Accommodation

There has been much play in the media lately here in Québec over four separate but related topics. Those topics are the acceptance of religious practices, protection of the French language, control over immigration and immigrants, and the sovereignty of Québec.

A big reason these issues have come to the forefront is the hearings for reasonable accommodation. Early this year a small town here decided to write into their bylaws specific items prohibiting practices specific to the Muslim faith even though they have no Muslim population. This fueled a debate already bantered about during the election and the premier created a commission to look into the matter. The commission has been traveling across the province in order to hear what people have had to say about the issue. But the problem has been although it was meant as a litmus test, it has actually been a soapbox for those with strong at times racist views. I find that this commission was a big mistake. These are public meetings where anyone can say what they want with all the media watching looking for front page news. The problem is that there are likely many people that may be either indifferent or level-headed with only an inclination of animosity toward a those of a particular race, religion, or language. But when they read the next day in the paper that many people in Abitibi are fearful of Haitians, it could get the ball rolling in the wrong direction. I really think this is having a negative effect on the collective acceptance in this province. Precisely the opposite of what was the goal of the commission.

But there are other issues that have come tof this commission. There has been the increased talk in areas other than religious accommodation. Immigration has been a hot topic. The protection of the French language has been talked about with more frequency. And although it really hasn’t been talked about too much more, the sovereignty of Québec and the desire for it takes on a different meaning.

The concern for religious practices (particularly Islamic and Judaism) has grown over the past five years. It is cliched, but it really goes back to September 11th. Have you noticed how all the movie bad guys have gone from being German Nazis to Russian KGB to Muslim Extremist? So now there are many people out there who fear those of Islamic background. Although Muslims only make up 1.5% of the population of Québec with the vast majority of them located near Montréal, there is a paranoia among “pur laine” that Muslims are trying to take over the province. That same concern is expressed about Jews. But in their case people are concerned that they are taking all of their money. This collective fear and demonizing of Muslims must change.

Immigration and control of immigrants is something that kinda hits home with me. Yes, I’m an American and Americans are generally not included when people talk about immigrants as a group (Americans are usually talked about more specifically), but I’m still an immigrant and have had to jump through some of the same hoops put up to block immigrants from “less desirable” countries. Some of the talk has been a bit ludicrous. One suggestion was to close the borders for ten years in order to shelter and propogate the Québec population. The problem with that is the Québecois(e) already have a difficult time propogating to keep the population constant and that it does not account for those who emigrate from here. In the division where I work, less than 40% of the people are from Québec while the rest are immigrants from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, the US, or other provinces. What would happen if you scared off all those people?

The talk of protection of the French language is not something that worries me on it’s own. But when you tie it to immigration and zenophobia it takes on a different meaning. It puts fear behind it and makes you feel unwanted. I’m had a difficult time with this one. When I was living in France, I came across people who did not like me because I was American and did not speak French well. Unfortunately it played a bigger role in my enjoyment of life over there than it should have. And before moving here, I knew Québecois(e) who were anti-immigrant and a bit racist. They were not overt about it and it came through in minor comments here and there. So I was weary and hesitant to speak French incorrectly. But since moving here, it has been very rare to encounter people who see me negatively because I’m an American immigrant anglophone. So it disturbs me to hear anti-anglophone sentiment via the media. Is it something that’s there but people don’t show it? Will all this talk bring it out and make life unpleasant? That’s why even though the people who have been vocal can be seen as an anomoly, I’m concerned there are more who are not as vocal like those I knew before moving here.

And the recent proposal by the Parti Québécois that tied together the two previous issues. They want to establish a separate citizenship in Quebec based on ability to speak French. In my opinion it is only meant to ostracize a sector of the population and discourage non-francophones from moving here. Yes, you can live here without learning French just as there are people in Chicago who only speak Spanish or Polish. But French is SO dominant here on a provincial level that I think it is rare you will find someone without a working understanding in French.

The sovereignty issue is very similar to the language issue. Before moving here, I was all for a sovereign Québec. If the population wants it, they should have it. But as I’ve mentioned before, now that I live here I have a vested interest in it. It is a good thing if it is seen as protecting a culture, but when it is done to prevent or shun others, that is not right. The proposal in the previous paragraph came from the sovereignist party. So when it is tied with these talks of protection of the French language, immigration controls, and acceptance of religious practices, I get concerned that it is for the wrong reasons. They say that anglophones will be accepted, I can’t say I really believe them. Maybe it’s true that once sovereignty is declared, these fears will be allayed. But I’m not so sure. And another aspect that concerns me is the government that will take over. The Parti Quebecois who are the party pushing for sovereignty have made some decisions the last time they were in office that really cost the province. First they sent older doctors into early retirement in order to save money, but now we have a severe shortage of doctors. Then they enacted, without approval of the people, a poorly constructed agglomeration of major cities and their surrounding suburbs. One that has cost much more than it had saved. Our property tax bill almost doubled. So I really question what they would do should Québec became sovereign.

And all of this is damaging Québec’s image. It was recently reported that the population had it’s first decline since the last referendum. And that should not be surprising. Those watching from outside via the media are seeing a zenophobic place that does not want immigrants, non-Christians, and anglophones. I know if this were happening when we were considering moving here, it would have been less likely we’d move here. But now that we are here, we know how the people are (at least I think so). I definitely don’t like where the conversation is going. I’d be much more at ease if these discussions would stop. Continued rhetoric about new francophone laws or how to control or prevent immigrants coming into the province will only continue to fuel zenophobia. It really has either got to stop or that they actually go ahead with their ill-conceived proposals. If it’s the latter I really worry they will lose much of what is great about this place.

By no means is what is written above exhaustive, completely accurate, and inclusive of many of the nuances of both the debate and my opinion. But it’s a start and it’s a blog post in any case.

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~ by Frank on November 16, 2007.

9 Responses to “Accommodation”

  1. […] You can read the rest of this blog post by going to the original source, here […]

  2. *gets up on a chair and cheers*

    Exactly.

    And it’s why I’m outta here at the first chance I get – which may, indeed, be very soon if I play my cards right.

  3. wow.

    First comment that I’ve posted all week that actually went through – hooray!

  4. Excellent post, Frank. I was extremely heartened to learn of Caroline Allard’s open letter to the Commission, which I wrote about on Metroblogging and which has received 3364 signatures to date. Having said this, I am disappointed that the number isn’t higher, and I do wonder how pervasive anti-immigrant sentiment in Quebec actually is right now.

    Thomas Friedman recently wrote that “democracy is not about majority rule; it is about minority rights,” and though I disagree with some of his views about globalization, I think he is absolutely right about the real value of diversity. If you get a chance, the piece is definitely worth a read.

    BTW, I’m glad that you’ve found your “voice,” unslaked. I also owe you an email, which I promise to get to soon.

  5. What bothers me with that commission is that we only see the worst part of it on tv. My impression is there is a lot of persons on welfare and old persons, having nothing better to do, going there and speaking on the behalf of everybody, while there are a bunch of people with more “thinked” opinion who won’t go to the commission (but should) because they don’t want the attention and don’t feel the need to go tell the world. That’s how ideas like the one of the PQ goes through the process and is never blocked, even though it is not logical… Don’t worry, Frank! There are nice and bad people everywhere.

  6. unslaked: That’s precisely what worries me about this discussion. It’s one thing if the xenophobia is real. But if it’s only a selected few and/or talked about for political gain, then it will go far in damaging the diversity of this place. I also find you position interesting because your background straddles many of the fences in this debate.

    Vila: Yes, I had hope to link to numerous other opinions on the subject including your own. I’m wondering how different the commission hearings will be here in Montreal since it’s really THE diverse part of the province.

    Sofy: That’s really what has those of us new to here are wondering. The overwhelming majority of people I know seem tolerant and open. But is it because they live in or near diverse Montréal or is it because this topic hasn’t come up in conversation? So in addition to xenophobia creeping into the general psyche, I think paranoia is now creeping into the overall psyche of immigrants. These commission hearings and their play in the news can’t end soon enough.

  7. My mother in law has the theory that it’s all a cunning plan by Charest. The hearings show everybody how all those ADQ and PQ voters are raging racist lunatics and the Liberals will win the next elections. we’ll see if she is right.

  8. Yeah, the ADQ and PQ really seem to have taken and run with it. Some have suggested that the PQ’s citizenship suggestion was a red herring just to bring the separtists back into their camp. But others have said the ADQ did so well in the last election because they tapped into this “fear”. Hopefully they’ll see that they have just been political opportunists.

  9. Quite, I imagine. Already, protests are being planned by a variety of groups, and all the speaking slots were booked weeks in advance. I have no doubt that both the ADQ and the PQ will make political hay of the whole affair, and that when all is said and done we won’t be any closer to genuine understanding. I’d be happy to be wrong, though.

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