Bouchard-Taylor Commission Report A Costly Failure
Martin Collacott and Tasha Kheiriddin
May 22, 2008
The Bouchard-Taylor Commission report can be summarized in three words: a costly failure. While many of the recommendations are intended to facilitate integration, they call solely upon the host society to shoulder this responsibility. Instead of offering innovative solutions that engage all citizens, the report places the burden almost exclusively on Quebec francophones to make the process of integration a success.
It is fair enough for the report to point out that minoritiesare fragile and worried about the future Immigrating to another country, particularly one with a very different culture and traditions, can be a wrenching experience. It is thus important that the receiving society do as much as possible to assist immigrants in adapting to their new land.
However, in light of current realities, the Commissions recommendations are almost laughable. It recommends that the government spend public funds to create ethnic media programming, support groups that promote tolerance, create an Intercultural Harmonization Office and a new interactive web portal for immigrants. In short, feel-good bureaucratic solutions that fail to address the real issues.
These simplistic proposals underestimate the concerns of the majority when they suggest that Quebecers discontent with demands by religious minorities is the result of partial information and false perceptions. A survey released last year by Environics, for example, found that there are some significant differences between the attitudes of native-born Canadians in general towards cultural accommodation and those of Muslims in Canada. While 49 per cent of the general Canadian population feel new immigrants should blend in with the rest of the country, only 15 percent of Muslims surveyed share such a view.
The differences were even more pronounced when it came to attitudes towards women. While 81 per cent of non-Muslim Canadians felt that ethnic minorities should adapt to mainstream Canadian beliefs about the rights and roles of women, only 36 per cent of Canadian Muslims agreed with this proposition. This attitude manifestly contradicts the intentions of Bill 63, a law which is endorsed by the Commission, and which seeks to affirm the equality of men and women.
This is not to say that Quebecers should arbitrarily impose a majority view and dismiss the wishes of minority communities out of hand. But it is equally wrongheaded to ignore differences in attitudes toward integration and hope that, by simply getting to know each other better, attendant problems will be minimized. And where differences are of a fundamental nature, other solutions might be more effective in promoting harmony between different cultures.
Indeed, rather than providing more information to Quebecers about immigrants, it would be more helpful for the Canadian and Quebec governments to better inform immigrants about the values and practices of the country to which they may want to come. Such an approach is already being used by other countries such as the Netherlands where prospective immigrants are shown films which illustrate the values of Dutch society before they apply for citizenship. The message is clear: if they dont like what they see, they should not choose to become citizens of the Netherlands. We would be well advised to go a step further and provide accurate briefings on what life in Canada is like before we even issue visas to those who are thinking of coming here to stay.
Unfortunately, Canadian multiculturalism policy, launched by the federal government in the 1970s, has led many newcomers to expect that we are committed to accepting and adapting to whatever traditions, beliefs and practices they bring with them. An example of the latter occurred recently in Vancouver when a Muslim taxi driver refused to transport a blind passengers guide dog on religious grounds. While a human rights tribunal ruled that the taxi driver had discriminated against the blind person, the driver argued in response that that he had also suffered discrimination because a citizenship judge told him 15 years ago that he would be free to practice his religion and culture in Canada.
Rather than concentrating primarily on telling French Quebecers that they must improve their attitude and do a better job of accepting newcomers as they are, the Bouchard-Taylor commission should have realized that immigration is a two-way street. If new immigrants are to navigate the path to successful integration, they need to understand the rules of the road before they start the car. Instead of denying the values and traditions that have built Quebec society, governments should affirm them in a positive, proactive way that is clear to Quebecers and newcomers alike.
These and other issues relating to immigration and integration will be examined by Canadian and international experts at a Fraser Institute conference to be held in Montreal June 4 and 5. Information is available at www.institutfraser.org.
Martin Collacott is a Senior Fellow at the Fraser Institute and a former Canadian ambassador in Asia and the Middle East
Tasha Kheiriddin is Director, Quebec and la Francophonie at the Fraser Institute.