Heritage department takes aim at religious radicals

TheGlobeandMail.com – national – Heritage department takes aim at religious radicals: Multiculturalism plan under scrutiny
September 1, 2008. COLIN FREEZE

The federal culture department wants to fight religious radicalization in Canada.

Canadian Heritage officials, who are responsible for the promotion of citizenry, say the country has moved beyond the “mosaic” model of the 1970s and entered an era of “integrative multiculturalism” that requires, in part, a battle against youth extremism.

In a presentation to a federal national security advisory board, Andrew Griffith, Canadian Heritage’s director-general of multiculturalism and human rights, raised a series of issues including the question: “What is the appropriate role for Canadian Heritage and its Multicultural Program in countering radicalization?”

“Are traditional government objectives [civic participation, anti-racism/cross-cultural understanding, inclusive institutions] enough to address radicalization, or are radicalization-specific initiatives required?”

His PowerPoint presentation offers no concrete answers, but hints that shifting demographics mean the government must “adjust multiculturalism programming” in order to “advance core Canadian values.”

The “Canadian Multiculturalism Act is flexible,” the presentation notes.

The slides point out that Islam is, by far, the fastest growing religion in Canada and that the Middle East and Asia are, by far, the biggest source countries for immigrants.

The presentation was given in March to the cross-cultural roundtable on security, an advisory group drawn from government-appointed Canadians who come from a wide array of ethnic and religious backgrounds.

“Members were briefed on program and policy changes related to multiculturalism that better supports ethno-cultural minority participation and inclusion,” reads a short synopsis of the meeting that is posted on the roundtable’s website.

According to the Heritage presentation, 1970s- and 1980s-era initiatives geared toward “celebrating differences” and “accommodation” should now promote “rights and responsibilities” and the “Canadian identity.” And compared with earlier problems such as “prejudice” and “systemic discrimination,” a “clash of cultures” is highlighted as a major issue faced by immigrants today.

The presentation notes that Australia, the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands have all been taking steps to integrate immigrants and combat religious extremism.

Jeffrey Reitz, a University of Toronto professor and expert on immigration, said Canadian Heritage’s multiculturalism program has had limited reach. Successive governments have cut funding for the general multicultural program to less than a dollar a year from each Canadian, he said.

The professor said official multiculturalism has become a value so ingrained in the Canadian psyche that changes to programs should be debated by society as a whole. He argued that radicalism, to the extent it might exist, remains a problem best dealt with by police.

CSIS and the RCMP officials have become increasingly outspoken about how they see radical youth as a major problem, including several ongoing cases where they’ve never managed to arrest anyone.

Canadian Heritage’s multiculturalism branch is distinct from its arts-funding branch that has lately been a source of controversy for the Conservative government. The Tories are denying allegations that ideology is playing a part in their plans to cut $45-million in artist grants.

It is difficult to determine what amount of money – if any – might be going toward the multiculturalism branch’s deradicalization initiatives.

Spokespersons for Canadian Heritage were last week unable to formulate replies to questions The Globe and Mail asked about the department’s stated objective of “addressing issues of cultural social exclusion [parallel communities] and radicalization” – a test now applied to applications by community groups for grants to promote multiculturalism.

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