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Canada shows that multiculturalism policies nourish immigrant socio-political integration

by CIFAR May 1 / 12

In a recent paper by CIFAR Fellow Irene Bloemraad at University of California (Berkeley), and colleague Matthew Wright at American University, the two researchers find Canada to be a prime example of how multiculturalism does not hold back immigrants’ engagement with society and government.

They use the term ‘multiculturalism’ to mean government policies that positively recognize diversity and help minorities maintain cultural and religious practices as they integrate into public life.

“Some in Canada argue that multiculturalism policy and the appreciation of diversity should take a back seat to promoting citizenship and civic inclusion,” says Dr. Bloemraad. “This research shows that rather than a trade-off, one feeds positively into the other. The country’s success at integrating new Canadians is probably because of its longstanding support for multiculturalism.”

Drs. Bloemraad and Wright’s work was published in Perspectives on Politics, one of the foremost U.S. political science journals.

In their study, the researchers asked whether multiculturalism hinders immigrants’ social inclusion, political inclusion and political engagement – a belief held by many political leaders in Western democracies. Drs. Bloemraad and Wright suggested that many of these leaders believe multiculturalism is not compatible with integration, and so they have turned away from supporting the former and toward an emphasis on the latter.

The researchers strived to investigate those claims. Although Dr. Bloemraad is the only CIFAR member involved in the study, she credits the community of researchers at CIFAR for shaping her ideas. “I’ve really benefited from scholars at CIFAR who are pushing for serious, empirical study of how social identities affect things like whether we trust government or participate in civic life. The interdisciplinary group of world-class researchers at CIFAR pushes you to think broadly on important issues.”

In this study, Drs. Bloemraad and Wright used cross-national and single-country surveys from Europe, U.S. and Canada, and they measured immigrants’ levels of trust in others and sense of discrimination, their political interest and participation, and their faith in the political system.

Through their analysis, the researchers discovered that immigrants in countries with stronger policies of cultural recognition, like Canada or Sweden, are no less involved in their political community than immigrants in countries with weaker multiculturalism policies, such as Norway or Switzerland.

Canada served as strong evidence in this study. The researchers gave Canada the highest multiculturalism score and found that, in fact, its multiculturalism policies have supported integration. Furthermore, when Drs. Bloemraad and Wright compared Canadian immigrants to their U.S. counterparts, they found that Canadians had more social and political trust, even though they put a greater emphasis on their ethnic identity.

These findings show that Canada does very well on many measures of socio-political integration, suggesting that multiculturalism policy has been useful for integration. The study is also important because it contributes evidence towards a global political debate about multiculturalism and integration that to this day has mainly remained theoretical.