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Multiculturalism & Interculturalism: The discussion in Québec – POST 3 of 3 (#182)

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This is the third and last post in a 3-post series putting the spotlight on Canada’s multiculturalism and Québec’s interculturalism.

  • This third and last post will discuss the relevance of multiculturalism and interculturalism with respect to Québec’s place in Canada.

What is the relevance of multiculturalism and interculturalism in the context of Québec’s place in Canada?

The difference between multiculturalism and interculturalism is a topic which sometimes rears its head in public debate in Québec.  In Québec’s media, several times in the past couple of years it took on very sensational proportions – often provoked by individual events or government proposals

Very recently the subject of interculturalism and multiculturalism has been front-and-centre.  The largest such event, without any doubt, would have been the debate on the Parti québécois’ proposed (and now semi-defunct) Charte des valeurs québécoises (Québec Charter of Values) during the winter of 2013/2014 (this one challenged reasonable accomodations in a head-on, codified manner).   Following the Charter debates were the late 2014 radicalist-inspired killings of Canadian servicemen in Ottawa and Québec, followed by debates relating to Islamic radicalization, then followed by matters relating to the Charlie Hebdo events in France.   In 2015 the debate has so far centred on Montréal’s recent decision to deny a zoning permit for an Islamic youth centre owing to past radical speeches by the centre’s head, and the city of Trois-Rivières decision to refuse zoning for a mosque in a specific district of the city.    Debate on these topics has concentrated on the extent to which multiculturalism “can” promote integration, and the degree to which interculturalism “should” promote integration.

In light of the above events, we are not only venturing into the realms of the criminal code for some events (for certain terrorist or illegal radicalist acts), but for other events we’re once again venturing into the realms of reasonable accommodation.  Thus pay attention to the words “can” and “should” which I underlined in the last sentence of the last paragraph.  I underlined them because these two words have very different meanings – precisely because the government of Québec exercises control over interculturalism policies, but not over multicultural legislation.   But as a supplementary comment, I will add that the public does have influence over multicultural policies when they cast their 2015 federal ballot.  In light of the federal election and the way these recent events are being discussed in the media, multiculturalism (or “perceived” areas relating to multiculturalism) look to be shaping up as a federal election issue (at least on the “integration” front).

A fair number of celebrity columnists and opinion-makers in Québec’s media have asserted that Québec’s own interculturalism policies could be a solution to prevent violent radicalism, violent fundamentalism, and terrorist matters in the first place.   However, I believe these columnists are largely incorrect in the sense that they are confusing “criminal” matters with “multiculturallism” and “interculturalism” matters .  You read the actual definitions of multiculturalism and interculturalism in the first post of this 3-part series.  For the most part, grievances with respect to the above-mentioned news stories are not matters stemming from multiculturalism policies.   These columnists are sensationalizing certain grievances that immigrant selection criteria are too lax, the “government” has not taken steps to prevent Islamic fundamentalist radicalization, and that stronger French language integration rules will result in fewer issues.  These opinion-maker celebrities assert that that multiculturalism impedes Québec’s interculturalist policies, and thus Québec’s government does not have adequate tools at its disposal to take concrete measures regarding these issues (many popular columnists and opinion-makers are arguing that multiculturalism is thus a failure and is not compatible with Québec’s culture).

But as you saw from the definitions of multiculturalism and interculturalism, both ideologies are mutually compatible and complimentary.  There is not a big difference between the two policies.

As I stated above, a good number of these celebrity opinion-maker’s assertions have nothing at all to do with multiculturalism (they are matters dealt with other provincial and federal legislation – such as education policy, immigration acts, the criminal code, the civil code, etc.).   Yet, an argument could be made that intercultural and multicultural policy could perhaps be applied to deny zoning permits for centres which preach radical and violent views (the reasonable accommodation component), but this is only a very small piece of a much larger challenge and puzzle.

Where the real danger lies is that multiculturalism and interculturalism tend to be very misunderstood concepts, and common people may come to believe they are broken ideologies (especially multiculturalism) if they perceive there are threats of violence from radicalized religion or a decrease of French-as-a-first-home-language in certain sectors of Montréal (but even here, there is a huge difference between French as a home language, and French as the lingua franca once one leaves the front door of their house.  I or people I know might speak English at home with some friends or family, but if all I ever speak outside the house if French, then what does home language have to do with anything?).

Therefore when certain media or political opinion-makers blame multiculturalism for many of Québec’s woes, segments of the public will unfortunately tend to believe it.  However, if people knew the true definitions, if they knew both concepts are compatible and complimentary, if they knew that the differences are not very large, and if they knew how both concepts actually work on the ground, I believe both ideologies would no longer take an undeserved beating.

One of the major dangers, I believe, is that multiculturalism runs the risk of continuously being highjacked for the purposes of promoting Québec sovereignty.  Very influential sovereignist columnists and opinion-makers (who happen to be rather well-known television and radio personalities in Québec) will often tell Québec’s public that Canada’s multiculturalism is incompatible with Québec’s interculturalism.  Even the host of Québec’s most popular television talk show (which regularly attracts over 2 million viewers per episode) makes such assertions on air.  They assert that Canadian multiculturalism is a threat to Québec’s culture, and thus sovereignty is the only way to correct this situation.  I have seen good number of some of Québec’s best known and most followed columnists, as well as sovereignist politicians, claim that one of the “main” reasons Québec should be independent is because multiculturalism directly conflicts with interculturalism, Québec’s agenda and the control of Québec’s future (some personalities, including one of Québec’s best known columnists, go so far as to state that this argument is the primary reason, above any economic or other constitutional argument, to endorse Québec independence).

I have been following the Parti Québécois leadership race.   As it is shaping up, and as the candidates make known their views, should the 2018 or 2022 elections revolve around a debate about sovereignty (which the main candidates are pushing for), false arguments pertaining to Canadian multiculturalism have the potential to be one of the most prominent rounds in the arena.   Yet, I have yet to hear any of these sovereignist personalities offer concrete proof how multiculturalism and interculturalism conflict, are not complimentary, or are at the root of all ills (I would sometimes even venture to assert the two concepts can be “symbiotic” under many circumstances – which goes even further than being complimentary).

The specific examples sovereignist politicians, intellectuals, and columnists do cite for a mismatch between the two ideologies have nothing to do with the definition of what multicultural is, but rather their examples fall under the purview of other legislation or of other public policy.  Their examples also relate to the actions of individuals which have nothing to do with government at all.  I feel they misunderstand not only what multiculturalism is, but they also grossly misunderstand what Québec’s own interculturalism is (whether this is an innocent misunderstanding on their part, or a deliberate “omission” of facts is an argument I’ll leave to opposition politicians and columnists to fight out).

I can offer you a very recent example of what I mean.  A few days ago, I was listening to a very well- known, high profile Québec sovereignist intellectual give an interview on one of Québec’s most popular radio programs (there may have been up to 300,000 people listening to the radio program at that moment).  She was asked why the Charlie Hebdo cartoons were not published by most of Anglophone Canada’s major newpapers (whereas most of Québec’s francophone newspapers published the cartoons).  She answered that it was because Canada’s multiculturalism creates an ideological divide between English Canada and Québec, and is not adaptable to Québec’s reality and views.  She asserted that Canada’s multicultural policies are incompatible with Québec’s culture.

Although I respect her for her lucidity and thoughtful reflection on many issues, I feel she was dead wrong in her statements, and her public argument is frankly very misleading.   I urge you to re-read the definition of multiculturalism in the last two posts.   What a private newspaper decides to publish or not publish has nothing at all to do with multiculturalism.   Yes, it may have something to do with a society’s collective cultural views and/or an individual newspaper’s views, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the definition / application of multiculturalism, or the Multiculturalism Act.   Just to drive the point home a bit further, two of the best known newspapers in the United States made two very different decisions regarding whether or not to publish the Charlie Hebdo cartoons.  One paper published the cartoons, and the other one did not.  Their decisions had nothing to do with multiculturalism.  Even Radio-Canada, based in Montréal, publicly stated they internally debated if they should or should not publish the cartoons.  In the end Radio-Canada stated they decided to show the cartoons on air simply owing to the fact that the cartoons were already widely published and availabe (not because of any issue related to multiculturalism or interculturalism).

Here is another recent example:  Two weeks ago, the cities of Trois-Rivières and Montréal’s refusals of zoning permits to certain Islamic institutions (one decision was based on preventing a very radical discourse, the other was because the neighbourhood was zoned for industrial use, and any religious building should not be built in the industrial zone).    A well-known federalist former politician and a well-known sovereignist former politician debated on television what society should do in light of these two decisions.  The sovereignist former politican blamed Canada’s multiculturalism for allowing fundamentalism to take root in Québec.  Yet she omitted to mention two important points:  (1) that multiculturalism is flexible and allows more than enough room for Québec’s interculturalism to address integration issues within the full scope of Québec’s own integration policies (in this sense, multiculturalism has nothing to do with her argument), and (2) she failed to mention that should any Islamist institutions or individuals venture into the realm of anything illegal, it would then fall under other legislation and agencies (having nothing to do with the Multiculturalism Act, contrary to what she implied).

She also could not link multiculturalism to fundamentalism when challenged to do so.  Her argument was that multiculturalism allows anyone, with any radical and harmful fundamentalist views to settle and/or take root in Canada – but as you saw from the above definitions of multiculturalism, this argument has nothing to do with what multiculturalism means.

Immigration selection criteria in Québec (i.e.: who will make the most suitable and successful immigrant) actually falls under the jurisdiction of Québec’s government’s immigration legislation, and immigration admissibility (criminality, terrorism screening, threats, etc.) falls under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the criminal code.  None of this has anything to do with multiculturalism or the Multiculturalism Act.  As far as a person becoming a threatening radical after arriving on Canadian soil, again this has nothing to do with multiculturalism.  Rather it has to do with extremist indoctrination or psychological issues, and Canadian-born individuals (regardless of whether they are white, brown, black or whatever) are equally susceptible to such radical tendencies.  Indoctrination is not a multiculturalism problem.

But again, such columnists and opinion makers are given very wide-reaching microphones, and unfortunately a lack of understanding of multiculturalism on the part of the public can lend to the myth that multiculturalism is a root cause, rather than a viable solution (just as interculturalism is a viable solution – the ideologies are the closest of kin, after all).

In summary, when talking about Québec and multiculturalism versus interculturalism, it is very important to understand what multiculturalism is, and what interculturalism is.  When famous celebrity opinion-makers and columnists, with very large audiences, contend that multiculturalism does not protect Québec’s society and/or should be invoked as a reasons for sovereignty, I urge you to take a second look at the definitions of these ideologies, what they truly relate to, and keep it all in context before drawing conclusions.

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COMPLETE SERIES:  MULTICULTURALISM AND INTERCULTURALISM (8 POSTS)

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1 Comment

  1. […] Multiculturalism & Interculturalism: The discussion in Québec – POST 3 of 3 (#182) « Quebec …. […]

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