The Canadian Multiculturalism Act of 1988 provided a legislative framework for the official policy of multiculturalism adopted by the government in 1971. The act sought to protect the cultural heritage of Canadians, reduce discrimination and encourage the implementation of multicultural programs and activities within institutions and organizations.
The act grew out of a 1987 report issued by the parliamentary standing committee on multiculturalism which stated the existing policy of multiculturalism no longer adequately met the needs of Canada’s multicultural society. The original policy of multiculturalism focused on cultural preservation, primarily reflecting the interests of European-born immigrants. However, as the centre of immigration gradually shifted away from Europe with increasing numbers of immigrants from Asia, Africa and the Middle East, new concerns and priorities emerged. In addition to cultural and linguistic retention, newcomers expressed concerns about employment, housing, education and discrimination.
To reflect the changing reality of Canada’s racial and ethnic diversity, a new multiculturalism policy came into effect in July of 1988. The Canadian Multiculturalism Act acknowledged multiculturalism as a fundamental characteristic of Canadian society with an integral role in shaping Canada’s future. The measures emphasized the right of all individuals to preserve and share their cultural heritage while retaining their right to full and equitable participation in Canadian society. The act sought to remove any barriers preventing full participation in society and promised to assist individuals in eliminating and overcoming discrimination. Intercultural exchange and interaction was encouraged in an effort to foster a greater appreciation and awareness of Canada’s cultural diversity.
The new policy promoted inclusivity amongst Canada’s social, cultural, economic and political institutions. Government agencies and departments were expected to provide leadership in advancing multiculturalism at an institutional level. The act contained specific provisions outlining the responsibilities of federal organizations in implementing policies, programs and decision-making strategies that reflected a sensitivity and respect for the multicultural reality of Canada.
With the enactment of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, Canada became the first country to pass a national multiculturalism law.
Library and Archives Canada. Statutes of Canada. An Act for the Preservation and Enhancement of Multiculturalism in Canada, 1988, SC 36-37 Elizabeth II, Volume I, Chapter 31
- Jean Leonard Elliott and Augie Fleras, “Immigration and the Ethnic Mosaic,” in Race and Ethnic Relations in Canada, ed. Peter S. Li (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1990), 65.
- Augie Fleras and Jean Leonard Elliott, Multiculturalism in Canada: The Challenge of Diversity (Scarborough, ON: Nelson Canada, 1992), 74-75.
- Fleras and Elliott, 78-79.