Thursday, September 27, 2007

Immigration & accommodation in Québec

Faced with what is described as “public discontent” with Québec’s current multiculturalism policies, particularly as they provide accommodations for immigrant groups whose cultural and religious practices differ from that of the French Canadian Catholic majority in Quebec, Premier Jean Charest created a commission last February to address the issue. The commission’s approach to its charge has been deliberately provocative. In its consultation document, it has developed a series of “frank” and “direct” questions, “at the risk of occasionally arousing very strong responses” because it is convinced that “a wellspring of disagreements, discontent, dissatisfaction, or even frustration has built up” that must be aired. Accordingly, the public is asked to give its opinions on subjects ranging from the value (or lack thereof) of multiculturalism, Québec’s policy toward acceptance and integration of immigrants, “what kind of secularism” Québec should adopt, and so on. Answers may be submitted via formal briefs, on the commission’s website (in french & english), or in person at public hearings and forums. The expected furor is, of course, framed by the context of Québec’s unique position as a Francophone province within Canada and its corresponding and longstanding concern with protection of its French identity. Accordingly, whereas Canada has long had a federal policy of promoting multiculturalism, Québec’s policy is one instead of “cultural convergence.” The debate has also been spurred by the increasing ethnic and religious diversity of immigrants to Québec in recent years and the new challenge this diversity poses in the context of the long-recognized francophone-anglophone tension in the province. The commission began holding public meetings earlier this month & will continue through November. It will be interesting to see whether the commission succeeds in creating the frank dialogue it seeks, and what, if anything, comes of this vast public conversation.

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