08/15/2013 05:28 EDT | Updated 10/15/2013 05:12 EDT

Has Multiculturalism in Canada Lost Its Way?

Now that multiculturalism has become a popular concept, it is time for us to add more meat to the bone and expand on what it means to Canada to be a multicultural society.

While most Canadians highlight our multicultural character as a virtue, it continues to mean different things to different people.

Multiculturalism is the recognition that while Canadians share equal rights and responsibilities, they come with diverse cultural backgrounds where each is entitled to practice their faith freely and take pride in their heritage.

To some, multiculturalism is the fact that we have an abundance of tasty restaurants. Others may think multiculturalism is about celebrating independence days of other countries. And some want government policies to fund the creation of religious institutions.

Multicultural critics think of multiculturalism as an enabler to ghettoize our communities where Canadians are discouraged from integrating with "mainstream" society. Other critics even see it as a threat to "Canadian Identity."

Such discussions are necessary within any confident society. The idea of building a harmonious nation with various cultures, faiths and races is tricky and requires a lot of delicate effort.

However, during these conversations, we shouldn't lose sight of multiculturalism's foundation and its most powerful element: Humanity.

The core value of multiculturalism is that all humans share similar aspirations, fears and needs. All humans deserve equal rights and protections from their government regardless of their background. We may choose to express our faith, celebration and mourning in different ways but we are still the same.

In essence, multiculturalism is not about dwelling on our differences. It is about emphasizing our commonality.

Unfortunately that principle gets lost when multiculturalism gets viewed as a foreign phenomenon designed to "tolerate" immigrants. If we are sincere about multiculturalism then we need to accept that Canadian identity is not static and that it will constantly evolve thanks to its various cultures.

It means we make reasonable adjustments to accommodate each other. Indeed, when applied fairly, it will dismantle real and perceived excuses for isolation.

Government multicultural policies should focus on building common spaces that promote cultural understanding and foster respect.

Policies that nurture interaction between the various communities will reduce suspicion and finger-pointing.

One of the other benefits of multiculturalism is that it acts as a filter. Practices that don't afford respect to other Canadians including women, LGBTs, other faiths and cultures cannot be condoned by multiculturalism.

Multiculturalism can offer tools to enhance our laws. If we believe that multiculturalism enriches our society then we need to be open to incorporating other points of views. However, we must not violate the spirit of multiculturalism when accommodating each other.

As we grapple with the next phase of multiculturalism we need policies that go beyond songs and dances.

We need policies that stop treating multiculturalism as a subsidiary to immigration (for example, I attended a multicultural festival where the mayor of one of the largest Canadian cities told the Canadian audience that their culture is more colourful than "Canadian culture"). Instead we should embrace it as an organic and local reality of Canadian identity.

Multiculturalism, when practiced beyond lip-service, will develop an identity that represents the best of all worlds. It is a purifying blender that benefits from its various positive ingredients.

Nations that are built on common ethnicity or faith may appear more cohesive on the outside, but they remain stagnant and their minorities will never be accepted as equals.

Multiculturalism can be messy and difficult but Canada is becoming wiser, more confident and more prosperous because of it.

Also on The Huffington Post:

The Most, Least Diverse Cities In The U.S.