State, group, and individual responses to religious diversity raise many controversial issues in Canada. Several recent court decisions illustrate both the diversity and the controversy. One such case is the badly divided December 2012 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in R v NS, a case that balanced religious freedom with the right to a fair trial after a sexual assault complainant asked to testify while wearing a niqab.1 Other examples include the British Columbia Supreme Court decision upholding, for the most part, a legal prohibition against polygamy, a case that focused on the polygamous religious community in Bountiful, British Columbia; 2 the Supreme Court of Canada decision in AC v Manitoba (Director of Child and Family Services), upholding the constitutional validity of child welfare legislation allowing the state to order a Jehovah’s Witness under the age of sixteen to receive a blood transfusion;3 and the same court’s decision in Alberta v Hutterian Brethren of Wilson Colony, upholding a universal provincial requirement for photographs on drivers’ licences over a religiously based objection to having photographs taken.4 The collection of essays in Reasonable Accommodation: Managing Religious Diversity helps us think through the issues raised by these and other types of controversies.5 They help us to both deepen and broaden our conversations about the fact of religious diversity and the ideal of religious pluralism in a multicultural society.
In her introduction to the collection, Lori G. Beaman reminds us that the phrase “reasonable accommodation” has only recently made its way from its source in [End Page 411] Canadian employment law into Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms challenges and public discourse for the purposes of “managing” religious diversity.6 In 2006, in the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Multani v Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys, the court used the language of accommodation in determining that a Sikh schoolboy should be allowed to wear his kirpan to school.7 Ayear later, the Consultation Commission on Accommodation Practices Related to Cultural Differences, better known as the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, established the language of reasonable accommodation in public debates.8 Beaman asks, and the essays in this collection address, whether the concept of reasonable accommodation can provide a framework for achieving substantive equality.9
The book has eight chapters, bracketed by Beaman’s substantive introduction and conclusion. Only one of the essays in this collection is authored by a legal scholar; the others are written by academics from the sociology or religious studies disciplines, with one political scientist also included. Many of the essays are oriented to the law, and those that are not are equally valuable to legal academics and practitioners. Six of the nine contributors are Canadian academics, and the collection is situated in a variety of Canadian contexts for the most part. Three essays introduce comparative elements.
In the first chapter, “Religion and Immigration in a Changing Canada: The Reasonable Accommodation of ‘Reasonable Accommodation’?” by Peter Beyer, a Canadian religious studies professor, the author reminds us that reasonable accommodation of religious diversity has been a constant issue in Canada since the seventeenth century. It has been structured by the dichotomies of native/newcomer and religious majority/minority, but Beyer demonstrates how the boundaries of majority and minority have been blurred and how the native/newcomer dichotomy [End Page 412] is challenged by a lack of tolerance for the religious practices of well-established minorities. Beyer questions whether we can, or should, frame debates in terms of reasonable accommodation if those dichotomies do not hold. He also explores whether the hegemonic Canadian religious identity is Christian in any meaningful sense. Beyer argues that we need to know “who or what is accommodating, who or what is doing the accommodation, and by what standards we may possibly judge reasonableness,” before we can frame debates about religion and diversity in terms of reasonable accommodation.10 He offers an extended example of a research project into “Religion among Immigrant Youth in Canada,” which revealed that the Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist youth he interviewed had no trouble accommodating the religious diversity...