Engaging with Diversity

Multidisciplinary Reflections on Plurality from Quebec

by Stéphan Gervais (Volume editor) Raffaele Iacovino (Volume editor) Mary-Anne Poutanen (Volume editor)
©2018 Edited Collection 564 Pages
Series: Diversitas, Volume 23


Contributed by leading scholars of Quebec Studies, both emerging and established, the 30 essays of this comprehensive collection offer a multidisciplinary survey of the study of diversity in Quebec over space and time. The volume is organized around a variety of themes through which Quebec’s plural reality is expressed, including conceptual, historical and contemporary approaches, covering a wide range of social and economic cleavages, identity markers, political contestation and, broadly, the lived experiences of Quebecers negotiating difference over time. In an environment increasingly demarcated by conflicts around values and cultural and social practices, this collection hopes to contribute to broadening the spectrum of voices to the current debate, adding an inclusive reflection to a conversation that has only intensified over the last decade. Quebec as a pluri-national and multi-ethnic society has been and remains a great laboratory to study and to test public policies on ethnic diversity. It allows us to identify the tensions and to evaluate the balance between the majority and the minority; and between settler society and indigenous nations, in conceptualizing and finding a normative consensus around the configuration of collective rights. In short, the contributions in this volume seek to illustrate how pluralism has and continues to constitute the lifeblood of belonging in Quebec.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Contributors
  • Engaging with Diversity. An Introduction (Stéphan Gervais / Raffaele Iacovino / Mary Anne Poutanen)
  • 1. Approaches to the Study of ETHNICITY, Belonging and Diversity
  • Introduction. Approaches to the Study of Ethnicity, Belonging and Diversity (Danielle Juteau)
  • Beyond the Historiographical Enclave? Studying Migration and Ethnicity in Quebec (Sylvie Taschereau)
  • Anthropology and the Study of Ethnicity in Quebec (Deirdre Meintel)
  • Why Do Critical Ethnic Studies Matter? And Why They Should Matter to Sociology (Sirma Bilge)
  • 2. Indigenous Peoples in Quebec
  • Introduction. Indigenous Peoples in Quebec (Denys Delâge)
  • Métissage, Interethnic Marriages and Identity Debates. The Case of the Indigenous Communities of the St. Lawrence Valley in the Nineteenth Century (Alain Beaulieu)
  • I Speak Cree, Not Innu. Ethnically United, Ethnonymically Divided? (John E. Bishop / Kevin Brousseau)
  • Land, Resistance, and Indigenous Filmmaking in Quebec (Isabelle St-Amand)
  • 3. Work and Family
  • Introduction. Work and family (Denyse Baillargeon)
  • Moving into the World of Work. Youth Today and a Century Ago (Sherry Olson)
  • “That Woman Worked Hard”. The Unpaid Work of French-Canadian Women in Textile Cities in Early-Twentieth-Century New England (Yukari Takai)
  • “Sorry, You Don’t Fit the Profile”. Underemployment for Skilled Immigrants and Closed Borders for Asylum Seekers (Paul Eid)
  • “Foreigners” on the Quebec Farm. An Employment Relationship with Family on Both Sides (Jill Hanley / Martha Stiegman / Kezia Speirs / Valérie Lavigne)
  • 4. Challenging Citizenship
  • Introduction. Challenging Citizenship (Bruce Curtis)
  • “A Difference of Race”? Racializing, Difference, and Governance in British Debates About the Colony of Lower Canada, 1828-1837 (Jarett Henderson / Bettina Bradbury)
  • “Like a Thread of Gold”. Tracing Alfred Perry’s Lifelong Engagement with Montreal’s Politics of Ethnic Confrontation (Dan Horner)
  • “Young Militant Children for Jewish Dignity”. Antisemitism and Resistance at Montreal’s Aberdeen School, 1913 (Roderick MacLeod / Mary Anne Poutanen)
  • The Challenges of Citizenship Education in a Minority Nation (Raffaele Iacovino / Marc-André Éthier / David Lefrançois)
  • Under the Microscope. Young English-Speakers in Quebec since 1980 (Marie-Odile Magnan)
  • 5. Cultural Expressions
  • Introduction. Cultural Expressions (Sherry Simon)
  • Remembering Canadian Slavery. Black Subjects in Historical Quebec Art (Charmaine A. Nelson)
  • “My Love, How Different Life Is Here…” A Young Italian Woman’s Impressions of Postwar Montreal (Sonia Cancian)
  • From English into French. Literary Translation as a Measure of the (Inter)Cultural Vitality of Quebec’s Anglophone Communities (Gillian Lane-Mercier)
  • 6. Religion
  • Introduction. Religion (Georges Leroux)
  • Impracticable Secularism. Considerations on Religious Freedom in Quebec from the Seventeenth to the Nineteenth Century, Based on the Case of Franco-Protestants (Ollivier Hubert)
  • Love Thy Neighbour. Hasidic Social Relations in Quebec (Steven Lapidus)
  • Secularism and the National Question (Michel Seymour)
  • The Changing Landscape of Religious Diversity in Montreal (Frédéric Castel / Frédéric Dejean / Annick Germain)
  • Series Index

← 12 | 13 →


This project began as a workshop, “Living in Quebec: Ethnicity, Race and Gender from the 19th to the 21st Century”, organised at McGill University in 2011, and has evolved into Engaging with Diversity: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Pluralism from Quebec. If no single book can do justice to the complexities of a subject like plurality in Quebec it does not mean that such a project ought not to be undertaken. We were very fortunate to be surrounded by a group of scholars in Montreal and elsewhere who embraced our ambitious vision of plurality by inserting multidisciplinary and historical perspectives into the challenges of ethnocultural and religious diversity in Quebec. All of the authors in this book have added their unique voices and wisdom to their chapters and in so doing have inspired us to ensure that the manuscript was published. We recognize that Engaging with Diversity would not have been possible without the commitment of all of the authors. We thank them for their dedication, determination, patience, and companionship over the years. That said, we take full responsibility for any errors that remain despite the authors’ good-natured and time-sensitive cooperation during the copy-editing phase.

The astute and helpful comments and suggestions, as well as the constructive spirit in which they were made by the anonymous evaluators of the manuscript, has made Engaging with Diversity a far better book. We would also like to thank Rod McLeod and Natacha Leblanc-Filion for their excellent copy editing in addition to Cynthia Kelly for the superb translation of chapters from French into English. Many institutional partners have financially supported this book initiative: the Quebec Studies Program at McGill University; Center for Interdisciplinary Research on Montreal; Faculty of Arts, McGill University, Department of Political Science at Carleton University, Association internationale des études québécoises, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and the Montreal History Group. We are grateful for this support. It is an honour to have our book published in a collection that is under ← 13 | 14 → the leadership of Alain-G Gagnon; we thank him for including the manuscript with enthusiasm. At Peter Lang Publishers we would like to express to Thierry Waser and Sandra Kuzniak our sincere appreciation for their assistance.

Finally, the production of this book has provided so many moments in which to nourish an intellectual friendship among the three co-editors. We feel incredibly fortunate to have had these occasions to benefit from each others’ perspectives. We dedicate the book to the following people, past and present: Stéphan Gervais to the women of the Service d’Interprète, d’Aide et de Référence aux Immigrants, (SIARI) in the Montreal neighbourhood of Côtes-des-Neiges and to the late Gretta Chambers, journalist and chancellor emerita, McGill University, who have been an inspiration for their commitment to the values of rapprochement, equality and inclusion; Raffaele Iacovino to his family, Marie-Eve, Zoé and Danika; and Mary Anne Poutanen to her three plucky grandmothers who migrated to North America as single women-Hannah Pietikainen of Turku, Finland, Mary McFarlane of County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland, and Rose Ditkoff of Malkewice, Poland.

← 14 | 15 →


Alain BEAULIEU – History, Université du Québec à Montréal

Sirma BILGE – Sociology, Université de Montréal

John BISHOP – Social and Cultural Development, Cree Nation Government

Bettina BRADBURY – History, York University

Kevin BROUSSEAU – Medicine, Northern Ontario School of Medicine

Sonia CANCIAN – History, Max Planck Institute for Human Development

Frédéric CASTEL – Religious Studies, Université du Québec à Montréal

Bruce CURTIS – Sociology, Carleton University

Frédéric DEJEAN - Religious Studies, Université du Québec à Montréal

Denys DELÂGE – Sociology, Université Laval

Paul EID – Sociology, Université du Québec à Montréal

Marc-André ETHIER – Education, Université de Montréal

Danielle JUTEAU – Sociology, Université de Montréal

Annick GERMAIN – Urbanisation, Culture, Société, Institut national de la recherche scientifique

Stéphan GERVAIS – Quebec Studies, McGill University

Jill HANLEY – Social Work, McGill University

Jarett HENDERSON – Humanities, Mount Royal University

Dan HORNER – Criminology, Ryerson University

Ollivier HUBERT – History, Université de Montréal

Raffaele IACOVINO – Political Science, Carleton University

Gillian LANE-MERCIER – French Language and Literature, McGill University

Steven LAPIDUS – Religious Studies, Concordia University

Valérie LAVIGNE – Medicine, McGill University

David LEFRANÇOIS – Education, Université du Québec en Outaouais ← 15 | 16 →

Georges LEROUX – Philosophy, Université du Québec à Montréal

Roderick MACLEOD – Independent Scholar, Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network

Marie-Odile MAGNAN – Education, Université de Montréal

Deidre MEINTEL – Anthropology, Université de Montréal

Charmaine A. NELSON – Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University

Sherry OLSON – Geography, McGill University

Mary Anne POUTANEN – Quebec Studies, McGill University

Michel SEYMOUR – Philosophy, Université de Montréal

Sherry SIMON – French Studies, Concordia University

Kezia SPEIRS – Social Work, McGill University

Isabelle ST-AMAND – Languages, Literatures and Cultures, Queen’s University

Martha STEIGMAN – Food Studies, York University

Yukari TAKAI – History, University of Windsor

Sylvie TASCHEREAU – History, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières

← 16 | 17 →

Engaging with Diversity

An Introduction

Stéphan GERVAIS, Raffaele IACOVINO, and Mary Anne POUTANEN

Every book project has its own genesis. This one is rooted in a specific political, social and cultural context, wherein the place of identity and pluralism in Quebec has engendered very polarized and emotional reactions locally, nationally, and internationally. Yet questions around collective identity have marked the history of Quebec since its founding (Delâge & Warren, 2001; Havard, 2003; Vincent, 2013). The frontiers of identity (Maclure & Boucher, 2016), ethnicity (Juteau, 2015), culture and language fluctuate and exist in a constant state of contestation and reimagining (Simon, 2006; Tully, 1995). As citizens and researchers we have come to observe a burgeoning monistic rigidity amongst certain reactionary voices, whether they appeal to an absolutist secularism or a more culturalist conception of the political subject in Quebec, that is beginning to dominate the public conversation away from a longstanding consensus around liberal-pluralism. In the context of conflicts around values and cultural and social practices, we felt we needed to contribute to broadening the spectrum of voices to the current debate, to add an inclusive reflection to a conversation that has only intensified over the last decade. In a nutshell, we wanted to offer a multidisciplinary portrait of a plural reality in Quebec that would incorporate historical, social, cultural, political dimensions.

In January 2007 the municipality of Hérouxville, a town of approximately 1 200 White, Catholic Quebecers of French-Canadian origin, passed a code of conduct that drew international condemnation and which came to be known as “L’affaire Hérouxville”. Members of the town council had created the Normes de vie de la municipalité d’Hérouxville to inform newcomers about Quebec’s cultural norms (Ahadi, 2009). While its objective was to pre-empt potential social unrest by offering ← 17 | 18 → a sort of guidepost for integration, the code of conduct in effect came to represent a pervasive and hegemonic interpretation of belonging based on a series of ethno-cultural stereotypes, unfounded fears, and a general sensationalism surrounding cultural practices of minorities, most notably through a derisory view of Islamic groups. Indeed, Hérouxville was almost entirely devoid of ethno-cultural diversity, yet it targeted immigrants of specific racialized communities and of gender, in particular Muslim women who wore the hijab. The code of conduct expressed a form of nativism which presumed the inevitability of a clash of values (Côté-Boucher & Hadj-Moussa, 2008; Weinstock, 2007) and narratives (Austin, 2010). Moreover, the document reflected a growing chasm in the urban-rural divide and a criticism of Montreal’s tolerance of its sociocultural diversity. The “Normes de vie” also brought to light a persistent apprehension amongst these Quebecers about their minority status in Canada, re-igniting an enduring debate over the suitability of the federal policy of multiculturalism as a framework for Quebec’s socio-political challenges in the area of integration (Iacovino, 2016; Potvin, 2016). If religious matters seemed quiet or a back-burner issue in debates over the place of culture and ethnicity in Quebec identity, subsumed under a liberal-pluralist and secular consensus, “L’affaire Hérouxville” served as somewhat of a catalyst revealing that religion and culture as identity markers have not been settled in the evolving construction of Quebec identity (Rousseau, 2012).

The response by Quebec’s political class came to be characterized as one of cynical political manoeuvring. The incident quickly was absorbed into a larger partisan shouting match over the protection of a narrow and simplistic conception of Quebec’s identity as though the sources of ethno-cultural diversity were inherently perilous. Rather than build on Quebec’s vast experience with cultural and religious pluralism, as a tolerant and open host society (Gagnon & Boucher, 2016), Quebec’s leadership instead buckled in the face of perceived electoral retribution in a societal climate that was increasingly dominated by fears over the accommodation of minority cultural practices. One bright spot associated with this episode emerged from outside of formal political channels, as a delegation of Muslim women from Montreal sought to dispel such misconceptions around Islam in organizing a visit to Hérouxville. Their objective was to engage in respectful dialogue on questions of gender and Islam, yet an audience with town leaders and about fifty residents resulted in mixed reactions. While the town agreed to amend some of the more ← 18 | 19 → sensationalist aspects of the code, such as references to stoning women to death or burning them with acid, they nevertheless decided to make no major changes to the code of conduct. Moreover, the initiative to engage in a constructive dialogue around gender barely registered in the media, as the more histrionic aspects of the story continued to dominate, relegating a promising grassroots effort to have a real conversation around gender to the sidelines.

In November 2006, Mario Dumont, Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ) leader of the opposition, fuelled the debate in a response to a question posed by Radio Canada journalist Martin Ouellet about accommodation: “ces accommodements religieux ou culturels, interprétés à la lumière de la Charte des droits et libertés, n’ont plusde bon sens’”(Le Devoir, 2006, November 17).1 Dumont went further in another interview the same day, arguing for a constitution that reaffirmed Quebec majoritarian values: “L’égalité des droits, on l’a, et il faut s’en féliciter. Mais il y a une nuance entre ça, et s’effacer soi-même et dire que la majorité n’a plus le droit d’exister, d’avoir ses traditions, d’avoir ses façons de faire. Ça, pour moi, c’est un a-plat-ventrisme qui ne mène nulle part” (Robitaille, 2007, pp. 122-123). This constant political jockeying, the fanning of insecurity, and a media preoccupation with events such as “L’affaire Hérouxville” culminated in Premier Jean Charest establishing a commission of inquiry. Headed by historian and sociologist Gérard Bouchard and philosopher Charles Taylor, the commission’s mandate was to “take stock of accommodation practices in Quebec; analyse the attendant issues bearing in mind the experience of other societies; conduct an extensive consultation on this topic; and formulate recommendations to the government to ensure that accommodation practices conform to the values of Quebec society as a pluralistic, democratic, egalitarian society” (Bouchard & Taylor, 2008, p. 7). While the Commission’s mandate was to focus on accommodation practices, the debate that followed centred on determining the limits of reasonable accommodation. Bouchard and Taylor reminded us that ← 19 | 20 → reasonable accommodation was one particular practice of harmonization within a legal framework among others.

In the Commission’s final report, Building the Future: A Time for Reconciliation, authors Bouchard and Taylor (2008) concluded that “the foundations of collective life in Quebec are not in a critical situation” (p. 10). The commissioners outlined that Quebec has been relatively successful in its integration initiatives over the years, and recommended that the way forward was to strengthen efforts around the development of Quebec interculturalism rather than alter course, clearly a rebuke of Quebec’s political leadership and a call for measured and moderate responses to the challenges of diverse ethno-cultural practices. It also noted that the “crisis” over accommodation was largely one of perception or “significant distortions between facts and perceptions” (Bouchard & Taylor, 2008, p. 21), fuelled by media sensationalism and “stemmed from an erroneous or partial perception of practices in the field” (Bouchard & Taylor, 2008, p. 22). By situating their preferred model of interculturalism within a general normative framework of “integrative pluralism”, the commissioners sought to promote a certain continuity in Quebec’s commitment to liberal-pluralism by appealing not to some radical re-foundation of the structure of social relations in Quebec, but to ground the way forward in well-established approaches that have been developed in Quebec and are specific to its particular political sociology. In effect, the commissioners sought to reassure us that embracing a plural reality in Quebec did not represent a move away from the traditional pillars of collective identity. This was a story of continuity.

Rather than build on this course of action, the final report was virtually ignored by the governing Liberal Party.2 The ensuing critical reactions were swift: the Commission was “out of touch” with the concerns of ordinary Quebecers; their recommendations reflected an appeal to Canadian multiculturalism as a normative framework; the Commissioners were happy to accommodate cultural minorities ← 20 | 21 → while dismissing the real collective cultural concerns of the majority; the commissioners were bringing religion back into the public sphere, betraying the legacy of the Quiet Revolution and obstructing the path towards more stringent secularism; and so on. In short, the report’s most visible and immediate result was a debate around religious symbols in the public service. Subsequent deliberations emerged over issues and/or models of secularism, pluralism, gender equality (see Bilge in this book), and religious accommodation. Various initiatives have since been put into place: the Ethics and Religious Program (ERC) (Leroux 2007; Morris, 2011), Bill 94 (Guidelines about accommodation requests within the Public Administration) (Sharify-Funk, 2011) and the 2013 Quebec Charter of Values (Bill 60, Charter affirming the values of State secularism, religious neutrality, and gender equality as well as providing a framework for accommodation requests) (Venne, 2016). This question of whether pluralism ought to occupy a central place in Quebec, or whether it is undergoing an inevitable decline owing to social pressures (Salée, 2016) continues to dominate Quebec’s political and social landscape on both normative and empirical grounds.

The narrative that we shared in the beginning of this introduction about the events and reactions before, during, and after the Bouchard-Taylor Commission has prompted us to tackle a broad and ambitious question: what does it mean to live in Quebec? Of course, the concept and meaning of “Quebec” has evolved over time. As a territorial reference, the past and present colonial relationship between the state and Indigenous peoples serves as one poignant example. As Denys Delâge contends in his “Introduction” to the “Indigenous Peoples” section, Quebec ought to recognize its plurinational nature, to put an end to colonialism and to no longer continue to deny “Indigenous components of our society, thereby hiding a foundational part of identity in Quebec. Rich in intense cultural interactions, it is a legacy we ought to embrace”.

From the perspective of citizenship, the constructed social, political and cultural boundaries of who is included in the word “Québécois” have been and still are in mutation, marked by a history of “nous” et “les autres”. The subject of “othering” has changed over time and still continues today (Bilodeau & Turgeon, 2014; Karmis, 2003; Lamonde, 1999; Maclure, 2016; Magnan, 2008; Mills, 2014; Potvin 2016). Collective trajectories are also nested in the socio-political context of Canada, creating more challenges regarding minority-majority relations and putting questions about inclusion and exclusion at the forefront. In sum, what are the ← 21 | 22 → constructed social, political, cultural, and racial frontiers that define how we live together in Quebec?

This book represents an ambitious research initiative. We have decided to embrace a broad perspective—the diversity and richness of a plural reality in Quebec—and to gather thematic articles organized around various disciplines that seek to shed light on historical and contemporary issues central to the experience of living in Quebec. Engaging with Diversity makes a contribution to the subject of pluralism in Quebec. It wants therefore to act both at the normative and empirical levels to analyse and offer a broad and inclusive portrait of a plural reality in Quebec in time and space.

The term pluralism was attached to different bodies of work, disciplines and issues during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (Dahl, 2001; Weinstock 2002). For this book, we adopt a normative and empirical position on pluralism broadly defined as an “interpretation of social diversity” (Yumatle, 2015). In fact, we acknowledge the diversity of perspectives and values within individuals and societies. But pluralism, from our perspective, is different from relativism or cynicism, because it is rooted in our understanding that “values can be reconciled and that diverse perspectives do not reflect an underlying incoherence in reality itself” (Goddman, 2014, p. 17).

Our conception of pluralism supports the idea of integrative pluralism that was developed in the Bouchard-Taylor Report and defined as “a conception of pluralism that emphasizes the diversity of the dimensions to be considered for example, social, economic and legal, the close relations between the dimensions, and the need to consider all of them in an analytical or intervention approach” (Bouchard and Taylor, 2008, p. 287). We do not seek to put forth a detailed philosophical treatise on pluralism, yet its salience nevertheless cannot be denied in these deliberations—it constitutes an underlying societal pillar that has been intentionally adopted as a frame of reference by state actors, societal groups and individuals. Otherwise stated, in presenting a portrait of Quebec’s plural reality, we seek to highlight the continuity emphasized by the commissioners. Indeed, this aspect of pluralism premised on a sort of sociological “realism” is precisely the justificatory scheme through which Gérard Bouchard and Charles Taylor have come to emphasize the virtue of continuity in their subsequent reflections. ← 22 | 23 →

Without entering into a protracted engagement with Bouchard’s conception of interculturalism, his view of a “plural reality” as distinct from abstract and normative conceptions of pluralism merits some consideration here. For Bouchard, a nation’s societal projects and ideals emerge from its history, shaped by a series of experiences and collective decisions over time that are contingent on existing sociological factors. In offering a prescriptive account of the particular model of liberal-pluralism appropriate for a “duality paradigm” in Quebec (in contrast to a “diversity paradigm” in Canada), Bouchard’s contention stems from a sort of modest realism. While majority-minority relations will sometimes be fraught with conflict, in some cases even calling for ad hoc precedence for the majority due to its particular status in the larger North American setting, an ethic of exchange, reciprocity and accommodation should at the very least be infused with what he calls a “pluralist mindset”:

The above argument may in a certain light run counter to the principle of formal equality between individuals, groups, and cultures. In its defence, one can say that it does nothing more than reflect and conform to a state of universal reality, namely the impossibility of cultural neutrality of nation-states. Likewise, it somewhat detracts from the ideal and abstract vision of a society formed of a group of perfectly autonomous, rational, and self-made citizens. However, it brings us closer to the complex, shifting, unpredictable, and omnipresent reality of identity dynamics and the vagaries of political life. The argument for elements of contextual precedence thus proceeds from a more sociological and realist vision of liberalism. (Bouchard, 2011, p. 456)

Taylor employs a similar approach. In dispelling the notion that interculturalism is simply a reiteration of multiculturalism, he points to the distinct purposes of the respective models for different contexts. Quebec’s approach is meant for a distinct national “story”, while multiculturalism effectively fills an identity void following the waning of Canada’s British heritage. This “dethroning of an anglo-normative understanding” (Taylor, 2012, p. 417) effectively strips citizenship of particular cultural moorings while interculturalism applies to a society still constituted by a large majority of Franco-Quebecers that do not seek a wholesale reformulation of their collective status. In Taylor’s words:

[…] the story can’t simply be a carbon-copy of the Canadian one. What does it look like? Something like this. Quebec society has been engaged in a long-term project not only to survive as a francophone society but to flourish; and, indeed, to flourish as a democratic society based on equality and human rights. We invite those who come here from outside to join us (those already ← 23 | 24 → there) in this project as full members, which means, of course, learning the language and becoming integrated into the society. But we invite them to become full members of this society, with a say like all the others, whose views and contributions count as much as those of native born. We are indeed eager to benefit from the skills and insights that they bring to us from outside. So the contrast is clear: the “multi” story decentres the traditional ethno-historical identity and refuses to put any other in its place. All such identities coexist in the society, but none is officialized. The “inter” story starts from the reigning historical identity but sees it evolving in a process in which all citizens, of whatever identity, have a voice, and no-one’s input has a privileged status. (Taylor, 2012, p. 418)

Again, we include these views not to introduce a volume that will explore interculturalism or multiculturalism, but to demonstrate that the underlying value of this volume is to dig deeper into this plural reality that has informed the commissioners’ views of integrative pluralism premised on a sort of continuity.

This is the backdrop of integrative pluralism as we understand it—Quebec represents a unique space for the “playing out” of a complex plural reality. To take but one example, when looking at the diverse Black communities in Montreal, the current social challenges are numerous. From a schooling perspective, McAndrew, Ledent, and Ait-Said (2006) have demonstrated a significant academic gap between Black students in Montreal and other immigrant groups (immigrants or children of immigrants) in high school graduation rates (37.1% versus 45.5%), revealing an even larger gap when placed alongside the figure for all students (57.8%). When examining the hiring process and potential bias for job seekers in Quebec, Eid (2012, 2018) has shown that racialized minorities in Quebec continue to face discrimination and in particular, racialized immigrant women experience more significant obstacles (Boulet, 2012) and have the lowest average weekly employment income of all groups (Chicha, 2012). In Montreal, clusters of very low-income neighborhoods are found in St-Michel and Montréal Nord (Breau, Shin, Burkhart, 2018). In Montréal Nord, where almost a half (49%) of the population identify themselves as part of a racialized minority and where slightly more than a half (53%) of that percentage identify themselves as members of the Black community, a third (34%) of households dispense nearly a third (30%) or more of their income to rent (Ville de Montréal, 2016). ← 24 | 25 →

This brief snapshot of current issues concerning the realities of some of the Black communities in Montreal’s neighborhood of Montréal Nord also applies to the Canadian context (Statistics Canada, 2016). Therefore as Charmaine A. Nelson (2010) has identified, it seems that “for a person who is identified as Black in Canada today, there are very real social, material and psychic repercussions” (Nelson, 2010, p. 14). To this current situation, recent research in psychology has demonstrated how the dominant cultural narrative defined as the “overlearned stories communicated through mass media or other large social and cultural institutions and social networks” (Rappaport, 2000, p. 3) about blackness in Canada is negative and how it influences the lived work experience of young Blacks in Canada (Hasford, 2016). This opens up broad questions about historical Canadian and Quebec narratives and the will to engage with Black history, including legacies surrounding slavery and colonization in Quebec and in Canada (Austin, 2014; Hasford, 2016; Lewis, 2018; Walcot 2014). In light of these complexities, the contributions in this volume seek to illustrate how pluralism has and continues to live and breathe in Quebec.

The chapters that make up this volume have been designed to act as pathways to the study of a theme or a subject relevant to this experience. The reader will therefore be able to discover, by using Quebec as a case study, a variety of approaches to a number of key concepts: ethnicity, identity, belonging, racialization, language, citizenship, gender, religion and class. The chapters have been written with the aim of being accessible for a reader that dives into an unfamiliar theme in the Quebec context. Rather than relying on a particular disciplinary orthodoxy, we have decided to use a wider multidisciplinary perspective within the humanities and social sciences as well as to provide readers with a more comprehensive collection of original research. We argue that there have always been multiple and diverse ways of belonging in Quebec and living the Quebec experience, in contrast to a single path or a stringent orthodoxy proposed by the “values crowd”, and that employing a multidisciplinary approach best reveals this complexity. Conventionally, research produced by various disciplines remain within academic silos—compartmentalized and subdivided.

Although this volume touches on the subject of intercultural relations (Emongo & White, 2014), we reiterate that it is not an exploration of the much debated Quebec policy of interculturalism (Bouchard, 2015; Iacovino 2016), defined as a particular model of social and political ← 25 | 26 → integration as adopted with varying intensity by successive Quebec governments over the past 35 years. While this model has constituted the focus of many reflections on cultural pluralism in Quebec, from both theoretical and comparative perspectives (Hepburn & Zapata-Barrero, 2014; Meer, Modood, & Zapata-Barrero, 2016) it will be clear throughout this volume that the aim is not to engage in a protracted debate over the concept itself. Living together has created tensions and conflicts, resulting in a multitude of both formal responses by the state and initiatives on the ground. At the same time, pursuing common ground and debating integrative practices has provided opportunities for accommodation that have traversed the Quebec experience and history for at least five centuries. This volume cannot exhaustively cover such ground; but it does seek to provide a window onto some of the more compelling social and political markers that have touched Quebec over the years, with a tapestry of new and exciting research on key themes around which the volume is organized: ethnicity, Indigenous peoples, work and family, citizenship, culture, and religion.

The challenges of living together remain complex. Quebec is a nation where almost 80% of its population is French-speaking while facing the difficulties associated with being a minority within Canada (Quebec represents less than 25% of the entire Canadian population). Like Canada, which must confront and recognize the enormous undertaking involved in being a multi-ethnic country, Quebec, as a province must also tackle the complexities of having on its territory 11 Indigenous nations and of protecting the language rights of its English-speaking or Anglophone minority population. When we move the lens to Montreal, the challenges of pluralism seem greater: for example among the 2005-2015 landed immigrants cohort 75% chose to live in the Greater Montreal Region (Montreal-Laval-Longueuil) while 60% chose the Island of Montreal itself. Consequently, more than 30% of the population, comprised of non-French and non-English mother-tongue speakers, or allophones, call Montreal home compared to 12% of allophones for the entire province. As for population by mother tongue, 78.1% of the total Quebec population reported French as their mother tongue, compared to 47% for the Montreal administrative region population (Institut de la statistique du Québec, 2016; Quebec Ministry of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusion, 2015). The task for a new generation of scholars is to look beyond these statistics, broad divisions, binaries, concepts (for example, how do we define a Francophone) and stereotypes in order to identify ← 26 | 27 → and unpack the complex relationships both between and within Quebec’s different ethnic communities divided as they are by class, religion, ethnicity, geographical origins, gender, and even language. Moreover, a particularly salient challenge is ensuring the recognition of French as a vibrant common public language while valuing second-language learning and proficiency. Quebec as a pluri-national and multi-ethnic society has been and remains a great laboratory to study and to test public policies on ethnic diversity. It allows us to identify the tensions and to evaluate the balance between the majority and the minority; and between settler society and Indigenous nations, in conceptualizing and finding a normative consensus around the configuration of collective rights.


The passions aroused by recent events in Quebec, most notably the “reasonable accommodations” debates sparked in part by the Kirpan, Hérouxville and the hijab (Karmis, 2008; Kussens, 2009; Tahon, 2013) in addition to the deliberations engendered by the Charter of Quebec Values, illustrate the extent to which questions about collective identity in the public sphere continue to dominate the political, social, and cultural landscape.3 Quebec also continues to struggle to find an appropriate equilibrium between unity and diversity, developing and revising formative projects that address the twin pillars of social cohesion and difference on a wide variety of fronts. This has become an integral aspect of the lived experiences of citizens in Quebec.

Although these challenges are common throughout the world today, Quebec’s particular trajectory has much to offer the broader North American university audience and society at large, for three primary reasons. First, as a minority nation nestled within a larger associative community with its own distinct national integration project, debates in Quebec about the salient markers of belonging, identity, and citizenship are front and centre compared to the rest of North America. Second, the experience of living together, both as Canadians and within the broader ← 27 | 28 → North American context, involves both meeting points and ruptures that provide opportunities for cultural cross-fertilization and raise a series of key questions. To what extent can Quebec actually diverge from the dominant North American consensus on the primacy of ethical individualism by seeking recognition along collective lines and expressing its political claims as a majority? How can Quebec affirm this majoritarian status in light of prevailing norms of cultural pluralism on the continent that seek to restrain majority culture as a structuring principle? Indeed, both Canadian and American models of integration assume the existence of established host societies that correspond to the boundaries of the nation-state, and therefore are free to disregard an explicit reference to a collective project structured around a particular majority culture. In contrast, Quebec is forced to make an explicitly substantive claim that outlines a majority culture that is meant to form the basis of a distinct host society. In this context, does Quebec even possess a sufficient toolkit for both the development of a distinct approach (model), from a policy perspective and the fact that the province does not possess control over the levers of citizenship, considering the weight of both the Canadian and U.S. narratives around integration? That said, Quebec’s distinct existential position offers a poignant reference point and challenge for a larger political setting that tends to veer towards homogeneity—particularly in this era of globalization.

Third, observations on lived experiences in Quebec have raised important questions about citizenship, including the subject of multi-hyphenated and cross-cutting identities as a result of the state’s robust capacities in the areas of immigration/integration, cultural policy and generally, its use of citizenship for the ends of national integration. Indeed, while Canada holds the reins over formal citizenship and naturalization, Quebec has actively employed its powers to affirm itself as a distinct host society, straddling the boundaries between socio-political integration and formal citizenship (Iacovino, 2016).

The intention of this volume is to assume a broader and multidisciplinary approach to themes organized around collective identities in order to advance the state of research beyond isolated disciplinary silos. As editors, we believe deeply that the study of the Quebec experience can serve as a fruitful framework, through the careful gathering of relevant case studies, in providing a point of departure for a growing international scholarship in the field of belonging and identity in pluralist settings. Indeed, most contemporary liberal democracies are confronting similar challenges, and ← 28 | 29 → we believe that Quebec-based scholarship has much to offer. Ultimately, the project aims for breadth, providing a survey of new and innovative research into the complexities of living in a pluralist society which will resonate across disciplines and policy fields.

Concerns over the contested markers of living together have taken on an immediate intensity in the continuing debates in Quebec. From French-Canadian survivance to efforts seeking to foster a Québécois collective consciousness, reflecting the contours of belonging on the way to citizenship has been an absorbing exercise in collective introspection (Gagnon, 2010; Gervais, Kirkey, & Rudy, 2016; Gossage & Little, 2012; Rocher, 2015; Sarra-Bournet, 2016). At the same time, the rights and obligations associated with citizenship are not debated in a vacuum; states are increasingly grappling with an integrated global environment that directly affects our conceptions of belonging. Throughout this exercise, critics of pluralism contend that it represents a foreign and threatening turn for Quebec, and a betrayal of the nation’s historical trajectory (for an overview, see Maclure, 2016). The complex realities of Montreal’s neighborhoods (such as Côte-des-Neiges and Montréal Nord discussed above) illustrate on-going conflicts and tensions as well as efforts to reduce them. So, too, in Outremont where the relationship between the Hasidim and some long-standing residents of French-Canadian origin has been strained resulting in growing municipal bylaws to restrict Hasidic religious activities and places of worship. They include a prohibition of processions, strict regulations as to when temporary shelters can be erected and taken down for the eight-day festival of Sukkot, the removal of eruvs (a fishing line used to symbolically extend the walls of a home into public space), a disallowance of synagogue expansions needed to accommodate growing congregations, and a ban on opening new synagogues in Outremont (Herman, 2008; Skinazi, 2015; Stoker, 2003; Van Praagh, 2010). In 2011, in response to objections to the expansion of the Sha’ar David of Bobov synagogue, an inter-faith group, comprising the Hasidim and non-Hasidim, created “Friends of Hutchison” to encourage dialogue between the Hasidim and its neighbours. The Hasidim have also responded with court challenges and active involvement in municipal politics. Some present their objections to a range of restrictions as a group at City Hall; the Hasidim elected Mindy Pollack as a city councillor who is involved in grassroots organizations as well. Moreover, they have invited their non-Hasidic neighbours to participate in public events, such as the spring festival of Lag ba’omer, designed to educate and ease ← 29 | 30 → civic tensions. This volume seeks to illustrate that Quebec’s rich history of reflection on questions of pluralism is multifaceted and not amenable to the neat and easy characterizations offered by those that would like to see a retreat from pluralism. Indeed, we contend that acceptance, acknowledgment and recognition of diversity are best understood through a portrait of historical and contemporary Quebec pluralism that emphasizes its continuity and perseverance in the face of homogenizing forces. This volume seeks to shed light on this rich diversity—by offering a portrait of Quebec’s long and complex relationship with and belief in pluralism through new and exciting research by scholars from a variety of disciplines employing distinct approaches.

What is unique about the Quebec case? Most political communities confronted with diversity strive to negotiate the boundaries and norms associated with pluralism without a lingering existential angst. Quebec’s attempts to address issues of collective identity, whether they touch on language, culture, religion, class, gender, ethnicity, or race, also constitute political acts of national affirmation—the deliberate delineation of a political community that seeks self-determination. Quebec identity is thus conceptually and normatively more complex than its treatment as merely a collective expression of “culture”. Doing so undermines Quebec’s collective agency, in effect reducing Quebec itself as simply an object of cultural policy that can be subsumed under a broader frame of reference provided by Canadian multiculturalism. Quebec views itself as a hub of social and political integration and its initiatives in the area of integration have come to serve as an opportunity to stake out a claim in defining the terms of living together, not unlike other minority nations such as Catalonia and Scotland (Hepburn & Zapata-Barrero, 2014). Quebec faces the task of explicitly and openly justifying its authority in negotiating the limits of pluralism.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (August)
Bruxelles, Bern, Berlin, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2018. 560 p., 26 ill. n/b.

Biographical notes

Stéphan Gervais (Volume editor) Raffaele Iacovino (Volume editor) Mary-Anne Poutanen (Volume editor)

Stéphan Gervais is scientific coordinator of the Quebec Studies Program and the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Montreal [CIRM] at McGill University. He is the co-editor, with C. Kirkey and J. Rudy, of Quebec Questions: Quebec Studies for the Twenty-First Century (2016). Raffaele Iacovino is associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Carleton University. He is the co-author, with Alain-G. Gagnon, of Federalism, Citizenship and Quebec: Debating Multinationalism (2007). Mary Anne Poutanen teaches in the Quebec Studies Program and McGill Institute for the Study of Canada at McGill University and in the Department of History at Concordia University. Her book, Beyond Brutal Passions won the Prix Lionel-Groulx in 2016.


Title: Engaging with Diversity