2014/04/12

What I would tell an immigrant

Editor's note: this post is a translation of an opinion piece written by Boucar Diouf, a stand-up comic, raconteur, biologist and TV host. Click here to read the original French text.

Before leaving Sénégal for Québec in 1991, I was told about culture shock, temperature, freedom, openness, humor and many other aspects of the identity and culture of its people. But nobody told me about this unique relationship that the majority of Québécois have with religion. Yet, it is of the utmost importance to inform people that immigrating to Québec is far from being the same as settling in the rest of Canada. Québec has a relationship with religion, and gender equality, that even the Western part of the country barely understands. For proof, just remember how the death of Dr. Henry Morgentaler befell people here while you could almost hear some of our neighbors to the West say "good riddance!".

The debate about the Charter led me to think that the exercise was indispensable. Religious extremism can in no way mesh with French-language Québec culture. In fact, had I to inform an immigration applicant on the subject, this is what I would say:

"Sir, before you leave, you should know that since the mass desertion of churches, caused by the Quiet Revolution, the majority of Québécois have a very peculiar relationship with religion. Québec may have the highest rate of agnostic citizens in North America. To the point that, today, it is mainly missionaries from the South, Latin America and Africa, that timidly try to rekindle the faith in some parts of la belle province."

"Once very pious, this nation has become the territory of the greatest blasphemers of the galaxy. Here, not content with having transformed churches into condos, we recycled liturgical accessories into as many swear words that punctuate the local language and make the delight of stand-up comics who have become champions all categories of religious desecration."

"You are about to come to the most open and peaceful nation in North America. You are about to meet women who are among the most assertive and egalitarian in the Western world; where the mere mention of religious rights causes a general urticaria crisis; where the right to abortion is non-negotiable; where men are entitled to paternity leave; where marriage is no longer a sacred institution and one of every two couples divorces when things go sour; where teenagers in their puberty are allowed to kiss and date; where gays and lesbians conspicuously display their orientation and have the right to marry; where sex change to find one's existential balance is also well accepted."

"It is all these qualities that make Québec, while not perfect, a land of freedom, openness and tolerance, for those who are willing to keep an open mind. If I tell you all this, it is because some of these very progressive social gains, which proudly cement our collective identity, are incompatible with a strict reading of religious dogmas. These social gains could very well lead many extremists to look at us as representatives of Satan on Earth."

"Then sir, with all this information, if you have no objection that one day your children may date, kiss, sleep with and marry one of ours, it is because you are agnostic or practice your religion with moderation. Québec is thus an obvious choice to make it a land of your own."

Yes, Fatima Houda-Pepin, you are right to believe that fundamentalists are the real enemies of secularism! I would add that they also are the enemies of the vast majority of believers, whom they harm by rebound.

2014/04/06

A bird in the hand

I work in a completely bilingual environment. Anglos and Francos working together speaking whichever of the two languages feels the most comfortable or is best suited for the occasion. Truly a great working experience.

I was having a casual conversation on the current Québec elections with one of my Anglo colleagues this week. He was whining about the general state of political instability the province has been in for so long, putting forward that it was detrimental to the economy of both the country and the province; I agree. When I replied that he was right and added that the only party with a proposal to solve this instability is the Parti Québécois, he looked at me puzzled.

I explained that, although support for sovereignty has been under the 40% mark for a while, the vast majority of Québécois is against the constitutional status quo. Polls found that seven out of 10 believe the Québec government should try to initiate constitutional change in Canada. I stressed that proponents of the federalist option mostly look away, sweeping the issue under the rug, pretending that Canada is a united country. "This is the cause of the instability", I added. "Maintaining a fertile ground for the sovereignty movement." He was not sure what to think.

He then confessed he voted for the PLQ through early vote. "I understand that you would not vote for the PQ, but why not CAQ?" I asked. He replied he voted strategically for the option with the most chance of preventing a PQ victory... I recently rationalized his decision.

Faced with the decision between:
  1. a party that will perhaps hold a referendum that will perhaps be victorious that will perhaps be detrimental to Anglos; and
  2. a party that saw the provincial debt increase from G$125 to G$175 in the nine years it was in power and did everything it could to prevent the Charbonneau Commission.
... he chose the latter.

I gather this gives a whole new meaning to the old saying: "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."

2014/02/09

Charter of Values and Québec criticism

Editor's note: this post was submitted by Jared Milne.

The debate over Québec's secular Charter of Values has been a heated one. The proposed Charter would restrict public servants from wearing conspicuous religious items such as burqas and niqabs, which many critics say infringes on the rights and freedoms of religious minorities in Québec. Quebecers who support the Charter, in turn, have been accused of bigotry, especially by other Canadians, claiming that this is just another example of the racism that is supposedly so prevalent in that province, and the supposed ethnic nationalism of the Parti Québécois.

As an Anglophone living in Alberta, I have to admit that some of these critics have left me scratching my head. I'm no fan of the Charter of Values, and I think that it would be a bad idea if implemented. What surprises and bothers me, however, is the fact that there's been so much criticism directed at Québec from critics on all parts of the spectrum, while criticism of similar attitudes in other parts of Canada and the world usually only comes from the political left, when it even appears at all.

Other parts of Canada haven't always been welcoming to religious minorities who wear conspicuous religious items. Back in the 1980s, a young Sikh man had to get the RCMP to make an exception to its uniform code so that he could wear a turban while serving as a police officer, against the hostility of many Canadians who said that he should wear the same traditional uniform as everybody else. In the 1990s in Peel Ontario, a Sikh student had to fight for his right to wear his kirpan, or ceremonial dagger, in an Ontario school. In 2008, a Sikh man in Calgary, Alberta, was barred from entering a courthouse because of his kirpan. The comments on the news article, which describe how Alberta has decided to allow Sikhs to wear their kirpans in courthouses, show how much many readers disagreed with the decision.

Prominent Canadian conservatives are expressing views similar to the ones behind the Charter of Values. In 2011, Ezra Levant fiercely criticized the Toronto police service for allowing female officers to wear hijabs and other symbols while working for the secular police force. In 2012, federal Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney spearheaded an initiative to bar women from wearing niqab facial veils at Canadian citizenship ceremonies.

A surprising number of Canadians in general either support the Charter of Values, or something similar to it. National Post writer Paul Russell was surprised by the number of readers who wrote in expressing support for the Charter, or even criticizing it for not banning facial coverings. A Global News poll revealed that while many Canadians outside Québec did not like the Charter of Values, they did support bans on burqa veils and kirpans.

Such attitudes exist in other English-speaking countries, too. In 2013, an Irish court ruled that Sikhs could not wear their turbans while working for the country's police force. In 2010, one of Great Britain's first Sikh judges criticized schools and other public places for barring entry to Sikh people wearing kirpans. Multiculturalism and immigration have been controversial in Britain in general. Araminta Wordsworth wrote that conservative politicians are scoring political points by attacking immigration, even as some Britons feel their 'Britishness' is being overwhelmed by immigrants who won't integrate. Other critics write that Britain's common values are being undermined by immigrants who refuse to integrate and stick to values that the critics say force women into secondary roles in society.

And just for the record, support for the Charter is not unanimous in Québec, even among the separatist movement. Prominent separatists such as Lucien and Gérard Bouchard, Jacques Parizeau and Bernard Landry have all called for the Charter's bans on religious garb to only be extended to people with coercive state powers, such as judges, police officers and prosecutors, which is exactly what commentators like Levant were calling for. Other separatists, such as Jean Dorion, head of an organization that calls for an inclusive Québec separatism, has spoken about how the Charter goes against Québec history [Google translation], and the need to welcome as many Quebecers as possible for independence to be viable.

Anybody who thinks that the attitudes behind the Charter of Values are restricted to Québec is kidding themselves. Certainly there are critics who will oppose the Québec Charter and also decry similar attitudes and actions in other parts of Canada and the world. My problem isn't with them, but with those critics who, for some strange reason, insist on singling out Québec and Quebecers as somehow being more racist than other Canadians for supporting the Charter.

Why are those Quebecers who support the Charter somehow more racist than people in other parts of Canada and the world, when similar attitudes exist not just in other Canadian provinces, but foreign countries like Great Britain and Ireland? Why is it somehow ethnic nationalism when francophone Quebecers want to impose some restrictions on religious garb, but not the likes of Ezra Levant and Jason Kenney when they decry police officers wearing veils and turbans, or ban the wearing of facial coverings in court proceedings or citizenship ceremonies?

Why is it alright for Anglophones to express concern when immigrants who refuse to integrate and adopt local values, while it's supposedly bigotry when Francophones do the exact same thing?

I honestly don't get it, I really don't.

2013/02/24

Bill 101 and the English press

Did you hear about the pastagate? A Montréal restaurateur wants to give an exotic experience to his clientèle and uses Italian in his menu. A government representative working for the Office québécois de la langue française sees it as an offense against the state and issues a warning. The PQ government denounces the public servant's gesture, deeming it overzealous, and calls off the warning. End of story?... apparently not.

In Toronto, Canada's National Newspaper writes an editorial on the topic accusing the PQ government of fostering conditions leading to the event. The situation sheds such a ridiculous light on the province's language law, why not take advantage of it?

Apparently, the Canadian readership craves on such anecdotes, in which individuals demonstrate their lack of judgment. Here are a few others that English media deemed newsworthy:
  • 1996: A woman warns the owner of a Quebec pet store she might get in touch with language authorities because Peekaboo, the parrot she wanted to buy, didn't speak French.
  • 1999: The Old Navy chain is asked to rename its stores "La Vieille Rivière." It never happens.
  • 2000: The owner of an Indian restaurant is told he's breaking the law by having coasters for "Double Diamond," a British beer.
  • 2001: Some people express disappointment that race-car driver Jacques Villeneuve calls his restaurant "Newtown."
  • 2005: Language authorities say they will investigate complaints that Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay's party used the word "Go" on its campaign posters and pamphlets, as in "Go Montreal."
  • 2007: Imperial Oil says it will keep its Quebec-only "Marché Express" name for its Esso gas stations after protests against a proposal to change the name to "On the Run," as the stations are known elsewhere in North America.
  • 2007: Language activists decry that callers to many Quebec government offices are told to "press nine" for English before instructions are delivered in French. Some of the departments have since changed the message to put English at the end.
Meanwhile in Ontario, French speaking parents under supervised visits are not allowed to speak to their children in their mother tongue... and no English media sees it fit to cover the story [Google translation].