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Legislating secularism in Quebec

Where does it come from? Where is it going?

by Guillaume Rousseau and James McDonald

14_La_séparationWhile the Parti Québécois’s failure to win reelection has put its Charter on the shelf, the debate over secularism is not over. All parties in the recent election campaign promised some kind of legislation on secularism, including – at least to a degree – the Quebec Liberal Party, now in power.

The issue of laïcité did not magically appear on the Quebec political scene last year. It has been a feature of Quebec public discourse for decades – indeed, for well over a century. To understand its meaning and prospects, we need to place it in the context of republican thinking originating in France, of Quebec’s ideal of cultural convergence, and of the relevant jurisprudence of Canada and in other Western societies.

The republican roots of Quebec secularism

One cannot appreciate the motivation underlying a charter of secularism without understanding the influence that French civic republicanism has had on the development of the political thinking of La Belle Province. The first major push toward republicanism came from the leaders of the failed Lower Canada Rebellion, whose 1838 Declaration of Independence proclaimed the formation of the Republic of Lower Canada. Among the document’s key points were the abolition of all feudal and seignieurial privileges and the complete separation of church and state – including the elimination of the

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Guillaume Rousseau


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