As the hearings conclude,
the professors give a platform to the Muslim group that was absurdly attacked last year because a private commercial establishment wanted their business enough to serve them beans without pork.
Back in March, they were castigated in the populist media for insisting on praying at a Quebec maple-sugar shack and eating pork-free baked beans.
Yesterday, the same Muslims who organized that cultural field trip appeared before the Bouchard-Taylor commission and were gently asked to set the record straight.
Did they demand a change in the traditional menu of pork and beans, and did they force a small party in the next room to can its loud music so they could pray in peace? No, there were no unreasonable demands, just a mutual arrangement with the owner, said Akram Benalia, spokesperson for Astrolabe, the Muslim community association that organized the March 11 trip to the Érablière au Sous Bois, in Mont St. Grégoire.
"It was a commercial agreement that had nothing to do with reasonable accommodations," Benalia said.
"But it shows how people can use this kind of situation to denigrate Muslims and amplify Islamophobia, and that's what really sickened us." The owner of the sugar shack had agreed to make baked beans without pork for the 260 Muslims in the group, in order to meet their dietary restrictions, he said. And it was the owner who asked the party next door to turn off its music for a few minutes while some of the Muslims prayed.
The way it came out in the media, however, the Muslims were portrayed as unwilling to adapt to traditional Quebec customs, "imposing" their values on a Quebec archtype, the end-of-winter outing when families and friends go "sugaring off" in the woods.
Co-chairmen Charles Taylor and Gérard Bouchard sympathized with the group.
"It leaves us speechless - this was a myth which was invented and propagated and which caused a lot of harm," Taylor told the delegation, which included two women wearing hijabs.
"You realize, your generation has the thankless role to play these days," Bouchard told them. "There are some Quebecers who are learning the hard way about diversity - at your expense. And your role is to help us, all of us, to overcome the stereotypes and misunderstandings we have." "We'll do it for Quebec, for our Quebec, so that we can all live in harmony, and that our children can, too - it'll be our pleasure," Benalia replied.