Monday, September 1, 2008

by Madi Lussier
October 2, 2007


FORUM II -September 13, 2007- Rouyn-Noranda
With over 80 people on the list, the debate gravitated more or less around the issues of language and religion vs. secularity.
Members of the first nations were also present, emphasizing the historical reality that they have helped out the first settlers with food and hunting.

The notion of family was also touched, without any clear suggestions coming from the speaker. A woman complaining that her children can not learn English, considering living in Québec as simply “frustrating”, brought into discussion what she calls “the special attention given to the fist nations”, while neglecting the needs of the others. She failed going further in her intervention, emphasizing that she loves first nations, but that she can not understand the reason for them to have territories and governmental funding. She was also revolted that their schools receive governmental funding, while “our” schools don’t.
She omitted to express her position on the religious schools that receive governmental funds.

A Lebanese living in Québec for 20 years stated that religion must be under the secular law, and not vice-versa. He also said that it is not the Québecers’ job to become Lebanese, but the immigrants’ job to become Québecers.
A senior gentleman stressed upon the fact that religion is a personal choice and each religious fraction can pray in their designated space (church, mosque, temple, synagogue), but he opposes some institution’s decision to offer special prayer rooms for Muslims.
There was also a hint that there are accommodations made for handicapped. Someone pointed it out that those accommodations are made to integrate handicapped people, and not to separate, which is the case of the religious accommodations.
Numerous speakers called attention upon the fact that this is a secular society, where men and women are equal and where we speak French. Are immigrants willing or not to adhere to these values?
A senior lady from Abitibi-Temiscamingue simply said that it is “idiot” to vote with a veil. Another gentleman continued the idea of voting and he stated that the case of a person with a burnt face who decides to cover his/her face is different from the case of these Muslim women who want to vote with covered faces.
Like in Gatineau, a speaker pointed out that the anchors in Québec are not enough racially diverse.
A difference was also made between other religious groups, like Buddhist, Taoist etc, noticing that the members of these religious communities do not ask for so many accommodations.
A female speaker pointed out that women’s rights in Québec are very recent and asked for vigilance. Forcing women to wear a veil tells them they are not in the public space, but segregated.
The language issue was again brought into public attention, someone declaring his revolt that in Montréal young people usually speak English, not French.
“Are we sleeping? Are we too accommodating”? He asked. To my surprise, someone had the courage to remind everybody of those areas inhabited by certain cultural communities where speaking French or English is simply not necessary, since they can work, live and buy in their mother tongues.
Another senior man stated that we see in our society individuals who want to implement practices inacceptable to our society.
One of the conclusions stated very clearly is that we must reject those accommodations which make a difference between a man and a woman.
A Colombian man who came to Canada in February needed an interpreter, since he couldn’t express himself neither in French or English. In parenthesis, the interpreter informed the audience that he is undertaking a course. Since February, I should say that someone can acquire a decent level of basic French.
This Colombian, having difficulties in expressing himself in Spanish too, was complaining about the lack of special programmes to help immigrants outside of the big cities.
«Ici, on vit comme Québécois» was the general conclusion.

FORUM III -September 19, 2007- Saguenay
The first striking impression was that the organizers of this third Forum were targeting teenagers as audience, since they incline to be quite favourable to “reasonable accommodations “.
The front section of the room was packed with teens, some with piercings, purple hair etc.
Probably the most important speech was held by a person of Egyptian origin, but very Québécois in his feelings. He said that many immigrants do not know anything about Québec’s history, artists, writers etc. and, at the same time, he mentioned the fact that there are no statistics on what exactly have immigrants brought to our society.
Another speaker, also a male, declared himself against those Muslims who want to impose their religious symbols in our society. He also reminded the audience that westerners are outraged that Afghani women wear burkas and we went there to “free” them, while here we have no objections against such a practice.
Another question was asked by a younger speaker who pointed out the issue of compromises required to be made by the majority in order to accommodate all sorts of minorities. “Where are the limits?” he asked.
Jean Pierre Plourde was not afraid to speak his mind and made statements like accommodations are irresponsible and that immigrants must conform to the majority.
A young speaker declared that he is in favour of such accommodations and that he is not bothered by those who wash their feet in the sinks of the institutions where they work.
Another person brought into discussion the Charter of human rights, affirming that this document pushes individualism to its limits and that the document should be revised.
A speaker of Congolese origins said that the Charter is being abused and that we need a chapter for responsibilities as well.
An Algerian immigrant said that it is not the majority who must make concessions, reminding a famous quote: “Evil triumphs because good people don’t do anything”. He also affirmed that Québec must become a country and thus have the right to decide what kind of immigrants we need.
Freedom is not disconnected from responsibilities.
Not few were those who have noticed that our society is more attentive to other religions than to Catholicism.
A Colombian speaker said that integration is a day by day process.
A speaker of German ancestry said something that could become the root of future discussions: “To keep tolerance one must sometimes be intolerant”.
The conclusions of the 3rd Forum showed the traditional gap between generations, teen age speakers supporting ReAccomms, while the other speakers brought into discussion issues like, history, language, our values, integration and respect.

Overall, immigrants proved to be more aware of the importance of preserving national identity and culture than many of those with deep roots in this land.
With a currently 46,000 immigrants a year coming to Québec, the discussions on “reasonable accommodations” are definitely only the beginning.
One solution to the problems would be a total control of immigration for each province.

FORUM IV –St. Jerome was not aired
FORUM V -September 26, 2007- Lanaudière
According to the 2006 census, the city has 429,053 inhabitants. There were many immigrants who wanted to express their position on the subject of reasonable accommodations and some of them, perfectly integrated in this society, like the case of a woman of Pakistani origin, mentioned that immigrants adapt at their pace and that we can not ask them to stop using their language or their way of dressing, since Europeans who travel in other parts of the world continue speaking their language and wearing their European clothing.
All these immigrants pointed out that in that city, immigrants are integrated.
Nobody made a difference between living in a small city and a city like Montréal, where immigrants are given the chance to live in their enclaves, isolating themselves from the mainstream society.
In a small city, immigrants have more chances to integrate than in a big city. If they do not have a community of their own, these immigrants tend to blend in the mainstream society, becoming citizens not only passport holders.
In a big city, they can spend their whole lives not speaking any of the official languages because living in a communal area makes it easy for them to stay isolated, sticking to their “home” habits/traditions, like those South Asian old women begging in Montréal for instance.
This striking image should raise questions for our authorities. Why are these women begging? What is the status of their families here? How did they get here?
People overwhelmingly proclaimed that if you came here, than respect us. If not, go back to your “home”.
With Lanaudière, people began to feel more at ease, daring to say what is obviously against the official state ideology.
And people began to question the immigration policy, even if this won’t please certain political parties.
October, 2007

Posted by Madi Lussier at 3:46 PM  


Post a Comment