Multiculturalism, interculturalism and Secularism

A string of thoughts on the threads between secularism, multiculturalism and interculturalism.


  1. Yesterday I wanted to put together some thoughts on how multiculturalism, in framework of Canadian government policy, is entirely compatible with secularism and actually promotes a human dignity better than alternatives. This stemmed from the various strawmans of multiculturalism I see, eg this article that starts a paragraph with "Proponents of multiculturalism..." without naming one or what they actually say.
  2. So I quickly ended up down a rabbit-hole that involved reading the executive summary of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission's report on religious accommodation in Quebec. It sounds dry but I highly recommend reading this abridged report. Or at least giving it a skim.
  3. What I like about this is these two scholars spent the better part of a year collecting evidence, interviewing people on all sides of the arguments, including employers and members of minority cultures directly affected by these issues, and incorporated hundreds of submissions. They then drafted this report with clear recommendations, including removing the crucifix from Quebec's National Assembly. But more than that, in Section IV (page 64) they respond to many of the common objections to religious accommodation in clear, reasonable language.
  4. But this report introduced a new concept to me: Interculturalism. It set out that it's basically Quebec's unofficial policy toward diversity (and should be made official) but it left me wondering why it's different than English Canada's long-standing (and evolving) policy of multiculturalism. The clearest explanation I found was offered by Gérard Bouchard (of the report) in Chapter 5 of this book produced by the European Commission.
  5. This brought me to Nasar Meer & Tariq Madood's paper that compared the two and found almost none.
  6. Basically interculturalism is a way to promote diversity and pluralism while maintaining the privilege of a majority culture. It's unsurprisingly particularly attractive to Quebec and (some) European governments who want to (at least superficially) welcome immigration without challenging their culture. So in Quebec, immigrants are expected to learn French and get a basic grasp of the Quebec national story. Otherwise, it maintains the promotion of cultural diversity and mosaic characteristics of the rest of the Canadian experience.
  7. This idea did get me thinking about why this approach may actually be justifiable in Quebec - that is, why one could argue that Quebec should maintain a privileged position for its French-Canadian heritage. Quebec's history is closer to one of being continually threatened and oppressed by Great Britain and later English Canada. They understandably have been eager to preserve their unique story and narrative. So, from a social justice perspective, it's a unique angle where while trying to offer protection to minority cultures in Quebec, the province is faced with the seemingly contradictory challenge of protecting it's majority culture which is a minority in Canada. So, interculturalism is born.
  8. Now, getting back to my original goal.
  9. There's an entire section (p 46-47) on The Wearing by Government Employees of Religious Signs. They are very clear (and in agreement with the recent Supreme Court ruling, which I get to later) that a ban (except perhaps in very narrow circumstances) is actually contravene the two principles of open secularism. Quote:
  10. "By prohibiting the wearing in the public service of any religious sign, we would prevent the faithful from certain religions from engaging in careers in the public service, which would contravene freedom of conscience and religion (second principle) and would largely complicate the task of building a public service that reflects Québec’s population, which is becoming increasingly diversified. This would also infringe the equality of citizens (first principle)."
  11. "We do not believe that a general prohibition concerning the wearing by all government employees of religious signs is warranted. However, we acknowledge that certain duties may imply a duty of self-restraint. In the brief that it submitted to the Commission, the Bloc Québécois noted that certain functions 'by their very nature embody the State and its essential neutrality.' This is true, in particular, of judges, Crown prosecutors, police officers and the President of the National Assembly. Individuals who occupy these positions could be required to relinquish their right to display their religious affiliation in order to preserve the appearance of impartiality that their function requires."