June 27 is Multiculturalism Day in Canada, an opportunity to celebrate the cultural diversity of Canadians.
Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau announced in 1971 that multiculturalism would be an official government policy. In addition to preserving the cultural freedoms of all individuals, the objective was to recognize the contributions of diverse ethnic groups to Canadian society.
However, things didn’t start to change until 1976, when some restrictions on immigration from non-European countries were removed from the Immigration Act. This change in demographics forced many to rethink existing multicultural policies with the main objective of combating discrimination.
“The road hasn’t always been easy and there continues to be many bumps along the way, even to this day” said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas. “But in order to truly celebrate the richness and diversity of Canada, we need to take a long and honest look at its history – one that has greatly marginalized Indigenous and racialized communities,” he added.
This history, painful at best, is often overlooked and, as such, the stories remain untold. For instance, slavery in Canada can first be traced back in the early 1600s, when it was a French colony known as New France. The vast majority of slaves during this time were Indigenous but there were also Black slaves because of the transatlantic slave trade.
Slavery continued after the British conquest of New France in 1763, and the territory was renamed British North America. It was also during this time that Black enslaved people replaced Indigenous enslaved people.
In addition, the Chinese Head Tax in 1885 and the internment of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War are other examples of how racialized groups have been marginalized over the course of Canadian history.
Nevertheless, recent protests in how Black and Indigenous communities have been unfairly treated by law enforcement have ignited greater calls for systemic change. This collection of voices has demonstrated how people from all races, backgrounds, and cultures can come together to spread one important message: equality for all.
Now is the time to bring about meaningful change – one that recognizes the many important contributions and sacrifices that people from diverse cultures and backgrounds have made to ensure that everyone can benefit from living in a fair and just society.
It was on November 13, 2002, that the Government of Canada, by Royal Proclamation, designated June 27 of each year as Canadian Multiculturalism Day.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of OPSEU
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida, OPSEU First Vice-President/Treasurer