Interculturalism is a model for living together developed in Quebec during the 1980s and represents its approach regarding the integration of newcomers and minority groups. (See Immigration to Canada.) This approach is the Quebec response to the federal government model, i.e., Canadian multiculturalism. The philosophy behind interculturalism is based on the idea that equality between the cultures in Quebec requires francisation and secularization of the public domain. Due to the controversies and debates surrounding the policies regarding reasonable accommodation, an official policy regarding the concept of interculturalism has become essential. The report from the Bouchard-Taylor Commission (2007–2008) continues to represent the most significant consultation effort regarding interculturalism. The Charte de la langue française is one of the major pillars of the intercultural approach. However, to date, there are no laws to provide a framework for this model of integrating minorities. (See also Quebec Immigration Policy.)

Diversity and National Identity

The purpose of an integration model is to define society’s expectations regarding the minority groups. Such a model helps to both establish the measures of inclusion of minorities and to manage the relationships between the majority group and the minority groups. Every State approaches the management of diversity differently, based on its cultural and national characteristics. The living together model essentially demonstrates the vision of a host society regarding the cultural integration of immigrants. (See Immigration to Canada.)

In Canada, the recommended approach with respect to integration is multiculturalism. This model of living together is often described as a “mosaic” of equal cultures which co-exist. Canadian multiculturalism promotes ethnic and cultural diversity, underpinned by institutional bilingualism. (See Official Languages Act.) It is an inclusive approach, which has been adopted by the entire country, with the exception of Quebec.

In Quebec, the concept of interculturalism has developed in response to Canadian multiculturalism which, for some, denies the binational character of Canada. (See Biculturalism.) Multiculturalism has historically been perceived by some as an attempt to eliminate Quebec’s unique status within Canada. Multiculturalism is accused, among other things, of putting all other cultures on an equal footing with Quebec’s francophone culture. A statement by former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau sowed the seeds of controversy. In a speech to the House of Commons in April 1971, he stated that “while there are two official languages [in Canada], there is no official culture.” It was a pivotal moment, which contributed to the popularization of interculturalism.

However, Quebec itself is a linguistic and cultural minority within Canada. The intercultural model thus represents the desire for affirmation by the francophone population of Quebec. Interculturalism is the result, in large part, of the struggles and social tensions which have characterized the history of the province. (See Francophone Nationalism in Quebec.) The Charte de la langue française is one of the pillars on which interculturalism is based. It recognizes the use of French as the official language of both the State and the courts. (See also Court System of Canada.) The Charte also makes French the normal and everyday language of work, instruction and signage in Quebec. Commonly called Bill 101, it also contributes to the effort to francisize newcomers and is intended to ensure the continuity of the French language. The Quebec model thus runs counter to the principle of the equality of cultures inherent in multiculturalism, a principle which Quebec has always feared would be detrimental to the recognition of the French language and to the protection of the uniqueness of the Quebec nation.

Sociologist Gérard Bouchard is one of the great minds regarding interculturalism. According to him, the Quebec approach differs from other integration models by taking into account the dynamics between the majority and minority (racialized, religious, ethnocultural minorities, etc.) groups. The purpose of interculturalism is to integrate minority groups within the Quebec nation. In contrast, the Canadian multicultural model suggests that the presence of multiple cultures constitutes the national identity in and of itself. According to Gérard Bouchard, interculturalism is not trying to erase the identity of the individual. Rather, the Quebec model is seeking to achieve social and economic integration via intercultural exchanges between the majority group and the various minority communities. Finally, particular emphasis is placed on the issue of language in immigration and the francization of newcomers. In principle, this should promote full integration into Quebec society.

Gérard Bouchard

Historical Background

The conflicts between the federal and provincial government models for living together had existed for a number of decades. During the 1950s, prior to the adoption of multiculturalism in Canada, the focus was on biculturalism. This concept was based on the recognition of two “founding” peoples with different languages: the English Canadians and the French Canadians. (See also French Canadian Nationalism.) In July 1963, a Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism was established by Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson to review the matter. However, following a number of major historical events, such as the decolonization of the British Empire, the removal of racist immigration measures during the 1960s, and the increase in migratory flow due to the Cold War, this concept was quickly eclipsed by the desire for a multicultural policy (See Immigration Policy in Canada.) It was also in the face of the rising tide of Quebec nationalism that biculturalism was finally replaced. (See Francophone Nationalism in Quebec.)

La Commission royale sur le bilinguisme et le biculturalisme

The first official multiculturalism policy was adopted in October 1971, under Pierre Elliott Trudeau. It was quickly perceived by the Quebec political class as an attack against the sovereignist movement. Regardless of whether they were sovereignists or federalists, the Quebec politicians were generally opposed to the ideal of multiculturalism. They also rejected the existence of a pan-Canadian identity or, more precisely, the idea of a homogeneous Canada-wide identity. (See Canadian Identity and Language.)

As stated in a letter from Robert Bourassa to Pierre Elliott Trudeau, sent 11 November 1971:Concerning the principle of multiculturalism, Quebec does not adopt the approach of your government. […] Quebec must take, within its own territory, the role of prime defender of the French language and culture”.

The 1970s were also marked by the popularization of the term “intercultural” among the various communities in Montreal. By the end of that decade, it was in general use in other segments of Quebec society, such as the cultural, political and administrative sectors. However, it was in 1981 that René Lévesque’s government published a policy entitled Autant de façons d’être Québécois (Many ways of being a Quebecer), which was the first action plan to explicitly reject the principles of Canadian multiculturalism. The Quebec model thus originated from this conflict with the federal government. This model is primarily characterized by a willingness to promote a pluralistic society, in which the francophone culture is dominant.

It was following such landmark events as the Quebec Referendum (1980) and the Patriation of the Constitution that the Canadian Multiculturalism Act came into effect in 1988. (See also Separatism in Canada.) Its purpose was to promote both diversity and pluralism as fundamental values of Canadian society and the national identity. (See Canadian Identity.) It was only subsequent to this that Quebec politicians and intellectuals began to speak of “interculturalism” as an alternative.

From 2006 to 2007, Quebec became the scene of a series of controversies regarding the integration of people of culturally diverse origins. It was a period where almost all of the headlines regarding immigration included the words “reasonable accommodation.” The work of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission in 2007 and 2008 represented, in fact, the first time that interculturalism was studied as a public policy alternative to multiculturalism. The final report concluded that the interculturalism approach was favoured by the majority of Quebec stakeholders who spoke to the Commission. They rejected multiculturalism due to its often overly simplified vision, which was not well-adapted to the Quebec reality.

Assessment of the Quebec Model

More than a decade later, no consensus has been reached regarding the concept of interculturalism in Quebec, a model which is not officially enshrined in the legislation. The legacy of social debate regarding the Quebec approach to integration and inclusion of diversity is, however, clearer. The popularity of the concept of interculturalism in community life and public policy is readily apparent in Quebec. Following the reasonable accommodation “crisis,” there has been popular demand for identity policies in Quebec. This is particularly exemplified by the Quebec Values Charter (2013–2014), Act 62 regarding banning a person whose face is covered from delivering or receiving a public service (2017), and the Act respecting the laicity of the State (2019).

Quebec Values Charter

There is a lesser degree of consensus regarding the issue of secularism in Quebec than regarding the importance of the French Language. The passing, on 16 June 2019, of the Act respecting the laicity of the State (Bill 21) changed the landscape of intercultural relations in Quebec. This law prohibits the wearing of religious symbols by those in a position of coercive authority. This is also true for teachers in the francophone public school system. While there is agreement in Quebec regarding the importance of the State’s religious neutrality, the same cannot be said regarding the wearing of religious symbols. This is a sensitive issue, which has been strongly denounced as a potential infringement on religious freedom.

Finally, there is a fundamental difference between the Quebec and Canadian approaches. Canadian multiculturalism is a federal policy and is officially enshrined in the Canadian Multiculturalism Act. Conversely, Quebec interculturalism is not, strictly speaking, either a policy or a law.

There has, however, been some willingness shown in Quebec political circles to formalize interculturalism. A number of politicians would like a bill or a policy statement which would better define the Quebec integration model. In March 2015, before the Coalition Avenir Québec came to power, its leader, François Legault, put forward a “plan intended to give Quebec a law regarding Quebec interculturalism.” Two years later, the Quebec Liberal Party proposed the Policy on Quebec Affirmation and Canadian Relations (2017). This policy required that, among other things, Quebec adopt an official policy in this regard, in order to recognize interculturalism.

In summary, for a number of decades, the Quebec and Canadian governments have often expressed two different views regarding diversity and inclusion (although there is nothing to indicate that they are pursuing contradictory objectives). It must, however, be acknowledged that they prefer assigning different names to a single, identical reality. This reflects the diverging views of Quebec and Canada regarding integration which are based, in large part, on the different linguistic contexts.