Revealing Democracy

Secularism and Religion in Liberal Democratic States

by Chantal Maillé (Volume editor) Greg M. Nielsen (Volume editor) Danièle Salée (Volume editor)
©2014 Edited Collection 176 Pages
Series: Diversitas, Volume 15


Anxieties over the Islamic face covering and over the proper management of otherness in liberal democracies seem to have reached a new peak with the introduction of legislation banning the burka in France and Belgium, and recent proposals for similar statutes in Quebec. What assumptions are contained within Western secularism and revealed in these attempts at legislating women’s religious clothing?
This book presents a collection of essays which take secularism/laïcité and the regulation of public expressions of religious commitment as their points of departure, exploring the issues these raise within society with a view informing the public debate and reflecting on the nature of citizenship. Is democracy well served when the terms and conditions of citizenship are defined beforehand by a given group and when these terms are presented as non-negotiable and unchangeable?
Revealing Democracy sheds light on the ways in which liberal states address and cope with the challenges of diversity and otherness and documents how processes of domination may be internalized and reflected in discourses on secularism and religion. It compels us to look without complacency at the limitations of liberal democratic citizenship and reflect on the inability of state policies to curb racism and entrenched patterns of Eurocentric social domination.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • Acknowledgments
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Quebec, Secularism and Women’s Rights: On Feminism and Bill 94
  • Chantal Maillé and Daniel Salée
  • Civilizational Delusions: Secularism, Tolerance, Equality
  • Wendy Brown
  • The Ban of the Full Face Veil in Belgium: Between Populism and Muslim Visibility Restrictions
  • Corinne Torrekens
  • Regimes of Accommodation, Hierarchies of Rights
  • Monique Deveaux
  • Acts of Journalism and the Interpretive Contradiction in Liberal Democracy: Reactions to Quebec’s Bill 94
  • Greg M. Nielsen with Andreea Mandache
  • Quebec’s Secularism Regime Under (High) Tension
  • François Rocher
  • ‘Reasonable Accommodation’ in Quebec: The Limits of Participation and Dialogue
  • Gada Mahrouse
  • Conclusion: Revealing Justice
  • Greg M. Nielsen
  • Diversitas
  • Series Titles

← 10 | 11 → INTRODUCTION

Quebec, Secularism and Women’s Rights On Feminism and Bill

Chantal MAILLÉ and Daniel SALÉE

Concordia University

In March 2010, Quebec’s Minister of Justice introduced in the National Assembly Bill 94, An Act to establish guidelines governing accommodation requests within the Administration and certain institutions. The proposed legislation states “that the practice whereby a personnel member of the Administration or an institution and a person to whom services are being provided by the Administration or the institution show their face during the delivery of services is a general practice, and that if an accommodation involves an adaptation of that practice and reasons of security, communication or identification warrant it, the accommodation must be denied.” Although the proposed legislation does not explicitly target Muslim women, those who, among them, wear a face or full body veil (niqab, burqa) in public according to their religious beliefs would not be authorized to work for the Quebec state and state agencies or have access to key state services (hospitals, schools, universities, day care centers) were bill 94 to become law.

Bill 94 did not become law after all. Despite months of public consultation and study in parliamentary committee, the Charest government did not bring it back for adoption in the National Assembly. The last time the parliamentary committee on Institutions discussed Bill 94 on record was September 28, 2011 – it has not been discussed since. Still, the issues of secularism, women’s rights and the display of religious signs underlying Bill 94 remain very much part of public debate in Quebec. They resurfaced during the 2012 electoral campaign as Parti Québécois leader, Pauline Marois, felt compelled to insist that under her stewardship the government would put forward a Charte de la laïcité (Charter of secularism), which would clearly establish that the display of religious signs and clothing of any kind and the public expression of ← 11 | 12 → religious conviction would be prohibited in the process of delivering or receiving state services (Mathieu, 2012) – that would not apply, however, to the crucifix hanging over the Speaker’s Chair in the National Assembly, which, Madame Marois argued, stands as a symbol of Quebec’s heritage.

Anxieties of mainstream society in liberal democracies over the Islamic face cover and related issues of immigration, citizenship, and the proper management of otherness and ethnocultural diversity are not new or unique to Quebec society. In recent years, a number of other jurisdictions have felt compelled to tread the same legislative path as Bill 94, indeed with even more vigor and determination. In April 2010, for example, the Belgian parliament approved a draft legislation that bans the burqa in public spaces and sends repeat offenders to prison. In 2011, France adopted a ban on Islamic face veils in public, and women who wear the niqab or burqa are now banned from any public activity, including driving a car, walking down the street, taking a bus, or collecting children from school (Chrisafis, 2011). Women can be fined for wearing the burqa or sent to mandatory French citizenship courses to inform or remind them of the values of the French republic.

To some, such legislative measures are unnecessary and represent a violation of the basic freedom of religious expression guaranteed constitutionally in most liberal democratic societies. To others, who believe the niqab and the burqa symbolize the oppression of women, such measures are, on the contrary, essential both to protect women’s right to equality and create a strong and secular democratic shield against religious fundamentalism – more specifically Muslim fundamentalism, often presented as a clear and present danger. Interestingly, both camps claim their respective position rests on a deep concern for human rights and democratic advancement. In reality, discussions and debates over the propriety of regulating female Islamic garments are symptomatic of broader questions that are hardly ever formulated as such: why do liberal democratic societies like Quebec, which have made embracing ethnocultural diversity and religious pluralism a defining feature of their public culture for several decades, now seem to retreat from such a stance? Is banning the Islamic veil an exceptional measure and a reasonable, self-preserving, liberal-democratic limitation on the freedom of expression? Or is it the mark of a deep-seated change in attitude on the part of the mainstream hegemonic culture toward minority ethnocultural identities and normative sets? Or is it, more simply, a knee-jerk, anti-Muslim reaction driven by the general current international context of politico-ideological opposition between East and West? Such questions are rarely raised, if at all, to shed light on the Islamic veil issue. Yet, they are important. They take us well beyond the veil and force us to ← 12 | 13 → address the dynamics of power and the social relations that underscore the state’s approach to ethnocultural diversity and normative otherness in the public space. Indeed, they compel us to take a hard, non-complacent look at the limitations of liberal democratic citizenship, that is, at the inability of state policies, however well intended they may be, to curb racism, intercultural inequality and entrenched patterns of Eurocentric social domination in any genuine and durable way.

That was the goal we pursued in convening a conference on Bill 94 at Concordia University in the fall of 2010, under the auspices of the Centre de recherche interdisciplinaire sur la diversité (CRIDAQ). We asked scholars from Canada, the United States and Europe to consider with us the contemporary masking of race in current and dominant societal discourses and public policy statements on difference, particularly with respect to issues of ethnocultural diversity and normative and religious pluralism in Quebec and elsewhere. Most of the chapters gathered in this book were originally presented at our conference on Revealing Democracy: Bill 94 and the Challenges of Religious Pluralism and Ethnocultural Diversity in Quebec. Each in its own way represents an answer to the question that underscores the current propensity of contemporary liberal democratic states to ban the Islamic veil and regulate public expressions of religious commitment: Is democracy well served when the terms and conditions of citizenship are defined beforehand by a given group, and when these terms and conditions, however well intended and enlightened they may be, are presented as non-negotiable and unchangeable?

Backdrop to Bill 94

The issue of the public display and expression of religious or cultural norms that differ considerably from the mainstream of Quebec society has been a recurring object of public debate since the 1990s. At that time much was made of the wearing of Islamic headscarves in schools. In 1995, the Quebec Human Rights Commission determined that public schools should not deny students wearing a hijab access to their services for religious reasons. In 2001, the town of Outremont in Montreal created a stir by prohibiting the installation of eruv, a wire that Hassidic Jews string around their houses a few meters above the ground to symbolize the extension of the Jewish home into the public domain. The Hassidic community sought a Superior Court injunction against the town and was eventually authorized to bring back the eruv. Similarly, in 2002 the Montreal-based family of a young Sikh boy, Gurbaj Singh Multani, launched a cause célèbre by contesting all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada the decision of Gurbaj’s school to bar him from its premises so long as he insisted on carrying his kirpan, a ← 13 | 14 → ceremonial dagger religious Sikh males feel required to wear in conformity with the dictates of their faith. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled in 2006, on the basis of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that the Sikh boy should have been authorized to carry his kirpan provided it was properly sheathed.

In 2007, when the Charest government set up the Consultation Commission on Accommodation Practices Related to Cultural Differences, under the shared chairmanship of two prominent Quebec academics, sociologist Gérard Bouchard and political philosopher Charles Taylor, it was a response to a mounting high-profile controversy that had been brewing for some time over the nature of accommodation that immigrants and members of religious minorities should reasonably expect from mainstream Quebec society. “Reasonable accommodation” has been an intrinsic part of Quebec’s institutional makeup since the mid-1980s, and is fully in line with the requisites of the Quebec and Canadian Charters of Rights and Freedoms. It represents but one tool in an extensive assortment of diversity management policies and state interventions designed by the Quebec government over time, ostensibly to address socioeconomic discrimination and the social exclusion of vulnerable minority groups.

Still, in the fall of 2006 news reports on what was presented as instances of rather “unreasonable” demands for accommodation1 had triggered a series of well-publicized, vehement and thinly veiled anti-immigrant statements by right-of-centre politicians, and led the town council of Hérouxville, a small, solidly French-Canadian municipality located 160 kilometres northeast of Montreal, to edict a decidedly patronizing and unwelcoming code of conduct for immigrants who might consider settling in its midst. Despite jeers and sneers dismissing the people of Hérouxville as narrow-minded country bumpkins, town officials persisted with their code of conduct and even lobbied the government to amend the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in order to abolish reasonable accommodations. Many applauded Hérouxville’s actions and a number of towns in the region stated their intention to ← 14 | 15 → follow suit while others unequivocally called for an end to the type of institutional asymmetry reasonable accommodation represents. The sympathy the Hérouxville initiative attracted indicated a deep-reaching social malaise over immigration, Quebec identity and citizenship rules of intercultural coexistence in the public space, with a strong potential for unsavoury twists and turns if unaddressed. The Bouchard-Taylor Commission was the government’s way to maintain control over an issue that might easily have gotten out of hand.

The Commission was instructed to take stock of accommodation practices related to cultural differences and assess concomitant social stakes in light of other experiences outside Quebec; conduct an extensive consultation among individuals and organisations wishing to state their views on accommodation practices related to cultural differences; and make recommendations to the government with a view to ensure that accommodation practices related to cultural differences conform to Quebec’s values as a pluralistic, democratic and egalitarian society. The co-chairs toured Quebec during the fall of 2007, holding twenty-two generally well-attended televised public hearings and citizens’ forums in 17 regions and municipalities. Ordinary citizens were invited to present briefs and speak their mind freely about reasonable accommodation. In addition, four province-wide forums were organized by the Institut du Nouveau Monde, a left-of-center think tank, at the request of the commission. Overall, the process attracted 3423 participants and generated 901 written submissions from individuals, groups and associations, and 761 requests to speak before the Commission (241 of which were heard by the co-chairs).


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (April)
legislation religious clothing citizenship diversity
Bruxelles, Bern, Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2013. 176 pp., 10 figs., 1 table

Biographical notes

Chantal Maillé (Volume editor) Greg M. Nielsen (Volume editor) Danièle Salée (Volume editor)

Chantal Maillé is Associate Professor of Women’s Studies at Concordia University in Montreal. She conducts research in the field of feminist politics, women’s movements and francophonie. Her recent publications address issues of transnationalism and postcolonial theories. She is a member of CRIDAQ. Greg M. Nielsen is Professor of Sociology and Co-director of the Concordia Centre for Broadcasting Studies at Concordia University. His current research is on how mainstream journalism works to expand gaps between marginal citizens who are reported on and the ideal audiences implied by the journalistic address. Daniel Salée is Professor of Political Science at Concordia University. His research in recent years has focused on the politics of ethnicity and citizenship in the Canadian and Quebec contexts, with a particular emphasis on Indigenous peoples and the handling of ethnocultural diversity by hegemonic Eurodescendant populations.


Title: Revealing Democracy
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
180 pages