The Oasis Reporters
January 3, 2024
In popular thinking, and according to its general image, Canada is considered to be open and welcoming to ethnocultural and religious diversity.
Immigration is perceived as an asset for Canada, and over the decades, multiculturalism has come to be considered a value to be protected and cherished. This can be seen in the 2020 General Social Survey, where 92 per cent of the population endorsed multiculturalism. The Canadian Multiculturalism Act states that multiculturalism is a “fundamental characteristic of the Canadian heritage and identity and that it provides an invaluable resource in the shaping of Canada’s future.”
However, since the Hamas attacks on Israel on Oct. 7 and the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, the demonstrations that have followed — both in favour of, and against Israel or in support of Palestine — have revealed many tensions linked to immigration. Hate crimes are also on the rise; in Toronto alone, there are reports of a 132 per cent increase since the start of the conflict.
So it is imperative to consider the potential for conflict within Canada’s various communities. The issue is particularly concerning for those who are simultaneously facing racism and the repercussions of ongoing conflicts in their countries of origin. For example, the historical conflict between Hindus and Sikhs is raising concern among Sikhs in Canada, particularly since one of their leaders was murdered in British Columbia.
As a sociologist who specializes in inclusive education, I quickly observed that racism and discrimination are significant issues in our society. I recently wrote an article entitled “Thinking about inclusive education in a context of discrimination and diversity in Canada,” which explains, among other things, the limits of Canadian multiculturalism in the fight against discrimination. In line with the perspective of French sociologist Serge Paugam, who maintains that the sociologist’s role includes speaking out “against all forms of domination,” I will analyze how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is undermining this multiculturalism.
Increase in hate crimes
Statistics on hate crimes show that tensions do exist, in spite of the results of the 2020 survey. For example, from 2019 to 2021, the Jewish community was the group most frequently targeted by hate crimes, and there was a significant increase in reports made to the police. In 2019, 306 antisemitic crimes were reported nationally. A year later this figure rose to 331 and by 2021, it had risen significantly to 492. A further rise was recorded in 2022, with 502 incidents reported.
Muslim communities have also been heavily affected by hate crime: in 2019, 182 incidents were reported. In 2020, this number fell to 84, but increased to 144 in 2021. Finally, Catholics have also been the target of hate crimes, with a significant increase in reports: in 2019, 51 cases were recorded compared with 43 in 2020 and 155 in 2021.
Ontario, the province with the highest number of immigrants in Canada, seems to have the highest percentage of hate crimes per capita. According to Statistics Canada data for 2021, Ottawa is the city with the highest rate of hate crime. Among the top 10 Canadian cities most affected by the phenomenon, there are more than eight Ontario cities.
A switch in public opinion
To put it bluntly, not all Canadians see multiculturalism as an asset, and this change is exacerbated by the ongoing conflict between two of the country’s most discriminated communities. All this is taking place in a context where Canada’s capacity to welcome immigrant populations is being questioned.
According to an Abacus poll published on Nov. 29, more than 67 per cent of the population believes that there will be tensions between communities, principally because of the federal government’s immigration threshold, which is considered excessive. The government is still aiming to welcome more than 500,000 immigrants a year over the next few years. On the other hand, Ottawa rejected the Century Initiative, led by a former McKinsey executive, which aimed to increase Canada’s population to 100 million by 2100.
According to another poll, by Leger-Postmedia, more than 78 per cent of Canadians express concern about the impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the country. With respect to pro-Palestine demonstrations, more than three-quarters of those polled believe that the government should expel non-citizens who are guilty of hate speech or who have demonstrated support for Hamas from the country.
These figures show a major shift in public opinion about the value of multiculturalism. Multiculturalism is no longer seen simply as making citizens aware of the richness of the country’s ethnocultural and religious diversity. It is also seen as supporting the various communities that live in, or want to immigrate to Canada. According to the same survey, more than half say that the Canadian government should do more to ensure that newcomers accept Canadian values, and more than 55 per cent think that Canada’s immigration policy should encourage newcomers to adopt these values, in particular by abandoning any beliefs that are incompatible with Canada.
An increasingly complex world
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems to have shaken the foundations of multiculturalism.
It is striking to note how a value once considered fundamental — one that in 2020 was supported by more than 92 per cent of the population — can be questioned to this extent just three years later. On the other hand, it is important to remember that hate crimes existed before this conflict and that indicated multiculturalism was not as much of a “Canadian value” as it was believed to be.
Sociologist Edgar Morin maintains that “diversity creates complexity and complexity creates richness.” Of course, Canadian multiculturalism rightly relies upon the richness of diversity, but it’s now being called upon to renew itself in an increasingly complex society and world.
At times, Canadian multiculturalism gives the impression that communities are living side by side, tolerant of ‘the Other,’ without actually co-constructing a society in which everyone belongs. The social situation must not be allowed to deteriorate, because we do not want to live in a state of confrontation.