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Where is Multiculturalism heading in the next year or two in Québec? (#183)

The last few posts put the spotlight on multiculturalism and interculturalism, what they are, what role they play regarding controversial matters, and what place they have in public discussion in Québec.

In this post, I’d like to give you a political commentary and place the issue of multiculturalism, interculturalism and reasonable accommodations in the context of current political events in Québec.

This post deals with a number of complex issues, and unfortunately it would be difficult to break it up into smaller posts.  Also, because it is a subjective opinion piece (with many conjectures), I would rather keep it together as one piece and label it as being just that:  a subjective opinion piece with a good number of political conjectures.

Before going further, the essence of this post will only really make sense if you have read the previous posts:

I also strongly urge you to read an earlier post I wrote which covers much of what has happened in Québec politics from March 2012 until January 2015.   The post is entitled Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois (but it discusses many pertinent matters beyond GND).  Without this backgrounder, it may be difficult to understand the “political feeling and atmosphere” of matters discussed below.

The post entitled “Multiculturalism & Interculturalism: The discussion in Québec”, discussed how there are a number of public columnist and opinion-maker figures in Québec (often, but certainly not always in the sovereignist camp) who have taken a very public position against multiculturalism.  The post “Multiculturalism & Interculturalism: The discussion in Québec” explained what their arguments are.

Because their arguments against multiculturalism have been repeated for at least a couple of decades by a good number of high-profile sovereignists, these long-standing arguments have given swaths of the public a misleading view of what multiculturalism is.  At the very least, it makes segments of the public unjustly hostile to certain aspects of multiculturalism.  At the most extreme end of the scale of public sentiment, the projection of anti-multiculturalism views has the potential to influence referendum results should another referendum for sovereignty ever be called (2018, 2022 or 2026 election cycles?).

Québec’s recent history already saw how the Parti Québécois capitalized upon this perceived mismatch and estrangement between multiculturalism and interculturalism.   When the PQ introduced the Charte des valeurs in 2013 (the “Charter of Values”), it was with the intention to “beef-up” interculturalism (a matter within Québec’s provincial jurisdiction) under the claim that multiculturalism doesn’t cut the mustard.   The Charte des valeurs was supposed to legislate (essentially codify in a Napoleonic model) what may be considered “reasonable” accommodations (but more specifically “unreasonable accommodations”) by Québec’s society towards religious devotees in Québec.

Regarding this “codification”, you have to keep in mind that in civil matters, Québec operates under the Napoleonic Code.  This means that laws, regulations and rules are stipulated in writing ahead of time.  Judges simply have to determine if the prescribed legal matter adheres to the written word or not.  However, in the rest of Canada, civil matters fall under Common Law principles, meaning case law evolves as matters are dealt with by the courts, case-by-case.   To date, matters around “reasonable accommodation” have not been codified in Québec (both the federal Multiculturalism Act and Québec interculturalism have been dealt with through evolutionary case law).

With that being said, because Québec exercises jurisdiction over its own interculturalism, I get the sense that people in Québec may not be opposed to the idea of embarking on a codification of certain aspects of “reasonable accommodation” (after all, Québec’s population is very used to, and comfortable with using a codified system of rules.  Likewise, aspects of Québec’s society may feel a bit more awkward when civil and other societal matters are left to – what they may perceive as being – “the winds” of Common Law).

I have no idea if this codification will or will not happen, but there are signs out there that things may be moving in this direction.  If it does occur, it would be a major shift on the multiculturalism and interculturalism front, with major implications – and a Charter of values could be the vehicle under which this may occur.  Keep this in mind as you read on.

In the last post, Multiculturalism & Interculturalism: The discussion in Québec, I discussed that accommodations under multiculturalism and interculturalism are deemed reasonable to the extent that society deems them to be reasonable.  If certain accommodations are not deemed reasonable by society at large, then they are not accorded.  If certain requests for accommodations are deemed reasonable, society is then more than willing to grant them.  Yet if other accommodation requests generate mixed feelings from the public, then society may be willing to strike a compromise with respect to accommodations.

Yet, with the introduction of the Parti Québéois’ Charte des valeurs, the party was proposing to “tell” the public (the majority and minorities alike) what they “should” view as reasonable and unreasonable accommodations.   Up until now, such a codified approach has not been how multiculturalism worked, nor has it been how interculturalism worked.  Accommodations are a societal choice, which fit the situation at the right place, and at the right time.   Little-by-little, society then evolves.   But what the Charte was proposing was a complete one-upping over multiculturalism, under the premise that multiculturalism was broken, and that aspects of interculturalism should be codified under the Charte des valeurs.

The primary goals, under the Charte, would have been to forcefully prevent any provincial public civil servant from wearing any “ostentatious” (ostentatoire) religious symbol (no crosses, no veils, no kippahs, no religious beards, no turbans, etc.).  Thus, religious symbols, by way of a Napoleonic code, would not be accommodated – essentially rendering the Multiculturalism Act (and the flexibility it accords for accommodations) ineffective and defunct in the realm of such matters (there are questions regarding constitutionality of such a Charte, but I’ll get to that a little further down).

But the proposal for the Charte des valeurs didn’t stop there.  During public forum debates of winter 2014 and the 2014 election campaign, fringe elements of the sovereignist movement capitalized on the perceived political momentum that the Charte was generating.  They called for it to include other controversial elements:  applying Bill 101 to CEGEPs which would compel all non-Anglophones to attend college only in French.   Other fringe proposals were to compel federal government operations within Québec to be subject to Bill 101 – meaning that the federal government would not be allowed to operate in English in Québec, nor would it be allowed to render bilingual services.   Pauline Marois (the leader of the PQ at the time), found herself between a rock and hardplace with these supplementary proposals for the Charte.  On one hand, it was not the party’s intention to go this far.  But on the other hand, these fringe proposals were energizing and engaging the PQ’s grassroots base.  There was the appearance that a new momentum was building in favour of the PQ (as a side note, we later learned that this perceived “momentum” was actually an illusion, one which played a role in the PQ’s downfall).  In the end, the PQ did not expressively reject these fringe proposals (for fear of alienating their base), but they did not expressively approve of them either.

This lead to even more “off-shoots” of the “off-shoots”.  One off-shoot proposal was a very grass root movement to control English at the university level, and thus to control out-of-province Anglophone students’ rights to reside in Québec or pursue their studies in Québec.  This proposal further branched into some of the most bizarre sub-proposals, regarding residency rights, voting rights… you name it (the super-star celebrity Jeanette Bertrand took the reins of this one).  A wholly independent “citizens action” movement took root.  The movement was called Les Jeanettes, and the superstar wife of Pierre Karl Péladeau (and perhaps the second most well-known celebrity in Québec after Céline Dion), Julie Snyderjoined forces with Jeanette Bertrand to spearhead a general feminist movement in support the Charte (they even organized large-scale parades in the streets).  You can watch someone’s home footage of it here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hm7LKpW4acc.

The Parti Québécois was hoping that proposals for the Charte des valeurs (both official ones the PQ endorsed, in addition to non-official ones from off-shoot ones from fringe movements) would garner them support from key voting sectors of Québec’s society – and perhaps it did in some ways.  After all, the Parti Québécois and sovereignists in general were bombarding the public with the argument that multiculturalism ran counter to Québec’s interests, and counter to the objectives of interculturalism.   It was an argument used to score political points.  It was intended to make the public believe that (1) they needed a saviour from multiculturalism (thus, in came the Charte), and (2) that Québec needs independence owing to the incompatibility of Canadian multiculturalism with Québec values.

Whereas the Charte proposals gained supporters in some areas of society (mostly with white Francophone voters, particularly residing in suburbs surrounding Montréal – a suburban region which  contains ¼ of Québec’s population), the Charte proposals also had the opposite effect of alienating large swaths of other segments of Québec’s society.   This alienation, combined with other semi-related events of spring & summer 2014 (read the post on Gabriel-Nadeau Dubois) sealed the fate of the Parti Québécois.   In 2014, they lost the 2014 election with their worst election results in more than 30 or 40 years.

Despite the failure of the Parti Québécois’ plans to create a Charte, which would codify a denial of accommodations, damage was likely done in the sphere of how the public perceives multiculturalism.  I say this because almost 18 months was spent with a government in power (the Parti Québécois) telling the public repeatedly that multiculturalism was broken, was not compatible with Québec or Québec values, and that it needed to be replaced (or be superseded).

What prompted the proposal for the Charte des valeurs Québécois to come about in the first place?

With respect to sovereignty, Steven Harper’s Conservative government has seemingly adopted a stance of not debating it in public in Québec, and of “ignoring” it to death (with the latter being the main strategy… i.e.: if you don’t talk about sovereignty, scars will have time to heal, people will concentrate and re-centre their political views around other matters of importance, and the issue will die).  In this respect, on anything regarding the topic of sovereignty, the Conservatives have avoided discussions which could cause emotions to run high, not only in Québec, but also elsewhere in Canada.

In a number of ways, it actually it is a strategy which has worked (I will be the first to admit that I am surprised that it seemed to have worked – on several fronts no less).  Other parties (provincial and federal) appear to also be going down the same path, and all have publicly stated they will not reopen the constitution at any time in a foreseeable future – preferring instead to make many small policy and legal decisions, one incremental step at a time, in order to deal with matters which could otherwise be dealt with in one major fell swoop through a re-opening of the constitution.

The Parti Québécois was well aware that the wind was taken out of their sovereignty sails by this new “ignore-it-to-death” strategy.  After all, the PQ’s adversaries (Ottawa, the provincial Liberals, the provincial CAQ, and other provinces) refused to hand them a public battle on a silver plate.   Traditionally, when emotions run sky high in Québec – particularly anti-“Ottawa” emotions – the PQ and their sovereignty proposals also ride high in the polls.   But in the absence of flash-points of tension with Ottawa, in the absence of a federal-provincial battle, and in the absence of ideological fights between Québec and the rest of Canada, the PQ flounders (very public infighting withing a very diverse PQ party begins) and public support for their ideologies go by the wayside.

The Parti Québécois therefore sees it in their interest to try to find an emotional subject which would forge a poignant wedge between the people of Québec and Ottawa/Anglophone Canada.  Once they believe they have found the magic harp, they traditionally play it until the strings fall off.

Multiculturalism has been one such scapegoat which the Parti Québécois fixed squarely in their sights.  Even if they twisted multiculturalism in every way it could be twisted, and even if they gave it a few more wrings for good measure, they continued to hope that this would be one area which the public might finally latch on to for the purposes of building support and an argument for sovereignty.

I do not believe that the Parti Québécois cared if their proposals were constitutional or not.  Rather, they simply wanted the population to latch on to their proposal for the purpose of igniting an emotional constitutional battle.   If their proposal would have been judged unconstitutional, the Parti Québécois would have probably basked and rejoiced in such a ruling.   They would have touted such a ruling as proof that their anti-multiculturalism and pro-Charte vision of Québec could only be settled by sovereignty, thus giving ammunition to a claim that even “Canada’s constitution is against Québec”.   They may have very well been prepared to invoke the notwithstanding clause to implement the Charte des valeurs, which would have dragged, quite unwillingly but unavoidably might I add, the federal government and federalist opposition parties into the arena – an event the Parti Québécois was bargaining on.  It would have been the emotional constitutional battle they were hoping for.

Commentary:  I routinely hear Anglophone Canadian opinion-makers, politicians outside Québec, and other “quick-lipped” figures say the Charte would be unconstitutional, and thus the Charte cannot come to fruition.  These people say the PQ cannot, and should not introduce the Charte, otherwise they would face a “battle”.  They may be right regarding its constitutionality, but this kind of rhetoric — at least with this type of wording — plays right into the PQ’s hands, and should be avoided (Harper seems to have realized it, and we have not heard him invoke this sort of rhetoric, and he has not spoke publicly about the Charte’s constitutionality… other Federal party leaders also seem to be tip-toeing around the issue, much like Harper).  Yes, if the PQ really wants it, the Charte can be implemented through use of the notwithstanding clause, and yes, it would result in a battle with sky-high emotions — exactly what the PQ wants.  Opinion-makers outside Québec would be wise to reconsider spouting off about the constitutionality of such a move and to look at the bigger picture when developing alternative strategies.  To do otherwise would run the risk of alienating large segments of Québec’s public which feels they ultimately control the levers of their own destiny (sovereignists or not).  There is more at play that just a simple matter of it being constitutional or not.  This one area which is poorly understood by Anglophone Canada .

So what happened that derailed all of this?

However things did not go quite the way the Parti Québécois had hoped.  In the past 10 years, the Parti Québécois has had 3 leaders, 1 long-term interim leader, and they will have a fifth leader in May (Bernard Landry, André Boisclair, Pauline Marois, Stéphan Bédard + possibly Pierre Karl Péladeau in May 2015).   With so many leaders, and with each of them trying to create a flash-point of conflict with Ottawa, multiculturalism as “the holy flash-point” has been lost on the public among many other potential “hot flash-points” the PQ has trumpeted (employment insurance, provincial-federal fiscal imbalance, foreign affairs, cultural affairs, agricultural free trade hurting Québec’s milk & cheese industry, language issues, worker re-training, CRTC decisions, military shipbuilding grants not being given to the Davie Ship Yard in Québec City, fisheries and Ocean matters, oil pipelines, international climate change accords, carbon markets, Canada’s aversion to publicly-funded universal daycare and pharmacare stances, perceived Québec bashing [but Sun News TV is now shut down]… and the list goes on, and on, and on).

In the 10 years that the PQ has had 5 leaders – with each trying to find a new and better federal-provincial flash-point for battle – the public realizes that it is impossible for every little thing to be a flash-point between Québec and Ottawa.  In this respect, I think the public simply lost faith in the Parti Québécois (the PQ simply shot themselves in the foot by always crying wolf).   Thus, the public has not latched on to the multiculturalism argument quite in the same way as the Parti Québécois had hoped.

So then, multiculturalism is no longer a controversial subject in Québec, right?   Well, not so fast…

However (and I say “however” with a very strong tone), multiculturalism has taken a prolonged, hard flogging in the public arena in Québec.   I know a number of people whose backs go up the moment the “M”-word is uttered (and these are reasonable, well-educated people).  When I hear the reasons why people have an adversity towards multiculturalism, many are the same reasons invoked by the Parti Québécois.  This demonstrates that two generations spent of beating it into the ground has taken a toll on the public’s perception of multiculturalism.   On top of that, multiculturalism is not taught in Québec high schools with any seriousness.   And those who I know who have had teachers teach them about multiculturalism say that their teachers’ own understanding of multiculturalism is not accurate either (it is often more about negative perceptions than reality).

The “general” public perception for many in Québec (as a result of a couple of decades of certain political camps trying to score political points) is that multiculturalism cannot protect French, that it is harmful to French, that it was never designed to and cannot help immigrants integrate into a society as different as Québec’s, that it cannot be adapted to Québec’s unique legislative and social programs, that it suffocates and strangles any interculturalism initiatives the government takes, that it is stagnant, that it cannot be reactive, proactive or evolve to reflect changes in Québec’s society, that it can be manipulated by immigrants to allow them to retain English as their lingua-franca, and that it is essentially and culturally an Anglophone solution for an Anglophone society’s way of life – completely incompatible with Québec society.

Whao!  That is a quite a long conveyor-belt of assertions towards multiculturalism.

At the same time, if you were to ask the majority what multiculturalism means (the true definition), as well as “how” it works, these same people who hold the above views would not be able to answer you.  Wham!  There’s the problem!

Here is a video of example of what I mean by the public taking opinion-makers at their word: https://youtube.com/watch?v=iNMMGVJXw3A

[In the above video, the commentator on the left, Mathieu Bock-Côté, is a very well known, high-profile and sovereignist newspaper columnist.  He regularly makes the television and radio talk-show rounds on LCN, Télé-Québec, and RNC radio network.  He has a regular column in the Journal de Montréal and op-eds in La Presse and Le Devoir newspapers. Needless to say, he is quite recognizable in Québec.  I’ve regularly seen and heard him on TV and the radio for several years now.  He is also a university professor;  with his main staff position at Université de Montréal, and as the head of a political science course at the Université de Sherbrooke.  He’s not some fly-by-night figure.  It would be very concerning if he is teaching this inaccurate version of multiculturalism at university, let alone seeing it in the media so often.  You’ll note when the host, Mario Dumont (also very well known; he used to be the ADQ leader and leader of the official opposition in Québec – and I would not even place him in the sovereignist camp anymore) asked for the true definition of multiculturalism, the response given by Bock-Côté was from another planet.  Dumont appeared to not even know the himself, thus it gave Bock-Côté free reign to carry on with his re-wired and distorted version of multiculturalism and what it is doing to Québec.  When asked what multiculturalism is, in one sentence Bock-Côté described it as the host culture having to erase itself so as to make way for every other culture, for all of them to be neutral so every grievance can be accommodated, and so it works against the existence of the host or national culture.  The rest of the interview took this tone (Big sigh – Deep breath).  We have been seeing this far too often in the media].

If you read my previous few posts, you would know that the reality of multiculturalism is quite the opposite of the above assertions.   Nonetheless, damage has been done in the sphere of public perception.  This is likely a reason why provincial parties (the Liberals and CAQ) and federal parties (Conservatives, Liberals and NDP) are all reluctant to even bring up the word “multiculturalism” in Québec.  They know that significant segments of the public will not accurately interpret whatever they say about it.  Thus political speeches, political interviews, and political literature in Québec are devoid of the “M”-word.   Nor has there been a call to include learning about multiculturalism in provincial high school curriculums (likely owing to the fact that teachers may themselves have strong misgivings towards multiculturalism, making it a high-risk topic to incorporate into high school curricula without knowing how it would be conveyed to students.  Plus many may come to believe that a government which implements learning about multiculturalism is one which is trying to score political points).

I will say this – if a non-sovereignist government is looking for a strong political strategy in a related arena, one which could rally the masses, trumpeting the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a far better and much safer bet.  The CCRF is much better understood and much more respected by Québec’s population than multiculturalism.  It is more black and white, and people can see it in action on a daily basis.   It too has its deterrents in some political camps (that’s a whole other book), but nonetheless, most people recognize it is something to be valued.  It is the CCRF which federalist parties are much more willing to openly discuss in public (and they do).  They routinely hold it up as an example of collective values which we all share as one country.

Where does multiculturalism in Québec go from here?

It will take time – a long time – to repair multiculturalism’s public perception in Québec, let alone to even begin to think it could be a topic with which to rally the population around a common cause.

I’m not sure what the best way is to repair its image considering how invisible it has become in education, political discourse, and in the media (that is, when it is not being attacked in certain media circles).  I’m wondering if ignoring multiculturalism – at least as a point of discussion in the public sphere, and similar to recent strategies taken towards sovereignty – might actually be the best solution.  Right now, the “M”-word is not seen in the best light… so perhaps it should be put to sleep as a public debate (at least for the next little while).   Of course, this would be a touchy and controversial strategy.  But an “out-of-sight and out-of-mind” approach would mean that negative perceptions towards multiculturalism would also disappear from public view while the topic is parked for a while.  That might allow time for the M-word’s “rehabilitation” – and its gentle and slow reintroduction as a public discussion topic (perhaps over several years).

The Parti Québécois learned the lesson that it cannot continuously flog this and every other topic under the sun in the hopes that they will all become the holy grail of political conflict needed to incite public support for sovereignty.   Thus, the Parti Québécois has already “backed-off” – and this might just afford the breathing space that multiculturalism needs in order to slowly have its image repaired.

The Charter 2.0

With that being said, there is one more chapter on the horizon in this murky realm:  La Charte 2.0 (The Charter of Québec Values, version 2.0).   When you now mention la Charte 2.0, almost anyone in Québec who follows politics will know what you’re talking about.   Following the utter failure in 2014 of the PQ’s Charte des valeurs québécoises, an elected Parti Québécois MNA, Bernard Drainville (a famous and former Radio-Canada reporter and the author of the original Charte des valeurs) decided to run for the leadership of the Parti Québécois.  Yet, he is running on a platform of a “toned-down” version of the Charte (which has been nicknamed the Charte 2.0).

Unlike in 2014, Drainville and his supporters will not allow the Charte 2.0 to be highjacked and torn in all directions by “fringe elements” of the party or extreme fringe supporters of sovereignty.   Thus, he has considerably narrowed the focus of the Charte 2.0.  The original version of the Charte would have banned anyone receiving a paycheque from adorning oneself of any religious symbols.   Those who would have been affected by the original version included as wide range of people as public daycare workers, a payroll clerk distributing paycheques in a Northern Inuit village’s community centre (ie: no beads on Inuit jackets if they had to do with Inuit religious beliefs), a person responsible for cutting municipal grass with a weed-whacker, a trucker hauling septic tanks between provincial camp gounds – anyone receiving public pay, period.

La Charte 2.0 would be much narrower and would contain only two proposals for codified accommodations / non-accommodations:

  • It would only ban religious symbols for the most visible and most authoritative public servants (those making decisions in which avoidance of a perception of bias would be deemed paramount). These professions would likely only be restricted to provincial police officers, judges, provincial immigration officers (those working in Québec’s provincial immigration ministry), and perhaps physicians and certain teachers/professors (although these last two professions are still up for debate within Bernard Drainville’s own ranks).
  • The second proposal foresees that those already working in the above professions would be subject to a grandfather clause. This means they would not be subject to the news rules and only those entering the professions would be subject to the Charte 2.0.  There is still a debate within the Parti Québécois if the grandfather clause would be for a 5 year period, 10 year period, or indefinitely.

Can this proposal come to fruition?

La Charte 2.0 has not gone unnoticed by the ruling provincial Liberals.   During the 2014 election campaign, the Liberal leader and Québec’s Premier, Philippe Couillard, said a Liberal government would be prepared to “quickly” adopt similar value-based legislation, but repackaged under the label of “secularism” rather than the label of “values” (i.e. a “Charter of Secularism” or Charte de laïcité).   After all, the watered-down version of the Charte 2.0 is not very harsh, nor is it nearly as radical.  I would dare to say that 2.0 could possibly be swallowed by sufficient portions of Québec’s population (and it could possibly even be swallowed by a sizeable portion of Anglophone Canada’s population, had this occurred elsewhere in Canada… But then again, there’s no way of truly knowing unless circumstances were to play themselves out).

This was a political strategy decision on the part of the provincial Liberals.   I’ll explain:

The Liberals know that the Parti Québécois’ long leadership race will concentrate primarily on sovereignty and the introduction of a new referendum as quickly as possible (which differentiates this Parti Québécois leadership race from any past PQ leadership races).   The Parti Québécois has said themselves that any new referendum initiative would likely be the very last one in Québec’s history (at least for the next 50 – 100 years) regardless of which way it goes.  Thus, they do not want to make the errors of the past election – that of running on a complex, multi-faceted platform.  They want to restrict political debate squarely on sovereignty and the next referendum (rather than other governance issues).   This is one of the main reasons why Pierre Karl Péladeau looks set to win the leadership of the party in May 2015.  He publicly stated that he is not at all interested in governance issues should he become premier, and that his only concentration would be to hold a referendum as quickly as possible, then resign and get out of politics.

However, Bernard Drainville, one of the party leadership contenders, has ruthlessly kept alive the idea of the Charte 2.0.  Perhaps he truly believes in its merits, or perhaps he still believes it continues to have the potential to invoke a constitution crisis on the multicultural front with Ottawa should a referendum be called (or perhaps he believes both – which is what I would venture to say he believes).

Nonethless, the provincial ruling Liberals have taken note, and they appear ready to “one-up” the Parti Québécois.   I mentioned above that the provincial Liberals have publicly stated (no less as part of their 2014 election platform) that they would be prepared to “quickly” invoke secularism legislation very similar to la Charte 2.0.   Their proposals were not unlike Drainville’s Charte 2.0.  Yet five months have gone by since the Liberals were elected, and their “quick” secularism legislation has not yet been proposed.

What are they waiting for?  Well, I think they’re waiting to see how Drainville’s Charte 2.0 goes over with the public during the Parti Québécois’ own leadership debates from February 2015 to May 2015.  If the Parti Québécois only selects two major issues to form their new mantra (that of fast-tracked sovereignty and the Charte 2.0) then the provincial Liberals may make their move and introduce their own Charte 2.0 – thus stealing the thunder from half of the Parti Québécois’ new mantra.  I believe the provincial Liberals would do this knowing that it would (a) avoid a constitutional showdown with Ottawa (the provincial Liberals would be much better able to navigate these waters with Ottawa so that it does not become a constitutional crisis), and (b) the Parti Québécois will have half their new raison d’être taken away from them by the Liberals in one fell swoop.

There is also another reason why the Liberals may be stalling with respect to introducing a Secularism Charter (Charte de laïcité);  they may feel it prudent to see if the Parti Québécois’ proposal leads to public condemnation.  If the PQ’s Charte 2.0 proves to once-again polarize Québec’s public while the PQ hashes it out among themselves, the Liberals may simply want to let the Parti Québécois have it.  This means the Liberals may not want touch it (after all, why would the Liberals want to assume responsibility for divisive, poisonous legislation if, on the other hand, leaving it to the Parti Québécois would result in the public once again tearing the Parti Québécois to shreds?).

However, if Québec’s public does appear to develop an appetite/tolerance for a greatly watered-down Charte 2.0, the Liberals may then want it for themselves, and thus kill many birds with one stone by introducing a Charte de laïcité.

In this sense, multiculturalism (and especially issues around accommodations) has now become the new political ping-pong toy – and is quickly becoming a pawn on a chessboard, rather than an ideology for societal advancement and progress.  The unfortunate direct side-effect is that its true meaning, goals, and worth has been lost on the public, and many out there simply look at it as an objectified component in overall competing political platforms.

We likely won’t know what the Liberals will do until after October 2015.  In the meantime, they will probably want to wait to see how the PQ leadership campaign pans out, what the PQ will do with the Charte 2.0, what the public reaction will be, how it will all play out during the federal election campaign, and then the provincial Liberals will make their move (one way or the other), after the federal election in October 2015.

At the end of the day, any provincial legislative bills regarding a Charte 2.0 will directly butt-up against the federal Multiculturalism Act, and there may be additional constitutional implications.  The Québec Liberals first need to know who their partner in Ottawa will be (Conservative? Liberal? Minority? Majority?).   Only after October 2015 will they be in a position to make some major (but quite sensitive and delicate) decisions.

That’s where we’re sitting on the multiculturalism front in Québec right now.  It’s certainly not boring.  Although the next chapter will be written over the next few months, the final phrases of the chapter may not be finalized until late in 2015/early 2016.

I guess we’ll all have to wait to find out what happens.  🙂




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

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.



Multiculturalism & Interculturalism: Sometimes a Headline-Maker – POST 2 of 3 (#181)

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

Some of the controversial aspects of multiculturalism, interculturalism & reasonable accommodation.

In the last post, I provided an example in which society “accommodated“ a cultural request made by a Sikh man to have his turban incorporated into the RCMP uniform.  This was an example where society is prepared to (and does) accommodate, after some debate, cultural differences in a very public way.   It is a “sharing of public space”, for lack of a better term, for other cultures to practice their traditions or beliefs.  Within the context of multiculturialism and interculturalism, Canadian and Québec society accommodates such requests to an extent such requests are deemed reasonable.  There is a term for this:  “reasonable accommodation.” 

The term reasonable accommodation is actually a legal term, recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada.  It has also been the subject of major studies and inquiries into what kinds of accommodations are considered reasonable in Canada, and which accommodations push the limit of not being reasonable.

One could argue that the above question pertaining to incorporating turbans in Sikh uniforms is actually a tame debate with little controversy.

Yet, there are some areas of reasonable accommodation which can become much more controversial.  Society will always be debating these issues, either on a federal level with multiculturalism, or at a Québec level with interculturalism – regardless of what kind of government is in power, either federally, in any of Canada’s provinces, or in Québec.

Some of the more controversial questions which have arisen in the past few years are:

  • Whether the word “Christmas” should be replaced by the word “the Holidays” in diverse work places or schools,
  • Whether Christmas trees should be called “Holiday trees” insteat of “Christmas trees”,
  • Whether veils which cover the face (Muslim Niqabs, Burqas, or more rare Hindu duppatas) should be banned at citizenship ceremonies when pronouncing the oath of citizenship (this argument is currently making headline news right now in Québec with a Montréal resident challenging the federal government policy which bans them),
  • Allowing certain aspects of Sharia Law within areas of civil law as an option within provincial legislation touching matters such as marriage, divorce, name registrations, etc.
  • Rescheduling of hockey games so Jewish players do not have to play on Fridays

The controversial nature basically boils down to the following question:  To what extent should an overwhelming majority change long-rooted, very visible, historic and symbolic traditions and ways of life to accommodate rare or irregular requests made by a relatively small minority?   To what extent would such an “accommodation” be deemed “reasonable”?   After all, such changes could be significant and felt by all, and thus the question becomes controversial, involving everyone.

I find these debates interesting, and I understand the controversy.  I will say this; I do not have all the answers.  But the tendency over the last couple of decades, right up to the present, has been that Anglophone Canadian society, and Québec Francophone society both seem to hold the same view that an accommodation is no longer reasonable if it changes a tradition for everyone, and if that change would be major.

In the case of the Sikh police officer, accommodating a turban is not a major change which affects all police officers or all of society because other police officers are not forced or requested to wear turbans.  Furthermore, the wearing of a turban does not inconvenience or pose a burden to anyone else in society.

Regarding the question of renaming Christmas, I’ve noticed that society generally seems averse to renaming it at a “collective” or “societal level” (which is why television advertisements, public events, Christmas markets, etc. still, and will continue to call it Christmas).  However, when it comes to recognizing the holidays with respect to specific individuals, society is very comfortable and very willing to address it as Hanukah or other.  Schools in Canada seem quite comfortable teaching that the holiday season can mean different things to different people.  Everyone recognizes that the Christmas period may mean something different, and generally speaking, people do not take offense when wished a Merry Christmas, or Happy Hanukah, or Happy Holidays (which equally encompasses New Years and other religious festivals).  I personally have numerous Muslim friends who celebrate Christmas, wish me and others Merry Christmas, as do I to them, and these same Muslim friends also put up a Christmas tree in their homes.

The renaming of Christmas trees has proved itself to be more controversial.  There have been some towns and schools in Canada which have officially renamed their town or school Christmas tree a “Holiday tree”.  But public backlash has been swift and loud.  Those same towns and schools have backtracked (and I have not seen this come up again as an issue in the last couple of years, likely as a result of the initial public backlash a few years ago).   Unlike the “Holiday season” debate, the “holiday tree” debate generates more emotions, and society appears to be less inclined to bend to (or “accommodate”) the wishes of a very small minority which advocates the renaming of Christmas trees.  I would venture to say that the majority’s public backlash is owing to the fact that the renaming of a Christmas trees to accommodate the request of a very small minority, and it would alter, for the vast majority, a major deep-rooted tradition of the majority, dating back many generations.

In the case of faces having to be visible and unveiled during citizenship ceremonies, the Conservative government has said they will not bend on their (and the Citizenship department’s) policy decision.  Judging from what I’m seeing in the media, it appears that public sentiment is on the side of the Conservative government and the department.  I would venture to say (although I could be wrong) that other political parties, including the Liberals and NDP, would also uphold the same policy considering public sentiment seems to be in favour of an unveiled and visible face when the oath of citizenship is recited.  This sort of public sentiment likely stems from the sense that citizenship oath is a value shared by almost everyone (majorities and minorities alike), and thus it is “reasonable” that everyone must be held to the same standard.

A number of years ago, there was a proposal in Ontario to allow Sharia Law to be applied for very narrow matters in civil law, such as marriages, divorces, etc.  It would have only applied in cases where the parties involved specifically asked for Sharia law to be applied.  Yet, the public’s voicing against this modification was swift and hard.  The public would not tolerate this, and the provincial government retracted its proposal.

In the example of hockey games being rescheduled to accommodate Jewish players who would not play on the Sabbath (Friday & Saturday), this was actually a question which arose in Québec a few years ago.  A Jewish forward on the Gatineau Olimpiques hockey team refused to play on Fridays or Saturdays.  Yet the team and the hockey league would not reschedule its games considering that it would alter the entire season for everyone for the sake of one person’s practices.  In this case, the accommodation of the majority outweighed accommodating a very small minority.  In this example, I’m not sure that the player in question actually asked the team to reschedule games, but regardless, the public’s reactions to the player “withdrawing” himself from Friday games was sufficient for the team to assert it would not reschedule its matches.  The matter was settled in the end by way of the team giving an ultimatum to the player:  decide to play Fridays and Saturdays, or leave the team.  However, there was actually an accommodation; the team said they would tolerate (accommodate) the players’ withdrawals from Friday/Saturday games for one season only, for the sole purpose of allowing the player to decided whether to stay or leave upon arrival of the second season.  This accommodation was considered a reasonable temporary measure in light of everything.  In the end, the player agreed to play on Fridays and Saturdays, with the exception of three days a year during Yom Kippur – an agreement which was acceptable to all parties.

Is “reasonable accommodation” a zero-sum game?

Is reasonable accommodation a zero-sum game? (ie: Is it a question that someone or a group is 100% accommodated, or not accommodation at all?).   The answer actually is: “It depends.”   Multiculturalism and interculturalism are flexible enough to be adaptable to what is in the best interest of society, while being able to take into consideration the requests of the minority (in essence, that is also a definition of democracy:  Majority rules, but with respect to minorities).

The above cases contained some examples of zero-sum solutions, but also of compromise (on the part of both parties) when exploring possible accommodations.   It was zero-sum in the case of Sharia Law in Ontario.  Officially renaming “Christmas trees” with “Holiday trees” also appears to be zero-sum (there is just no appetite in Canada to go down this road).

But in a couple of the above cases, we could see a part way compromise having been reached.  The hockey player on the Gatineau hockey team is an example.  At first, it looked like it would be a zero-sum solution (accept to play weekends, or leave the team).  But in the end, Yom Kippur was the most important event in the calendar year for the player, and the team agreed that granting three days off for the event would not be unreasonable.

Another one of the above cases also has the potential to reach a part-way compromise.  This one concerns the question of reciting the citizenship oath with an unveiled face.   For many facially veiled Muslim women, it is acceptable to show one’s unveiled face to another women (be it family, or sometimes female strangers), males in the family, or authority figures when the situation calls for it.  The problem arises for such women when strangers in the public can see their faces (particularly males).  My personal guess (although I have no way of knowing if this will happen), is that in the coming weeks or months, we may see a part-way accommodation reached.  I would not be surprised to learn that facially veiled women may be allowed to stand at the back of the room with their face facing the citizenship judge at the front of the room during the citizenship oath – at which point she could be required to remove her veil so as to allow the Citizenship Judge (either male or female) to see her face during the oath, and then quickly re-veil after the oath is recited.  Because she would be standing at the back of the room, behind everyone else, facing the front, nobody else in the room would see her face.    We already have similar accommodations in Canada with respect to driver’s license photos.   A person’s face must be unveiled in the photo, but the taking of photos of facially veiled women is done behind a divider, outside the view of the general public (and thus only the person taking the photo, and only a police officer viewing a driver’s license, would see the unveiled face).  In return for allowing such an accommodation, the person in question agrees to these part-way terms, and may even have to agree to have a male authority figure preside over the citizenship ceremony or take a photo.  Give-and-take can equal reasonable accommodation.

So as you can see, on the reasonable accommodation front, multiculturalism and interculturalism can be black and white, or they can include many shades of grey.   It really depends on the issue at hand and what society is comfortable with.  But that is the beauty of it:  multiculturalism and interculturalism rarely venture into accommodating measures which would be deemed “unreasonable” for Anglophone Canada or Québec societies (at least I hope they wouldn’t).   And what’s more, 99.99% of the time, both Anglophone Canada and Francophone Québec agree on what is considered “reasonable” and “unreasonable”.

I’m trying to think of specific instances where there may be differences between what Anglophone Canada and Francophone Québec deem to be “reasonable” and “unreasonable”, but I am having a difficult time thinking of any.  I can think of some one-off examples – such as a gym in the Outremont area of Montréal having frosted its windows to accommodate Hasidic Jews walking by on the sidewalk, but these latter examples do not reflect “society’s” views at large — Rather these types of examples were decisions taken on the part of individuals (ie: an individual gym manager made a decision to frost the gym’s window — it was not a decision taken by Québec’s or Canada’s societies, and thus it was not an issue that had anything to do with official multiculturalism or interculturalism).  I suppose the fact that I cannot think of any such differences – and I know both Anglophone and Francophone cultures quite well – denotes that both societies truly do think very much in the same mindset on these issues.

Where might this all be heading as Canada and Québec continue to diversify?

The above scenarios are just a few examples among others which have been the subject of public debate.  As Canada continues to diversity, I’m not sure to what extent such debates will continue to surface or will continue to be relevant.  I suppose there are two ways to look at the issue:

  1. On one hand, the more diverse Canada becomes, the more Canada’s population may come to believe that there is increased value in preserving long-standing traditions for the sake of retaining “historic traditions” in and of themselves. One could argue that Canada would be a less culturally rich country if certain historic traditions were eliminated or permanently altered.  It may come to be that all of Canada’s diverse communities may increasingly unite with the majority to preserve historic traditions in Canada, even if they are not traditionally in part of various communities’ own historic traditions.
  2. On the other hand, an increased diversification of cultures may see an increase of older Canadian traditions going by the wayside or changing over time. But be careful before you jump to conclusions:  One could also argue that this is a natural evolution as any society changes.  This is why traditions celebrated in Canada in 1600 may have ceased to be celebrated by 1800 (before Canada’s population began to diversify).  Likewise, traditions celebrated in 1950 may not necessarily be celebrated in the same manner in 2050 (both dates are not that far from where we are right now, but it is still a 100 year spread, a period in which one would expect there to be a natural series of changes in traditions).   Yes, Canada’s increasing diversification may play a contributing factor in such changes.  But even though it may play a role in accelerating certain changes, we need to be aware that diversification and reasonable accommodation may not necessarily be the root cause of such changes (owing to the fact that traditions evolve and change regardless of whether a society is diverse or not).

In the next post, we’ll tie together the last two posts, and funnel it down to how this is relevant in Québec, and Québec’s place in Canada.  It’s an interesting topic, and I hope to see you for the next post.



Multiculturalism & Interculturalism: Lost in definition… POST 1 of 3 (#180)

The last couple of posts spoke of some fairly complex issues – which, for the most part, seem to be lost on many people owing to their fuzzy nature.

This will be the first of three posts.  Let’s take a couple of steps back and give a bit of background information which can help to make sense of the last couple of posts.

  • This post will look at what multiculturalism and interculturalism are.
  • The second post will look at more controversial aspects of multiculturalism and interculturalism (click HERE for the second post)
  • The third post will discuss the relevance of multiculturalism and interculturalism with respect to Québec’s place in Canada. (click HERE for the third post)

The purpose of these posts do have a role to play in bridging the Two Solitudes, considering that multiculturalism and interculturalism often takes the form of a very public debate in Québec.


Multiculturalism is an official government policy which several countries around the world have enshrined in laws.  But it can mean different things in different countries.

In Canada, there is a law called the Multiculturalism Act The Canadian definition is applicable everywhere in Canada, including Québec, and is equally applicable to all of us.  According to the Multiculturalism Act, multiculturalism:

  • allows Canadians to keep their cultural heritage (as they see fit)
  • allows anyone, regardless of their cultural heritage, to fully participate in Canadian society, without discrimination.
  • recognizes communities which contributed to building Canada, and to helps to enhance those communities’ development.
    • (In practical terms, this might mean federal funding of a monument to the Irish who died in the sinking of the Empress of Ireland passenger steamliner in Québec, the funding of the Ukrainian cultural village in Alberta, the funding of the Upper Canada historic village in Ontario, or the funding of various ethnic food or music festivals around the country, etc.).
  • enhances the use of English and French by everyone, while allowing cultural communities to retain their own language, should they so desire
    • (This is why we see federally funded language programs to provide English or French lessons to immigrants – with the understanding that immigrants will use the language of the majority at work & school, as will their children as they grow up in Canadian society. This is also why our government institutions such as hospitals, schools, courts & offices operate only in English and French – and why official interactions with the public are in these two languages and none others, with some cursory exceptions on trivial matters).

In a nutshell, that’s that covers the majority of what multiculturalism deals with.  It’s actually not complicated.  There’s not really anything sneaky, and the vast majority of what it deals with is not controversial at all.   We basically allow people to simply live their lives as any normal people would — just as we, and our neighbours naturally wish to live our daily lives.

For the vast majority of immigrants and their descendants, what it means in practical terms is that when they move to Canada, nobody holds an unjust law against them for wanting to live life how they desire.  It means that extreme measures will not be unjustly used against immigrants should they wish to retain aspects of their own cultural identity (by extreme measures, I mean the government cannot threaten immigrants with fines, jail, or even worse measures for practicing innocent and harmless things such as speaking their own language amongst themselves, or retaining normal, harmless cultural traditions).

It also means we don’t tell our immigrants they must abandon their customs, and where we can, we will accommodate their customs because we recognize that they too have a role in building Canada.   This can include very simple, easy-to-accommodate measures which really don’t cost anything or are not a burden to anyone.  Examples might be to allow cities to provide building permits for a Sikh temple, to allow Chinese immigrants to celebrate Chinese New Year’s in a social hall, to allow school cafeterias to provide pork-free food options to Muslim students, etc.   All such measures are very simple, very easy, very reasonable – and very natural.

You may say that the above measures are no-brainers.   But you have remember that in some countries (actually in many countries), these sorts of very basic freedoms are not allowed.  In some countries, Muslims are not allow to pray and are force-fed pork meals in prisons or schools, minorities are forbidden by law to speak their language in the streets or within schools or hospitals (or to even learn their own or other languages in grade school or university), people are forbidden to convert to Christianity or any other religions, building permits are not afforded to anything which can be considered cultural or religious, and minority ethnic groups are not allowed to assemble as a group for ethnic activities (no ethnic food festivals, no music festivals, no holiday festivals, nothing).   In such countries (including some of which are Canada’s very close “allies” and “strategic partners”), such people can be fined, jailed, or even worse if they’re found doing any of this.   You, as a Canadian, could also be subject to such penalties if you travel to any of these countries and you engage in innocent activities such as gathering with other Canadians to celebrate something as simple as a Christmas meal, share a beer, or wear an innocent style of clothing which is popular back on the streets of Canada.   So in a nutshell, there’s nothing bad or offensive about what we’re doing with “multiculturalism” – it’s simply allowing others to be treated how you would like to be treated if you were to spend time in another country.  In one word, it is “freedom”.

Where things become a bit blurred, and where the public hears there are “issues” with multiculturalism is when isolated and rare issues arise.  Such issues are not things which involve the vast majority of immigrant minorities in Canada.  However, because they involve more rare events, the media sometimes gives them disproportionate attention.  This is how minor and harmless matters can instantly (and unjustly) takes on sensational proportions – to the point that some people use media examples to claim that multiculturalism is broken.

One example which came up a number of years ago was when the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) allowed a Sikh to keep his turban.  The RCMP found a way to integrate it into the uniform.  Does it do any harm?  Is it impeding any professional function?  The answer is no to both questions.   Does it ruffle feathers?  For the majority of Canadians, the answer would be no, but for some people it does.  Why it ruffles feathers for a minority of people is an issue I’ll leave to psychologists to explain (after all, they are the ones who study why certain things perturb certain individuals).   But the RCMP recognized the idea of “treating others as you would like to be treated”.  Therefore the RCMP’s decision to allow turbans as part of uniforms was within the spirit of the Multiculturalism Act.  The fact of the matter is this:  an individual who is Sikh happened to respond to a call of duty, and said that he would be honoured to fully participate in Canadian society, as a Canadian, and join the RCMP to protect my and your lives.  He agreed to possibly sacrifice his own life if necessary, in the line of duty, for the safety and protection of Canadians.   He simply asked if he could keep his turban in the course of such an act – and we said yes.  It’s actually quite touching that he felt he could participate fully in society, as a Sikh, and that we recognized this, and accommodated it.  In this light, it shows that multiculturalism works.  Such policies allow us to come together – all of us – as one country.


The government of Québec has an official policy named “interculturalism”.  It’s the provincial take on similar federal multiculturalism issues.   It’s very similar to multiculturalism, with the only major difference being that it is packaged with a slightly stronger emphasis on integration, along with a different name.   The government of Québec’s definition is also quite simple and short.

In brief, interculturalism :

– invites minority groups to conserve their heritage in Québec,

– invites minority groups to express and live their own values in Québec,

– encourages interactions between ethnocultural minorities, and also with the majority francophone culture in Québec,

– affirms that French is (and will remain) the public language of Québec.

That’s it.  It is very straight forward, very uncomplicated, and very open.

Similarities between multiculturalism and interculturalism: 

– Because Québec is a Francophone society made up of people of many different backgrounds, immigrants need to abide by the Québec Charter of Rights and Freedoms (which was actually a model for the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – they are very similar).  It implies that immigrants contribute to building Québec (in a social sense, regarding language and customs) by cooperating with Québécois people.

– When multiculturalism in practised in Québec, it works in tandem with Québec’s interculturalism.  Thus, the two ideologies do not clash (there has been no proof to show they clash).

– Both embrace pluralism.

– Interculturalism, like multiculturalism, does not have a forced assimilation policy (nobody is holding the threat of fines, jail, or worse against immigrants to compel them to reject what they hold dearest about their own personal identity in the name of becoming exactly the same as Québécois or Canadians).

Differences between multiculturalism and interculturalism:

– Canada, outside Québec, does not have institutionalized language learning programs with which to expressively integrate immigrants into society.  But Québec does have institutionalized language learning programs for integration (English Canada has optional English programs such as LINK.  But as Andrew Griffith pointed out in the comment section of my last blog post, immigrants in English Canada traditionally self-integrate with English as their societal lingua-franca.  However, in Québec it would not necessarily be the case that immigrants would integrate with French as their main societal lingua-franca, thus Québec requires immigrants to undergo French language training in certain circumstances). 

– interculturalism seeks to counter the attraction of settling in Québec solely based on the attractive forces which federal multiculturalism holds for immigrants.  Therefore, interculturalism contains a more expressive and attainable integration component, separate from other elements which are shared by both multiculturalism and interculturalism.   But this integration component of Québec’s interculturalism does not go as far as “assimilation”, nor is it as “loose” as multiculturalism.

– multiculturalism allows for bilingual integration, whereas interculturalism funnels immigrants towards French language integration (with no funneling towards English).

– interculturalism seeks “language security” for Québec in the various aspects of life (work, education, and government), whereas such policies are not needed (and do not exist) in multiculturalism because elsewhere in Canada, English does not need “security”.  This is because English is not perceived to be under threat in the absence of language protection policies.

If we were to look at some of these comparisons in visual and very abstract terms, they may look something like this:

Graph 1:  On a parallel scale, the following graph can give you an idea of how multiculturalism and intercultural are similar and compatible:


Graph 2:  On a parallel scale, the following graph can give you an idea of where multiculturalism and interculturalism may share areas of immigrant integration policies:


Graph 3:  On a parallel scale, this graph can give you an idea of how governments have flexibility to decide what emphasis they can allot to integration, as a policy, within multiculturalism and interculturalism.


A few days ago, in my post entited “Multiculturalism Redefined?”, you may have read Andrew Griffith’s comments and feedback to my post (his comments are at the bottom of that post).  Andrew is actually one of Canada’s foremost published experts on multiculturalism.  I appreciated his comments, and I would encourage you to read his blog, Multicultural Meanderings.  It makes for very interesting reading.

Andrew Griffith’s blog, Multicultural Meanderings, contains a very informative chart which shows a comparison of various elements between multiculturalism and interculturalism.   It’s a chart which Andrew and his organization worked on with Gérard Bouchard, who conducted a very public inquiry in Québec, the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, on the matters we’re discussing (special thanks to Andrew for the use of this chart):

Click chart to enlarge


In my last post, Andrew commented that the Conservative government is according a higher degree of integration policy within the realm of multiculturalism (refer to Graph 3).   As you read in my last post, it appears that Justin Trudeau, based on his own definition of multiculturalism, is prepared to accord a higher degree of integration policy within multiculturalism (his definition is very similar to the Conservative government’s policy).   This higher degree of integration is not incompatible with Québec’s own stance, as applied within interculturalism.  I believe that the Conservative government’s and Justin Trudeau’s Liberal stance, which leans heavier on the integration side, makes is so Canada’s federal multiculturalism is now much more compatible with Québec’s interculturalism, perhaps more so than at any point in the past.

In my last post I also made a very specific point of stating that the difference between Canada’s multiculturalism and Québec’s interculturalism is not very big.   A person can think of them both as being quite complimentary – both working together to meet the needs of Québec.   In areas where multiculturalism may not meet all the needs of Québec’s society, interculturalism is then applied by Québec’s government to add an additional layer which facilitates a more specific type of integration – unique to Québec’s societal needs.

The next post will look at more controversial aspects of multiculturalism and interculturalism (they both share the same controversial aspects).  It will also look at something called “reasonable accomodation” which gets a fair deal of media attention in Québec, and sometimes elswhere in Canada also.

See you soon!



Multiculturalism Redefined? (#179)

This is a translation of yesterday’s post in French, but in a somewhat abridged format. I often browse books of societal and political interest (of all political colours).

Out of curiosity, I was leafing through the new book written by Justin Trudeau, “Common Ground”.  I was very curious what such a thick biography could contain, considering he is only 43 years old.   I read it in French, so references below are translations.

There were a few things in the book which caused me to raise an eyebrow.  But one subject in particular grabbed my attention more than anything else – that of Justin Trudeau’s definition of multiculturalism (which, I should say, would probably become a definition adopted by a Federal government should the Liberals ever be elected – after all, J.T. is the party leader).

To start, in Québec a notion of interculturalism is “practiced” (or at least preached).  In Canada as a whole, on a Federal and legal level, multiculturalism as practiced.  But honestly speaking, on a global level from 1 to 100, the difference between our version of federal multiculturalism and our version of Québec’s interculturalism would likely not be any greater than a figurative 83.4 versus an 84.9.   I say this with my own experiences of having been an immigrant in another country outside Canada for several years.  When I immigrated to Asia, I was subjected to the concepts of conformity and “the majority’s cultural projections” towards immigrants who they welcomed.  After having lived that experience, I can sincerely tell you that the difference between the two concepts we have here in Canada are not nearly anywhere as large as many in certain political camps (or in certain aspects of Québec society) would have you believe.

With that said, the dynamics and partisan debates over the past 40 years have highly politicized the subject of multiculturalism versus interculturalism – to the extent that you could easily get the impression that the difference between the two is 60 to 90 on a scale of 1 to 100, rather than an 83.4 versus 84.9.  But the reality and intensity of the debate (which has already gone way past the realm of true facts) has given the 1.5 point difference the illusion of being a symbolic and abstract 30 point spread.  Regardless, the exaggeration and distortion of the differences between the two ideologies is now the reality with which we all have to contend (be it Canadians outside of Québec, Québécois themselves, or certain political or societal camps within their respective jurisdictions when they battle it out among themselves).

This brings me back to the definition of multiculturalism, and the one which Justin Trudeau has recently offered. Before going on, I want to make it clear that I am not in the process of taking a political stance or making a statement regarding multiculturalism or interculturalism.  I read J.Trudeau’s book just as I would read a book on Bernard Landry, Brian Mulroney or Jack Layton – and I simply found what he said to be very interesting, and surprising. His own definition is one which I have never seen before.  If I’m not wrong, I would even go as far as to say it looks like he is redefining, or modernizing the concept of multiculturalism.  It is different from the earlier definition which constitutes Canada’s current definition… one which dates from having been hashed out in the 1970s and 1980s.

But what I find highly intriguing is that his redefinition seems to narrow the ideological gap between the old definitions of Federal multiculturalism and Québec interculturalism (and by extension, it could bridge the ideological trench which caused arguments and tensions between those who vigourously carry the torch of either ideology).  In this sense, I’d almost venture to say that his definition could “reconcile” and “harmonize” these two concepts in one single definition which could work for both Canada and Québec, work for their respective needs, and work for the adherents of either ideology (a give-and-take if you will).   It is in this scope that I find the notion to hold fascinating possibilities for further discussion.

When speaking about multiculturalism or interculturalism, we often speak of its implementation with respect to first generation immigrants… therefore keep this concept in mind as you read the rest of this post.

Considering that J.T. is taking on a matter as core to the Canada as the definition of multiculturalism itself, he would be differentiating himself from his father in no small way… one which made me do more than one double-take when I first read his definition.

Here is what he said (I’m translating from the French version of his book, but I’ll try to keep it as exact as possible) :

Multiculturalism p. 220 (of the French version of his book) It is the presumption upon which society accepts forms of cultural expression which do not impede the fundamental values of our society.  This includes the rights of a Jewish person to wear a kippah, a Sikh to wear a turban, a Muslim to wear a veil or a Christian to wear a cross – even if they are public servants of the state. The best way to think of multiculturalism is to picture it as a sort of social contract. Under the contract, newcomers to Canada promise to:

  • abide by our laws,
  • teach their children
    • the skills and
    • language fluency

necessary to integrate into our society, and

  • respect, if not immediately adopt, the social norms that govern the relationship between
    • individuals, and
    • groups in Canada

In exchange, we respect aspects of their culture that may be precious to them, yet harmful to no one else. Gestures which do not respect our part of the social contract include forcing a nine year old soccer player to remove his turban, releasing a preschool educator because she wears a veil, or banning a cardiologist from the operating room because he wears a kippah – not to mention that these would be  acts which would go against our laws.

Canada is perhaps the only country in the world which is strong because of its diversity, not in spite of it.  Diversity is at the core of who we are, and of what gives us our prosperity.

This is why we have to promote the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Our openness to diversity is at the heart of what makes us Canadian.  It is what makes Canada one of the best and free places in the world, and one of the best places to live.

My comments : Everything which is not highlighted in blue largely has to do with multiculturalism as we know it now.  But if I’m not wrong (and I’ll be the first to admit I’m not an expert in this realm) I was under the impression that everything that is in blue is more along the lines of interculturalism.

I did not mention it in my French post, but the section of Trudeau’s definition regarding “newcomers having to promise to abide by our laws and teach their children language fluency” is almost an exact translation of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s declaration in German on October 6th, 2013 when she spoke of the shortcomings of multiculturalism in the German context (which, I should add, is very different than Canada’s experience) and in which she suggested remedies to Germany’s policy shortcomings (the “coincidence” of the order of the wording is rather interesting).

Areas which Trudeau mentioned which could align (or reconcile themselves) with interculturalism are those pertaining to:

  • immigrants having to adhere to society’s values (here I’m speaking of values which, by their very nature, are transitory and variable with time – I’m not speaking of rights, which are invariable and inalienable)
  • immigrants having to teach the language of the land (i.e.: French) to their children.
  • immigrants having to integrate using skills, such as society’s language (which is French in Québec, English in other regions, sometimes French in yet other contexts, and sometimes a combination of the two in situation-specific scenarios). His choice of the word “society” would be a key word in this context, because “society’s” language varies from one region to another, and J.T. is funnelling the question of language in his definition right down to “society” (of which Acadia is a society, St-Jean-Baptiste in Manitoba is one, Québec is one, and so is Hearst in Ontario – all Francophone societies which could be subject to this revised definition).
  • engaging in a sort of social contract if one wishes to live in Canada – a contractual “exchange” (to take the word he uses in French). Contrary to this revised definition of multiculturalism, the version of multiculturalism offered by P.E. Trudeau (father) did not have such societal “conditions” defined in advance (at least not in the more definitive sense presented here) – apart from public policy of immigrant selection criteria.  The Trudeau Sr. version definitely did not seek to deal with individual behaviour relating to personal or group interactions once on Canadian soil (I’m speaking of those other than behaviour related to the criminal code or other laws).
  • those who come from different cultures have to make “promises” respecting societal matters, such as those towards “social norms” (those are the words he is using). You can imagine the significance of this statement if it were to include norms deemed acceptable to a particular region or province where one lives, especially considering that our social norms can vary from one region to another, just as they can be similar from region to another.
  • regarding this prior point, he states that immigrants must “immediately” adopt these norms (“immediately” is a weight-charged word).
  • the norms Immigrants have to adopt with respect to the social norms of “groups” in Canada (I’m left wondering if he means groups in the sense of Anglophones and Francophone… which, if it is the case, could also have significant implications).

When you consider the above points, you can see why I was a bit more than surprised to read this redefinition of multiculturalism.   These were not phrases pronounced in some oral speech.  Rather, these are words and a definition which are now written black and white, by Trudeau, on pages of his autobiography which has been distributed coast-to-coast.   I am not saying that I disagree with his definition, and likewise I am not saying I agree with it either (for the purpose of this post, I’m not taking a position one way or the other).  I’m simply saying that there seems to be a turn in directions, one which took me by surprise (and which makes me wonder if the definition of multiculturalism, as we knew it, is not the untouchable sacred cow which many of us grew up to believe it was – regardless of what we thought of it).

At first glance, Trudeau’s socio-cultural contractualism, or renewed multiculturalism, or inter-multiculturalism (whatever name you wish to attach to it) does keep the principal traits of multiculturalism as we have known it (which is Canada will let you live your life in peace, and with time you will integrate into society at your rhythm and in your own way, but you may also receive a gentle nudge from time-to-time to encourage you to continue in that process – this is an oversimplistic definition, but it’s tough to otherwise sum it up in one sentence).

However, J.Trudeau seems to be opening the way to “pre-established” integration conditions, aligned with the norms of the environment in which a person lives in Canada.  He is giving immigrants obligations towards these norms and towards groups of people around them which already form the core of society, and towards those with whom newcomers have to live.  It is these last two phrases which conform more to concepts and ideologies of Québec’s interculturalism (those at least which are more apt to be practiced in Québec).   Let me be clear that I am not at all saying that this redefinition is anywhere near elements contained in the deposed proposal for a Québec Charter of Values (which was debated during the winter of 2013/2014).  Even on this point, Québec was not ready or comfortable, as a society, to adopt such a charter in the name of interculturalism (we all saw how the proposal imploded on itself during public debates on the issue).   Justin Trudeau seems to be taking another path, but one which still could hold potential to bridge the publicly perceived distances between multiculturalism and interculturalism.

Of course there are nuances within the definition J.T. offers, and I am generalizing in my own analysis (it would actually take a book to explore this subject in the detail it deserves).  But there is nothing to say that a policy adjustment on the issue cannot be implemented by any one government without having to re-open the constitution (think of how many times we have been told, by all parties, that matters of vital importance to the country can be implemented without having to reopen the constitution).

We live in a society which is evolving – and the laws and definitions which guide our society also change with time to reflect the needs and changes of society’s people.  In legal terms, this is a concept called “the living tree”.  This is the concept which explains why the Supreme Court can determine a law forbidding the decision to take one’s own life with the assistance of a doctor, prostitution or gay marriage is legal in year X, but then several years later the same Supreme Court can strike down the same laws and proclaim them invalid.  The evolution of events which determines what is and what is not susceptible to change stems from society’s changing attitudes towards matters at hand.   We would be crazy to think that the definition of multiculturalism could never change as society changes (imagine if we still had laws on the book, dating from the 1920s or 1930s, which stipulated how citizens should behave and interact with respect to each other!).  I’m left wondering if Justin Trudeau is taking a stance and saying that the definition of multiculturalism, as it came to be in the 1970s and 1980s, should now also evolve in the context of a country which is very different than what it was during that era.

After all is said and done, I’m not so sure I’m totally out in left field with this one.   Re-read his definition a few times.  Do you think he’s approaching multiculturalism from a somewhat different view?

It remains to be seen if the media or academics will have their word to say on this subject (I’m sure they will if the Liberals come to power and they adopt this definition as their official policy).

Up until now, I’m not sure many have noticed this redefinition (the matters are complicated and very ideological – and journalists tend to shy away from matters which cannot be reported in two short paragraphs).

Regardless of my own views, any possible marriage (or “rapprochement”) between multi- versus inter-culturalism eventually is bound to generate a good deal of discussion.