Let’s celebrate our 20th anniversary !

From tolerance to respect for diversity: 20 years of encounters

Montreal, February 26, 2016 – Since 1996, after having travelled the length and breadth of Quebec with our Tolerance Caravan and having met more than 340,000 students from different backgrounds through these interactive workshops, we can say that we have been able to gauge the evolution of tolerance among young people.

The Tolerance Foundation becomes ENSEMBLE for the respect of diversity

Setting aside the minimal merits of tolerance, with its negative connotations appealing for the support or endurance of differences, we thought it was a better idea to embrace the movement toward respect for diversity by officially changing our organization’s name in 2012.. After 20 years of work, we recognize that continued challenges of recognizing diversity and striving for equality, and consider them more pertinent than ever. Automatically associated with immigrants and cultural communities, the notion of diversity covers a much broader reality encompassing ethnicity, language and beliefs, but also gender and sexual orientation.

Evolution of “living together” better

This diversity, which will continue to expand in the coming years, represents a significant challenge for Quebecois society. We believe that it is possible to build a common public space – this celebrated “living together” - based on shared values as well as on egalitarian recognition of differences. In this respect, we enjoy a certain number of acquired rights and privileges protected by the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and by all the governmental statutes and policies that support the fight against all forms of discrimination, intimidation and bullying, in particular, at the academic level. But, while equality among cultures, genders, and sexual orientations is legally entrenched in statutes and policies, racism, sexism and homophobia persist as ideologies and discriminatory practices with regard to minorities and remain a stumbling block to the full social equality of all citizens. Far from evolving in a vacuum, the Quebecois school is not impervious to the occurrence or re-occurrence of inequitable relationships.

In the “global village” and digital revolution era where virtual boundaries vanish and information circulates faster and more freely, students are not necessarily better informed. In fact, we feel that our day-to-day work to educate young students and raise their awareness in a spirit of open dialogue and critical thinking, raises questions about pre-conceived ideas and images (prejudices, stereotypes, myths) to move toward a better understanding of other people.


After 20 years of encounters, we can see the tremendous progress made in the field of intercultural relations in Quebec, especially in the multi-ethnic schools of the Greater Montreal Area where diversity has become a central component of a new, plural and inclusive Quebec identity. But these advances cannot fully conceal the current reality of anti-semitism and racism against Jews, ethnic minorities and First Nations. Moreover, since the 2000s, a more cultural neo-racism has been specifically directed at new immigrants and Muslims. The scope of the negative representations of Islam in the West, amplified by the excessive media coverage of global or local crises is the source of rampant Islamophobia generating stigmatization, fear and distrust. In Quebec, emotional debates and controversial discussions surrounding complex issues such as reasonable accommodation” and secularism, often centered around concepts of strong symbolic roles like values and identity, have served to give legitimacy to a discourse that tends to divide Quebecers into Us” and “Them”, emphasizing the fear of identity of some and contributing to the resentment of others, seeds of division and antagonism. Among some people, there is an idea that Islam and Muslims represent a problem at odds with Quebec and its values (freedom, gender equality, etc.). Mistakenly presupposing that all Muslims would be resistant to the values of a democratic modernity that already exist, whereas experience shows, for instance, the strength of homophobia and sexism in our own society.

Subtle Homophobia

In fact, although Quebec is one of the most progressive societies insofar as LGBTQ rightsare concerned and where the multiplication of coming out cases among adolescents is indicative of a notable change in attitudes, homophobia is still the most widespread form of intolerance in Quebec schools. In recent years, the obvious and clear displays of homophobia (direct insults, condemnation, rejection, disgust, physical violence) have visibly reversed giving way to more subtle forms (double standards, uneasiness, distancing) which result in establishing the dominant heteronormative hierarchy. The trend to establish heterosexuality as the legitimate, even higher standard is still accompanied today by a will to conceal or limit the visibility of homosexual realities (by the presumption of heterosexuality, the don’t ask, don’t tell policy, being discrete, or simply not discussing the topic or only slightly discussing it).

Sexism and Double Standards

Lastly, despite the advances and achievements made by women and the feminist movement, the problem of sexism remains a major stumbling block to gender equality. Socially constructed gender identities still largely rest on stereotyped, rooted, and reductive models that limit the field of possibilities and perpetuate unequal relationships to the extent that masculinity remains dominant. The countless double standards which girls face on a daily basis, at home and school alike, serve as further reminder for those who dare to defy gender boundaries. Social phenomena as varied as hypersexualization, “slut-shaming”, eating disorders, domestic violence and sexual assaults, affecting adolescents in particular, clearly show the persistence of sexism and urge us to pursue our commitment to equality.

Creating a more inclusive and gender-equal school

To conclude, after having criss-crossed Quebec since 1996 and having met almost 340,000 students from all backgrounds, we have been able to appreciate, if only partially and imperfectly, the evolution of a certain expression on diversity, specific to Quebec youth. If some of our observations sometimes seem to depict the more negative outlines of intolerance, it is not necessarily useful to emphasize this particular point and overly darken the picture. Instilling respect for others and continuing the fight against prejudices and discrimination is long-term work. Also, we are not starting from scratch: the young people we have met over the years are open to discussion, thought, doubt, and questioning their own ideas. Is this not an initial and indispensable prerequisite to the formation of a more inclusive and egalitarian school? The countless positive comments, the words of encouragement and the many signs of support we have received from students, teachers, intervenors and school administrations, reflect strong support for the ideal of pluralism which we share.

Let us continue to work together for the respect of diversity.