'You'll get the country you deserve'
Laval appears divided at Bouchard-Taylor commission hearings
Published: Wednesday, November 14
Wading into its most ethnically diverse city yet, the Bouchard-Taylor commission heard from many Arab Muslim immigrants last night in Laval – and also from people who think they're a big problem.
It was as if the room was divided in two, with Muslims defending their faith and the rest telling them to how to live.
“You don't integrate!” one woman yelled in French after a Lebanese immigrant man said Muslims like him do all they can to find their place in Quebec society, such as speaking English as well as French.
Another Muslim immigrant warned Quebecers they have no interest in him giving up his heritage or religion to blend in with the majority.
“Don't ask me to make myself poorer, because if I do, you will be poorer for it, too,” said Saad Hamidi, one of more than 170 people who showed up for the reasonable accommodation commission's open-mike night at a Highway 15 hotel.
Saying he's been mocked with the nickname “arachide” (peanut) – and even been called “my favourite terrorist” – Rachid Ababou, nevertheless, wished Quebecers well.
“You'll get the country you deserve, insh'Allah.”
Some Muslims were critical of religious conservatives in their communities.
Lebanese immigrant Hussein Bahsoun said it's too bad that fundamentalist Muslims are given a platform to preach for their “sects” in Quebec, which he said are no better than the Solar Temple and other Christian sects.
Another Muslim, Aziz Rahhali, said “as a Muslim I feel the silent majority is proud of its religion and doesn't want special accommodations to practise it.”
But that didn't appease some in the crowd.
“People have had enough, seeing exorbitant advantages going to certain communities,” said Claude Magne, a French immigrant, citing refugee claimants he said just have babies, don't work and live on welfare.
Terrebonne resident Christiane Leroux said it's ridiculous that crucifixes are being removed from classrooms in Quebec while Muslims are allowed their own prayer rooms. “It's provocation.”
Laval resident Pierre Trudel said he's married to a Mexican and is open to immigration, but Quebec needs to choose its newcomers more carefully to avoid people like “immigrants from Arab Muslim countries” who don't believe in the equality of the sexes.
However, another Laval resident said Quebec has lost its Roman Catholic core and is “sliding into immorality.”
Quebecers need Arabs and other immigrants with strong family values “in order to become a more respectable people,” Sylvain Caron said.
With hearings resuming today and tomorrow, Laval is the commission's 15th stop in a 17-city tour of Quebec that began in Gatineau in early September and concludes Dec. 14 in Montreal.
Home to 377,000 people – 15 per cent of them born outside of Canada – Laval is the third-most-populous municipality in Quebec.
Though overwhelmingly francophone, it also has a lot of allophones – one in five people.
The largest “ethnic” communities are Italian (eight per cent), Armenian (four per cent) and Greek (three per cent).
The city is predominantly Roman Catholic, but about 10,000 Muslims also live there.