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L’ACCOMMODEMENT RAISONNABLE DANS LES INSTITUTIONS PUBLIQUES: LE RAPPORT BOUCHARD-TAYLOR PROPOSE-T-IL UNE VOIE RÉALISTE ?. Marie Mc Andrew Canada Research Chair on Education and Ethnic Relations Chair in Ethnic Relations University of Montreal Metropolis Armchair Discussion Ottawa, 27 juin 2008.

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Marie Mc AndrewCanada Research Chair on Educationand Ethnic RelationsChair in Ethnic Relations University of Montreal

Metropolis Armchair DiscussionOttawa, 27 juin 2008

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  • The reasonable accommodation “crisis” in Quebec

    • The context

    • The saga

    • The Commission and its work

  • A critical look at the Report

    • The Strengths

    • The Weaknesses

  • Future prospects

    • Reactions

    • Potential impact

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  • The place of diversity in public institutions: complex challenges existing throughout Canada

    • Conciliation of diverse rights, including equality between the sexes and religious freedom

    • Collective impact of adding individual “exemptions”

    • Political or identity-related use of religion by marginal groups

    • Extent of the requirement of public institutions’ “neutrality”

    • Impact of the increasing court appeals on the quality of relations among citizens

    • Specific resistance against the demands of certain groups: i.e. international context (Islamophobia)

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  • A particularly intense debate in Quebec linked to: PUBLIQUES:

    • The specific rapport of French-Canadian Quebecois with religion

      • coinciding with the deconfessionalization of institutions

    • The recent – and unfinished – character of the development of an inclusive Quebec identity

      • Reasonable accommodation = integration of immigrants

      • Confusion between the civic values and the cultural heritage of the majority

      • Marked intergenerational cleavage

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  • Certain characteristics or limits of governmental action PUBLIQUES:

    • Emphasis on francophone immigration  “massive” arrival of Muslims from Northern Africa

    • Underestimation of identity related issues and of the fears experienced in certain milieus faced with a rapid transformation (cleavage Montréal/rest of Quebec)

    • Despite the amount of normative positioning on interculturalism, lack of a global action strategy in matters of intercultural relations

    • A public-wide ignorance of the assetsand guidelines of reasonable accommodation, despite their significant appropriation by concerned institutions

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  • A trigger: the Supreme Court’s judgement concerning the wearing of the kirpan in public schools (March 2006)

    • A balanced treatment from the media

    • Open lines and public opinion letters that reveal a great potential for public dissatisfaction

  • From September 2006 to March 2007, a media campaign to “hunt” for “reasonable accommodation”

    35 “cases”, almost exclusively regarding Jews and Muslims, including:

    • YMCA frosted glass windows

    • Prenatal courses at the Local Community Service Centre (CLSC de Parc-Extension)

    • Home health care during the Sabbath

    • Exemption from music courses

    • Parking in Outremont

    • Pork-free menu at the sugarhouse

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  • A sensationalistic coverage marked by many biases: PUBLIQUES:

    • Exclusive emphasis on the excesses and problem cases

    • Confusion between reasonable accommodation and voluntary adjustment or even compromise between neighbours

    • Associating almost exclusively the reasonable accommodation topic with the integration of immigrants

    • Non-inclusive and polarized language

    • Confusion between the secularism of institutions versus that of individuals

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  • An insufficient and disputable political response PUBLIQUES:

    • Wait-and-see policy at the PLQ followed by election-minded concerns

    • Weakness of the leadership at the PQ

    • Silence from the Federal parties


    • Instrumentalization of the identity issue by the ADQ and various municipal instances (Code de vie d’Hérouxville)

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  • Two respected intellectuals but not very representative of the Quebec population and of its diversity

  • A targeted and well-defined mandate:

    • Assess the state of accommodation practices and related issues

    • Lead a wide consultation

    • Formulate recommendations compatible with the fundamental values of Québec

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  • A very broad interpretation by the commissioners, criticized by some

    • Secularism and religion in the public sphere

    • Integration of immigrants and intercultural relations

    • Concerns regarding Quebec identity and the evolution of its culture

  • Numerous activities (researches, hearings, meetings with experts and organization representatives, etc.) obscured by the great visibility of the public consultation

    • 900 briefs

    • 15 regions / 31 days of hearings

    • 241 testimonies from “ordinary” citizens

    • 400 000 visits on the interactive Website

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  • Concerns about the potential impact of various slip-ups during the hearings on the attitudes towards minorities, especially Muslims and Jews, however:

    • Few openly discriminatory comments

    • Negative testimonies amplified by the media

    • Significant immigrant participation at the various forums

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UN REGARD CRITIQUE during the hearings on the attitudes towards minorities, especially Muslims and Jews, however:SUR LE RAPPORT

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LES FORCES during the hearings on the attitudes towards minorities, especially Muslims and Jews, however:

  • An articulated and convincing deconstruction of the “crisis” and its fabrication by the media

  • The wisdom of being able to resist the temptation of the “Henceforth…”or the “Tabula Rasa”:

    • A reaffirmation of the principles of liberal democracy

    • A continuity with the choices made by Québec society in the last 30 years, including its belonging to Canada

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  • An assessment of the state of reasonable accommodation that “puts things back into perspective”

    • Stability of the requests

    • Diverse origins of requestors

    • Guidelines already clearly stated, even if they are insufficiently known or mastered by managers

    • Institutional assets with regards to managing diversity

    • A set of legitimate concerns and needs to fulfill

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  • A commitment to the open secularism model and to its relevance: i.e. competing models

    • Rejection of a rigid secularism that would exclude the expression of individual allegiances in the public sphere

    • Acknowledgement of the legitimacy of some symbols linked to the cultural heritage of the majority

    • An original position (different from that of multiculturalism and of the federal tribunals) on the expression of religious identities by civil servants

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  • An innovative reflection on the definition of “reasonableness” in public institutions, responding to some of the limits of a jurisprudence better adapted to the private sector

    • Reintroduce common public values at the centre of the concept of undue hardship

    • Give preference to planned harmonization practices rather than to accommodations imposed by the courts

    • Take a clear position in cases of conflict between rights, especially with regard to equality between men and women

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  • A courageous discussion of various contested issues (that also affect English Canada…)

    • The identity concerns of majority groups

      • Common to all Western societies

      • Specific to the “minority” context in Québec

    • Regional, social and cultural cleavages

    • Inequalities and discriminations affecting immigrants

    • “Misconceptions” of the majority with regards to minorities

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  • A clear position on intercultural relations also affect English Canada…)

    • Reaffirmation of the “Québec model” of interculturalism

      • French, the common language of public life

      • Participation and fight against discrimination

      • Valorization of pluralism but also of the necessity of sharing and of respecting fundamental democratic values

    • Rejection of both the ethnicist temptation and of the “multicultural” otherworldliness:

      • No specific rights linked to antecedence or to the seniority of implementation but

      • Overriding influence of the majority via the power of history and numbers

    • The wager of openness and of confidence in the future

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  • A number of interesting recommendations on reasonable accommodation, harmonization practices and secularism

    • Promotion of the common civic framework within multiple institutions and in the general public

    • Instrumentation and training of managers and employees in institutional settings

    • Creation of an Intercultural Harmonization Office

    • Development of terms of reference for religious holidays

    • Development of a White paper on secularism

    • Identification of the functions when wearing religious signs becomes problematic for civil servants

    • Increased separation of State and Church: no prayers at municipal council meetings and removal of the crucifix from the National Assembly

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LES FAIBLESSES accommodation, harmonization practices and secularism

  • An analysis centered on Québec and on the relationships between the majority and immigrant minorities with potential negative effects

    • Contested “ethnic” categories or, at least, out of step with the reality in Montréal and among the youth

    • A limited comparative dimension, especially with regard to English Canada (presented in a stereotypical way) and some of its policies (ambiguity of positioning on multiculturalism)

    • Absence of English-speaking Quebeckers and of Aboriginal communities, unconvincingly justified by their particular status (vs: participation in forums and public consultations)

  • An extremely large approach susceptible to reinforce, within certain sectors of public opinion, the undue association between reasonable accommodation and the integration of immigrants

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  • A report that is more intellectually convincing than politically strategic:

    • Length

    • University style of writing with a limited impact (with a few exceptions)

    • Weak emotional and mobilizing dimension

    • Extremely favourable to the pluralistic view

      • Not very “accommodating” to the preoccupations of the Republicans and Traditionalists

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  • Recommendations that show little innovation and lacking a “spark” when it comes to integration and intercultural relations

    A few exceptions:

    • Better recognition of the Economic and Social Rights in the Québec Charter (extension to the articles 39 and 48 of the primacy on legislation)

    • Elaboration of a Policy Statement on interculturalism

    • Creation of an Independent Investigation Committee on the recognition of diplomas and of an independent body enabling immigrants to formulate complaints or to request a related revision

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LA PROSPECTIVE “spark” when it comes to integration and intercultural relations

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LES RÉACTIONS “spark” when it comes to integration and intercultural relations

  • A bad start: excerpts “leaked” in the Gazette a new Durham Report?

  • A more positive but mitigated reception during the launch:

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  • A public opinion that “buys” certain findings, while rejecting many propositions and recommendations (Survey from the Association for Canadian Studies)

    • The artificial and mediatic character of the “crisis” and the necessity for openness to others

    • Minorities should assimilate; Non-Christians threaten the Québec «culture»; no to the veil but yes to the crucifix

    • More positive attitudes from:

      • Non Francophones

      • Montrealers

      • The youth

      • The elderly (impact of the hearings?)

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QUEL IMPACT ? rejecting many propositions and recommendations (Survey from the Association for Canadian Studies)


  • Tabling of the report but adoption of a series of actions reflecting the traditional strategic positioning of the Liberal Party

    • Very visible appeasement measures to satisfy the French-Canadian majority (ex. : crucifix, modification of the Charter, re: men/women equality)

      • Objective: to court the Traditionalists and Republicans that are dominating the polls

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  • A significant influence in many milieus that need to manage diversity on a daily basis (reference frameworks, policies, training tools, etc.)

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    MEDIUM TERM “movement”:

    • Two hypotheses:

    • Possible resurfacing of the debate and a step back to the starting point

    • only the victory of the Republican position will be able to politically manage the dissatisfaction from the “Traditionalists”

      (A new “Bill 101” on laicity?)


    • Appeasement and rediscovery of the report and of its wisdom

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    Necessary Conditions “movement”:

    • Generational change at the Parti Québecois or rise of a new sovereignist party recreating the great “national-progressist” alliance

    • Significant integration of the new immigration, in particular Muslim, in public institutions

    • Disappearance of the question of reasonable accommodations from the radar of the media and related loss of public interest