Thursday, October 04, 2007

Reasonable accommodation hearings fact of the day

From the Gazette:

"When I face a Catholic priest or a Muslim mullah, I have the same fear as a gay man," he said in English - the first time anyone has addressed the commission in English. (Ten per cent of Gaspe residents have English as a mother tongue.)

I know that the hearings haven't reached Montreal yet, but I was still surprised by that. It's politic of anglophones to tread lightly in these debates about Quebec identity, but still.

Relatedly, it was pointed out to me yesterday that (mid-grant-application) I'd missed a big story last week: PQ leader Pauline Marois has declared that the solution to the difficulties exposed by the reasonable accommodation debate is... sovereignty!

Marois says the closely watched Bouchard-Taylor commission hearings on reasonable accomodation show that Quebecers are asking questions about their own identity and history.

"Quebecers need to make peace with themselves and get past the uncertainty surrounding their identity by creating their own country," Marois said.
Yes, I know what happens when your only policy is a hammer, but, c'mon. If you're in that position and you're confronted with a glass object that needs repair, you could at least maintain a decent silence instead of volunteering to give it a good whack. I'm sure it's a very nice hammer, and maybe it's the most important tool in the toolbox, but the world's a complex place and some things really aren't nails.

If Quebec were either thoroughly laique or thoroughly Catholic, then sovereignty would just expose religious minorities to a hostile, homogenous local majority. Sovereignty would solve the problem in the same way that it would solve the problem of the First Nations; the minority would have no chance, and the majority wouldn't have to be bothered listening anymore. Since Quebec continues to have a real identity divide-- laique/ Catholic, urban/ rural, etc., just like any healthy democratic society-- it might not turn out quite that way. Then again it might; after all, the great discovery of the past year is that the Catholic and laique voers can find common ground in excluding Muslims and Orthodox Jews. A sovereign Quebec would be dancing a delicate dance with its anglophone minority; a good round of bashing smaller and weaker minorities might be just the safe identity-building tonic that the nationalist doctor ordered.

Note that this doesn't mean sovereignty mightn't be justified all things considered (though I don't happen to think so). But we know enough about post-secession nation-building and the behavior of newly-more-ethnically-homogenous states to know that the majority's sudden mastery in its own house doesn't make it confident and therefore tolerant toward minorities. Quite the contrary. Now, to be fair, Marois didn't say that it would do so; she offered no guarantees about how the Quebecois identity struggle would be resolved. But either she's openly embracing the "there will be no problem, because there are more of us than of you" exclusionary path, or (more likely) she's wrongly (maybe sincerely, but still wrongly) suggesting that a sovereign people could get over its identity crisis and stop being so threatened by minorities. That's not how these things work...