Much can be learnt from Canadian multiculturalism
Stabroek News
February 27, 2002

Dear Editor,

On 24th February I watched Canada defeat the mighty U.S.A. (5 2), in the crucial gold medal Ice Hockey competition of the Winter Olympic Games. While Winter Olympics and Ice Hockey have little direct relation to our Caribbean existence, there are several implications to be derived from Canada's participation, and victory in, the hockey duel. I wish to explore a few of these implications.

That was a duel all Canadians believed they had to win. When the final buzzer sounded, Canadians from Coquitlam, British Columbia, to Corner Brook, Newfoundland, were immersed in their shining seas of jubilation. When I speak of Canadians, I am not referring solely to Anglo and Francophone persons whose heritage is European. I am pointing, also, to persons who once resided in the Caribbean, South and Central America, South and South East Asia, Eastern, Western, Central and Northern Europe, Africa, Australia, as well as their offspring who are Canadian born.

These are individuals who chose to live in a society where they have become beneficiaries of liberal multiculturalism.This is a version of multiculturalism which is not the same as radical democratic multiculturalism, that is more foundational in its transformative features and would be highly applicable to a Caribbean drive for unity.It is, however, broadly democratic in outlook which is distinctly anti racist. It is also premised on the view that educational establishments have major obligations to deconstruct the ideology of human inequality. The man credited with being the principal driving force behind Canadian multiculturalism, Pierre Trudeau, has been unapologetically explicit in his defence of it. He is on public record as having stated that there cannot be one cultural policy for Canadians of French and British heritage and another for members of other groups. He added that despite the existence of two official Canadian languages, English and French, there is no official Canadian culture. Nor does any ethnic group take precedence over any other. A policy of multiculturalism within a bilingual framework commends itself to the Canadian Government as the most suitable means of assuring the cultural freedom of Canadians.Further, this policy is an officially legal one which emphasises the integration of Canadians from different ethnic and racial groups, rather than their assimilation.

Cultural freedom was very much in evidence, on the afternoon of the Canadian Ice Hockey accomplishment. Canadians of different cultures and varied language backgrounds, which they can promote and preserve via heritage language programmes, were ecstatic over the sporting success of their society. Their intense jubilation was a direct consequence of enormous satisfaction with players who were not merely of English and French heritage, but also of Afro Canadian,Eastern European, Scandinavian, Irish, and Western European backgrounds.These are all players who have been existing in Trudeau's multicultural Canada where sporting meritocracy is inseparable from multiculturalism.

Such a connection should not be lost to every ardent West Indian supporter. When the "Great One", Wayne Gretzky, arguably, the most artistic and prolific scorer in 20th century Ice Hockey was offered the job of Executive Director, Canadian Olympic Ice Hockey team, he made one thing absolutely clear. He would accept the position, on condition that he must have a principal part in choosing players. At the time amiable gentle giant, "Hubert", was appointed coach/manager, West Indies cricket team, what role did he play in team selection? Clive Lloyd, "The Disciplined Calypso", is, however, as grand a competitor as Wayne Gretzky, the North American Ice Hockey champion.

The push for multiculturalism in Canada began, earnestly, just over a hundred years after the game of Ice Hockey, "our game" so says a proud Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chretien had taken historical roots in Kingston Harbour ( 1860 ). Canadians, according to one proud telecaster for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, view Ice Hockey as their gift to the world. It is the game his country plays better than any other country in the world. Cricket took historical roots in England long before Ice Hockey did in Canada. Today, England does not enjoy international championship cricketing status. England is also not part of a Union where multiculturalism is promoted and preserved. Is England a location where cricketing talent of youthful players whose heritage is not Anglo Saxon is aggressively nurtured for entry to Test teams? How many young men of South Asian backgrounds from Bradford, Yorkshire, and Southhall, Middlesex, have risen to England Test sides? Similar types of queries are inadmissible in regard to young Canadian Ice Hockey aspirants who do not trace their heritage to Great Britain and France.

The Anglo Caribbean, from Jamaica to Guyana, is still not a unified whole. We neither promote, nor preserve, a policy of multiculturalism (radical democratic or liberal). We have unquestionably dominated Test cricket for an incredibly long period, largely because of incomparably transformative features of our 20th century sporting creativity. Our 20th century gifts to the world of Test match cricket have been styles and records every close combatant now seeks. There may be other contexts whose existence is conducive to our reclamation of these gifts. If the Canadian success story of Ice Hockey has any significance to us, the goals of repossession and maintenance of our cricketing creativity should not be pursued in the absence of a milieu where multiculturalism and unity exist.

Yours faithfully,

Dr. William H. Walcott. F.R.S.A.