Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Time to rethink multiculturalism

It's easy to condemn racial segregation when we think of it as state-enforced policies to separate and subjugate people based on skin colour, as occurred in the American south up to half a century ago.

But what about the segregation in Toronto today, caused not by coercive policies, but by government initiatives ostensibly designed to make new immigrants feel at home?

This by encouraging them to retain their culture, language, belief and value systems.

Two Torontonians, who know a lot about the immigrant experience -- Gordon Chong and Gurmukh Singh -- recently wrote remarkably similar warnings about what has gone wrong with the Canadian concept of "multiculturalism," as part of the Sun's ongoing "Saving Toronto" series.

Chong, a dentist, public servant and former politician, noted members of the city's Chinese community can live, work, shop, read, play and obtain social services in what amount to voluntary Chinese ghettoes, sprinkled throughout the Greater Toronto Area.

"Unilingual Chinese-speaking immigrants can survive without stepping outside these communities," Chong noted.

He's concerned about the implications, "when increasing numbers of immigrants in Canada's largest city reach a critical mass, whereby they can form a subculture and sustain themselves through their own work and social networks, without interacting with those outside their own ethnic communities."

While these insular communities can initially provide valuable support to seniors and help new arrivals acclimatize themselves to Toronto, Chong argued, there's "a down side to the subculture of self-segregation."

That is, people confined within it can be exploited by criminal gangs of the same ethnicity, vote-buying politicians and others.

Last month, Gurmukh Singh, Canada correspondent with the Indo-Asian News Service, made similar observations about the failure of multiculturalism, which he described as often nothing more than "liberal grants" to ethnic communities at Canadian taxpayers' expense.

"The Chinese of Markham have little interaction with the Indians of Brampton, or the Pakistanis of Mississauga, or the Sri Lankans of Scarborough, or the Somalis of Islington," warned Singh, adding you can "forget about" integration with "mainstream white society.

"(I)n these ethnic enclaves," Singh warned, "many grievances that these immigrants brought from their home countries have sometimes grown into big problems for Canada."

These are articulate individuals who understand the immigrant experience and their message to these communities is the same -- it's incumbent upon them to integrate into Canadian society, to become part of the "mainstream" and make it better reflect the true face of Toronto.

The flip side is that a fundamental re-evaluation of "multiculturalism" policies is long overdue by governments at all levels, since its consequence, unintended or not, has been to promote "unicultural" communities, not a truly "multicultural" society in which all races and cultures interact by choice.

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