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No say on reasonable accommodation

by Archives November 6, 2007

Daniel Carey, an expert on philosophy, politics and multiculturalism, was at Concordia this past Thursday to give a lecture on the issue of diversity in Canada. The Oxford scholar skated around the issue of reasonable accommodation however, leaving the audience with more questions than when they arrived.
Organized as part of the Political Science Students Association (PSSA) Speaker Series, the speech was designed to address the ever pressing debate surrounding multiculturalism in Canada.
Reading from his recent paper, “A Canadian Predicament: The Politics of Multiculturalism and Diversity”, Carey outlined some of the difficulties facing Canada in regards to this issue.
“We’re already [been] committed to toleration. The story of religion has already been told. We’ve already lived, historically, through periods of immense and severe intoleration,” Carey said. “Diversity is something that we cannot overlook or avoid. It is an accepted feature of human life – an irreducible fact that characterizes the cultural and political world…it’s natural.”
But not everyone agrees – toleration of religious, ethnic, linguistic and other minority groups has become the topic of a heated debate in Quebec as of late, and it wasn’t long before the issue of reasonable accommodation arose. With the recent creation of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, Premier Charest’s open letter in the papers, Pauline Marois’ French language bill, and sovereigntist lawyer Guy Bertrand’s comments on Saku Koivu last week, the question has been raging in Quebec: just what is reasonable accommodation?
Carey danced around the topic when answering this question – it was not directly addressed in his paper, nor during the question period. Answering queries with philosophical remarks, or referring to other researchers’ works and opinions rather than his own, he did not seem willing to delve head first into the debate.
During the question period, he was asked about the perceived threat by some to Quebec identity and the need for a debate on accommodation in light of this. Instead of giving a direct answer, Carey responded by asking another question: “An interesting historical question to which I don’t have an answer is – when the hell did somebody decide that we had an identity? When did this happen?”
But he offered his analysis on why the debate over reasonable accommodation endures. Canadians and Quebecers lack a truly definable identity of their own because they exist in the shadow of the larger – and “louder”, as he put it – United States.
“I think it’s difficult for Canada to establish its own narrative [for its identity].” But although the United States exerts this cultural influence, Canada and Quebec do not necessarily buy into the American identity. “We have more in common with the rest of the world than we do with the United States,” while referring to the latter’s overwhelming cultural influence.
He also gave a brief history of multiculturalism in Canada and its unique position being, from its inception in 1867, a nation with two very distinct cultural, linguistic, and religious groups given the presence of the English and French. And because these two groups in terms have had little choice but to co-exist, Carey argues that Canada and by extension Quebec have already been forced to accept diversity as a fact of life.
Daniel Carey has a Doctorate in Philosophy and is a graduate of McGill University, Trinity College Dublin, and Oxford University. He authored the book Locke, Shaftesbury, and Hutcheson: Contesting Diversity in the Enlightenment and Beyond, and has had his articles published in numerous acclaimed magazines and journals such as History of Philosophy and Annals of Science.

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