I guess a report by a sociologist (historian) and philosopher cannot trump political posturing and appeal to Quebec nationalism based on a type of French culture that for many is often conservative in social terms and not welcoming of immigrants--not that the situation is that different outside of Quebec. Taylor and Bouchard wanted to remove religious symbols from the main institutions to indicate neutrality and not offend minorities of differing faiths. At the same time unlike France they would be willing to have people as individuals wear symbols such as the burqa, crucifixes, turbans etc. The direction of the report seemed to be reasonable accomodation to me but obviously it does not fit with the political atmosphere in Quebec. The whole process seems to have been mainly designed to eliminate the issue from the last provincial election. No doubt it did that!
Diversity report receives cool reception TheStar.com - Canada - Diversity report receives cool reception
CLEMENT ALLARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS
MONTREAL–The political temperature over Quebec's identity is so scalding, the provincial government didn't bother waiting for the official unveiling of a report on religion and minorities before trashing its most symbolic recommendation – that the crucifix be removed from the National Assembly.
The reaction in Quebec City belied the main conclusion of the Bouchard-Taylor commission on the debate over "reasonable accommodations" of minorities – that the identity crisis in Quebec is a matter of perception, not reality.
The commissioners, McGill University philosopher Charles Taylor and Université du Québec sociologist Gérard Bouchard, conducted a study of subjects from secularism in public places, to racial discrimination, to the insecurities of Quebec's French-Canadian population.
"There is no crisis ... one could even say we are far from it, despite the impressions people might have," said Bouchard, adding "the only crisis is one of perception ... we came close to skidding out of control, I think all Quebecers should draw a lesson from it."
But in politics, perception is reality, so angst over questions of identity was evident yesterday.
Premier Jean Charest tabled a motion to preserve the National Assembly's crucifix before Bouchard and Taylor had even presented their report at a news conference; it was unanimously adopted.
"We won't rewrite history ... The church has played a major role in who we are today as a society, the crucifix is more than a religious symbol," Charest told a news conference in Quebec City.
The minority Liberals proposed having new arrivals sign undertakings to "adhere to our society's common values," summarized as gender equality, Charter rights and the defence of the French language.
Meanwhile, Quebec's opposition parties, which have been trying to one-up each other to appropriate the high ground as defenders of the Quebec identity, piled on.
Action démocratique du Québec Leader Mario Dumont, whose 2006 political revival was rooted in exploiting public discontent over minority accommodations, said Quebec should adopt its own "founding document" that spells out "Quebec's cultural heritage."
"Interculturalism is not a synonym for getting down on our knees," he said.
Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois said the report misses the point that "there exists a malaise over Quebec's identity that we have to deal with."
The politicking and the fragile state of Quebec's minority government mean the report's recommendations are likely destined for the scrap heap, said Jack Jedwab, of the Montreal-based Association for Canadian Studies.
"I wonder, quite frankly, if the political will exists to turn any of this into meaningful policies. It's a hard sell to try and de-politicize this, especially when you consider Mr. Dumont sees it as his political advantage to make it as political as possible," Jedwab said.
The political reaction was in contrast to those of minority groups.
"I think this could be an important step forward, it sends a signal not just to Quebec and Canada but to the world that we are serious about achieving social peace," said Salam Elmenyawi, an imam who runs the Muslim Council of Montreal.
The 300-page report was the culmination of a year-long exercise that featured public hearings where participants' contributions ranged from the contemplative to the outright racist.
"Some things were said that I didn't terribly like ... but there are few societies in the world where people can say some very hard things and then listen to other people say even harder things in return," Taylor said.
"People genuinely listened to one another, and I think we've evolved as a society."
The report calls for the establishment of "open secularism" in provincial institutions, a more robust "intercultural" dialogue, and a campaign to promote cultural diversity.
The authors propose that public officials like judges and police officers be forbidden from wearing religious symbols, and recommend that municipal councils shelve the traditional pre-session prayer.
Other state employees, like teachers, shouldn't be prevented from wearing hijabs, or kipas, or crucifixes, the authors say.
The report also makes "urgent" recommendations to address immediate concerns like easing unemployment among immigrants.
But even if the crisis has been overblown, there is work to be done to improve relations.
The report calls on Quebecers of French-Canadian origin to demonstrate more openness, and suggests that immigrants also must shoulder their responsibilities when it comes to integration in a French-speaking, secular society.
The commission carefully examined 21 headline-grabbing incidents, including a YWCA's decision to frost its windows so as not to offend a neighbouring Jewish school, a clinic's willingness to offer women-only pre-natal courses to accommodate Muslim women, and a directive from the vehicle licensing board to provide female examiners for Muslim women. The report says only six of the cases were faithfully reported in the press accounts.
Perhaps the most infamous event, involving a sugar shack where patrons were allegedly booted out to make room for a group of praying Muslims, was revealed to be fiction.