Commentary  A false dichotomy: the Charter and Canada’s multiculturalism


The Charter of Values has not been brought before the National Assembly yet, but much debate has surrounded the issue since it first came to light. The Daily does not endorse this discriminatory Charter because it suppresses freedom of religion under the guise of secularization. However, the Charter has been used as an excuse by many to focus on racism and xenophobia in Quebec alone. This situation implies that other provinces have nothing to show in way of human rights abuses and basic discrimination, and simply glosses over these as if they did not exist.

In an op-ed published in the Globe and Mail by Jack Jedwab, executive vice president of the Canadian Institute of Identities and Migration and the Association for Canadian Studies, acknowledges the imperfection of multiculturalism. Yet he still concludes with, “Looking at the alternative proposed by the Quebec government, Canada’s brand of multiculturalism looks pretty good after all.”

But the rhetoric of multiculturalism, and the creation of this kind of dichotomy between Quebec and the rest of Canada, masks the reality of systemic and institutional discrimination that is present throughout the country.

One such perpetuation of this dichotomy, in response to the proposed Charter, is a widely-discussed recruitment ad from Lakeridge Hospital in Ontario that stated, “We don’t care what’s on your head, we care what’s in it.” In the interest of full disclosure, the ad in question was run in The Daily, but does not represent the opinions of The Daily editorial board. Not only is the ad sensationalist and generalizing on many levels, it also overlooks the discrimination that is a fact of everyday life for many citizens of Ontario and other Canadian provinces.

Such rhetoric serves to hide the ugly reality that marginalized peoples face every day in Canada, from everyday micro-aggressions to lower employment rates. Systemic and institutional discrimination isn’t limited to Quebec; it is rampant across the country. The former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci declared that First Nations people face a distinct lack of civil rights in the justice system. In addition, immigrants face an employment rate approximately 6 per cent lower than Canadian-born peoples.

Another pertinent example includes the ongoing and far-reaching effects that the residential school system has on Indigenous communities – including the loss of Indigenous languages and multi-generational post-traumatic stress disorder. Incarceration rates are much higher among Indigenous populations, speaking to the long history of systemic discrimination in Canada.

The Charter and its surrounding controversy are an obvious example of institutionalizing discrimination, but should not be used as an excuse to point fingers solely at Quebec. Rather, Canada should take this opportunity to re-evaluate its own instances of discrimination, whether they are as explicit as the Charter or more insidious.

—The McGill Daily Editorial Board
Davide Mastracci, copy editor at The Daily, is not a part of this co-signing.