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The Other Side of the Coin

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The Other Side of the Coin

People, rules, and regulations characterize a society. What makes one society different from another is its constitution and official policies, its beliefs, and the unique characteristics that define its collective identity. That said immigration has played a pivotal role in the identity of Canadian society. Over the years, Canada has become known a "Mosaic", where people from many nations have come seeking different opportunities. Canada has become known as a nation of immigrants and multiculturalism is central to the diversity of the country. It is from this multicultural context that Neil Bissoondath explores multiculturalism in Canada.

In his book, Selling Illusions: The Cult of Multiculturalism in Canada, Neil Bissoondath explores Canadian multiculturalism. Bissoondath analyzes the malaise of multiculturalism that is impacting Canadian society. Himself an immigrant to Canada in1973, Bissoondath offers some suggestions and criticisms in an effort to contribute to the important discussion of what he sees as an increasingly unhappy and divided land. He portrays an age-old Canadian tug-of-war between Anglophones and Francophones. Beyond this he moves to the existing struggle between a bicultural and multicultural Canadian society.

Multiculturalism has evolved from a bicultural policy, which was shared by Canadian Anglophones and Francophones. However, once other immigrants came into the country, there was a need to extend cultural inclusion without surrendering the core bicultural process that was tied to Canada's core identity. Bissoondath refers to multiculturalism as: "An emotional subject that reaches unto our past and our present, into the core of ourselves. It engages all that has shaped us. It touches us where we are the most vulnerable and the most self-protective"

Through his first chapters, Bissoondath describes Trinidad after independence as a society full of hypocrisy among its diverse population. Then as an eighteen years old young male, he decides to come to Toronto. He discovers segregation and exclusiveness entrenched in clubs and organizations in Canada under the pretext that "one has to stick with his/her own people". This multicultural nation was encouraging people to remain themselves. This was not attractive to Bissoondath who was uncomfortable with this interpretation. He felt multiculturalism was the integrating of cultures within one society, not the maintaining of individual cultures at the exclusion of others.

In the second half of his book, Bissoondath refers to critics of the Canadian Multicultural Act of Pierre Trudeau, Prime Minister in 1971. The author criticizes the Act as a statement of activism. He argues that the Act assumes that immigrants want to remain the same in shaping not only the evolution of Canadian (mainly English Canadian) society but the evolution of individuals within that society as well. Bissoondath sees the Act as a tool to "divide and conquer" through political manipulation. By losing its centre, mostly due to the narrow interpretation of the elements of multiculturalism, Canada faces big challenges in building fair and equitable rights for everyone. There is need for religious, cultural, political, and economic change, but at what cost? From refusal of head gear to a Pakistani, black, or Asian Santa for Christmas, to a new universal prayer in the House of Commons, Bissoondath shows how the old euro-centric Canadian way of life is disappearing despite legislation intended to preserve its roots. Although it was ill defined in theory and practice, the Multiculturalism Act was intended to bring people together not isolate them. He points



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