Immigrants source of enrichment to Quebec: group
Published Tuesday, September 11, 2007 6:34PM EDT
A collective of university professionals has told a Quebec panel studying reasonable accommodation for immigrants that the group is a source of enrichment to the province.
However, the group of 12 is also asking that rules concerning accommodation be made clear.
The comments come on the second day of hearings launched in an effort to determine how immigrants should be integrated into Quebec society.
In a brief presented to the commission, the university professionals said there should be no confusion between uneasiness about practices to accommodate immigrants and overall uneasiness about immigration.
The first public meeting on the issue was held Monday night in Gatineau and continued there today.
Hearings are being headed by philosopher Charles Taylor and sociologist Gerard Bouchard, the brother of former premier Lucien Bouchard.
About 120 people attended the first hearing Monday and many were turned away at the door. During the meeting, the reasonable accommodation debate covered issues pertaining to Muslims, Jews, gays, anglophones, evangelical Christians and immigrants.
Some of the participants spoke uneasily about immigrants and granting them too much religious freedom -- especially when related to Islam.
"Demanding that women be kept out of sight of men is negating our value," said one woman.
Another participant went even further, saying "the only way to restore peace and harmony in Quebec is to ban religious accommodation."
Bouchard politely replied that such a ban would be legally difficult.
"What you're asking for is a Charter amendment, because it protects religious rights," he said.
Jean Paul Perreault, president of the French language lobby group Imperatif Francais, said immigrants should not expect financial success in Quebec if they can't speak the local language.
"Don't even think of doing a career in Quebec without speaking French," he said.
When later asked by CTV News to elaborate, Perreault replied: "We need immigrants who will choose to learn French, work in French, speak French -- without losing their original culture."
The number of visible minorities attending the meeting was low, and will likely remain so until the end of November when the hearings reach Montreal -- the city has the highest concentration of immigrants in the province.
Fo Niemi, co-founder of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations, says he fears the commission could divide Quebec society along religious, cultural and racial lines.
"It's been expanded to include people of the Jewish faith and people in the Sikh faith and eventually who knows who's next," Niemi told CTV's Canada AM on Tuesday.
Niemi's concern about the outcome of the hearings is also shared by other critics of the reasonable accommodation hearings.
"This kind of forum will add more to Islamophobia and will fan the flames of racism within the province," Salam Elmenyawi, president of the Muslim Council of Montreal told The Globe and Mail.
Experts on Quebec identity and religion and immigrants and representatives from various cultural communities will voice their opinions at scheduled hearings over the next 30 days.
Seventeen hearings are set to take place in urban and rural communities across the province.
The hearings were introduced by Quebec Premier Jean Charest last winter.
A debate was sparked earlier this year when a YWCA installed frosted windows to accommodate ultra-Orthodox Jews who had complained that youth were being exposed to women in workout clothes.
The topics of voting while wearing a face covering as well as the banning of hijabs in sports competitions have also generated much controversy and debate in the province.
With a report from CTV Montreal and files from The Canadian Press