Right-thinking at the Globe and Mail - Part 2

Well... it's not only the Globe and Mail. Mainstream publications around the country have mostly published perspectives against Québec's Bill 94 to uncover faces. The gulf between Canadian media elites and the "people" seems to be generalized.

In her blog on L'Actualité this week, Chantal Hébert comments on a recent Angus Reid Opinion Poll that underlines the general consensus over reasonable accommodations. She points out that the debate is obviously simmering from coast to coast. While the issue has been discussed for several years in Québec, other provinces have only been looking away and are bound to address it.

Click here [Google translation] to read the full column.


A prosperous Québec

Last week, Chantal Hébert was on Radio-Canada radio [in French only]. She's by far my favorite political observer and, as usual, was very interesting. She talked about the place of women in politics, in journalism... I like her attitude and her wits. She also commented on a recent column she wrote in Le Devoir about Alberta's Questerre first shale gas operation in Québec. Her column, a piece of political fiction, broached the environmental decisions the province would have to face and the geopolitical impacts of a prosperous Québec.

Québec is in a good position to sell gas to the USA. A pipeline would financially be more feasible than linking Alaska to the rest of the USA. Even if exploiting gas isn't as polluting as the oil sands, it certainly can't be considered sustainable development. But who could say "no" to billions of dollars?

Wiping off the debt, building super hospitals and more efficient transportation networks are mere examples of what new inflow of monies could do. A prosperous Québec could then shift from beneficiary to contributor in the equalization program.

What if it did? Would a richer Québec accept to watch part of this wealth be distributed to poorer provinces such as Ontario or New-Brunswick? According to current rules, provinces that benefit from equalization can apply these amounts to whatever priorities they see fit. Would a richer Québec remain unmoved by having contributed, even remotely, to tax reductions in Ontario or an ambitious universal home care program for the elderly in Fredericton?

Up until now, Edmonton has responded "yes" to these questions. Would Québec's answers differ?... how?... and why? Wouldn't the Parti Québécois use this situation to its own advantage?

Click here [Google translation] to read the full column.

Does Canada really want a prosperous Québec? Some say the time isn't ripe for a constitutional reform. Perhaps it is.


A Québécois in Toronto

I was a young teenager the first time I visited Toronto. I participated in a cultural exchange organized by my high school. As far as I can remember, I always have been interested in improving my language skills and thus swiftly jumped at the opportunity.

Unlike most participants from Toronto, the young Ontarian I was matched with could speak very good French. I remember spending the day with him on the campus of Upper Canada College; I can still hear the squeaky wooden floors. The material being presented in his French class was child's play for us Francophones. My young Anglo friend would later have the same reaction when attending my English class.

We spent the whole weekend downtown. I was most impressed by the streetcars and the trolleybuses, things I had never experienced before. I remember one trolleybus coming to a halt and the driver putting the pole back on the electrified line. The overhead wires on some of the busier streets weren't the most pleasant sight.

The most vivid memory I have of that weekend is playing on a subway grate near City Hall. The air blowing out of it was so strong; everything we threw over it, including our spit, would fly off in the sky. We came back home dirty as hell.

I've gone back many times since for business. On one occasion, I tried calling the young man I met in my early teens. His father was still living in the same house and quickly recognized me; my Anglo friend had moved to another part of the globe.

I also went back for a short weekend to see a musical with my wife. In a typical Québécois fashion, we figured we'd grab a quick lunch before and have a late dinner after the show. The restaurant we found near the Pantages Theater later that night was about to close when we got in. The restaurateurs recognized the tourists that we were. What I first thought would be a blatant example of the number one Ontarian stereotype, turned out to be some authentique hospitalité torontoise.

For the Montrealer that I am, and even if both cities aren't that far apart in age, Toronto feels "young". I'm sure Europeans also get that feeling when they come to Montréal.

Perhaps, the thing I like the most about Toronto is the absence of linguistic ambiguity. When in Montréal, I'm occasionally approached by salespersons in Canada's other official language. They usually switch to French easily, but sometimes don't. I then always go into great length to help them with their French by promoting a constructive dialog and remaining courteous. When they admit that they can't do it, I willingly switch to English. On very odd occasions, the salesperson simply has no interest for French and misinterprets my attitude for intolerance.

In Toronto, you're never out of line when expecting someone to speak the language of the majority.


Right-thinking at the Globe and Mail

I've been following reports on the Québec niqab story since it broke out almost three weeks ago. At first, I felt reports were generally supportive of the government's decision. Commentators on discussion forums and blogs have almost been unanimous in supporting the government's decision. I'm fully aware that Web talk is skewed and should be taken with a grain a salt, but I had never seen such a strong consensus before.

Then, the Globe and Mail published "Quebec must fix its lack of diversity", a column which advocates that the province doesn't have as much visible minorities representation as elsewhere in the country. And I thought... well, diversity isn't only based on colors...

After that, the Globe and Mail wrote "Intolerant intrusion", an editorial which draws a parallel between the niqab decision and the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan. And I though... well, that's a rather shameful innuendo... what are these people trying to do?

Today, the Globe and Mail publishes "Quebec's view on niqab creates fault line" which states that Quebec's decision struck some Canadians as pure intolerance. And I'm thinking... where are these Canadians they are referring to and why aren't they more vocal?

I look at the reactions these stories have prompted and wonder what the staff at the Globe and Mail has been drinking.


Hijab hampers employment

This one's not about Québec. Nor is it about Canada. Actually, it's not even news.

Radio-Canada radio broadcast a series of three reports [in French only] on the hopes, the successes and the broken dreams of immigrants from Morocco. The reporter interviewed a young Moroccan lady who had just obtained her visa to move to Québec. He asked her if she was aware of the additional hurdle that wearing the Islamic headscarf might represent when looking for a job in her new home country. "I'd rather not think about it." She replied. "It's actually harder in Morocco as well."

I was befuddled by the candor of her reply; it sounded almost trivial. I suddenly wondered about the appropriateness of our country's famed tolerance. I know many Canadians will move heaven and earth to provide a Muslim woman with a lady doctor, but I can't help wonder... do women in Muslim countries actually have such abundant access to lady doctors? If not, they obviously cope with it.

A young Egyptian woman has been making headlines for the past two weeks. Her getting expelled for wearing the niqab has revived the whole reasonable accommodation debate in Québec, and even Canada. The tone used to cover the story and reactions have generally been supportive of the government's decision. Although these are empirical observations, the population seems remarkably in tune "a mari usque ad mare" on the matter. Some commentators from other provinces even seem to be looking up to Québec for leadership to keep the niqab out of education.

In Egypt, the government has already taken action on the issue and announced last October that the niqab would be prohibited in many educational institutions. A report states that "the move represents a clear choosing of sides in a religious tug-of-war [...]. Whereas conservatives believe that Egyptian society has yielded for too long to western secularism, many Egyptians, including the government, see the recent rise of religious conservatism as a foreign import."

I'm not a big supporter of the conspiracy theory, but I can't help thinking that our country's no bound tolerance is greeting fundamentalists who have a hard time being accepted in their own country of origin. Is the great Canadian tolerance being exploited by extremists? What kind of citizens is the Canadian mosaic fostering? What's the proper balance?

There's a void that needs to be filled. Governments have steered clear of the issue making room for groups of interest with their own agenda. It seems fairly clear that the general opinion recognizes the need for guidelines.

In 2008, the Consultation Commission on Accommodation Practices Related to Cultural Differences submitted its final report. Its main conclusion recommended the drafting of a white paper on secularism that would clarify and formalize the implicit secularism model patiently edified in Québec. The time is ripe.

In the meantime, the young Egyptian woman who was expelled from her French class made a formal complaint to the Commission des droits de la personne. It's a euphemism to state that the adjudicator in charge of the case has an important decision to make. Let's hope the verdict, whatever it is, doesn't backlash on all minorities.


Braveheart and the sovereigntists

With his editorial, in last Sunday's La Presse, André Pratte draws several parallels between the Scottish movement for independence and the PQ. "The resemblance between both approaches is fascinating..." he writes.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) recently published its White Paper detailing the steps that would lead to the secession of Scotland from the United Kingdom. The motivations are the same put forward by the Péquistes. The strategy envisioned to gather sufficient support is reminiscent of the "Marois Plan".

Facing its upcoming 2010 referendum deadline and insufficient support for its preferred option, the Scottish Government is now considering a multi-option referendum seeking a variety of increased responsibilities for the Scottish Parliament. The appeal of the latter option is that it might be more likely to command the support of other parties.

Click here [Google translation] to read the editorial.


Muslim expelled because of niqab - Part 2

When I first saw the news about Mrs. Naima Ahmed being expelled from a French class early this week in La Presse [Google translation], I figured Québec would make front pages across the country for its so-called intolerance. I was wrong. All mainstream media treated the news for what it is, a legitimate accommodation attempt that failed:Reports picking up the story the following days generally conveyed the same outlook. "I think this is an illustration of when an accommodation becomes unreasonable," civil-rights lawyer Julius Grey said. "What surprises me..." added Gérard Bouchard "is that these managers felt they needed to go all the way to the Minister's office to resolve the issue. They had everything on-hand to make a legitimate decision."

Even readers' comments on various websites and forums were somewhat consensual. Some commentators put forward that such cases were examples of newcomers testing the limits of Canada's tolerance. The dominant general point of view is that Mrs. Ahmed went too far in her stance. The fact that she rallied both the Québécois and other Canadians is quite a feat.

Obviously, there are two sides to every story. The Globe and Mail published Mrs. Ahmed's version. I prefer the more touching perspective rendered by La Presse's Michèle Ouimet [Google translation].

Religion is important and it shouldn't be the basis for any type of discrimination. But is this situation really about religion? Even if it is, it shouldn't be used as a free pass to justify all types of behaviors.


Muslim expelled because of niqab

A Muslim student was expelled from a French class by authorities in Montréal. The decision was made by Yolande James, Québec's Minister of Immigration.

Facial expression, elocution and interaction between students are all part of the course's curricula, but the presence of three men in the group motivated the student to keep her face covered and impeded the course's objectives. Several attempts had been made to accommodate the student, such as private conversations and oral presentations with her back facing the classroom. The decision to expel the student was based on Québec's societal values, namely the equality between man and woman.

Click here [Google translation] for the full story.

Furthermore, several non-profit organizations support the decision [Google translation]. The Muslim Canadian Congress went as far as stating that: "As a Muslim, I find wearing the niqab totally ludicrous. It's a slap in the face to those of us who consider themselves moderate Muslims."