Humanist Perspectives: issue 186: Rethinking the Cult of Multiculturalism

Rethinking the Cult of Multiculturalism
by Madeline Weld


round Christmastime in 2009, I was tidying up my office, on whose floor layers of clipped newspaper articles had accumulated, their filing neglected during the long years of my father’s dementia and the clearing out and sale of my parents’ house upon his death. Among the archaeological treasures revealed amidst swirls of dust was an Ottawa Citizen article from July 14, 2005, whose banner headline read, “Cab trainer blasted for ‘insensitive’ remarks.”1 The first sentence informed us that “An Ottawa police detective who gives sexual harassment sensitivity training to taxi drivers could use some lessons herself, according to a chorus of voices yesterday who say the officer made remarks that were culturally insensitive.”

The beleaguered detective, Theresa Kelm, had made her offending remarks during an interview whose focus was a sexual assault by a cab driver on a female passenger, the third of its kind in the Ottawa area in the preceding year. Det. Kelm said that part of the function of the training course was to explain to drivers what constituted acceptable behaviour toward women in Canada and what types of actions or remarks crossed the line into harassment or assault. Det. Kelm herself crossed the line of political correctness when she added, “Some of this behaviour may be acceptable in the countries they are from. Our message to them is that it’s not acceptable here, and it won’t be tolerated.”

The president of the union representing Ottawa taxi drivers [Yousef Al Mezel] said the remark was unfair to drivers and “a racist comment...”

The president of the union representing Ottawa taxi drivers said the remark was unfair to drivers and “a racist comment from the detective.” It implied that Canadian culture was superior to that of other countries in terms of attitude toward women. “It’s not allowed in Canada. It’s not allowed in other countries,” said the union president, who had come to Canada from Kuwait 18 years before Det. Kelm’s words aroused his ire. Ottawa Councillor Eli El-Chantiri, who had come to Canada from Lebanon 30 years before and who sat on the city’s taxi advisory committee, supported the union leader. Mr. El-Chantiri said he had never heard of any culture where it is acceptable to treat women “like a piece of meat.” (Unfortunately, Australia’s Imam Sheik al-Hilali never got that memo. Just over a year after El-Chantiri’s disingenuous remark, he publicly defended the Muslim youths who had been gang raping white Australian women on public beaches by comparing uncovered women to a piece of meat and suggesting that no one should be surprised when the cats come out to get the meat.)

The Ottawa Police Service quickly tried to repair the damage resulting from the outbreak of candour by one of its own, with a spokeswoman saying that the idea that in some countries disrespect for women is acceptable “does not reflect the views of the Ottawa Police Service...Any unwanted words or actions are inappropriate, no matter who you are, and this is taken very seriously by the Ottawa Police Service.” But if the Canadian government’s Foreign Affairs department got the memo on the dogmas of political correctness, it ignored it. The same article that described the travails of Det. Kelm pointed out that Canada’s Foreign Affairs website specifically warned female travellers that Middle Eastern countries can be a particular hazard to their safety. “Physical and verbal harassment of women is a problem,” it said about Kuwait, the union leader’s country of origin. A travel guide that Foreign Affairs published for women explained that “female travellers are directly affected by the religious and societal beliefs of the countries they visit.” While not spelling out which ones it was referring to, the travel guide said that in some countries a differentiation is made by men between women who dress or behave conservatively and those who don’t. “Understand that, in some parts of the world, ‘respectable’ women don’t go out alone in the evening. In these places, a flagrant rejection of this custom could very well put you in jeopardy.” (Like getting you sexually assaulted in a taxicab, perhaps?) According to the article, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs said that its department isn’t looking to offend anyone, but sometimes there is a “reality” that needs to be explained. Well, I’ll be! It turns out that, in situations that could involve life or death, or at least sexual assault and injury, our officially multicultural government is ready to allow accurate information to trump cultural sensitivity concerns.

As I read the 2005 article four and a half years later, the name of the taxi union boss, Yousef Al Mezel, seemed strangely familiar. I checked my Honour Killings file, and sure enough, there he was, in an article of August 14, 2009, “Crown wants taxi union boss jailed for ‘honour crime’.”2 It seems Al Mezel’s beliefs about women’s equality had slipped his mind two years after he reprimanded Det. Kelm, when, in July 2007, he pushed his own daughter Eman down a flight of stairs and threatened to break her legs and kill her, before smashing her computer. The offence of the then 23-year-old woman was to have sought the independence that most Canadians can take for granted. Her father was angry because she had shed her family’s Muslim beliefs along with her hijab and moved out of her parents’ home to live with a male friend and his family. While Yousef Al Mezel admitted that he repeatedly called, wrote, and followed Eman and visited her residence to get her to come back, he said that hearing the prosecution’s allegation that he committed an honour crime was like “listening to evil from another world.” Some of the emails that Al Mezel sent to his daughter, which defence lawyer Geraldine Castle-Trudel described as “statements of an overwrought, upset father,” were read into the record in September 2007.

I checked my Honour Killings file, and sure enough, there he [Yousef Al Mezel] was, in an article of August 14, 2009, “Crown wants taxi union boss jailed for ‘honour crime’.”

Al Mezel told his daughter that they could no longer “hide the problem” of her living arrangements from her uncles and cousins, and that he could not guarantee the “safety of anyone” if she did not return home. “Eman, you know when everyone hear about, they will react crazy, and no one will care about police or other thing, you know your family,” said one email. “Please Eman, help to solve it without harm to anyone. Your should care about the family you live with, you don’t want your uncles and cousins at the door of the apartment, please we don’t need more problems.” He said Eman had stained the “the Sharaf of the family,” which Eman later explained to the police reflected the belief that she had “shamed and dishonoured the family” by running away from home and shedding her hijab and Muslim beliefs. At the time, her father was also arranging her marriage to a Syrian man she didn’t want to marry. The only way to restore the family’s honour, according to Eman Al Mezel, would have been to kill her, an act usually carried out by the father or uncles. The court also heard that Eman Al Mezel and the family she was staying with was moved out of Ottawa by police for their own safety and never returned. (That would be the same Ottawa Police Service that had earlier disavowed Det. Kelm’s statement about behaviour that was unacceptable in Canada being acceptable in some other countries.)

In the end, Al Mezel pleaded guilty to criminal harassment to avoid subjecting his family to the embarrassment of a sensational trial and was sentenced on November 10, 2009, to one year in prison, rather than the two years the Crown had been seeking.3 The judge, Lynn Ratushny, noted that Al Mezel was a community leader, a founder of his mosque, a city council candidate, and a representative of 1500 taxi drivers. Nevertheless, she called his actions an honour crime, committed in the name of a “seriously dangerous belief system that can and has led to violence against women.” Describing her own heartbreak, defence lawyer Castle-Trudel who had been seeking parole, said Al Mezel was a “really, really decent person who made a very bad mistake” and suggested that he was the victim of anti-Muslim stereotypes. His own family, consisting of his wife and six other children, also rallied around good old Dad. His other daughters testified that he was never violent and a religious moderate.

Not only his family, but the taxi union (many of whose members are Muslim) and the Muslim community also rallied around Al Mezel. The union refused to accept his resignation upon his conviction and raised funds to help his large family.4 The vote to keep him on as union boss featured the biggest membership turnout in the local’s history (CAW Local 1688) and his support was overwhelming. Al Mezel received more visitors than any other prisoner at the Ottawa jail on Innes Road, and according to a parole officer, taxi drivers consider that the crime for which Al Mezel was convicted was nothing but a private matter for the family.

I have no doubt that Al Mezel worked hard for his union and represented the interests of cab drivers as best he could. I also have no doubt that he knew perfectly well that Det. Kelm was simply stating the facts when she said that behaviour towards women that was unacceptable in Canada was acceptable in the countries of origin of his fellow cabbies who had assaulted female passengers. (They were, after all, violating codes of decorum in the cabbies’ countries of origin and hence “asking for it.”) In attacking Det. Kelm, Al Mezel was deceitfully playing the victim card, but in truth he was simply making the most of a system that invites abuse. Since the early 1990s, Canada has pursued a policy of mass immigration, with many of the annual influx of 250,000 or more coming from vastly different cultures, some of whose values are antithetical to those of Canada. But any difficulties Canadians have had in adjusting to this very large influx have been laid at their own door by the progressive press and the progressive intellectuals who dominate our universities and other institutions. Thus, if Canadians balk at some of the customs of newcomers, it is attributable to their own intolerance and not the fault of the newcomers or their customs. Defence lawyer Castle-Trudel’s suggestion that Al Mezel was a victim of anti-Muslim stereotypes is a case in point. It is only in the context of this aggressive multiculturalism that the Hérouxville Declaration could have caused such a stir or that it would even have been written in the first place. In January 2007, the little town of Hérouxville, Quebec, issued a set of guidelines for newcomers who wanted to settle there.

Based on some of the reactions to it, one might have thought that the Hérouxville Declaration was the epitome of intolerance, racism, and xenophobia. The line-up of those who sought to distance themselves from it was long, starting with then premier of Quebec, Jean Charest. To deal with the fallout from the Hérouxville Declaration, Charest set up a commission, the Bouchard-Taylor Commission on reasonable accommodation, which travelled across the province and heard from the people. The very idea that accommodation should be a two-way street, with newcomers agreeing to give up values that didn’t conform with those in their new Canadian homeland, was offensive to the culturally sensitive. Sue Montgomery, in an article called “Savouring our Differences” in the Arts & Books section of the 25 November 2007 Ottawa Citizen, writes that anyone following the “travelling circus” on reasonable accommodation could be forgiven for thinking that Quebec is a province full of xenophobes. “The Us-vs.-Them talk, featuring calls for immigrants to take courses on how things are done around here, has become downright depressing.” And, Montgomery laments, were other provinces to “be so stupid as to hold a similar commission,” they too “would have the bigots crawling out of the woodwork.” You bet, Sue! Like the one writing this article, for example. As an antidote to the “Hérouxvillians of this world” Montgomery recommends a book by Michael Adams, called Unlikely Utopia: The Surprising Triumph of Canadian Pluralism. One of its statistics that she suggests her readers try out when the issue of reasonable accommodation comes up is that more Canadians cite multiculturalism as central to the national identity than bilingualism or hockey. She concludes her book review with the suggestion that Adams’ book be translated into French and shipped to Hérouxville by the truckload.

I have not read Michael Adams’ book, but I did read an article by him called “We’re no bigots” in the Ottawa Citizen of 21 November 2007. The article takes up two-thirds of page A17, and sports a large close up of a woman in a niqab holding a Canadian flag beside her head. The caption tells us that she is watching her Pakistani husband take his oath of citizenship. Adams article leads in with a discussion of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, and concedes that there is “a segment of Canadian society that believes that their country has failed to proclaim its values, principles, and demands to the quarter-million immigrants who arrive here each year. As a result, they think newcomers with illiberal ideas and practices are cannily filling the vacuum. Wimpy Canadian tolerance has ceded the field to robust foreign zealotry. No more, these agitated souls say. They will no longer be kept silent by the tyranny of political correctness.” But, while Adams says that a backlash is indeed afoot in Canada, he assures us that Canadian attitudes toward immigration remain overwhelmingly positive and compares their accepting attitude toward newcomers to their evolving attitude toward gays and lesbians. “Canadians should not allow the squeaky wheels at the Bouchard-Taylor hearings or the edicts of the Hérouxville town council to loom too large in their perceptions of how diversity is working in this country. Instead of relying on the residents of Hérouxville, a rural community of 1,300 (whose residents, according to the census, are so diverse that they are 100% French-speaking, 96% Roman Catholic, and 0.7% foreign-born) to tell us how things are going, why not listen to the residents of Canada’s largest cities, cities which are among the most diverse urban centres on the planet?” These people, Adams says, are among the most supportive of immigration. And the good news is that there is a backlash against the backlash, which Adams says, is the reassertion and rearticulation of open tolerant values. (Ironically, the article directly beneath that of Adams was about a Saudi Arabian woman who was gang raped by seven men but was herself sentenced to 200 lashes because she was sitting in her car with her boyfriend when she was abducted. Of course, we wouldn’t want to force the Hérouxville declaration on the judges who sentenced her were they ever to immigrate to Canada, would we? After all, we’re no bigots.)

So what is it about the Hérouxville declaration that arouses the accusations of bigotry, intolerance, and xenophobia? Does it actually tell people of different races, colours, and religions to keep out? On the contrary. The following sentences are taken from its first two paragraphs. “... we would like to invite, without discrimination, ... all people from outside our MRC [regional county municipality] that would like to move to this territory. Without discrimination means to us, without regard to race to the color of skin, mother tongue spoken, sexual orientation, religious, or any other form of belief.” What could be more welcoming? It is the sentences that follow that exercise the progressives. Because after the welcome, the Hérouxville Declaration follows up with expectations, demands even, from its newcomers.

“So that future residents can integrate socially more easily, we have decided unanimously to make public certain standards already in place and very well anchored in the lives of our electors. These standards come from our municipal laws, being Federal or Provincial, and all voted democratically. They also come from the social life and habits & customs of all residents of our territory. Our objective is to show that we support the wishes of our electors and this being shown clearly by the results of our poll regarding this issue. And our goal is to inform the new arrivals to our territory how we live to help them make a clear decision to integrate into our area.” But the real bombshell is in the next sentence, which gets its own paragraph in the Declaration. “We would especially like to inform the new arrivals that the lifestyle that they left behind in their birth country cannot be brought here with them and they would have to adapt to their new social identity.” The Declaration then lists specific categories, such as Our Women, Our Children, Our Festivities, Our Health Care and so on. Under “Our Women,” for example, newcomers are informed that men and women have the same value, that women can do all sorts of things such as driving a car and dressing as they wish, and that killing women in public, beating or burning them alive are not acceptable.

...newcomers are informed that men and women have the same value, that women can do all sorts of things such as driving a car and dressing as they wish, and that killing women in public, beating or burning them alive are not acceptable.

While not racist or discriminatory, the Hérouxville Declaration is clearly an advisory to would-be immigrants that they’d better be prepared to accept Hérouxville’s values if they wanted to live there. Not surprisingly, various Muslim groups wasted no time in condemning it as “Islamophobic,” obtaining predictable support from progressive groups. The reaction to the Hérouxville Declaration illustrates the gap between public opinion and published opinion. While the media reactions to the Hérouxville Declaration were primarily negative or at best cautious, the Hérouxville Council had received 2000 positive emails, 700 more than the number of residents in Hérouxville, by the end of January 2007 (CTV News, 27 January 2007). When the Conservative government put out a new Citizenship and Immigration study guide for immigrants in 2009, it took a leaf from Hérouxville’s book. “Canada’s openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, ‘honour killings,’ female genital mutilation or other gender-based-violence,” the booklet said, implicitly implying that some newcomers might indeed cling to such customs. Predictably, progressives took offense, not least among them current Liberal party leader Justin Trudeau, who condemned the use of the term “barbaric.”

Canada is not the only Western country to have embraced multiculturalism (although several European leaders have proclaimed it to be a failure in recent years), but to my knowledge only Canada has an official Multiculturalism Act (R.S., 1985, c. 24 (4th Supp.)), whose objective is “the preservation and enhancement of multiculturalism in Canada.”

The harvest of multiculturalism combined with mass immigration has brought far more bitter fruit than the ridiculous furor over Det. Theresa Kelm’s statement of fact back in 2005. Since then we have learned about honour killings in the West including Canada (the most famous being the Shafia family quadruple murders), controversies about prayer and imams and sexual segregation in public schools during regular hours, over attire in soccer, and much more, including home-grown jihadi warriors. Events in Canada are not yet a patch on what’s happening in Europe with its large Muslim populations, which has experienced successful terror attacks and where, in several countries, sharia compliance is enforced in illegal no-go zones, riots with looting and burning by “youths” are commonplace, and jihad is openly carried out, as in the murder of soldier Lee Rigby. Fortunately for Canada, our own jihadi warriors have either been thwarted or wreaked their havoc on foreign soil (such as in an Algerian oil facility or on a busload of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria), but our American neighbours have not been so lucky, having experienced the Fort Hood massacre and the Boston bombing since the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Multiculturalism may be an invitation to abuse, but none have been more diligent in making the most of this invitation than Muslims, because Islam alone among the religions and cultures brought to the West has a supremacist politico-religious agenda whose ultimate goal is world domination. (If that statement upsets you, I refer you to Islam’s texts. Please note that I am not saying that all individual Muslims embrace those textual doctrines, just that they are, in fact, doctrines.) How different attitudes were shortly after the defeat of another fascist ideology that also sought world domination.

My mother’s rights were not curtailed in any way by a lack of multiculturalism.

When my German mother married my Canadian father after the second world war, she was, as a former citizen of the hated Third Reich, officially an enemy alien and was denied Canadian citizenship for a year. Back in the late 1940s, society was not permeated with political correctness and cultural sensitivity, and if any diversity was celebrated, it certainly wasn’t German. In spite of the overt hostility to Germany and Germans, my mother was able to speak German to her children, as was her unilingual mother, who came to live with us as our beloved Omi (thereby giving us children facility in a difficult foreign language as a freebie). No one was bothered that we opened our Christmas presents on Christmas Eve or that some of the dishes we ate were downright German. My mother’s rights were not curtailed in any way by a lack of multiculturalism.

Increased sensitivity to people of different backgrounds may be a good thing, but doesn’t require a policy of multiculturalism. Nor is Official Multiculturalism required for people to be able to speak their native languages at home, eat what they please, and continue their own traditions. Newcomers may have to undergo some (or a lot of) cultural adaptation, especially when it comes to the rights and freedoms of their wives and daughters. Let them adapt or let them leave. By no means should we ever again allow multiculturalism to be the midwife for what almost happened in Ontario in 2004 – the introduction of sharia arbitration in personal and family law.

All Canadians, regardless of ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or national origin are equal before the law, with or without a policy of multiculturalism. Far from being a unifying force for Canadians, the policy of multiculturalism has been divisive and a barrier to integration. The biggest favour we could do for newcomers is to be clear about the values of the country they plan to live in. If they can’t accept those values, they should not be coming here.

Madeline Weld is President of the Population Institute Canada and a Toxicologist Evaluator at Health Canada, Ottawa, Contact: madweld at
  1. Zev Singer. Ottawa Citizen, 14 July 2005.
  2. Andrew Seymour. Ottawa Citizen, 14 August 2009.
  3. Megan Gillis. Ottawa Sun, 11 November 2009, “Taxi boss jailed for threats against daughter”
  4. Gary Dimmock. Ottawa Citizen, 5 December 2009, “Support strong for jailed union boss.”