Dr. Vrinda Narain
Topic: Critical Multiculturalism
Abstract: Policies of multiculturalism are invariably focused on questions of the status of women in racialized, immigrant communities. Practices such as veiling and polygamy are emphasized as feminism is pitted against multiculturalism in the politics of recognition. Focusing on the limits of religious freedom and the accommodation of group difference,the context in Canada is one of increasing anxiety about the ‘illiberal’ practices that Muslim immigrants in particular, bring to Western liberal democracies. My inquiry is situated within this fraught political and social context. The premise of this inquiry is that it is critical for the Canadian state to foster a constitutional culture that strengthens citizenship, equality and the protection of women’s human rights. I build upon my theoretical intervention of ‘critical multiculturalism’ as a perspective that best responds to exclusion and disadvantage. I have two primary objectives: first, to reassess the Supreme Court of Canada’s approach to balancing religious freedom, gender equality and multiculturalism; and second, to problematize the principle of reasonable accommodation as the framework within which these competing rights and interests are balanced. I will consider some of the major recent events that illustrate the rhetoric of multiculturalism, including the 2012 Supreme Court’s decision in R v. NS , the 2013 proposed Secular Charter of Values of Quebec, and most recently, the 2014 Federal Bill S 7, the Zero Tolerance For Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, to better understand legislative initiatives and judicial responses to the regulation of racialized minority women. Providing a critique from a structural rather than a cultural lens, I examine the specific consequences of these policies for Muslim women with a view towards highlighting their multiples sites of vulnerability. The focus of this inquiry is to suggest how the Court can better craft legal responses to these issues in a manner that is more nuanced, complex and attentive to the lived reality of racialized minority women. This project aims to help further move the dialogue towards an inclusive notion of citizenship and deliberative democracy that will foster a commitment to a shared multicultural future.