Reasonable Accommodation


Reasonable accommodation is a term used in Canada to refer to the theory that equality rights set out in section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms demands that accommodation be made to various ethnic minorities. The concept is especially applied with reference to the anti-discrimination laws in Québec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. (The origin of the term “reasonable accommodation” is found in labour law jurisprudence, specifically Central Okanagan School District No. 23 v. Renaud and is argued to be the obligation of employers to change some general rules for certain employees, under the condition that this does not cause “undue hardship”.)

In Quebec, under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the question on what was and will be the national identity has been contested, such as the court decision in Multani v. Commission scolaire Marguerite‑Bourgeoys.

Also controversial was the initial “code of conduct” passed by the municipal council in the town of Hérouxville. The document states that stoning women or burning them alive is prohibited, as is excision (female genital cutting). The motion explains many practices considered normal in Western culture. These standards also state that carrying a weapon to school (a reference to the Sikh ceremonial kirpan), covering one’s face (some particular forms of the Muslim veil), and the accommodation for prayer in school will not be permitted. It attests that “Our people eat to nourish the body, not the soul,” in reference to Jewish and Muslim dietary laws, and that health-care professionals “do not have to ask permission to perform blood transfusions.”

A discussion was started early in 2007 when a YMCA set up clouded windows to shelter ultra-Orthodox Jews who had complained that youngsters had to watch women in gym attire. The subjects of balloting while clothed in a niqab or burka along with the forbidding of hijabs in athletic contests have also produced plenty of debate and conflict in the province.[1]

An “accommodation” was reached between the provincial government and the Roman Catholic church on the disposal of underused churches in an overwhelmingly secular province. Local parishes were given the opportunity to develop the buildings as community centres, for example, rather than give way to condominium construction.

Accommodation to Judaism

Benjamin Rubin, a star forward with the Gatineau Olympiques ice hockey team , refused to play several key matches because they fell on a Jewish holiday. Some claimed the Jews would end up forcing the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to reschedule all their matches on Fridays and Saturdays. In fact, Rubin and the Olympiques came to an agreement, and “he will only miss a handful of games.” He has since left the team. [2][3]

Accommodation for Muslim headgear

Muslim women wearing the niqab (veil) or burka will be allowed to vote in all upcoming national elections, byelections and referendums without showing their faces, Elections Canada has said.[2] The same policy applies to all Canadians under federal Bill C-31, in that photo ID is not strictly required, if two other pieces of acceptable official ID are provided, or another voter vouches for them.

The proclamation has caused much conflict in Quebec, where there is a considerable Muslim community and angry antagonism to this and other classes of accommodation.[2] Premier Charest entitled the happening a “bad decision” and said further that the discussion had already occurred in his province, which forbade the practice.[2]

The national Conservative administration challenged Canada’s chief electoral officer, Marc Mayrand, to examine his conclusion to permit Muslim women to vote with their faces hidden. The federal Liberals and the Bloc Québécois also requested such a reversal, to demand all voters show their faces in order to vote, even those whose faces are normally covered for religious reasons. They joined other federal and provincial politicians from Quebec who attacked the decision.[4]

Sarah Elgazzar, an advocate for the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations in Montreal, declared that it is improbable that very many Muslim women will have hidden faces when voting. Elgazzar insisted that women using niqabs usually take them off to distinguish themselves and do not sport them for photo IDs.[5] This fact was echoed by Salam Elmenyawi of the Muslim Council of Montreal.[6]

Several girls have been banned from competing in sporting events in Canada for wearing the hijab while playing[7]

Media exposure

There was extensive coverage of related issues in Quebec’s news media in 2006 and 2007, which some analysts attributed more to the pressure of competition than to citizen concern. The media play reached such an extent that the premier of the province stated several non-negotiable values, such as “the equality of women and men; the primacy of French; the separation between the state and religion”.

Several commentators have avowed that the debate caused support for the conservative ADQ party to increase, such that it now forms the official opposition in the provincial legislature.[3]

Public opinion

Modern public opinion surveys discovered a majority of Quebecers resistant to Muslims sporting even a hijab in public, and more than half of those polled said they feel newcomers should desert their habits and act more like the majority.


Quebec had an aim of 46,000 newcomers in 2006, but the real figure was only 44,686.[citation needed] The aim in 2007 is 48,000. Immigration department administrators say Quebec will have to increase that to 60,000 per year in the next 10 years because not enough residents are born in the province to carry out the employment that will be ready. Mario Dumont stated the ADQ doesn’t want to increase the aim beyond 46,000 until the province can advantageously conform its immigrants. Before 1991, Dumont claimed, newcomers had higher employment rates than the Quebec norm, but since that time their employment rate is lower than normal. Also, he noted the majority of the investment class of newcomers quit Quebec for the rest of Canada.

The Parti Québécois leader, Pauline Marois, recently[when?] counselled that the Québécois should not be embarrassed to employ the term nous (us), a pronoun often synonymous with the exclusion of non-francophones. She stated that the PQ has been a party that tries to accommodate newcomers, but is also a party that requires people to accept who the Québécois are.

International reaction

The experience of Quebec in reasonable accommodation and immigration is of specific attraction to Ségolène Royal as she stated Quebec has accomplished maintaining its principles and customs amid mainly anglophone Canada.

Employment integration

A recent examination from Statistics Canada demonstrated that Quebec has the lowest newcomer employment rate in Canada.[citation needed] The newest immigrants endured an unemployment ratio of 17.8% in 2006, or almost three times the 6.3% ratio of native-born help. In contrast, joblessness among current newcomers in Ontario is 11% contrasted with 4.4% among the Canadian-born. In British Columbia, the numbers are 9.5% and 3.7%, respectively. These newcomers are more probable to possess a scholarly diploma than local-born Canadians[citation needed].

“She notes that it will be some time before she and her colleagues can do enough analysis to say much about the causes of this phenomenon. Nevertheless, Quebec does seem to favour a more extreme version of this (syndrome) than other provinces. Several factors are the devaluation of allegedly inadequate foreign credentials, language tests that have little to do with professional performance and “Canadian experience” requirements that serve as an all-purpose excuse to lock out job applicants who don’t already have a job.

“In both Quebec and Canada as a whole, 26 per cent said their biggest employment problem was a demand for Canadian experience and 21 per cent said it was would-be employers who wouldn’t recognize foreign credentials or experience.”

Quebec also offers the highest levels of state welfare of any province of Canada. This may be a contributing factor to slow down the integration of immigrants into the workforce.[8]

Political reaction

Former leader of the Parti Québécois André Boisclair noted, “We’re not talking about reasonable accommodation [if] it has nothing to do with public services,” Boisclair said. At the same time, Boisclair blamed Premier Jean Charest for pandering to Quebecers who balk at adjustments made for immigrants in civil society.

Charest declined to defend them when girls wearing hijab were prohibited from soccer and tae kwon do, and when prejudiced remarks were offered about Jews.[9]

Mario Dumont, leader of the Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ) said in an interview in La Presse that Quebec needs more immigration for economic and demographic reasons. But believes that Quebec had met its limits of immigrant acculturation, and that any further increase in rates of immigration would create ghettos. (At present, the province accepts a smaller percentage of newcomers than elsewhere in Canada[10].) He criticized Charest for a plan to raise such levels when the Liberal government has cut funds for integration of newcomers into French culture. ‘We’re a linguistic minority…and immigrants need francization,’ Dumont said. ‘It’s quite a challenge.'[11]

Current Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois said that Quebec should assume all control over its immigration, not the 60% that is has now under a bilateral agreement with the government of Canada. She also said the province should make the message clear to immigrants that Quebec is a francophone “state”, not officially bilingual as is Canada and Quebec’s neighbouring province New Brunswick.

Ms. Marois avows that Quebec is in need of more immigrants, to offset with a declining birth rate for future labor needs. She further believes that Quebec is a francophone state in where the rights of the anglophone minority are respected, and where all the inhabitants live in French [12].

Charest criticized his political adversaries in the provincial legislature, and blamed them for encouraging “intolerance” in the continuing controversy. He published an open letter in regional dailies, saying he is worried the province’s image of openness will diminish outside Quebec.

Dumont’s statements about immigration, he said, led to the passing of a code of conduct by the town of Hérouxville that notified Muslims that face veils or stoning women would not be accepted there.


The Royal Commission on Reasonable Accommodation

Premier Jean Charest, citing several instances of “unreasonable” accommodation, advised the Lieutenant Governor of Quebec to appointed a two-man commission in February, 2007, to investigate the issue of reasonable accommodation, and report back by March 31, 2008. The formal title for the Royal Commission[4] is the Consultation Commission on Accommodation Practices Related to Cultural Differences,[5] and it is sometimes called the Bouchard-Taylor Commission. Its commissioners are professors Charles Taylor, a well-known federalist philosopher, and Gérard Bouchard, a separatist historian and sociologist. Doubt was cast on Bouchard’s fitness to serve as an impartial chair, as before the commission held even one public hearing, he announced in an interview that sovereignty was the solution to calm Franco-Quebeckers’ cultural insecurity. Co-chair Taylor stated, however, that Quebecers need to demonstrate the “openness and generosity of spirit” that majorities should have towards minorities.[6]

The commission is conducting conferences in various Quebec regions, such as the remote Rouyn-Noranda, Sept-Îles, and Saguenay locales. The committee will listen to individuals and organizations and experts in Quebec identity, religion, and integration of so-called cultural communities (minority groups).[7]

Before formal proceedings began, Bouchard and Taylor said they found an insecurity in Quebec’s pure laine population in focus groups across the province. The commissioners feel that the paranoia that Muslims, for example, are somehow taking over Canadian society (when they represent 1.5% of the population) can be countered by facts.[8]

Bill 195

The Parti Québécois tabled a draft law on Quebec’s identity that required all immigrants and arriving Canadians from other provinces, to possess an “appropriate knowledge” of French to obtain a putative “Quebec citizenship.”



  1. ^ “Immigrants source of enrichment to Quebec: group”,, 2007-09-11. Retrieved on 2007-11-04.
  2. ^ a b c Offman, Craig. “Canadians with faces veiled can vote”, National Post, 2007-09-08.
  3. ^ Carroll, Ann. “[Let the debate begin”, The Gazette, 2007-08-15.
  4. ^ Editorial; Toronto Star: Canadian reality is multicultural; October 15, 2007
  5. ^ Quebecers could use a primer on the history of immigration
  6. ^ Let the debate begin
  7. ^ [1][dead link]
  8. ^ Bouchard and Taylor will have to speak, too

See also

Asmahan Mansour


  • Ferguson, Liz. “A one-year chronology of the province’s ‘reasonable accommodation’ controversy”, The Gazette, 2007-02-03. Retrieved on 2007-11-04.
  • Heinreich, Jeff. “‘Accommodate Each Other'”, The Gazette, 2007-02-12. Retrieved on 2007-11-04.
  • Dougherty, Kevin. “Action démocratique isn’t anti-immigration, it’s pro-integration: Dumont”, The Gazette, 2007-09-18. Retrieved on 2007-11-04.

Charest enters the fray [15]

Charest raps opposition’s closed-minded view of immigrants [16]

Church and state find accommodation [17]

  • Damaged commission: Reasonable accommodation commissioner already has made up his mind [18]
  • Dumont criticizes PQ, Liberals over referendum hang-ups in election campaign [19]

Immigration hearings aim to sort fact from fiction [20]

Intolerance costly, says Charest [21]

L’affaire Herouxville born out of fear: experts [22]

  • Media stir up storm over ‘accommodation’ [23]
  • Minorities excluded from public institution jobs [24]

MPs feast on non-issue [25]

Not particularly accommodating: Quebec voters are making fear of visible minorities a hot issue [26]

Racism vs. reasonable accommodation of minorities sparks debate in Quebec [27]

  • Rural Quebec town bans stoning women [28]

Quebec town spawns uneasy debate [29]

Quebec towns reject Hérouxville immigrant code [30]

Segolene Royal speaks to packed Que. auditorium [31]

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