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Post-WWII to present

As elsewhere in the world, the post-World War II era saw a halting, gradual, but eventually dominant change in the hitherto prevailing religious and socio-cultural patterns in Canada. In 1949, the anti-Japanese policy that had seen their internment during the war and partial deportation thereafter, was finally halted; in 1951, previously proscribed restrictions on the practice of Indigenous religious ways, such as the Potlatch, began to be lifted. The 1960s saw the beginning of the end of the residential school system for Indigenous children (the last school closed only in 1996). Nevertheless, perhaps most significantly, Canadian immigration policy in the early 1960s changed radically: rather than selecting immigrants effectively by racial and origin criteria, the new laws and policies introduced an immigration points system in 1967, one, which used predominantly educational, linguistic, and skills criteria, and certainly not cultural origin, race, or religion, to decide who would be admitted. The result was, from a religious identity perspective, a rapid influx of non-Europeans and non-Christians, not to mention an increased diversity of Christians.

The 1960s witnessed what came to be called the Quiet Revolution in Quebec. Essentially, it dismantled the institutional power and place of the Roman Catholic Church in what became increasingly called Québécois society; and it brought about the much greater shift of the French-Canadian identity to a territorial and political emphasis, something that manifested itself in the later 20th century Quebec sovereignty movement, but also in the rapid and serious decline in the importance of (Roman Catholic) religion in the lives of the average Quebecer. A parallel secularization was happening in most of the rest of Canada at the same time. In response to these developments, the federal government moved toward greater recognition of the ’French fact’ in Canada, a process that eventuated in the declaration of official (federal) bilingualism and, perhaps somewhat ironically, in the promulgation of Canada’s first official multiculturalism policy under Pierre Trudeau in 1971. This bilingual and multicultural orientation was then further developed and entrenched in the 1982 Constitution Act with its Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The result has been a broad valorization, not just politically but also culturally, of Canada as a culturally and, by that token, a religiously diversified country, the nationally slightly different view in Quebec notwithstanding.

The 2011 National Household Survey (which replaced the federal census of that year) showed Christians of all stripes down to 67% of the population. The old ’shadow establishment’ had been particularly hard hit: the 39% Roman Catholics and 14% mainline Protestant figures are a far cry from the over 90% that this group claimed at the end of the 19th century. Non-Christians now constituted a little over 8% (Muslims about 3%, Hindus & Sikhs about 1.5% each, Jews and Buddhists about 1% each) of the population; but the most significant growth has been among those who declare having no religion, at that time constituting almost ¼ of the population.

D 20 June 2017    APeter Beyer

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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