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A Tale of Two (Diverse) Countries: Religious Diversity in Canada and Singapore

  • Arif A. Jamal and Daniel Wong Sheng Jie

Abstract

Both Canada and Singapore express support for—and have the reality of being—multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-religious; and both jurisdictions have an avowed commitment to the freedom of religion. Yet, this commitment expresses itself in different ways in these two contexts. Although both the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Singaporean Constitution guarantee the freedom of religion, juridical definitions of what this freedom means may differ quite profoundly.

This Article explores and analyzes these two different environments that nonetheless share important features. We argue that the approaches of Singapore and Canada do not fall simply into the categories of being “liberal” or “illiberal,” but instead invite reflection and reconsideration on the concepts of pluralism, secularism, and liberalism in interesting ways. This Article thus highlights the significance of contextual factors in understanding the ways in which religious diversity is dealt with, particularly in Canada and Singapore, but also more generally.

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Copyright

This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Footnotes

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*

Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore (NUS Law).

**

NUS Law/Yale-NUS Double Degree Program, Class of 2021.

Footnotes

References

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1 For an account of Singapore’s religious diversity, see Global Religious Diversity, Pew Res. Ctr. (Apr. 4, 2014), http://www.pewforum.org/2014/04/04/global-religious-diversity/ (listing Singapore as having the highest religious diversity in the world).

2 For the culinary and social sense of “rojak,” see Rojak, Singapore infopedia, http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_392_2005-01-06.html.

3 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act, 1982, c 11 (U.K.), which states at § 2:

Fundamental Freedoms

Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

  1. (a)

    (a) freedom of conscience and religion;

  2. (b)

    (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;

  3. (c)

    (c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and

  4. (d)

    (d) freedom of association.

4 Constitution of the Republic of Singapore Aug. 9, 1965, art. 15, which states:

Freedom of Religion

  1. (1)

    (1) Every person has the right to profess and practise his religion and to propagate it.

  2. (2)

    (2) No person shall be compelled to pay any tax the proceeds of which are specially allocated in whole or in part for the purposes of a religion other than his own.

  3. (3)

    (3) Every religious group has the right—

    1. (a)

      (a) to manage its own religious affairs;

    2. (b)

      (b) to establish and maintain institutions for religious or charitable purposes; and

    3. (c)

      (c) to acquire and own property and hold and administer it in accordance with law ….

5 See Rosalie Jukier & Jose Woehrling, Religion and the Secular State in Canada, in Religion and the Secular State: National Reports 185 (Javier Martinez-Torron & W. Cole Durham eds., 2010); Jaclyn Neo, Secular Constitutionalism in Singapore: Between Equality and Hierarchy, 5(3) Oxford J.L. & Religion 431 (2016).

6 See, e.g., John Rawls, Political Liberalism xxv (1993). One formulation of the challenge of dealing with diversity comes from John Rawls’s famous question: “How is it possible that there may exist over time a stable and just society of free and equal citizens profoundly divided by reasonable religious, philosophical and moral doctrines?”

7 For a discussion of the religious harmony narrative in Singapore, see Arif A. Jamal, Managing Religion through ‘Religious Harmony’: The Case of Singapore, in Religions Rules, State Law, and Normative Pluralism—A Comparative Overview 325 (Rossella Bottoni et al. eds., 2016).

8 Canada’s Changing Religious Landscape, PEW RES. CTR. (June 27, 2013), http://www.pewforum.org/2013/06/27/canadas-changing-religious-landscape/.

9 Id. (reporting that from 1981 to 2011, the percentage of Canadians who identify as Catholic dropped from 47% to 39%, while those who identify as Protestant declined from 41% to 27%).

10 This information is also found in Government of Canada census data. See Two-thirds of the Population Declare Christian as Their Religion, Stat. Can. (Feb. 19, 2016), https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/91-003-x/2014001/section03/33-eng.htm.

11 Canada’s Changing Religious Landscape, supra note 8.

12 For an account of the historical development of Singapore’s demographics and religious diversity, see Kevin YL Tan & Matthias Roßbach, State Answers to Religious Diversity in Germany and Singapore: History, Philosophy, and Strategy, 20 German L.J. XX, Section C (2019).

13 Global Religious Diversity, supra note 1 (giving Singapore a religious diversity score of 9.0 out of 10, higher than anywhere else).

14 Key Indicators of Resident Population and Resident Households, Stat. Sing. (2015), https://www.singstat.gov.sg/-/media/files/publications/ghs/ghs2015/indicators.pdf.

15 Benjamin L. Berger, Law’s Religion: Religious Difference and the Claims of Constitutionalism 35 (2015).

16 Id. at 37.

17 Id. at 38.

18 Id. at 106.

19 William Twining, General Jurisprudence: Understanding Law from a Global Perspective 7 (2009).

20 Ethnic Integration Policy and SPR Quota, Housing & Dev. Board (Dec. 29, 2017), https://www.hdb.gov.sg/cs/infoweb/residential/buying-a-flat/resale/ethnic-integration-policy-and-spr-quota.

21 Societies Act 2014, c. 311 § 4 (Sing.).

22 Tristin Hopper, Canada: As Immigration Booms, Ethnic Enclaves Swell and Segregate, Nat’l Post (Feb. 11 2012, 4:31 PM), https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/canada-as-immigration-booms-ethnic-enclaves-swell-and-segregate.

23 U.S. Dep’t of State, Bureau of Democracy, H.R. and Lab., 2017 International Religious Freedom Report—Canada 3 (2017), https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Canada-2.pdf.

24 Donald v. Bd. of Educ. for Hamilton, [1945] O.R. 518 (Can.).

25 Nappalli Peter Williams v. Inst. of Tech. Educ., [1999] 2 S.L.R.(R.) 529 (Sing.).

26 Further judicial support for this can be found in R. v. Big M Drug Mart, [1985] 1. S.C.R. 295, para. 122 (Can.), where Judge Dickson found “that an emphasis on individual conscience and individual judgment also lies at the heart of [the Canadian] democratic political tradition. The ability of each citizen to make free and informed decisions is the absolute prerequisite for the legitimacy, acceptability, and efficacy of [the Canadian] system of self-government.”

27 Berger, supra note 15, at 66.

28 Donald, supra note 24, at 530.

29 Id.

30 Nappalli, supra note 25, at para. 22 (emphasis added).

31 Thomas v. Review Bd. of Ind. Emp’t Sec. Div., 391 N.E.2d 1127 (1979).

32 Nappalli, supra note 25, at para. 28.

33 Constitution of the Republic of Singapore Aug. 9, 1965, art. 16(3).

34 Nappalli, supra note 25, at para. 29.

35 Id. at para. 25.

36 N.Y. v. Sandstorm, 279 N.Y. 523, 535 (1939).

37 Id.

38 Jaclyn Neo, Definitional Imbroglios: A Critique of the Definition of Religion and Essential Practice Tests in Religious Freedom Adjudication, 16(2) Int’l J. Const. L. 574, 581 (2018).

39 Id. at 593.

40 Vijaya Kumar s/o Rajendran v. Attorney-General (2015), Sing. High Ct. 244, para. 19.

41 Vijaya, Sing. High Ct. 244, para. 21.

42 Syndicat Northcrest v. Amselem, [2004] 2 S.C.R. 551, 583 (Can.). See also the famous statement of the European Court of Human Rights in Kokkinakis v. Greece, App. No. 14307/88, paras. 31–32 (May 25, 1993), http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-57827, in which the Court said:

As enshrined in Article 9 (art. 9), freedom of thought, conscience and religion is one of the foundations of a “democratic society” within the meaning of the Convention. It is, in its religious dimension, one of the most vital elements that go to make up the identity of believers and their conception of life, but it is also a precious asset for atheists, agnostics, sceptics and the unconcerned. The pluralism indissociable from a democratic society, which has been dearly won over the centuries, depends on it. While religious freedom is primarily a matter of individual conscience, it also implies, inter alia, freedom to “manifest [one’s] religion.” Bearing witness in words and deeds is bound up with the existence of religious convictions.

43 Berger, supra note 15, at 69.

44 Neo, supra note 38, at 585.

45 Mathews Mathew, Understanding Religious Freedom in Singapore, 11(2) Rev. Faith & Int’l Aff. 28, 34 (2013).

46 See also Thio Li-Ann, Irreducible Plurality, Indivisible Unity: Singapore Relational Constitutionalism and Cultivating Harmony Through Constructing a Constitutional Civil Religion, 20 German L.J. XX, 6 (2019) (“Singapore’s constitutional experiment to manage ethnic and religious diversity … is constructed as a strategy to secure social harmony within the world’s most religiously diverse polity, through recognizing an irreducible plurality in ethnic and religious terms, while maintaining an indivisible unity through nurturing bonds of solidarity.”).

47 Pub. Prosecutor v. Amos Yee Pang Sang (2015), Sing. D. Ct. 215, para. 32.

48 R. v. Ahenakew (2009), 329 Sask. R. 140, para. 30 (Can. Sask. Prov. Ct.).

49 Penal Code 2008 c. 244 § 298 (Sing.).

50 Canada Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, c. C-46 § 319(1).

51 Amos Yee, supra note 47, at para. 32.

52 Ahenakew, supra note 48, at para. 39.

53 See, e.g., Jukier & Woehrling, supra note 5.

54 R. v. Keegstra, [1990] 3 S.C.R. 697, 773 (Can.).

55 Amos Yee, supra note 47, at para. 29.

56 Amos Yee, supra note 47, at para. 30.

57 Penal Code 2008 c. 244 § 298 (Sing.).

58 Amos Yee, supra note 47, at para. 81.

59 Veronica Louise B. Jereza, Many Identities, Many Communities: Religious Freedom Amidst Religious Diversity in Southeast Asia, 14(4) Rev. Faith & Int’l Aff. 89, 91 (2016).

60 Keegstra, supra note 54, at 776.

61 Id. at 778.

62 Id. at 777.

63 Pub. Prosecutor v. Koh Song Huat Benjamin & Another Case (2005), Sing. D. Ct. 272, para. 8.

64 Chee Siok Chin v. Minister for Home Affairs, [2006] 1 S.L.R.(R.) 582, para. 52 (Sing.).

65 Id (emphasis added).

66 Keegstra, supra note 54, at 701.

67 Berger, supra note 15, at 103.

68 Berger, supra note 15, at 103; see also Fred Dallmayr, Beyond Orientalism: Essays on Cross-Cultural Encounter (1996).

69 Berger, supra note 15, at 109.

70 Berger, supra note 15, at 110.

71 Neo, supra note 38, at 582.

72 Multani v. Comm’n scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys, [2006] 1 S.C.R. 256 (Can.).

73 Berger, supra note 15, at 122.

74 Berger, supra note 15, at 122.

75 Berger, supra note 15, at 122.

76 Donald, supra note 24, at 522 (emphasis added).

77 Michael Walzer, Politics and Passion: Towards a More Egalitarian Liberalism 153 (2004).

78 Roberto M. Unger, The Critical Legal Studies Movement: Another Time, A Greater Task 125 (2015).

79 Bruker v. Marcovitz, [2007] 3 S.C.R. 607 (Can.). The court sets out the background of what a “get” clause is in paragraphs 3–5:

A get is a Jewish divorce. Only a husband can give one. A wife cannot obtain a get unless her husband agrees to give it. Under Jewish law, he does so by “releasing” his wife from the marriage and authorizing her to remarry. The process takes place before three rabbis in what is known as a beth din, or rabbinical court. The husband must voluntarily give the get and the wife consent to receive it. When he does not, she is without religious recourse, retaining the status of his wife and unable to remarry until he decides, in his absolute discretion, to divorce her. She is known as an agunah or “chained wife.” Any children she would have on civil remarriage would be considered “illegitimate” under Jewish law.

80 Id. at 645–46.

81 Richard Moon, Bruker v. Marcovitz: Divorce and the Marriage of Law and Religion, 42 Sup. Ct. L. Rev. 37, 62 (2008).

82 Berger, supra note 15, at 109.

83 Berger, supra note 15, at 111.

84 Canada Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, c C-46.

85 See Reference re: Section 293 of the Criminal Code of Canada, 2011 CanLII 1588, paras. 337–467 (Can. B.C. S. C.).

86 Polygyny, Registry of Muslim Marriages (May 10, 2019), https://www.romm.gov.sg/about_marriage/romm_polygyny.asp.

87 Administration of Muslim Law Act 2009 c. 3 (Sing.) [hereinafter AMLA].

88 Id.; See also Our History, Registry of Muslim Marriages (Apr. 2, 2015), https://www.romm.gov.sg/about_romm/romm_profile.asp.

89 Gary F. Bell, Multiculturalism in Law is Legal Pluralism—Lessons from Indonesia, Singapore and Canada, Sing. J. Legal Stud. 315 (2006).

90 The story of the potential use of religious law, in particular shari’a-based norms, in arbitration in the Province of Ontario is a prominent example of the reaction to religious legal norms being encountered in Canada. See infra Section C.IV.

91 Berger, supra note 15, at 131.

92 Berger, supra note 15, at 111.

93 Berger, supra note 15, at 111.

94 Berger, supra note 15, at 316.

95 Bell, supra note 89, at 327.

96 See Bell, supra note 89, at 327.

97 Strengthening the Administration of Muslim Law Act, Ministry of Culture, Community & Youth (Mar. 15, 2019), https://www.mccy.gov.sg/news/Parliamentary/2017/Aug/Strengthening-the-AMLA.aspx.

98 Dispute Resolution in Family Law: Protecting Choice, Promoting Inclusion, Ministry of Att’y Gen. (Dec. 2004), https://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/about/pubs/boyd/executivesummary.html.

99 Paul May, The Controversy over Religious Arbitration Tribunals in Ontario: Unspoken Identity-Based Justifications?, 12(1) World Pol. Sci. 25, 28 (2016).

100 Province of Ontario Family Statute Law Amendment Act, S.O. 2006, c. 1 (Can.).

101 Colin Freeze & Karen Howlett, McGuinty Government Rules out Use of Sharia Law, Globe & Mail (Sept. 12, 2005), https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/mcguinty-government-rules-out-use-of-sharia-law/article18247682/.

102 Marion Boyd, Religion-Based Alternative Dispute Resolution: A Challenge to Multiculturalism, Pol’y Options 465, 471 (Nov. 28, 2007, 1:30PM), http://policyoptions.irpp.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/boyd.pdf.

103 Id. at 470.

104 Sara Song, Multiculturalism, Stan. Encyclopedia Philosophy (Aug. 12, 2016), https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/multiculturalism/#ClaMul. Examples of multicultural accommodation can include:

[E]xemptions from generally applicable law (e.g. religious exemptions), assistance to do things that the majority can do unassisted (e.g. multilingual ballots, funding for minority language schools and ethnic associations, affirmative action), representation of minorities in government bodies (e.g. ethnic quotas for party lists or legislative seats, minority-majority Congressional districts), recognition of traditional legal codes by the dominant legal system (e.g. granting jurisdiction over family law to religious courts), or limited self-government rights (e.g. qualified recognition of tribal sovereignty, federal arrangements recognizing the political autonomy of Québec).

105 Id. (discussing different versions of multiculturalism).

106 See Constitution of the Republic of Singapore Aug. 9, 1965; Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act, 1982, c 11 (U.K.).

107 Jocelyn Maclure & Charles Taylor, Secularism and Freedom of Conscience 23 (2011).

108 Id. at 24, 26.

109 Gerald Gaus, Liberalism, Stan. Encyclopedia Philosophy (Jan. 22, 2018), https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/liberalism/. The entry concludes by saying, in a nicely put way:

Given that liberalism fractures on so many issues—the nature of liberty, the place of property and democracy in a just society, the comprehensiveness and the reach of the liberal ideal—one might wonder whether there is any point in talking of ‘liberalism’ at all. It is not, though, an unimportant or trivial thing that all these theories take liberty to be the grounding political value. Radical democrats assert the overriding value of equality, communitarians maintain that the demands of belongingness trump freedom, and conservatives complain that the liberal devotion to freedom undermines traditional values and virtues and so social order itself. Intramural disputes aside, liberals join in rejecting these conceptions of political right.

110 Id.

111 Arif A. Jamal, Moving out of Kazanistan: Liberal Theory and Muslim Contexts, in Muslim Societies and the Challenge of Secularization-An Interdisciplinary Approach 83, 91 (Gabriele Marranci ed., 2010).

112 Michel Rosenfeld, Recasting Secularism as One Conception of the Good Among Many in a Post-Secular Constitutional Polity, in Constitutional Secularism in an Age of Religious Revival 79, 101 (Susanna Mancini & Michel Rosenfeld eds., 2014).

113 Id. at 102.

114 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act, 1982, c 11, § 27 (U.K.).

115 Id. at art. 27.

116 Section 27-Multicultural Heritage, Can. Dep’t of Just. (June 17, 2019), https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/csj-sjc/rfc-dlc/ccrf-ccdl/check/art27.html.

117 Mouvement laïque québécois v. Saguenay, [2015] 2 S.C.R. 3, para. 74 (Can.).

118 The literature is replete on this debate, but for an enduring collection of essays that discuss these positions, see Liberalism and Its Critics (Michael J. Sandel ed., 1984).

119 William A. Galston, Liberal Pluralism: The Implications of Value Pluralism for Political Theory and Practice 3 (2002).

120 Id. at 23 (emphasis added).

121 Walzer, supra note 77, at 60.

122 Walzer, supra note 77, at 56.

123 Michael Walzer, The Communitarian Critique of Liberalism, 18(1) Pol. Theory 6 (2018).

124 Rosenfeld, supra note 112, at 81.

125 See, e.g., Li-Ann Thio, Constitutionalism in Illiberal Polities, in The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Constitutional Law 133, 144 (Michel Rosenfeld & András Sajw, eds., 2012).

* Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore (NUS Law).

** NUS Law/Yale-NUS Double Degree Program, Class of 2021.

Keywords

A Tale of Two (Diverse) Countries: Religious Diversity in Canada and Singapore

  • Arif A. Jamal and Daniel Wong Sheng Jie

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