Speech by

The Honourable Hedy Fry, P.C., M.P.

Secretary of State (Multiculturalism) (Status of Women)

on the occasion of the 1st International Conference of Central European Canadianists


Brno, Czech Republic
November 13, 1998



Thank you and good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Bonjour, mesdames et messieurs.

I'm delighted to be here in Brno for this historic gathering. It is exciting to see so many men and women from across Central here to discuss, to share information. It is exciting to see so many of you devoted to the better understandíng of Canada.

C'est le signe qu'une ére nouvelle est commencée dans cette partie du monde en matiére d'études canadiennes. Des programmes d'études canadiennes ont vu le jour en Hongrie dés 1979 et ont gagné d'autres universités d'Europe centrale. Ils ont permis de tisser des liens entre vos pays et le Canada.

You are part of a bridge between Europe and Canada that is not only Iinked to Academe, but is embedded in the relationships that have been built between people. These relationships are made stronger by the hundreds of thousands of Canadians from coast to coast whose roots are found in the soil of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland and Romania.

Je vous encourage á continuer sur cette lancée et á vous joindre au réseau mondíal de quelque 7 000 canadíanístes quí partagent les mémes intéréts au niveau scientifique pour la culture, la société et les valeurs canadiennes.

Dans le cadre de notre propre Programme d'études canadiennes, le Canada veille á ce que notre perspective sur le monde soit comprise á 1'extérieur du pays. Ce programme contribue á relier les communautés culturelles et scientifiques, dont les membres sont toujours préts á partager des idées et des travaux en cours.

What I want to address today are some fundamental questions facing Canada and its approach to cultural pluralism.

How has the historical context of our diversity affected our approach?

What are the challenges that diversity bríngs?

How does a society balance respect for difference with the fostering of a national identity?

At the outset, let me say that I am proud of how Canada has fostered cultural diversity. We have nurtured a society built on tolerance and understanding, whíle striving for accommodation and full participation of all our citizens.

Canada is my adopted homeland. I chose to make my life in Canada, because it was clear, even 28 years ago, when I immigrated to Canada, that it held the promise of realizing the democratic ideals on which it was founded.

I wanted to participate in the controversial experiment of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and his vision of a just society. I wanted my children to grow up as citizens of a country that looked out upon the world and reflected principles of fairness, compassion, accommodation and respect.

While that was the vision that fired my imagination, what was the reality that has shaped Canada's current approach to diversity?

Throughout history, and even in present times, natural and human events have caused people around the world to migrate. Today, there are few, if any, places that have not been affected by migration.

While Canada may not fall on any geographic migratory path, throughout our modern history we have fostered cultural pluralism by inviting others to make Canada their home.

This was true in the 1860s at Confederation and, as we welcome almost 200,000 new immigrants this year, is true today.

Not that Canada was not culturally diverse before the l9th century. Our Aboriginal peoples, whose origins go back many thousands of years, represent many traditions, customs, languages and religions.

Into this already diverse land arrived two colonial powers, the British and the French, who established a new power structure that set the tone for the relationship between the diverse cultures that found themselves on Canadian soil.

Most of our early immigrants came from Europe and, by virtue of their origins and homogeneous appearance, were readily accepted as the kind of people who would be beneficial to Canada. They quickly adapted to their new land.

A telling contrast, however, was the Chinese who came to Canada as cheap labour to build our national dream - the transcontinental railroad.

Unlike their European counterparts, the Chinese were subject to a Head Tax and to the Exclusion Act of 1923. Acts that were blatantly racist. The history of Canada throughout the first half of this century in terms of its treatment of aboriginal people, Chinese, Italians, Ukrainians and others begs a specific question.

What happened to transform the Canada of the 1860s into the Canada of the 1990s?

For the answer, we must go back to our two solitudes. When the French and British arrived to plant their roots in Canadian soil, they disturbed the land to do so, but at the same time, they sowed the seeds of democracy.

Over time, the seeds were cultivated by individuals who cared about social justice for all Canadians, no matter what their origins, their language, their religion, their gender, ability, or sexual orientation. People like Louis Riel, Nellie McClung, John Humphrey, Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau.

The Second World War brought home to us the need to be more responsive to the needs of our citizens. We encouraged an acceptance and respect for everyone who was a member of the Canadian family.

In this spirit, we went on to create legislation such as like the Citizenship Act, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Employment Equity Act, and the Official Languages Act.

Provinces established their own human rights codes. Canada ratified the United Nations' convention on racial discrimination and signed the U.N.'s covenant on civil and political rights.

So, we have a legislative framework. Is that enough? Does it help us to meet the challenges of a diverse society?

The simple answer is no. While laws are an important piece of the puzzle, they are not enough to foster an inclusive, open society.

In the beginning, we thought it was enough just to celebrate our differences: applause for a few songs, a few dances, some pretty costumes - and if I recall the television commercials they tended to be Ukrainian and Polish - and voilá!! - Canada is multicultural!

We then felt it important to develop tools for individuals, institutions and communities to help all Canadians feel included. The tools that government helped develop changed over many years. They evolved to meet the changing needs of our population.

While we still have the songs, the dances and the costumes, today, the government's policy of multiculturalism has evolved. We have progressed from a focus on the external attributes of people to a policy that nurtures civic participation, identity and social justice. It is a policy that is shaping the multitude of relationships in our society, involving individuals, communities, institutions, and governments.

The tools of multiculturalism today are ones that relate to economic empowerment. They relate to sensitizing mainstream institutions to the reality of the lives of the public they serve. They relate to informing individuals about their rights and responsibilities as Canadian citizens with the objective of maximizing their participation in the cultural, economic and political life of our country .

It is not about preparing new immigrants on how they should integrate into Canadian life. It is about how do we prepare Canada to be an open and welcoming society for all people.

Multiculturalism program officers across the country act as community development officers. They help to build the bridges between the needs that a community faces and the institutions that can help meet those needs.

Whether it is funding training for hospital staff in Winnipeg to learn about the cultural sensitivity of its Aboriginal patients, or working with the Department of National Defence on cultural sensitivity for Muslim women serving in our military, the Multiculturalism Program of the Department of Canadian Heritage is helping Canadians accept and respect our cultural pluralism.

We are making certain that diversity is recognized across the federal government and public institutions. We are there to encourage policies that reflect the needs of a diverse population.

We have taken leadership roles in dealing with the issue of hate crime and bias activity, which is often directed at ethnic, racial and sexual minorities. We have promoted a national anti-racism campaign focused on youth. The campaign, with its slogan "Racism. Stop it!", is built around March 21, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The time has passed when governments try to do things on their own. A fundamental underlying principle of all that we do is partnership. An essential element of what we do is to work with other levels of government, with the private sector and with non-governmental organizations to advance Canadian multiculturalism.

It is essential to make all these linkages if we are to truly integrate all Canadians into all aspects of Canadian life.

This brings us to the final question. How do you reconcile respect for diversity with fostering a sense of national identity? For me these two items are inextricably linked.

I want to share with you what some of Canada's ethnocultural minority communities have been doing to reconcile some of our larger questions of identity.

Italian, Greek and Jewish Canadians based in Quebec, have reached out across the country to other ethnic communities to explain to them that they can and have reconciled being Canadian, Québécois and their own ethnic identity.

They don't find having multiple identities takes away from their being Quebecers, Italian or Canadian. In fact, it strengthens their sense of identity and belonging. They have been acting as a bridge to Quebecers - showing that despite difficult histories, they have been able to maintain their cultural and linguistic identities while maintaining a deep love for Canada.

Inclusion is key to a sense of belonging. A nation that recognizes the reality of the lives of its citizens, a nation that recognizes the diverse experiences that have shaped the aspirations of its people, a nation that respects the values and cultures of all its people is a country that will earn the support, loyalty and love of its citizenry.

While some states, and indeed some Canadians, view diversity as a challenge to identity, we view it as one of our defining characteristics. While some approach new immigrants with an aim of assimilating them into some specific view of national identity, my government encourages all Canadians to retain their individual and personal identity and still be able to realize their full potential as Canadian citizens.

As academics who have made a study of Canada, you know that Canada is far from perfect. We are a nation that has taken on a different way of doing things. We have learned certain skills as a people: compromise, negotiation, peaceful resolution of conflict, the ability to live together without strife. Canada has become a truly global society, where globalization does not mean losing cultural identity.

We still face many challenges as we grow and mature. However, I am proud of what we have accomplished. I am proud of what we have built and I look forward to the road ahead for Canada as we forge a stronger sense of unity in our diversity.