Jonathan Kay Reads The Bouchard-Taylor Report On Reasonable Accommodation In Quebec

Jonathan Kay reads the Bouchard-Taylor report on “reasonable accommodation” in Quebec, so you don't have to

The National Post
Posted: May 22, 2008, 2:43 PM by Jonathan Kay

The “reasonable accommodation” report, released today by Grard Bouchard and Charles Taylor, is a tough slog. Most of the ideas in it are sensible and some are even admirable. But the document is written in a dilatory style. It easily could have been just 20 pages once you took out the throat-clearing, academic jargon, and general windiness. At 96 pages, I doubt many people will bother reading even the abridged version.

Fortunately, for you, I have read it. And to spare you the chore, I am reproducing the most interesting nine chunks. Read this cheat sheet, and you won't have to bother plowing through the whole report.

Item 1 (Page 17): One of the reasons Quebecers think immigrants are a problem is that the media insists on torquing up the few cases of conflict that do arise:

“Many [publicized] cases or affairs led a significant number of Quebecers to adopt a very negative perception of reasonable accommodation. These cases or affairs focused usually on accommodation or adjustments perceived as being illegitimate or a form of threat to Qubec society's values. In order to clarify the situation, the Commission mandated two researchers who devoted over four months to reconstructing as rigorously as possible the facts based on a sampling of 21 cases among those that received the broadest media coverage and that fuelled most extensively the controversy. The researchers questioned the interveners and witnesses and relied on the documentation available. Our research reveals that in 6 of the 21 cases studied, there was no apparent distortion between the facts reconstructed and the public's general perception of these cases. However, we noted striking distortions in the other 15 cases. Thus, the negative perception of reasonable accommodation that spread in the public often centred on an erroneous or partial perception of practices in the field.”

(I recommend that readers actually read the five case studies discussed on pages 18-21. Some of the scandals reported in the media truly do seem to have been all smoke, no fire. The best example is probably the Mont-Saint Grgoire Sugarhouse example.)

Item 2 (Page 22): Francophones are more freaked out about immigrants than Anglophones:

“To all appearances, the key signs of dissatisfaction came from Quebecers of French-Canadian origin. It is difficult to precisely quantify within this group the opponents and proponents of accommodation, but it does appear that the former were more numerous than the latter. This is the picture that emerges from letters and comments that appeared in the media and the opinions expressed by focus groups that we organized in Montral and the regions, and the findings of several surveys. On the other hand, the English-speaking Qubec community appears to have displayed general receptiveness to accommodation, as revealed by the SOM survey conducted in September and October 2007 on behalf of a Montral daily newspaper: 71.7% of the Quebecers whose mother tongue is French questioned found our society overly tolerant of accommodation. Among Quebecers whose mother tongue is a language other than French (including allophones), the proportion was 35.2%.”

Item 3 (Page 39-40): Francophone Quebecers have a culture to protect. So don't expect them to follow the anything-goes multicultural model of Anglo-Canada:

“Often mentioned in academic papers, interculturalism as an integration policy has never been fully, officially defined by the Qubec government although its key components were formulated long ago. This shortcoming should be overcome, all the more so as the Canadian multiculturalism model does not appear to be well suited to conditions in Qubec, for four reasons: a) anxiety over language is not an important factor in English Canada; b) minority insecurity is not found there; c) there is no longer a majority ethnic group in Canada (citizens of British origin account for 34% of the population, while citizens of French-Canadian origin make up a strong majority of the population in Qubec, i.e. roughly 77%); d) it follows that in English Canada, there is less concern for the preservation of a founding cultural tradition than for national cohesion … For a small nation such as Qubec, constantly concerned about its future as a cultural minority, integration also represents a condition for its development, and perhaps, for its survival. That is why the integrative dimension is a key component of Qubec interculturalism.”

Item 4 (Page 49): Quebec's distinctly Catholic character should be shouted from the mountain-top (but pretty much nowhere else):

“Catholicism has left an indelible mark on Qubec's history. Traces of it are all around us. Under the principle of the neutrality of the State, religious displays linked to the functioning of public institutions should be abandoned. Thus, we do not believe that the crucifix in the National Assembly and the prayers that precede municipal council meetings have their place in a secular State. In both instances, public institutions are associated with a single religious affiliation rather than addressing themselves to all citizens. That being the case, it would be absurd to want to extend this rule of neutrality to all historic signs that no longer fulfil an obvious religious function, e.g. the cross on Mont-Royal or the crosses on old buildings converted to secular uses. The same is true of Qubec toponymy, which is largely inspired by the calendar of the saints. Quebecers' common sense will surely prevail in this respect.”

Item 5 (Page 51-52): Rather than litigate “reasonable accommodation” at tribunals and in the courts, ordinary Quebecers of good faith should just use their common sense to hash the issue out on a case-by-case basis:

“[In resolving conflicts, we] distinguish between the legal route and the citizen route. Under the legal route, requests must conform to formal codified procedures that the parties bring against each other and that ultimately determine a winner and a loser. Indeed, the courts impose decisions most of the time. The legal route is that of reasonable accommodation. Requests follow a much different route under the second path, which is less formal and relies on negotiation and the search for a compromise. Its objective is to find a solution that satisfies both parties and it corresponds to concerted adjustment. Generally speaking, we strongly favour recourse to the citizen route and concerted adjustment, for several reasons: a) it is good for citizens to learn to manage their differences and disagreements; b) this path avoids congesting the courts; c) the values underlying the citizen route (exchanges, negotiation, reciprocity, and so on) are the same ones that underpin interculturalism. In quantitative terms, we have noted, moreover, that most requests follow the citizen route and only a small number rely on the courts.”

Item 6 (Page 59-61): Watch us use our fuzzy “interculturalism” principles to decide a bunch of tough cases!

“We will conclude this section by going back over several accommodation or adjustment cases that received widespread media coverage or that illustrate the application of the guidelines that we have presented. The exercise will necessarily be limited, for lack of space

1. Adjustment requests that infringe gender equality would have little chance of being granted, since such equality is a basic value in our society. In the health care sector and in all other public services, this value leads to the rejection, in principle, of all requests that result in a woman's being accorded inferior status to a man (some examples are police interrogations or driving tests). That being the case, we are aware of situations in which exceptions must be made.

2. Coeducation is an important value in Qubec society but it is not as fundamental as gender equality. For this reason, the list of admissible exceptions in this respect can be more extensive. As a general guideline, coeducation should, however, prevail everywhere possible, for example when students are divided into classes, in swimming classes, and so on.

3. As for prayer rooms in public establishments, our position reflects the opinion that the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse adopted on February 3, 2006. The opinion states that educational establishments are not obliged to set up permanent prayer rooms. However, it is entirely in keeping with the spirit of adjustments to authorize for the purpose of prayer the use of rooms that are temporarily unoccupied. Certain exceptions may be made in the case of penitentiaries, hospitals or airports since the individuals who must remain there are not free to visit a church if they so desire.

4. Still in keeping with the notion of the separation of Church and State, we believe that the crucifix must be removed from the wall of the National Assembly, which, indeed, is the very embodiment of the constitutional state (a reasonable alternative would be to display it in a room devoted to the history of Parliament). For the same reason, the saying of prayers at municipal council meetings should be abandoned.”

5. The same reasoning leads to respect for dietary prohibitions and to allow in class the wearing of an Islamic headscarf, a kippah or a turban. The same is true of the wearing of the headscarf in sports competitions if it does not compromise the individual's safety. It should be noted that all of these authorizations promote integration into our society.”

Item 7 (Page 77): Unassimilated immigrants are running riot in Europe. But that won't happen in Quebec. Here's why:

“Certain European countries are facing serious problems linked to the emergence of underprivileged urban zones, which are inhabited by under-qualified populations and are the hub of tensions that are exacerbated by a keen sense of injustice and rejection. Mistrust and resentment obviate the potential benefit of social programs that are initially well designed but often poorly received by the communities for which they are intended. Gestures of discontent and revolt irritate the more privileged classes and undermine the majority's goodwill (it becomes hostile to the search for solutions). Against this backdrop, strong xenophobic right-wing movements flourish. The situation in Qubec is much different, in at least four respects:

(a) Marginalization factors exist in Qubec, but they are not of the same magnitude as in certain European countries. We do not observe in relations between immigrants and the host society a comparable level of tension and socioeconomic exclusion. Furthermore, we must do everything possible to avoid a downward spiral in this respect.

(b) Over 60% of the immigrants who arrive in Qubec are selected in light of their occupational and linguistic skills, with the result that they are generally better educated than the average member of the host society. This is a far cry from the situation of under-educated immigrant populations in certain German and Dutch cities or in certain French suburbs.

(c) A number of immigrants come from the middle class and thus share in many ways the lifestyle of numerous Quebecers.

(d) Immigrants in the European countries [as opposed to Quebec] are often the nationals of former colonies To all of the other grounds for alienation must be added the painful recollection of colonization and exploitation.”

Item 8 (Page 84): Don't panic about headscarves:

“As for the headscarf, which has aroused considerable agitation in recent years, we believe that we can now take it for granted that the girls or women who wear it attach different meanings to it. While we acknowledge the need to combat different forms of submission and oppression, do we not risk infringing on the rights of citizens who wear a headscarf of their own volition by proposing a radical measure that would purely and simply prohibit the wearing of headscarves? 9 Why cannot individuals display their deep-seated convictions if they do not infringe other people's rights?”

Item 9: Don't worry. French isn't going to be replaced by Arabic, Swahili or English:

“French-speaking Qubec must not succumb to fear, the temptation to withdraw and reject, nor don the victim's mantle. In other words, it must reject this scenario of inevitable disappearance. As a result of their own choices, the proportion of Quebecers of French-Canadian origin is declining, from 80% of Qubec's population in 1901 to 77% in 1991. This drop, while slow, will probably continue, and Qubec will have to rely increasingly on immigration. However, through the contribution of French-speaking immigrants, this trend can be offset: the proportion of Quebecers whose mother tongue is French now verges on 80%. When account is taken of all Quebecers who usually speak French in the home, the figure stands at 81.8%.”