OTTAWA – Top federal civil servants were warned last year that removing multiculturalism as a piece of Canadian identity could hurt efforts to shore up the economy and combat extremism.
A presentation to a cross-departmental committee of deputy ministers in May 2015 suggested that creating an us-and-them mentality on the question of who is Canadian could hinder reconciliation between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people, threaten national unity, and erode public support for immigration.
These types of issues surfaced months later during the federal election campaign, including the heated debate over a push to ban face veils from being worn during citizenship ceremonies.
The message also said such talk could hamper the government’s ability to combat “violent extremist narratives” and could hurt the economy by reducing foreign investment and the number of skilled immigrants entering Canada — who are “required for the future success of the Canadian economy.”
The presentation said crafting an “inclusive Canadian identity” is a core government priority because it “lays the foundation for harmony, prosperity and stability at home and abroad.”
The federal documents also included speaking notes prepared for the deputy minister of Employment and Social Development Canada. They recommended that the committee think about how the issues raised in the presentation can affect the government’s delivery of services, programs and policies.
The aim, it added, is to “build the collective sense of progress and sharing in opportunity” and “reinforce the attachment to and good functioning of the federation.”
The Canadian Press obtained a copy of the presentation through the Access to Information Act.
Jack Jedwab, executive vice-president of the Association for Canadian Studies, said the presentation suggested that crafting a Canadian identity at a bureaucratic level fell less in line with the view of the then-Conservative government. He added that it echoed the kind of talk now being heard from the current Liberal government about multiculturalism.
“There’s been a fair bit of criticism about multiculturalism and what I like about this particular paper is it’s bang on on multiculturalism,” Jedwab said.
“Multiculturalism has really served us well. I think it conveys the right message to Canadians.”
Defining the parameters of the Canadian identity is tricky.
The presentation says that our collective identity as a nation has three historical pillars, or what the documents call the “interconnected axes of identity.”
They include the split between aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples, British and French histories as well as bilingualism, and multiculturalism, which includes the country’s history of immigration.
“From this complex history, there exists no single, definitive story of ‘the Canadian identity,’ ” the document says.
“Through their overlapping multiple identities, people express different ways of being Canadian.”
The presentation also says that aboriginals, on average, “express positive feelings of belonging to Canada” and are proud to be Canadian. Those were among the positive indicators when it came to having an inclusive Canadian identity.
The remaining challenges were all blacked out from the documents because they were deemed sensitive advice to top officials.
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