York University Libraries | Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections online exhibits

Multiculturalism

In 1971 the Canadian federal government, under Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s Liberal party, introduced multiculturalism as a national policy. Canada was the first country to have multiculturalism as a national policy. Multiculturalism recognizes the racial, ethnic and cultural diversity of Canadian society and the equality of all Canadians.  Cultural integration rather than assimilation is encouraged through multiculturalism. The objectives of multiculturalism included:

  • “to assist cultural groups to retain and foster their identity;
  •  to assist cultural groups to overcome barriers to their full participation in Canadian society; (thus, the multiculturalism policy advocated the full involvement and equal participation of ethnic minorities in mainstream institutions, without denying them the right to identify with select elements of their cultural past if they so choose);
  • to promote creative exchanges among all Canadian cultural groups;
  • and to assist immigrants in acquiring at least one of the official languages” (Dewing and Leman, 2006, p. 4).

In 1973 the Ministry of Multiculturalism was established. Various Ministries and Departments of Multiculturalism throughout the decades since have produced buttons to forward the ideology of multiculturalism in Canada.

In 1982 Canada adopted the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section 27 of the Canadian Constitution Act 1982 recognizes Canada’s multicultural heritage by stating:

This Charter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians.” (Constitution Act 1982) In 1988 the Canadian Multiculturalism Act was enacted, which officially outlined the government’s multiculturalism policy. In 2002, Jean Augustine served as Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and the Status of Women. In 2003, she served as Minister of State (Multiculturalism and Status of Women).

In the early days of the policy, multiculturalism in Canada often took the form of cultural festivals, celebrations and events which encouraged learning about other culture’s customs, foods and way of life. The Canadian government often provided funding of these celebrations. Many of the following multiculturalism buttons are examples of the festivals, celebrations and messages around cultural pluralism and the value of differences.