The Electric Pencil

Reasonable Accommodation? Not our problem…

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Well it’s official:

The Bouchard-Taylor Commission submits its final report to the Québec government

MONTRÉAL, May 19 /CNW Telbec/ – The Consultation Commission onAccommodation Practices Related to Cultural Differences (CCPARDC) today officially submitted its final report to the Québec government.

Commission Co-Chairs Gérard Bouchard and Charles Taylor will make public the report at a press conference in Montréal on Thursday, May 22, 2008. Details of the press conference will be announced Wednesday morning.

On Saturday, the Montreal Gazette broke with exerpts of the report, although without the full list of recommendations that Bouchard and Taylor will put forward. Originally it was reported that the report would be issued on Friday, but has been pushed up one day – most likely in response to the leak and the subsequent calls to just get it over with and release the report immediately to avoid several days of speculation based on the fragments released so far.

Like Gilles Duceppe, I’m going to reserve my final opinion on the report for when it actually comes out. But from what has been released so far, I’m not optimistic. Not that I ever really was: while it’s obvious that as a society we need to make a greater effort to address underlying issues of racism and inequality, going about it through a knee-jerk commission — based on media-hyped incidents of accommodation and an on-the-rise political party making it’s niche in appealing to the fear of immigrants — didn’t strike me as the best plan. But we’ll see what they have to say on Thursday.

For the time being, though, I think it’s important to look at least at how the Gazette has covered it’s exclusive story. And to be honest, it doesn’t look good. What resurfaces again is something I’ve noted a little bit throughout the Gazette’s entire coverage of the commission and the reasonable accommodation debate: while the paper is more than willing to use the controversy to pick up readers and make front page exclusives, they (and what I think is a fairly large segment of the English Montreal population) have refused to recognise that we have a role in how the reasonable accommodation fiasco has played out. We see it again with the weekend coverage. While they received the report without the entire set of recommendations, the major one they do release is that the solution to our provincial dilemma is that Quebeckers need to learn English and get to know Muslisms and Arabs better.

Wait, did I say Quebeckers? I mean Quebeckers of French Canadian descent. You see, the rest of us Quebeckers of English Canadian descent are doing quite well, thank you, not like the Francophones of the province. An excerpt from the Gazette’s editorial:

The roots of the “reasonable accommodation” furor that has gripped Quebec in recent years grow from deep in the soil of French-Canadian insecurity…
Bouchard is a historian, Taylor a philosopher. Together they had no trouble recognizing that “the insecurity of a minority” has been a constant in the history of French-speaking Quebec. Worry about the hijab, the kirpan and so on are, we are told, natural heirs to centuries of anxiety about la survivance. That explains the potent emotions around such questions, emotions that generate “unfounded objections” to some religious and cultural practices.

And from Jeff Heinrich’s reporting:

In their report, Bouchard and Taylor – but mainly Bouchard, who did the bulk of the writing, insiders say- argue that the responsibility for open-mindedness and desire for change lie mainly with one people: the French Canadians themselves.

“It’s principally from this milieu that the crisis arose,” the commissioners write, adding that many French Canadians “have a strong feeling of insecurity for the survival of their culture.” They fear losing their “values, language, tradition and customs” and of eventually “disappearing” entirely as a French-speaking minority in North America.

Self-doubt and “the fear of the Other” – are “the two great hindrances from the French-Canadian past,” the commissioners write.

“In the past, the threat came mainly from the anglophone. Before that, it was the lifestyle brought on by industrialization. Today, for many, it’s the immigrant.” What Quebec now faces is not the traditional “deux solitudes” of French and English, but rather “deux inquiètudes” – the twin anxieties of the majority and the new minorities, the commissioners say.

To be fair, it can be argued that Heinrich and the Gazette editorial board are simply following the lead set out by Bouchard and Taylor – but that will only be clear once the report is issued. And I think that insecurity as a linguistic minority in North America does play a large role in events like the Hérouxville declaration. But if the commission chooses to solely single out French Quebeckers, then I think it will be a huge failing in the process.

French Quebeckers, being the vast majority of the province, by default become the target of the report’s recommendations. But just because English Quebeckers are not a majority doesn’t mean we can completely ignore racism and intolerance within our own communities – or the role we have played in the reasonable accommodation debate. Where is the call for English Quebeckers to better get to know our new neighbours? Where is the call for unilingual Anglophones to learn French so that we may better communicate and relate to the other 80 percent of our province, rather than with Ontario and the rest of Canada? As Steve points out over at Fagstein, it’s more difficult to get along in Quebec as a unilingual Anglophone, so many are bilingual, but I don’t think that totally absolves us of our role. And it also doesn’t mean that we are necessarily making an effort to relate to folks in the Beauce more than to folks in Toronto.

The report states that “self-doubt and fear of the other” used to be inspired by Anglophones. But in continuing to look down on French Quebeckers as our backward, intolerant neighbours – and ignore the problems in our own backyard – it is no surprise that they continue to feel they are a threatened minority within North America.

This doesn’t mean that Anglophones are to blame for the Hérouxville declaration, or other things of the sort, but that until we start thinking about how we are part of the larger dynamic in this society and not some outside observers, we won’t be part part of the solution, either.

Some other points of view:

Stéphane Laporte: Elvis Gratton versus Bouchard-Taylor (étude comparée)

Patrick Lagacé: Bouchard-Taylor : il faut apprendre l’anglais et être plus ouverts

Richard Martineau: Québec, ouvre-toi!

Written by Tim McSorley

May 19, 2008 at 11:42 pm

One Response

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  1. […] And in the blogosphere: The Gazette “doesn’t look good“ […]

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