Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Great moments in multiculturalism

From the latest Bouchard-Taylor commission hearings:

"It's really a mentality that's separate," St. Hippolyte resident Lise Casavant said of the Hasidism, adding that immigrants should sign a new Quebec citizenship charter "or choose another province," a sentiment several other speakers also evoked.

John Saywell, of Argenteuil, said when he hears a Hasidic Jewish leader speaking only in English on the TV news, he thinks it's wrong. The community should make the effort to speak French, he said.

And Lise Provencher, of St. Jerome, said immigrants are "buying their way in" to Quebec and that Jews are the worst because they're "the most powerful. ... It's always been said that the Jews are the trampoline of money in the world." After she spoke, the crowd applauded.

At the last round:

The Roman Catholic religion has played an important role in Quebec history and its imagery should remain in public institutions, said Saguenay Mayor Jean Tremblay at hearings into immigrant accommodation.

Catholicism is still very important for a majority of Quebecers and that heritage should be reflected in the public realm, he told the Bouchard-Taylor commission on Thursday.

"The Catholic religion is one of the nicest values we have in Quebec," the mayor declared at the second day of hearings in the Lac-Saint-Jean region, north of Quebec City.

Tremblay is one of a few mayors left in Quebec who still start council meetings with a prayer. He defended that practice.

"We are a little easy-going," he said. "When someone who represents three per cent of the population wants to do something, everyone bends. But when the mayor wants to say his prayer, we tell him to respect secular principles."[...]

Marcien Bisson, a retired Saguenay resident, suggested Quebec introduce a law to eliminate kosher foods he said are ubiquitous despite the province's small Jewish population.

Bisson also asked Quebec declare God's supremacy in order to respect the Canadian Constitution.

Monsieur le Maire and Monsieur Bisson, meet Ms. Asselin-Vaillancourt.

Allowing women to wear a veil in public is a major impediment to assimilation because it is a personal and political act, said Marthe Asselin-Vaillancourt, a feminist activist who works with a local retired persons' association.

"Wearing a veil does not encourage integration. It produces negative effects. It irritates and bothers people," she said.

Asselin-Vaillancourt suggested future immigrants to Quebec be well-informed about the province's values of secularity [laicite] and gender equality before they come to Canada.

"We have to send a clear message that when they choose Quebec, they are choosing and accepting to live in a society that supports equality between the sexes," she said.

NB: this is an important part of the dynamic that's being revealed through the commission hearings. The Herouxville norms wanted it both ways (Quebec is a laique society that respects its heritage with giant public crucifixes), but that doesn't entirely seem to be the norm. Both sides in the 40-year-old Quiet Revolution fight know that they're at an impasse and are frustrated with the status quo. And both sides are willing to take it out on religious minorities. The secularists don't like 'em because they have, and are public about, religions. And the old-line Catholics don't like 'em because, well, they're not Catholic, and they [further] undermine the old Catholic identity of the province. We can hear sweeping declarations one right after the other, each stated as if it were obvious fact and not frustrated aspiration: Quebec is laique. Quebec is Catholic. Both are offered as reasons not to accommodate religious minorities; but the reasons can't both be valid ones, and no one seems to point out that the divide itself undermines any claim that social policy should be made on the basis of the homogenous shared Quebecois values.

The CBC coverage has some other choice moments.
On Monday, the commission heard from several Quebecers who are upset about kosher foods. Many mass-produced packaged foods available in supermarkets are kosher, which means a rabbi supervised their preparation to ensure the products meet Jewish dietary laws.

Laurentians resident Émile Dion said that makes him angry because he believes the cost of getting a rabbi's blessing raises food prices by as much as 10 per cent. "Why should I pay 10 per cent more for the Jews?" he asked during his comments, which went on for several minutes. "It forces us to eat kosher, and I don't want to," he said in French.

Midway through Monday's hearings, commission co-chair Bouchard interrupted the comments to remind the audience that only about two per cent of Quebec's population is made up of Muslim and Jews.

"Do you see a certain disproportion there, between your concerns and the cause?" he asked in French.

Ten percent! And I'm pretty sure no one's forcing the gentleman to eat food with Jew-cooties in it; sausage remains readily available, and he can always combine his kosher milk with some kosher meat to keep them the cooties at bay.

[A bit of economics: in the wildly implausible situation in which the rabbinic approval added that much to the price of food, and given that kosher-observant Jews make up a tiny share of Quebec's population, there would be a massive, obvious opening for a producer who didn't get the approval and provided food for 10% less to the rest of us. Conversely, if the market-clearing price for a box of corn flakes really is $3.30 rather than $3, what makes you think that abolishing rabbinic approval would lead the producer to cut the price?]

I wish I had any idea whether the coverage of the hearings was representative of what's said at them, and more importantly just how unrepresentative people who sign up to speak at them (guaranteed to be the people with axes to grind, bees in their bonnets, and time on their hands to concoct elaborate theories-- ahem...) are of their regions' populations.