The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Ethnocultural Groups
The Justice System in Canada
A Review of the Issues

Ethnocultural Diversity and Justice

1.6 The Report

The purpose of this report is to present a synthesis and overview of the major issues presented in the reports described above and in other studies and documents dealing with aspects of multiculturalism and justice. It is not a report of an extensive community consultation per se, but one of the background studies used to prepare this document was a survey of community perspectives.<31> The report summarizes and provides a systematic overview of research findings. The analysis focuses on what these findings mean for identifying policy priorities, and for proceeding with policy and program development options.

The report offers a systematic overview of issues in multiculturalism and justice. The overview of issues is based on both the existent literature and on the views of the representatives of ethnocultural groups in Canada. The review of the literature will draw upon the research reports noted above, other research carried out by the Department of Justice Canada<32> and other recent Canadian research.

To reduce the size of this report, it does not treat in extensive detail the material presented in the various background studies. This document aims to summarize and synthesize the main issues which appear in these other research reports. Readers wishing to explore the issues in greater detail, should refer to the numerous excellent studies on which this report is based.

This report is intended to be a basis for action. The research results presented here represent a considerable body of developing knowledge. As one would expect, however, in an emerging area of scholarship in which little Canadian research has been carried out, there are many lacunae. Where the research appears to be reasonably conclusive, and is a basis on which policy and program decisions can be made with some empirically-based assurance, this is indicated.

There are issues where the extent of knowledge is not conclusive. In these situations, the preferred option is action-oriented research and development in the form of experimental pilot projects or program changes with appropriate monitoring and evaluative research to assess the results and suggest required program or policy changes. Finally, continued basic research of the sort carried out for the preparation of this report is recommended.

1.7 A Note on Terminology

This area of study is typified by the uncertain use of terminology. Some of the standard terminology found in the social science literature is not found in popular discourse. Terminology used in popular discourse carries uncertain meanings. The purpose of this section is not to sort out the terminology issue definitively, but to specify how terminology will be used in this report. Ethnic group: This is the most generic and basic term. It refers to people who belong together in a group by virtue of common descent and common characteristics which are considered socially relevant. This quality of ethnicity may be simultaneously defined by the members of the group and imposed by the definitions and actions of others. Language, religion, physical features such as skin colour, cultural features such as distinctive manner of dress, occupation, or place of origin are among the main characteristics which singly or in combination may be the socially relevant factors by which ethnicity is defined.

Ethnic group is a descriptive and not a normative term. Quebecois, FrancoOntarians, and people of British origin can properly be considered ethnic groups. Some are dominant and some are subordinate; this is an aspect of intergroup reactions discussed below.

It is important to come to terms with the concept of race. In both professional and popular discourse, race has biological connotations. However, social and biological scientists eschew the term race as a useful basis for distinguishing groupings of people. There are greater "within group" differences than "between-group" differences with regard to any human groups which might be ~ defined socially as racially distinct. Thus, the term is not very useful on technical grounds. However, the term is widely used and understood in the popular culture to refer to groups of people who have distinguishing skin colour and other similar physical traits. The history and politics of "racial" conflict, inequality, prejudice and discrimination has great power in the popular culture.

The concept of race or racial group can easily be encompassed by the more general term ethnicity. The specific nature of ethnic relations which characterize the attitudes between the nature of social interaction and the structured social inequalities between ethnic groups, whatever their defining characteristics, can vary greatly in time and place. But in this time and place, race is important, and is used often as distinct from ethnicity to connote a high degree of intergroup conflict or a greater degree of inequality between groups which are distinguished by skin colour. At times, the terms race or racial group will appear in this report with a meaning identical to ethnic group.

Ethnocultural group: This term is used in this report and elsewhere. It emphasizes the cultural characteristics which differentiate ethnic groups, along with -other features. The term seems to be more popular than ethnic group. The popularity of this term may relate to the legitimacy and popularity of encouraging cultural distinctiveness. Ethnocultural minority is also used in the report.

Visible minority: This term is frequently used in Canada. It refers to an ethnic group which is in a minority position with respect to economic and political power and is distinguishable by a visible characteristic. This is most commonly skin colour, possibly combined with other visually distinguishable features which render members of the group vulnerable to discrimination upon immediate visual contact.

Multicultural group: This term is not used in this report. Multiculturalism refers to a policy of encouraging the equality and full participation of all ethnic groups in all aspects of the society, and of encouraging the preservation of traditional aspects of culture among those who choose to do so. A multicultural group is a misnomer in the sense in which it is being discussed here. A multicultural society is a correct usage.

Various social processes relating to ethnicity are mentioned in the report. Integration is a process by which members of immigrant ethnic groups in particular, but also possibly minority indigenous ethnic groups, adapt, adjust or simply become a part of the larger society. The term integration implies acquiring the knowledge and skills required, and participating equally in institutions of the society along with people of other ethnic groups.

The term integration has to be understood as distinct from assimilation, which refers to a process over time in which members of subordinate ethnic groups adopt the characteristics of the dominant ethnic group and become indistinguishable from the members of the majority. Dominant group conformity is the outcome of the process of assimilation.

In the process of integration, people do assimilate in various aspects and in varying degrees. At the same time, at least some members of the ethnic group retain some aspects of ethnicity -- cultural practices relating to religion or the observance of festivals and events, ethnically homogeneous social patterns relating to marriage or friendships, or feelings of attachment to the group and its history. Also, the institutions and popular culture of the society changes from the point in time when the first immigrants arrive, and continually changes as old immigrant groups (which at certain points in time come to be perceived as indigenous ethnic groups) continue to change and as new groups arrive.

Assimilation has come to have an objectionable connotation because of its presumed ideological component demanding dominant group conforrnity as the price of equality, and because it appears to distort the sociological reality of persistence of aspects of traditional culture and the emergence of new aspects of ethnicity in response to the host society.

Ethnic pluralism: This term is used in the report to refer to a social ordering in which certain elements of ethnic group cultures, both traditional and emergent, remain vital and functional aspects of society. There are many ways for attitudes, values, behaviours, habits and customs of immigrant groups to change in the direction of the dominant institutions and groups. At the same time, however, the institutions of society change in response to the presence of the new ethnic groups. These changes take place in response both to efforts to encourage adaptation and to support retention of aspects of ethnic cultures by those who wish to do so. The term ethnic pluralism is no less ideological in content than assimilation. It reflects objectives which reflect more contemporary concepts of rights and social diversity.

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