The election of the Liberal Party and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2015 brought debates surrounding multiculturalism and multicultural policy back to the forefront of Canadian society. This was owing, in part, to one of the party’s electoral promises: to welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada during their first year in government.
While media coverage largely lauded the Liberal government’s actions, some stories also highlighted the fact that many immigrants had difficulty adjusting to life in Canada and went through other difficult periods after their arrival.
Moreover, despite having support from many Canadians as well as foreigners for an open attitude toward multiculturalism and immigration amidst global trends of xenophobia and conservatism, the Trudeau government’s approach to multiculturalism has also been the object of high-profile criticism.
In August 2018, Maxime Bernier, ex-contender for the leadership of the federal Conservative party of Canada, released a series of tweets criticizing Prime Minister Trudeau and the Liberal Party of Canada’s “extreme” multiculturalism policy.
Notably, Bernier argued Trudeau’s approach to multiculturalism threatens to damage Canada’s social cohesion:
Trudeau's extreme multiculturalism and cult of diversity will divide us into little tribes that have less and less in common, apart from their dependence on government in Ottawa. These tribes become political clienteles to be bought with taxpayers $ and special privileges. (@MaximeBernier, 2018)
Additionally, he asserted that:
Having people live among us who reject basic Western values such as freedom, equality, tolerance and openness doesn't make us strong. People who refuse to integrate into our society and want to live apart in their ghetto don't make our society strong. (@MaximeBernier, 2018)
While the majority of the media were unsympathetic to Bernier’s comments, many journalists and citizens highlighted the importance of debating such issues openly and avoiding censoring voices of dissent.
The present study uses corpus-assisted critical discourse analysis [CACDA] to uncover linguistic patterns in online conversations pertaining to multiculturalism policy in Canada.
Conversations that covered topics pertaining to Canadian multiculturalism were sampled on reddit using combinations of the following search terms: Canada, Canadian*, multicultural*, “Maxime Bernier”.
Conversations (responses to) about Maxime Bernier’s tweets about “extreme multiculturalism” were identified and sampled directly from Bernier’s public Twitter profile.
All conversations contained within the data set were created in 2018. The data set used for the present analysis contained 39 conversation threads written predominantly in English, which stemmed from primarily the r/Canada, r/CanadaPolitics, and r/onguardforthee subreddits, as well as Maxime Bernier’s public Twitter profile.
An in-depth analysis of the corpora revealed:
- Canadian multiculturalism is the subject of critique by Canadians, specifically as it relates to contemporary immigration policy
- there is a pervasive perception among Canadians that immigrants should take active responsibility for integrating into Canadian culture and adopting Western values
- several arguments were made for stricter immigration policies in order to prevent illegal immigration, which is perceived to pose serious economic and social threats
Analysis of these salient terms revealed several meaningful linguistic patterns. Of these, the following three terms held associations that reveal particularly interesting discursive patterns: immigration, immigrant [immigrants], culture [cultures].
Within the present data, analysis of the key word “immigration” revealed frequent and strong associations with terms such as: illegal, policy, system. These word pairings were used primarily to critique Canada’s current approaches to immigration. The word pair “illegal immigration” was used to argue for stricter immigration laws within Canada. The word pair “immigration policy” was used by commentators expressing views both for and against multiculturalism. Finally, the word pair “immigration system” was used both to critique existing approaches to immigration and to show support for Bernier’s proposition.
Analysis of the key word “immigrant [immigrants]” revealed frequent and strong associations with terms such as: illegal, language (generation), integrate. These word pairings were used within the conversations to discuss the perceived merits and drawbacks of Canada’s approach to legal and illegal immigration. As with the word pair “illegal immigration,” the term “illegal immigrants” was used to point out the perceived negative consequences of any immigration process that doesn’t pass through the proper channels. Moreover, “illegal immigrants” was also used to argue against immigration in general. Although attitudes towards illegal immigrants were largely unfavourable, the views expressed about immigrants in general varied across online discussions.
Analysis of the key word “culture” revealed frequent and strong associations with terms such as: western (similar), different (own, modern). These word pairings were used within discussions to debate whether, when put into practice, multiculturalism should promote a particular version of Western culture or a set of values—and what these values might be. Interestingly, there was significant emphasis on, and support for, the opinion that Western culture is based on values, rather than on specific rituals, languages, physical identity markers, etc. Related to this, the “different cultures” and “modern cultures” word pairings were used in conversations to highlight the importance of identifying shared values across cultures working towards integration. The “own cultures” word pair, on the other hand, was used in conversations to highlight the perceived divides between Canadians and immigrants to Canada.
The online conversations analyzed as part of this research brief highlight, on one hand, overt critiques to Canada’s existing multiculturalism policy, and on the other hand, conditional support of contemporary approaches to multiculturalism.
To be precise, as the discussions sampled by this study suggest, in cases where multiculturalism is not outrightly rejected, it is more readily endorsed by Canadians when it adheres to certain caveats. Namely that:
- Immigrants should actively take responsibility for integrating (assimilating) into “Canadian culture,” which is largely understood to align with the Western values that Bernier references in his tweets—i.e. freedom, equality, tolerance and openness;
- Immigrants from cultures that are similar to Canadian culture and/or who share similar cultural values are preferred over immigrants who are perceived as having cultural norms and traditions that go against Western values;
- Immigrants should not only not add strain to the Canadian economy, but should also make positive economic contributions.