Canadian Journal of Sociology Online July-August 2000

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Harold Troper and Morton Weinfeld, editors.
Ethnicity, Politics, and Public Policy: Case Studies in Canadian Diversity.
Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999, 289 pp.
$Cdn 24.95 paper (0-8020-8027-8), $Cdn 65.00 cloth (0-8020-4165-5)

According to the editors, the case studies, mostly conducted by graduate students at McGill and the University of Toronto, “represent a second generation of scholarship on pluralism in Canada.” “Racial” and ethnic minorities are no longer viewed as passive objects but as active subjects or partners in redefining Canadian society. The case studies are interesting as most of them deal with issues or populations which so far have received little or no attention. However, owing to the small sample size of some studies, the claim that the findings are exploratory inviting further research is difficult to accept, particularly since the socio-political context at the time of the interviews is also frequently ignored

The volume is divided into three parts: Cultural Diversity and Societal Responses, Ethnic Match and Minority Origin Professionals, and Ethnicity, Race and Politics. The first part begins with a very important article on “Diversity in Canada” by Harold Tropper and Morton Weinfeld which also serves as introduction to the studies included in the volume. Since the majority of immigrants entering Canada are now of non-European origin and because of the racism they experience, the authors discuss in some detail three central challenges which Canadian society faces today, namely social and cultural integration, the concept of ‘ethnic match’ as a way of equitable and efficient service delivery in various policy domains, and “the emergence of the ‘ethnic polity’ as a deepening of structural pluralism in Canadian life.” Challenges to social and cultural integration concern the two goals of liberal democratic societies: equal opportunity and participation of all communities, and a positive affirmation of the values of diverse cultures. Discussing some of the policy implications in pursuing these goals, the distinction between the private and public sphere is becoming increasingly blurred. The notion of equal treatment of all citizens by public institutions has increasingly led to a concern that culturally sensitive services are provided as an element of equal non-discriminatory treatment. Culturally sensitive services can be provided by an ethnic match in policy domains, such as health services or education, which can be achieved in three dimensions: by matching the ethnic origin of the professionals with that of the clients, by having the services provided by ethno-specific organizations or by basing the service delivery on ethno-specific knowledge in which case the ethnic origin of the professional becomes less important. Finally, the authors urge that “the study of ethnic polities is crucial for any understanding of ethnic life and ... the intersection between ethnicity and policy issues” and raise several issues which need to be explored.

The first part includes two additional articles. Alissa Levine’s “Female Genital Operations: Canadian Realities, Concerns, and Policy Recommendations” addresses an important problem which, owing to the recent arrival of refugees from Africa, has not received the awareness of the remedies needed to eradicate the practice. Based on interviews, conducted in 1995 and 1996, with immigrant community workers, visiting students, physicians and nurses as well secondary sources, she begins by discussing excision and infibulation, usually referred to as female genital mutilation or FGM, and reinfibulation which, upon the request of a woman, is carried out after the birth of a child. However, “cultural sensitivity” prevents her from mentioning the age at which children are usually infibulated ( between three to five years), the horrific and unsanitary conditions under which the procedure is carried out, as well as the well documented psychological consequences children and women suffer. Her analogies to western practices, such as plastic surgery and women smoking, are misplaced, since, as she herself points out, they involve the woman’s consent while children have no say in the matter. She does not mention that FGM is now considered to be a human rights issue which prohibits parents from subjecting children to the procedure as they lack the age of consent. Indeed, international organizations, such as the World Health Organization, several European countries as well as Canada have recently legally prohibited FGM and, under the Guidelines issued by the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board, the fear of having children infibulated can be viewed as gender-based persecution. The same argument, however, as some have noted, does not apply to a woman’s request of being reinfibulated. Having reached the age of consent, she can only be convinced by a physician about the adverse health consequences of repeating the procedure. There is no doubt that in Canada, some parents have their children infibulated, although the extent of the practice is unknown. I agree with the author that parental education is the primary tool to eliminate the procedure and its consequences.

The second article “Break North: Rap Music and Hip Culture in Canada” by Rebecca J. Haines first describes the roots of Hip-Hop culture in the United States and its cultural transmission to Canada. Since her research on the interracial aspect of Hip Hop culture are based on very few interviews with black and white rappers and a few fans in Montreal, who, prior to the research, were casual acquaintances, her findings and suggestions for further research have to be cautiously accepted. Her description of the lyrics of twelve top Canadian rap albums makes for interesting reading.

Part II: Ethnic Match and Minority Origin Professionals includes four articles. Diva Bortollussi’s study “‘You Show Up, You’re Blue’: The Challenges Facing Visible Minority Police Officers” is based on interviews with nine minority officers in Ottawa and five white officers in Montreal. Since in Ottawa the interviews were conducted at a time when several incidents of racism were raised against police officers, the author admits that her conclusions, and as I might add, her findings, may be understood in a different manner. For instance, the officers maintained that they did not experience any problems in their interactions with white citizens and “only a minority” reported having problems in the way they are treated by their white colleagues. There was little unanimity in the views of the five white officers in Montreal as to the assignment of minority officers in areas largely populated by their own group or the minority officers’ treatment of members of their group. However, all five agreed that they were more cautious in their treatment of minority group offenders. No information was provided about reported incidents of racism by Montreal police officers which similarly might have affected her findings.

“The Challenge of Ethnic Match: Minority Origin Professionals in Health and Social Services” by Morton Weinfeld explores the meaning of culturally sensitive services. It is based on extensive in-depth interviews with health care and social service professionals from different minority groups in the Montreal area. Slightly more than half of the sample was female, but despite ethnic differences in medical treatment and, particularly of mental health problems, the comments of Caribbean or African professionals were not analysed separately and no Southeast Asians were included. According to the respondents, the three arguments in support of ethnic match in the delivery of health and social services include ethnic language competence, cultural competence, and trust. Unfortunately, the issue of gender match was not raised, which, because of its overlap with cultural differences, also needs to be investigated. Muslim women, particularly, will only be examined by female doctors. According to Weinfeld, problematic aspects of ethnic match arise when professionals take into account the cultural differences which could affect the nature of the care rather than adhering to a universalistic approach which requires that any professional ought to be able to treat any problem regardless of the client’s or patient’s cultural origin. By interviewing only minority professionals, Weinfeld did not explore culturally sensitive service delivery which is solely based on ethno-specific knowledge and which, as he noted earlier, may be crucial in many areas of health care. In this context, the work of Arthur Kleinman at Harvard is particularly important. Working with Southeast Asian refugees, Kleinman found that patients usually somatize, that is, translate their psychological problems into physical complaints, since admission of psychological problem is not permissible in their cultures. By treating the alleged physical complaints in frequent sessions, Kleinman was then able to encourage the patients to talk about their problems and the events which led up to them. Studies have also shown that the treatment of traumatized women refugees, victims of rape, has to be both cultural and gender sensitive.

In “The Role of Minority Educators; Haitian Teachers in Quebec Schools,”based primarily on interviews with Haitian teachers, Philippe Couton explores culturally congruent educational units by two Montreal school boards, which are designed to serve Haitian students in difficulty. The students come mostly from refugee families with lower levels of education and, because of cultural discontinuity in public schools, are experiencing serious problems of behavioural and linguistic adjustment. In both projects some of the personnel involved are Haitian. Following a request by the Haitian community to remedy the problems encountered by Haitian students in school, the first project (HP1) is explicitly culturally congruent for students who would otherwise have failed to finish secondary school. The equivalent of an English Second Language school, the second programme (HP2) is somewhat similar but also admits non-Haitian students. With the stated objective to help students integrate into Quebec society, HP1 focuses on Haitian culture and heritage, the use of Creole, and Haitian educators. While all teachers recognize the positive impact of introducing Haitian elements on the students’ self-esteem, in the absence of research, anecdotal evidence quoted by the author also shows that the students’ academic performance improved and their drop-out rate declined. Although all HP educators were in favour of expanding this type of service to mainstream public schools, the teachers are not endorsing militant “identity politics” but their goal is primarily to help them achieve success in mainstream institutions.

Shaheen Azmi’s “Wife Abuse and Ideological Competition in the Muslim Community of Toronto” is the only study conducted by an “insider”. Indeed, it is unlikely that an “outsider,” who is not a Muslim, could have studied so successfully such a sensitive topic. Based on interviews, conducted in 1994, with thirteen Muslims working in religious, mainstream or ethno-cultural organizations, she focuses on ideological competition within the ethnically heterogeneous Muslim community in Toronto on the issue of wife abuse and the appropriate welfare response to it. The emphasis is on the respondents’ perception regarding the issue of providing culturally sensitive social service care by “matching” Muslim clients. Asked how they perceived the Muslim community and their place within it, nine of the thirteen Muslims identified with their religion and religious ideologies over identification with any other source of identity while the remaining four respondents identified primarily with their ethnic communities and cultures of origin. Although all respondents agreed that wife abuse should be condemned and includes both physical and psychological behaviour, there were substantial differences in opinion between members of the Muslim religious group and the ethnic-cultural group but also within the Muslim group. Three of the four members of the ethno-cultural group advocated what the author calls a subjective type of definition of wife abuse resulting in the women’s physical or psychological pain. Members of the Muslim group maintained that confirmation by an objective authority which was either the Islamic scripture directly or the Shariah, was necessary for the feeling of pain to be considered abuse but differed considerably in their interpretations of Islamic scripture with the Imam of one of Toronto’s major mosques providing the most concise definition. She also discusses in some detail what members of the two groups consider the appropriate response to wife abuse and their reservations, if not hostility, to mainstream counselling, particularly of women’s shelters.

Part III: Ethnicity, Race and Politics includes three studies. The first study, “Black Insiders, the Black Polity, and the Ontario NDP Government”, by Adam Lewinberg is based on 20 interviews and a review of government documents. It examines the ways in which blacks negotiated with the NDP government in Ontario on racial issues between 1990 and 1995. Committed to combat racism, the government viewed blacks as a unified community consisting of Caribbeans, thus excluding Africans, and relied on the black insiders holding posts in either the political or bureaucratic arms of the government as spokespersons for the community. The spokespersons also adhered to the notion of a unified community but lacked grassroot support and similarly ignored recent African immigrants who identify with their ethnic and cultural background rather than seeing themselves as black. Thus, most of the equity initiatives regarding community development, the police and the justice system, which were introduced by the government after the 1992 racial demonstrations, did not succeed or were watered down as they did not get the support from African communities and, in some cases, from Carribean communities They also could not overcome the “powerful” interests from within the bureaucracy, the police and the justice system.

In a very important paper, “The Canadian Jewish Polity and the Limits of Political Action: The Campaigns on Behalf of Soviet and Syrian Jews,” Harold Troper discusses the different conditions and circumstances which led to the Jewish polity’s successful advocacy on behalf of the persecution of Soviet Jews and its failure on behalf of Syrian Jews. After a brief analysis of differences between the governance of an ethnic community and the state, Troper discusses how the legacy of the Eichmann trial and the 1967 Six-Day War led to a renewed sense of pride in Jewish identity and to a commitment to preventing the annihilation of Israel and the oppression of Jews anywhere. Sparked by the 1970 Leningrad Trials, at which nine defendants, seven of whom were Jews, were convicted of attempting to hijack a Soviet airliner, Canadian and Western Jewish communities became involved in the campaign against the oppression of Soviet Jews. The success of the Canadian Jewish polity is attributed to several factors, of which the Cold War was the most important as the treatment of Soviet Jews became a constant issue contributing to the demise of the Soviet Union in 1990. The Jewish polity not only mobilized the Canadian Jewish community which was still very much influenced by an immigrants and first Canadian-born generation with personal roots in Eastern Europe, but also staged an extremely successful campaign. The campaign only ended when Jews were allowed to leave the Soviet Union. Analysing the anatomy of failure of the campaign on behalf of the Syrian Jews, Troper points out that despite the serious persecution Jews suffered in Syria, particularly after the 1967 Six-Day war, the Jewish polity’s campaign failed because it did not have “the hooks” on which to hang it. As many Canadians argued, Syria was not a state in which Canada had a vital interest and the solution would have to come as part of a reasoned solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict.

In “Immigration and the Canadian Federal Election of 1993: The Press as Political Educator” Liane Soberman analyses the role which the press played in fuelling anti-immigration feelings by identifying the Reform Party of Canada with immigration restrictions. The study is based on a sample of six English language newspapers. Dividing the time period between the call for election in September to election day on October 25 into four time periods and immigration stories into three classes ranging from minor to major, the author shows that the major stories increased significantly during this period. However, as the author concludes, after the election immigration as a public issue faded quickly. Yet, during the election of 1993 the press, which was generally unsympathetic to the Reform Party, had to acknowledge that Reform would become a major and legitimate political voice in Canada. “Reform played the race card and the press was the reluctant dealer.”

In “Epilogue: Expanding the Research Agenda” the editors expand on their notion of second generation research, which reflects a changing social and political reality due to Canadian diversity. The editors repeatedly stress that this approach implies that members of ethnic groups are treated as subjects in redefining Canadian society rather than as objects. Yet, they do not mention that “second generation research” should also be conducted jointly with members of the ethnic group to be studied rather than by outsiders alone. Such research partnership would not only lead to important research questions but a comparison of the interpretation of results between the ethnic insiders and outsiders might reveal cultural differences which social scientists would otherwise not be aware of.

Gertrud Neuwirth
Carleton University
© Canadian Journal of Sociology Online July 2000