Sana Saeed wrote a piece in today’s McGill Daily critiquing Canada’s multiculturalism. “Multiculturalism is a sham” can be read here.

Here’s what I wrote back to her:

Sana, what took you so long to say it? Multiculturalism–understood as a means to preserve and protect cultural diversity through state intervention–has always been a sham. Even the patron saint of multiculturalism, Pierre Trudeau, did not actually argue for a culturally relativistic policy. Rather, he saw multiculturalism as a means to integrate Canada’s cultural groups. Upon introducing the policy to the House of Commons on October 8th, 1971, he said: “It is vital, therefore, that every Canadian, whatever his ethnic origin, be given a chance to learn at least one of the two languages in which his country conducts its official business and its politics.” Although he remarked that “there is no official culture,” by insisting on English (and French for Quebec) as an official language he made it clear that he too believed in the liberal, Anglo-Saxon cultural project. Cultural freedom could exist but it was to be strictly delineated within an English, liberal context. Identity, in Trudeau’s eyes, was marked by the “collective will to exist,” and not one’s origin–and that collective was surely the Anglo collective.

I don’t believe that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with a host society requiring a degree of cultural conformity. All societies do it. There is, however, something disingenuous about worshiping at the altar of diversity and at the same time refusing communion. We should continue to value the various minorities in our midst but must remember that we, as Canadians, have a common cultural project and our own set of values that are worth preserving.

Also, as a student of Canadian history, I have to clarify that the words “mosaic” and “multiculturalism” as ideologies of culture should not be conflated. The metaphor of the mosaic arose from the Prairies during the early 20th century while multicutlrualism became official cultural policy in the 1970s. Theoretically, the mosaic does not argue that all cultures are equal but that diversity should be managed within a sanitized Anglo-Saxon context. Multiculturalism, in theory, wants to make all cultures feel at home. In practice, however, it’s virtually the same as the mosaic.