A Quebec commission composed of Gerard Bouchard (a sociologist and Lucien’s brother) and Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor, will presently begin public hearings on how Quebecers should accomodate immigrants in terms of religious and cultural differences. The issue is widely referred to as “reasonable accomodation.” The words encompass every day gestures that help integrate immigrant customs and religious practices into the broader Quebec society.
The issue is complicated by the fact that French Quebecers are insecure about their identity and this is fuelling a backlash against minorities. These tensions popped up in the village of Herouxville which adopted a code of conduct that discourages special treatment of newcomers of different religious or enthnic backgrounds. A new electoral law in Quebec obliges everyone who casts a vote to show his or her face. Where does this leave Muslim women who wear full-face veils? The Canadian Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that a Quebec law could not bar a Montreal student from wearing his dagger-like kirpan to school.
Just this morning The Gazette carried a front page story about a small group of Mennonites near Granby who plan to move to Ontario or New Brunswick. Although they have made a significant contribution to their community after learning French, they are reluctantly moving because they are being forced to enroll their children in government-approved schools where they object to the teaching of evolution, the acceptance of gays and lesbians and low “morality standards. In Ontario they will be able to home-school their children and they will not be obliged to follow the provincial curriculum.
In the last provincial election Mario Dumont and the ADQ supported a restrictive accomodation of immigrants and they parlayed this policy into winning a number of seats. There is no question this whole issue will be front and centre in the next provincial election.
How does one balance respecting the ethos of the majority with accomodating the cultural and religious practices of the minority? Could this just lead to more ethnic ghettoes?
Should special consideration be given in Quebec to the fragility of the French identity because it is swamped by a continent of anglophones?