Multiculturalism and federal sport policy in Canada
Canada’s multiculturalism policy must be understood in relation to the country’s history and policies on Aboriginal people and its early English/French settlers. In Canada, the term Aboriginal includes Native or First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people, whose population exceeds one million and is growing much faster than the non-Aboriginal population (Statistics Canada, 2008a). Although Aboriginal people were the original inhabitants of Canada, their rights were not officially recognized by law until the 1982 Canadian Constitution Act. Paraschak (1989) argued that native and non-native relations in sport have been characterized by exploitation and racism, owing to ethnocentric distortion, which is when assumptions are made about native cultural practices from a Euro-Canadian perspective. As an example, Robidoux (2006) explained how the use of native imagery in the logos of some North American professional sport teams is mostly perceived as unproblematic by non-native people, but is considered to be offensive to many native people because it positions them as ‘less civilized’. Under federal jurisdiction, Canada is officially a bilingual country. The work of the Canadian Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism (1963-1969) led to the formal recognition of two official languages and distinct cultures of the early English and French settlers. Historical tensions in English and French relations are apparent in sport, as Francophone Canadians are often under-represented as athletes, coaches, and sport executives. As well, concerns have been expressed about Francophone athletes’ and coaches’ limited access to services and programmes in their own language (cf. Adam, 2007; Office of the Commission of Official Languages, 2000; Sport Canada, 2007; Svoboda and Donnelly, 2006). Svoboda and Donnelly (2006, p. 34), have noted that ‘despite the efforts of Sport Canada and many national sport organizations, the Canadian sport system continues to function almost exclusively in English’. Furthermore, Francophone athletes and coaches must learn English to function and progress at the high performance level (Svoboda and Donnelly, 2006). Coakley and Donnelly (2009) have attributed this under-representation to differences in political, cultural, and economic power between English and French Canadians. Given this brief historical backdrop, the original 1971 Canadian Multiculturalism Act was aimed at enhancing the sense of belonging for immigrants who were primarily of European descent – not Aboriginal people or English and French settlers who were considered in other legislation – because foreign residents from non-European countries made up just 3.2 per cent of the Canadian population at that time (Ryan, 2010). Changing source countries and rising immigration rates led to a revision of the 1971 Canadian Multiculturalism Act that came into effect in 1988. This revised Multiculturalism Act set out to ‘recognize and promote the understanding that multiculturalism reflects the cultural and racial diversity of Canadian society and acknowledges the freedom of all members of Canadian society to preserve, enhance and share their cultural heritage’ (Government of Canada, 2011, p. 3). The Act describes multiculturalism as an invaluable resource in the shaping of Canada’s future which is also fundamental to the country’s heritage and collective identity (Government of Canada, 2011). The federal government’s role, according to the Multiculturalism Act, is to promote equitable participation in society by
eliminating barriers; to assist social, cultural, economic, and political institutions to be respectful and inclusive of Canada’s multicultural character; and to foster the recognition and appreciation of diverse cultures (Government of Canada, 2011). At the same time, the government sought to strengthen the status and use of English and French as the two official languages. The multiculturalism policy was not only a response to shifting immigration patterns, but was also meant to signal that freedom of choice is possible within an official bilingualism framework (Ryan, 2010). Canada’s federal multiculturalism policy is commonly referred to as a mosaic where people from varied backgrounds have the freedom to live as they see fit (Bibby, 1990; Lock Kunz and Sykes, 2007). According to Ryan (2010), in his evocatively titled book Multicultiphobia, the policy has been polarizing as some perceive it as destroying the country, while others believe it is one of Canada’s most cherished characteristics. A conclusion drawn from a series of roundtables on Canada’s multiculturalism policy was that there is strong support for its underlying principles which include equality, respect for diversity, human rights, and full participation in society (Lock Kunz and Sykes, 2007). However, as is the case for other countries, there have been criticisms of the multiculturalism policy. Some believe newcomers should discard their previous cultures and conform to the dominant Canadian culture, even though the country is not characterized by a single monolithic culture or shared history (Ryan, 2010). Others are concerned that it encourages people to ‘stick with their own kind’ in ethnic enclaves, thus creating social divisions and a weakened national identity (Bissoondath, 2002). Another criticism is that multiculturalism policy diminishes the position of mostly French speaking Québec within Canada and turns attention away from the historically poor treatment of Aboriginal people. There have also been objections to the use of taxpayer dollars to provide accommodations to newcomers (e.g., language training, access to social services, and health insurance), because some argue that immigrants should pay for these services themselves as part of adapting to a new homeland (Ryan, 2010). Similar concerns have been raised in other countries, for example, when German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron claimed that multiculturalism policy in their respective countries has totally failed (Corbella, 2011, p. A9). The critics appear to be in the minority, however, as national opinion polls have consistently shown that the majority of Canadians agree that multiculturalism is a national asset and that government should assist immigrants in developing the skills and knowledge required to integrate (Ryan, 2010). There may be intergenerational differences though, as younger Canadians are less likely to see the relevance of multiculturalism policy (Lock Kunz and Sykes, 2007). This may be because more of them come from families with mixed ethnic backgrounds and they have grown up in a technologically linked-up multicultural and global environment (Lock Kunz and Sykes, 2007). Canada’s Multiculturalism Act is closely tied to immigration policy which has historically oscillated between actively encouraging international migration to overcome labour shortages and implementing strict controls, owing to fears that immigrants are taking jobs away from Canadian born residents (Elliott and Fleras, 1990). An example of the latter was the imposition of the ‘head tax’ on Chinese immigrants once their labour was no longer needed to help build the Canadian Pacific Railway in the early 1880s (Guo and DeVoretz, 2006). These fears become heightened when linked to threats to security, for example, when Japanese, Italian, and German Canadians were interned during World War II, and following September 11, 2001 when it was suspected that some of the terrorists who killed thousands of people in their destruction of the World Trade Center entered the United States through Canada (Ryan, 2010). Over time, Ryan (2010) found that negative media accounts of multiculturalism policy have outweighed positive ones, even though the criticisms have not been widely taken up
by Canadian adults according to national opinion polls. The following news account in The Vancouver Sun illustrates the ongoing and heated debates about whether newcomers should adapt to their new environment or whether Canada should be accommodating diverse religions and cultures.