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Contextualizing the Quebec charter of values: belonging without citizenship in Quebec.


Did the introduction of the Charter of Quebec Values in September 2013 signal a repudiation of Quebec's longstanding consensus on liberal-pluralism in its dominant integration model? While the Charter died as a result of the election defeat of the minority Parti Quebecols government In May, 2014, its salience and impact continues to be felt, in that it has moved the normative benchmarks around ethnocultural and ethno-religious diversity and represents a qualitatively new framework for regulating the terms of belonging in Quebec. This paper, however, contends that such a reading of the legacy of the Charter misses a significant part of the story. A broader contextual overview reveals that recent events in Quebec are conditioned by variables associated with the unfinished nature of a constitutive project for national integration. Regardless of whether or not the proposed Charter signaled a permanent normative turn in Quebec, or merely an intensification and greater polarization of an interminable argument, this paper will attempt to provide some context with which to interpret this 'trial balloon' of the minority Parti Quebecois government in power from 2012-2014. I argue that this short-lived incursion into more exclusionary politics are the direct result of a variety of factors that go beyond standard normative principles usually attributed to citizenship and actually reflect structural difficulties associated with Quebec's status as an unrecognized minority nation. The article will proceed to highlight the primary Identity-forging Initiatives undertaken by Quebec in lieu of citizenship, and conclude with some reflections on some distortions that may be attributable to a protracted, frustrated and unfinished constitutive journey.


L'introduction de la Charte des Valeurs du Quebec en Septembre 2013 aurait-elle signifie le renoncement d'un consensus de longue date du Quebec au pluralisme liberal dans son modele d'integration dominante? Bien que l'arret de la Charte alt eu pour resultat la defaite du Parti quebecois devenu minoritaire au gouvernement pendant les electlons de mai 2014, son importance et son impact continuent de se faire sentir, dans le sens ou elle a deplace les reperes normatifs autour de la diversite ethnoculturelle et ethno--religieuse; et represente une structure qui reglementer qualitativement les conditions d'appartenance au Quebec. Toutefois, cet article tente de s'opposer a une telle lecture de l'heritage de la Charte qui semble avoir omis une importante partie de l'histoire. Une approche contextuelle plus large revele que les evenements recents au Quebec ont ete conditionnes par les variables associees a la nature inachevee du projet constitute de l'integration nationale. Peu importe si oui ou non le projet de Charte a marque un tournant normatif permanent au Quebec, ou simplement une intensification et une plus grande polarisation d'un argument interminable, cet article va tenter de fournir un contexte avec lequel interpreter ce << ballon d'essai >> de la minorite du Parti quebecois au pouvoir dans le gouvernement de 2012-2014. Je postule que cette incursion de courte duree dans la politique d'exclusion sont plus le resultat direct d'une variete de facteurs qui vont au-dela des principes normatifs standards generalement attribues a la citoyennete et fait reflechir a des difficultes structurelles liees au statut du Quebec comme une nation minoritaire non reconnue. L'article va proceder a mettre l'accent sur les initiatives de renforcement d'identites primaires forgees, entrepris par le Quebec en lieu et place de la citoyennete, et de conclure avec quelques reflexions sur certaines distorsions qul pourraient etre attribuables a un periple constitutif prolonge, frustrant et inacheve.


From French-Canadian survivance to Quebecois national integration, the road to citizenship in Quebec has been a fascinating study in collective introspection. Like most other liberal-democracies, Quebec has grappled with reflecting upon an appropriate equilibrium between unity and diversity through the development and revising of formative projects that address the twin pillars of social cohesion and diversity. Moreover, the challenges of cultural, social and political pluralism are here to stay. Throughout this exercise, critics of the norm of pluralism contend that this is a new and foreign turn for the political community, a betrayal of its historical trajectory, and a threat to the nation itself (see Madure 2011 for an overview). More recent developments in Quebec, particularly the enduring passions roused by the 'reasonable accommodations' debate, illustrate the extent to which questions about collective identity in the public sphere continue to dominate the political landscape. Moreover, as the following discussion will highlight, the matter of belonging is particularly salient in Quebec since, as a unit of study, it has traditionally constituted both an object and a subject (as a host society) of diversity management.

These enduring deliberations over the boundaries of religious and cultural pluralism in Quebec eventually led to the introduction of the controversial Charter of Quebec Values (Bill 60) by the minority Parti Quebecois (PQ) government in September 2013, only to die on the order table with the defeat of the PQ in the May 2014 election. (1) While the Charter represented the most ambitious and divisive foray into diversity management in Quebec society, I contend that it would be a mistake to merely dismiss it as the expression of a nationalist movement intent on promoting a sectarian societal project, in contradistinction with the civic' thrust of the larger associative community. Rather, the story here is one of continuity in a larger existential sense, an ongoing story of national integration, and while the Charter's orientations indicate a repudiation of Quebec's established commitment to pluralism, it may be too early to tell whether this particular initiative will re-emerge and represent a complete rupture with the normative principles to which Quebec has traditionally adhered.

Furthermore, contemporary theorists of citizenship have increasingly come to highlight that a diffusion of governance capacities downwards to regions and subnational governments (Hepburn 2011), where identities, powers and rights are distributed across multiple levels, "change the governments that make citizenship rights real (...) [and] thereby change the nature and content of citizenship rights" (Greer and Matzke 2009, 12). As such, weakening the relative certainty associated with an orderly linkage between sovereign states and their capacity to steer citizenship, and moving towards greater differentiation of citizenship from below, inevitably provokes fears over a turn to exclusivism. While a functional logic grounded in neo-liberal models of governance largely accounts for these pressures on citizenship in the contemporary age, this paper illustrates that the process in Quebec was well underway prior to a neo-liberal turn. Rather, I argue that events in Quebec are best captured by the notion of an unfinished constitutive project for national integration--or what Dupre has aptly called the "citizenship-nation building nexus" (Dupre 2012, 227).

Indeed, while this apparent retreat from pluralism by the PQ government of Pauline Marois did represent a qualitative change in Quebec's trajectory of greater inclusiveness in its conceptions of belonging, it must nevertheless be clearly understood to also have been a product of Quebec's continuing attempts to affirm itself as a distinctive and autonomous host society. In other words, it was not a new phenomenon brought about by recently emerging social, political and economic forces, nor was it the product of a functional logic associated with multilevel governance and market-based efficiency considerations. Regardless of whether or not the proposed Charter represented a watershed, or merely an intensification and greater polarization of an interminable argument, this paper will attempt to provide some context with which to interpret this 'trial balloon' of the PQ, as well as offer some reflections about some of the more salient factors that have nourished this debate over time. I argue that this latest incursion into more exclusionary politics was the direct result of a variety of factors that go beyond standard normative principles usually attributed to citizenship and actually reflect structural difficulties associated with Quebec's status as an unrecognized minority nation. The article will proceed to highlight the primary identity-forging initiatives undertaken by Quebec in lieu of citizenship, and conclude with some reflections on some of the distortions that may be attributable to a protracted, frustrated and unfinished constitutive journey.


Citizenship serves as an institutional framework for sociopolitical integration. In effect, through citizenship, states carve out markers of belonging, including the terms of membership, the bundle of rights and entitlements and expectations with regards to responsibilities. In Canada, the dominant narrative for some time has been one of competing nation-building projects (Labelle and Rocher 2009). Officially, the federal government controls naturalization policy and delineates the markers of formal citizenship status. Some of the core features of the Canadian model include a policy of multiculturalism within a bilingual framework: a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, constitutionally entrenched since 1982; and a firm non-recognition of its internal nations outside of occasional and ad hoc administrative allowances. (2) These mainstays (3) of Canadian identity aim to integrate newcomers into a unified political community--an undifferentiated and bounded territorial and political unit commensurate with our traditional conceptual understandings of citizenship as the domain of sovereign states. Naturalization affords central authorities the symbolic power to grant formal citizenship, including the capacity to institute early efforts at political socialization through citizenship tests which highlight the terms of belonging and present a specific interpretation of collective memory through select historical narratives. The Multiculturalism and Official Languages Acts, buttressed by constitutional entrenchment, allows the federal government to assign itself the role of guarantor of key identity markers in a universalist vein. Both initiatives, in effect, pre-empt a constitutive acknowledgment of territorial/collective conceptions of linguistic and cultural rights in favour of individual choice over language use, and undifferentiated recognition of constituent cultural identities. In other words, language and culture are linked explicitly to Canadian citizenship rather than through recognition of the existence of multiple host societies or internal nations that seek to occupy this institutional space. Finally, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, entrenched in a constitutional package that to this day has been rejected by successive Quebec governments, provides for a set of enumerated rights, both individual and collective, that constrain Quebec's capacity to autonomously identify the markers of its integration model, including, of course, the scope of religious, linguistic and ethno-cultural diversity.

Prior to delving into Quebec's particular path, it is worth noting that while Quebec does not control the formal levers of citizenship, it has employed its extensive powers in the areas of immigration/integration, education, culture and language to carve out a conception of citizenship that competes for identity space with the larger associative community (Gagnon and Iacovino 2007). From immigration/integration policy to the formulation and delivery of social assistance, policy choices and collective identity are mutually reinforcing (Barker 2010). The state has control over much of the toolkit in its bilateral agreements with the federal government, as well as through its constitutional competencies, yet it lacks the capacity to actually designate the terms of citizenship in consolidating its status as a host society. Indeed, in elaborating 'formative' policy initiatives, Quebec in effect straddles the line between citizenship and integration, reinforcing a regime of differentiated citizenship through acts of governance.

Perhaps the most salient initiative for national integration has been Quebec's interventions in the area of language legislation. Since the early 1970s, Quebec has instituted a series of linguistic policies that directly challenge formal Canadian bilingualism, culminating in the Charter of the French Language in 1977, which explicitly identified French as the official language of Quebec: "[French is] the language of Government and the Law, as well as the normal and everyday language of work, instruction, communication, commerce and business" (Government of Quebec 2014). The aim was to establish French as the common public language, in essence asserting that language is an inherently collective right, affirming a territorial conception of bilingualism in Canada (McRoberts 2004), and staking a claim on the boundaries of citizenship through a clear and unilateral exercise of internal self-determination. While a full treatment is not possible here, the Charter of the French Language was to become the main vehicle of integration and the consolidation of national identity, particularly through the public school system, which mandated that French be the language of instruction. The English-language stream was made available only to children whose parents or siblings have attended English schools in Canada, effectively ensuring that newcomers will be integrated through the French education system. It also established a series of francization programs, and tightened regulations of commercial activities to ensure the flourishing of French in the private sector, including restrictions on the use of public signs in languages other than French.

In what is perhaps a direct response to the primacy of Canada's policy of multiculturalism, Quebec has also formulated its own model of 'interculturalism' as an alternative integration framework, again expressing its desire to carve out a distinct role for itself as a host society and to contest its status as an undifferentiated constituent of the Canadian cultural mosaic (Gagnon and Iacovino 2007; Labelle 2008). The actual significance and impact of interculturalism continues to be the source of much debate, since it has never been reinforced through actual legislative initiatives. For the most part, it has remained a guiding principle of sorts through policy statements developed and tweaked over time, and their interpretation by intellectuals and policy practitioners. Moreover, its actual substantive singularity relative to multiculturalism continues to elicit much deliberation, as does the evolution of its primary normative objectives in defining the place of minority and majority cultures in the public sphere (Iacovino and Sevigny 2011). Regardless of these ongoing debates about the model, one constant is the promotion of a conception of Quebec as a pluralist host society--emphasizing French as a common public language; the primacy of liberal-democratic institutions and values; and evolving conceptions of cultural pluralism with regards to the place of the majority culture. However, the fact that the model has always been intended to serve as a freestanding normative challenge to Canada's particular version of cultural pluralism is significant in itself, revealing Quebec's propensity to reject its status as an object of cultural policy as directed by central government authorities.

Indeed, diverging interpretations of the intentions of the model are not unlike other 'national models' of integration in that points of emphasis are (re) formulated depending on government priorities and changing historical circumstances. Yet the main thrust of interculturalism in Quebec has always been liberal-pluralist. The Quebec model was initially articulated in the early 1980s as an attempt by the PQ government to reach out to members of cultural communities during a period of strained relations. This early initiative emphasized cultural exchange with the larger majority culture, which was meant to serve as a pole of convergence in the demarcation of the public sphere. (4) The model sought to inject the Quebec national integration project with a measure of pluralism in the face of widespread perception that it was an inherently ethnic movement unwilling to recognize the contributions of minority cultures in Quebec. The challenge at the time would foreshadow what continues to confront Quebec to this day--formulating a model of integration that openly recognized the salience of a plurality of minority cultures while simultaneously making the larger claim that Quebec's collective identity constitutes the basis for self-determination--a claim that was perceived by many to be unequivocally exclusionary and incompatible with this projected image of a liberal-pluralist Quebec. Otherwise stated, the greater efforts Quebec made to legitimize its national integration project by adopting liberal-pluralist orientations, the more difficult it was to claim that it constituted a distinct society, since the Canadian associative community could already claim to accommodate a variety of collective identities within its conceptions of citizenship.

In 1990, the Liberal party government articulated Quebec's most polished policy statement on inteculturalism, which continues to serve as the primary blueprint for the model to the present day (Government of Quebec 1990) Here, Quebec interculturalism was defined as a 'moral contract' which placed the onus of responsibility for integration on both newcomers and the host society--the former expected to participate and accept the terms of belonging in Quebec society (most notably French as the official language) and the latter ensuring that support and resources are made available for those ends. Moreover, the majority culture was no longer conceptualized as a primary pole of convergence. Instead, interculturalism emphasized that through open exchange between a variety of cultural identities--where recognition was a product of participation and engagement--a 'common public culture' (Gervais et al. 2008) would emerge out of the synthesis or hybridization of a variety of cultural influences. The notion of a common public culture as the telos of majority/minority cultural relations was groundbreaking at the time, signaling that the national integration project in Quebec had taken its most ambitious pluralist turn yet.

Subsequent iterations of the model remained generally committed to the basic principles highlighted above. In the mid to late 1990's, following a referendum defeat on political independence which failed to garner significant support from minority cultural groups, the PQ flirted with more robust republican conceptions of belonging which sought to minimize the recognition of culture altogether in the public sphere. The discourse turned to citizenship (5) (Juteau 2002), conceptualized along strict civic lines, where territory and language, and 'relations with the state' were to serve as the primary markers of belonging with less direct references to the role of 'cultural communities'. The government went so far as to dismiss the term itself from the formal title, which henceforth came to be referred to as the Ministry of Immigration and Citizen Relations. Regardless of this moderate turn, the basic pillars of interculturalism were not significantly undermined, and when the Quebec Liberal Party resumed power they released a policy statement that essentially reflected the principles outlined in 1990, with the addition of more articulated security concerns following the events of September 11, 2001 (Government of Quebec 2004). It is in recent years, however, that the debate has taken a new turn--characterized by greater partisan and societal polarization on the issue, widespread hysteria, disjointed and seemingly ad hoc responses by the main political parties. Substantively, the very introduction of the Charter of Quebec Values signaled the real possibility that interculturalism, as a reflection of a liberal-pluralist consensus, could be supplanted by a new normative framework that seeks to more carefully limit the sorts of accommodation practices that are available to citizens, restrict the equal public recognition of minority cultures in relation to the majority, and introduce an unprecedented scope of regulation in matters pertaining to freedom of expression in the name of state secularism.


The recent societal debate, or 'crisis' for some, over 'reasonable accommodations' in Quebec resulted in the Consultation Commission on Accommodation Practices Related to Cultural Differences (Bouchard and Taylor 2008), which is perhaps notable in that it quickly came to be about the larger question of formulating a framework for addressing religious and cultural diversity in Quebec. As such, a relatively narrow legalistic matter relating to specific cultural and religious accommodation practices became an opportunity for Quebec to once again assert itself as a host society charged with determining the boundaries of social, cultural and religious pluralism. A further notable feature of the Commission is that it was instituted due to a particular period of heightened sensitivity over the question of recognition for minority cultural practices, where a gradual polarization of the debate had begun to dominate social and political circles. Indeed, a steady chorus of contestation to pluralism that had for long been sidelined began to mobilize, disparate yet united by a desire to reinvigorate more substantive markers of collective identity. (6) This included groups as wide ranging as traditional Catholic conservatives, calling for a return to pre-Quiet Revolution conceptions of the nation; groups with more republican aims, most notably those that promoted an absolutist form of secularism; cultural nationalists that sought more robust recognition of the contribution of the majority group in the formulation of a public culture; more civic-minded nationalists promoting a more traditional form of liberalism in which culture is relegated to a greater degree to the private sphere; and generally, sovereignists and autonomists that viewed cultural pluralism and accommodation practices as further instances of the imposition of Canadian values on Quebec. Moreover, this anti-pluralist wave is perhaps also nourished by wider phenomena in part inspired by the Stasi report (7) (O'Brien 2005) in France; apprehension about religion in the public sphere considering the legacy of the Quiet Revolution; and the broad-ranging impact of 9/11--resulting in what Engin Isin calls 'neuroliberalism' where integration as a reciprocal responsibility is replaced by the expectation that the onus for integration is on minorities themselves, and they must work to earn the trust of hegemonic majorities (Isin 2009, 21; cited in Stasiulis 2013, 185). In this view, proponents of a retreat from pluralism see the re-affirmation of the majority as an inevitable and necessary attribute of national self-determination.

More specifically, as the Bouchard-Taylor report noted, this growing intransigence to reciprocity as a feature of integration may in part stem from unsubstantiated perceptions about Islam, which of course are not confined to Quebec yet came to occupy centre-stage in a narrative framed around a 'loss of control' by the majority. In their research and consultations, particularly with Muslim groups, the Commissioners explicitly emphasized that Islamophobia has come to constitute a new challenge for Quebec in formulating its integration practices. Indeed, the Commission went so far as to dispel various erroneous conceptions surrounding Muslim practices that have nourished some of the hysteria around reasonable accommodations. (8) The Commissioners observed prevalent sentiments such as the notion that Islam is inherently fundamentalist; that Muslim-Quebeckers have no interest in integrating and wish to practice 'self-exclusion'; and that Muslim citizens use the openness and accommodation practices of Quebec to gradually impose their values on native-born Quebeckers in a sort of covert 'Islamist project'. The findings of the Commission, however, reveal that Muslims, consisting of only 2% of the population in 2007, overwhelmingly support gender equality, secularism, non-violence and broadly, the value of integration. Moreover, with regards to exclusionary practices and the notion that Islam preaches self-imposed exile, they noted that perhaps the most pressing challenge with regards to the capacity for Muslims to integrate concerns obstacles to employment, since high levels of labour market discrimination among Muslim citizens, and particularly women, are well-documented in Quebec (Sharify-Funk 2010, 541).

In light of this context, what did the Commission recommend? To begin with, the Commission emphasized that the so-called crisis' in regards to Quebec's efforts in the area of integration, particularly in a comparative sense, was overblown and largely media-driven, thus dismissing the angst surrounding collective identity that sparked the initiation of the Commission in the first place.

In terms of cultural relations, the actual principles of the Quebec model were taken to be sound, requiring gentle tweaking and reinforcement for the purposes of greater awareness and impact. The Commission recommended that Quebec continue along its rather successful path of emphasizing a liberal-pluralist approach, which it labelled 'integrative pluralism', and called for a strengthening of the model of interculturalism through legislation rather than reliance on policy statements and framework documents. The Commissioners resisted the temptation to move the model towards more robust cultural underpinnings or, conversely, to more 'difference-blind' liberal conceptions of belonging. As such, collective identity in Quebec was best served through a model that emphasizes cultural hybridization rather than majoritarian convergence, a return to the language of a 'common public culture', and neither thick cultural markers of the majority nor abstract civic ideals were to serve as a template in delineating the terms of membership. The Commission noted that this has been the dominant approach, and there was no evidence indicating a need for radical rethinking of Quebec's model.

The Commission further contended that interactions and the diverse contributions of various cultural groups promoted through this model would be expected to lead to a new overarching collective identity as the basis of belonging. As such, French-Canadian culture is not taken as a socio-cultural pole of convergence for the forging of social cohesion. Interculturalism, as it is framed here, may result in an overarching identity that can change every generation according to the outcomes of democratic debate and participation. This will result in the emergence of a set of common values that are at once universal yet conditioned by a process of historisation, where a universal value takes on a specific orientation in a given society because it is informed by common references. It is this agreement on common universal values that then comes to form the founding values of the society. Quebec identity, to the extent that it informs citizenship in Quebec, is thus the product of participation and not a defined socio-historical reference into which newly ethno-cultural minorities are expected to integrate. Interculturalism according to the Commission provides an open and inclusive framework for the eventual synthesis of diverse cultural contributions.

Finally, in the thorny area of religious accommodations, the Commission called for 'open secularism' as opposed to a more absolutist conception of secularism (For more on this distinction see Taylor 2010; and Maclure and Taylor 2011). In regards to the latter conception, the fear is that its demands inevitably spill into the private lives of individuals to a degree that is indefensible from a liberal-pluralist perspective. The Commission rejected 'restrictive' secularism (laicite) as an affront to the dominant strand of liberalism that has taken hold in Quebec--as an imposition of a comprehensive doctrine of sorts that is inimical to Quebec's basic understanding of individual rights. Open secularism, in contrast, simply sees the state as neutral in its relationship to a variety of comprehensive doctrines and opposed to actively suppressing their expression in the public sphere. The idea is to allow for the equal flourishing of religious freedoms, without undo interference, in some cases even providing accommodations for the purposes of leveling the playing field, as an extension of the norm of pluralism and compatible with a commitment to integrative pluralism.

The response by critics to the Commission's appeal for moderation and tolerance, however, has been to mobilize effectively in keeping the question of cultural and religious diversity on the political agenda in Quebec. Ironically, in what Jocelyn Maclure describes as a 'strange bedfellows thesis' (2010, 141), absolutist secularists and conservative groups (Catholics and cultural nationalists) quickly formed an unlikely alliance of sorts to contest the recommendations of the Commission and view this as an opportunity to reclaim the prominent place of the majority in delineating the terms of belonging. This angst with regards to moving towards pluralism and increased accommodation has resulted in a variety of initiatives by the major political parties and governments that seem to indicate a formal severing with the continuity proposed by the Commission.

Indeed, the recommendations of the Commission were virtually ignored by the Liberal government immediately following the final report, and their response was to adopt half-measures and stalling devices in order to appear to quell the unrest. The Commission's findings, in retrospect, seem to represent somewhat of a last-ditch effort to keep Quebec on the pluralist path that had been in development for thirty years. By the time the Charter of Quebec Values entered the scene, the Commission's dismissal was complete, and five years on seems like a relic from another era. Indeed, the main formal response to the final report by both major political parties has been a series of ad hoc and disjointed proposals that seem to be motivated by short-term political considerations rather than to build on the comprehensive, historical and well-researched tenor of the Commission's findings.

In March 2010, the Liberal Government introduced Bill 94 in the National Assembly, titled An Act to establish guidelines governing accommodation requests within the Administration and certain institutions, which 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 (Quebec 2010).

This was soon followed by the introduction of a 'Values Pledge' for newcomers. Here, immigrants in the economic and family reunification categories were asked to sign a statement affirming their commitment to the 'common values of Quebec society' in order to be eligible for settlement services. Again, contrary to the spirit of reciprocity in framing integration as an exchange between majority and minority groups, this initiative veered towards a more hegemonic conception of belonging in which integration is taken as a one-way street steered by the dictates of the majority. The Commission had found no evidence that the values of newcomers are inimical to those of the majority, nor had there been any serious issues with religious symbols.

The Parti Quebecois (PQ), both in opposition and in government, has taken it much further, completely flouting the Commission and staking a claim as the party representing a more robust conception of identity that will rein in the conception of pluralism espoused in the report. While in opposition, the PQ proposed Bill 195, the Quebec Identity Act (Quebec 2007), which did not challenge Canadian legal-formal citizenship yet was a symbolic attempt to place more restrictions on newcomers in conformity with Quebec's alleged concerns. Again, in a stroke of electoral politicking, the PQ was able to stake its claim as the party best suited to defend Quebec identity without necessarily having to follow through. The proposed legislation, tabled by Pauline Marois as an opposition member of the National Assembly, added a preamble to the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms that would safeguard equality between the sexes; affirmed the secular nature of public institutions, the predominance of the French language and the protection of Quebec culture. More controversially, the Bill sought to go beyond an interpretive clause in the Quebec Charter and proposed actual constraints on citizenship rights by requiring, for example, proof of French proficiency and knowledge of Quebec culture to obtain a citizenship certificate that would be necessary in order to attain certain political rights, such as running for office in provincial, municipal or school board elections. The Bill also proposed that a three-year contract with newcomers settling in Quebec be instituted, and enumerated the criteria required to obtain a certificate. The ethos of reciprocity between the host society and newcomers--the 'moral contract'--outlined by inter-culturalism, was now to be supplanted with a fully realized hegemonic framework. This aspect of the Bill was widely contested, and most observers agreed that it would not survive legal challenges, most notably with regards to the right of all citizens to run for office without discrimination. While seemingly more of a partisan lob, the Bill's intention was nevertheless clear--Quebec must somehow reclaim its capacity to more forcefully regulate the forces of fragmentation and to offset the dismissiveness of the Commission with regards to the anxieties of Quebeckers over the question of diversity.

Perhaps the most explicit attempt to mark a retreat from pluralism has been the now deposed PQ government's recent initiative--the introduction of the Charter of Quebec Values--which was before the National Assembly and subject to consultations when the PQ handily lost the April, 2014 election to the Liberal Party and was reduced to opposition status, going from 54 to 30 seats. Briefly, the Charter represented Quebec's most comprehensive attempt to instill a more restrictive brand of secularism and to provide a framework with which to interpret accommodation requests. The Act's preface revealed its ambitious intentions:

The purpose of this bill is to establish a Charter affirming the values of State secularism and religious neutrality and of equality between women and men, and providing a framework for accommodation requests.

A further purpose of the bill is to specify, in the Charter of human rights and freedoms, (9) that the fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by that Charter are to be exercised in a manner consistent with the values of equality between women and men and the primacy of the French language as well as the separation of religions and State and the religious neutrality and secular nature of the State, while making allowance for the emblematic and toponymic elements of Quebec's cultural heritage that testify to its history (Quebec 2013).

Without delving too deeply into the Charter, its primary objective was to introduce a measure of secularism in order to restrict "personnel members of public bodies" from expressing religious beliefs as well as adorning conspicuous religious symbols such as clothing, headgear and jewelry. On the latter measure, the legislation went into great detail to provide some indication of what constitutes a conspicuous article, going so far as to provide a guide replete with concrete examples. (10) It is noteworthy that the Bill allowed for some wiggle room by clearly indicating that matters pertaining to Quebec's cultural heritage maybe subject to exemption. (11) The Charter also incorporated most elements of Bill 94 described above, which sought to restrict any covering of one's face for the purposes of security, identification and communication in dealings with representatives of public bodies. With regards to accommodation requests, the Bill listed a series of guideposts meant to serve as an interpretive framework in evaluating their legitimacy. While most are predictable--human rights; gender equality; prohibitive costs; performance; and health and safety considerations --the list did inject the process with a provision that presents authorities with substantial discretion in denying accommodation requests, representing what is perhaps the most onerous obstacle for individuals seeking religious and cultural accommodation:

When an accommodation request on religious grounds is submitted to a public body, the public body must make sure that (...) the accommodation requested does not compromise the separation of religions and State or the religious neutrality and secular nature of the State (Quebec 2010).

In contrast to the moderation and continuity espoused by the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, the Charter managed to simultaneously inject into the Quebec model the capacity for public officials to implement both restrictive secularism as well to introduce contingencies for matters deemed to pertain to Quebec's cultural heritage--left undefined and open to wide-ranging interpretations yet clearly emphasizing the primacy of the dominant culture. In short, the Charter represented a clean break from Quebec's commitment to a model of interculturalism premised on liberal-pluralist principles.


Due to the electoral victory of the Liberal Party, the Charter was never ratified. Indeed, it was heavily criticized during the election campaign by Liberal leader Philippe Couillard, and soon after taking power, he promised that his government would return to the issue of reasonable accommodation with a distinct set of markers. The Charter's impact on Quebec society may thus never see the light of day. However, the introduction of the Charter undoubtedly reveals an underlying shift in the parameters of the debate, widening the range of responses to diversity and potentially undermining the constitutive consensus that has existed in Quebec for thirty years. Indeed, while it is difficult to claim with any certainty that this shift has taken hold, recent events indicate that this collective quest for resolution or certainty in delineating the markers of belonging, in the absence of citizenship, will continue to feature a variety of attributes that are particular to minority nations. The following section will conclude by offering two broad reflections about the specific character of developments in Quebec that require us to interpret outcomes as the product of forces that cannot be restricted to abstract normative assessments around legitimacy. Indeed, I contend that these seemingly radical turns and transformative measures are in large part prejudiced by variables that reflect real distortions in Quebec's capacity for constitutive closure.

Arriving at Citizenship through Perpetual Acts of National Affirmation

Most political communities can negotiate challenges relating to diversity without a lingering existential angst. In entering this game, Quebec is in effect engaging in a political act of circumscribing a community of belonging. Quebec's attempts to address issues pertaining to collective identity, whether they touch on language, culture, religion, ethnicity, and so on, are acts of national affirmation. Quebec identity is and should not be conceptualized as a site for the expression of 'culture'. This trivializes what Quebec is and its role in carving out a space for itself as a host society, and furthermore, it treats Quebec as simply an object of cultural policy. Quebec views itself as a hub of social and political integration. These initiatives are, in a sense, incremental declarations of self-determination, and have come to serve as a legitimizing opportunity available to Quebec nationalists to stake out a claim in delineating the terms of belonging.

As such, one cannot simply evaluate such initiatives based on de-contextualized and abstract normative principles because this may lead to an assessment that misses out on a set of motivating factors, or even more robust explanatory variables, which are unique to the particular structural position of minority nations. Simply stated, minority nations are confronted with the paradoxical proposition of simultaneously asserting the primacy of individual rights, or cultural pluralism, while explicitly intervening to ensure the flourishing of a collective identity as the basis for self-determination --potentially self-defeating objectives that are inherently more conducive to a broader range of normative intentions. (12) Indeed, one may speculate that the main shortcoming of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission was its decision to arrive at recommendations without a proper diagnosis of what lay beneath the 'crisis' --treating the symptoms rather than the disease, to use a well-worn metaphor. At the same time, the Commission was provided with a mandate and could not be expected to overstep that framework.

Indeed, the Bouchard-Taylor Commission was widely regarded as a missed opportunity, (or at least that perception holds much political currency), precisely because in promoting conceptions such as integrative pluralism and open secularism, it failed to address the larger question of Quebec's political status. It essentially treated Quebec as a political community that is already fully constituted, and was thus heavily criticized for ignoring the collective anxieties of the majority. Yet whether we speak of cultural convergence, common public culture, civic pact, Quebec citizenship, integrative pluralism, or Quebec Values, they are all manifestations of Quebec's project of affirmation--attempts to carve out a 'citizenship space' in Canada--in a scenario in which Quebec does not enjoy recognition as a constituted political community. Because of this inherent attribute of multination states, the act of explicitly defining a community of reference rather than simply managing its social components must be built into the model. Quebec's attempts to address social challenges that are presently confronting most states cannot be interpreted in a vacuum. They are undeniably conditioned by an imperative to legitimate its very existence. So we are left in Quebec with this perpetual pursuit of appropriate 'balises', or guideposts, combined with the rhetorical search for social unity, which has become the defining narrative of identity discourses and is meant to quell anxieties related to the place of the majority group. Indeed, one of the more appealing attributes of the Charter of Quebec Values among its proponents is precisely its penchant for clarity in indicating that there are robust values and expectations associated with belonging which are consensual and not subject to political contestation. In other words, whether they are defensible or not from one's perspective, at the very least they provide some indication as to 'what Quebec is'.

From a Fundamentally Constitutive Challenge to a Political Issue

Related to the observation above, unlike other states in a similar position of articulating the boundaries of citizenship in conditions of socio-cultural diversity, Quebec is constantly forced to justify its very involvement in this exercise, on top of actually carving out normative principles around the place of pluralism. As such, what is usually regarded as a fundamental constitutive issue becomes subject to political currents and jockeying along two distinct lines.

First, we see a standard case where this issue finds itself excessively addressed through electoral calculations. What is normally a constitutive matter becomes embroiled in partisanship and political cynicism. This phenomenon, of course, is not uncommon, as political parties often seek to put their stamp on a nation's collective identity through symbolic re-ordering. In the case of minority nations lacking constitutive closure, however, it assumes a greater sense of urgency, in that functional criteria for the evaluation of policy objectives come to be perpetually contemplated against the actual flourishing of the nation--its relative autonomy, survival in the face of threats, levels of social cohesion, and so on. The debate in Quebec cannot thus be reduced to whether or not the crucifix should be hung on a wall in the National Assembly as a matter of consistency, for example. This apparent contradiction--a secular thrust with a stringent defense of its Catholic heritage--reveals more profound forces at work here. Political actors latch onto and compete with more intensity in matters of collective identity because such concerns enjoy pronounced political traction in a context where citizenship itself is seen as a contested terrain.

Added to these dynamics are new substantive challenges associated with religious pluralism, which are qualitatively distinct from considerations relating to language and ethnocultural identity in elaborating the terms of belonging. Indeed, the introduction of the Charter of Quebec Values is comprehensive in its intentions to serve as a vehicle for national affirmation, and in a sense similar in principle and scope to interventions in the area of linguistic rights. Large-scale 'social projects' have almost become a reflex of Quebec nationalists with the aim of forging consensus over time and endowing the political community with a quasi-constitutional legal and symbolic order. Indeed, the heightened stakes described above are conducive to the introduction of more comprehensive efforts at social engineering in lieu of constitutive consensus. However, this is complicated by the fact that language is more readily justified as a public good--an inherently collective right--while freedom of religion and expression are framed as individual rights and not necessarily subject to the same sorts of justificatory schemes in our elaboration of citizenship. As such, language legislation in Quebec is based around a normative and political consensus that it is compatible with, and indeed, a necessary underpinning of liberal-pluralism. We should expect the battle in staking out a comprehensive vision to regulate religious pluralism, however, to face a more difficult road ahead and continue to engender a polarized political climate.

Second, the endless requirement for self-justification and legitimation in claiming authority over the terms of belonging is taken as a nation-building initiative that is adversarial in relation to the consensus that exists in the rest of Canada. In this setting, regardless of the extent of adherence to liberal-pluralist principles, Quebec's initiatives are always interpreted as a sectarian movement--they will always be the group that shatters the Canadian civic ideal. Indeed, a common reaction to the fact that Quebec is having this very public and sometimes painful exercise in sociocultural introspection is that Quebec society is less amenable or open to cultural pluralism.

This creates a perpetual dynamic of antagonistic relations with Canada, which undercuts Quebec initiatives by providing a formal opt-out clause for citizens in Quebec, through the ready availability of an alternative framework for belonging. Moreover, this 'built-in hostility further polarizes the debate in Quebec, since cultural pluralism is not simply seen as an available normative framework, but as the imposition of a framework meant to undercut the capacity of the Quebec nation to flourish. While on some level this view may be dismissed as political rhetoric, we have seen this position hold much political currency among moderate and hardline nationalists in Quebec, most notably in making the direct association between cultural pluralism and Canadian multiculturalism.

Indeed, this uneasy relationship with Canada's policy of multiculturalism has constituted a dominant refrain of the PQ throughout the party's history, and its recent commitment to the Charter of Quebec Values has intensified this narrative. The Charter is explicitly presented as a repudiation of Canadian multiculturalism. As a minority nation, Quebec must confront diversity with a ready-made and constitutive alternative already in place, since its claim to self-determination includes an affirmation that matters associated with ethnocultural and religious diversity cannot be imposed by the larger associative community by way of its control over citizenship. In this specific environment, debates around cultural pluralism get intertwined with a nationalist discourse around the 'foreign imposition of a framework outlining the terms of belonging, allowing nationalists in the minority nation to formulate a national integration project that clearly provides a contrasting option to a very tangible symbol of majority nationalism. This variable is absent within majority nations deliberating the limits of cultural pluralism. While the appeal of cultural pluralism clearly took hold in international bodies and influenced policy in the direction of multiculturalism among many nations in the post-Cold War era, it was nevertheless more a matter of norm-diffusion than an alternative conception of citizenship that stakes out a legitimate claim to regulate social relations as a sovereign act. Indeed, many such states have since reversed their commitments to multiculturalism. In other words, there are clear incentives for nationalists to contest cultural pluralism on political rather than normative grounds. Moreover, Canadian multiculturalism is a model premised on the rejection of any particular dominant culture as the 'foundational' sociopolitical grouping, in effect delineating a pan-Canadian conception of a host society. In staking out a claim for host society status, minority nations are thus faced with the inevitable task of affirming the existence of a dominant culture and framing their own approach as an exercise involving majority-minority relations rather than one premised on the management of undifferentiated ethno-cultural groups.

Lying at the heart of the challenge is ensuring that citizens are endowed with unambiguous terms of membership--that belonging in a societe d'acceuil that is Quebec is the starting point for negotiating the norms governing collective life. To reiterate, the minority nation is caught in somewhat of a structural bind--it must constantly fight against an almost impossible standard in order that its actions for collective flourishing are deemed legitimate, while at the same time operating under the constant assumption that it constitutes a sectarian movement that challenges inclusive and equal citizenship. Some form of recognition and acknowledgement of the legitimacy of Quebec's efforts as a host society charged with framing the terms of belonging, by the larger associative community, would go a long way in alleviating some of these constraints. This recognition can potentially form the basis for a more formal process of arriving at a consensual framework for belonging in Quebec, undercut some of the forces contributing to a polarized climate, and provide a more uninhibited and dignified path to Quebec citizenship.

Quebec is ripe for a constitutive moment, which should ideally involve some recognition from the rest of Canada, yet the Charter of Quebec Values looks more like the beginning of the story than its end. It is a step backwards in the project for national integration--a symptom of an existential predicament rather than its remedy, and the sentiments that nourished its creation represent a clean break from a collective exercise of internal self-determination whose legitimacy has been thirty years in the making.


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(1.) The official title of Bill 60 was: Charter affirming the values of State secularism and religious neutrality and of equality between women and men, and providing a framework for accommodation requests.

(2.) This point refers specifically to Canada's insistence on a formal equality of provinces doctrine and is not meant to exclude the legitimate national claims of First Nations, which cannot be adequately assessed in this paper. Indeed, in making recognition claims, First Nations confront a distinct set of institutional constraints that go beyond the parameters of strictly federal institutions (See Papillon 2009).

(3.) In recent years, a slight shift into what Daiva Stasiulis has termed a 'warrior nation' has seen Canada move towards a more traditional conception of belonging based on a revival of the monarchy and a reification of Canada's military history (2013). While this article does not fundamentally dispute this change in orientations, I do assume that the larger framework for belonging in Canada has not been altered significantly.

(4.) This initial foray into cultural pluralism by the PQ was undeniably led by the writer, painter and journalist Gerald Godin, who was Minister of Immigration from 1980-1985. It was his insistence that led to the name change of the Ministry in 1981 to include the title 'Cultural Communities'. The first policy statement outlining Quebec interculturalism is largely attributed to Godin, and he is widely regarded as a founder of sorts (see Government of Quebec 1981).

(5.) The PQ engaged in several activities in promotion of the idea of Quebec citizenship, including the launching of the Forum national sur la citoyennete et Vintegration in 2000; the establishment of the Estates General on the Situation and Future o) the French Language in Quebec (Larose commission), which emphasized the institution of internal citizenship in Quebec as the most effective way to intervene in the area of language; and other less comprehensive initiatives such as the creation of citizenship week and various citizenship awards.

(6.) For some of the more influential contributions by public intellectuals around the perils of pluralism for a national community, see Beauchemin 2002; Bock-Cote 2007.

(7.) The 'Commission for Reflecting on the Application of the Principle of Secularity in the Republic', usually called the Stasi Commission after its Chair Bernard Stasi, released its final report on December 11, 2003. The report included a recommendation to ban conspicuous religious symbols in schools in order to uphold the French commitment to secular schools. This was followed by the much-publicized 'Law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools', which was signed into law on March 15, 2004 and prohibited students from wearing religious symbols to school. The law essentially amended the French Code of Education in order to align it with wider constitutional commitments to the principle of laicite.

(8.) Perhaps the most publicized instance of Islamophobia occurred in the rural village of Herouxville, an overwhelmingly French-Speaking and Christian community of 1300, which in January 2007 published a "code of conduct" for prospective newcomers that included the prohibition of practices such as the public stoning and burning of women; pouring acid on the faces of women and female circumcision, among others. In addition, the Charter also acknowledged the right of women in Herouxville to drive, vote, dance and generally, to make their own decisions.

(9.) The Bill proposes an amendment to the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms which would insert the following clause in its preamble; "Whereas equality between women and men and the primacy of the French language as well as the separation of religions and State and the religious neutrality and secular nature of the State are fundamental values of the Quebec nation;".

(10.) service-workplaces-in-quebec/article 14215760/.

(11.) Indeed, the Bill proposes an amendment to Section 9.1 of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms which allows for greater latitude in allowing for collective cultural rights of the majority relative to minority groups: "In exercising those freedoms and rights, a person shall also maintain a proper regard for the values of equality between women and men and the primacy of the French language, as well as the separation of religions and State and the religious neutrality and secular nature of the State, while making allowance for the emblematic and toponymic elements of Quebec's cultural heritage that testify to its history."

(12.) Indeed, Michel Seymour has argued that this latest attempt to provide a solution to the 'crisis' of identity in Quebec stems from a major problem of unresolved national affirmation. A passage from his brief submitted to The Committee on Institutions of the Quebec National Assembly, which is presently holding General consultations and public hearings on Bill 60, merits direct citation: << Ces debats ont revele que le peuple quebecois a besoin de resoudre un probleme majeur d'affirmation nationale. En ce sens, il a tres certainement le droit collectif de se doter de la constitution de son choix, car il en va de son droit a l'autodetermination interne. (...) Le peuple quebecois a done des droits collectifs, y compris en ce qui a trait a la laicite. Autrement dit, la laicite des institutions politiques ne peut etre detachee de l'affirmation nationale et identitaire d'un peuple. Mais les citoyens du Quebec ont egalement des droits individueis. (...) Cela releve plutot purement et simplement des droits individueis inscrits dans notre propre charte des droits et libertes. Un equilibre entre les droits individueis et les droits collectifs doit etre atteint. Il ne faut pas opposer ces deux sortes de droits. >>

RAFFAELE IACOVINO is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at Carleton University. His interests include Canadian and Quebec politics, federalism, citizenship and immigration, and citizenship education. He has also held the positions of Invited Professor of Quebec Studies at McGill University; Postdoctoral Fellow at the Canada Research Chair on Democracy and Sovereignty at l'Universite du Quebec A Chicoutimi; and Skelton-Clark postdoctoral fellow of Canadian Affairs in the Department of Political Studies at Queen's University. He is the co-author, with Alain-G. Gagnon, of Federalism, Citizenship and Quebec: Debating Multinationalism (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007).
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Author:Iacovino, Raffaele
Publication:Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal
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Geographic Code:1CQUE
Date:Mar 22, 2015
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