The Canadian Context: Multiculturalism and Violent Extremism

The report, “The Current State of Multiculturalism in Canada and Research Themes on Canadian Multiculturalism 2008-2010” observed “not only growing evidence of Canada’s comparative advantage in the integration of immigrants, but also growing evidence that the multiculturalism policy has played an important role in this comparative success. ... On the other hand, we are witnessing a worldwide retreat from multiculturalism, most observable in Western Europe, and many commentators argue that this is a harbinger of Canada’s future as well.” The author concluded that “the various attempts to find signs of European-style problems in Canada are all, I believe, misleading” and reaffirmed the finding of Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP) that there is little evidence of the deep social segregation feared in parts of Europe … Canada is not “sleepwalking into segregation…. There is no justification for a U-turn in multiculturalism policies comparable to that underway in some European countries…”.

Canada has over 35 million population. Over 10.2 million are children and youth. One out of five people in Canada's population is foreign-born. Two-third of Canada’s population growth is attributable to international migration.

In October 2015, the Globe and Mail reported the results of a survey conducted by Environics Institute and the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, which found that attitudes towards immigration and multiculturalism seem to remain stable, with 80% of Canadians still believing immigration is good for the country’s economy. Despite record number of immigrants, including more than 32,000 Syrian refugees in 2015, and over 300,000 immigrants in a year, the largest annual number since modern record-keeping began, most Canadians do not think immigration increases crime rates, and most believe refugee claimants are legitimate.

Yet, attitudes towards immigrants may be hardening. A study by CBC and the Angus Reid Institute in 2016 found that 68 per cent of Canadian respondents said minorities should be doing more to fit in with mainstream society instead of keeping their own customs and languages (compared to 53% of American respondents, who felt the same way).  In a February 2017 survey by the Angus Reid Institute found that a "significant segment" of Canadians say Canada's 2017 refugee target of 40,000 is too high, while one in four Canadians wants the Liberal government to impose its own Trump-style travel ban on refugees. A CBC news survey on discrimination in 2014 found that only about half - 55 per cent - "agreed" or "strongly agreed" that immigrants are "very important to building a stable Canadian economic future," and 30 per cent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed "immigrants take jobs from Canadians."

These shifts have likely encouraged Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch to make vetting would-be immigrants and refugees for "anti-Canadian values" into an election issue. Even Liberal politicians, such as Former B.C. premier and Liberal cabinet minister Ujjal Dosanjh, have raised issues of the need to address concerns about equality, race and culture, and reject “unthinking or mindless multiculturalism”.

The 2016 Public Report on the Terrorist Threat to Canada notes that the principal terrorist threat to Canada is an attack by violent extremists who could be inspired by terrorist groups like ISIS/Daesh and al-Qaida. Indeed, in October 2014, there were two “lone-wolf” attacks by radicalized youth in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and at Parliament Hill in Ottawa, and a third was said to have been prevented by the RCMP in Strathroy, Ontario. As of the end of 2015, the Government was aware of approximately 180 individuals with a nexus to Canada who were abroad and who were suspected of engaging in terrorism-related activities. The report stated that the Canadian Government was also aware of a further 60 extremist travellers who had returned to Canada, and many others other “individuals of concern”, including those who aspire to travel, those whose travel has been thwarted, those who are abroad but not yet fully identified, and those who do not want to travel but still could pose a threat to Canada's security.

Many Canadians are becoming more fearful and hopeless in the aftermath of US election and a deadly attack on a Quebec City mosque. In a conversation with Janet Trull, a Hamilton writer and educator, she described the delicate work of promoting tolerance: "…Social change and globalization have occurred too fast for some people to grasp. We have to strive to understand what initiates such acts of hatred. Suppressing it only makes it meaner. Confronting it at the wrong time and place gives it momentum. The desperation behind these destructive perspectives has been simmering for a long time. Trump has merely given it validity…” It is conceivable that militants and oppressive regimes in fragile and conflict-affected countries will exploit the new emerging populist nationalism and deny their own people an access to education, employment and human rights and peace.

The issue of violent extremism is addressed by a Counter-terrorism Strategy, “Building Resilience Against Terrorism”, launched in 2012, which seeks to put forward a coordinated national approach guiding more than 20 federal departments and agencies to better align them to “prevent, detect, deny and respond” to terrorist threats. The Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, in consultation with the Minister of Global Affair, is responsible for the Strategy's implementation. The strategy lists “prevention” as its first priority, and under this pillar, implements programmes on countering violent extremism, which include research, community engagement and international engagement. One of the key areas for community engagement is through the Inter-Action (Multiculturalism) program, which supports CIC's mandate and the Canadian Multiculturalism Act by assisting the socio-economic integration of new immigrants, seeking to build community resilience to factors that can lead to social isolation and violent extremism.

In general, Canada seems to address its ethnic and cultural diversity within three distinct approaches, with separate laws, constitutional provisions and government departments dealing with (a) multiculturalism in response to ethnic diversity arising from immigration, (b) federalism and bilingualism in response to the French fact; and (c) Aboriginal rights for First Nations.[7] A policy of “reasonable accommodation” has been put in place, which seeks to end discrimination on prohibited grounds, namely, race, colour, sex, gender identity or expression, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil status, age (except as provided by law), religion, political convictions, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, a disability or the use of any means to palliate a disability, in accordance with the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. It puts an obligation on employers and service providers to actively find a solution allowing employees, clients or recipients to fully exercise their rights, by adapting a practice, or a general operating rule or granting an exemption to a person in facing discrimination. This policy has created occasional controversies, including in Quebec, which was the subject of the Bouchard-Taylor Report.

The new liberal government is trying to find a peacebuilder role for Canada on global stage.  Unveiling Canada's plan to seek a UN Security Council seat, Honourable Stéphane Dion former Global Affair Minster said that in "our role as a determined and effective peace-builder … we'll do what is needed to support the international community, based on our experience in building a peaceful and resilient society in Canada; in bravely fighting for justice and security on the global stage; in promoting humanitarian assistance, development, training and capacity building; and in protecting gender equality and all human rights. We seek a seat at the Security Council precisely because the world finds itself at a time when there is a pressing need to prevent violent extremism, to manage conflict and to respond to humanitarian crises. We know Canada can make a difference." See another relevant article here.

Public Safety Canada has allocated $35 million over five years in its 2016 budget to establishan Office of the Community Outreach and Counter-radicalization Coordinator. The Office will provide leadership on Canada's response to radicalization to violence, coordinate federal/provincial/territorial and international initiatives, and support community outreach and research. 

According to Global Affair Canada “Canada is a determined peacebuilder. We have a long history as a contributor to international peace, security and stability. Taking concrete actions to prevent and respond to conflicts abroad and to support UN peace operations in building a more peaceful and prosperous world, the Government of Canada announced on August 26, 2016, the launch of Global Affairs Canada’s new Peace and Stabilization Operations Program (PSOPs). The new PSOPs will have a budget of $450 million over three years. Through PSOPs, Canada works with allies and partners with these goals: end violence; provide security, (and) create space for dialogue and conflict resolution.”