Sociologist on Quebec and reasonable accommodation

Karen Herland

Jean-Philippe Warren, who holds the Concordia Junior Research Chair in the Study of Quebec, says that the relationship Québécois have to different cultures is based on a variety of complex factors.

Rob Maguire

Don’t try to tell Jean-Philippe Warren that Quebecers are less tolerant of immigrants than other Canadians by virtue of some imagined essential traits.

“For sociologists, there is nothing inherent in behaviour,” Warren said in an interview. “It’s not like attitudes are programmed into DNA.”

Recent events have led some observers to a characterization of Quebecers, particularly francophones, as irrationally afraid of immigrants. The perception was aggravated by Herouxville’s publicly posted (and mocked) list of rules for newcomers.

Warren, who is Concordia Junior Research Chair for the Study of Quebec, points to a number of elements that have led to the province’s seemingly distinct reaction to “religious reasonable accommodation.” That’s the term he used to describe recent situations that have attracted media coverage like kirpans in schools or hijabs at sports events.

One factor affecting Quebec society’s reaction to some immigrants’ requests is the simple fact that there are fewer newcomers in this province than in others. Warren said that one in five people living in Canada was not born there. In Quebec, the average is roughly one in 10.

“Sociologically speaking, but quite paradoxically, the more meaningful interaction you have with newcomers, the less threatened you feel.” So it stands to reason that those with less interaction, especially in the rural regions of Quebec, are more apprehensive about their potential presence.

Another element, according to Warren, is Quebec’s position left of centre in most polls, at least since the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s. Warren underscores that Quebec has been at the forefront of movements establishing equality for women in the 1980s, and for lesbians and gays in the 1990s. These reasonable accommodations were accepted by Quebecers more rapidly than in other provinces.

However, there is a certain distrust of religious expressions in public in Quebec society, at least since the Quiet Revolution, “unlike in English Canada, which is a more religion-based society. The right wing and conservative political forces show a tendency to accept that religion plays a role in the public sphere, as the example of the United States clearly illustrates.”

Citing yet another element from a long list of factors, Warren suggests that how Quebecers see themselves also has an impact on how they relate to other immigrants.

“Sovereignists see themselves as a majority in need of a state.” Meanwhile, francophone federalists tend to think of themselves as a minority within the larger country. Once they identify as a minority community that needs to protect its identity, they are more likely to be suspicious of practices or requests that might change or challenge that identity.

Warren, whose research has focused on Quebec culture, in particular Native peoples and social movements, was named a Concordia Research Chair in 2005.