You are on page 1of 17


C H A P T E R 2 1
Interculturalism in Practice: Qubecs New
Ethics and Religious Culture Curriculum and
the Bouchard-Taylor Report on Reasonable
David I. Waddington, Bruce Maxwell, Kevin McDonough, Andre-Anne Cormier
and Marina Schwimmer
Every liberal immigrant society is faced with a tension between recognizing cultural differences,
respecting individual rights, and maintaining social continuity. However, within the bounds of
what is legally and politically permissible in democratic liberal states, there is significant room
for variation in the outcome of attempts to balance the requirements of integration against the
imperatives of respect, recognition, and accommodation. A states policy framework for
managing integration is the result of this process of negotiation. Since the 1970s, multiculturalism
has been Canadas answer to the question of how to fairly integrate its new citizens. This policy
has had some successoutside of Qubec, multiculturalism is a well-liked policy that is
generally viewed favorably. Qubec, however, due to its status as a distinct nation within Canada
with the right to choose its own immigrants, has been given the power to develop its own
response to the question of integration. Qubecs policy is known as Interculturalism.
As we will explain, Qubec Interculturalism has existed as a distinct model of integration for
some time. Yet interculturalisms prominence, both within and outside of Qubec, has risen lately
as a result of a perceived crisis within Qubec concerning the accommodation of cultural and
religious differences. This crisis began in earnest in March 2006 with a Supreme Court of Canada
decision concerning the right of a Sikh student to wear his kirpan (a ceremonial knife) to school.
Previously, in 2004, the Qubec Court of Appeal had decided that a local school board was
justified in forbidding this practice due to safety concerns. The Supreme Court of Canada,
however, reversed this decision, prompting substantial public consternation (Bouchard & Taylor,
After the kirpan decision, the crisis swiftly built up steam, with an unrelenting stream of
negative accommodation-related stories in the media. In one particularly prominent incident, a
group of Orthodox Jews requested that the windows of a local YMCA, which faced an alley
shared with a nearby synagogue, be frosted to obscure women who were exercising within an
otherwise visible exercise room (Synagogue's complaints prompt gym, 2006). Other notable
episodes that received substantial coverage included an allegation that men were excluded from
prenatal classes in a multi-ethnic neighborhood (on the basis that immigrant women in the class
would feel uncomfortable), as well as a decision by the Chief Electoral Officer to allow fully
veiled women to vote without showing their faces to establish their identity (Bouchard & Taylor,
2008; Potvin, Tremblay, Audet, & Martin, 2008).
In February 2007, in the face of a continuing media firestorm and strong political pressure, a
public commission on reasonable accommodation was established with historian Grard
Bouchard and philosopher Charles Taylor at its head. The Bouchard-Taylor Commissions
were to take stock of practices of reasonable accommodation across various sectors of public life,
to gauge public opinion on this issue, and to draft a set of recommendations on dealing with
difference that were consistent with Qubec as a liberal democratic society. In the summer of
2007, the commission began holding televised public consultations across the province and, in
May 2008, it released its final report, Building the Future: A Time for Reconciliation.
The conceptual cornerstone of this report, and the focus of our account in this chapter, is
Qubec Interculturalism. Our primary purpose is to provide an overview of this special type of
interculturalismwe will explain its origins, compare it to the Canadian concept of
multiculturalism, and outline the elements that make it unique. We will also explain how these
key elements of interculturalism are connected to other crucial elements of the analysis within the
Bouchard-Taylor report. In the final section, we highlight some of the educational implications of
this idea through an explanation of how Qubecs new K-12 Ethics and Religious Culture
Curriculum instantiates some of the key features of the intercultural model.

An Outline of Qubec Interculturalism
In their report, Bouchard and Taylor (2008) define interculturalism as follows:
To summarize, we could say that Qubec Interculturalism a) institutes French as the common language of
intercultural relations; b) cultivates a pluralistic orientation that is highly sensitive to the protection of rights;
c) preserves the creative tension between diversity and the continuity of the French-speaking core and the
social link; d) places special emphasis on integration; and e) advocates interaction. (p. 42)
In this brief definition, the signature aspects of interculturalisma strong emphasis on the value
of cultural interaction and an orientation toward integration within the context of a common
cultureare clearly visible. We will discuss these characteristics further below, but before
proceeding, it is important to offer a cursory outline of the origins of Qubecs concept of
interculturalism; although Bouchard and Taylor defend and valorize interculturalism in the report,
the concept does not originate with them. In fact, the strongest impetus to the development of
interculturalism was the implementation, in 1971, of the Canadian federal policy of
Origins of the Concept of Qubec Interculturalism
Multiculturalism is, on the whole, a dirty word in Qubec. This is not because Qubcois are
particularly xenophobic and (unlike in Europe and increasingly in the rest of Canada) skepticism
about multiculturalism in Qubec has little to do with the popular perception that multiculturalist
policies encourage isolationism among immigrant groups and, in this way, put in place
disincentives to integration. Instead, Qubecs opposition to multiculturalism is grounded in the
belief that the Canadian governments policy of multiculturalism is a betrayal of Qubecs
historical status within the Canadian federation and undermines Qubecs grounds for seeking
greater political autonomy from Canada.
The adoption of multiculturalism as official policy by the Canadian House of Commons in
1971 marked a rejection of Canadas former policy of French/English biculturalism (Labelle,
2000). In accordance with this bicultural policy, support for cultural minority groups had largely
been reserved for French-speaking minorities outside Qubec and English-speaking minorities in
predominantly French-speaking regions of Canada. This practice had led to accusations of unfair
treatment from large cultural minorities mainly in western Canadafor instance, the Ukrainian
and German communitieswhich sometimes greatly outnumbered their French-speaking
counterparts (Rocher, Labelle, Field, & Icart, 2007).
The policy of multiculturalism was pitched as a compromise between the demands of such
relatively new but often well-established cultural communities and those of French speakers not
wishing to concede existing rights and privileges recognized by Canadian law. The federal
government would insist on bilingualism, that new Canadians have to adopt one of the two
official languages, French or English. In exchange, it made federal support indiscriminately
accessible to any cultural group in Canada. According to the doctrine of multiculturalism, all
cultural communitiesno longer just French speakerswould have an equal right to flourish in
Canada. Canada, as Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau put it, would continue to have
two official languages but no culture would be more official than any other (quoted in Rocher
et al., 2007, p. 30).
In Qubec, the public policy of multiculturalism was widely regarded as a concerted attempt
on the part of the Trudeau government to undermine Qubec secessionism (Gagnon, 2007). In
particular, by unhinging language from culture, multiculturalism seemed expressly designed to
delegitimize the increasingly vociferous demand for Qubec sovereigntya demand that
appealed, among other things, to the federalist principle on which Canada was founded (Seymour,
1999). The policy of multiculturalism, in effect, reduced Qubecs status from that of one of the
three founding nations comprising Canada (the other two being English Canada and the First
Nations) to just one of countless ethnic minorities under the domination of a centralized, largely
English-speaking Canada (Leman, 1999). It was in this politically charged context that successive
Qubec governments began to develop and affirm the policy framework of interculturalism as an
alternative to Canadian multiculturalism (Rocher et al., 2007).

Multiculturalism and interculturalism may have more in common than some academics and
politicians within Qubec have tended to acknowledge (cf. Bouchard, 2010; Kymlicka, 2001).
Multiculturalism theorist Will Kymlicka points out that interculturalism has, from its very
inception, helped draw attention to some of multiculturalisms political limitations (Rocher et al.,
2007). For example, critics in Qubec have always asserted that multiculturalisms bold attempt
to eliminate nationalism from the concept of nation threatened to strip Canada of a common
national identity (Rocher, 1973). In a tacit acknowledgement that the version of multiculturalism
favored by the Trudeau government seemed to underestimate the danger of social fragmentation,
certain modifications made to the policy in the 1990s strove to remedy this weakness (Bouchard,
2010, Rocher et al., 2007). The increased concern in Canada with social cohesion, intercultural
exchange, and the search for a collective identify has led to an evolution of multiculturalism from
its original form and to an erosion of certain differences between interculturalism and
multiculturalism that may once have been starker. In recognition of this convergence, the
presentation of interculturalism in this section begins by explaining the close similarities between
multiculturalism and interculturalism before proceeding to enumerate the characteristics of the
Qubec model that distinguish it clearly from its Canadian counterpart.
Similarities between Interculturalism and Multiculturalism
In our analysis, the policy frameworks of interculturalism and multiculturalism come together on
three scores.
First, they share a broad social purpose, which is to promote integration (rather than
assimilation) into the wider societal culture. That is to say, these policy frameworks exist not to
minimize differences or to facilitate a process of gradual abandonment of newcomers cultural
moorings, but rather to help immigrants to play a full and equal role in society, despite their
differences from the cultural mainstream. Interculturalism and multiculturalism embrace cultural
diversity as a defining sociological feature of society and as an important source of social,
cultural and even economic capital. Neither one discourages the conservation of cultural heritage
or identity and, in this respect, they both reject the presumptive republican-style assimilationist
tendencies of French and American immigration policy.
Second, interculturalism and multiculturalism share a similar broad strategy for facilitating
integration, which prioritizes a wide range of government interventions that serve to remove
obstacles to social integration. Both support public outreach campaigns and other measures to
reduce racism and increase intercultural awareness and acceptance. They favor accommodation of
cultural and religious practices to encourage full participation in public institutions (e.g.,
permitting Sikh police officers to wear turbans on duty) and to secure all citizens entitlement to
enjoy the freedom of conscience and religion (e.g., protection from discriminatory hiring
practices that would exclude potential candidates on the grounds that their religious practices
require them to break to pray during the workday). To encourage civic participation,
interculturalism and multiculturalism endorse the reinforcement of ethnic minorities capacity to
participate in the bureaucracy, government, and other areas of public life (e.g., via affirmative
action policies or subsidized French or English language classes). Finally, at the level of
government, both approaches advocate taking cultural differences and diversity into consideration
in the elaboration of public policy, in the development of public programs, and in the provision of
government services (e.g., providing important public information and government documents in
non-official languages).
Third, both interculturalism and multiculturalism insist on a basic civic framework outlined in
primary legal documents like the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Respect
for individual rights, gender equality, democratic institutions, and a common public language are
non-negotiable civic values that determine legal and political entitlements, ground the legal
system, and articulate the procedure for public decision making.
<<insert Table 1>>



Facilitation of social, economic, linguistic, and civic integration.

Rejection of a republican-style assimilationist approach.

Recognition of cultural diversity and values pluralism as defining and permanent
features of society.

Cultural diversity is embraced as a source of social, political and economic





Measures maintained to reduce racism and increase intercultural awareness and

Implantation and protection of practices to accommodate cultural and religious

Reinforcement of ethnic and religious minorities capacity to participate in the
bureaucracy, government, and in other areas of public life.

Cultural diversity is taken into account in elaborating public policy, public
programs, and providing government services.







Affirmation of individual rights and freedoms.

Promotion of democratic institutions.

Insistence on a public language (i.e., French-English bilingualism at the federal
level and French in Qubec).
Table 1. Similarities between Canadian Multiculturalism and Qubec Interculturalism
Interculturalisms Unique Model of Integration
Canadian Multiculturalism and Qubec Interculturalisms several points in common
notwithstanding, they operate within significantly different paradigms of integration. In
multiculturalism, the pursuit of integration and diversity management capitalizes on the
promotion and valorization of cultural diversity as an end in itself. By contrast, interculturalism
regards the integration of new citizens as part of a dynamic, open-ended process of transforming a
common societal culture through intercultural contact. To facilitate this co-constructive process,
interculturalism adds three key elements to those it shares with multiculturalism: dialogue,
sociological asymmetry, and the moral contract.
Dialogue refers to a tenet of interculturalism according to which the process of constructing a
common political culture takes place through encounters, democratic interaction, and cultural
exchange between citizens of various cultural origins and values perspectives. In this respect, all
sectors of Qubec society are encouraged to participate in this collective project. In contrast with
multiculturalism, which seems to promote diversity as an inherent social value, interculturalism
considers the acceptance of difference, mutual respect, and cultural rapprochement to be
conditions facilitating convergence towards a common societal culture.
The second feature of interculturalism, sociological asymmetry, posits that in the process of
political dialogue, the values, beliefs, and practices that immigrants bring with them and those of
the dominant cultural space into which they have moved do not carry equal weight. This is in
opposition to multiculturalism, which tends towards strict, abstract cultural egalitarianism in its
conceptualization of intercultural relations. Sociological asymmetry is manifested, in part,
through conceptions of integration obligations that differ according to whether citizens are new
arrivals or are long established. Newcomers are responsible for integrating and adapting, while
established citizens have the responsibility of welcoming and accepting newcomers by, among
other things, learning about and engaging with their cultures and adjusting their practices in order
to facilitate social inclusion. The ideal is of a balance by asymmetry, give and take of adjustment,
exchanges and compromise between the home society and those of new arrivals. An additional
manifestation of sociological asymmetry is policies that aggressively promote the public
language. The best known of these policies is Bill 101, which, in effect, forces children of
immigrant families to attend school in French by blocking access to the English school system.
The intent of such measures is not to forbid the teaching or use of other languages but to maintain
and enhance Frenchs status as the basis of Qubec culture and the language of public discourse.

The third integration tool, the moral contract, refers to interculturalisms explicitness about
the fixity of the legal and civic framework to which immigrants, like all citizens, are subject. The
notion of the moral contract between citizens was first introduced in the seminal 1990 policy
statement on immigration and integration mentioned above (cf. also Ministre des Relations avec
les Citoyens et de lImmigration, 2001). The policy, which identified immigration as key to
Qubecs future development, appeals to all Qubcois to further the basic societal values of
individual rights and freedoms, democratic participation, the promotion of the French language,
openness to plurality and intercultural dialogue. The influence of the moral contract, which was
addressed to all Qubcois regardless of their cultural affiliations, has been most strongly felt in
the development of aspects of the curriculum dealing with citizenship, religious and ethics
education, and in guidelines on the socialization of children in Qubecs schools. We address this
influence in the final section of the chapter.
It is a relatively strong sense of national community that largely explains interculturalisms
tendency to emphasize integration into a collectivity more than maintenance of diversity. The
political landscape of contemporary Qubec is marked by a tension between its historically rooted
struggle for recognition within Canada and the new social reality of mass migration into Qubec.
This paradigm of duality, as Grard Bouchard (2010) has called it, feeds into a double
conception of culture that includes rootedness, on one hand, and encounter, on the other.
Interculturalism can be seen as an attempt to reconcile the poles of this tension. In the same vein,
Rocher et al. suggest that Qubecs approach to intercultural relations, characterized by the will to
construct a political culture and a national community, is inseparable from a sense of collective
identity that is at once communitarian and open to cultural diversity: Qubec posits the existence
of a national community understood as a pole of integration and as a framework that can embrace
a pluralist citizenry (2007, p. 42). At the level of the ordinary citizen, a Qubcois(e)s sense of
a national community is not only stronger than the typical Canadians but also, at the level of
public policy, it is politically permissible for the provincial government to promote national unity
in a way that it is not for most governments of federated multi-national states, least of all
In conclusion, the difference between multiculturalism and interculturalism may be
summarized as follows. At the most general level, multiculturalism is a model of cultural
diversity management, understood as a stable and defining feature of society. Its guiding
metaphor, exploited in countless policy documents and public information campaigns, is the
mosaic. Interculturalism, by contrast, is better seen as a model of integration into a shared
societal culture. If the guiding metaphor for conceiving immigration in Europe is the host and
guestwith its suggestion that immigration is temporaryit may be said that the guiding
metaphor of interculturalism is adoption, with its suggestion that new members create a new
family together.
<<insert Table 2>>
Canadian Multiculturalism: A diversity
management model
Qubec Interculturalism: An integration model
Cultural diversity is a social value Understanding and respecting cultural differences
facilitate convergence towards a common societal

Cultural egalitarianism Sociological asymmetry
Facilitation of the acquisition of the public
Aggressive promotion of a single public language
(e.g., Bill 101)
Implicitness about the fixed legal and civic
Explicit about the fixed legal and civic framework
Guiding metaphor: The mosaic Guiding metaphor: Adoption
Table 2. Differences between Canadian Multiculturalism and Qubec Interculturalism
Interculturalism in the Bouchard-Taylor Report: Concerted Adjustment
and Open Secularism
In the previous section, our overview of interculturalism was largely theoretical. We examined
the key aspects of the concept and compared it to multiculturalism. However, an important
question remains: what difference does interculturalism make in terms of social policy and
educational practice? In this section, we begin our analysis of these questions by examining how
the concept of interculturalism plays out in the Bouchard-Taylor report.
Over the course of its 307 pages, the report covers a great deal of territory, ranging from
careful accounts of current accommodation practices in Qubec institutions to an examination of
some of the intricacies of the Qubec labor market. There is insufficient space in this account to
cover all of the reports worthwhile aspects, but it is important to mention two core conceptual
elements of the report that are closely linked to the notion of interculturalism: an approach to
accommodation of difference that Bouchard and Taylor call concerted adjustment and a
concept referred to as open secularism. As we will explain, concerted adjustment and open
secularism both serve to promote and reinforce dialogue and the moral contract, which are two of
the key aspects of interculturalism that were outlined above.
Concerted adjustment is a term used by the commissioners to describe an approach to
resolving accommodation questions that emphasizes citizens settling differences among
themselves through dialogue. Bouchard and Taylor note that there are two familiar paths to
resolving accommodation questions and disputesinformal and voluntary agreements amongst
citizens (the citizen route) and solutions imposed by the courts (the legal route). Although
they acknowledge that it is sometimes necessary to pursue the legal route, Bouchard and Taylor
argue that the citizen route is superior. This supremacy stems in part from the fact that it promotes
dialogue amongst the parties seeking and granting accommodationthe commissioners
comment, the values to be promoted in respect of the citizen route are precisely those that
underpin interculturalism, i.e. exchanges, negotiation, agreement and reciprocity, rather than
confrontation and division (Bouchard & Taylor, 2008, p. 64) As the commissioners note, it is
not particularly difficult for citizens to understand the key concepts involved in the reasonable
accommodation of difference and, consequently, to resolve accommodation difficulties amicably
through face-to-face dialogue, thereby avoiding recourse to divisive and costly court proceedings.
Furthermore, these inter-citizen dialogues also reinforce the moral contract, since the context of
rights, freedoms, and norms that the contract provides constitute the framework within which
citizens are supposed to construct agreements.
The importance of concerted adjustment is especially clear within the education system. By
promoting discussion amongst parents, administrators, and teachers, this approach promotes
effective compromises and an overall attitude of conciliation within the school context. The
Fleury report (2007) on harmonization practices within schools describes an interesting example
in which a group of Muslim parents had requested an exemption from swimming classes. This
problem was resolved when the administration and the parents sat down to meet, and another
Muslim parent explained the importance of the classes to the dissenting parents and suggested an
alternative form of swimwear. In the end, most of the parents agreed to this compromise solution
(Fleury et al., 2007, p. 28). One can speculate that an excessively judicial approach would have
taken more time to result in a solution and would have been less likely to result in the type of
productive, fruitful intercultural dialogue that this incident provoked.
In addition to concerted adjustment, Bouchard and Taylor (2008) also promote a concept of
open secularism, which they define as an orientation that recognizes the need of the state to be
neutral butalso acknowledges the importance for some people of the spiritual dimension of
existence (p. 140). Secularism, they note, is a broad framework that is defined by principles like
freedom of religion, state neutrality towards religious belief, and Church/State separation.
However, within this broad framework, it is possible to be more or less open to religious
perspectives. If a secular system seeks either to erode religious belief or demands (in the name of
republican ideals) the removal or neutralization of religious and cultural identity markers,
Bouchard and Taylor suggest that it is a rigidly secular system (Bouchard & Taylor, 2008, p.
138). The system that has evolved in Qubec, the commissioners contend, is more open, and they
suggest that religious signs and practices should be permitted virtually everywhere in public life.

The reports emphasis on open secularism harmonizes closely with interculturalisms
emphasis on dialogue. As Qubcois sociologist Micheline Milot (2008) points out, open
secularism helps safeguard the continued participation of sincere religious believers in the public
conversation. In her analysis of the Supreme Courts decision to permit the young Sikh student to
wear his kirpan, Milot notes that forbidding the kirpan had forced the student to leave the public
system and to enroll in a private school. From the perspective of interculturalism, which
emphasizes dialogue and encounter, this exclusion from the public system is a negative outcome.
More generally, the aridity of a rigidly secular system could polarize religious minorities further,
making dialogue even more difficult. Milot (2008) comments, The radical exclusion of the
expression of identitycould always lead to a sudden hardening of identity on the part of those
who are refused recognition (p. 199).
Milots analysis also highlights the fact that open secularism reinforces the moral contract
promoted by interculturalism. She notes that the mere act of making an accommodation request
of a public institution implies a certain level of engagement with and tacit acceptance of
democratic norms, even if this is not the primary goal of the request. Furthermore, the continued
participation of religious groups within the public system ensures a certain level of exposure to
the tenets of the moral contract as well as the reception of the benefits and entitlements that flow
from it.
In our next section, we will turn to one of the most high profile exemplars of the idea of open
secularism: a new K-12 educational initiative, the Ethics and Religious Culture Curriculum. In
contrast to most of the rest of North America, which has excluded religious questions from public
education, Qubec has decided to teach students to engage in dialogue about religious
Interculturalism and Civic Education: Qubecs Ethics and Religious
Culture Curriculum
In this final section of this chapter, we show how recent developments in Qubec school policy
reinforce and reflect the key principles of the intercultural ideal so far discussed. In particular, we
focus on Qubecs recently implemented program of education in Ethics and Religious Culture
(henceforth, the ERC).
We begin by providing some general background on the development
of the program itself. We then examine more closely the aims of the program, in order to show
how the ERC exemplifies what might be called intercultural civic education. We conclude by
highlighting the key points of convergence between the ERC and Qubec Interculturalism.
Background to the ERC
Since 2008, the ERC curriculum has been a statutory requirement at all levels for all students, in
public and private schools, in the Province. However, like the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, and
like the notion of Qubec Interculturalism itself, the ERC did not appear de novo. Public
education had been confessional in Qubec since its inception and, although the secularization of
Qubec society was largely complete by the end of the 1960s, the secularization of the state
education system was slow to follow. However, by the end of the 1990s, with growing
incongruity between its religious-based education system and the realities of contemporary
Qubec society, a reform was afoot to put an end to confessional schools.
In the old confessional schools, religion was a required taught subject. Yet parents who
preferred that their children not receive explicit lessons in Catholic or Protestant religious
doctrine did have the choice of a secular morality stream. As a result, in some schools
especially those in the culturally heterogeneous urban schools of Montralthe amount of
religious teaching had greatly diminished by the 1990s. However, whether owing to the centrality
of Catholicism in Qubecs national narrative or merely the influence of the popular notion that
religious belief is the foundation of morality, a strong contingency of French-speaking (and very
often nominally ex-Catholic) parents not only felt unthreatened by a strong religious presence in
Qubec schools, but actually preferred it that way. So it was that the Proulx Commission was
instituted, including representatives from government, academia and diverse religious
organizations (Task Force on the Place of Religion in Schools, 1999). The Proulx Commissions
mandate was to consider the question of where, if anywhere, religions place would be in the new
secularized school systems curriculum. The new ERC Program is the direct result of the
Commissions recommendations (Task Force on the Place of Religion in Schools, 1999, pp. 237
The ERC: Promoting Intercultural Competencies
The ERC is structured around two overarching objectives: promoting 1) mutual recognition and
2) the pursuit of the common good. These objectives are outlined in terms that strongly echo the
elements of the intercultural ideal outlined in the previous section. Thus, the two objectives are
said to be essential for peaceful coexistence in a diverse society, for fostering community life, for
living together and most strikingly for the construction of a truly common public culture
(MELS, 2008, p. 296). Furthermore, when introducing the objective of pursuit of the common
good, the program highlights three main actions: the search, along with others, for common
values; the promotion of projects that foster community life; and respect for democratic principles
and ideals specific to Qubec society (MELS, 2008, p. 260).
In line with international trends, these two broad goals are spelled out in terms of three basic
competencies: ethical reflection, knowledge of religious culture, and the capacity for dialogue.
The ethics competency requires students to learn to deliberate about ethical questions, to structure
their arguments coherently, and to clarify their disagreements or differences through interaction
with others (MELS, 2008, p. 66). The religion competency, which emphasizes knowledge of
religious culture, implies a neutral academic and socio-historical approach to religious
education, rather than a confessional and moralizing one. The dialogue competency itself is
articulated as a set of skillssuch as attentive listening, mutual respect, openness to diverse
perspectivesthat enable students to develop strategies that promote dialogue and to avoid
obstacles to dialogue.
The competencies of the ERC are underwritten in significant ways by intercultural
justificationsthe three key characteristics of dialogue, sociological asymmetry, and the moral
contract all make an appearance. Consider first the religion competency, which contributes
substantially to facilitating dialogue. Substantial knowledge of religious diversity better equips
pupils for living in a pluralistic society where they inevitably interact with people having different
religious views. A principal effect of exposure to the pluralism of contemporary liberal societies
is that children are confronted with a variety of conflicting norms, beliefs and symbols. Thus, the
ERC policy document supports religious competency by suggesting that living together in our
society requires that we gain an understanding of the phenomenon of religion (MELS, 2008, p.
20; see also Ouellet, 2000, 2005; Leroux, 2007).
Second, the ethics and dialogue competencies are obviously linked to both the dialogical and
moral contract aspects of interculturalismsocieties can survive and flourish only if their
members can develop a capacity for resolving conflicts and for discussing divergences. It is thus
necessary to equip students from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds with the skills,
attitudes, and conceptual frameworks necessary for dialogue, in order that they will respect
different others and encounter them with a view toward living together in a better way. From the
perspective of interculturalism, then, the three competencies are mutually reinforcing: education
in ethics and religious culture provides a basis for learning, through dialogical engagement, how
to live justly in a pluralistic society. These political arguments highlight the educational function
of the ERC in preparing students to be capable of reflectively endorsing and upholding the civic
commitments central to interculturalisms moral contract.
Third, a commitment to sociological asymmetry can also be detected within the historical
approach toward religious culture that is taken within the ERC. Within the curriculum, the claim
is made that religious knowledge is necessary to better understand the present. Here, it is argued,
it is impossible to fully grasp the different horizons of meaning within contemporary Qubec
society without understanding how religion has shaped them across the centuries. For this reason,
the Qubec policy notes that education in ethics and religious culture devotes special attention to
the religious heritage of Qubec, in particular the historical and cultural contributions of
Catholicism and Protestantism (MELS, 2008, p. 341). Georges Leroux, a prominent architect and
defender of the ERC, affirms: Religious knowledge is constitutive of the very language of our
identity, of our most actual experiences; it is both the fundamental condition for understanding
ourselves and the condition for understanding the others (Leroux, 2007, p.76). According to this
view, we should see religions as facts whose cultural and social significance is evolving and
changing in light of new circumstances, rather than as timeless creeds or confessions. They have
a place within the history of Qubec (as well as within the universal history of humanity) and
their teaching is justified accordingly. Here, in addition to sociological asymmetry, we also see
echoes of interculturalisms paradigm of dualitythe focus on both rootedness and encounter.
Clearly, the various competencies within the ERC coalesce into a broad justification of what
might be called intercultural civic education. Positive attitudes like mutual respect and
recognition develop through dialogical engagement with religious diversity. As such, learning
that promotes dialogical engagement with ethical frameworks and religious diversity is also an
education in the virtues necessary for intercultural citizenship.
From the perspective of intercultural civic education, religious diversity is not educationally
significant in and of itself. Thus, the point is not simply whether the majority of citizens practice
one or the other religion, or whether they identify with this or that ethnic or national heritage.
From an intercultural viewpoint, the relevant criterion is how important the consequences of
students interaction with religious diversity are with respect to the goal of increasing social
cohesion. In other words, if our goal is favoring tolerance, mutual respect and dialogue among the
members of this particular citizenry, then we should not look at the percentage of people who
practice a particular religion in their everyday life in order to determine what we should teach; we
should, rather, look at what is the most important source of intolerance and conflict within a
particular society in order to adapt civic education to the obstacles to social integration of
particular societies.
This important point brings us back to the Bouchard-Taylor Commission report and its
discussion of the intercultural realities of Qubec. As the authors of the report note, between 2002
and 2008, 78.2% of the demands for accommodation in education were related to religious issues
and many of them were controversial. By contrast, demands related to ethno-cultural diversity in
education represented only 1.9% of the total (Bouchard & Taylor, 2008, p. 81). From the
perspective of political education within Qubec, then, the ERCs specific focus on religious
understanding and diversity seems a necessary condition for promoting positive interactions
between the family of Qubec society and the new immigrants it is adopting.
In sum, Qubecs Ethics and Religious Culture Curriculum reflects and reinforces key
characteristics of Qubecs intercultural ideal. The program provides a common educational
curriculum for all students that actively promotes skills and civic virtues necessary for integrating
diverse citizens into a common societal culture. The following table summarizes the
correspondences with interculturalism:
<<insert Table 3>>
Key elements of interculturalism Promotion through ERC
Dialogue The ERC has a strong focus on knowledge of
religious diversity and religious culture,
combined with an emphasis on skills of ethical
reflection and dialogical virtues.
Moral contract Explicit focus on liberal principles of mutual
respect and individual rights and liberties
provides an educational pathway by which young
citizens can come to reflectively endorse the
moral contract.
Sociological asymmetry &
The ERC places special emphasis on Qubecs
religious heritage, in a context of forward
looking dialogue and adjustment.
Table 3: Correspondances between Qubec Interculturalism and the Ethics and Religious Culture Program.
Conclusion: Interculturalism beyond Qubec?
As we have shown, Qubec Interculturalism, the Bouchard-Taylor report, and the ERC are all, to
a greater or lesser extent, the product of a rather specific set of historical and political
circumstances. Qubec, after all, is a relatively small French-speaking enclave that has to fight for
its existence in the midst of a large, vigorous, and by times hegemonic English-speaking culture.
Qubec has good reason to want to safeguard its own national culture, and interculturalism is a
part of this strategy.
Yet the mere fact that interculturalism originated in a specific context does not preclude it
from being a worthwhile model for dealing with cultural difference. Although, as the period
leading up to the Bouchard-Taylor report showed, interculturalism has had some trials and
tribulations, the policy has largely been a success. Qubcois are increasingly welcoming towards
new immigrants, who are seen as ensuring the demographic and economic future of Qubec.
Multiculturalism, by contrast, has increasingly been the target of critiques, most notably in some
European countries, where it is seen to have resulted in continuing social and economic
marginalization of immigrant populations. Meanwhile, anti-immigrant political parties have been
on the rise throughout Europe.
With its emphasis on reciprocity, interaction, and the integration of difference in the context
of a shared public culture, Qubec Interculturalism may constitute a promising middle way
between the hegemonic tendencies of strict republicanism and the centrifugal tendencies of
multiculturalism. At its best, interculturalism adopts difference into the family instead of leaving
it to molder on the sociopolitical margins. Qubec Interculturalism emphasizes the importance of
moving forward together in a common culture, but, at the same time, it acknowledges that the
common culture will be substantially changed by the newcomer. This is the meaning of Bouchard
and Taylors emphasis on both rootedness and encounterthe connection to the past must be
acknowledged, but so must the connection to a future whose openness and uncertainty provides a
space of free civic dialogue among diverse and equal citizens.
1. The official name of the commission was Commission de consultation sur les pratiques daccommodement relies
aux diffrences culturelles (Consultation commission on accommodation practices related to cultural differences).
2. In fact, the program is K-11 and not K-12, since there is no Grade 12 in Qubec. Students at this age have moved
into the CEGEP system.
3. According to Rocher et al. (2007), political observers generally agree that two government documents in particular
were responsible for laying the foundations for the interculturalist approach to integration: the white paper titled
So Many Ways to be Qubcois: An Action Plan on Cultural Communities (Ministre des Communauts
Culturelles et de lImmigration, 1981) and the policy statement on immigration and integration, Here to Build
Qubec Together (Ministre des Communauts Culturelles et de lImmigration, 1990).
4. This sections summary of interculturalism and its differences from multiculturalism draws mainly on Rocher et
al. (2007) and the Bouchard-Taylor report (2008).
5. Bill 101, also known as the Charter of the French Language, is generally regarded among French-speaking
Qubcois as a necessary expediency given the precariousness of the French language and French culture in
English-dominated North America. Adopted in the late 1970s, the aspects of Bill 101 that deal with education
were intended in large part as a contingency to reduce the strong flow of immigrants to the minority English
community, a demographic phenomenon that threatened the status of the French language in Qubec in the
medium term.
6. However, at the same time, the commissioners also caution that open secularism has limits: religious signs and
practices, they argue, should not be permitted everywhere in public life. For example, they should not be permitted
when they interfere with the performance of duties (e.g. a teacher who wears a burkha) or when the employee
embodies state neutrality (e.g. a judge) (Bouchard & Taylor, 2008, p. 150).
7. The French title of the course is thique et Culture Religieuse.
Bouchard, G. (2010). Lacit: La voie qubcoise de Linterculturalisme. In F. Plamondon & A. de Vaucher (Eds.), Les
enjeux du pluralisme: Lactualit du modle qubcois. Bologna: Pendragon.
Bouchard, G., & Taylor, C. (2008). Building the future: A time for reconciliation. Qubec: Commission de consultation
sur les pratiques daccommodement relies aux diffrences culturelles.
Fleury, B. et al. (2007). Inclusive Qubec schools: Dialogue, values, and common reference points. Qubec: Ministry
of Education, Recreation, and Sports.
Gagnon, L. (2007, November 10). Le modle Canadien. La Presse, p. PLUS 4.
Kymlicka, W. (2001). Politics in the vernacular: Nationalism, multiculturalism, and citizenship. New York: Oxford
University Press.
Labelle, M. (2000). La politique de la citoyennet et de Linterculturalisme au Qubec: Dfis et enjeux. In H. Greven-
Borde & J. Tournon (Eds.), Les identits en dbat, intgration ou multiculturalisme? Paris: Harmattan.
Leman, M. (1999). Canadian multiculturalism. Ottawa: Political and Social Affairs Division, Depository Services
Program, Government of Canada.
Leroux, G. (2007). thique et culture religieuse: Arguments pour un programme. Montral: Editions Fides.
Milot, M. (2008). Lexpression des appartenaces religieuses lcole publique comprometelle la laicit, lgalit et
lintgration sociale? In M. McAndrew, M. Milot, J. S. Imbeault, & P. Eid (Eds.), Laccommodement raisonnable
et la diversit religieuse lcole publique: Normes et pratiques (pp. 91111). Montral: ditions Fides.
Ministre des Communauts Culturelles et de lImmigration, Qubec. (1981). Autant de faons dtre Qubcois: Plan
daction lintention des communauts culturelles. Montral: Direction gnrale des publications
Ministre des Communauts Culturelles et de lImmigration, Qubec. (1990). Au Qubec pour btir ensemble: nonc
de politique en matire dimmigration et dintgration. Montral: Direction des communications.
Ministre de lducation, du Loisir et du Sport, Qubec (MELS). (2008). Quebec education program: Ethics and
religious culture. Qubec: Gouvernement du Qubec.
Ministre des Relations avec les citoyens et de limmigration, Qubec. (2001). Le Qubec une socit ouverte: Contrat
moral entre le Qubec et les personnes qui dsirent y immigrer. Montral: Direction des affaires publiques et des
Ouellet, F. (2000). Lenseignement culturel des religions, le dbat. Sherbrooke, Qubec: Les ditions du CRP.
Ouellet, F. (2005). duquer la citoyennet et la religion dans les socits postmodernes. In F. Ouellet (Ed.), Quelle
formation pour lducation la religion. Qubec: Presses Universitaires de Laval.
Potvin, M., Tremblay, M., Audet, G., & Martin, E. (2008). Les mdias crits et les accommodements raisonnables:
Linvention dun dbat. Qubec: Commission de consultation sur les pratiques daccommodement relies aux
diffrences culturelles.
Rocher, F., Labelle, M., Field, A.-M., & Icart, J.-C. (2007). Le concept dinterculturalisme en contexte qubcois:
Gnaologie dun nologisme. Ottawa & Montral: Research Centre on Immigration, Ethnicity and Citizenship.
Retrieved from
Rocher, G. (1973). Le Qubec en mutation. Montral: Hurtubise.
Seymour, M. (1999). La nation en question. Montral: Hexagone.
. Synagogues complaints prompt gym to tint windows, angering athletes. (2006, November 7). CBC News. Retrieved
Task Force on the Place of Religion in Schools in Qubec. (1999). Religion in secular schools: A new perspective for
Qubec (Report to the Minister of ducation). Qubec: Ministre de lEducation.