Quebec’s day of reckoning

RHÉAL SÉGUIN

From Friday’s Globe and Mail

May 22, 2008 at 10:16 PM EDT

QUEBEC — Quebec Premier Jean Charest rejected a key symbolic recommendation of the much-anticipated report on the integration of immigrants Thursday, a sign that the accommodation of religious minorities is still a matter of contention in the province.

The recommendation called for the removal of the crucifix from the National Assembly in a bid to reassure religious minorities of the secularity of the legislature.

Mr. Charest immediately tabled a motion reaffirming Quebec’s attachment to its Catholic heritage and pledging to keep the crucifix that hangs over the chair of the legislature’s president. The motion was adopted unanimously.

“We can’t erase our history,” Mr. Charest said. “The motion speaks to our history and the strong presence of the Catholic Church.”

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Muslim women pass a church in Montreal Thursday after Gérard Bouchard and Charles Taylor delivered their report on religious minorities. (Ian Barrett for The Globe and Mail)

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The 300-page report by sociologist Gérard Bouchard and philosopher Charles Taylor, who held weeks of hearings across the province, calls for a common-sense approach to dealing with religious minorities, saying the courts should be avoided in favour of simply talking and finding compromises.

The report makes 37 “moderate” proposals to the Quebec government aimed at preserving secularism while fostering harmony and “interculturalism.”

It calls for judges, police officers and Crown prosecutors to be banned from wearing religious symbols and for municipal councils to abandon prayers at public meetings.

Immigrants should be encouraged to settle outside of Montreal and should receive better language training to integrate into society.

The report also recommends several urgent measures, such as dealing with high unemployment among newcomers and doing more to recognize foreign credentials.

However, the report states that the ultimate responsibility for societal peace must come from “French-Canadian Quebeckers.”

“The identity inherited from the French-Canadian past is perfectly legitimate, but it can no longer occupy alone the Quebec identity,” the authors state.

While the French language and culture must be accepted as a core value by immigrants, at the same time “French-Canadian Quebeckers” must embrace other identities “in order to prevent fragmentation and exclusion,” the report says.

It rejects the idea that there is chaos over minority rights in Quebec, stating it is no more a racist society than any other jurisdiction in Canada or the Western world. Last year’s “turmoil,” the authors warn, came close to “skidding out of control,” but didn’t.

What happened instead was that Quebec’s French language and culture, because of its minority position in North America, created a “crisis of perception” and that gave “the impression of a face-off between two minority groups.”

The report angered the Action Démocratique du Québec as well as the Parti Québécois. Both, along with the news media, were partly blamed for manufacturing “the accommodation crisis.”

ADQ Leader Mario Dumont – whose strong denunciation of the government’s “submission” to religious minority demands unleashed the debate that prompted Mr. Charest to create the Bouchard-Taylor commission in February of 2007 – condemned the report for not defining Quebec’s identity and presenting it as the core culture to which all immigrants should adhere. He said Quebec is an open society, but that doesn’t mean it should cave in to minority demands.

Mr. Dumont accused the commission of failing to include that the Canadian Constitution was imposed on Quebec in 1982 and that as a nation it deserved proper legal protection.

“We want the Constitution to be formally amended so that it recognizes the Québécois nation,” he told the National Assembly.

Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois also criticized the commission’s failure to address the “identity malaise” that exists in Quebec and accused the Premier of deliberately avoiding the issue.

“The identity question demands more than half-measures and must go beyond symbols. It demands a firm commitment … that should be written in our laws,” Ms. Marois said in the National Assembly, adding that the only real solution to the identity debate would be for Quebec to become a sovereign country.

Mr. Charest refused an ADQ proposal to adopt a Quebec constitution that would outline Quebec’s fundamental values, including the predominance of the French language and the equality of men and women.

Instead, the Premier proposed a number of measures that embrace these “core values” as well as a proposal to have newcomers sign a declaration that would commit them to adhering to Quebec’s common values.

“As Premier of Quebec, I assume the supreme responsibility to protect and perpetuate the French language. Newcomers and members of cultural communities must speak it,” Mr. Charest said.

He said his government will properly examine the report before unveiling an “action plan” that will seek to respond to the so-called accommodation crisis in the province.

With a report from The Canadian Press

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080522.wquebec23/BNStory/Front/home

Briefs Submitted (Mostly in French)

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In Quebec, equality for minorities just talk

May 25, 2008 04:30 AM
Haroon Siddiqui

Quebecers have gone bonkers over immigrants and religious minorities for no good reason.

That’s the conclusion of the commission on reasonable accommodation. But co-chairs Gérard Bouchard and Charles Taylor say so diplomatically, while telling Quebecers what they need to hear.

Calm down, there’s no crisis, only a perception of one, fed by sensationalist media. Minorities are not making unreasonable demands. Hijab, halal, kosher, kippas and kirpans are no big deal.

Seeing the religious certainty of some Sikhs, Muslims and Jews, you fear “the return of religion.” But what you see is “in no way comparable” to the Catholic church’s power in the past.

Immigrants are good for Quebec. They are more educated than you. Stop discriminating against them, especially in the workplace.

But Taylor and Bouchard make two highly questionable recommendations. Both spring from their rejection of Canadian multiculturalism in favour of Quebec’s politically correct interculturalisme. They don’t define the latter any better than the Quebec government ever has, except as a cover for the supremacy of the French.

Most Canadians support the primacy of the language in Quebec. Many reluctantly accept Quebec as a distinct society. The House of Commons even voted to designate Quebec “a nation” (Stephen Harper’s gimmicky formulation).

Now, Taylor and Bouchard talk of the primacy of “the majority ethnocultural group, i.e., Quebecers of French-Canadian origin.” Ironic, given that many complained to the commission about the ethnocentricism of minorities.

Inwardness is bad for minorities but good for the majority.

Such contortions were inevitable, given Quebec’s refusal to accept the central Canadian reality that all citizens, and cultures, are equal.

In not confronting that reality, Bouchard and Taylor trip into their second dubious conclusion.

The president and vice-president of the National Assembly, as well as provincial judges, Crown prosecutors, police officers and prison guards, should be barred from wearing religious signs and clothing on the job. But not teachers, health professionals and students.

This is a sop to two powerful groups: the Bloc Québécois and the Council on the Status of Women. Both had told the commission that the “neutrality of the state” required it to ban religious symbols.

So, Taylor and Bouchard suggest removing the crucifix from the National Assembly and ending prayers at city councils, but add:

“We acknowledge that certain duties may imply a duty of self-restraint.” Thus, the aforementioned officers “could be required to relinquish their right to display their religious affiliation in order to preserve the appearance of impartiality that their function requires.”

Thus, those wearing the kippa, the hijab or the turban shall forever be barred from those jobs.

This is so absurd that it runs counter to the commissioners’ own persuasive assertions elsewhere: “The right to freedom of religion includes the right to show it.

“By prohibiting the wearing in the public service of any religious sign, we would prevent the faithful from certain religions from engaging in careers in the public service, which would contravene freedom of conscience and religion, and would largely complicate the task of building a public service that reflects Quebec’s population. …”

The Taylor-Bouchard justification for such discrimination is unsustainable in the court of logic or law. It’s hard to imagine that these two intellectual giants would not see that. We can only conclude that they are trying to square the circle, dragging Quebecers into accepting pluralism (and the equality that it entails), while keeping interculturalism (with its premise of the dominance of the majority).

That Bouchard and Taylor could not hide the contradictions at the heart of the Quebec enterprise was exposed when Jean Charest led the National Assembly in unanimously voting to keep the crucifix. Expect municipalities to continue with their prayers. Expect the opposition to continue playing identity politics.

Strip away the sophistry and what we see is not pretty: Old-stock Quebecers have abandoned Catholicism and swear by secularism, but they refuse to give up their quasi-religious tribalism and its dogma of making others subservient to it.

hsiddiq@thestar.ca

http://www.thestar.com/comment/article/429454 

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