Constructions, Deconstructions, and Reconstructions: Competing Canadian Discourses on Ethnocultural Terminology

Karim H. Karim (McGill University)

Abstract: Dominant, oppositional, alternative, and populist discourses compete with each other through their respective uses of ethnocultural terminology to develop inclusive or exclusive symbolic constructions of Canadian society.

Résumé: Les discours dominant, d'opposition, altérnatif et populiste rivalisent les uns avec les autres par leur utilisation respective de la terminologie ethnoculturelle afin d'élaborer des constructions symboliques de la société canadienne qui englobent ou qui excluent.

Traditional forms of analysis which have treated "Canadian culture" as a unitary concept (Audley, 1983; Task Force on Broadcasting Policy, 1986) are presently being challenged by more polyvalent frameworks of study. Greg M. Nielsen & John D. Jackson have proposed that "cultural studies as a sociological poetics must negate any definition of the one Canadian culture" (1991, p. 294). Another commentator has attempted to demonstrate that Canadian cultural tendencies are characteristically "post-modernist":

Our habit, over the generations, is constantly to call into question, as deconstructionists say, the basis for our history, to re-assess its symbols and, finding them invalid, eliminate them--and to imply, always, that the generation just before us had everything wrong. Like true deconstructionists we are destined forever to spend our lives rethinking our premises....The events of the last three decades, for instance, have "decentred" Canada, making it unsure what is the core and what is the periphery, a condition that post-modernism regards as highly desirable. As a post-modern state we recognize the "indeterminacy" ... of our history and utterly reject, as all good post-modernists do, one agreed-upon "master narrative" that would enslave all of us to a single vision. We prove conclusively (in everything from "dominion" to "distinct") that language is a matter of treacherous, shifting meanings, always freighted with irony. The key to post-modernism is its "questioning of any notion of coherent, stable, autonomous identity (be it individual or national)"--and what could be more Canadian than that? (Fulford, p. 22)

However, while there may not be a "master narrative" in Canada, some cultural discourses do seem to operate in hegemonic manners. Such dominant discourses strongly influence public perceptions of whether particular individuals should be considered members of "in" or "out-groups."

It is in the shifting meanings of words that are used to describe Canada and its population that we can see how symbolic constructions, deconstructions, and reconstructions serve to include or exclude specific types of people. Witness some of the terms that have depicted Canada, its parts, and its inhabitants over the last three centuries: the Iroquois Confederacy, Nouvelle France, Lower Canada, Upper Canada, British North America, confederation, dominion, federal state, nation, provinces, territories, the Great White North, Nunavut, Denedeh, the Arctic, the Pacific region, the West, Central Canada, Atlantic Canada, the Maritimes, Native Canada, English Canada, French Canada, distinct society, ROC (Rest of Canada), bilingual, bicultural, multicultural, multiracial, mosaic, charter groups, founding nations, First Nations, aboriginal peoples, natives, status Indians, reserve Indians, Eskimos, Inuit, Metis, Franco-Québécois, Canadiens français, Québécois de souche, pur laine, Francophones hors Québec, Fransaskois, Franco-Ontariens, les Acadiens, Anglo Quebecers, communautés culturelles, ethnics, ethnocultural minorities, ethnoracial minorities, visible minorities, Whites, Caucasians, official language minorities, anglophones, francophones, English-language speakers, French-language speakers, aboriginal language speakers, heritage language speakers, les allophones, immigrants, permanent residents, first-generation Canadians, new Canadians, DPs (Displaced Persons), convention refugees, economic refugees, boat people, yacht people, etc. This partial list of designations reflecting varying perceptions of Canada and its human occupants is illustrative of how terminology can become a veritable arena of competition between dominant, alternative, oppositional, and populist discourses.

Dominant and Other Discourses

This paper will attempt to look at the struggles between discourses on ethnocultural terminology that are reflective of differing conceptions of Canadian society. While the particular types of discourse discussed in this paper draw inspiration from Philip Schlesinger et al.'s (1983) configuration of "official," "alternative," "populist," and "oppositional" perspectives, they are not conceived here in the same manners. Firstly, a distinction is made between "official" and "dominant" (Williams, 1977, pp. 108-110). According to Schlesinger et al., the "official perspective is the set of views, arguments, explanations, and policy suggestions advanced by those who speak for the state" (p. 2). Such a view espouses a monolithic approach to various types of discourses; in reality, there rarely is complete agreement on any issue in a particular sector of society (Collins, 1989). Some official discourses, even when they appear in legislation, may not be hegemonic if the meanings they propose are actively resisted by important producers of dominant discourses such as the mass media. Secondly, the uses of "alternative" and "opposite" in this study are contrary to those of both Schlesinger et al. (pp. 16, 27) and Williams (p. 113). While oppositional discourses are viewed here as operating within the broad philosophical frameworks of the societies in which the dominant discourses exercise their hegemony, alternative discourses (Herman & O'Sullivan, 1991, p. 39) are conceptualized as those that do not subscribe to the same world views as dominant ones. Lastly, populist discourses are seen as being related to dominant ones in that they both share similar ideological viewpoints. However, populist discourses are expressed in blunt, outspoken manners and voice extreme viewpoints; such modes of speech are not usually adopted by those who participate in dominant discourses since they have to abide by the rules of "civilized society" (Schlesinger et al., 1983, p. 27).

The present study is a qualitative analysis of textual materials, focusing on the socio-political contexts of discourses rather than their semantic structures. Discursive examples for analysis are taken from the mass (mostly print) media, pieces of legislation and other governmental publications, materials produced by ethnocultural organizations, academic sources, and historical references; they are drawn casually from statements produced over the last two centuries in order to give an overview of the evolution of Canadian discourses on ethnicity. The discursive samples are presented in two manners: as illustrations reflective of the dominant ideologies of the producers of the respective textual materials and as examples of alternative discourses. Notwithstanding the ideological function of quotations in the mass media (van Dijk, 1991, pp. 151-153), they do provide some insight into populist, non-media discourses. Media organizations and output are not seen as being monolithic but as cultural spaces where it is possible for non-dominant discourses to appear from time to time. In the cases of newspaper articles which clearly veer away from dominant discourses on ethnicity, it is possible to draw on third party quotations as illustrations of oppositional, alternative or populist discourses. This methodological approach allows for a discussion of the polyvalent nature of Canadian society in which varied interests compete to create public symbols.

Whereas a dominant discourse serves as a matrix for a society's discussions about specific issues, it is not a manifestation of a monolithic and static set of ideological and cultural currents. Its complexities, which reflect the ever-changing structures of power, are shaped by a continually evolving and potentially contradictory combination of assumptions, hypotheses, and world views of socio-economic and cultural elites.

We must remember that this is not a single, unitary, but a plurality of dominant discourses: that they are not deliberately selected by encoders to "reproduce events within the horizon of the dominant ideology," but constitute the field of meanings within which they must choose. Precisely because they have become "universalized and naturalized," they appear to be the only forms of intelligibility available; they have become sedimented as the "only rational, universally valid ones"... that these premises embody the dominant definitions of the situation, and represent or refract the existing structures of power, wealth and domination, hence they structure every event they signify, and accent them in a manner which reproduces the given ideological structures--this process has become unconscious, even for the encoders. (Hall, 1979, pp. 343-344)

Jim Collins (1989) provides strong arguments against the ideas of an absolutely dominant discourse that is present in the mass culture critique; he attempts to show instead that there are several competing discourses "all enjoying significant degrees of popularity with different audiences and institutions within a specific culture" (p. 114). However, such a perspective--if taken too far--would fail to explain the discursive strategies which elites use in sustaining their power in society (van Dijk, 1989, pp. 18-59).

While hegemonic interests may not agree at all times on all matters, their broad consensuses on major issues at particular junctures in history are mirrored by the dominant discourses that provide the definitions, theoretical paradigms, agendas and frameworks within which meanings are constructed. These reference points form the bases for public communication about key topics such as culture, democracy, violence, and science (Williams, 1983). Certain (conscious and unconscious) uses of language and visual imagery and the presentation of information by dominant discourses tend broadly to reinforce the status quo. Preferred networks of terminology and preferred meanings of terms (Hall, 1979) prevail in important discussions while alternative terminology and meanings are either disparaged or disregarded. The mass media are vital channels for dominant discourses (van Dijk, 1991), which continually reproduce themselves in self-referential manners through the constant interaction between various communication channels. While oppositional, alternative, and populist discourses are carried by the mass media from time to time, they tend on the aggregate to be overwhelmed by the ubiquity of dominant discourses.

Although an oppositional discourse may criticize a dominant discourse's specific viewpoints, they both generally subscribe to the same sets of fundamental myths and premises; the struggles of oppositional discourses with dominant ones are political (reflecting conflicts between elites) rather than ideological. Alternative discourses provide more serious challenges to the hegemonic order by engaging in deconstructions of dominant discourses. Nevertheless, the latter, through their pre-eminent and ubiquitous character, usually manage over time to overwhelm or reconstruct messages that do not conform to their own ideological frameworks. One of the primary features of a dominant discourse is its power to comment upon and interpret major issues and events; it maintains its superiority by being dynamic, continually co-opting and transmuting the words, images, and symbols of other discursive modes that threaten its propaganda efforts. In this way, it corresponds to the manoeuvring of elites by whom it is produced and whose positions it reinforces. While a dominant discourse is at times influenced by oppositional and alternative discourses, its ability to overcome them is at the heart of its power to sustain its hegemonic status. Populist discourses, which mainly operate at the level of everyday talk, tend to have elements that are ideologically similar to some dominant discourses but they are more conservative in their assumptions, retaining political and social characterizations considered outmoded in dominant discourses. They also lack the ready access to mass media that the latter usually enjoy. Yet, populist discourses have a greater capacity (compared to oppositional and alternative discourses) to influence dominant ones with whom they share broad socio-political viewpoints.

Struggles between the four forms of discourses can be conceptualized in the following manners. Dominant discourses construct the parameters of meaning within which certain terms are used in public discussions of particular issues; oppositional discourses may take exception to aspects of specific terms but do not question their fundamental validity. The ideological bases of terminology networks and meanings proposed by dominant discourses may, however, be challenged more seriously by alternative discourses. New words expressing alternative ideas or new meanings of existing terms may appear through deconstructive processes and may even be enshrined in legislation. But ultimately, and often with the collusion of conservative populist discourses manifested in daily conversations, dominant discourses reconstruct the previous meanings of the older terms or place the newer ones proposed by alternative discourses into ideological frameworks of the status quo.

However, these discursive struggles rarely occur in such linear fashions; it is more usual for "synchronic tensions" (Collins, 1989, p. 134) to occur simultaneously between various discourses. Thus, in the Canadian ethnocultural context there exist concurrent struggles between competing concepts like anglo-conformity, biculturalism, multiculturalism, and non-differentiated Canadianism. Multiculturalism poses a particularly strong challenge to a socio-political order that would exclude those belonging to ethnic minorities from participation in mainstream institutions of Canadian society. "The liberal demand to include the excluded in the name of cultural pluralism carries within itself the seeds of a far more radical demand--the demand for a cultural redefinition and reconstruction of the sphere of inclusion itself, i.e., the sphere that sets the cultural boundaries of the public realm" (Bridges, 1991, p. 7). However, notwithstanding the Canadian state's allocation of symbolic resources to minority groups through legislative and administrative vehicles (Breton, 1984), the latter are largely unable to gain effective control of the dominant discourses of society (Itwaru, 1991). Traditional socio-cultural elites, in maintaining their substantive control of key institutions such as the mass media (Royal Commission on Newspapers, 1981), are able continually to reinterpret public symbols in their own favour. Thus, having deconstructed exclusionary social structures, the alternative discourses of multiculturalism then lose ground to the dominant discourses of elites, which proceed to reconstruct symbolically parts of the old order in which certain types of people were legally considered subservient to others (Patmore, 1990, pp. 7-28). This paper, through an analysis of the competition between various Canadian discourses on ethnocultural terminology, will consider the manners in which processes of construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction take place.

One, Two, or Many Nations

Some of the major struggles for discursive dominance in Canada, often mirroring those in political and socio-economic arenas, take place with the production of new terms and the appropriation of the meanings of older ones. In most cases, societal consensus is maintained on key words; however, when there exist deep differences over important socio-political terms they usually reflect disagreements between elites. The competing senses of "nation" is a primary example: the differing uses of the same term seem to mirror the ongoing struggle for a redefinition of the places of various collectivities within the country. While the word is at times used to refer to Canada as a whole, there has long been in existence the notion of the British and the French as "two founding nations." In Québec, "nation" is frequently reserved to mean just that province--where one often hears of conflicts between "Québec nationalists" and "Canadian federalists." This oppositional discourse is manifested in designations of institutions such as "L'Assemblée nationale," the provincial parliament, and "La Confédération des syndicats nationaux." While the nationhood of Québec remains within the domain of an oppositional Canadian discourse, dominant discourses have incorporated the dualist notion of "English and French Canada," as will be discussed later.

There has recently emerged another claimant to "nationhood" within Canada. On May 26, 1992, the main headline in the English-language daily The Globe and Mail was: "A Tale of Two Nations." The "two nations" referred to here were not the French and the British: this was instead a story about the contrary positions of the Québec government and leaders of aboriginal peoples in the country's constitutional debate. By reducing the constitutional problems of the country to conflicts between Québec and the native peoples, the article in the Toronto-based "National Newspaper" seemed to be raising "English Canada" above the fray and portraying it as a mere observer. This particular strategy appeared cynically to be using the alternative discourse that posits the aboriginal Canadian population as consisting of nations against the oppositional discourse of "the Québec nation" to reconstruct the paternalistic role of traditional British hegemony over the country.

There are frequent implicit references to Canada as an "English nation," which are so integrated in some dominant discourse as to become "naturalized" and "unconscious" (Hall, 1979, pp. 343-344). At the bottom of the same front page of The Globe and Mail was another piece titled "Tuckered-out Baby Boomers Affecting the Rest of the Nation," referring to the changing time-slot of a nightly English-language newscast of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation called "The National." The self-description of the newspaper itself appearing at the top of its front page read, "Canada's National Newspaper." In these cases, "nation" and "national"--although intended to mean the entire Canadian population--could in practical terms refer only to English-speaking Canadians. "Post-modernism's major distinguishing characteristic is that it is `double-coded"' (Collins, 1989, p. 129); thus the newspaper could, without fear of contradiction or irony, simultaneously use two senses of "nation" and expect readers to understand what was meant in both instances.The English-language Maclean's magazine also refers to itself as "Canada's Newsweekly Magazine." Nielsen & Jackson assert that " `English-Canada' does not define itself as a separate nation" (1991, p. 283); however, the above-mentioned tendencies by the English-language "national" media indicate that they implicitly view Canada as a primarily English-speaking country.

After being virtually invisible in dominant discourses (Perrigoe, 1990) the image of Canada's native peoples as a "third nation" has been increasingly apparent in the symbolic place being accorded to them in the public domain. The growing awareness in the country of its aboriginal peoples in the last few years seems to have occurred after two dramatic incidents that took place in 1990: the part played by Elijah Harper, a native Manitoba legislative assembly member, in the non-ratification of the Meech Lake Accord between the federal government and the provinces and, secondly, a military stand-off at Oka near a Mohawk reservation in Québec. This new interest in the indigenous peoples of Canada has been reflected in intensified media coverage and an increased number of publications dealing with them. Participation by leaders of aboriginal organizations in constitutional negotiations not only gave them a place at the table but also a high profile in the media coverage of the talks.

While native peoples have long called themselves "First Nations" in the plural, during the negotiations they sought the status of a singular "third founding people" of Canada. This would have shifted the image of several aboriginal nations into one within a country of three nations. Although this alternative discourse did not feature in the 1992 constitutional agreement, it was part of the media discussions about the issue. One Southam News story described the vision of native leader Ovide Mercredi, who reportedly wished to see the country as "One nation, [with] three flags":

The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations doesn't have a symbol in mind but when natives win recognition for self-government their flag would fly with equal status along side the fleur-de-lis and the red maple leaf.... He says the House of Commons, the military, currency and perhaps the Supreme Court of Canada, would be shared by the country's three founders. (The Ottawa Citizen, February 15, 1992, p. B2)

"Native Canada," as The Toronto Star (April 24, 1992, p. A16) called it, also made a claim similar to that of Québec in describing itself as consisting of "distinct societies." Whereas the federal government did not recognize such claims, it did in March 1992 proclaim the 19th century Métis leader, Louis Riel, as a "founder of Manitoba" (The Globe and Mail, March 11, 1992, p. A5). And the constitutional agreement arrived at in August 1992 recognized that "the aboriginal peoples of Canada, being the first people to govern this land, have the right to promote their languages, cultures and traditions and to ensure the integrity of their societies, and their governments constitute one of the three orders of government in Canada" (Consensus Report, 1992, p. 1). Thus, the alternative discourses of Canada's indigenous communities did manage to deconstruct their older subservient images during the constitutional debate. However, in the aftermath of the rejection of the constitutional accord in the referendum of October 1992, reconstructive tendencies of the dominant discourses appear once again to be re-placing major political issues within the exclusive conceptual dichotomy of "English and French Canada."

True Canadians and Pure Wool Quebecers

In popular discourses the term "nationality" is frequently used to refer to the national origins or ethnicity of minorities. Such uses appear to hark back to a sense of the word which is still current in eastern Europe. Even though in contemporary legal language the nationality of these minorities is Canadian, the populist application of the term implies that it is not. Interestingly, such use of "nationality" rarely occurs when speaking of Canadians of British, French or aboriginal origins; it seems to operate as a means to distinguish "true Canadians" from the Others. According to the broadcaster Dwight Whylie (himself of Caribbean origins), the following exclusionary definition of a "true Canadian" is operational in society: "You are white. You are Christian, either Protestant or Roman Catholic. You are anglophone or you are francophone. And you can trace your ancestry to Britain or France. If you belong to that definition, you're 100 per cent Canadian" (Calgary Herald, October 21, 1990, p. B3). Even though more than a third of all Canadians have at least one ethnic origin other than French or British (Ledoux & Pendakur, 1990, p. 7), such exclusionary tendencies are part of the discursive strategies determining when these people can be described as "Canadians." At the height of his athletic career, the sprinter Ben Johnson was portrayed by sportscasters as a national hero; but in the wake of a positive steroid test, the same sources presented him as a deplorable and criminal immigrant from Jamaica (Cantleton, 1988).

A similar, exclusive use of "Québécois" also appears in populist discourse from time to time. One question in a 1989 Montréal school board survey of parents read: "Would you prefer that there be some schools for pure Quebecois and others for ethnics, schools that are mixed half-and-half, or that things remain as they are?" (The Globe and Mail, November 9, 1989, p. A3). This distinction is sometimes made further specific as in "Québécois de veille souche" (Quebecers of old stock) or "pur laine" (pure wool), referring to those descended from the original settlers from France. An article in Montréal's largest-circulation French-language daily stated: "Il y a aussi l'école Ahuntsic, dans le nord de la ville, qui a une population à 70 p. cent haïtienne, 20 p. cent latino-américaine, 5 p. cent grecque et asiatique et 5 p. cent québécoise de vielle souche" (La Presse, May 5, 1992, p. A2). Within this exclusive scheme "Canadian" and "Québécois" become antonyms of "ethnics," who remain outsiders even after generations of residence in the country.

Perhaps as a result of such usage some "visible minorities" (Canadians of non-European and non-aboriginal origins) themselves often reserve "Canadian" to mean only someone with European origins (Taiana & Elliot, n.d.). They tend to identify their own selves by the designations of their ethnicity or national origins ("Chinese," "Black," "Sikh," etc.), thus remaining outside the community of "true Canadians." As Tony Wilden notes in his book on The imaginary Canadian,

The parasitical ignorance of the dominant in these matters is alone a problem quite serious enough. It becomes even more awesome and dangerous to human wellbeing in its effects when those who are the targets of these real and Imaginary objectifications are so overwhelmed by the insidious power and the daily insistence of these violences that they come unconsciously to believe them to be true. The result will be that they will match their objectification by the Other with an objectification of themselves, by themselves. They will tend to match their stereotyping by the Other with an unconscious collusion in the stereotyped roles laid out for them. They will match the hatred expressed by the representatives of the Other with self-hatred, and with a hatred of others like themselves. (Wilden, 1980, p. 109)

One discursive strategy to overcome such exclusion from mainstream Canadian society has been the use of "hyphenated Canadianism." Thus there are "South Asian-Canadians," "French-Canadians," "Arab-Canadians," "Greek-Canadians," etc. While this still maintains some distance from "true" Canadianness, it does allow for partial inclusion within Canadian society. In fact, removal of all ethnocultural designations would ignore the real differences in life chances that exist due to active discrimination against particular groups (Henry & Ginzberg, 1985). Some dominant discourses promote an undifferentiated Canadianism that would deny scrutiny of the power lying in the hands of dominant groups and lead to the symbolic reconstruction of the previous social order in which the status of people of non-European origins was legally inferior (Patmore, 1990, pp. 7-28). It is not surprising therefore that the mainly right-wing columnists of the Sun newspaper chain regularly attack "hyphenated Canadianism." For purposes of research and of administration of government policies designed to alleviate inequalities it becomes necessary to gather information according to ethnocultural distinctions. Thus, in particular contexts, "hyphenated Canadianism" serves a strategic function and becomes a discursive means to resist reconstructions of an order in which an undifferentiated Canadianism would deny disadvantaged minorities state support they require to enhance their socio-economic conditions.

Ethnic, Ethnocultural, and Race

Conceptual confusions surrounding "ethnic" have been attributed to "the political struggles in society around exclusive and inclusive group membership" (Abercrombie et al., 1988, p. 90). The marginalizing, exclusionary tendencies of this word are apparent from its origins and usage over the last 2,000 years. Raymond Williams traces its roots to ethnikos, an ancient Greek word that bore the sense of heathen. "Ethnic" has continued to be used in an exclusionary way right into this century.

It was widely used [in English] in the senses of heathen, pagan or Gentile, until C19 [the nineteenth century], when this sense was generally superseded by the sense of RACIAL (q.v.) characteristic. Ethnics came to be used in the United States as what was described in 1961 as "a polite term for Jews, Italians and other lesser breeds." (Williams, 1983, p. 119)

In social science discourses "ethnicity" has come to refer increasingly to social groups with shared languages, customs, institutions, and/or beliefs in common ancestry (Abercrombie et al., 1988, p. 90). Within such an inclusive perspective all identified collectivities, whose members share such characteristics--not only marginalized ones--are referred to as "ethnic" groups.

As a result of an international climate that favoured the growth of human rights and following sustained lobbying by minority ethnic groups, the federal government of Canada and some provinces adopted legislation that reflected alternative cultural perspectives (Patmore, 1990, pp. 39-41; Stasiulis, 1988). Official discourses therefore began to shift away from the dominant discourses which continued to marginalize minorities. The term "ethnocultural" is sometimes used by minority groups and government multiculturalism departments in the inclusive social scientific sense of "ethnic," thus referring even to collectivities of British, French, aboriginal origins as "ethnocultural groups" (Angus Reid Group, 1992, pp. 49-52). However, this term is also applied in two exclusive manners: it is sometimes used to refer only to those Canadians of non-British, non-French or non-aboriginal origins, and is at times made more specific in meaning Canadians of European origins other than British or French. The latter denotation arises from the semantic requirement to identify those minority ethnic groups which are neither "visible minorities" nor aboriginal. Thus, reflecting the cultural-political dynamics of the country, there co-exist three distinct meanings of "ethnocultural" in public discourses. Augie Fleras, in an attempt to provide a term that would meet the research need to study the treatment of all Canadians of non-British and non-French backgrounds by the mass media, offers what appears to be a new term that would include all minorities:

... "ethnoracial" minority is employed in a broader sense to include both racial + ethnic groups, as well as aboriginal peoples. In one sense this inclusiveness is a "mistake." Aboriginal peoples most emphatically reject themselves as another minority group, and much of the current politics in redefining aboriginal-state relations are based on distancing aboriginal "nations" from immigrants and their descendants.... For our purposes aboriginal and ethnoracial (ethnic + racial) minorities are classified together on the grounds they as a group are structurally similar in occupying a relatively powerless position in society. (Fleras, p. 2)

However, Fleras does not define either "ethnic" or "race," another term which is fraught with problems.

In the mid-nineteenth century Social Darwinists gave "race" a particular sense by extending the ideas of evolution "from their biological source, where they referred to relations between species, to social and political conflicts and consequences within one species, the human" (Williams, 1983, p. 249). Such thinking, which still remains part of some populist discourses on the subject, was to be found even in official government publications earlier in this century:

In a strictly biological sense, the term "race" signifies a subgroup of the human species related by ties of physical kinship. Scientists have attempted to divide and subdivide the human species into groups on the basis of biological traits, such as shape of the head, stature, colour of skin, etc., and to such groups and to such only, would the biologist apply the term "race." (Dominion Bureau of Statistics, 1929, p. 12)

In some less "scientific" discourses, the term had also been used to imply cultural differences between the two largest ethnic groups in Canada. In the 1840s the Governor-General Lord Durham, recently arrived from London, wrote about the political tensions between the British and the French: "I expected to find a contest between a government and a people; I found two nations warring in the bosom of a single state: I found a struggle not of principles but of races" (McNaught, 1976, p. 94). Although Durham's proposal for the assimilation of the French residents of British North America through a policy of anglo-conformity was rejected by the nascent Canadian state, the dichotomized way of seeing the Canadian polity became the basis of the dominant socio-political discourse. The country came to be viewed as "bilingual" and "bicultural," two terms which were officially used in a dyadic fashion until 20 years ago.

Bilingualism, Biculturalism, Multiculturalism

In the 1960s, the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism found vehement opposition from the larger non-British, non-French collectivities of European origins to the view of Canada as primarily British and French (1970). In 1971, the federal government adopted the policy of "multiculturalism within a bilingual framework." British and French origins (Nielsen & Jackson, 1991). Announcing the policy, Pierre Trudeau, then Prime Minister, said:

We believe that cultural pluralism is the very essence of Canadian identity. Every ethnic group has the right to preserve and develop its own culture and values within the Canadian context. To say we have two official languages is not to say we have two official cultures, and no particular culture is more "official" than another. A policy of multiculturalism must be a policy for all Canadians. (Harney, 1988, p. 69)

But while biculturalism ceased to be part of the official lexicon due to pressure from the alternative discourses of minority groups, it seems to continue to be part of some dominant discourses' symbolic reconstructions of the country. Occasional references are still made in the mass media to biculturalism in describing the cultural character of Canada, and the term sometimes surfaces in high-profile pronouncements as well. Testifying in April 1988 before the House of Commons legislative committee studying the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, the previous Commissioner of Official Languages, Yves Fortier, stated "his support for a policy on multiculturalism, provided that it respected Canada's official bilingualism and that newcomers were able to learn our official languages and the cultural values they convey" (Ohan, 1988, p. 22; emphasis added). And in a 1990 decision on official minority-language education rights, the Supreme Court of Canada referred to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as "a linchpin in this nation's commitment to the values of bilingualism and biculturalism" (The Globe and Mail, March 16, 1990, p. A1).

Even though the official languages policy has been reformulated according to the new direction indicated in 1971, in some dominant discourses biculturalism has blended with its sister concept of bilingualism. Thus "multiculturalism within a bilingual framework" is frequently reinterpreted to mean multiculturalism within a bicultural framework, thus reconstructing the dominance of the two majority cultures. The Official Languages Act (1988), which designated English and French as the two public languages of the country, manifested a policy officially inclusive of all "English-speaking Canadians and French-speaking Canadians ... without regard to their ethnic origin or first language learned" (preamble). "English-speaking Canadians" and "French-speaking Canadians" are usually referred to in some dominant and populist discourses as "anglophones" and "francophones." However, in these discourses "anglophone" frequently means just those people with British ethnic origins--not all English-language speakers--and "francophones" only those with French ethnic origins--not all French-language speakers.

In the province of Québec there exists a tripartite linguistic distinction of "les francophones," "les anglophones," and "les allophones." Although the latter category refers to people whose mother tongues are neither French nor English, the first two may include some assimilated individuals of European origins who use French or English as mother tongues. However, people of colour who may similarly speak French or English as first languages rarely escape the designation of "les allophones" in dominant discourses. Such transformation of linguistic categories into ethnocultural ones are even more overt in a publication of the Fédération des communautés francophone et acadienne du Canada, which largely represents the interests of non-Québécois French-language speakers descended from the early settlers from France: "Francophones of Canadian origin, having common ethnic and cultural origins, constitute an ethnic group in the strictest meaning of the term, just as do citizens from Ukrainian, Chinese, or Scottish descent" (Churchill & Kaprielian-Churchill, 1991, pp. 78-79).

"Multicultural," like "francophone" and "anglophone," has also become an exclusive ethnic category: it is frequently applied only to those people with non-British, non-French, or non-aboriginal origins in dominant and popular discourses. Whereas the mass media habitually refer to gatherings including people with Dutch, Vietnamese, German, or Haitian origins as "multicultural events," similar meetings involving Scottish, Welsh, and French Canadians are rarely described in the same manner. The headline of a Toronto Star article on the demand of the Canadian Ethnocultural Council, an umbrella organization of ethnic minority associations, to participate in the constitutional negotiations read "Multicultural groups want to be included in unity talks" (March 4, 1992, p. A9); variations of this term are "the multicultural community" and "multicultural Canadians." According to Jean Burnet, a leading Canadian ethnic studies scholar, "The word multicultural entered into everyday speech, usually as a euphemism for ethnic, which in turn was, as a character in one of Rohinton Mistry's short stories explained to another, `a polite way of saying bloody foreigner' " (1989, p. 11). The official term for those of non-French, non-British backgrounds in Quebec is "les communautés culturelles." This designation seems at times to appear in English as well: an Ontario community association told the Citizens' Forum on Canada's Future: "it should be the job of the cultural groups to look after preserving their own language and other aspects of their previous culture" (1991, p. 87). However, when the term appears in the singular as in "the cultural community" (The Globe and Mail, June 3, 1992, p. A14) it usually refers to the members of mainstream cultural institutions not those who work with "ethnic" art forms. This was also apparent in the name of the former "Ministry of Culture and Multiculturalism" in the province of Alberta.

There appears to be in some populist discourses, especially those of younger age groups, a dichotomy between people who are "multicultural" and those who are "White." This was indicated in an incident reported in The Edmonton Journal, in which a certain Paul Dvorak, who had origins in Sri Lanka, was beaten up by a skinhead who seemed to be objecting to Dvorak having what was supposedly a "White" first name: "While he was hitting me, he was telling me that I was a piece of multicultural trash ... that I shouldn't be allowed to be white," Dvorak was quoted saying (The Edmonton Journal, January 23, 1990, p. A1). This appears to hark back to the image of Canada as "a White man's country," a popular notion in dominant discourses of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Ward, 1978). It seems that such members of society, who remain unsocialized into dominant discourses but share their conservative ideology, continue to use the older discursive structures which unapologetically discriminated against certain types of people. In another unrelated incident, students in an Ottawa-area elementary school seemed to be making a connection between being of Portuguese origin and not being "White": " `A lot of my friends were white, white, white,' says Manuela, whose parents are Portuguese....`They'd make fun of my accent, or they'd say we don't want you in our group because you're not really white' " (The Ottawa Citizen, May 13, 1992, p. B1). The implication here seems to be that even Europeans of non-British, non-French origins, especially southern Europeans, who do not have "Canadian" accents are not members of the in-group, i.e., are not really "Canadian." Such populist discourses are more overt in their racism than the subtler discriminatory practices of some mainstream institutions that are part of dominant society (Henry & Ginzberg, 1985). There remains, however, an interactive discursive relationship between populist and dominant discourses, with the former expressing the sentiments unacceptable to "civilized society" (Schlesinger et al., 1983, p. 27).

Visible Minority, Immigrant

"Visible minority" seems to have been formulated in Canada in the early 1970s as a result of the attempts of alternative discourses to deal with discrimination against people of non-European ethnic origins. It appears to have been devised to overcome ideological problems related to designations such as "racial minorities," but has been criticized "because it leaves out groups of people who also commonly experience racism and discrimination. `Visible minorities' does not seem to include, for example, many Latin Americans, southern Europeans and Jews" (Cohen, 1983, p. 2). The term has become part of the legal lexicon in Canada since the proclamation of the federal Employment Equity Act in 1986. This law seeks to correct "conditions of disadvantage in employment experienced" by "designated groups" who were identified as "women, aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities, and visible minorities" (Employment and Immigration Canada, 1988, p. 59). For the purpose of this act, "Members of visible minorities are persons, other than aboriginal persons, who are non-Caucasian in race and non-white in colour ..." (ibid.). Interestingly, one of the earliest uses of the term, which was in a study of ethnic representativity in mass media advertising, was inclusive of aboriginal peoples (Elkin, 1971). Its reconstruction seems to have been carried out in accordance with the insistence of native peoples of Canada, as noted above (Fleras, p. 2), that their problems of disadvantage be treated separately from those of other minority groups.

Another study of proportions of minorities in the media by the Association of Canadian Cinema, Television, and Radio Artists (ACTRA) appears to have led to the coining of a related term, "audible minorities," that accounts for discrimination due to accent (Deverell, 1987). This and several other studies have shown that minority members tend to be marginalized in television programming (Karim & Sansom, 1992). According to the 1986 national census, visible minorities comprised 6.3% of the Canadian population (Lambert et al., 1989: technical annex), a figure that has grown since that time due to considerable immigration from Asia and the Caribbean. However, a series of television advertisements promoting the beer brand Molson Canadian, which was aired during the early 1990s and which did not feature a single visible minority actor, could still proclaim: "It's what being Canadian is all about." Such portrayal of the population in the dominant discourse appears to reconstruct older notions of Canada as "a White man's country" by denying the existence of visible minorities in the country. Canadian history and social science textbooks have also traditionally ignored the presence in Canada of peoples other than those with British or French origins (McDiarmid & Pratt, 1971).

Marginalization of minority groups regularly takes place in Canadian newspapers as well. Ethnic minority members are usually not reported upon in major stories but covered mainly by reporters assigned to the "multicultural beat" (Karim & Sansom, 1992). The subservient place of "the multicultural community" was graphically portrayed in a now discontinued Ottawa Citizen Sunday feature called "Mosaic," a parallel term of "multiculturalism." This feature appeared in the late 1980s on the city page along with the companion columns, "Local Hero" and "The Valley." "Mosaic" consistently featured non-British and mostly visible minority communities in the Ottawa area, while the other two columns largely featured people of British heritage. This journalistic scheme seemed to imply that the Ottawa region's heroes were not to be found among its ethnic minority residents, who also did not have a particular location such as the Ottawa Valley with which they could be identified. The linking of members of dominant collectivities with a specific location within Canada while denying the same treatment to others appears to be fairly prevalent in the mass media. Through this tendency dominant discourses appear symbolically to deny the attachment and belonging of minority members to the Canadian terra. For example, according to a recent Canadian Press article, the participants in the First World War Battle of Vimy Ridge included "Westerners, Ontarions, Quebeckers, Immigrants" (The Ottawa Citizen, April 4, 1992, p. B4). In this scheme, which attempted to be making a distinction between the older residents of Canada and newer arrivals, immigrants to Canada did not seem to have a home in a Canadian province or territory.

Another example of this exclusionary tendency in the press was in an article titled "A Personal Look at the Supreme Court Justices" (The Ottawa Citizen, April 11, 1992, p. B2) written by the Southam News legal affairs writer. A clear connection was made in these biographical sketches between immigration status and references to the hometowns of individual judges according to ethnicity. Justice Antonio Lamer was a "native of the streets of Montreal's brawling east end," Gerard La Forest was a "native of Grand Falls, N.B.," Claire L'Heureux-Dube "decided to go to law school ... in Rimouski, Que.," Peter Cory was a "Windsor native," Charles Gonthier "keeps a `pied à terre' in Ottawa ... [and] frequently spends weekends in Montreal or at the family cabin in the Laurentians," Beverly McLachlin was a "self-described `farm-girl' from Pincher Creek, Alta.," and William Stevenson was an "Edmonton native." However, the opening line in the write-up on Frank Iacobucci read: "The son of Italian immigrants"; apart from the mention at the end of the third paragraph that he was "vice-president of the University of Toronto" there was no indication of where his Canadian roots were. John Sopinka fared a little better as a "Saskatchewan native," but readers were also told that he was the "son of Ukrainian immigrants." No direct mention was made of the other judges' ethnicity, the implication being that it was not necessary to do so when speaking of people with British or French names. This was also apparent in references in the mass media's coverage of John Turner, a former Prime Minister. Even though Turner was born in England and accompanied his Canadian-born mother to Canada as a child, he was almost never referred to as an immigrant or as having had a British father.

"Immigrant" and "refugee" are seen by many as pejorative terms and are avoided as self-descriptions. Thus an editorial in The Globe and Mail emphatically dismissed a Multiculturalism minister's statement that "We're all immigrants" (May 15, 1985, p. A6), which had attempted to portray Canada's entire population as having origins in other parts of the world. Another alternative view of some indigenous people of Canada who look upon all others as immigrants or descendants of immigrants is also strongly rejected by dominant discourses. The federal government presently appears to be reducing its use of the word "immigrant" in its language: in the mid-1980s Employment and Immigration Canada changed the official designation of what used to be "landed immigrants" to "permanent residents," and the Department of Multiculturalism and Citizenship refers to "first-generation Canadians" ("new Canadians" is also in use). Such language in official discourses appears to be an attempt towards being more inclusive of newer arrivals. However, these terms have not become part of populist and dominant discourses, in which there seems to exist a certain semantic calculus that endows "Canadian" and immigrant status by ethnicity.


Cultural studies have a unique opportunity to "take up the critical space" (Nielsen & Jackson, 1991, p. 294) as notions of a unitary Canadian collectivity gradually disappear from academic and policy paradigms. The increasing recognition of the many cultures existing within the borders of Canada requires the development of polyvalent theoretical and analytical models that can aid in the understanding of the multicultural country. Post-modernist conceptions of decentred societies in which a diversity of discourses is continually competing for the attention of audiences seem particularly suited to studying contemporary socio-cultural developments. Polyvalent approaches can also avoid the encapsulation of major issues into the exclusive dichotomies of "English and French Canada," "aboriginals and non-aboriginals," and "visible minorities and non-visible minorities."

Deconstructions of the processes involved in the production of public discourses on ethnocultural terminology has been presented here as a way of understanding discursive struggles in present-day Canadian society. Exclusions and inclusions of ethnocultural collectivities through the use of particular terms and meanings by dominant, oppositional, alternative, and populist discourses serve to determine who is given real access to economic and social resources. Dominant Canadian discourses regularly carry out explicit and implicit hierarchical constructions of a society consisting of "anglophones and francophones," "aboriginal peoples," and "the multicultural community." Attempts to gather all Canadians under a common and non-discriminatory citizenship are continually subverted by reconstructions that discursively recreate older socio-political orders. Even though the legislative infrastructure limiting the rights of people of non-European origins to immigrate to the country, to vote in elections, to own property, and to work in certain professions, as well as to be safe from arbitrary categorization as "enemy aliens," is steadily being dismantled, discursive structures that supported such exclusionary laws seem more resistant to change. Uncovering the dynamics by which such discourses operate may help in eliminate the barriers they create against the entry of minorities into mainstream institutions.

Receipt of symbolic resources that legally establish equity in society, although necessary, will of itself be insufficient to guarantee real advancement. The power to publicly interpret cultural and political symbols is key to achieving and sustaining equality. Although minorities are able discursively to deconstruct hegemonic structures, they largely lack the capabilities to engage in reconstructions of these structures within more inclusive paradigms. In order to acquire these capabilities members of minorities need to operate in significant numbers in the mainstream as writers, journalists, editors, broadcasters, film-makers, artists, and critics as well as publishers, owners, and board members of cultural institutions. If they can do this without assimilating into dominant cultures they may begin to partake in discourses that publicly discuss who is a Canadian and what are Canadian cultures. Multiculturalism as a post-modernist project offers the prospect in which varying perspectives can share discursive space, and in which public discourses can be polyvalent. However, the realization of this ideal is dependent upon the socio-political elites, who presently control dominant discourses, making room for minority voices.


Culture, as opposed to material culture, is seen here within the broader perspective of meaning creation (Carey, 1989, p. 44).
Raymond Williams has the following to say about the notion of hegemony: "it is not limited to matters of direct political control but seeks to describe a more general predominance which includes, as one of its key features, a particular way of seeing the world and human nature and relationships....Thus an emphasis on hegemony and the hegemonic has come to include cultural as well as political and economic factors ..." (1983, p. 145).
Ideology is viewed here as "the general process of the production of meanings and ideas" (Williams, 1977, p. 55).
In referring to London's business and financial community, Christopher McCall draws attention to a definition of elites as the existence of groups within ethnic collectivities, which partake in a totality of a shared life-style: "a relatively small group of businessmen and bankers who speak with the same accent, have their clothes made by the same tailors, went to the same schools, take the same newspapers, go to the same concerts, and marry each other's sisters" (1990, p. 64). C. Wright Mills noted "Almost everywhere in America, the metropolitan upper classes have in common, more or less, race, religion, and nativity. Even if they are not of long family descent, they are uniformly of longer American origin than the underlying population.... In various cities, Italian, Jewish and Irish Catholic families--having become wealthy and powerful--have risen high in status. But however important, these are still exceptions: the model of the upper social classes is still `pure' by race, by ethnic group, by national extraction" (1956, p. 60). Peter C. Newman remarked, "Although the Canadian Establishment is coming increasingly under American control ... it remains dominated by Old Canada Wasps, holding proud and together through the right career histories and, most emphatically, the right connections" (1977, p. 446). Elites in this paper are not viewed only as people wielding economic power, but also those who have the ability to shape public opinion through institutionalized access to symbolic resources (Porter, 1965, pp. 457-519).
This policy, that conceptually separated language from culture, was apparently formulated to deal with the administrative problem of functioning in a culturally pluralistic society with a manageable number of official languages. Additionally, "multiculturalism" was predicated upon ethnic rather than regional diversity which also manifests pluralities of cultures within ethnic collectivities, including those of


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