation of self-government.
As with official languages and multiculturalism, Canada has learned that constitutional measures and legislation alone are not enough to assure equal opportunity in a diverse society. To contribute fully and achieve their full potential, all peoples must have a voice in society and a chance to shape the future direction of the country of which they are a part. This requires mechanisms to enable individuals and groups to speak out and be heard, and to participate in national debates. It also requires programs that help equip individuals, communities and organizations with the skills and tools they need to advance their interests.
"The assistance and spiritual values of the Aboriginal peoples who welcomed the newcomers to this continent too often have been forgotten. The contributions made by all Aboriginal peoples to Canada's development, and the contributions that they continue to make to our society today, have not been properly acknowledged. The Government of Canda today, on behalf of all Canadians, acknowledges those contributions."-Hon. Jane Stewart, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, unveiling of Gathering Strength: Canada's Aboriginal Action Plan, 1998
Canada has embraced diversity, or cultural pluralism as some people refer to it, in both policy and practice. It is viewed as one of Canada's most important attributes, socially and economically. Canadians value diversity for enriching cultural expression and making daily life more varied and interesting. Businesses and employers recognize that diversity in the workplace promotes innovation, stimulates teamwork and creativity and helps expand markets for goods and services. As the diversity of the population expands, new links are forged with the world at a time when Canadians recognize the increasing importance of having a credible voice in international affairs and in strengthening our advantage in the global economy.
Our advantage lies in having been a multicultural society from our earliest days. The foundation has already been laid for constructive co-existence among culturally and racially diverse communities. And the close links these communities enjoy with virtually every country on earth lead the Government of Canada to be enthusiastic about the economic potential of multiculturalism.
These same links - so critical for the development of Canadian trade, jobs and investment - can also be exploited to reinforce Canada's stature among the nations of the world. Experience with diversity has taught us to accept and respect diverse views. Canadians welcome debate and are willing to listen, discuss, negotiate and compromise for the common good. This has made us effective international mediators. We understand the virtues of accommodation and respect, and the importance of negotiation in peaceful conflict resolution. With so much violence in the world fuelled by racial, religious and ethnic intolerance, Canada is regularly asked by developing nations and newly emerging democracies to provide advice and assistance on conflict resolution, human rights, democratization and establishing the institutions that a civil society needs.
Many of the national achievements that Canadians are proudest of have involved our contributions to world peace and human security. These include the work of our peacekeepers and our role in ratifying the land mines treaty and establishing the International War Crimes Tribunal.
However, it is what millions of individual Canadians achieve every day that matters most. Canada stands as proof that it is possible for women and men of the world's many races, religions and cultures to live together. We admit our problems and work across our differences to find solutions. We show the world that different people can accept and respect one another, and work collaboratively to build one of the most open, resilient, creative and caring societies on earth.
"The essence of inclusiveness is that we are part of a society in which language, colour, education, sex and money need not, should not divide us, but can make us more aware and sensitive to difference." -Her Excellency the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, October 7, 1999
Building a higher quality of life for all Canadians
While our record in recognizing the rights of all our peoples is far from perfect, Canada has learned a great deal from its diversity. Accepting and then coming to value the differences between our peoples has changed and continues to change Canada, making our country a better place. However, as Canadians look to the future it is clear that new pressures will make balancing diversity and unity even more challenging.
Canada has managed its increasing diversity and maintained unity by balancing rights and responsibilities in citizenship, and individual and collective rights in our Constitution. However, the global forces of change that affect all countries affect Canada too. The diversity of the Canadian populace is increasing faster than at any time in our history. Communications technologies--satellites, computers and the Internet--are fundamentally changing relationships, transactions and expectations in our economy and in our society. And with exports accounting for more than 40% of our GDP, Canada is affected by the evolution towards "one market, one world" as increased international trade makes the globe smaller and its peoples more interconnected and interdependent.
The ethnocultural diversity of Canada's population is a major advantage when access to global markets is more important than ever to our economic prosperity. Protecting this advantage means that steps to eradicate racism are essential. Beyond the inequity, suffering and social disruption that intolerance and racism causes, Canada cannot afford to have any of its citizens marginalized.
As a knowledge-based economy in an increasingly competitive global marketplace, every mind matters. All Canadians must have the opportunity to develop and contribute to their full potential.
As a consequence, the Government of Canada is working with provincial and territorial governments, the private and voluntary sectors and individual Canadians to help strengthen our institutions, build safer and more supportive communities and reinforce shared values. For example, the Government of Canada is working to make the federal public service more representative of the diverse population it serves.
It is enhancing its multiculturalism programming, expanding its anti-racism activities and strengthening its support for other minority groups such as persons with disabilities to help more individual Canadians overcome barriers to their full participation in society.
The Government is also working to increase access to all forms of Canadian cultural expression in all media. A major effort is under way to digitize the holdings of Canada's cultural institutions and link them to form a virtual museum of Canada. These and many other efforts will help ensure that, as the world becomes smaller and our connections with other countries deepen, we can use new technologies to strengthen our society - to find and connect with one another, share our stories and perspectives, and work together for the common good while maintaining a strong sense of place and of pride in being Canadian.
In these and many other ways we can ensure that change works to Canada's advantage--that our diversity remains a source of strength and creativity, and that it continues to play a pivotal role in making Canada a modern, forward-looking country.
"We have established a distinct Canadian Way, a distinct Canadian model: Accommodation of cultures. Recognition of diversity. A partnership between citizens and state. A balance that promotes individual freedom and economic prosperity while at the same time sharing risks and benefits." -the Right Honourable Jean Chretien, Prime Minister of Canada, June 2000