Multiculturalism At 50: Our Mirror At Midnight
On October 8th, 50 years ago, Canada became the “first country in the world to adopt multiculturalism as an official policy.” Eleven years later, the multiculturalism policy was incorporated into the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The act declares that all Canadian citizens and residents can “freely preserve, enhance and share their cultural heritage” and that communities, no matter their origin, can and should be able to fully and equitably participate in all aspects of Canadian society.
While we should be proud of this policy and the progress that has followed it, we must collectively understand what it means in practice. The past year and a half have caused millions of racialized and non-racialized Canadians to question if we truly mean the words declared those 50 years ago. The country has experienced a great deal of heartache in recent weeks. An innocent family going for a walk on a Sunday afternoon was killed simply for being Muslim. Anti-semitism expressed through the vandalism of synagogues and violent acts committed against Jewish people across Canada is at an all-time high. Parents of students are fighting for more racially inclusive provincial school curricula. Dismaying spikes of anti-Asian racism due to the COVID-19 pandemic echoes a deeply shameful past of aggression toward Asians. The century-long unheeded agony of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people are now coming to fruition with the discovery of hundreds of mass and unmarked graves across Canada’s prairies and pacific west, with more findings likely to come.
The 50th anniversary of the Multiculturalism Act should not be simply a moment to pat ourselves on the back. Instead, it should stand as our country’s mirror at midnight and a call to collective action. It should stand as a moment to examine our history, its impact on our present, and its ripple effect for the future. This anniversary is a time to elevate the policy written those 50 years ago from aspiration into action so that 50 years from now, we can all honestly say that we turned our words into deeds.