Last February, police in North Carolina arrested 73 people in a major cockfighting bust. Many of those arrested were illegal immigrants from Hispanic countries where cockfighting is a favourite sport.
Thousands of people take part in cockfighting in many parts of the United States, although all states have passed laws against it. Enthusiasts in Louisiana have sued the U.S. government, claiming its ban on shipping fighting birds discriminates against Hispanics because cockfighting is integral to their culture. The plaintiffs in the suit apparently haven't heard that the United States is a "melting pot" rather than a multicultural society.
Canada, which, unlike the United States, is officially multicultural, might be expected to show respect for an activity that is said to be integral to one of our many cultures. Yet last year, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the RCMP raided three properties in Cloverdale, B.C., and broke up a cockfighting ring. The SPCA had to kill 1,270 mutilated roosters that had been tethered to barrels. Some were missing legs and eyes.
Should Canada allow cockfighting in the name of multiculturalism? Of course not. To most Canadians, it is a cruel and disgusting practice. Yet there is something puzzling here. Either we are multicultural or we aren't. The basic tenet of multiculturalism is that all cultures are equally worthy. It is hard to reconcile this dogma with Canada's rejection of virtually any cultural practice that the mainstream finds offensive.
It's not as if cockfighting were an insignificant part of the culture of many foreign-born Canadians. It is wildly popular in many Latin American countries, as well as in the Philippines and other parts of Asia. The Dominican Republic, for example, has 1,500 registered cockfighting arenas. Juan Marichal, the great San Francisco Giants pitcher who was an idol to thousands of American baseball fans, raises fighting roosters and oversaw cockfighting when he was Dominican Republic sports minister in the 1990s.
Polygamy is integral to the culture of many new Canadians, as is female circumcision. Both are illegal in Canada, as is the khat leaf, which plays the same role in the social life of Somalis as wine or beer does in that of the Canadian mainstream. Britain, which does not have a policy of official multiculturalism, allows khat, but in Canada, it is banned as a dangerous drug.
In Vancouver, during the 1980s and 1990s, wealthy Asian immigrants built huge new houses, knocking down ancient trees in the process. This caused consternation among Vancouverites, prompting the city to restrict the rights of homeowners to destroy trees on their property. And last month, the Supreme Court ruled that Hutterites in Alberta must have their photographs taken as a condition of having drivers' licences. Some Hutterites had argued that being photographed was a violation of their religious freedom.
The reality is that Canadians talk about multiculturalism but don't practise it. That does not mean we don't embrace diversity. Both Canada and the United States, because of high levels of immigration, are diverse societies, but diversity and multiculturalism are not synonyms. Diversity encompasses a variety of characteristics that differentiate, including dress, culinary and musical styles. An example is Toronto's hugely successful Caribana festival. Such events are hardly unique to Canada; several major U.S. cities have Caribbean festivals too.
NO ROOM FOR COMPROMISE
Diversity is not divisive in secular democracies that respect individual freedom, such as Canada and the United States. On the other hand, culture is not just about superficial differences but also about core values. The people who were attending cock fights in Cloverdale simply don't understand our tender feelings toward animals. This is a difference in values and there is no room for compromise.
The notion that Canada is a mosaic while the United States is a melting pot does not survive scrutiny. In 1994, a study by two University of Toronto sociologists, Jeffrey Reitz and Raymond Breton, found that language retention of third-generation immigrants was less than 1 per cent in both countries. This was significant. One would expect foreign languages to dissolve into the American melting pot. But Canada is supposed to be a mosaic: a set of separate and distinct cultural entities. If it really were a mosaic, ancestral languages would survive through the generations. But they don't, because the offspring of immigrants are quickly absorbed into the dominant language milieux.
Language is more than a way of communicating; it is a way of thinking, of organizing perception, of looking at the world. When you lose it, you lose the essence of your culture.
Only if there is a critical mass of speakers can the ancestral language survive. The absence of a U.S. policy of official multiculturalism did not prevent Miami from becoming bilingual. It happened because of a massive influx of Spanish-speaking immigrants accompanied by an outflow of English speakers. As a result, a majority of Miami's population speaks Spanish.
It is possible that certain parts of Toronto or Vancouver will experience the same phenomenon, but only an immigration policy of continuous high levels of immigration from the same source countries could make that happen. It won't happen because of heritage language classes promoted by multiculturalism policy.
Polling data over the years debunks the idea that Canadians are more open to cultural differences than are Americans. A Decima Research poll in 1989 found that 47 per cent of Americans but only 34 per cent of Canadians favoured the maintenance of "distinct cultures and ways."
There is no evidence that Canadians have warmed to multiculturalism since. In an Angus Reid poll last April, 62 per cent agreed with the statement, "Laws and norms should not be modified to accommodate minorities." Strong majorities were opposed to public funding of religious schools. Just 23 per cent would allow veiled women to vote and only 3 per cent would allow the use of Islamic sharia law. In 2005, an Ontario proposal to permit sharia law tribunals to settle family disputes had to be withdrawn in the face of a public backlash.
It seems that multiculturalism is an idea that appeals to certain politicians, columnists and academics but has little resonance in Canadian society as a whole. Meanwhile, old-fashioned diversity is working just fine. A good example is the success of the T&T Supermarket chain. In 1993, Cindy Lee, a Taiwanese-born Canadian, opened her first Asian supermarket in suburban Vancouver. Sixteen years later, the chain has grown to 17 stores in B.C., Alberta and Ontario, offering a huge array of Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and other Asian foods.
The stores were opened to cater to Canada's growing Asian population. Two years ago, on my first visit to a new T&T store in the Toronto port district, I was one of a handful of non-Asians. On a recent shopping trip, I noticed that at least 25 per cent of the customers were non-Asian. Asian food is now part of the mainstream in Canada - so much so that last month Loblaw Companies Ltd. announced it was paying $225-million to buy T&T.
Is this a triumph for the multiculturalism program? Not at all. It is just Canadian society working as it always has. Non-Chinese Canadians have been eating Chinese food since the 19th century, just as they have enjoyed perogies and spaghetti and the many other immigrant dishes. Now, instead of just enjoying Asian food in restaurants, they're eating it at home.
Canadians never needed a government program to encourage them to taste something new. We don't welcome global cuisines because we are multicultural; we do it because doing so is part of our culture.
It is part of other cultures as well. Even Japan, which does not want immigrants and is firmly unicultural, has a long history of adopting foreign foods and absorbing them into Japanese cuisine. Four hundred years ago, Portuguese missionaries taught the Japanese to fry food in batter, creating the tempura that remains a favourite Japanese snack. If the Japanese are accepting U.S. fast-food chains now, it is not because they are becoming multicultural but because fast food has always been part of Japanese culture.
Perhaps the story of T&T is an example of what Jason Kenney, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, means when he says integration should be the goal of the immigration program: An immigrant makes a huge success of a business venture, Canadians of the majority culture embrace it along with their Asian fellow citizens, and a Canadian public company takes it over, so that anyone can become a part owner. The result: a business that is emblematic of Canadian diversity has been integrated into the mainstream of the Canadian economy.
"Our new focus is on integration," Mr. Kenney said in Calgary recently. "We don't want to create a bunch of silo communities where kids grow up in a community that more resembles their parents' country of origin than Canada. We want people to be Canadians first and foremost - to be proud of and maintain their own tradition and heritage, but not at the price of developing their Canadian identity."
But if we don't want silos, we don't want a mosaic either. Both images suggest a society of separate groups, not an integrated whole. If the Minister of Multiculturalism is rejecting silos, he's also rejecting multi-
culturalism. Maybe it's time the Department of Multiculturalism was renamed the Department of Integration.
Daniel Stoffman's study of Canadian
immigration policy, Who Gets In, was runner-up for the 2002 Donner Prize for the best book on Canadian public policy and the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for
the best book on Canadian politics.