I didn’t make it to the Friday panels because of schoolwork, but I was able to catch the talks on Saturday (November 20). The first panel was called “The Theoretical and Analytical Challenges of Identity Politics,” with speakers Monique Deveaux, Cécile Laborde, and Beverley Baines; the second panel was entitled “’Managing’ Religious and Ethnocultural Diversity: Looking Beyond Existing Models,” and included Sirma Bilge, Sedef Arat-Koç, and François Rocher. Because many of the topics overlapped, I’ll look at the main themes that arose, rather than at each speech individually.
One issue that came up on the first panel was the difference between formal equality (everyone being treated in exactly the same way) and substantive equality (a more equity-focused concept, in which it is recognized that identical treatment doesn’t necessarily have egalitarian results.) The argument here is that, while Bill 94 claims to treat everyone equally by requiring all people to show their faces, the result will have disproportionately negative effects on women for whom showing their faces in certain situations is just not an option; Bill 94, in other words, represents formal equality but will result in substantive inequality.
Deveaux and Baines both referred to an article that Baines wrote about Bill 94 (available here), where she discusses the possibilities for constitutional challenges if Bill 94 passes (which everyone seems to expect will happen), and argues that while there’s an obvious way to challenge the bill based on issues of religious freedom, it may also be possible to challenge it based on principles of sexual equality, since the Canadian Supreme Court has a history of prioritizing substantive equality over formal equality. At the same time, Baines cautioned that the Supreme Court has a much less impressive history of being able to consider intersecting forms of oppression, and that it’s hard to say where a challenge to the bill would go.