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From multicultural differences to different multiculturalisms : locating Canada in international debates on gender, antiracism and human rights Hunter, Lauren

Abstract

State-sponsored multiculturalism has faced significant social and political challenges in recent years, resulting in the scaling back of most multiculturalism policies in Western nations in favour of more assimilationist models. Against the trend, Canada has remained firm in its commitment to its version of the policy, and continues to assert at a governmental level that multiculturalism is highly valued. This raises questions about why Canadian multiculturalism appears to have survived the challenges that are causing the collapse of other state-sponsored multiculturalisms. The thesis suggests that multiculturalism policies contain foundational philosophies, which are informed by historical rationales that originally justified the creation of multiculturalism, many of which have competing goals. On one hand, multiculturalism contains aspects of systemic racism that are based in the way a nation has historically engaged with diversity; on the other hand, it is a policy designed to promote inclusive equality. These two principles manifest throughout the many rationales that created the policy. Canada's capacity to balance competing interests within the policy has enabled Canadian multiculturalism to adapt to challenges in a manner that not all other multiculturalisms have been able to emulate. Among other contemporary challenges, the charge has been laid against multiculturalism that it fosters the spread of excessively patriarchal cultures in liberal national spaces, and subsequently should be abandoned in favour of more assimilationist models that protect against gender abuse, and abuse of liberal principles of individual human rights. By carefully analyzing the foundational philosophies in contemporary Canadian multiculturalism, the thesis shows that in the Canadian case this charge is based on a number of inaccurate assumptions, which, once corrected, indicate that state-sponsored forms of multiculturalism may actually promote gender equality, as well as open increased avenues for advanced levels of cultural human rights. The thesis proposes a framework for advancing human rights through a fresh look at the individual rights versus group rights debate, and demonstrates how Canada is uniquely poised, through multiculturalism, to establish advanced access to equality and freedom of cultural practice for a diverse population.

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