August 21, 2009
An ideology, not a fact
By Daniel Stoffman
From Saturday's Globe and Mail
Canada is multicultural and the U.S. has a melting pot, but assimilation rates are the same in both countries
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 kept tethered to barrels. Some of the birds had legs and eyes missing.
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 minister of sports in the Dominican Republic 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 people, 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.