Quebec town defends controversial 'code of life' for immigrants
CanWest News Service
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
TROIS-RIVIERES, Que. — The brief from the town of Herouxville Wednesday began with a bemused observation.
“We have been called names,” said spokesmen for the tiny village that in January adopted a “code of life” that set out ground rules for immigrants who might want to settle there. “Morons, liars, xenophobes, fascists, selfish, obscurantists, dictators, nationalists, secularists, Nazis, racists, bizarre, idiots, anti-everything, hollow, a nuisance for regional development, mentally deficient, intolerant, stupid, retarded, one-step-behind, an isolated case and a shame for Quebec abroad.”
No matter, the authors of the brief to the Bouchard-Taylor commission said, forging ahead Wednesday with what they consider the solution to the problem of accommodating religious groups and their demands for special treatment.
That solution: amend the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to ban all kinds of accommodations for religious beliefs. If that doesn't work, then separate Quebec from the Canadian federation to allow it to amend its own human rights code.
A drastic measure, perhaps, but it's better than “turning in circles” over the question forever, said Coun. Andre Drouin of Herouxville, about a 90 drive northeast of Montreal.
The municipality of 1,300 made international headlines with its “code,” which targeted fundamentalist Muslims in particular. The rules included no public stonings or burnings and no female circumcision.
On Wednesday, Drouin and colleague Bernard Thompson, Herouxville's webmaster and author of a book on the village's experience got 38 minutes to make their pitch – more than double the 15 minutes usually allotted to people presenting briefs. And it was more time than anyone else has been granted so far in the commission's 17-city road show that began in early September.
Watching from the back of the hotel conference room were women in hijabs from a Montreal group, who later told journalists that Herouxville's “Islamophobia” doesn't represent the views of most Quebecers.
The Herouxville brief was exhaustive. Translated from French into five languages – English, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and German – it's posted on the village's website, www.municipalite.herouxville.qc.ca.
In it are a number of colourful and controversial “norms” on what lifestyle the village fathers think immigrants should expect to lead in Quebec.
“The norms and standards described herein are samples,” the brief states in its conclusion. “We wish that newcomers may read them in order to enlighten their choice when deciding to join us on the territory of Quebec. We are convinced as citizens of Quebec that we will be able to give newcomers the assurance that the living conditions they fled from in their countries will not be reproduced here, and that the peace of mind and social peace we are so determined to preserve will last forever.”
The norms touch a variety of subjects: equality of the sexes in all matters; the right to hold festivities, such as Christmas, and the right to listen to music and drink beverages, whether “alcoholized or not”; prenatal classes for both prospective parents; the right of men and women to play sports and games, separately or together; the requirement that taxi drivers must accept passengers accompanied by dogs or carrying alcoholic beverages; the stipulation that only the government can certify foods; no special dietary provisions for prisoners based on religious or cultural reasons, and no area set aside for prayer; and religious freedom.
On what Quebecers eat, it says: “Regardless of the shape of the animal or its hooves, regardless of the shape of the fish, be it covered by scales or a shell, we will enjoy eating its flesh if it is prepared properly and presented tastefully. Food nourishes the body, the soul is nourished differently.”
And on religious accommodation, the subject of the hearings it says: “Our recent history clearly demonstrates that it is possible to be accommodated by God in order to be able to subscribe to modern society. Fifty years ago, when employers asked us to work on Sunday, the Lord's day, the Catholic God permitted that we break our obligations to assure the welfare of our families. This enabled us to avoid asking our employers to build churches on our working premises. Recently, the (Quebec) National Assembly allowed the opening of retail stores on Sunday. This same God accommodated us once again, sparing Hell to the faithful. After many years of observance of God's order to fast during Lent, we had to give up this religious practise to have sufficient energy to work and study hard. Then again, by the grace of God and his sense of accommodations, we were able to avoid the promise of roasting in Hell after death.”
Montreal Gazette 2007
Hrouxville website: http://www.municipalite.herouxville.qc.ca/avispublic.htm