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Charter must be changed, Quebec panel told



Rights and freedoms are not playing well in some parts of Quebec right now.


Charter must be changed, Quebec panel told
Canadian Press
October 24, 2007 at 6:09 PM EDT

TROIS-RIVIERES, Que. — A town councillor in the middle of Quebec's furor over integrating immigrants laid out a stark choice Wednesday for Canadians who believe new arrivals are destroying traditional culture.

Herouxville Coun. André Drouin said the Charter of Rights and Freedoms must be changed to drop protections for religion, or provinces like Quebec should separate and adopt their own rules.

Either way, the issue must be wrestled from the courts and Canada must stop adapting to religious practices of new arrivals, Mr. Drouin said.

“If there is some kind of religious accommodation to be asked or to be given, don't ask us, ask your God,†Mr. Drouin said.

Mr. Drouin and the small town's webmaster, Bernard Thompson, presented their point of view at provincial government hearings into the practice of accommodating cultural minorities.

Herouxville, population 1,300, is the town that adopted a code of conduct for immigrants earlier this year — even though scant few minorities settle in the area halfway between Quebec City and Montreal.

Mr. Drouin presented a memo to the commission that began with a list of names he and townsfolk have been called since they made the declaration last winter.

Morons, fascists, idiots, mentally deficient, intolerant and retarded were just a small sample of the epithets.

Undaunted, Mr. Drouin said accommodation must end.

Whether it's allowing women to wear veils while voting or providing kosher meals in public hospitals, “we demand that the practice of Canadian courts of accommodating religion in Canada and Quebec cease immediately,†Mr. Drouin told the commission.

“The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a tool to destroy our country.â€

While Herouxville has been ostracized in some quarters, it was also clear Wednesday that the town's residents are not alone in thinking the protection of personal and religious rights is a threat to Quebec's francophone, secular culture.

About 100 people in the half-filled hall gave Mr. Drouin and Mr. Thompson, both engineers, a warm ovation at the end of their presentation.

Many other presenters, including academics, feminists and Quebec nationalists, mentioned the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as enabling religion to creep into secular society.

For many, Quebec independence was the catch-all solution.

Others complained of the dismissive way the debate has been portrayed in the big city of Montreal. The debate has raged with particular furor in rural areas.

“There is a profound disdain in Montreal for people who are reflecting on this,†said Sacki Carignan Deschamps, a sociologist and teacher.

“I'm really bothered by the profound condescension of urban people.â€

Others decried the condescension toward immigrants of Herouxville's code, which declares atrocities like stoning, burning with acid, and genital mutilation as contrary to Quebec values.

“It's another way to say, ‘We don't want Muslims,'†said Muslim woman Asmaa Ibnouzahir, a Montrealer.

“For them, all Muslims are related to stoning, genital mutilation. They're saying, ‘We want people to come to Herouxville who look like us, who don't look different, because we don't like differences.'â€

The distinguished academics in charge of the hearing also challenged the Herouxville residents on their declaration.

“We're pretty far from stoning here,†commission head Gerard Bouchard said flatly.

Mr. Drouin replied that global warming will bring a flood of immigrants to Canada, including many from Muslim countries.

“It doesn't matter in what country the stoning is taking place,†Mr. Drouin told Bouchard and co-chair Charles Taylor.

“Stoning takes place, and some of those people will want to come here. It's important to be preventative.â€

Premier Jean Charest called the provincial commission to study the issue of reasonable accommodation after Herouxville made global headlines with the provocative move.

Herouxville's code of conduct also included a declaration of the right to dance and celebrate Christmas.

Mr. Bouchard, a historian and sociologist, and Mr. Taylor, a philosopher, debated the issue with Mr. Drouin and Mr. Thompson for 35 minutes, ignoring the strict 15-minute limit placed on other presenters.

“Isn't it a bit offensive, the point of view you've taken, regarding Muslims, for example?†Mr. Bouchard suggested.

Mr. Drouin answered that none of their documents names Muslims.

But Islam is clearly the main inspiration for the code. It condemns medieval forms of punishment used in some conservative Muslim societies. It also brushes aside the need for accommodating veils and dismisses dietary requirements like prohibitions on pork or certain seafood.

Mr. Drouin said he's received hundreds of e-mails of support since his town made its stand, but he admitted other municipalities and organizations have been slow to publicly back him.

“They're afraid of being called morons and imbeciles,†Mr. Drouin said.

Judging by the list of insults listed in the Herouxville memo, Mr. Bouchard joked that Mr. Drouin appeared to be immunized against that fear.
i never knew that burning women at the stake was such a big issue in quebec that they actually had to create such a document.

it's too bad we don't have canadian laws that prevent these types horrors.
The Hérouxville code of conduct is a rather clumsy document. But it certainly says something about the general feeling of discomfort that reasonnable accomodations have caused in Québec.
There's alot of discomfort happening in Quebec these days.
True, although it is nothing compared to the level of discomfort that prevailed circa 1970. It should have a happy ending.
The Hérouxville code of conduct is a rather clumsy document. But it certainly says something about the general feeling of discomfort that reasonnable accomodations have caused in Québec.

what kind of accommodations?
Didn't you hear about reasonnable accomodations ?

What is today referred to as reasonnable accomodations are usually religious accomodations granted to minorities. Now, a number of anecdotic events over the past year and a half (approximatively) have sparkled a debate on this issue.

Among such events, the most significative were : the Supreme Court's jugement on the right to wear a kirpan at school, the Parc Avenue YMCA scandal, the veiled voting issue, the veiled tae kwon do issue, the eviction of males by muslim women from pre-natal courses held in public pools, the refusal, but some minorities, to be treated by male and/or female doctors, eviction of a man from the Jewish General Hospital for eating a hamb sandwich at the cafeteria etc...

These add up to other older events that have marked the public opinion in Québec in recent years. A particularly marking one was the suing, by muslim students, of Polytechnical School for refusing to dedicate a room for prayer.

These are all rather isolated, anecdotic events, as I said. However, they have been judged schocking by a majority of people in Québec. The phenomenon has, on the other hand, been amplified by the media, and used as a demagogic argument by populist ADQ leader Mario Dumont.
As a non-white person who has spent a lot of time in small town Quebec, I can say this doesn't surprise me at all. People are very racist out there.
Globe Editorial

Hérouxville's dangerous notions

October 27, 2007
Globe and Mail Editorial

The good people of Hérouxville, Que., are feeling triumphant, and why shouldn't they? What their town council started last winter with its provocative code of conduct for minorities - no stoning or burning of women - helped reshape provincial politics in Quebec. Party leaders in Ottawa, one of whom is the Prime Minister of Canada, have pandered to them.

Intolerance is in the air. For the two nationalist parties in Quebec, no defence of the francophone identity can be too extreme. At special hearings on the "reasonable accommodation" of minorities in Quebec, members of the public have vented about the Muslims and the Jews. In Ottawa, the issue of Muslim women wearing face veils when they vote made it into the Throne Speech. Yesterday, the Harper government introduced a bill to force such women to show their faces at the polls.

The intolerance needs to be answered. Canada is not a country of them and us. It has a strong record of integration and social peace. Hérouxville is not defending Canadian traditions but attacking them.

A commission set up by Premier Jean Charest during the last election - to protect him from the passions set swirling by Hérouxville - is now travelling the province. Unavoidably, it has given a platform to intolerance. One speaker this week suggested Muslims be forced to live in outlying regions rather than be permitted to "take possession" of Montreal neighbourhoods. Hérouxville councillor André Drouin warned that immigrants were about to flood into Quebec because of global warming. He predicted that women will be stoned unless Quebec acts.

Be like us and we will accept you as our equals. That is the tenor of Hérouxville's 14-page written submission to the commission. While the authors claim that being like them is to "interiorize" religious observance, they have no problem with the Christian cross at the heart of the Quebec flag or with public celebrations of Christmas; those are part of the province's "patrimony." But little from other religions is similarly protected. No employee is entitled to a leave of absence for religious reasons; the implication is that non-Christian holidays can't be taken as a day off. Even vegetarianism is against the code. This is the bullying of the insular and narrow.

Being like us means asking for no religious accommodations. The paper says Christians were allowed by God to work on their Sabbath and make other compromises; and so, presumably, should non-Christians. "After many years of observance of God's order to fast during Lent, we had to give up this religious practice to have sufficient energy to work and study hard. Then again, by the grace of God and his sense of accommodations, we were able to avoid the promise of roasting in Hell after death." These are the strange verities that political leaders now wish to exploit.

Not every accommodation makes sense for Canada. The vulnerable need to be protected. Sikh children should not be exempted from bicycle helmet laws so they can wear turbans. Genital mutilation is always criminally wrong. Ontario was right to reject the creation of more publicly funded faith-based schools and the use of sharia law in family arbitration hearings. Government policy should not accentuate differences. An increasingly diverse Canada needs common rallying points.

But at its core, Canada is accommodating. An office building without a wheelchair ramp by its nature bars the disabled. The law forces it to build the ramp as an accommodation. Women until recently could not protect their jobs when they went off to have babies; the law now forces employers to make that accommodation. Those who practise religions whose Sabbath is not on Sunday are now entitled to a day off on their Sabbath, if taking it is not an undue hardship for their employer. All these accommodations have the same purpose: to make room for all to participate fully in society.

In any event, the debate has gone beyond accommodation to basic rights. The Quebec Council on the Status of Women wants individuals barred from wearing religious symbols in the workplace. Does a Sikh man wearing a turban somehow violate the rights of others? This is an insult to the country's pluralistic tradition, itself rooted in the accommodation made between English and French at the nation's founding.

Hérouxville is old Quebec, old Canada. The town of 1,300 people is almost entirely homogeneous. It has no mosque, no synagogue. When Mario Dumont, leader of the Action Démocratique du Québec, gave a cheer for Hérouxville, his party leapt from five seats to 41. The Parti Québécois, led at the time by the urbane André Boisclair, fell to third place. Now urbane is gone; the village is all. The PQ under Pauline Marois made a breathtaking attempt last week to steal back the identity issue from the ADQ. It proposed a citizenship bill that would take away political rights from anyone who comes to Quebec from outside the province, or from abroad, and who doesn't speak French well. In Ottawa, when the Chief Electoral Officer declared that the federal voting law did not require women to take off their veils during three recent by-elections in Quebec, he was attacked by the four major federal party leaders, who willfully distorted the Elections Act. Shamefully, they fed the dangerous notion of them and us.

Hérouxville's intolerance, if it were to spread, would lead Canada to the very problem that the town fears - the ghetto-like suburbs and riots of France. Canada may never change Hérouxville, but Hérouxville must not be permitted to change Canada.
But at its core, Canada is accommodating. An office building without a wheelchair ramp by its nature bars the disabled. The law forces it to build the ramp as an accommodation.


they compared religion to disability! there is a huge difference between physical disorder and personal belief.

the problem with that view happening in quebec is that it is one sided, it favors one religion over another. no religion should be favored or funded through public tax money. i have no problem with accommodations as long as they are within reason and don't interfere with the rights of others or grant special rights that others aren't allowed to have.

compare accommodations of the disabled to accommodations for the religious if you want but all you are saying is that religion is a disability and i have a serious problem with that; i'm not going to share my blue parking spot. :p
I believe that religion and disabilities are compared here because the legal concept of reasonable accommodation was at first created to answer issues pertaining to people with disabilities.
I believe that religion and disabilities are compared here because the legal concept of reasonable accommodation was at first created to answer issues pertaining to people with disabilities.

there's that good old slippery slope again, putting logic in a wheelchair.
As a non-white person who has spent a lot of time in small town Quebec, I can say this doesn't surprise me at all. People are very racist out there.

How is asking for a limit to religious accomodations being racist?

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. To claim that certain races are born with the need to veil their women and keep them submissive is racist and counter to the belief that all humans are born equal.

I am sorry to hear that you experienced racism in rural Quebec, but the argument against accomodating religious extremists can be made from a non-racist perspective.

Us Canadians need to stand up for our Western culture and values and not be prostitutes to "cultural diversity".

If you choose to perform perverse cultural traditions that are against the values of Canadians, then we will not accomodate you.
However, physical disabilities are different. People can take off the veil, people in wheelchairs can't just get up and walk.