Your culture vs. "Our Culture" – where to draw the line…

I ask that as “Your” being the person’s culture and “Our” being the perceived culture of community/nation. I Came across an interesting story on the Toronto Star web site today regarding a new survey on Canadian attitudes towards multiculturalism.

While almost half felt that immigrants should be free to preserve their cultural and religious practices in Canada, 81 per cent of respondents in the Environics survey said newcomers should adapt to Canadian values on the rights and role of women.

This type of question is always a difficult one – in a highly multicultural society the blends of people’s attitudes can often have very opposing beliefs about specific issues (i.e. Women’s rights etc.). As far as cities go, Toronto is one of the most diverse and it’s not uncommon to hear stories on the news about various disagreements based purely on acceptance or enforcement of a particular culture.

The most recent controversy I recall surrounded the proposed use of Sharia law in Ontario, something the Muslim community called for since there was already Catholic and Jewish based arbitration occurring in the province. The challenge was Sharia law is not as closely aligned with typical Canadian customs as the Catholic or Jewish faiths tend to be (in my limited understanding the most controversial aspect seemed to be Sharia law’s bias towards men then women, especially in cases of divorce and child custody etc.). The challenge is how can a society accept one or more faiths but arbitrarily exclude another? The end result in this case was the government eliminating all Religious based arbitration in the province.

But that begs the question then, where is appropriate to draw the line between acceptance of an individual’s culture or beliefs over the perceived culture of a nation?

Unfortunately I think it’s a question that will actually only get more difficult to answer. Every year Toronto grows more and more diverse, we’re already several years past the point where visible minorities make up a larger portion of the population than Caucasians. As this balance continues to change so to will the “average culture” of a Canadian – so how do we handle that?

A rigid “This is how the country was founded and this is how it will be” won’t work and at the polar opposite I don’t think a “Do what you want” policy would succeed either.

There’s also a lot of unknowns about this data. All we know is ~2000 “Canadians” were surveyed. It’s not clear if those surveyed were Canadian citizens or Canadian residents (another dynamic in the challenge of balance – respect citizens beliefs or respect resident’s beliefs?). There’s also no indication of the ethnic balance of the respondents, breakdown of geographic regions or even ages & genders etc. All huge factors in this type of survey.

I personally don’t think 2,000 people is enough but I’d be very curious to see someone do a more in depth study that splits the results out by many of the factors I mention above. And as borders become less and less visible and the Internet allows more people to connect in more ways how does that change societies in general?

Any thoughts?

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