Canadian Multiculturalism Act—Thirty-Fifth Anniversary

By: The Hon. Andrew Cardozo

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Hon. Andrew Cardozo: Honourable senators, I am pleased to mark today the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, which was passed in the summer of 1988. To do that, here is a quick overview of the multiculturalism policy in Canada.

When the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism reported in 1969, they recommended a bilingualism policy and that the contribution of other ethnic groups needed to be addressed. It is worth noting that senator Paul Yuzyk was one of the first, most prominent voices to use the term “multiculturalism” in his maiden speech in this chamber in 1964.

In response to the report, prime minister Pierre Trudeau announced the multiculturalism policy in October 1971, the first of its kind in the world. It was designed to create a policy of multiculturalism in a bilingual framework. While the policy began focusing more on cultural aspects, it moved into social policy and anti-racism in the early 1980s. The multiculturalism minister of the day, Jim Fleming, also launched the first parliamentary committee on racism, which in 1983 issued its groundbreaking report entitled Equality Now!.

In 1982, multiculturalism was recognized in section 27 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, supported, of course, by all provinces. It is noteworthy that other sections recognized key relevant issues such as equality, affirmative action and freedom of religion.

In 1984, the Pierre Trudeau government introduced the first version of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, which was then reintroduced and expanded and passed by the Mulroney government in 1988 under the leadership of his multiculturalism minister, Gerry Weiner. It passed unanimously in both the House of Commons and the Senate in July of 1988. Let me just note here that Parliament does have the ability to sit in July when necessary, as we approach July.

Over the years, the policy has grown with other notable ministers, including Stan Haidasz, David Crombie, Jack Murta, David Collenette, Hedy Fry, Jean Augustine, Jason Kenney and the current minister, Ahmed Hussen. This policy has enjoyed widespread support, yet has gained criticism in certain quarters, as it seeks to advance policies that are described in various ways, such as “respectful,” “traditional,” “uniting,” “divisive,” “woke” or “really Canadian.”

As we mark the thirty-fifth anniversary of this policy, it is a good time to think about how it has helped define who we are as a country and where we go next, as it aims to advance respect and combat racism.

In closing, a shout-out to my personal mentors: Ministers Fleming, Weiner, Augustine and Fry. All these parliamentarians have made a difference and served Canada with distinction, each advancing one of the most quintessential Canadian policies. Thank you.

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