Deliberative Democracy, Political Legitimacy, and Self-Determination in Multicultural Societies:

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So, for the rule of equality or fairness to uphold Bouchard and Taylor argues that what is legitimate for one religion is legitimate for the others. Kymlicka argues that institutional neutrality is an illusion in the sense that institutions often make decisions that can be advantageous for one group and cause disadvantage for particular groups. In order to remedy this, Kymlicka proposed a new liberal framework through group-differentiated rights to create an accommodating diverse society.

Taylor also argues that because the neutrality of procedural liberalism is not able to accommodate people of different cultural backgrounds, it must make way for politics of difference. It is therefore important, according to the Kymlicka and Norman to give political relevance to claims coming from minority groups because it helps to remedy the disadvantages that minorities suffer within difference-blind institutions in order to promote fairness Kymlicka and Norman, On the basis of this, and considering the significance of niquab for Muslim women, a request for accommodation of the niquab at citizenship ceremony must be politically relevant to be worthy of positive deliberation and consideration.

As Bouchard and Taylor argues, state regulations are not always synonymous with fairness and as such, intercultural-relations within a liberal democracy demands that the law must recognize that the rule of equality sometimes demand differential treatment. With this new concept, the notion of multiculturalism becomes broadened with the intent to prevent individuals from being put at a disadvantage or excluded when they seek demands for equal treatment.

As Bouchard and Taylor illustrate, a diabetic student that brings syringe into the classroom even though the school rules prohibit syringe in classrooms is permitted on the ground of reasonable accommodation because, what will be considered is the harm that the refusal of syringe might cause for a diabetic student including threat to his life. For the niquab, the harm of denying the Muslim women their religious identity is a factor that should be considered. Another feature of reasonable accommodation in its principle of equality and fairness is that it pays closer attention to differences.

This separates its conception of equality from the traditional conception that is based on the principle of uniform treatment that lack respect for all Bouchard and Taylor, Discrimination as conceived by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom must first be established Bouchard and Taylor, The Canadian Charter prohibits several forms of discrimination based on sex, ethnic and religion. Under section 2 a of the Charter , everyone is guaranteed the rights and freedoms of conscience and religion 4 , this means that religious groups have the freedom to publicly display their beliefs.

One implication of the new policy is that, Muslim women now faces a situation that forces a choice between embracing the Canadian value of openness and equality by removing their niquab or choosing to remain permanent residents and forfeit their citizenship. The discrimination inherent in this policy is that, it denies members of a minority group the access to Canadian citizenship based on their religious identity. Therefore, on the basis of this, one may say that there is an establishment of discrimination in the state policy on the niquab.

Request for accommodation must not lead to undue hardship. Niquab does not cause any disproportionate cost to the state to accommodate and it does not upset the state operations neither does it infringe on the rights of other citizens. Therefore, the wearing of niquab at a citizenship ceremony could not be said to fail any of these restrictive guidelines that would lead to rejection of its accommodation or justify its denial.

The report further argues that these accommodations promote integration into our society. Denying such accommodation will only intensify the marginalization and racialization that this group are already unjustly subjected to Bouchard and Taylor, Deliberative democracy thus offers avenues to address difficult controversies in democratic process by allowing diverse groups separated by class, race religion and gender to reason together Gutmann and Thompson, Because deliberation provides ways to settle conflicts by bargaining, negotiation, and compromise, it could be argued to be an essential tool for cultural integration.

Unfortunately, with the niquab case, there was no avenue or space provided for citizens including those affected to engage in deliberation, dialogue or to exchange ideas about the niquab. Instead, the state banned its use at citizenship ceremony without deliberation. There is a great possibility that the permissibility of minority cultural and religious practices may be different if the state engages in deliberative approach to dealing with the conflicts that arises between minority practices and mainstream values.

After all, the most democratically legitimate and just means of mediating tensions around contested cultural and religious practices is through deliberation that involves those affected Deveaux, According to Valiante his community which includes the Shia and the Suni is the largest group of Muslims in Canada with lots of scholars including women who could understand, explain and draw negotiations around the issue if consulted Raj, Inclusion of the Muslim community in the decision-making process would have satisfied the demands of democratic legitimacy and demonstrates respect for cultural and religious pluralism.

Dating back to the time of Confederation, excluding people from major public policy decisions that affect their lives is an historical institutional practice that has a deep root in Canadian history. Peter Russell argues that the formulation of the Constitution Act of was explicitly done through elite accommodation without direct involvement of Canadian people. McRoberts also claims that in particular, the Aboriginal people were totally ignored in the Confederation arrangement and deliberation and allowed no role to participate 5.

It could also be argued that the niquab case was another example of elite domination, since the decision to ban it was based on the state crafted definition and interpretation of niquab. The Muslim community particularly women who understands what the niquab means to them were excluded in the decision-making process. Also, considering the social, economic and political impacts that the ban may have on immigrant women such as decline of Canadian citizenship, inability to vote or run for political office, restriction on federal jobs etc.

The justification for policies that involves cultural minorities in liberal democracies should therefore, pass the test of democratic legitimacy in order to avoid marginalizing and alienating minority groups in public sphere Deveaux, When deliberation is well conducted, it has the potential to promote the values of negotiation, reciprocity, and exchanges of ideas; it can also allow citizens to engage in dialogue and self-criticism to mend their ways when necessary Bouchard and Taylor, Public deliberation also leads to better policies, superior public education, increased public trust, and reduced conflicts Sanders, This paper recognizes the distinction between the outcome of a decision-making process and the procedures by which the decision takes place.

As such, I am aware that there is no guarantee that the procedure will produce the desired result but my emphasis is on the respect for the process.


For example, purely procedural constraints such as problem definition, agenda setting, and collaboration may be insufficient to prevent the coercing from of the majority ibidem. There is also no guarantee of equality of participation due to different social or economic power among citizens.

As argued earlier, it may provide opportunity to analyse the issue through exposure to a variety of perspectives to reach a peaceful resolution that may include accommodation on special grounds. The process could also allow citizens to consider relevant facts about the niquab from multiple points of views, converse with one another and reflect on the benefits of allowing and the harms of disallowing the niquab.

Even when there are irreconcilable views after exploiting the option of deliberation, accepting the differences could also be beneficial as it enriches our diversity.

Deliberative Democracy, Political Legitimacy, And Self-determination In Multi-cultural Societies

As Arneil and MacDonald suggests, these differences should not be seen as a negative, because the key issue in multicultural pluralism is not to reduce diversity or divisiveness, but to figure out the principles and procedures by which such differences are to be renegotiated in the name of justice. Regardless of the result of deliberation, the decision reached from such deliberation would carry a greater degree of democratic legitimacy because the process of reaching that decision involves the active participation of the minority group concerned.

The paper questions the process by which the state arrived at its decision to ban the niquab at citizenship ceremonies. I use the concept of a liberal deliberative democratic approach to argue that the process by which the state made the decision is democratically illegitimate.

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JOMSIGN: Journal of Multicultural Studies in Guidance and Counseling

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