In the News

The Charter of Quebec Values / Charte des valeurs québécoises

In September of 2013, Parti Québécois Minister Responsible for Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship Bernard Drainville introduced the Charter of Quebec Values / Charte de la laïcité or Charte des valeurs québécoises. French language site here. English here.  The policy, especially its proposal to ban the wearing of “conspicuous” religious symbols, drew much criticism across the province and the country. CBC English-language news coverage here.

Despite PQ leader Pauline Marois’s claim that the policy was not intended to “divide the population,” critics argued that the proposal would set Quebecers apart, alienating religious minority communities in the province. An interview  with former PQ leader Bernard Landry on CBC’s The Current news program is here. See also a debate on the Charter at TVO’s The Agenda: here.

The Charter was a factor in the results of the April 2014 Quebec election, according to Toronto Star political commentator Chantal Hébert, driving the younger generation of Quebecers away from the PQ. CBC News program: “At Issue: Quebec Election Results.”

The Debate About Black-Focused Schools in Ontario

In the wake of a 1995 Royal Commission on Learning that found high dropout rates among black students across the province of Ontario, a commission proposal for black-focused schools had attracted growing support by 2005. Read early coverage here. A background report is here. To some the plan sounds like segregation. This research article makes the case for black-focused schools. Follow the debate around and the progress of Afro-centric schools in Ontario at this news portal. Recent stories report the school is outperforming others in some areas.

Multiculturalism: What do Canadians Think?

As part of a special series, Canada: Our Time to Lead, the Globe and Mail (Oct. 2010) has chosen multiculturalism as one of the 8 most key topics Canadians need to discuss. Among the story-threads: “Canada’s Changing Faith,” a report on religion in Canada that has garnered more than 600 comments in the few days following its appearance; “Multiculturalism: Tell us what you think” asks Canadians to make their own 1 minute videos and submit them; and “Which immigrant would you choose for Canada?” offers fictional portraits of prospective immigrants to Canada and asks a panel of experts to judge their chances of success.

While recent a Globe discussion (“What we fear about multiculturalism“) with Phil Ryan, associate professor for School of Public Policy and Administration at Carleton Universityand author of Multicultiphobia, places multiculturalism at the centre of anxieties about national unity and identity, a June 2010 piece in  La Presse, a Quebec French-language daily, sees multiculturalism as key to answering the question “Qu’est-ce qu’un Canadien?“.

United Nations Independent Expert on Minority Issues Visits Canada

United Nations Independent Expert on Minority Issues, Ms. Gay McDougall, was in Canada on a 10-day visit in October of 2009, invited by the Canadian government to review the country’s record. McDougall’s mandate was to promote implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities.

McDougall met with a number of groups across Canada, including the Centre for Research Action on Race-Relations and the Colour of Poverty Campaign.

McDougall praised Canada for an “impressive constitutional and legislative framework” and for its leadership in developing a state policy of multiculturalism.

McDougall’s Exit Statement included some of the following recommendations: the collection of disaggregated data regarding ethnic, religious and gender as a means of revealing hidden racial inequalities; advancing poverty reduction strategies for vulnerable racialized communities; developing appropriate curriculum and pedagogical strategies for racialized children; encouraging greater participation of minorities in mainstream politics; and dealing with complaints of police racial profiling and inadequate justice for racial minorities.

See this story from The Vancouver Straight.

New Citizenship Canada Guide Unveiled

The Canadian government has announced the publication of a new citizenship guide for immigrants. Entitled Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship, the book is required reading for the Canadian citizenship test, replacing the previous version produced by the Liberal government 12 years ago.

According to reports, the guide is a significant revision, expanding the account of Canadian history, placing greater emphasis on integration, and celebrating Canada’s military role in the world.

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney pointed out that the previous guide lacked historical depth.

“It didn’t explain what the poppy represents, didn’t talk about the equality of men and women, didn’t address the nationalist movement in Quebec. It was, I think, in a way, unintentionally promoting a certain degree of historical ignorance. And I think we’ve corrected that.”

The guide adds some less than proud facts regarding Canada’s history, including the head tax on Chinese immigrants and the abolition of slavery as well as an account of Quebec separatism.

It also takes a harder line on Canada’s presumed openness to cultural practices, stressing that “barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, honour killings, female genital mutilation or other gender-based violence” are not to be preserved and enhanced in multicultural Canada.

Stories are here: CBC | CTVGlobe and Mail | Toronto Star | National Post | Edmonton Sun

Quebec: The Reasonable Accommodation Debate

Orthodox Jews in Montreal object to Quebec’s ban on the niqab when Muslim women receive government services.

The Globe and Mail has published this assessment of multiculturalism (“When multiculturalism doesn’t work”, Oct. 2010) with a special focus on Quebec and the newly established “accommodation hotline.”

In September of 2007, the Consultation Commission on Accommodation Practices Related to Cultural Differences / Commission de consultation sur les pratiques d’accommodement reliées aux différences culturelles was struck by the Quebec government. Fifteen months after beginning its public hearings the Commission issued its report. CBC coverage of the start of the Commission hearings is here. Full and abbreviated versions of the report in English are here.

Quebec provincial premier Jean Charest instructed the commission to investigate Quebeckers’ opinions about immigrant integration. Public meetings began in September over what is being called “the reasonable accommodation of minorities.” The commission, which traveled throughout the province, was chaired by McGill University philosopher and political theorist Charles Taylor and sociologist Gérard Bouchard. Read the CBC report. Macleans’ Magazine online has this report from the commission meeting in Gatineau, Quebec.

One impetus for the Commission came in the wake of a small Quebec community named Hérouxville enacting a code of conduct for immigrants in January of 2007–aimed primarily at Muslims. Among the rules are the prohibition of stoning, female circumcision, and the wearing of veils–except on Hallowe’en.

The furor over the code was exacerbated by the ejection of a Muslim girl from a soccer competition in Quebec early in 2007 for wearing a hijab, or head scarf. Read about the story as well as Canadians’ response to it.

In response to the code of conduct issued by the town of Hérouxville, 14 Muslim women met with town officials. Hérouxville later amended some of its rules. A number of other Quebec towns have rejected the Hérouxville code. Meanwhile, the CBC radio program “As It Happens” brings this report on a Muslim man who visited the town, published a poem expressing his feelings on the issue, and has himself been accused of racist attitudes. Listen to the program by clicking on the links in the page.

Some commentators see the response as indicative of Quebeckers’ throwing off the religious influence the Roman Catholic church during the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s.

Another story from Quebec: CBC television news follows the plight of a Montreal taxi driver fined for having religious and personal items on display in his cab.

In 2006, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled against a Quebec school authority that prohibited a Sikh child from wearing a kirpan, or ceremonial dagger, to school. According to the Court, the ban constituted a violation of freedom of religion under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Law Times has pointed out the role of Canada’s multicultural policy in the decision: “This judgment connects some important dots. It linked religious symbolism to the Charter’s commitment to multiculturalism and then linked both to public education, which instills necessary practices for living in a diverse society.”

Meanwhile, the Globe and Mail newspaper reported in October of 2007 that the reasonable accommodation debate could be potentially divisive throughout the country:

‘Them’ and ‘us’ split spreading nationwide, federal officials warn

From Friday’s Globe and Mail, October 19, 2007 at 4:15 AM EDT
OTTAWA — Federal officials have privately warned the Conservative government that Quebec’s debate over reasonable accommodation of minorities is spreading across Canada and could trigger “alarming” divisions in the country.

Internal government documents show Jason Kenney, the federal secretary of state for multiculturalism and Canadian identity, personally requested a comprehensive briefing on the issue earlier this year.

The deputy minister of Canadian heritage, Judith LaRocque, responded with a detailed analysis from the department. It outlines how the issue first appeared in court rulings on labour matters and has grown into a heated political debate that draws in issues of immigration and multiculturalism.

“There is now a sense of urgency to more clearly define and explain the principle of reasonable accommodation, as alarming shifts regarding the split between ‘them’ and ‘us’ may occur,” the briefing says. “This is of particular concern in Quebec, at a time when the government is putting programs in place to close gaps affecting minority groups.”

The document notes that while the debate is focused on Quebec, it is also taking place in the rest of Canada, “albeit on a smaller scale for now.” The paper informs Mr. Kenney that the “politicization” of the debate in Quebec suggests a “a certain split in Quebec between the French Republican model of managing religion in the public sphere and the traditional Canadian multiculturalism model.”

The briefing notes, which were obtained by Ottawa researcher Ken Rubin, surface as the Conservative government prepares legislation forcing voters to show their faces when casting ballots. The measure responds to recent controversy that current laws allow voters to wear a face-covering veil.

At the same time, Mr. Kenney and Prime Minister Stephen Harper are singing the praises of multiculturalism like never before. Mr. Kenney has twice cited a commitment to multiculturalism in the House this week to explain why the Prime Minister sent Rosh Hashanah greeting cards to Jewish Canadians.

“Most MPs [in the opposition] only do it at Christmastime, but because we believe in multiculturalism, we share holiday greetings on important festivities for all communities based on publicly available lists of information,” Mr. Kenney told the House of Commons yesterday.

The Prime Minister also gave a strong defence of reasonable accommodation in a multicultural Canada last month during an appearance at New York’s Council on Foreign Relations. His recent Throne Speech pledged to extend official bilingualism programs for minority communities.

The Globe and Mail reported earlier this week that the Conservative Party has created an “ethnic outreach team” overseen by Mr. Kenney and Mr. Harper. According to an internal party document obtained by The Globe, the team targets specific ethnic voters in a bid to “replace the Liberals as the primary voice of new Canadians and ethnic minorities.”

The plan differentiates between ethnic groups, noting that only 79 per cent are viewed as “accessible” by the Conservatives.

Meanwhile, the Parti Québécois is introducing a bill to establish a “Quebec citizenship” that would require all immigrants to have an “appropriate knowledge” of the French language to be sworn in as citizens of the province. PQ Leader Pauline Marois said the Quebec Identity Act will enable the Quebec nation to fully express its historical heritage and fundamental values.

Quebeckers have been seized with the issue of reasonable accommodation as a public commission tours the province, hearing the views of citizens and experts on the sensitive subject. At times, the public forums have become heated, singling out specific minorities in a negative light. For the most part, the dominant issue has been debate over whether public displays of religion should be allowed in the workplace.

Earlier this month, Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe waded into the debate, delivering a speech to university students blasting the “Canadian ideology of multiculturalism.”

Drawing clear battle lines with the Conservatives, Mr. Duceppe also called for the recognition that “Quebeckers form a francophone nation in America, not a bilingual nation.”

The Bloc’s criticism of official bilingualism is not too far from the views expressed by Mr. Harper himself in his earlier years with the Reform Party and as director of the National Citizens Coalition. The contrast between his current and former comments suggests the Prime Minister has moved a fair bit from his earlier views.

In 2001, 10 months before he returned to active politics to lead the Canadian Alliance, Mr. Harper wrote in a published column: “As a religion, bilingualism is the god that failed. It has led to no fairness, produced no unity and cost Canadian taxpayers untold millions.”

In his early days as the policy expert for the Reform Party, Mr. Harper’s writings devoted little attention to multiculturalism.

Mr. Harper was quoted at a 1991 Reform Party convention as saying bilingualism and multiculturalism are the “pet projects of a political priesthood” that don’t represent the wishes of Canadians.

*****

Key events in debate over ‘reasonable accommodation’

A government briefing note prepared for the junior minister responsible for multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, outlines key events that have fuelled debate over “reasonable accommodation.”

March, 2006 Supreme Court rules a Sikh student can wear his kirpan, a ceremonial dagger, to school.

October, 2006 British Prime Minister Tony Blair speaks out against face veils.

November, 2006 Montreal YMCA frosts its windows so that the boys at a Hasidic religious school don’t see women in their exercise clothes.

December, 2006 André Boisclair, then the Parti Québécois leader, suggests that the wooden crucifix be removed from Quebec’s National Assembly.

December, 2006 A judge in Toronto orders the removal of a Christmas tree from the lobby of an Ontario courthouse because it could offend non-Christians.

January, 2007 A Leger marketing poll says 59 per cent of Quebeckers (and 47 per cent of Canadians) consider themselves at least somewhat racist.

Bill Curry

‘Visible minority’: Debating its Usefulness

In a report published in early March 2007, the Geneva-based Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) called Canada’s use of the term “visible minority” racist. Report from Canada.com. Report from the Canadian Broadcasting Corpration (CBC).

In June 2007, the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF) published a report, which lent some support to the UN body’s report.

Dr. Ayman Al-Yassini, Executive Director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation stated that, “The CRRF believes that the term ‘visible minority’ is no longer appropriate, in today’s context, because it oversimplifies the experiences of racism.”

<p style=”font-size: 100%;”￿The Debate About Black-Focused Schools in Ontario

In the wake of a 1995 Royal Commission on Learning that found high dropout rates among black students across the province of Ontario, a commission proposal for black-focused schools had attracted growing support by 2005. Read early coverage here. A background report is here. To some the plan sounds like segregation. This research article makes the case for black-focused schools. Follow the debate around and the progress of Afro-centric schools in Ontario at this news portal. Recent stories report the school is outperforming others in some areas.

Multiculturalism: What do Canadians Think?
<p ￿The Debate About Black-Focused Schools in Ontario

In the wake of a 1995 Royal Commission on Learning that found high dropout rates among black students across the province of Ontario, a commission proposal for black-focused schools had attracted growing support by 2005. Read early coverage here. A background report is here. To some the plan sounds like segregation. This research article makes the case for black-focused schools. Follow the debate around and the progress of Afro-centric schools in Ontario at this news portal. Recent stories report the school is outperforming others in some areas.

Multiculturalism: What do Canadians Think?
<p i￿The Debate About Black-Focused Schools in Ontario

In the wake of a 1995 Royal Commission on Learning that found high dropout rates among black students across the province of Ontario, a commission proposal for black-focused schools had attracted growing support by 2005. Read early coverage here. A background report is here. To some the plan sounds like segregation. This research article makes the case for black-focused schools. Follow the debate around and the progress of Afro-centric schools in Ontario at this news portal. Recent stories report the school is outperforming others in some areas.

Multiculturalism: What do Canadians Think?
<p ￿The Debate About Black-Focused Schools in Ontario

In the wake of a 1995 Royal Commission on Learning that found high dropout rates among black students across the province of Ontario, a commission proposal for black-focused schools had attracted growing support by 2005. Read early coverage here. A background report is here. To some the plan sounds like segregation. This research article makes the case for black-focused schools. Follow the debate around and the progress of Afro-centric schools in Ontario at this news portal. Recent stories report the school is outperforming others in some areas.

Multiculturalism: What do Canadians Think?

 

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