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Transcending Diversity: Envisioning Shared Citizenship. © Joanna Anneke Rummens Culture, Community and Health Studies Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto D i v e r s i t y in Canada.

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transcending diversity envisioning shared citizenship

Transcending Diversity:Envisioning Shared Citizenship

© Joanna Anneke Rummens

Culture, Community and Health StudiesFaculty of Medicine, University of Toronto

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto

d i v e r s i t y in canada
Diversity in Canada
  • Almost 250,000 new immigrants and refugees arrive each year

2.2 million newcomers this past decade - highest inflow this century

  • Prior to 1961, 90% European-borns -> 25% between 1981-1991

Of the 1.8 million immigrants who arrived between 1991-2001:

      • 58% from Asia (includes the Middle East)
      • 20% from Europe
      • 11% from the Caribbean, Central and South America
      • 8% from Africa
      • 3% from the United States
  • 18.4% of the population is foreign-born, the highest level in 70 years
18% of Canadians speak neither English or French as a first language
  • Increasing proportion of newcomers speak a non-official language at home
  • 73% of immigrants between 1991-2001 members of visible minority groups
  • Canada’s visible minority population will likely account for 1/5 of the total population by 2016
  • 249 different ethno-cultural origins indicated in 2001 Census results
  • 38% of the population reported multiple ethnic origins in 2001

(2001 Canadian Census)

Traditional view of Canadian society - “Three Forces”:
      • two “founding charter groups” - English and French
      • the “ethnics” - comprised of subsequent immigrant populations
      • aboriginal and First Nations peoples
  • Official policy of bilingualismwithin a multicultural framework
  • also actual existence of “nations within nations”
seeking unity within d i v e r s i t y
SeekingUnity withinDiversity

Canada’s Multiculturalism Policy encourages

  • strong identification of Canadians with their

ancestral ethnic group origins

  • at the same time, identification withCanadian society

Both are seen as vital to social cohesion

This apparent contradiction

gives rise to

a number of

important issues …


is multiculturalism- sociocultural pluralism as opposed

to political pluralism - compatible with national unity?

national unity

multi-cultural Identities









Sense of belonging

as “Canadian’’??






Given diversity: How exactly do you foster a sense of Canadian ‘unity’ ?

ethno-culturalancestry territorialidentification

defined according to culturalidentity?

country of origin national identity?

-> ‘nationality’linguisticidentity?


Also linguistic, ‘racial’ ‘racial’ identity?

and religious differences other ??

Canada’s Multiculturalism Policy sees no incompatibility between
  • the maintenanceof ethno-culturaltraditions and
  • its expressed goals of social cohesion and unity


the actual mechanismby which to achieve a hither-to elusive sense

of national unityseems not yet to have been worked out in full


where and how does national identityfit in?

Given the Policy’s identity trajectory from language,culture, raceand religionto current considerations of their respective intersections with other identity markers …

How exactly do we move from

our rather complex accommodationof diversity

to the social constructionof a

common national identity?


Cultural Identity

‘Racial’ Identity

Linguistic Identity

Religious Identity


National Identity??

Cultural Identity

Linguistic Identity

‘Racial’ Identity

Religious Identity



Socio-economic (class)


Sexual orientation








types of identity specific identities







sex; gender

sexual orientation

socio-economic (class)



-> Canadian?

-> Haitian, Korean

-> ‘Black,’ ‘Asian,’ ‘White’

-> Christian, Muslim, Jewish

-> francophone, anglophone

-> child, teenager, adult, senior

-> able-bodied, x-challenged

-> male/female; man, woman

-> homo-/hetero-/bi-/trans-sexual

-> lower, middle, upper

-> Quebec, Westerner, Maritimer

-> aboriginal, immigrant/refugee

Types of Identity Specific Identities

can a policy promoting “cultural diversity within political unity” continue to serve as the foundation of a post-modern nation state ….

within the contextof a new multi-national world order characterized by increased economic interdependence, geographical mobility and information flow?


European Union



Pacific Rim

Challenges and opportunities of trans-national identities

In brief, the challenge before us is

the location and articulation of


multiple dimensions of


from cultural difference to shared citizenship
FromCultural Difference toShared Citizenship

To-date attempts to achieve “unityindiversity” have often been stymied by two erroneous assumptions:

  • Thefirst is that while accommodation of pluralism may be useful in maintaining social order and/or cohesion, uniformity - defined as “sameness” – is required to ensure a truly meaningful sense of national unity
This assumed inherent tension between unity and diversity

arises out of a faulty equation:

homogeneity (= uniformity) <≠>heterogeneity (= diversity)



Forgotten is that while somesocially salient identifications may serve to differentiate among individuals or groups, others seek to establish commonality and may therefore be used to unite

What is critical is the selectionand saliency of

the respective identification criteria used

The second assumption is that primary cultural and national identifications must necessarily intersectif a meaningful sense of national unityis to be achieved

However, these respective identifications are actually based on quite different identity criteria that are, moreover, not necessarily mutually exclusive

Cultural identifications focus on shared history, values, traditions and lifeways that are usually supported and transferred through language
  • In contrast, national identifications reflect geographically bound, largely autonomous, self-governing political entities
intersecting identities
Intersecting Identities

Cultural Identity

National Identity



‘Racial’ Identity

Religious Identity

overlapping identities







The assumption regarding necessary intersectiononly holds

true if one remains firmly committed to the notion of

a nation state

predicated on the belief in

“one culture, one autonomous self-governing entity;”

it otherwise readily collapses

The crux of the matter is whether we really need to fully share an identifiable Canadian culture in order to have a common national identity as Canadians

The answer is no:

Civil societies do not need to be bound

by a complete set of common values,

traditions and shared history

What they do need:

is member allegiance and active commitment

to a common politico-economic community that is

based on shared core values and principles

This in turn forms the foundation of a sense of national unity and social cohesiveness firmly rooted

in and expressed throughparticipatory citizenship

The solution, in other words, is to simply

decouple cultureand nation, and to subsequently

re-define nation in terms of shared citizenship

This common citizenship then becomes the basis for national unity

and ultimately, in time

a unique national identity

The true mediation between

unityand diversity


commonality - not sameness

In the state’s management of cultural, linguistic, ‘racial’ and religious pluralism, it is ourcommonalitythat has sometimes received short shrift

What we are then left grappling with is what

defines,supportsandguidesus as

a unique social, political and economic entity

While it remains both constructive and morally imperative

to continue to accommodate diversity in the interests of

social integration, cohesion, equity and justice …

it is important to balance

official recognition of differences


a consideration of what we in fact have in common

as Canadians

In short,

we need as a polity to move from an at times myopic preoccupation with the various ways in which we are all different, to an examination of what we in fact have in common and to use this knowledge as the foundation for a participatoryshared citizenship that both expresses mutual commitment and fosters a sense of belonging

an overarching citizenship charter
An Overarching Citizenship Charter

In brief, the issue is not so much “what is ‘Canadian’?” but rather “what does it meanto be a Canadian?”

The answer may be found in an

expressed commitment and allegiance

to a sovereign entity called Canada

that is firmly founded on:

  • shared societal values and
  • enhanced participation in collective decision-making
What is needed is a Citizenship Charter that both embraces our cultural, linguistic, "racial," and religious differences and transcends the various dimensions of diversity

Such a Charter would clearly articulate our society’s overarching core values and locate the veryresponsibilitiesof a common citizenship in our active commitment to them

(Rummens 2002)

These shared values include:
    • individual freedom of thought and expression
    • appreciation and respect for difference
    • peaceful co-existence
    • the rule of law
    • pursuit of equality
    • negotiation and compromise
    • support for human rights
    • social “safety net" provisions
    • sustainable economic development

=> all within the context of a parliamentary democracy

Participatory citizenship would then be based on
    • an expressed commitment to these existing core values
    • as well as a heightened sense of allegiance to Canada
    • rooted in shared responsibilities for more truly inclusive collective decision-making

Enhanced civic participation is critical to the building of

social capital – bonding, bridging and linking - and

to the fostering of social trust

An explicit, consensual social contract such as a

Citizenship Charter would move us

beyond the definition of our rights and freedoms as outlined in the existing Citizenship and Multiculturalism Acts and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms …

to increased public awareness of our commonality

and active commitment to the responsibilitiesof a

shared citizenship firmly rooted in

a clearer sense of our obligations to each other

National unity is thus concretely facilitated via a

shared citizenship firmly rooted in a joined sense

of commonality and collectivity

rights and freedoms

shared values

common allegiance

mutual rights and responsibilities

within an enhanced participatory framework


National Identity

Core Values

Commitment and Allegiance

Rights and Responsibilities

Mutual Obligations

Enhanced Participation

Shared values and beliefs

with interaction -> traditions

with time -> common history


Civic Identity





Socio-economic (class)

Sexual orientation





redefining the canadian demos
Redefining the Canadian Demos

Shared citizenship need neither begin with a common culture nor require it as a final end-product

What it does require is a transitional shift

from an exclusive focus on multiculturalism

and a renewed diversity discourse

tocomplementary discussions regarding

a transcending citizenshipas the basis for national unity

and - ultimately - a strong national identity

This entails a redefinition of the Canadian demos understood both as a shared sense of peoplehood

and as a forum for civic debate and

collective decision-making

It would move Canada beyond an official categorization into four solitudes - English, French, aboriginal and ethnic - based on a largely essentialist notion of “culturalism” towards the articulation of commonalitymore firmly rooted in our shared humanity and lived experiences
Only then will a multi-dimensional shared citizenship within a trans-cultural framework be able to contribute not only to the goals of national unity and identity, but also to an expanded commitment to social equality and freedom of cultural expression beyond that originally envisioned within the Multiculturalism Act
The challenge is to first incorporate and then transcend the various dimensions of diversity to focus on a common civic national identity defined in terms of a shared citizenship and expressed via shared values firmly embedded in notions of participatorydemocracy
This would move us away from an exclusive preoccupation with differencerooted in largely essentialist notion of ‘culturalism’

towards the articulation of a commonalitymore firmly rooted in shared core values and mutual responsibilities

Only then will a newly-invigorated participatory citizenship be able to contribute not only to the goals of national unity and identity, but help transform a “deficiency model” of difference to an “asset-building” one better geared to an increasingly transnational, information driven, globalized world order
relevant references
Relevant References
  • Joanna Anneke Rummens. “Conceptualizing Identity and Diversity: Overlaps, Intersections and Processes.” Canadian Ethnic Studies. (In press, 2004)
  • Joanna Anneke Rummens. “Overlapping and Intersecting Identities.” Canadian Diversity / Diversité Canadienne. (In press, December 2003).
  • Joanna Anneke Rummens. “Transcending Diversity: Envisioning Shared Citizenship.” Canadian Diversity / Diversité Canadienne. Volume 2:1 Spring 2003: pp. 77-78.
  • Joanna Anneke Rummens. “Redefining the Canadian Demos: Towards a Trans-cultural Citizenship Charter.” Canadian Issues, February 2002, pp. 15-18.