Culture and Citizenship Quebec Program: Two Observations

Nadia El-Mabrouk

For Board of Directors of Rassemblement pour la laïcité (RPL, Alliance for Secularism)


We are delighted with the changes made to the new version of the Culture and Citizenship Quebec (CCQ) program in connection with secularism. Following the unveiling of the provisional program in the fall of 2022, we criticized the almost total absence of secularism and benchmarks that could define Quebec citizenship. How can we design a citizenship course without drawing the outlines of a shared social project?

The Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC) program, which raised countless criticisms—in particular because of the pre-eminent place given to religious practices, beliefs and dogmas, in a posture of “absolute recognition”—was based on so-called “open secularism” stemming from the Canadian multiculturalist conception of the management of religious diversity. School textbooks reflected this vision thoroughly, giving a prominent place to religious symbols. How can we avoid reproducing the same errors as ERC if we do not change direction, if the model of State secularism is not adopted in the new Quebec citizenship program?

We are happy to see that this has now been done. The CCQ program which has just been unveiled stipulates that the ideals of a secular State and the rule of law will be promoted. The importance of promoting secularism is part of its objective of “pursuing the common good.”

In addition, State secularism and the values which support it (separation between State and religion, State religious neutrality, equality of all citizens, freedom of conscience) are now included in the mandatory concepts to be addressed under the theme “democracy and social order.”

This will certainly make it possible to change the orientation of the course and not to perpetuate, in school textbooks, the identification of young people with religious affiliations.

In addition, when the program was launched, the Ministry of Education stressed the importance of promoting critical thinking as well as open, balanced and respectful civic discussion, in order to remedy the prevailing climate of censorship, acrimony and social polarization. In fact, the program emphasizes the development of critical thinking and freedom of speech. This element even seems to be the common thread that links the different themes. We are delighted with this orientation of CCQ which, unlike ERC, finally distinguishes between respect for the person and absolute respect for the person’s spiritual and ideological orientations, in the name of which any criticism was forbidden.

We also applaud the fact that the new program does not devote space to the most dogmatic and politically oriented concepts of the new sociology inspired by “critical race theory” such as “race,” “systemic racism,” “decolonialism,” “deconstruction,” etc. These are concepts with vague contours and tendentious definitions, often circular, conducive to indoctrination, and a source of stigmatization, obsession with identity and calls for censorship.

An Unscientific Glossary

Unfortunately, all caution disappears when the sex education component is addressed, even though this occupies a significant place in the program. In defiance of scientific rigor and common sense, the Ministry seems to have given carte blanche to the supporters of a change of concepts.

Thus, according to the program’s glossary, sex is a “social category which divides the population between women and men on the basis of physiological characteristics.”

This definition conflates the concepts of sex and gender and suggests that a person can simply choose to place oneself in one or the other of these categories.

However, sex is not a social category. It is a biological reality, having physiological components of course, but also immutable genetic and anatomical ones.

This confusion between the concepts of “sex” and “gender” undermines women’s rights (rights conferred on the basis of biological sex and not social “sex”) and equality between women and men — a fundamental value which is even inscribed in the preamble of the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as in the preamble of the State secularism law (Bill 21), where it is described as a distinctive element of the Quebec nation.

Thus, as much as we welcome the CCQ program’s change of direction towards State secularism and the development of critical thought, we are nevertheless surprised that the government has approved such an unscientific glossary within the framework of the sex education component. It is inconceivable to introduce such distortions of meaning into a program whose purpose is to guide the development of teaching materials and which, because of cross-curricular competencies, could influence the entire educational program offered in Quebec schools.

We call on the government to remove this ideological and unscientific definition of the word “sex.” All the work done to redesign the ERC course should not be wasted, in the end, by replacing one dogmatism with another.

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