Accommodation road show rolls into Montreal
Language issue takes centre stage
November 21, 2007
Loudly picketed by activists demanding jobs for immigrants, the Bouchard-Taylor commission went ahead with its first Montreal open-mike night yesterday in a highly symbolic place.
The site was a new multi-ethnic library in the Cte des Neiges-Notre Dame de Grce borough, where nearly half of all residents are foreign-born and where Jews, Muslims, Hindus and others outnumber Roman Catholics.
But the subject on the lips of many of the 200 participants at the raucous, two-hour meeting wasn't reasonable accommodations for religions. It was the bread-and-butter issue of language and employment.
“You f—ed me up here, and you f—ed up my country, too, and all the Middle East – you didn't give me a chance,” said Iranian immigrant Reza Koochekian Jaboor, 61, who said he hasn't found decent work in 22 years here because he doesn't speak French.
“Tu t'es tromp de province!” (You chose the wrong province!), a man heckled from behind him.
The evening at the Intercultural Library on Cte des Neiges Rd. was also disrupted briefly about half an hour in as demonstrators picketing the entrance started pounding on the window, the blinds of which were drawn.
(As the meeting wound up, the 20 young activists also came in and unfurled a banner at the front of the room, chanting: “Immigrants in, racists out!”)
The window-rattling briefly muffled a short speech by Amir Khadir, an Iranian-born doctor and co-spokesperson for Quebec solidaire, who said Quebec's economic development should not be done “on the backs of immigrants” who are jobless.
Quebec Immigration Minister Yolande James also attended the meeting, chatting with commissioners Grard Bouchard and Charles Taylor before it began.
For many in the crowd, the language barrier – the French and English that immigrants have to know to work in the metropolis – was a constant theme.
A French-Canadian man said he's disturbed that so many immigrants he sees on the bus speak English. A Belgian immigrant said the contrary: He did a rough count at the Cte Vertu mtro station and saw “seven out of 10 commuters” reading Mtro, a free French-language newspaper. Tunisian immigrant Karim Rahmouni said that when it comes to equal opportunity hiring: “Quebec shouldn't treat immigrants as handicapped” just because their French isn't up to snuff.
“I invite all immigrants to learn French,” advised Pakistani immigrant Abdul Talib, saying knowing the language of the majority is the best way to “integrate into the mosaic” that is Quebec and Canada generally.
Sibel Ataogul, a young lawyer who immigrated from Turkey when she was 9, was applauded heartily after she proclaimed: “I learned French in eight months,” and said immigrants best adapt to Quebec not by being coerced, but by working hard.
Somalian refugee Farah Kulmijeh Abdil said French isn't an issue for him. “I'll never be Qubcois, because I'm black,” he said. “I'll always be asked, 'Where are you from?' ”
Cte des Neiges-Notre Dame de Grce is one of Montreal's most heavily ethnic boroughs. Out of a population of 172,000, more than 72,000 are immigrants; of those, 30,000 aren't Canadian citizens.
The largest groups are Filipinos, Moroccans, Haitians and Chinese. Forty-five per cent of residents speak English only, compared with 32 per cent who speak only French and 24 per cent who speak another language.