SOCIAL JUSTICE AND THE CANADIAN CONTEXT:
A REVIEW OF LITERATURE
University of British Columbia
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Much scholarly discussion of Canadian society centers on 'social justice'. Some
describe Canada as a mosaic or a flower garden, conjuring
oversimplified images of diverse cultural and ethnic groups harmoniously coexisting.
Others critically describe Canada as socially and ethnically stratified and Eurocentric,
indicating that the nature of social justice is open to debate (Porter 1965; Fleras &
Elliot, 1992; Henry et al., 1995; Kallen, 1995; Kymlica, 1995, 1998; Friesen, 1985).
This paper explores the contentious nature of social justice in Canada by examining how
notions of social justice are conceptualized and articulated in many of Canadas
public policies and institutional practices. This literature review focuses on ethnic and
cultural minorities; it does not include Aboriginal peoples, official language groups,
issues of sexual orientation, gender, or disability, although issues of power relations
discussed are closely related to the concerns of these groups.
In the first section of the paper, the definition of social justice is examined and a
conceptual framework is presented (note: literature and theories presented here are not
all specific to the Canadian context). This framework is then used in the second section
to examine four areas of literature concerned with social justice in Canada. In the third
and final section, a few closing comments are made about the varied notions of social
justice and their articulation in policies and practices in Canada.
The term social justice has come to mean many things. To some, the notion involves
equality and the redistribution of power and resources (Young, 1990; Dworkin, 1981;
Taylor, 1992; Montada & Lerner, 1996; Dei, 1996; Baynes, 1997). To others, social
justice is framed on principles of deserving, fairness, entitlement, rights, equity,
ethics, and/or morality (Walzer, 1983; Lerner, 1981; Tyler et al., 1997; Messick &
Cook, 1983; Kallen, 1995; Sterbs, 1995; Coombs, 1995). It is important to note that there
are theoretical differences between and among the various terms. I believe that it is
useful to debate the differences, similarities, meanings, and uses of social justice,
however, it is beyond the scope of this paper.
I have selected Tyler et al.s (1997) four categorizations of social justice,
Kymlickas (1995, 1998) notions of polyethnic rights and representation, and
Taylors (1994) notion of recognition as the basis from which I will examine Canadian
social justice literature.
Tyler et al. (1997) categorize articulations of social justice into four areas:
relative deprivation; distributive justice; procedural justice; and retributive justice.
In determining justness, Tyler et al. (1997) and Messick & Cook (1983) state that the
theory of relative deprivation proposes that people compare what they have, and what they
think they deserve or are entitled to, with others. Messick & Cook (1983) add that,
during comparisons, an others outcome is believed to be easily obtainable and that
no blame is put on the self for not having an outcome. Here comparisons take on either
interpersonal or intergroup forms for an individual may decide that an injustice has
occurred at a personal level or at a group level. For example, relative deprivation theory
is often used to explain why disadvantaged individuals and groups engage in collective
action such as protests and demands for equal pay. Relative deprivation can also explain
why members of advantaged groups oppose employment equity policies or oppose voting for
minority candidates in political elections.
Concerns of distributive justice, like relative distribution, are outcome based.
Distributive justice focuses on the just distributions of goods, services, resources
(Lerner & Lerner, 1981), rights, and duties (Hogan & Elmer, 1981). Tyler et al.
(1997) state that equity theory, concerned with the allocation of pay and promotion in
work settings, relies heavily on a notion of distributive justice. Messick & Cook
(1983) state that equity theory and distributive justice propose that a situation be
judged fair if there is a balance between inputs and outcomes or contributions and rewards
comparable to that of others. Hogan & Elmer (1981) add that people are concerned with
rewards being distributed equitably and with getting their fair share. For example, equity
theory is often used as a framework for redistributive or compensatory policies such as
affirmative action, employment equity, equal pay, universal health care, and for laws
focusing on anti-discrimination. Issues of redress for past injustices are most often
thought of as concerns of distributive justice.
The theory of procedural justice (Tyler et al., 1997; Messick & Cook, 1983) focuses
on the process of decision making. Procedural justice involves examining the fairness of
different mechanisms and procedures for resolving conflicts, making allocations, and
implementing change to obtain equitable outcomes. Studies involving this form of justice
examine fairness of legal trial procedures, plea bargaining, mediation, police
interactions, performance appraisals, pay and promotion decisions, employee selection,
workplace grievances, ethnic group representation, political participation, and
recognition of distinct cultures. Research applying the theory of procedural justice,
however, has been criticized for being reactive rather than proactive. It is thought to
emphasize justice rules in determining whether a procedure is fair and focus on how people
experience existing procedures, rather than focus on structural components and issues that
need to be considered when actually designing procedural systems.
The theory of retributive justice, the negative side of distributive justice according
to Hogan & Elmer (1981), is concerned with what to do when rules are broken or
ignored. Tyler at al. (1997) state that this usually involves punishing the wrongdoer.
Much of the research on this form of justice focuses on the criminal justice system. Often
concerns of equity are contained within broader concerns of retributive justice. For
example, in cases causing intentional harm and immoral behaviour such as murder, rape, or
bank robbery, restoring equity is not seen as a just response to rule breaking. Because
compensation is difficult or not possible, punishment for rule breaking is sought.
Young (1990) challenges the most common form of justice, distributive justice, arguing
that social justice is not about distribution and allocation of material goods such as
income, wealth, and jobs. Instead, social justice is about acknowledgment and affirmation
of ethnic and cultural group difference in institutional practices. She criticizes
theories of distributive justice for their failure to examine such questions as: who has
power to make decisions; what sorts of decisions are made; what are the procedures for
decision making; what are the social structures and institutional contexts which influence
judgments of justice; and how does culture influence and affect peoples social
position and opportunities. Young contends that a conception of social justice involves
notions of oppression and domination not patterns of distribution. Injustice refers to the
institutional constraint on group self-development (oppression) and on group
self-determination (domination). Justice then involves the elimination of domination and
oppression in all institutional structures and processes. Critiquing Youngs notion
of social justice, Dallmayr (1997) categorizes hers as an articulation of procedural
Kymlicka (1995, 1998) proposes that a concern for justice in part is a concern for
rights and group representation. His theorization of rights includes a notion called
polyethnic rights which are granted to ethnic groups and religious minorities in Canada to
help them "express their cultural particularity and pride without it hampering their
success in the economic and political institutions of the dominant society (1995, p. 31).
Examples of polyethnic rights include the providing of funding to ethnic and cultural
minorities for the preservation of cultural practices, and provisions for ethnic groups
which exempt them from particular laws and regulations seen as disadvantageous to them.
Kymlickas notion of polyethnic rights is important to this framework for it provides
a model from which to examine group rights as well as to question whether these rights
promote integration into dominant Canadian society or whether they challenge the
ethnocentricity of society and dominant institutions.
Although Kymlickas (1995, 1998) notion is specific to his critique of the
political process, his core notion of representation whether the perspectives of
all groups are genuinely being taken into account and included can be incorporated
into this framework. Kymlickas notion of representation can be used to question:
from whose perspective?; who speaks for whom?, when?, and why?; whose interests?; from
what position?; who benefits?; in what ways do they benefit?; whose values and beliefs?;
and what are the political and economic forces involved?
Taylors (1994) notion of the recognition of difference completes this framework.
Taylor proposes that the unique identity of every individual or group be recognized for
their distinctness or nonsameness. Taylor states that in Canada this distinctiveness has
been ignored or assimilated into a dominant identity. As a result, nonrecognition or
misrecognition has taken on a form of oppression inflicting harm on people. Taylor
believes that due recognition is a vital human need.
The key ideas of relative deprivation, distributive justice, procedural justice,
retributive justice, polyethnic rights, representation, and recognition presented will be
used in the next section to critically examine Canadian literature focusing on ethnic and
cultural minorities. Due to limitations of time and the enormous scope of issues subsumed
under social justice four general areas of literature concerned with social
justice will be examined: multiculturalism, anti-racism, rights, and employment equity.
Since the enactment of the Canadian Multicultural Policy there has been much discussion
with respect to what multiculturalism means. In their popular book Multiculturalism in
Canada, Fleras & Elliot (1992) discuss multiculturalism as sociological fact,
ideology, policy, and process. They propose that expressions of multiculturalism are found
at individual, group, societal, and institutional levels.
Other well-known scholars Henry et al. (1995) describe multiculturalism as having
different levels of meaning. It is a description of the composition of Canada both
historically and currently, referring to the cultural and racial diversity of Canadian
society. It is an ideology that holds that racial, cultural, religious, and linguistic
diversity is an integral, beneficial, and necessary part of Canadian society and identity.
It is a policy operating in various social institutions and levels of government,
including the federal government (p. 328).
Both Fleras & Elliot (1992) and Henry et al. (1995) describe multiculturalism, at
the level of sociological fact, taking on a descriptive form that refers to Canadian
society as an ethnoracially complex composite of immigrants, refugees, aboriginal peoples,
and colonizing groups each with diverse beliefs, customs, values, languages, and other
cultural expressions. At this level, describing Canada as a multicultural society means
that Canadian society is composed of multiple, distinct, and different cultural and ethnic
groups (note: these categories are fluid and dynamic).
As ideology, multiculturalism encompasses a set of ideas and ideals in defense of
valuing diversity. Critically examining multiculturalism as ideology, Moodley (1983)
contends that it is a complex conception which encompasses a range of "notions of
heritage, cultural diversity, recreation, and entertainment activities, cultural centres,
and an entire way of life" (p. 320). Multicultural ideology expressed in the
multicultural policy of Canada emphasizes the notion of managing diversity vis-a-vis
promoting cultural heritage and promoting "respect and appreciation for the
multicultural reality of Canada" (The Canadian Multiculturalism Act, 1988,
s.5.1 (a)). This ideology is unique for it holds that racial, cultural, religious, and
linguistic diversity is a source of enrichment and strength for national unity. Harles
(1997) writes that multiculturalism is seen as "the quintessential Canadian value. It
constitutes a distinctive feature of our celebration as a people, and distinguishes us
from the melting pot of the United States" (p. 715). Consequently, culturally
different members are encouraged to co-exist and relate positively to one another in the
spirit of respect and accommodation (Fleras & Elliot, 1992).
At a policy level multicultural ideology is put into practice. Here multiculturalism
refers to a political framework which justifies and legitimizes a "variety of
government initiatives toward managing ethnoracial diversity" (Fleras
& Elliot, 1993, p. 22). The framework for multiculturalism in Canada has evolved with
the passage of the Canadian Citizenship Act in 1947, the passage of the Canadian
Bill of Rights in 1960, the adoption of the Official Languages Act in 1969, the
enactment of the Multiculturalism Policy in 1971, the passage of the Canadian
Human Rights Act in 1977, the adoption of the Canadian Charter of Rights and
Freedoms in the Constitution Act in 1982, the passage of the Employment
Equity Act in 1986, and the legislation of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act in
1988 (Canadian Heritage, 1998; Nesbitt, 1998). Multicultural ideology expressed in these
policies encapsulates element of freedom, equality, unity, individualism, universalism,
diversity, self-image, and moral virtue. State policies subsequently legitimize provincial
and municipal policies, initiatives, programs, and practices aimed at managing
As process, multiculturalism refers to the way by which multiculturalism is
"deployed as a resource" (Fleras & Elliot, 1992, p. 93). As such
multiculturalism is in a continual state of adjustment and negotiation. Multiculturalism
is often used for various reasons as a resource by the state, by politicians, and by
minority groups. However, it has been criticized for reinforcing the privileged status of
the dominant group, for being deployed for the purpose of control and domination, and for
commodifying culture (Moodley, 1983; Fleras & Elliot, 1992). Biles (1997) reports that
in 1986, the then Minister of State for Multiculturalism, Otto Jelinek, endorsed
multiculturalism as a resource. This proposed business oriented approach valued the
resources of ethnocultural groups.
Sivak (1998), however, finds in a recent review of literature on multiculturalism in
Canada, that much of the literature, including that of Fleras & Elliot (1992) is
concerned with critiquing popular understandings of multiculturalism without engaging in
dialogue about policy and its actual implementation within Canadian society. Sivak (1998)
adds that many critiques of multiculturalism do not adequately address multiculturalism
within all the complexities of the Canadian context, and do not look into the relationship
between ideology, policy, and research. Instead, multiculturalism is referred to as though
it is a "monolithic, static entity" (p. 49).
Sivak (1998) states that a standard critique is prevalent in most of Canadian
literature. This critique involves the use of a culturalist framework that focuses on
ethnic culture, cultural celebration, and promotion of cross-cultural interaction as a
means of increasing cultural tolerance and understanding. This critique does not take into
account issues of structural inequality. Sivak suggests that the literature fail to
provide insight into such questions as what does unequal power look like in Canada? In
what ways are people treated unequally? What does opposition look like in Canada?
How is the dominant culture manifested in everyday experiences and perceptions? What kinds
of compromises do minority ethno-cultural groups make when they follow the norms that the
dominant culture has laid out? (p. 41, 43)
The work of Joshee (1995a,b) and Ungerleider (1992), however, are exceptions to Sivak's
criticisms. Joshee (1995b) examines the roots of multicultural policy, its formation, and
its meaning from a historical perspective. She finds that Canadas multicultural
policy is the "result of over 50 years of policy development in the field of cultural
diversity" (p. 38). Since World War II Canadas policy has evolved from a focus
on citizenship, to identity, to social justice, addressing issues of immigrant
assimilation, ethnic identity, and intergroup relations.
From a similar perspective, Pal (1993) focuses on the origin of multiculturalism
programs within the Citizenship Branch of the Department of the Secretary of State. Pal
finds that from 1972 to 1990 government funding for multiculturalism programs was granted
to a variety of groups and voluntary organizations, particularly select key national
organizations. Pal contends that government funding for programs has reflected the
societal fragmentation and separateness of ethnic groups and communities in the process of
promoting ethnic identity. Pal adds that citizenship programs also emphasize particular
notions of identity, participation, collective rights, and equality in political
Joshee (1995b) writes that during World War II initial cultural diversity policy
promoted citizenship that was first linked to patriotism then to naturalization. In the
mid 1950s policy shifted its focus to one of encouraging the maintenance of ethnic
identities and communities and of encouraging positive intergroup relations between ethnic
groups. Despite the rhetoric of the promotion of integration, in practice, the goal of
cultural diversity was assimilation. In the 1980s cultural diversity policy shifted its
focus to include elements of social justice, particularly the notion of participation. The
goal of multiculturalism became one of ensuring that "all individuals have equal
opportunities to participate regardless of race or ethnic origin," (p. 35) that
individuals and communities are assisted "in the elimination of any barrier" (p.
34) to their "full and equitable participation" (p. 34) in society, and that
"institutions in Canada be both respectful and inclusive of Canadas
multicultural character" (p. 34). This goal is evident in the current
multiculturalism policy. Joshee adds that the governments notion of providing
assistance to help immigrants overcome barriers to participation is limited as
assistance is provided by the dominant group and mainly takes the form of
language instruction and indoctrination of Canadian values, history, and politics.
Similarly applying Youngs (1990) and Kymlickas (1995, 1998) central concern
of social justice -- the genuine recognition and inclusion of ethnic and cultural
difference in all aspects of Canadian society -- indicates that the meaning of both
recognition and inclusion in the state policy of multiculturalism take on narrow meanings.
Joshee (1995b) finds that the approach to immigrant inclusion has remained staunchly
assimilationist throughout the development of the policy, and the definition of ethnicity
has been reduced to folk arts and language since the beginnings of the identity phase. The
consequence of this is a policy that contradicts itself by first saying that cultural
diversity is important then denigrating the very programs that were once designed to
develop that diversity. It further negates itself by encompassing programs designed to
promote assimilation (p. 36). Joshee (1995b) contends that "none of the goals
associated with multiculturalism will be achieved as long as these contradictory
tendencies continue to exist" (p. 36).
Other scholars also critical of Canadas multicultural policy note the notion of
multiculturalism expressed in Canada's multiculturalism policy seems to reflect the point
of view and interests of a dominant group providing a contradictory image of Canada as a
mosaic (Fleras & Elliot, 1992). Kallen (1995) and Moodley (1995) suggest that while
the policy acknowledges the presence of culturally different groups as part of the
multicultural reality, it conceptualizes those groups as homogeneous. The ideology does
not recognize the multiplicity of perceptions, behaviours, and practices of people in
these groups as being real (Henry, 1995). On the one hand individuals belonging to ethnic
groups are assigned cultural values, while on the other hand they are given equal
opportunity to socially position themselves within the mosaic based solely on
"individual talents, capabilities, and skills" (Kallen, 1995, p. 169).
Problematic elements in the notion of individualism which assert that all people are
different (viewed as a fact), and should appreciate the rights and liberties of the
individual (seen as a value), emerge. A moral tension is prevalent between the values of
individualism and equality and those of cultural or ethnic group distinctions.
Furthermore, section 5.1 (g) of The Canadian Multiculturalism Act states that
"ethno-cultural minority communities [can be assisted] to conduct activities with a
view to overcoming any discriminatory barrier, and in particular, discrimination based on
race or national or ethnic origin." This assertion can be interpreted in a way that
sees the majority group as not taking responsibility for discriminatory behaviour.
Instead, the majority groups puts the onus on minority groups to overcome social and
cultural barriers while at the same time claiming to value equal liberty and equal
In addition, the notion of multiculturalism as articulated in the policy has been
criticized for failing to recognize the pervasive nature of racial discrimination in
society. In an extensive examination of racism in Canada, Henry et al. (1995) argue that
racism is manifest in individuals and flourishes in the formal and informal practices of
social, cultural, political, and economic institutions. They document the extent to which
racism persists in law enforcement agencies, the justice system, government, education,
media, human services, and the arts. They contend that racism prevents the full
participation of all members of society in all aspects of Canadian life. In light of the
criticisms, it seems that rather than recognizing and including ethnic and cultural group
difference on the basis of Youngs (1990) conception of self-development and
self-determination, the official multicultural policy encourages contradictory notions of
assimilation and managing and accommodating difference within a dominant, Ethnocentric,
Despite these numerous criticisms, Canada is considered unique as it is the only
country that is legally committed to multiculturalism (Weiner, 1997). The multicultural
policy encapsulated in The Multiculturalism Act of 1988 is seen by many as a
proactive articulation by the government recognizing diversity and committing it to the
preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians (Kordan, 1997;
Weiner, 1997). The government of Canada recognizes that every individual is entitled to
receive equal treatment and protection under the law, that every individual has the right
to practice his/her religion, and that every individual has equal opportunity, without
discrimination, to live a fulfilled life. Also, implied in the policy is the recognition
that inequality exists in Canadian economic, social, cultural and political life and that
in Canadas past discriminatory practices on the basis of race, colour, or ethnic
Taylor's (1991) conversations of multiculturalism and recognition are framed around
notions of authenticity and identity. Taylor argues that the contemporary moral ideal of
society be authenticity, that of each person being true to his/her own particular way of
being. This authenticity can only be discovered and articulated by each individual but the
process of defining who we are, our identity, and realizing our authenticity does not
occur monologically. The process involves a continuing dialogue with, and struggle
against, identities others want to recognize in us.
It can be argued that authenticity and the ideal of multiculturalism fit hand in hand.
An example of this is the Canadian slogan 'unity in diversity' that has become popular as
a result of the Canadian multicultural policy. This phrase seems to imply that all people
in Canadian society can be united through an affirmation of their diversity or
distinctiveness. Here both a relationship of particularity and group participation are
seen as co-existing and mutually necessary, rather than seen as a dualism or as mutually
exclusive. 'Unity in diversity' also suggests that people are committed to some shared
values and principles. People are both publicly recognized as individuals free to express
difference or as a member of a distinct group and individuals regardless of their small
group affiliations are recognized as equal participants within society.
Parallels can be made between the development of particularity and diversity in the
phrase 'unity in diversity' and Taylor's idea of authenticity. If the moral ideal is
authenticity, in both cases the good life consists of developing individual
particularities and of participating in the larger structures of society while developing
a sense of belonging to the larger societal group. Valued simultaneously is the expression
of difference at an individual level and the development of a collective or shared culture
at a societal level. Examples of this are articulated in three sections of the
multicultural policy of Canada. Section 3.1a states that the Government of Canada is
committed to acknowledge the "... freedom of all members of Canadian society to
preserve, enhance and share their cultural heritage." Section 3.1e ensures that
" ... all individuals receive equal treatment and equal protection under the law,
while respecting and valuing diversity." And section 3.1i ensures the preservation
and enhancement of the "... use of languages other than English and French, while
strengthening the status and use of the official languages of Canada..."
What is not being proposed is a notion of difference constructed within a paradigm
which places sameness as its polar opposite, constructing, for example, the duality of
Self--Other, dominant--subordinate, and superiority--inferiority. Neither is a notion of
equality implying sameness in relation to the dominant group being put forth as does an
assimilationist approach. Instead, unity in diversity involves a relationship built on the
notion of difference which recognizes the equal value of different ways of being and
sharing some standard of value on which the identities are considered as equal.
Ungerleider (1992), who like Joshee (1995a,b) examines Canadian multiculturalism
policy, argues that the development of policies and practices associated with immigration,
citizenship, multiculturalism, language, and human rights have helped establish a social
justice infrastructure for Canadian society. With respect to multiculturalism, Ungerleider
(1992) examines policies and programs which support social justice. Some of these include
the establishment of a Race Relations unit in 1981 examining the state of race relation in
major cities in Canada, a symposium on Race Relations and the Law in 1982, the
establishment of a National Strategy on Race Relations in 1983, the establishment of civic
committees in Canadian municipalities mandated to improve race relations, the development
of a Municipal Race Relations Program in 1986, the development and implementation of an
employment equity program in 1986, the adoption of race relations and multicultural
education policies by school boards across Canada, numerous initiatives examining
relations between police and minorities, the legislation of The Multiculturalism Act
in 1988, and the redress settlement for Japanese-Canadians in 1988. Ungerleider asserts
that social justice can be "substantially enhanced by attempts to achieve
confluence" (p. 8) among immigration, citizenship, multiculturalism, language, and
human rights policies.
One of the more comprehensive responses to the recognition of multiculturalism has
taken form under the rubric of multicultural education. There is no universally accepted
definition of multicultural education for the philosophies, approaches, and definitions
have varied, shifted, and evolved since the 1960s. Moodley (1995) states that discussions
of multicultural education in Canada "reveal a conglomerate of perspectives
cross-fertilized by American and British variants" (p. 808). Moodley categorizes the
most "commonly cited cross cutting themes" (p. 808) in conceptions of
multicultural education as education for cultural pluralism, education about cultural
difference, education for the culturally different, education for cultural preservation,
and education for multicultural adaptation.
Approaches to multicultural education can be categorized as traditional and
non-traditional. Fleras & Elliot (1992) indicate that advocates of the traditional
models of multicultural education recognize that a dominant assimilationist ideology
prevails in educational practices resulting in a lack of 'appreciation,' 'accommodation,'
and 'management' of cultural diversity. They argue for an approach that involves
reinforcing the belief that diversity is an asset to Canadian identity, developing
culturally sensitive approaches to the delivery of services, and improving interactions
between ethnically diverse people. However, their approach emphasizes celebration of
folkloric cultures without acknowledging that racial discrimination is embedded within the
policies and practices of institutional structures.
Traditional approaches to multicultural education have taken various forms which can be
loosely categorized as the education of ethnoculturally different groups or a
multicultural education as compensation approach, education about cultural differences or
a multicultural education as enrichment approach, and education stressing cultural
pluralism (Ng et al., 1995; Fleras & Elliot, 1992). These approaches, however, should
not be viewed as static or mutually exclusive; they are dynamic, complex, and often
These approaches to multicultural education have been criticized for reflecting the
point of view and interests of dominant groups. In varying ways dominant groups continue
to imply a devaluation of the 'other', while attempting to 'deal with' or 'manage' people
who are viewed as culturally different. With an emphasis on a static, homogeneous culture
and attitudinal changes, issues having profound social consequences are obscured. While
fostering the retention of various cultural heritages through the promotion of respect and
appreciation for others is a valuable endeavor, Henry et al. (1995) believe that
multicultural education's concerns should go beyond those of changing or fixing prejudiced
attitudes and personalities of individuals or developing an understanding of other
cultures, customs, and mores via altering certain practices and programs.
Henry et al. (1995) argue that issues resulting in profound social change or social
justice would need to recognize the pervasive nature of racial discrimination in society,
and involve the critical examination of the historical role of political and economic
exploitation in the organization of society and schools. Multicultural education, which
stresses a cultural pluralism approach, comes close to such an examination, but falls
short of altering social relations. Although in the cultural pluralism approach school
practices are examined for bias and discrimination, the prevailing structures remain
intact. This contributes to the maintenance of inequalities. Radical views of the
transformative theorists, arguing that schools are sites where culture is produced and
reproduced, go beyond the three previous traditional liberal-dominated approaches.
Transformative or radical pedagogical and empowerment approaches have emerged from
non-Canadian theorists such as Apple (1995), Freire (1995), Giroux (1993), and Sleeter
(1991). Although their approaches vary, they contend that radical ideas and critical
thinking aimed at a more egalitarian, democratic, and just society can be developed in
schools. A multiculturalism as empowerment approach, or education for equity (Fleras &
Elliot, 1992), focuses on restructuring the system around the needs, concerns, and
aspirations of minority groups. This approach addresses issues of power, decision-making,
and agenda-setting. Areas of reform include school policies, the formal and informal
curriculum, taught languages, assessment and evaluation procedures, instructional
materials, teaching and learning styles, community participation, and staff attitudes and
perceptions. Moodley (1995, p. 811) however writes that it is highly unlikely that
Canadian schools promoting multicultural education will develop the "oppositional
cultures which might provide the basis for a viable political force" promoted by
Giroux (1983, p. 101). Nor is it likely that multicultural education can become a
"form of resistance to oppressive social relationships," as Sleeter argues
(1989, p. 59).
Moodley describes past and present Canadian multicultural education efforts as similar
to those of a "melting pot on a slow burner" (p. 811).
A distinct model of multicultural education, which is unlike the above mentioned
approaches but is unique is one focusing on ethnic-specificity (McLeod, 1984).
Ethnic-specific programmes and schools have usually been organized by, or in part by,
ethnocultural communities. The purposes of these programmes and schools have been to
"counteract assimilative forces, extend the familiar socialisation, or generally
broaden the child's or adult's knowledge or involvement in, or acquaintance with the
ethnic heritage" (p. 34). Private, after-school, ethnocultural programmes that
include language courses are the most common examples. Other examples include the adoption
of linguistic, cultural, and religious programmes by specific ethnic groups for their
children in full-time private or public schools. The programmes and schools with this
focus include the teaching of language and culture of the Chinese, Italian, German,
Portuguese, Hebrew, Hutterite, Mennonite, French, Punjabi, Greek, African (or Black-only
schools), and Ukrainian ethnic groups. Here, a notion of social justice involves
Similar to theorists advocating an empowerment approach, Conners (1984) promotes a
multicultural approach to curriculum stating that, within multicultural education, the
dominant approach focuses on knowledge about ethnic groups and cultures. Curriculum
approaches such as multiple interpretations, which focus on examining material written
from the insider's point of view, and a critical reflective approach, which focuses on the
teachers' and students' own socio-cultural reality, rarely are used. Conners argues for a
multicultural curriculum as action approach in addressing concerns of social justice. This
approach requires a "shift in the locus of power concerning curriculum decision
making" (p. 107). Rather than incorporating the experiences of minority ethnic
members in the curriculum (again inclusion takes on a narrow definition), Conners
advocates the decentralization of curriculum development so ethnically diverse groups can
engage in meaningful dialogue and work together with curriculum planners. Only through
action and participation or dialogue can multiculturalism be 'achieved.'
Concerns of social justice in approaches in the context of cultural diversity have also
been articulated by theorists and scholars interested in moral education. Wright &
LaBar (1984) echo Conners' (1984), Fleras & Elliot's (1992), and Ng et al.'s (1995)
concern that traditional approaches focusing on teaching about cultures do not result in
effects necessary for social change. Wright & LaBar (1984) argue that multiculturalism
is a moral concern, and as such, multicultural education should promote good reasoning in
students, a sense of self-worth in all people, a concept of society, and understanding of
the concepts of prejudice and stereotyping. In their conceptualization, Wright & LaBar
promote a notion of social justice that involves critical thinking and reasoning, equal
treatment, and rights. Unfortunately, their focus is at an individual level; institutional
and societal levels are not considered.
From another perspective, Coombs (1986) argues that social institutions are needed that
do not discriminate against anyone because of cultural affiliation, and the value
commitment that everyone has the right to choose whatever lifestyle is preferred so long
as he or she does not thereby treat others immorally or infringe upon others' rights to
choose their own life styles (p. 11).
For Coombs social justice involves equal consideration of interests, equal rights,
equal opportunity, and political education.
Examining school district policies in British Columbia that address multiculturalism or
multicultural education, Joshee & Parhar (1998) conclude that articulations of social
justice vary from district to district. Conceptualizations of social justice include
notions of respect, understanding, fairness, human rights, employment equity, and fair
representation in the formal curriculum. They also find that often multiculturalism
policies are associated with antiracism policies where conceptualizations of social
justice are similar to the above mentioned but differ slightly in language. Here concerns
include those of equal opportunity employment and equality of individuals.
Through its introduction as government policy in 1971, its constitutional entrenchment
in 1982, and legislative enactment in 1988, Canada has publicly recognized
multiculturalism as a salient feature of Canadian society. The nature of
recognition and inclusion of cultural and ethnic minorities,
however, is open to debate. Many scholars have criticized multiculturalism as a hegemonic
strategy used solely for incorporating immigrants and visible minority groups into
dominant, Eurocentric, Canadian institutions and practices.
The strategy of incorporation, though, is seen by many other scholars as positive for
they contend that integration, as opposed to assimilation, allows minority groups and
individuals to choose how to live in society and that Canadianness is ambiguous (Harles,
1997). Integration also implies that everyone is involved in the continuing project of
defining Canadian society. Whereas assimilation indicates conformity to pre-existing
social, cultural, and political norms, integration or incorporation indicates that
minority groups will be assisted and encouraged, through the removal of discriminatory
barriers, towards achieving equality in economic, social, cultural, and political life (The
Multiculturalism Act, 1988).
Dei (1993) believes that the challenge of diversity is not a matter of how to manage or
incorporate it, rather it is a matter of achieving a "new inclusive understanding of
our social world and to address the issues of social and human development and,
particularly, the issue of social justice and respect for the fundamental freedoms and
rights of all peoples" (p. 37). One strategy used towards achieving such an
understanding and addressing issues of difference and inequality is that of anti-racism.
In her recent thesis examining anti-racism in Canadian literature, Sivak
(1998) states that there is no universally understood definition of anti-racism. The term,
though, is often mistakenly used as though it has a generic meaning. Sivak notes that
Canadian notions of anti-racism have developed from popular conceptualizations from
Britain and the United States.
The area of education is first worth examining as innovations in education have led
theories of antiracism and subsequently their progressive application. Sivak (1998) finds
two conceptions of anti-racism education within the Canadian literature. One conception
represents anti-racism as sharing the goals of multicultural education. Scholars such as
James (1995), Solomon & Levine-Rasky (1996 a,b), Hesch (1995), Rezai-Rashti (1995),
and Tator & Henry (1991) conceptualize anti-racism education as spring-boarding from
multicultural education or involving a multicultural approach.
The other conception represents anti-racism education as a form of critical pedagogy
and as having different or oppositional beliefs, aims, and strategies to multicultural
education. In this latter notion there is no mention of multiculturalism. The work of Dei
(1994, 1995, 1996), McCaskell (1995), Ng (1995), and Solomon (1995) are some examples.
Sivak (1998) finds two difficulties with notions of anti-racism in the Canadian
literature: the lack of consistency in conceptualizations of anti-racism and the lack of
focus on the complexities of both the Canadian context and multiculturalism. Sivak (p. 57)
believes that "without a detailed understanding of the workings of
multiculturalism," any "effective alternatives or amendments" cannot be
One popular theory of anti-racism, which does not consider multiculturalism, has been
proposed by George Dei. In his latest book, Dei (1996) contends that antiracism is an
action-oriented strategy for institutional, systemic change to address racism and the
interlocking systems of social oppression .
Anti-racism explicitly names the issues
of race and social difference as issues of power and equity rather than as matters of
cultural and ethnic variety (p. 25).
In short, anti-racism is a challenge to the status quo. Dei (1996) outlines ten
principles to his theory of anti-racism education in great detail. Some of these
principles include: recognizing the social effects and changing meanings of
race and racism; understanding the intersections of other forms of oppression
such as class, gender, and sexuality; questioning the power and privilege of White males
and those of all members of society as well as questioning the rationality for dominance
in society; problematizing the marginalization of certain voices in society and the
"delegitimation of the knowledge and experience of subordinated groups" (p.30);
focusing on an "explication of the notion of identity" (p. 31) and
how its linked with schooling; recognizing the need for an inclusive education
system; and acknowledging the role of the education system in producing and reproducing a
variety of inequalities in society.
Fleras & Elliot (1992) describe anti-racism education as encompassing a
"distinctive orientation along with a unique set of objectives that set it apart from
multicultural education" (p. 195). The primary thrust of anti-racism, they contend,
is on changing behaviour and practice or as Moodley (1995) suggests the transformation and
restructuring of the relations of dominance. Issues of power are key. Some scholars assert
that multicultural educations focus is on altering perceptions and attitudes which
does little to alter relations of power (Walcott, 1990).
However, Moodley (1995) notes that some more sophisticated conceptualizations of
multicultural education do incorporate ideas of anti-racism. Kehoe and Mansfield (1993),
for example, support the view that multiculturalism's focus on intergroup harmony can be
rethought and expanded to incorporate certain important concerns of antiracism education
related to social equity. Fleras & Elliot (1992) state that often in practice
educational institutions juxtapose the two perspectives. In an ethnographic study
investigating the impact of multiculturalism and/or anti-racism policies, or as Chan
(1998) calls race relations policies, in two British Columbia schools, Chan finds that
although many educators in schools are aware of their district's policies, few efforts are
being made to articulate policy into educational practices. In addition,
conceptualizations of multicultural and anti-racism education are not widely understood by
In a critique of multicultural education in Toronto, Rahim (1990) concludes that the
Toronto (Ontario) Board of Education has failed to implement multicultural education
because Anglo-Saxon practices continue to guide pedagogic actions in most of the schools.
Through this action the dominant group "exercises monopoly over knowledge and power
as well as ensures its hegemony" (p. 42). Referring to Antonio Gramsci's notion of
hegemony (Gramsci, 1971; Mouffe, 1979; Sassoon, 1982; Sasson, 1987). Rahim proposes that
in Canada both multiculturalism as sociological fact and the ethnic stratification of
society must be reconsidered from the perspective of ethnic hegemony rather than
multiculturalism. Rahim adds that an anti-racist model, with its focus on examining and
re-structuring relations of power and dominance is essential if educators are to give
equal recognition and treatment to immigrant and minority students and communities.
Taylor's (1994) and Kymlicka's (1995, 1998) notions of representation and recognition
support key elements of anti-racism theory such as questioning relations of power and
dominance between and among groups. Asking from whose perspective?, whose interests?, who
benefits?, and whose values and beliefs? become key in analyzing group relations and
Other Canadian ethnographies (Mushkat, 1993; Morrison, 1994; Beaubier, 1996; Popatia,
1994; Yon, 1995; Carr, 1996; Carr & Klassen, 1995) focus on the examination of
classroom and school practices from a multicultural perspective. These studies indicate
that few school practices, programs, and structures are altered from an anti-racist
perspective. In these studies social justice involves teaching about 'race related' issues
such as stereotyping, bias, cultural difference, prejudice, and discrimination, and equity
education. In addition, few school-wide programs and practices are altered to be inclusive
of different cultural groups' knowledge, perspectives, and ways of being. These studies
highlight the lack of value and importance educators place on inter-group relations.
Schools are seen as bureaucratic organizations concerned with instrumental rationality;
concerns for issues of inequality are given little, and often, no space. Although much has
been written on the prevalence of prejudice, discrimination, and inequality in schools,
little is being done to promote positive inter-group relations and re-structuring of
There is other literature, beyond the scope of this paper, that examines various
policies and practices from an anti-racism perspective such as those of policing, the
justice system, the public sector, voluntary organizations, the arts, the media, and
health care (Henry et al., 1995; Canada, 1984; Harney, 1996; Manyoni, 1986; Rontiris,
1997; Paredes, 1987; Currie & Kiefl, 1994; San & Magaly, 1996). Literature
indicates that many efforts are being made to "combat racism towards visible
minorities". In a review of research and policy developments on combating racism,
Naidoo & Edwards (1991) contend that Canada's multicultural policy, multicultural
programs and initiatives, human rights legislation, official reports on racism, and race
relations programs are examples of Canada's commitment to combat racism and accelerate the
integration of visible minorities. From their observations, Canada's approach to counter
racism includes elements of multicultural ideology. Interestingly, methods and techniques
used in combating racism often do not stem from an anti-racism perspective. Combating
racism and assisting integration of minorities involves the altering of select practices
but does not involve the restructuring of power relations. Similar to Ungerleider's (1992)
conceptualization, Naidoo & Edwards (1991) view a combination of equity, rights,
redress, and the elimination of racism as principles of social justice.
As Ungerleider (1992) and Naidoo & Edwards (1991) point out, concerns of social
justice include concerns of rights. However, conceptualizations of rights are varied and
take on different meanings and interpretations in different contexts. Literature indicates
that rights are often conceived and categorized as: individual, collective, human,
political, cultural, civil, and/or social. A close examination of the categorizations
reveals a common underlying element, that of equality.
Canadian Human rights laws are thought of as legal instruments intended to aid in
combating discriminatory behaviour and to protect people who are least able to look out
for themselves (Frideres & Reeves, 1989; Falardeau-Ramsay, 1993). But human rights
laws related to minority groups as they are articulated in the Canadian Human Rights
Act and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are criticized for not treating all
persons on a footing of equality in terms of equal concern and equal respect (Phillips,
1989; Falardeau-Ramsay, 1993). Based on constructions of culture and/or ethnicity some
groups are considered superordinate in relation to others. In addition, protection and
remedies significantly differ provincially across Canada (McKenna, 1994). Opinion surveys
and studies such as those by Bal (1997) and Lizotte (1997) find that even though
multicultural and formal human rights legislation exist and are intended to protect the
rights of individuals and minority groups, many non-White Canadians do not feel equality
results from such legislation.
As policy, Canada has enacted human rights legislation following international human
rights guidelines developed by the United Nations. Equality is one of the central
principles defended by the Canadian legislative framework. The Canadian Human Rights
Act affords all individuals equal opportunity and accommodation of their needs
"to make for themselves the lives that they wish to have" (Canadian Human
Rights Act, 1988) without being hindered by discriminatory practices based on race,
ethnic origin, or colour.
The legal framework for the protection of minority rights is also outlined in the
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Walker, 1997). Section 15(1) of the
Charter outlines equality rights provisions that prohibit discrimination on the basis of
race, ethnicity, or colour. Section 15(2) permits the allowance of affirmative-action
programs. Kallen (1995) adds that section 27 affords ethnic minorities protection of their
Fleras & Elliot (1992) believe that in the Charter, equality means "everyone
has the same or equal right to be free from discrimination" (p. 87). They see the
inclusion of multiculturalism within the Charter, though, as problematic because
principles of diversity and particularism are at odds with equality that means sameness
and universality. In a report by the Ministry of Citizenship, Phillips (1989) found that
interpretation of the Charter is often inconsistent with its intent. With respect to
equality, it is found that the courts apply an anti-discrimination principle rather than
one of equality rights. The anti-discrimination argument is essentially negative: it
provides freedom from discrimination. An equality principle is positive: it
requires action to ensure the equality result (p.7).
Under the Charter, ethnic and racial minorities and or immigrants can make one of three
types of claims if they believe they have been subject to human rights violations:
individual rights claims, categorical claims, or collective cultural rights claims.
Individual rights claims can be made by individuals who perceive that they have been
personally or institutionally discriminated against.
Categorical claims can be made by individuals or ethnic collectivities that perceive
that the minority as a whole has been disadvantaged as a result of past discrimination.
The case of the Japanese-Canadian redress is one example (Kobayashi, 1992). Both
individual and categorical rights claims are what Kallen (1995) calls equality-seeking
claims. Such claims are made in cases seeking equality and equity of opportunity and
treatment and of equal status of individuals.
Collective cultural rights claims can be made by minority groups whose members perceive
the group as a whole has been subject to discrimination based on ethnicity, race, or
religion. Claims can be made for recognition and protection of their group's distinctive
cultural practices. Unlike individual and categorical rights claims, collective rights
claims are based on the desire to secure difference and distinct group survival.
Critical of human rights systems in Canada, Kallen (1995) contends that the system is
actually designed to deal with individual rights claims, not with categorical or
collective rights claims. The individual complaint procedure itself is flawed for it fails
to address group-based systemic inequalities. McKenna (1994) concurs, adding that the
complaint-based system is defective because it relies on "victims with sufficient
knowledge, courage, and tenacity to pursue a complaint that may lead to some remedy for
the complaint" (p. 431). Discrimination and racist behaviours violate human rights.
Even though human rights provisions are made in the Charter, the Charter is not a truly
egalitarian human rights instrument. The Charter and its constitutional provisions
perpetuate and "further legitimate long-institutionalized status inequalities between
and among different ethnic and non-ethnic populations in Canada" (Kallen, 1995, p.
253). Human rights legislation intended to reduce or prevent discrimination through
"fair and equitable treatment of different ethnic collectivities" (p. 228) has
done little to reduce the societal ethnic and racial discrimination. What has happened
Kallen (1995) reports, is that blatant racism has gone 'into the closet', and has been
replaced with 'new racism', a subtler form of racism.
Kallen (1995) argues that in accordance with the human rights principles of equality,
equal protection for the individual and collective rights of all people should be
afforded. But ever since Confederation, Canada has constitutionally put forth an
inegalitarian notion of special group status. The Charter recognizes the superordinate
status of the English-Protestant and French-Catholic ethnic groups and protects their
collective rights and language. No parallel protections exist for collective religious and
linguistic rights of minority groups. In addition, a hierarchy can be found among
minorities making individual and categorical claims for equal status and equal treatment;
for example, ethnic minorities, aboriginal peoples, and women rank higher than people with
In a study analyzing Canadian Human Rights Commission files, Frideres & Reeves
(1989) find that cases of discrimination based on race, colour, ethnicity, and national
origin are difficult to substantiate compared to those involving discrimination based on
sex or disability. Both Frideres & Reeves (1989) and Falardeau-Ramsay (1993) support
Kallen's observations, that human rights processes and systems are flawed. One problem is
that the enforcement of human rights depends on "agencies investigating the
complaints of human rights violations and taking action on behalf of individuals whose
complaints are confirmed" (Frideres & Reeves, 1989, p. 313). Some agencies are
successful enforcing human rights laws, while others are not. This is not necessarily
because allegations are unfounded but because of the lack of effectiveness of the
enforcement and organizational procedures of certain agencies.
As a supplement to these traditional human rights systems, Kymlika (1995, 1997)
believes his conceptualization of minority group rights is necessary. In relation to
ethnic and cultural minority groups, Kymlicka (1995) believes that literature discussing
collective rights often uses the term too broadly and creates a false dichotomy with
individual rights. Focusing on whether rights are exercised by individuals or
groups/collectives "misses what is really at issue in cases of ethnocultural
conflict" (Shapiro & Kymlicka, 1997, p. 4). The issue is whether the interests
that people have originating from their ethnic identity or ethnocultural group membership
are adequately recognized and protected by liberal-democratic rights. Kymlikca (1995)
finds the term 'group-differentiated rights' of greater use in discussing ways Canada and
other countries accommodate ethnic and cultural differences. He sees group-differentiated
rights, those of polyethnic and special representation rights, being accorded to a group
as a whole, or to individual members of a group. Rights such as "financial support
and legal protection for certain practices associated with particular ethnic or religious
groups," (p. 7) Kymlicka calls polyethnic rights. These rights intend to help
"ethnic groups and religious minorities express their cultural particularity and
pride without it hampering their success in the economic and political institutions of the
dominant society" (p. 31). Usually polyethnic rights are intended to promote
integration into the dominant society.
Kymlicka (1995) sees special representation rights, such as guaranteeing seats for
ethnic groups within the legislature, as a response to systemic disadvantage. Unlike
polyethnic rights that are not seen as temporary, group representation rights are
considered temporary because it is believed that society should remove oppression and
disadvantage, thereby eliminating the need for these special rights.
Kymlicka (1995) states that many defenders of group-specific rights for ethnic
minorities support the view that "accommodation of differences is the essence of true
equality" (p. 108). For Kymlicka, though, this is a limited notion. Equality involves
ensuring that particular ethnic groups are fairly provided support. That is, that some
groups are not disadvantaged while others are privileged. Supports such as those already
made for dominant ethnic groups -- policies supporting identity, language, and culture --
must be made for minority groups. In his view equality also involves rethinking the
fairness of decision-making procedures by which group-differentiated rights are defined
Also an advocate for group-rights claims, Levy (1997) identifies eight types of
cultural rights-claims accommodating ethnic pluralism that has arisen from ethnocultural
conflicts. Levys categorizations are inclusive of Kymlickas. These include:
exemptions from laws which penalize or burden cultural practices; assistance to do those
things the majority can do unassisted; self-government for ethnic, cultural, or
national minorities; external rules restricting non-members liberty to
protect members culture; internal rules for members conduct enforced by
ostracism, excommunication; recognition/enforcement of traditional legal code by the
dominant legal system; representation of minorities in government bodies, guaranteed or
facilitated; and symbolic claims to acknowledge the worth, status, or existence of various
groups (p. 25).
Of these concerns exemptions claims, assistance, external and internal rules,
representation, and symbolic claims have specifically arisen from needs of ethnic
Young (1997) an advocate of special group-representation rights for excluded groups
such as minorities conceptualizes representation, specifically political representation,
differently from Kymlicka (1995; Shapiro & Kymlicka, 1997) and Levy (1997). Young
views representation as a "deferring relationship between constituents and
representative, moving between three moments of authorization, representation, and
accountability" (Young, 1997, p. 358) rather than as a condition of identity. On this
view, "constituents and representatives defer to each others judgment, without
ever assuming a unity of interests or identities" (Shapiro & Kymlicka, 1997, p.
15). Young proposes that citizens be represented along their interests, opinions, and
social perspectives. Ensuring representation along all three dimensions, especially the
representation of perspectives otherwise excluded, maximizes inclusivity and fairness.
One of the main human rights related initiatives designed to address the rights of
minority groups is Employment Equity. But, there has been some confusion and debate as to
what employment equity is and how it affects Canadian institutions. Today, the term
employment equity is often used interchangeably with the term affirmative action. The
notion of employment equity, however, differs from that of affirmative action. Employment
equity was first introduced by Judge Rosalie Silberman Abella in the Report of the
Commission on Equality in Employment in October, 1984 (Elliot, 1994) and subsequently
took on a specific meaning in the Employment Equity Act legislated in 1986 and
revised in 1996.
Affirmative action on the other hand is a term that has been used in Canadian
literature since the 1960s and has taken on numerous meanings (Gadacz, 1986; Abella, 1984;
Weinfeld, 1981). Weinfeld (1981) examining the growth of the policy of affirmative action
from a historical perspective writes that in Canada the notion of affirmative action
originated in the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism report.
Investigating the degree of francophone participation in the federal public service and
use of the French language the Royal Commission found an under-representation of
francophones in the public service. As a result, under 'affirmative action',
"numerous steps were taken to promote the use of French in the public service and to
increase francaphone participation" (Weinfeld, 1981, p. 26).
Legal foundation for affirmative action at the federal level was laid with the passage
of the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Human rights legislation acknowledges not only the individual, but also the systemic
nature of discrimination and guarantees the allowance of affirmative action programs on a
voluntary basis (Sheppard, 1993; Frideres & Reeves, 1989; Agos, 1986; Weinfeld, 1981).
Allan (1988) and Stasiulis (1987) state that because Canadian affirmative action programs
have been voluntary and have often uncritically been based on models used in the United
States, the overall effects of affirmative action have been limited.
In 1984, in her report on equality in employment, Judge Abella coined the term
employment equity stating the term affirmative action is misunderstood by people, and is
ambiguous and confusing. By employment equity Abella (1984) means employment practices
that are "designed to eliminate discriminatory barriers and to provide in a
meaningful way equitable opportunities in employment" (p. 7). She also uses the term
to describe "programs of positive remedy for discrimination in the Canadian
workplace" (p. 7). The purpose of employment equity, she states, is to acknowledge
and eradicate systemic discrimination. A systemic approach rather than approaching
discrimination from the perspective of a single perpetrator and the single victim,
acknowledges that by and large the systems and practices we customarily and often
unwittingly adopt may have an unjustifiably negative effect on certain groups in society
In addition to the Abella report, the Equality Now! report found that systemic
discrimination exists in many areas of employment resulting in, among other things, the
under-representation of visible minorities. These and other studies indicate that
discrimination exists in employment practices of hiring, recruitment, training,
development, job classification, promotion, salary, benefits, discipline, and termination
(First Perspective, 1997a; Young, 1989; Allan, 1988).
In response to many of the recommendations in the Abella (1984) report the federal
government put into place two mandatory programs: the Employment Equity Act and the
Federal Contractors' Program. The federal Employment Equity Act was passed in 1986
and revised in 1996. It is often described as a response to a government awareness that
women, Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities, and visible minorities do not
"share equally in the economic and social benefits gained from employment" (Employment
Equity--discussion paper, 1985). Under employment equity, "employers take
proactive, positive measures to make their work places more equitable," (Canadian
Labour Law Reports, section 7901, p. 11 505) rather than reactively responding to
instances of discrimination or focusing on compensation for individuals of past
discrimination (Sheppard, 1993).
Employment equity rules that the four designated disadvantaged groups, specifically
visible minorities for the interests of this paper, are to be proportionately represented
in the workforce, and are not to be denied employment opportunities for reasons unrelated
to ability or merit. Employment equity requires employers to: identify employment barriers
and remove them, implement special measure initiatives, and make reasonable accommodations
(First Perspective, 1997; Weiner, 1993; Coates, 1986). Special measure initiatives
are designed to accelerate the entry and the promotion of qualified visible minorities so
that representation in the workforce reflects the composition of society. Kymlicka (1998)
calls this mirror representation. Targeted recruitment techniques and special training
initiatives are aimed at correcting inequity in employment practices stemming from past
discrimination. Reasonable accommodation is a technique aimed at altering employment
policies and practices so that no one is discriminated against based on race; such
measures involve adjusting work schedules, redesigning job duties, upgrading facilities,
and providing support services (First Perspective, 1997a).
Employers who are required to implement Employment Equity under the Act include persons
in the federal public service and all industries regulated by the federal government.
Under the Federal Contractors Program, contractors who do business with the Government of
Canada are required to implement employment equity measures. At a provincial level, the
Quebec government has a similar contract compliance program that applies to certain
employers having contracts with the Quebec government.
Also, Ontario briefly implemented comprehensive employment equity legislation. From
September 1994 to December 1995 mandatory employment equity laws applied to both public
and private sector employees (Elliott, 1994; Weiner, 1993; Grosman & Martin, 1994;
Employment Equity Commissioner, 1992; Equity in universities, 1992; Tsuji, 1985;
Cheng, 1987). Ontario's Act, however, has "now been repealed in favour of a voluntary
Equal Opportunity Plan, which involves various government measures to assist employers in
expanding the diversity of their workforces" (Canadian Labour Law Reports, section
7901, p. 11 505). In each of the other provinces in Canada, provincial human rights codes
prohibit discriminatory practices in employment on the basis of race and colour. In
Manitoba and Quebec Human Rights Codes specifically permit implementation of affirmative
For an employer, implementation of employment equity involves four major steps:
conducting a workforce survey and analysis, conducting a review of their employment
systems, developing and implementing an employment equity plan, and establishing and
maintaining a reporting and monitoring plan. As part of mandatory reporting requirements,
employers' annually submit reports (Employers' Annual Reports, Employment Equity
Act, 1997; Employment Equity: Annual Report, 1995-96; Employment Equity
Action Plans, 1991). Employment Equity reports include statistical information and
narrative descriptions on distribution of employment salaries, and employees hired,
promoted, and terminated. The aim of the report is to provide an overview of employers'
workforce reflecting efforts being made to achieve equitable representation of visible
minorities in the workforce.
After reviewing employers' annual reports, the Department of Human Resources
Development submits a report to Parliament outlining improvements made by employers
towards the achievement of equality in the workplace. Employment Equity Act: Annual
Reports, 1994, 1997). The President of the Treasury also submits reports to Parliament
highlighting policies and programs the Treasury Board and federal institutions have put
into place supporting employment equity. The Treasury's report also analyzes statistics
related to the representation and distribution designated groups in the Public Service (Employment
Equity in the Federal Public Service, Annual Report to Parliament, 1994-1995, 1997).
Although many efforts are being made through legislation to make Employment Equity
'mandatory', many scholars have questioned the quality of Employment Equity legislation.
Allan (1988) argues that the Employment Equity Act cannot be called mandatory in a
meaningful sense of the word since it's applicability is restricted to the federal level,
specifically businesses federally owned or regulated. Instead, Allan proposes that
legislation should be comprehensive in setting legal enforcements, and in making changes
in workforce representation covering all jurisdictions including the federal government
itself. Employment Equity should be required in all private and public sectors and in
large and small workplaces. Similarly, the Federal Contractors' Program needs to be
legislated and must cover small workplaces instead of businesses with 100 or more
employees. Allan (1988) finds that presently the contract compliance program does not
affect many visible minorities because they are concentrated in small workplace with fewer
than 100 employees.
Sheppard (1993) contends that the Employment Equity Act's enforcement mechanisms
are relatively weak, as fines for non-compliance are low and that human rights commissions
are limited in their resources and powers to deal with the complexity of systemic
discrimination. Allan (1988) proposes that Employment Equity legislation should actually
be enforced by an independent employment equity commission and complemented by a complaint
The collection of statistics on the racial background of employees and employers has
also been criticized, as has been the category of visible minority. Ironically, by
requiring identification and categorization of "racial" groups, the data
collection process results in institutionalizing race rather than challenging its social
construction. As for the category of visible minority, Moodley (1987, 1995) argues that
the formulation of "visible minority" is problematic for it treats people seen
as visible minorities as monolithic. She states that the history, claims, and experiences
of discrimination of different visible groups in Canada are distinct and that there are
actually crucial differences between "ethnic" groups and that of racial groups.
Pendakur & Pendakur (1998) in a study examining a component of Employment Equity --
ethnically-based earnings differentials -- find that both the categories of white ethnic
and visible minority are problematic. Weinfeld (1998) finds demographic comparisons of
immigrant groups difficult because the term visible minority does not account for
differences between and among various groups.
Most of the arguments presented in literature on Employment Equity are in favour
theoretically of the notion and for legislation; that the goals of employment equity are
to eliminate employment barriers caused by discrimination and disadvantage, to
"remedy the effects of past disadvantage and discrimination and prevent future
disadvantage and discrimination, and improve the representation, access and distribution
of designated groups in the workforce and labour market" (Carr, 1995, p. 31). Leck et
al. (1995) find that organizations are slowly succeeding in particular areas. They report
that the wage gap in lower salary categories has reduced between advantaged and
disadvantaged groups such as visible minorities. Unfortunately, the wage gap has widened
in higher salary categories. Similarly McKenna (1994) finds that the Act has had some
impact on the representation of visible minorities in employment.
There are, however, critics of Employment Equity legislation who are skeptical of its
effects or are in favour of its abolishment (Stasiulis, 1989). The Canadian Human Rights
Advocate (1990) states that the Employment Equity Act has had little practical impact.
Other criticisms are often presented as myths and counteracted with facts. Some of the
common myths include: Employment Equity gives jobs to unqualified people; Employment
Equity is costly for employers in terms of time and money; Employment Equity means reverse
discrimination in favour of visible minorities; Employment Equity threatens the seniority
system; there is little racial discrimination in Canadian workplaces; and wage gaps
between white and visible minorities can be attributed to educational and occupational
characteristics of workers (Allan, 1988; Young, 1989; The Evidence Series, 1998).
Sheppard (1993, p. 19) views many of these arguments and counter-arguments as stemming
from two different understandings of the relationship between equality and equity:
"One vision views equity programs as exceptions to the principle of formal
equality" (formal equality means equal treatment regardless of circumstance or
sameness). "Without special constitutional or statutory exemptions, equity
initiatives are considered to violate equality protections. In direct contrast is a vision
which understands equity initiatives as expressions of a commitment to substantive
equality" (substantive equality means having group differences acknowledged and
reflected in laws and in social and institutional practices and policies). "From this
perspective, equity initiatives are conducive to equality, not exceptions to it." It
is understandable that the two understandings cause some confusion as the literature often
does not define what is meant by the terms equality and equity. In relation to equity
programs and legislation even sections of the Charter have been interpreted in different
ways: as both complementary and contradictory. In addition, interpretation of the Charter
at times has differed from intentions and interpretations of the Employment Equity Act
In examining notions of equality in employment, it is important to keep in mind Judge
Abella's (1984) definition. She explains that at one time equality was thought of as only
meaning sameness where treating persons as equals meant treating everyone the same. Now we
know that to treat everyone the same may be to offend the notion of equality. Ignoring
differences may mean ignoring legitimate needs. It is not fair to use the differences
between people as an excuse to exclude them arbitrarily from equitable participation.
Equality means nothing if it does not mean that we are of equal worth regardless of
race, [or] ethnicity
. The projected, mythical, and attributed
meaning of these differences cannot be permitted to exclude full participation. Ignoring
differences and refusing to accommodate them is a denial of equal access and opportunity
Criticism of employment equity legislation over the years has resulted in recent
amendments to the federal Employment Equity Act. The Canadian Labour Law Reports
(section 7901, p. 11 505) state that 1996 amendments expand the scope of the Act, provide
greater detail on the employment equity obligations of employers, require more extensive
consultations between employers and employee representatives during the employment equity
process, and gives the Canadian Human Rights Commission expanded powers for overseeing and
enforcing the legislation.
In time studies and analyses may indicate the effects of these amendments on equality
A review of literature indicates that in Canada 'social justice' means many things. One
of the difficulties in gaining a comprehensive understanding of how various notions of
social justice are articulated in institutional practices and how they affect the lives of
'visible minority' groups or 'racial,' ethnic, and cultural minorities is a lack of
consistency in the use of terms and categorizations. Theoretical discussions often take
into consideration and debate different meanings of notions such as 'race,' ethnicity,
culture, multiculture, multiethnic, and multiculturalism but legislation and many research
studies do not.
It is important to remember that race, ethnicity, culture, and minority are socially
constructed, fluid, and contested categories. They are defined and redefined by political
and historical struggles. Notions of difference are given legitimacy and presented as real
and natural. Constructions of race, ethnicity, culture, and minority are generated,
justified, and perpetuated in different ways to legitimate and further the interests and
identities of certain peoples. Canada's system of social stratification has produced
group-level inequalities in political, economic, social, and cultural arenas across the
The challenge for researchers and policy makers is to come to understand how
multiculturalism, antiracism, rights, and affirmative action policies contribute to this
problem perpetuating numerous constructed notions of 'Other'. They must grapple with the
difficult task of challenging the constructions while recognizing that policies and
practices based on those very constructions have produced and reproduced systemic
discrimination and gross inequalities.
Researchers can assist with this daunting task by exploring how various constructed
notions affect everyday practices within institutions that in turn affect the lives of
dominant and non-dominant groups. Research examining how practitioners, grass-roots
organizations, and communities implement various social justice initiatives and what
notions such as equality, inclusion, difference, and representation mean is vital. Also, a
greater effort devoted to consultation with minority groups is required to understand and
effectively address their needs, as the claims of various ethnic groups are distinct. In
this way policy can have deeper meaning, greater applicability, and a link between theory,
policy, and practice can be better developed. Another benefit would be research conducted
with greater breadth in these areas. Studies conducted in Ontario provide insights into
understanding issues of social justice, but Ontario is one of many other provinces in
Canada. Other provincial organizations, municipalities, and community organizations should
not be neglected.
Literature indicates that within many of Canada's public policies and institutional
practices equality is a recurrent theme. But equality has many different meanings.
Equality has been articulated as: same treatment, preservation of distinctiveness, same
concern, same respect, equal result, fair and just opportunity, equal access, equal
participation, full and equitable inclusion, equality of process, respect of group
difference without oppression, recognition of uniqueness, appreciation of difference,
affirmation of particularities, accommodation of difference, collective communication,
restructuring of power relations, redress, institutional transformation, and equal
protection. This poses another challenge to policy makers who need to think through the
meanings, interpretations, and resulting effects of contradictory notions in existing
policies before creating new policies.
Similarly, 'inclusion' and 'representation' must be thoughtfully re-examined before
they are espoused in the name of equality. So far in policies, the idea of inclusivity has
meant drawing minorities into existing structures designed by and for the majority. This
dynamic accepts both a center and a margin and condones practices based on Eurocentric
ideologies. Kymlikca's polyethnic rights and notion of special representation also assumes
this center. Although they are important concepts and must be understood as part of his
broader conceptualization of group rights in relation to national and ethnic groups,
polyethnic rights promote integration. Terms such as integration, accommodation, and
tolerance are problematic as they too assume a center and a margin.
Through this examination of policies and institutional practices, it has become evident
that there is a heavy emphasis on the notion of social justice as distributive justice.
The idea of distributive justice may be a contributor to some of the difficulties and
challenges already mentioned. Hogan & Elmer (1981) criticize social justice as
distributive justice for reflecting a power holder's view of the world. How to distribute
resources defensibly is a problem that concerns deans, parents, political leaders, and
other persons who must keep peace among the flock that they tend. They are concerned with
keeping themselves running -- they rarely consider how to allocate the available resources
fairly. They are primarily interested in getting their fair share, and this is quite a
different issue (p. 129).
Another problem with distributive justice Hogan & Elmer (1981) point out is that it
assumes the "persons among whom the resources are to be distributed are
strangers" (p. 129). In practice, people are not actually strangers as they identify
with each other in some way. Distribution then becomes a matter of parity rather than
With an emphasis on just distribution of goods, services, resources, and rights, key
concerns of process, participation, and genuine recognition are not given due
consideration. The result becomes what Taylor (1994) calls misrecognition. The key
principle of 'inclusiveness' also takes on limited meaning. It seems that a de-emphasis on
distribution and an increased emphasis on notions of equality, inclusiveness, and
recognition along with a focus on examining relations of power would be more useful in
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seeking ways to ensure equality between, within, and among majority and minority groups,
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