In Murder in the Cathedral, T.S. Eliot commented on the ”œworst temptation of them all, to do the right thing for the wrong reason.” It seems that many Canadian advocates of reasonable accommodation want to do precisely that, the right thing for the wrong reasons. Its opponents, on the other hand, often want to do the wrong thing for right reasons.
Many calls for accommodation come from the propo- nents of muddled political correctness " the friends of mul- ticulturalism, diversity and communitarianism. For them, the existence of permanent ethnic and religious groups and of collective rights attached to them is a public good. Reasonable accommodation is one of the ways of maintaining differences and the negotiation of the degree of accommodation is, in the nature of things, the domain of the lobbies. This model of Canada is what Joe Clark meant when he said that Canada is a ”œcommunity of communities.”
The opponents of accommodation, especially in Quebec, are often inspired by French republicanism, by notions of secularism, of equality and of integration of newcomers as equals into our society. They abhor the idea that civil society should become a permanent negotiating ses- sion between powerful lobbies.
The difficulty is that while the republicans have a more attractive goal, a sensible amount of accommodation in fact helps achieve it. By adopting republican ideals and some mildly communitarian solutions, we would get the best of both worlds.
It is the thesis of this essay that reasonable accommodation is desirable for two reasons " individual freedom and effective integration of immigrants.
In a democratic society, individual freedom is surely one of the fundamental values. Telling a person what to wear, how to decorate their homes, what to eat and when to celebrate holidays is an unnecessary interference with personal liberty.
Moreover, it is important for society as a whole to provide the accommodation rather than for the lobbies to become the instrument, because the lobbies tend to limit the freedom of their members far more than the Canadian or the Quebec state, or than any of the insti- tutions operated by society as a whole. Determined to survive as identifiable entities, the lobbies are forced to encourage conformism with respect to culture, marriage and religion. If accommodation is accorded or denied through the courts, each individual is free to determine his or her own cultural or religious identity.
In the Amselem case, which allowed orthodox Jews to construct succas on their balconies, despite condominium rules to the contrary, the Supreme Court specifically denied any legal pertinence to accepted dogmas of the Jewish reli- gion and insisted on the individual faith and conscience of those who requested accommodation. This was a crucial and liberating moment in Canadian law, when the individual notion of accommodation was enshrined as the only one except, perhaps, in the sphere of aboriginal law, where collective rights have long been recognized.
The second reason for accom- modation is equally important " the integration of immigrants. Accommodating kirpas, kirpans, ker- chiefs, turbans, religious holidays and so on allows the individuals in question easy access to public insti- tutions and public employment. This, in turn, integrates them in the mainstream and, in the next genera- tion, most of their children do not require accommodation.
This process is assisted by the fact that accommodation prevents the development of a sense of alien- ation or, in extreme cases, percep- tion of persecution, which is sometimes evident in isolated minorities, and that the availability of many types of employment pro- motes economic equality, which is the most important condition for successful integration.
All of this, of course, points to cer- tain limits as to the type of accommodation that merits the adjective ”œreasonable.” Most will agree that demands for accommoda- tion should not be too onerous. For instance, individuals should be able to claim a few days for religious observance; society could not cope with a request for 50 days a year. Similarly, one could not permit truly dangerous objects in the name of reli- gion (e.g., a sharpened sword instead of a kirpan).
What has less often been pointed out is that accommodation that ghet- toizes groups " for instance by the creation of separate schools, hospi- tals, courts " is undesirable. Indeed, a burka or a veil that covers the face, as opposed to a kerchief, is very prob- lematic, because it constitutes a barri- er to social integration. It is very surprising that, in their opposition to accommodation, Quebec republicans fixated on the rather innocuous kir- pan, and not on the expensive and morally questionable subsidies to pri- vate schools.
Another limit on accommodation is the fact that it is not possible to grant accommodation that victimizes innocent members of the group. For instance, our society has wisely refused Jehovah’s Witnesses the right to pro- hibit blood transfusions for their chil- dren. In the Jones case, the Supreme Court also refused fundamentalists the right to shelter their children from the teaching of science.
It follows that the word ”œreason- able” when it precedes ”œaccommoda- tion” is not a meaningless term of art. Rather, it is a prism through which all accommodation must be seen and judged.
It is becoming increasingly clear that multiculturalism is not only a chimera, but also a dangerous one. No society has ever been successful in the long run unless it integrated its citi- zens and eliminated barriers to mar- riage between them.
The word ”œassimilation,” which is odious when force is used, should be rehabilitated as a description of what happens to citizens of varied origins in an open society. When the Anglo Saxons, the Scandinavians, the Celts and the Normans fused to form the English nation, and when the Romans, Celts and Germanic Franks became the French, both attained a cultural and social cohesion that no multicultural society can imitate.
Of course, assimilation is not a one-way street. The immigrants adopt the language and culture of the majority, but the majority is also modified, and indeed permeated, by the contribution of the immigrants. It is obvious that the waves of immigration of the 20th cen- tury have left an indelible mark on Canada and on the descendants of the two majority groups of the early 1900s. That is perhaps another rea- son, a pedagogical one, to permit manifestations of new cultures in our schools and other institutions, since much of what they bring will become part of us.
One more reason to favour accommodation is dictated by humility. We cannot know that our present system or way of life is neces- sarily the best one or even that it is permanent. When the good citizens of Hérouxville, firmly opposed to accommodation, decided to draft a code of core Quebec attitudes and beliefs, they put secularism, gender equality and openness to different sexual orientation at the very top of the list. They had forgotten that no more than 50 years ago, within memory of some living citizens, the same Hérouxville would have set up Catholicism, paternal authority and the Christian view of marriage as fundamental values. It is therefore healthy for the process of integration not to be bur- dened by a dogmatic view of what it means to be a Quebecer or a Canadi- an and what the signs of successful integration might be.
So long as immigration remains relatively open, the process is a never- ending one. In every generation, all citizens will be enriched by contact with different ways of life. In each, the chil- dren of the immigrants of 20 years ear- lier will become completely integrated.
To conclude, it is the republican ideal " liberty, equality and fraterni- ty " that calls for reasonable accommodation. If communitarians thought hard about their interests, they would call for separate schools, religious tribunals and the granting of authority to ethnic or religious leaders and not necessarily for accommodation. That, of course, would be anathema to republicans. It is a peculiar Canadian paradox that both groups have mistaken their true interest.
It is this writer’s hope that the recent spate of decisions favouring accommodation will produce both greater integration and an increased level of social justice and individual freedom.