Multiculturalism and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Published date01 December 2009
DOI10.1111/j.1467-9248.2008.00759.x
Date01 December 2009
subjectMatterArticle
No Job Name

P O L I T I C A L S T U D I E S : 2 0 0 9 VO L 5 7 , 8 0 5 – 8 2 7
doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9248.2008.00759.x
Multiculturalism and the Canadian Charter
of Rights and Freedomspost_759805..827

Varun Uberoi
University of Oxford
Section 27 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states: ‘This Charter shall be interpreted in
a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians’,
and we know surprisingly little about why the Canadian Federal Government agreed to insert it in the
Charter and how this occurred. In this article I will use new historical evidence to explain both these
things and I proceed in three stages. Firstly, I explain why the Canadian Federal Government agreed to
include what became Section 27 in the Canadian Charter. Secondly, I explain how it was actually
included. I then conclude the article by explaining why the evidence in it not only explains why and how
Section 27 was included in the Charter; it also increases the possibility that a largely unsubstantiated claim
made by certain prominent scholars is true. The claim is that the Canadian Federal Government’s policy
of multiculturalism was used to shape the Canadian national identity.
The Canadian Federal Government’s (CFG’s) policy of multiculturalism has
recently attracted attention from some of the most prominent scholars in the
world. Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen claims that multiculturalism began with the
CFG’s policy (Sen, 2006). Anthony Giddens claims that multiculturalism is
misunderstood and an accurate understanding of it can be obtained by examining
the CFG’s policy (Giddens, 2006). Bhikhu Parekh claims that aspects of the
CFG’s policy can be effective in Britain (Parekh, 2000). Tariq Modood uses the
CFG’s policy as an example of what he believes multiculturalism is (Modood,
2007). Attention from such luminaries causes us to ask what we actually know
about the CFG’s policy of multiculturalism and when we do so, we are forced to
admit that there are gaps in our knowledge.
For example, we know something about the historical antecedents of the CFG’s
policy of multiculturalism and a limited amount about the role that this policy
played in debates about Quebec secession ( Joshee, 1995; Palmer, 1988; McRob-
erts, 1997; Webber, 1994). However, we know surprisingly little about why the
CFG agreed to insert Section 27 (a clause about Canada’s multicultural heritage)
in its Charter of Rights and Freedoms and how this occurred.1 Equally, we know
surprisingly little about why the CFG introduced a Multiculturalism Act and how
this Act was created. Further, we know surprisingly little about why the CFG
created a Department of Citizenship and Multiculturalism and how it did so.
These are among the many gaps in our knowledge about aspects of the CFG’s
policy of multiculturalism; they exist because these aspects of the CFG’s policy of
© 2008 The Author. Journal compilation © 2008 Political Studies Association

806
VA RU N U B E RO I
multiculturalism are like aspects of any relatively recent government policy: there
is only so much information about them that is in the public domain.
For sure, some of what the CFG did to create these aspects of its policy has been
placed in the public domain and can be found in parliamentary debates, govern-
ment statements,White Papers, newspaper articles, transcripts of speeches and so
on. Equally, most of the documents that indicate what pressure political activists,
civil society groups and others put on the CFG are in the public domain. Yet
there is also a great deal of information about these aspects of the CFG’s policy
that is not in the public domain. Such information is not in the public domain
because the CFG has not placed it there and this information relates to what the
CFG did to create these aspects of their policy of multiculturalism; when, how
and why they did it. The documents that will reveal this information are the
internal government memoranda, correspondence between ministers and civil
servants, minutes of meetings between ministers and civil servants, Cabinet
minutes and so on. But as the vast majority of such documents have not been
declassified they are seemingly unavailable to us. The gaps in our knowledge that
I have referred to must seem, then, as if they can only be partially filled by what
we can discern from the documents that are in the public domain.
However, this is not the case. The CFG, various former Cabinet Ministers and
their advisers have given me unfettered access to the documents that can help us
more adequately to fill these gaps in our knowledge. Equally, many of the former
Cabinet Ministers and civil servants who helped to create these aspects of the
CFG’s policy agreed to be interviewed, thus enabling me to augment my
documentary data with interview data. Hence, using new historical evidence, this
article will help to fill the first of the gaps listed above. It will help to explain why
the CFG agreed to include Section 27 in the Canadian Charter of Rights and
Freedoms and how this occurred.
Indeed, Section 27 states:‘This Charter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent
with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Cana-
dians’, and explaining why the CFG agreed to include it and how this occurred
is important for both specific and general reasons. Looking at the specific first, as
discussed, such an explanation will help to fill one of many gaps in our knowledge
about aspects of the CFG’s policy of multiculturalism. Equally, explaining why the
CFG agreed to include Section 27 in the Charter and how this occurred will
correct a view held by many in which it is claimed that the CFG agreed to
include Section 27 because it was lobbied to do so by those who claimed to
represent Canadians of neither British nor French origin (Abu-Laban and
Gabriel, 2002, p. 110; Chrétien, 2000, p. 342; Tarnopolsky, 1982, p. 440; Tully,
1997, pp. 176–7). As I will show, other factors also helped to ensure that Section
27 was included in the Charter.
Turning to the general, by explaining why the CFG agreed to include Section 27
in the Charter and how this occurred we also reveal evidence that increases the
© 2008 The Author. Journal compilation © 2008 Political Studies Association
POLITICAL STUDIES: 2009, 57(4)

M U LT I C U LT U R A L I S M A N D T H E C A N A D I A N C H A RT E R
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possibility that an unsubstantiated claim made by certain prominent scholars is
true. The claim is that the CFG’s policy of multiculturalism was used to shape the
Canadian national identity ( Joppke, 2004, p. 245; Kymlicka, 2003b, p. 1; Modood,
2007, p. 147). Indeed, as the scholars who make this empirical claim offer little
or no empirical evidence to support it, their claim is likely to be criticised or
ignored. This is especially because policies of multiculturalism are often thought
to undermine national identities, not shape them ( Bissoondath, 1994, p. 71, p. 77;
Cable, 2005, p. 47; Cameron, 2007; Gwyn, 1995, pp. 195–6; Pal, 1995, p. 256;
Phillips, 2006, p. 113). But by explaining why and how Section 27 was inserted
into the Charter, we find evidence which increases the possibility that the CFG’s
policy of multiculturalism was indeed used to shape the Canadian national
identity.
In this article then I will try to explain why the CFG agreed to include Section
27 in the Charter and how the latter occurred. I will proceed in three stages.
Firstly, I will examine why the CFG agreed to include a reference to the
multicultural nature of Canada in the Canadian Constitution. Secondly, I will
explain what factors enabled the inclusion of Section 27 in the Charter. Thirdly,
I will conclude the article by showing that the evidence in it not only explains
why the CFG agreed to insert Section 27 into the Charter and how this
occurred, but also increases the possibility that it is true to claim that the CFG’s
policy of multiculturalism was used to shape the Canadian national identity.
A Reference to the Multicultural Nature of Canada
Before I begin this section, there are two points to note. Firstly, in this Section I
deliberately do not focus on Section 27 itself but on why the CFG committed
itself to include a reference to the multicultural nature of Canada in the Con-
stitution. This is because Section 27 was simply the way in which the CFG
honoured its commitment to include such a reference.
Secondly, it is also important to note that including a constitutional reference
to the multicultural nature of Canada was a small part of a broad process of
constitutional renewal. This process had many components and one of the most
important was patriating the Canadian Constitution. As Alan Cairns observes,
‘like all nationalist minded’ Canadian prime ministers, Pierre Elliot Trudeau
wanted to patriate the Canadian Constitution (Cairns, 1995, p. 68). This is
because it was still a British Act of Parliament that could be changed by the latter.
Trudeau also insisted on devising a Charter of Rights and Freedoms that would
codify the rights of Canadians and describe what it meant to be Canadian
(Trudeau, 1993, p. 323). Further, at the request of Quebec and the Western
provinces, the redistribution of federal/provincial governmental powers was also
being discussed.2 In short, including a constitutional reference to the multicultural
nature of Canada was a small part of a broad process of constitutional renewal.
With these points in mind, we can begin to explain why the CFG agreed to
include a constitutional reference to the multicultural nature of Canada by noting...

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