Multiculturalism in Canada
The topic ot “multiculturalism,” nas been a hotly debated issue since the end ot the colonizing era. In their endeavor to find the best policy for multiculturalism, different countries opted for different options. States that chose to integrate cultural minorities into their mainstream society had to find the solution that would provide the most equality among citizens; a solution that would later translate into national solidarity and social cohesion.
While some countries have strived to assimilate cultural minorities, others have attempted to “turn a blind eye” and tolerate them. Multiculturalism for me means to aid the integration of minorities into the mainstream society by granting them group-specific cultural rights. Providing group- specific rights would mean providing equality for all citizens by making up for the minority’s reduced status they succumbed when integrating into society.
This paper will contrast and compare the different forms of multiculturalism policies and will ultimately prove that creating citizen equality by granting group-specific rights to deserving cultural groups is the fairest and most rewarding approach to dealing with ulticulturalism.
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During colonialism, conquering powers made many mistakes in their attempts to deal with the aboriginals of their conquered lands. As Kymlicka (2002) declares, the colonialists’ first instinct was to either banish the indigenous people into isolated reserves or force them to abandon their culture and be assimilated into the new Western culture.
The colonialists’ rationale was that if the aboriginals became citizens, they would incorporate themselves into the Western culture by gaining equal rights and would assume a common identity with all citizens. Although this ounds like a well Justified argument, when explored in depth, it is easily realized that solely granting citizenship to the aboriginals wouldn’t necessarily lead to integration. This can be determined by the assumption that colonialist state citizens wouldn’t automatically welcome these new ‘different’ citizens with open arms. Kymlicka, 2002) In addition, the First Nations, along with most other cultures, would predictably not want to shun their own culture and adopt a new one. This is especially true when the cultures in the process of being assimilated are subject to violence and forced compliance to the colonizers. Historically, the negative results associated with assimilation prove that assimilation will not work as a form of integration and a new solution based around groups being able to maintain their previous cultural ties would have to be utilized.
After failing to succeed with assimilation attempts, the British colonizers of Canada opted for the option of banishment of natives; an option that would prove to have even more negative implications. Through a series of treaties that First Nation leaders were coerced to sign, the aboriginals of Canada were steadily removed of their rights and their territories. Eventually, these aboriginals were confined to reserves where they could no longer practice their previous lifestyles and their society was essentially ruined.
Present day aboriginal peoples of Canada still suffer the consequences of their ancestor’s rights being violated during the colonizing era. Furthermore, due to the actions ot the English colonizers centuries ago, the Canadian government today still faces the plight of the First Nations’ ruined society. The problems in First Nation reserves range from unemployment, to alcoholism, to high suicide rates; making it clear that the aboriginal peoples have not had success dapting to modern society effectively.
Thus, I feel it is now the government’s duty to support the Canadian aboriginal groups by not only providing them with financial assistance, but also by granting them with group-specific rights to subsidize their misfortunes and at least attempt to give them social and economic equality with the national majority. Overall, neither assimilation nor isolation have worked in history as means of dealing with culture groups. Another solution based on integration to society, while being able to maintain one’s culture, needs to be explored.
Such a solution exists in the present day United States. Here, the government acts under the principle of ‘benign neglect’. (Walzer 1992, in Kymlicka, 2002) Such a principle revolves around the state being indifferent to the ethnocultural groups in its country by allowing them to maintain their desired culture as long as they don’t violate the American constitution. (Kymlicka, 2002) The neutrality under which the American government functions allows all cultural groups to integrate as much as they see fit into the mainstream society.
Consequently, the American government argues that there is no necessity for minority rights in their country since no one, not ven the majority, are favored to any extent and everyone’s culture is tolerated. However, there are faults with the American policy of ‘benign neglect’. Kymlicka (2002) disputes that although the United States declare that they have no recognized official language, the American government has historically ensured that Anglophones become a majority in all of the fifty states. Additionally, the United States still maintains policies today to guarantee that new citizens of the United States are able to speak English.
These policies reveal that the Anglophone majority in the United States does indeed benefit by speaking English and there are no minority rights that subsidize the effects of these policies on the minorities. Furthermore, the fact that cultures are tolerated’ for moral reasons in the United States can be seen as disrespectful. Culture groups want to be accepted, understood, and appreciated for what they are, not simply tolerated. Toleration, according to MookherJee (2008), is something that must be based on self-interest and not sheer desire for moral growth.
In summary, the aforementioned faults with the multiculturalism policy of benign neglect’ therefore deem the American policy invalid as it fails to provide actual equality for its citizens. Thus a need for an additional approach to multiculturalism is required. The American benign neglect leaves something to be desired and thus forces national minorities to seek either isolation from mainstream society or integration under fairer terms; hence the debate for group-specific rights. (Kymlicka, 2002) As shown in the example of the First Nations in Canada, isolationism is not very appealing.
Therefore, most minority groups choose to integrate into society. However, hey need to find a means to protect their culture from the government’s ‘nation- building process once they integrate. Nation-building is a fundamentally acceptable idea since it woul d, in theory, provide a common identity among citizens and equal opportunity to access social institutions. (Kymlicka, 2002) However, nation-building acts too much in the likes of assimilation by promoting one culture and one language that all citizens would have to conform to.
The response from minorities would then be to limit the effects of nation-building on their culture by requesting group-specific ights. The minorities’ Justification for these rights would be that since the national majority is being benefited by their culture being dispersed among the nation, the benefits have to be balanced. Essentially, group-specific rights are based on the state being convinced that life is fundamentally unequal for minorities in society and thus there is a need to balance out inequalities by providing minorities with special privileges.
This is consistent with ‘multicultural theory as outlined by MookherJee (2008), which states that it is, “unjust if the law of the land demands much greater acrifices of minorities than it does the majority. ” Group-specific rights are however, a very controversial proposal. MookherJee (2008) argues that “uniform citizenship is not enough for members of minority cultures in a liberal society. ” Therefore, minorities need ‘differentiated citizenship’ in order to acknowledge that some groups have different needs and goals.
This seems like a reasonable request, but there are many potential implications to granting special rights. The two main questions associated with group-specific rights are: who gets them? And what rights do they get? The government has to make sure that the pecial group-rights they grant do not result in the rights of the members in the culture group being violated in any way. According to Kymlicka (2002), there are two possible types of rights that minorities might claim. One of them would be for “external protections,” this would protect the minority from the external pressures of society.
The latter one would allow groups to suppress their members to prevent dissent against the ideals and beliefs of the culture group. The government would understandably have to be extremely cautious about which groups receive group-specific rights. Most groups will use these rights for the protection of their culture and to supplement the individual rights of their members. (Raz in Kymlicka, 2002) However, there will be some groups that will utilize minority rights to perform illiberal actions that violate member’s rights.
According to Okin (1999), most times, these violations would be targeted towards women. While some groups violate women openly by not allowing them to be educated or to vote, what about those groups that only mistreat women behind closed doors? Okin (1999) warns that most violations against women are informal and happen within the household. These may include but are not limited to: forcing women to work only in the home, and subjecting women to sexual violence.
Okin (1999) argues that most traditional groups, especially religious groups, tend to hold the belief that women should be dominated by men and this is the primary reason why the state should not even consider the idea of granting group-specific rights. However, I believe Kymlicka’s (2002) limitations on which groups can receive minority rights are a very efficient buffer to prevent these violations from occurring. Kymlicka 2) understands that there is a need to ditterentiate between what ne alls “good” and “bad” minority rights; the former supplement individual rights, while the latter restrict individual rights.
I support Kymlicka’s criteria for granting cultural rights, which includes: allowing free association and the right to exit (MookherJee, 2008), and that the group demanding special rights be subject to a constitution that defines all the rights of group members. These three main benchmarks would need to be present in order for groups to receive cultural rights and they would also be essential in ensuring that the benefits that group-specific rights are meant to provide re provided. I am aware of Okin’s (1999) argument that only a very limited of cultural groups will be able to meet this criteria.
However, I strongly believe that if a culture group fails to ensure the safety and well-being of its members, it is not consistent with a liberal state and should by no means receive the privileges to carry out their illiberal actions inside a liberal state. However, if liberal-democratic cultural groups are awarded special rights, they can use these for positive endeavors. Examples include: to protect their cultures from external societal pressures, which will in turn rovide group members with a sense of membership in a community.
In addition, the society in which the group is demanding rights will benefit from having different cultures enriching its own. Ideally, the larger society will accept the cultural group and its members will receive positive recognition, which as Taylor (1992, in MookherJee, 2008) states, is a Vital human need. ‘ In the end, both the cultural groups and society as a whole should benefit from the existence and success of these groups. However it is my belief that this harmonious ideal can only be achieved through the granting of group-specific rights.
In conclusion, I believe that minority cultural rights are Justified. Throughout this paper, I have explored other possible realistic and even current policies for dealing with multiculturalism. However, each alternative has a fault or something that I feel can be improved using Kymlicka’s (2002) example. Firstly, neither assimilation nor isolation policies were successful in the past. Secondly, benign neglect in the United States has shown its inefficiency by the fact that the government doesn’t trust its own policy and opts to covertly favor the majority.
Furthermore, toleration is not the most nclusive policy of multiculturalism as it doesn’t necessarily create cohesion between cultures and a desired unified nation. And finally, Okin’s (1999) feminist perspective against cultural rights is well defended. However, most right violations of women can be easily prevented by following Kymlicka’s (2002) criteria for the granting of group- specific rights. In general, group-specific rights are merely a way in which the government acknowledges the difficulties that minorities face in maintaining their cultural autonomy.
To fix this fundamental inequality, it is necessary that the overnment grants group-specific cultural rights which would then fix this unbalance of equality and put many groups on as Kymlicka (2002) calls it, a more ‘equal footing,’ with the rest of society. Thus creating harmony.