Multiculturalism in Canada: Accidental Discourse, Alternative Vision, Urban Practice


Multiculturalism became an official policy of the Canadian government in 1971. Since then, Canada has been cited as a world leader in diversity issues and a model of social engineering and institutional arrangement. In particular, former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau is remembered as its visionary author. Another debate, mostly internal to Canada, criticizes the Multiculturalism Act as limited and flawed, and questions its impact. The present article submits that multiculturalism as a policy is not the product of longstanding, intentional initiatives, but more an ‘accident’ or a coincidence of several factors. Moreover, multiculturalism as a social reality and/or nationalist vision is not the result of the policy, but a deeper social history. Canadians, even scholars, know very little about why multiculturalism ‘works’ or does not work, and why it has taken root in different ways in different cities. We suggest a theory regarding the central role of urban public space, not only as a decreed place for public life, but rather as the place for an emerging process of democracy.