How Did I Get Here?
When told we would be exploring a topic of choice related to confederation, no sudden epiphany struck me right then and there. It has taken careful thought to arrive where I am now with this topic at hand, but it is one I care deeply about. My main guiding questions fundamentally revolve around how minority status was incorporated back in the time when confederation was an ongoing process and movement, and how that has any relevancy today. How has respecting minority status shaped Canada as a multicultural nation today? What morals are still relevant, and how did they sprout from confederation?
The obvious inference as to why this is a topic of interest and personal passion is because I myself, am someone who fits certain minorities, and want to learn more about how I (and people like me from all walks of life) fit into the nation we call home. I’m hoping my research on confederation will teach me more about what was done back then to respect the minority status, and my research on today’s Canada will teach me more about how minorities are worked into the picture while living in Canada. I am looking forward to analyzing and understanding people’s viewpoint on what even made Canada so “multicultural” in the first place, and what was done in the early stages to make sure it was acknowledged and taken action upon. Not only does this hit home for me, it is also incredibly interesting to observe the identity “makeover” Canada has undergone. This is a big connecting idea that has caught my interest and perked up my ears from the very start – how has Canada’s identity as a country changed and “become better?”
I am proud of myself for finding ideas within real historical events that occur that matter to me because, as I have stated before, is one of my big personal learning goals this year. I always tend to do better when passion strikes, and though it is simply not always possible, my goal was to find just something that speaks to me on a higher level that I can relate to and make something out of. And that’s why this blog post exists!
Searching For Answers In The Past
My starting point is finding out how multiculturalism even found its way into Canada’s ever-changing identity while it was in the process of becoming a country. I cannot expect an abundance of consideration towards minorities and implementation of multiculturalism because it was the 1800’s – a time where the people in power in the West were predominantly caucasian men, and the height of minority inclusion that could be present would be consideration towards French culture and/or different religious branches of Christianity. And that is exactly what was going on back then in terms of “minorities.” But it is these ideas that at least spark and ignite a flame for the future. Protecting French Canadian rights was a relatively prominent conversation going on during the times of Confederation. In fact, George Brown himself wanted to point out just how great of an achievement it was to even be fraternizing with those of a different background…
“Here is a people composed of two distinct races, speaking different languages, with religious and social and municipal and educational institutions totally different, with sectional hostilities of such a character as to render government for many years well-nigh impossible, with a Constitution so unjust in the view of one section as to justify any resort to enforce a remedy.”
~ George Brown, 1865
He continued to go on about how the Fathers of Confederation really should be commended for the way they were able to handle this subject at hand without breaking out into war – quite an achievement indeed.
He says “We are striving to do peacefully and satisfactorily what Holland and Belgium after years of strife were unable to accomplish. We are seeking by calm discussion to settle questions that Austria and Hungary, that Denmark and Germany, that Russia and Poland, could only crush by the iron heel of armed force. We are seeking to do without foreign intervention that which deluged in blood the sunny plains of Italy. We are striving to settle forever issues hardly less momentous than those that have rent the neighboring republic and are now exposing it to all the horrors of civil war.”
In other words, Brown is a tad petty. However, his words did prove purposeful. By specifically naming certain countries who have not been so successful (in his eyes) and making himself and the other Fathers seem very much accomplished, he placed a holy title upon them and even reassured the rest of Canada what a good decision this was, calming any fears the general public may have had by making sure this got to the press.
French Canadian Rights and the protection of them has always been an ongoing conversation during all of this. George-Étienne Cartier, being the incredibly influential French politician he is, made sure this was being talked about and being taken action upon. This was of interest to the other allies not just because it was a humane thing to do, but also because the presence of two national communities under one nation has and could very easily create tension that could end up interfering with the new government system. To avoid this, George-Étienne Cartier made sure to include and specify that “the creation of political institutions that, under the new constitutional arrangement, would ensure the protection of French Canadians’ rights, most notably the exercise of their religion; language guarantees (albeit limited); and the preservation of their system of civil law.”
Of course, no one has oppositions to this, yet surprisingly the very French themselves (the Rouges) were the ones to question this act of “consideration.” Questions rose (mostly from Antoine-Aimé Dorion) around the true merits/morals behind this decision, and why the majority of elected officials did not even understand French. He challenged the idea of this being a “federal union,” as he clearly didn’t think it was.
The Constitution Act of 1867 even mentioned minority religious rights in Section 93. “Section 93 gives the provinces power over education, but with significant restrictions designed to protect minority religious rights during a time when there was significant controversy between Protestants and Catholics in Canada over whether schools should be parochial or non-denominational.”
Hey, it’s something! But there’s no denying that when it comes to representation for the other minority groups (Jews, Muslims, Indigenous Peoples) who hear these words don’t quite buy into it. However, it’s a start at the very least.
Answers Developing Overtime
After a rather preliminary search, I found that the 1965 Report of the Canadian Royal Commission of Bilingualism and Biculturalism is thought to be a key origin point on multiculturalism even starting to be talked about in contemporary times. It is considered the official source of multiculturalism as an idea, so it deems quite important. But what is it, exactly?
The Canadian Royal Commission of Bilingualism and Biculturalism (or, the Bi and Bi Commission), according to Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson (our 14th prime minister), states that the the purpose is to:
“inquire into and report upon the existing state of bilingualism and biculturalism in Canada and to recommend what steps should be taken to develop the Canadian Confederation on the basis of an equal partnership between the two founding races, taking into account the contribution made by the other ethnic groups to the cultural enrichment of Canada and the measures that should be taken to safeguard that contribution.”
~ Lester B. Pearson, 1963
The reason this report even started to materialize is because Pearson saw room for improvement within the boundaries already set by the Fathers of Confederation. Once the report was finalized, it was the first of its kind to be published, the first publication to even mention multiculturalism in terms of a society! “Multiculturalism” slowly started to make the shift between a pure descriptive sociological fact, to a political ideology instead. It started to be talked about with a different context, a different connotation. Thanks to this report, modern political awareness around multiculturalism started to appear. The Quiet Revolution where Quebec Nationalism started to rise followed shortly after the publication, as well. Here is an excerpt from the Encyclopedia of Identity (VOL II), speaking on this report and multiculturalism (not even Canada specific, which shows you this report really did make an impact):
The purpose here was to integrate new arrivals to the predominant culture and to provide a peaceful platform for coexistence of different cultural ethnic groups without perpetrating a form of oppression and marginalization. In different political and geographic regions, the objectives of multiculturalism based on immigration naturally varied between assimilation and accommodation.
The most important part of this is that it started a conversation. From this point on, multiculturalism was more discussed as a political ideology and became a bigger part of people’s consideration when talking about what an ideal society looks like. This commission had very concrete results, as well. At the end of the report, it made very specific recommendations, including:
- That bilingual districts be created in regions of Canada where members of the minority community, either French or English, made up 10% or more of the local population.
- That parents be able to have their children attend schools in the language of their choice in regions where there is sufficient demand.
- That Ottawa become a bilingual city.
- That English and French be declared official languages of Canada.
Incoming Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau agreed with the importance and urgency of these recommendations and made it a priority to make sure they were acted on. The highest-scale result of this was Canada officially becoming a bilingual country in 1969 (introduced in the Official Languages Act). And by 1971, Canada was pursuing the policy multiculturalism instead of just biculturalism, an incredibly important shift that has eventually led us to the diverse country we are today.
That was quite the informative journey if I do say so myself. It was amazing to see how large of an ideology can sprout from such small becomings. During confederation, it was respectable to see them even giving consideration towards “minority” rights and protection of French culture. Though a small step in the big picture, even just igniting that flame led to something immaculate in the future. Someone (in this case, Pearson) sees an already developing idea as well as the need for improvement and publicizes it, starting an entire new chain of spreading ideas and starting conversations. This is how ideas are formed and implemented. The progress the idea of “multiculturalism” made from 1965-1971 is actually astounding. I am amazed by how much can change in a few short years when it is talked about realistically, and when goals are set and acted on. It is important to understand how ideologies prove their prominence in the world and how they come about to be a integrated part of today’s world. This will keep happening throughout history and more conversations will keep more ideas flowing in and out of the times. I’d still love to know more about what was really in that report, how it became so publicized, and what is actively being acted upon in today’s Canada to make sure our multicultural morals do not fade. All in all, a very interesting research expedition!