Religion as a set of beliefs

According to dictionaries and official language, religion is a set of doctrines and practices through which a person experiences a sense of spirituality or the sacred and in which a community of believers share sacraments, rituals and moral codes.

It therefore includes specific denominations or group affiliations, religious organizations, sects, cults, or any other community of believers who have adopted a religion or belief system.

Some religions do not worship any god, but identify themselves more as a philosophies or spiritualities (Buddhism, for example).

Religion by definition can be distinguished from related phenomena such as faith and superstition. Religion involves a group, contrary to faith, which is a feeling that can be viewed in a purely individual way.

In religions, the faithful also convey teachings and religious codes of laws that are supposed to define "good and evil" and transmit a homogeneous and more or less binding morality, or at the very least show believers the way to happiness.

The religious diversity of Canada

Canada is a multi-confessional country, but it remains largely historically and culturally Protestant and Catholic. The same is true of Quebec.

The Confederation is seeing an increase of the Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist religions due to immigration, and even an increase of people saying "no religion,” mainly from China.

The main denominations, according to Statistics Canada, are (in order):

  • Catholic;
  • rotestant;
  • Orthodox Christian;
  • Other Christian denominations;
  • Muslim;
  • Jewish;
  • Buddhist;
  • Hindu;
  • Sikh.

According to Statistics Canada, only 9% of Quebecers do not belong to any religious movement, compared to 22% of other Canadians. The majority of Quebecers say they are Christian, even if they are not practising, in reality. They become “champions of non-practising Catholicism.”

The concept of secularism

Freedom of religion includes the freedom to believe and profess one’s beliefs and not being forced to act in opposition to one’s conscience or beliefs.

For the state, it necessarily implies religious neutrality: there is no "state religion" in Canada.

In Canadian law the concept of secularism does not specifically apply, namely the separation of religion and state in public spheres (government, education, health, justice).

In Canadian and Quebec law, the relationship between state and religion are strictly part of the fundamental freedoms of conscience and religion that are guaranteed by law.

In practice, the majority of the population favours and practises secularism, though each individual has a different conception of it.

Religion in the public and private spheres

Canadian law, including Quebec law, is much more open to individual expression of religious affiliation, even within the public sphere, hence the principle of inclusive secularism.

For example, it allows:

  • Sikh officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to wear turbans instead of the prescribed headgear;
  • Hasidic Jews in Montreal to erect eruvin, metal wires suspended from poles symbolizing the city walls, to facilitate its’ members observance the Sabbath;
  • Muslim schoolgirls to wear the Islamic headscarf (hijab);
  • Sikh students to wear the kirpan, as long as it is carried under safe conditions.

Religious pluralism is an important aspect of Canadian political culture because multiculturalism is a prescribed value of society according to the Constitution.

Perhaps the last vestige of religion in the schools is the funding of a separate network of Catholic schools in certain member-states of Canada (Ontario), who are still required to do so according to the Constitution of 1867.

Across the country, including Quebec, tolerance of religious expression (wearing badges and symbols, observing dietary prohibitions, social attitudes, etc.) is governed by the principle of reasonable accommodation, whereby exceptions of a religious nature are made to respect the faith of religious minorities.

But this more or less visible presence of religion in public space is not approved of by everyone, especially in Quebec, where it has led to the creation of the Consultation Commission on Accommodation Practices Related to Cultural Differences.