For Some, the Racial `Mosaic' Pales at Top
By Howard Schneider
Surfing the local radio dial, Jamaican native Denham Jolly identified what to him seemed two obvious shortcomings in this most diverse of Canada's cities the lack of a local rap, jazz and world-beat station that reflected the city's multiracial population and the lack of any black owners in the local broadcasting industry.
He thought he could tackle both issues by developing his own proposal for Toronto's sole remaining FM license, and he entered a recent competition for it with high hopes and a large dose of community backing.
What he discovered, he says now, is that Canada's cherished official ideal of diversity sometimes has its limits.
When the regulators who run Canada's broadcasting authority evaluated Jolly's proposal, they deemed it "interesting." But they decided to let the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. have the last FM slot to ensure that it reaches a few central-city blocks where its current AM signal is difficult to pick up amid the skyscrapers.
To the broadcasting regulators, it was important to ensure full coverage for the CBC, an institution considered central to Canada's identity and a reflection of the nation's cultural mainstream.
To Jolly and other Canadians of color, however, placing the CBC's penetration to a few extra blocks above the expansion of the city's racial and cultural broadcasting mix showed a side of Canada that is not extensively discussed and, he and others feel, not yet well appreciated.
In a nation that prides itself on diversity and visualizes its society as a "mosaic" of equal pieces, the distribution of political, social and economic influence is still largely held by those of European heritage.
"Canadians say they believe in the mosaic, but some of the tiles have never seen a polish from the day they were put on the wall," said Jolly. "There is a lot of lip service, but in matters of race you are never quite sure of your place."
It can be seen in the country's largely white governing institutions the handful of nonwhite faces, for example, among the 56 recently elected city council members in Toronto, a city some estimate to be more than 40 percent nonwhite or in the lack of racial diversity in the nation's corporate head offices. In the Financial Post magazine's recent survey of Canada's top 200 corporate chief executives, only seven are nonwhite. Of those, five are Japanese or Chinese natives running subsidiaries of Japanese- or Chinese-owned companies; the other two are Asians who built their own businesses in Canada.
It can be seen in poverty, wage and job statistics that in some ways mirror those of the United States, with members of so-called visible minorities people of color more likely to be out of work, out of school and living in poverty than white Canadians. "Among men, among the native-born, the ethnic earnings gaps are pretty similar between Canada and the United States," with differences of more than 15 percent in some cases between what white and nonwhite Canadians earn for similar work, said Krishna Pendakur, a professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver who recently completed a study of the issue.
It can be seen in the head tables when Canada's elite convene. When Britain's Queen Elizabeth II visited last summer, she spoke approvingly of the Canadian mosaic a word Canadians use to distinguish their country from an American "melting pot" they think demands too much conformity. But when the queen took her place among 16 head-table guests at a state dinner in her honor, the only nonwhite representatives of that mosaic were jazz pianist Oscar Peterson and his wife.
Growing Nonwhite Population
As much as 13 percent of Canada's population is nonwhite. That is about half the proportion found in the United States, although precise estimates are difficult because Canadian census takers traditionally have tallied individuals by country of origin, not race. Results of the first survey to ask about race will be released early next year.
What is clear, however, is that Canada's multicultural composition is increasingly a multiracial one as well. The fastest growing portion of Canada's population is its native Indian community, and immigration patterns have shifted away from Europe in favor of East Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Africa and the West Indies. In 1996, the number of non-European immigrants living in Canada surpassed the number of European immigrants for the first time.
That is not readily apparent, however, in the country's upper echelons.
When Jamaican-born politician Alvin Curling takes his seat in Ontario's provincial legislature, he is one of only two nonwhites, a fact that makes him envious of the influence and numbers that black U.S. politicians have achieved despite their country's history of more virulent racism.
When Fo Niemi watches the all-white casts of Canada's top political satire shows, scans the all-white audiences at political debates staged by the CBC or looks at the all-white staffs of Quebec's major broadcasters, he said, he sees a Canada much different from the one he experiences on the streets of Montreal.
"It is very glaring," said Niemi, executive director of the Center for Research Action on Race Relations. "When it comes to real inclusion real integration, real presence in decision-making positions we still have a fairly long way to go."
The story varies across the country. British Columbia, with a critical mass of Asian and Indian immigrants, has elected three nonwhite members of Parliament who are also junior members of the federal cabinet. There are prominent Asian entrepreneurs and broadcasters, local and provincial politicians, and philanthropists whose names grace academic and other public buildings that they helped fund. According to Pendakur's research, wage differentials are smaller in British Columbia than in the other provinces.
At the other extreme, there is Quebec, where diversity in the upper ranks of society is measured more in terms of who speaks English and who speaks French. The province's political and business elite is all white, and that homogeneity, Niemi said, extends through such institutions as the judiciary, even to local politics in Montreal, despite that city's multi-hued population.
Nor is the country free of the type of institutional issues that the United States has addressed with affirmative action. Over the past year, the federal Health Department was cited for bias in its hiring and promotion and ordered to adopt measures to right the balance. In Toronto recently, the city firefighters' union was accused of discriminating against visible minorities and women.
Ujjal Dosanjh, the attorney general of British Columbia, said his experience shows both Canada's promise as a multicultural and multiracial society and the degree to which its reality still falls short. Personally, he has made it from the Punjab countryside to the second-most-powerful position in British Columbia and feels accepted representing a parliamentary district that is a mix of white, Indian and Chinese Canadians.
On the other hand, he said that British Columbia, as the focus of Asian immigration for many decades, may be more open to the advancement of racial minorities into leadership positions and thus not reflective of the country as a whole. At meetings with his provincial counterparts and their staff, he said, it is obvious how far Canada needs to go.
The leadership of Canada is "very, very European. . . . At the end of the 20th century, we are still not reflective of the diversity of the country," Dosanjh said. He said he routinely raises the lack of racial minorities in Canada's judicial institutions when he meets with his colleagues. He said his current focus is the prime minister's next appointment to the Supreme Court, a choice typically made with an eye toward regional and French-English linguistic balance.
"The aboriginals have been here for 5,000 years. The Indo-Canadians have been here 100 years. . . . We are now including European diversity on the Supreme Court. That is wonderful," Dosanjh said. "In a very polite but pointed way, I have asked. . . . `When are you going to include the first visible minority appointment?' "
Different Histories of Slavery
Both Canada and the United States are immigrant nations, but discussions of race and ethnicity in the two countries have proceeded differently.
While much of the dialogue in the United States, for example, deals with the effects of slavery a discussion that spans 130 years of Jim Crow laws, civil rights protests and affirmative-action debates Canada has no such legacy to confront. Slavery was in decline here during the early 1800s, and the British government abolished it in 1834. By the time of the American Civil War, Canada was a haven for escaped slaves as the terminus of the Underground Railroad.
Today, there are only a few hundred thousand blacks among Canada's 30 million people, and, because of the countries' differing histories, there is far less of a tendency here to analyze public policy in terms of race.
In addition, the waves of European immigration that transformed many U.S. cities over the last century were not felt as fully in Canada until the 1950s and 1960s, when arrivals from such countries as Italy and Germany began changing Canada's predominantly Anglo-French composition. As recently as the 1930s, it was estimated that 80 percent of Canadians were of either British or French extraction.
It was during that time, as well, that Canada cast itself as a "multicultural" country and confirmed the mosaic as its guiding idea. In large part, that policy derived from the issue that long has governed so much of Canada's politics competition between the country's English and French founding populations, which have tussled for control of the country since colonial days.
A special commission on biculturalism and bilingualism in the 1960s confirmed the equal status of founding peoples and languages, and the mosaic was a handy device to describe a situation in which two cultures coexisted while maintaining their identities. With immigration from non-English and non-French societies then on the rise, that debate was expanded to endorse multiculturalism and so include other nationalities in the mosaic as well, said political scientist Martin Lubin, a Canada expert at the State University of New York.
"It was a convenient political add-on to the emergent bicultural mythology," Lubin said, and one that was consistent with Canada's sense of itself as a fair and largely classless nation.
However, when researchers started studying the mosaic, they deemed it as John Porter said in a work considered a classic of Canadian sociology to be "vertical," with a power structure at the top that was still largely English and French, and people of other origins arrayed in various strata beneath them.
"Segregation in social structure, to which the concept of the mosaic or multiculturalism must ultimately lead, can become an important aspect of social control by the charter group," he wrote in his 1965 book, "The Vertical Mosaic."
"The very small ethnic representation in our elite groups," he wrote, "suggests that the chances of achieving the top positions are few."
Porter's research focused largely on the fate of other European nationalities subordinated to the dominant English and French cultures. Thirty years later, the situation he described has changed. There are many Italians, Germans and other non-English, non-French Europeans in positions of authority. When Canadians speak of the success of their multicultural experiment, it is diversity on this scale not exclusively multiracialism that they refer to.
The issue the country confronts today, researchers, politicians and community activists say, is whether people of color will also rise to the upper levels of Canadian society as they come to represent a larger and larger portion of the population.
To political scientist Lubin, the mosaic is still vertical and the chances of its leveling over time are in doubt. "The multicultural mythology enables people to come away with a series of beliefs about what is happening, which is not really happening as rapidly or thoroughly as the official mythology would have us believe," he said.
Avoiding the `American Model'
However, to Canadian officials like Hedy Fry, the secretary of state for multiculturalism and a member of Parliament from British Columbia, there is no reason to think that immigrants of color will not flourish, just as the European immigrant groups did before them.
As Canada's nonwhite groups expand their numbers, with each generation building on the success of the last, she says, she is confident that will happen. Even focusing on race, she contended, is an American habit that is not as relevant to a country without the United States' difficult history of institutionalized racial segregation. Even though blacks, for example, form a small percentage of Canadian society, a leading jurist like Julius Isaac can rise to become the top judge of the country's federal court system.
Fry also pointed to herself as an example, a native of Trinidad elected to the House of Commons and a junior member of the cabinet.
"Twenty-five to 30 years ago, we began to experiment with a different model," she said. "The American model did not work very well. It created people who were angry that they had to give up who they were."
"We have the most successfully integrated country in the world," said Thomas d'Aquino, head of the Business Council on National Issues, an influential coalition of Canada's largest companies. "The politics of color and the politics of race have not played as big a role."
According to a recent membership brochure, only three of the business council's 148 members are nonwhite, and each runs a subsidiary of a Japanese corporation. But d'Aquino said he fully expects the council's membership to diversify over time. Until then, he said, evidence of Canada's multiracial success can be seen in its low levels of racial tension and in the absence of the type of desperate and desperately violent ghettos found in many U.S. cities.
Some analysts, however, are starting to wonder about that issue as well. Tim Rees, a human resources analyst for the metropolitan Toronto government, points out that there are areas of Toronto where immigrants of color cluster and where the foreign- and native-born face the same employment and educational issues fewer jobs, lower pay and higher dropout rates that cripple some American neighborhoods. In smaller cities such as Winnipeg, meanwhile, high unemployment and widespread drug use among native-born Canadians has led to the formation of sometimes violent street gangs.
How Canada addresses such issues, Rees said, will determine whether the promise of multiculturalism is realized.
"We've managed to avoid directly confronting that, and we can continue to remain living in this illusion that we are different from south of the border, or different from the United Kingdom, and that is what multicultural policy has allowed us to do," Rees said. "It's a bit of a fool's paradise. . . . What happened in Detroit could happen in Toronto, and it will happen very quickly, and we won't be able to recover after the fact."
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company