Hrouxville spreads to rest of Canada
No anomaly; Ex-councillor feels vindicated by niqab fuss
By MARIAN SCOTT
April 13, 2010 5:26 PM
HROUVILLE — He's ba-a-a-ck.
Andr Drouin's lips curl up in a mischievous grin as he recalls the insults hurled at him at the height of the Hrouxville affair in 2007.
“Twit, moron, xenophobe, racist, stupid – all of it,” says the retired engineer who penned the infamous municipal charter barring the stoning, burning and genital mutilation of women in this hamlet north of Trois Rivires.
Not that such atrocities had the remotest chance of being committed in this sleepy dairy-farming crossroads of 1,200 people, then, now or ever.
But that didn't stop the charter from bringing down an international media frenzy on Hrouxville and igniting a province-wide debate on how far Quebec should go to accommodate minorities.
In response, the government set up the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, which urged Quebecers to show openness toward minorities. Drouin's wincingly politically incorrect pronouncements came to symbolize rural Quebec's intolerance.
But the recent storm over the niqab suggests l'affaire Hrouxville was no anomaly. Drouin is now lending his support to a nascent coalition that aims to drum up opposition to immigration and multiculturalism in English Canada.
“Three years ago, they thought I was a mad person, but right now I don't think they think the same thing,” Drouin said.
A recent Angus Reid poll showed 95 per cent of Quebecers – and 80 per cent of all Canadians – support a provincial bill barring the tiny minority of Muslim women who wear a face veil from giving or receiving government services, including education and health care.
Emboldened by the niqab kerfuffle, the opposition Parti Qubcois has hounded the government to adopt a secularism charter that would bar all religious symbols, including the hijab, kippa (Jewish skullcap) and crosses from government offices, schools and social services.
In an interview in the cozy waterfront cottage he shares with his wife, Luce Rivard, Drouin emerges as a more complex character than the country bumpkin depicted in reports on the Hrouxville affair.
Born in nearby Grand Mre, Drouin, 62, speaks fluent English learned during a military career that included a stint in Britain's Royal Navy. He said he left the armed forces to study engineering at cole Polytechnique and worked in the oil and gas industry, where his job acquainted him with the Middle East.
“In the province of Quebec, between 80 and 85 per cent of the people don't want these kinds of accommodations and it's not because they are racist or because they are xenophobes or because they are twits,” said Drouin,who did not run for re-election when his term as town councillor expired in November.
“It's because they want to make sure that in the long term and the middle term social peace will stay with us.”
In recent months, Drouin has spoken to small groups in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver, where his tough talk on minorities strikes a chord with long-time critics of Canada's immigration policy like Martin Collacott, a senior fellow at the conservative Fraser Institute.
Collacott and James Bissett, both retired diplomats who frequently write on immigration issues, and Drouin are among the founders of a new group that will push for a radical reduction in immigration and a tougher stand on minority accommodation.
Collacott said organizers are putting the finishing touches to a website and will launch the group, tentatively called the Centre for Immigration Policy Reform, in June.
Media coverage of the recent niqab controversy showed the fault lines between English Canada and Quebec, where many in the media have called for stricter curbs on the rights of religious minorities. But Collacott suggested many in English Canada share Quebecers' concerns over the integration of newcomers.
“If you look at actual surveys, English-speaking Canada is not that different from Quebec,” he said.
“What the Bouchard-Taylor Commission tried to do was paper over the whole thing, but they didn't really deal with the issues and so it's re-emerged in the niqab form. Now both the PQ and the Liberal Party are buying into a modified form of what Andr Drouin had been calling for,” Collacott said.
He charged that English-Canadian editorialists who criticized Quebec's tough stand on the niqab “were in a multicultural fog.” Such columnists as Margaret Wente of the Globe and Mail and Mark Steyne of Macleans also have accused other members of the English-speaking media of being out of touch with Canadians' views on multiculturalism. “On this one, I'm with the 'intolerant' Quebecers,” Steyne wrote.
However, Joseph Carens, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto, warned against interpreting flareups such as the niqab controversy as a serious calling into question of Canada's 40-year-old multiculturalism policy. “I think there is a deep anxiety among much of the population that bubbles up and there's no doubt there is some political advantage to be gained from speaking out against multiculturalism,” he said.
However, Canada stands out as the country with the highest support for immigration in the world, he said.
Multiculturalism is a deeply held value for Canadians, he added. “There is a deep current within Canada that says anybody can be a Canadian. It doesn't mean you have to be white or of European descent or of the Christian religion. The vast majority of the population have really internalized that.”
Drouin denied his views are racist. “On the contrary, I like people – all brands, all religions.” But he predicted mixing different cultures will lead to social strife as it has in European countries like the Netherlands and France.
Jeffrey Reitz, a leading expert on multiculturalism at the University of Toronto, disagreed. Immigrants to Canada fare better than European migrants because they are better educated, he said.
Reitz pointed out the strongest criticisms of multiculturalism often come from people who have little or no contact with minorities. “They actually have very little experience dealing with cultural diversity in their communities,” he said.
“In Hrouxville, let's face it, the issues they raised were not prominent anywhere in Canada. There's no burning and stoning of women. Those concerns are completely fanciful and I think that reflects their being out of touch with reality,” he said.
In the Resto Gare, a small caf on Hrouxville's main street, owner Linda Bdard worried out loud about immigration. “We're getting pushed aside,” said Bdard, who lived in Laval for 11 years, where the presence of different cultures made her feel as if she were in a foreign land. “We're strangers in our own country,” Bdard said. “In 20 or 25 years, we won't exist anymore as a people.”
Jack Jedwab, executive director of the Association for Canadian Studies, said such views will never fly in urban Canada. “There is no really organized anti-immigration movement and the people of Hrouxville have not been able to mobilize such a movement because the percentage of immigrants here is so significant,” Jedwab said.
“It's very hard for me and many other Canadians and Quebecers to identify with the idea that there is 'an us and them,' meaning immigrant and non-immigrant,” he said.