Political correctness gone mad? - Macleans.ca

Political correctness gone mad?

The UN upbraids Canada for its use of the term ‘visible minority’

Political correctness gone mad?

Photograph by Cole Garside

Canada, despite a reputation for being an inclusive society that celebrates diversity, will have to defend itself against UN concerns about racial discrimination—all over a term designed precisely to combat racial discrimination. Next year, for the second time in five years, a delegation from the Ministry of Canadian Heritage will appear before the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, to answer criticisms over Ottawa’s use of the term “visible minorities.” The committee deems it to be out of step with the “aims and objectives” of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Canada’s use of the term “seemed to somehow indicate that whiteness was the standard, all others differing from that being visible,” says committee member Patrick Thornberry, a professor of international law at Keele University in Britain.

“That’s just crazy,” says Tom Flanagan, a political scientist at the University of Calgary and former adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. “It’s the internal logic of professional bureaucrats gone amok.”

Canada was last brought before the 18-member UN committee in 2007. Comprised of diplomats and academics tasked with monitoring member states’ implementation of the convention, it found the term itself discriminatory. And it didn’t stop there, faulting Canada’s Anti-Terrorism Act and its potential for racial profiling of ethnic groups, as well as the country’s treatment of undocumented migrants and asylum-seekers, systemic discrimination of Aboriginal people, and a disproportionate force used by police on African Canadians. But the objection to “visible minorities” topped the list of concerns. While the committee (which doesn’t include a single Canadian member) was quick to rebuke Canada’s use of terminology, it refrained from recommending any alternatives—it asked that Ottawa “reflect further” on its use.

After the 2007 rebuke, Ottawa went to work consulting experts and holding workshops. The result was a 74-page report examining “visible minorities” through the years. It said the term is “specific to the administration of the Employment Equity Act,” designed to protect visible minorities, women, Aboriginal people and the disabled against workplace discrimination. While the EEA interprets “visible minorities” as “persons, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour,” it also specifies that only employees who wish to identify themselves to their employer need do so. Flanagan traces the roots of the term to “the identity politics of the 1970s and ’80s,” when neologisms like multiculturalism entered the bureaucratic lexicon.

The EEA itself emerged from the 1984 Abella commission establishing the principle that employers must use practices that increase minority representation. Nearly 5.5 million Canadians self-identify as part of a visible minority. “I don’t see the point of replacing it, it’s not a pejorative term,” says Flanagan. The government concluded no other category adequately addressed the labour market disadvantage faced by these groups. Further, it encourages proactive accommodation of diversity in the workplace. The report also said that Canada has “no plans of changing its standard usage,” a position it will defend when it appears before the Geneva-based commission again in early 2012.

“Some people consider affirmative action and quotas as racist,” says Jason Maghanoy, a Filipino-Canadian playwright in Toronto, “but sometimes you need to force diversity.” Maghanoy says it’s a matter of choice that he identifies himself as part of a visible minority when he applies for arts grants. “I always identify myself as Asian and I don’t feel discriminated against when I do.”

While many Canadians might dismiss the committee’s concern, it doesn’t mean the EEA couldn’t stand to be updated. Flanagan admits that while “visible minorities” doesn’t need to be replaced, “as a working term, there are some problems with it.” Michael Bach, national director of diversity, equity and inclusion at global accounting firm KPMG, supports the UN recommendation and says that while the legislation was a benchmark for progress in the workplace 25 years ago, he has never been a proponent of “visible minorities.” It’s archaic, he says, and reinforces the view that white is the norm. “We should be asking ourselves what is the right term,” says Bach. One proposed alternative is “racialized communities.” But this makes many people on both sides of the debate uncomfortable: it’s either an example of political correctness gone too far or it reinforces racial stereotypes. Ultimately, says Bach, the government should be involving minority communities in the process.

And real inequalities still exist today. “Decision-makers, those in positions of power,” says Maghanoy, “are still predominantly white men.”


Political correctness gone mad?

  1. I don’t mind visible minority. Personally, I use “non-white” since it feels more neutral and can be applied all over the world, including places where people who look like me are the “majority.”   What I *DO* mind is “person of colo(u)r” which is not only too long, but feels like you’re more “other” or “disadvantaged.” 

    • So using “non-white” does not discriminate against whites. Get real and. pox on “politically correct”

  2. Really!? This is just another example of the uselessness of the UN. There are far more important matters around the globe that should have their undivided attention. If they are really concerned about discrimination, racial or religious (this causing more death lately than racial differences),  they should go to countries in the Middle East and Africa. But they don’t because nobody there cares about what the UN says, only what it gives, so they pick on us (the West).

    I certainly hope PM Harper will continue to stand against all the ridiculousness of the UN.

  3. Labeling can alter perceptions. If it didn’t conservatives wouldn’t devote so much time to re-labeling efforts (ie. re-labeling tax cuts as tax relief or the rich as job creators).

    • or the BQ as a social justice party

  4. Throw out every policy that stems from multiculturalism and start from scratch.  The Canadian bureaucrats will never make everyone happy.  You will never totally get rid of racism.  Canada is the most tolerant of most countries. 

    • Rather strange argument.  Multiculturalism has been the mainstay of Canadian social policy for over 50 years, resulting in Canada being one of the most diverse and tolerant countries on the planet )as you note)… so let’s throw it out and start from scratch?

  5. So “visible minority” is implicitly meant to apply only to non-caucasians? So when I (pale male) visit China, I’m not a “visible minority” there?

    Maybe I’m just not smart, but the term visible minority seems to me be useful and indeed wholly appropriate, precisely because it is an ethnically neutral construct that can adapt to any geopolitical locale…

    Seems to me further, that the negativity ascribed to the term by the UN committee is entirely a product of their own preconceptions and prejudices…

    • While the term itself may be inoffensively neutral, 
             “the EEA interprets “visible minorities” as “persons, other than Aboriginal peoples,    who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour,” “

      • Sounds like an appropriate characterization to use in Canada, at the time that the language was drafted. Will be inappropriate if/when Canada is no longer demographically dominated by a pale-skinned majority.

        Doesn’t take away from my point that other countries could define their own frame of reference, and then use the term.

        The fact that the UN can get trapped in such a pointless semantic debate is the real issue.

        Since I hate to point out a problem without offering a solution, I do have a proposal for them:

        To avoid having laws drafted that explicitly or implicitly rest upon premises that might themselves be offensive, we can use technology to provide breakthroughs in both how we express pointless hatred/discrimination and how we control it.

        Each of us shall be implanted with a chip (editable) into which we can program two catalogues of data. The first will be self-descriptive, in areas of demography, characteristics and behaviour. In effect, it will allow other peoples’ scanners to see how I describe myself. (eg: white, male, zoroastrian, left-handed, redhead)

        The second catalogue will indicate which demograhic, behavioral and characteristic-based prejudices we possess (ie: I have chosen to hate and discriminate against purple-skinned, hermaphroditic, rajneeshi, left-handed, shaven headed people who live in Flin Flon)

        The government (and activist groups) can poll both datasets constantly, in order to determine what constitutes the most aggrieved “minority” at ANY GIVEN MOMENT… And without the limiting constraints of antiquated notions such as “visible minority”

        This way we can transition from traditional pointless hatreds, with associated corrective legal and social engineering to a MUCH MORE flexible/adaptable way of hating each other. AND we can equip governments, class-action lawyers and NGOs with the data they need to stay current with their societal improvement efforts (or, in the case of lawyers, their money-grubbing).

        I’m ready for my chip. Who’s with me!!??!!

        • My point was that the UN, in pointing out that the term referred to non-Caucasians, was referring to the interpretation of the term by the EEA, and not to any meaning inherent in the term itself. 

          • In most regions of Canada, the EEA definition would still very much hold true.

            A couple of years ago, while home in NL, I went to a movie. I looked around and realized that in the sea of faces in the theatre lobby, there was only one non-white. He was truly a visible minority.

            On the other hand, there are regions in the GTA where the EEA definition is no longer applicable. It’s not uncommon for me to find myself in situations where my white face is very much part of the visible minority.

            The data suggests that within a very few years the non-caucasian peoples will be the majority in the GTA; maybe the time has come for a more colour-neutral definition.

            But I agree with many of the others on here that with everything else happening in the world, this seems like a rather nitpicky & trivial issue for the UN to focus on.

      • Who cares what the EEA’ s ( whoever they are) interpretation is. Forget political correctness and get on with your life.

  6. I don’t know how these committee meetings work, but based on the reports produced for the UN (http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/ENACARegion/Pages/CAIndex.aspx) it seems like the main problem with the term “visible minority” is that it’s a catchall which glosses over the needs of individual communities. In fact, where it’s discussed in the conclusions (4 parts, out of 24 recommendations), the recommendation to stop using the term is mostly aimed at Statistics Canada, asking it to reveal more details when reporting figures.

    • I think the website didn’t post your link properly.  But thanks for the information.  Based on how it was presented in the article, it sounded like Tom Flanagan was making sense.  When Tom Flanagan starts to make sense, you know it’s time to go home and re-examine your life.

      I suspect the situation in countries like Canada, the US & Australia is different than in most places in Europe.  We’re all former colonies which maintained rule by descendents of the colonizing group after becoming independent, and post-independence immigration is mostly from ethnicities other than that of the original colonizer.  If racial discrimination didn’t exist, we wouldn’t need our unique terminology.

      Interesting that the UN is criticizing the term for not providing enough detail, while (I’m assuming) that Mr. Flaherty is criticizing from neoconservative opinion that focusing too much on individual differences will reinforce stereotypes and result in beaurocratic inefficiencies.

      • You’re far more generous than I – I assumed Flanagan, and Macleans, are attacking the report because they see the UN as some bastion of international liberalism.

        Disqus assumed the closing parenthesis was part of the link. The URL is:

        Since Disqus and Google decided to use my real name and photo, I guess it’s pretty clear that I belong to a ‘visible minority.’ I’ve never minded the term, since it describes the situation fairly accurately: I am part of a minority (or several minorities), and I am visibly so because of my skin tone. It’s important because, in the context of employment, housing, education, shopping, or anything for which I’d have to apply or show up, I *could* easily fall victim to discrimination. That I feel this is rare despite living decades in Canada is one reason I am a proud citizen of this country.

        I’m not sure what terminology, if any, countries in Europe, Asia and Africa use to describe ethnic minorities as a whole. The term ‘people of colour’ popped up in that report, but I’m certainly not a ‘person of colour,’ the majority of people where I live just don’t have my shade of skin.

  7. I would agree that this is skirting to wards political correctness gone mad. But I do not understand why Tom Flanagan is the expert interviewed for the article. Does “political scientist at the University of Calgary and former adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper” make one an expert in everything now?

  8. WHO CARES………….

    • DITTO!

  9. I hope they tell the UN committee to take a hike.  Another waste of money (workshops, 74 page report $$$) to justify their existence.   Canada is by far one of the most tolerant countries in the world.  My ethnic friends, coloured or not keep telling me this.  There will always be some racists around in ALL ethnic groups.  The fact we have affirmative action and quotas supports that.

    “seemed to somehow indicate that whiteness was the standard, all others differing from that being visible,”  According to Thornberry’s CV he is an expert on minorities – well you can’t have a minority without a majority.  

    “Disproportionate force used by police on African Canadians”  huh???

    UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

    Name Nationality Term expires
    Mr. Noureddine AMIR Algeria 19.01.2014
    Mr. Alexei S. AVTONOMOV Russian Federation19.01.2012
    Mr. José Francisco CALI TZAY (Vice-Chairperson) Guatemala19.01.2012
    Ms. Anastasia CRICKLEY Ireland 19.01.2014
    Ms. Fatimata-Binta Victoria DAH (Vice-Chairperson) Burkina Faso19.01.2012
    Mr. Ion DIACONU (Rapporteur) Romania 19.01.2012
    Mr. Kokou Mawuena Ika Kana (Dieudonnè) EWOMSAN Togo19.01.2014
    Mr. Régis de GOUTTES France19.01.2014
    Mr. HUANG Yong’an China 19.01.2012
    Mr. Anwar KEMAL (Chairperson) Pakistan 19.01.2014
    Mr. Dilip LAHIRI India 19.01.2012 Mr. Gün KUT Turkey 19.01.2014
    Mr. José Augusto LINDGREN ALVES Brazil19.01.2014
    Mr. Pastor Elias MURILLO MARTINEZ Colombia 19.01.2012
    Mr. Chris Maina PETER Tanzania 19.01.2012
    Mr. Pierre-Richard PROSPER (Vice-Chairperson) United States of America 19.01.2012
    Mr. Waliakoye SAIDOU Niger 19.01.2014
    Mr. Patrick THORNBERRY United Kingdom19.01.2014

  10. Though done with the best of intentions and perhaps necessary, the act of identifying minorities and addressing their needs by race, is racist.

    Does a child of two lawyers of Tagalog descent, need anymore protection from societal discrimination than the troubled child of Scots-Irish meth addicts? Or for that matter, do those Tagalog-Canadian lawyers, need the same protections as a newly-landed Somali refugee?

  11. Where has Alex Derry been for the past five going on six years.  The performance of the Harperites contradicts the very first sentence of this article “Canada, despite a reputation for being an inclusive society that celebrates diversity” .  The Harperites never fail to take every oportunity to portay coloured people, non-Christians, unbelievers in the appocalipse, social democrats (they call them lefties), non English speakers, refugees, anyone disagreeing with Israeli policy, anyone not belonging to the CPC and many other , as dangerous to society.  They certainly don’t celebrate diversity; Harper won’t even allow debate in his own caucus.  Because the UN is a threat to this club’s attitude of exclusivity, they are a target too. 

    • You are aware that immigrant communities are a big part of the conservative voting base that got them their majority right?  Siding with Israel does not automatically make the government racially discriminatory any moreso than liberally siding with the palestinians.

      • Yes I am aware that Jason Kenny duped a lot of immigrant communties into supporting Harper based soley on some sort of conservative appeal that was completely at odds with the bsais of their culture. 

        Can you provide ANY comment supporting why the current government’s policy towards Israel is in Canada’s interest or is morally justified? 

        • Whether or not Israel ever should have existed in the first place, it does exist and has a right to protect itself.  It’s in a very difficult situation and for some bizarre reason, the media has submitted itself as compliant in the propaganda campaign against Israel’s methods.  I don’t see any particular reason we should side with Israel, but then i don’t see any particular reason we should side against it.  And not siding against Israel is portrayed by certain ‘leftish’ media types as somehow morally reprehensible – Israel should just accept rockets being launched at them from ‘schools’!

    • What utter prattle, do you really believe what you’re saying? or are you indulging in some petty demagoguery?

      IDxiv is right, by the way. Immigrants from anywhere but Western Europe are far more likely to be socially conservative than not, and the Conservatives long ago realized this. Look at the current flock of Conservative MP’s, they’re just as racially diverse as the Liberals and NDP.

      If you’re not being mindlessly scurrilous, then your worldview and perceptions seem to be firmly planted in the 50’s and 60’s. 

      Oh, and it’s spelt “apocalypse”.

      • Harperites have perfected the art of arguing issues by using personal smears.  You seem to have caught on to that technique otherwise you would not resort to the use of worn out terms like prattle, demogoguery, mindless, scurrlious, etc.  Do you have anything to say that supports the idea that Harper’s ideology is inclusive? 

  12. Change the language, why not? Is the term ‘visible minorities’ essential to our national character? 

    I say no. If people with whom we are having an important discussion object to the language, then change the language so that we can continue the discussion of issues that are significant. 

    Take the high road. Ask for a suggestion of an acceptable term and use it. Then we can continue the discussion of the real issues.  Unless our childish refusal to be “correct” is really a tactic to avoid the discussion. 

    This seems to me another Harper government tantrum. Like refusing to deal with a committee that has North Korea in the Chair. Or locking up in a washroom until the agenda is changed. 

    It is not an issue worth our reputation as a civil, peaceful nation. Insisting on language that others find distasteful is a tactic I expect from adolescents. We hope they outgrow that silliness. We hope hope hope that they will outgrow it before they become Prime Minister.

  13. “Canada, despite a reputation for being an inclusive society that celebrates diversity,”
    I sure Mr. Kadhr and others without british blood flowing trough their veins beg to differ.

    • “Beg to differ”?  About what?  You have quoted a subordinate clause dependent on the conjunction “despite.”  There is no main verb.  What statement is there for Mr. Kadhr (or even a British cadre) to agree with or beg to differ about? 

      • Me no converse avek bigots, kapish?

    • Omar Khadr and his cadre are Canadians of convenience who don’t deserve the benefits that Canada provides to its citizens.  His true allegiance was revealed when he took up arms against our allies….he doesn’t merit our help nor our compassion until he apologizes for his role in global terrorism.  I’m not holding out much hope that that will ever happen.

  14. The predictable PC solution: “No more ‘visible minorities’; from now on (on pain of being bombed) it has to be ‘minorities of visibility'”.

    If this seems like an exaggeration, you have not been forced to attend one of Ontario’s training sessions in which hours (and many $$$) were devoted to the moral imperative to “educate” us to reject the term “disabled people” in favour of “people with disabilities.” “Put the Person first!” they harangued–forgetting that it is usually the last word that often carries most weight.  Or so at least it seems to the People’s Liberation Front of Judaea–or was it the Judaean People’s Liberation Front?

  15. High time that Canada told the UN to get stuffed.  It is nothing more than a collection of pompous jerks living the high life in New York City on someone else’s dime.

  16. What a pile of c__p.

  17. Actually, “visible minority” is a VERY good term to use. 
    Especially for Canada. WHY?  The whole durned country is entirely made of visible minorities. Go to any big city, and stand on a street corner. In an hour you will see “someone from every where, one of everything, pass you by”.  Even whites are a visible minority in Canada.  If you add up all the other minorities, they outnumber the whites, in many areas.  The UN basically is just jealous we came up, on our own, with such a good term.  Which I admit is rare for Canada to come up with anything novel. In this case, the UN should be told to go stuff themselves…  And we should stop paying our dues, which as far as I know, have always been paid on time. While Noting:  Many other nations, who include telling us how to run our affairs, are a bit behind…  Not only that, but most of the time the blue helmeted UN troops are Canadian.  Not that we are good at it, our politicians are suckers for putting our lads at risk.  And, well, a lot of places that the UN troops must go, the British and French wore out their welcomes long ago in their colonial era.  And The Americans are not beloved either.I might question:  Do we at all belong in the UN?  How many civil wars had Canada had?  How many wars have we ever started?  We did end a few, though, but only after considerable goading. Our economy is not a complete basket case, yet… Flaherty is working on it, give the man some time!  And we all do tend mainly to get along with each other. So, just what can the UN do for Canada?  And while they like to USE us, have they ever thanked or recognized our contributions? NO.  Send them a bill for services performed….They.  Just.  Might.  Get.  The.  Point.  Then. 

  18. Whites are visible minorities in Vancouver B.C.

  19. Who are the visible minorities in the NBA? Should the NBA be forced to down grade itself to accomodate more Whites, Asians, Natives etc. I think not!

  20. Kinda funny that the #1 country of political correctness is being accused of… being incorrect?!