Quebec multiculturalism

Canada is multicultural in law and practice. As long as your language, culture or religious beliefs do not harm another individual, they are welcome here. Yet the province that always appears to be the exception maintains its notoriety. Parti Quebecois spokeswoman Louise Beaudoin recently stated that “multiculturalism may be a Canadian value, but it is not a Quebec one.” And she is right, in practice and law. Multiculturalism is entrenched in the Canadian Constitution which Quebec did not sign. But at the core of multiculturalism is the no-harm clause– live and let live– so why doesn’t Quebec jump on the band wagon?

Earlier this month, four Sikh men from the World Sikh Organization of Canada were barred from entering the Quebec National Assembly because they refused to remove their kirpans. These ceremonial daggers are a symbol of peace in the Sikh religion and are no sharper than a butter knife. Although both the House of Commons and the Supreme Court of Canada have a policy allowing kirpans, there is technically no established rule in Canada, so the Quebec National Assembly had every right to refuse entry to the four Sikh men, claiming security issues. Now people across Canada are pointing the racist finger at Quebec.

Remember Herouxville? Probably not, but the small Quebec town of 1,300 produced a constitution which all immigrants must sign before settling in. This town boasts 99 per cent Quebecois heritage and a 100 per cent French-speaking population. They wrote a code of standards which outlined their cultural beliefs along with the expectation that all newcomers would adhere to it. The code included the equality of women and annual traditions such as a publicly displayed Christmas tree and children begging for candy at Halloween. Oh, and people in Herouxville do not throw acid at women nor should face coverings appear other than on Halloween. Note taken. Although the code was originally produced to ensure newcomers would not encroach on established traditions, it became an attack on Islamic stereotypes. This is not the way to preserve one’s culture.

Yet in Quebec, they don’t view these actions as racist, xenophobic or prejudice against religion. They are merely examples which are demonstrative of a larger issue. That is, the fear that Quebec’s language, culture and secular society will be lost.

Canada is a cultural mosaic. We are fortunate to have a mix of cultures, languages and ethnicities in Canada but the Anglo-Caucasian portion of our mosaic continues to be the largest and likely will be for many years. Hundreds of thousands of people hope to immigrate to North America to be a part of the culture. So whether or not you like living next to the largest mosque in western Canada or a thriving Chinatown, this larger Anglo-Caucasian culture is not truly threatened. Quebec’s culture is.

There is a legitimate concern in Quebec that the culture will be lost. Music on the radio: English. The Tim Hortons menu: bilingual. Movies: Hollywood. Universite Laval, the oldest French university in North America, requires English as a second language to complete many programs including commerce and literature. And trust me, I worked for the English program at Laval– there is a wide discrepancy between English speakers who have to know French and French speakers who have to know English, with Anglos lagging far behind. The Quebecois of today are not the separatist fighters of the late 20th century. Their actions, which appear to be racist or xenophobic, are what they believe to be the only means of preserving their language and culture. If you have ever spent time in Quebec you will know they don’t hate or fear non-Francophones, nor do they believe they are superior. But they do have a legitimate fear that their children or grandchildren will live in a Quebec which is French in name only.

There are ways for the Quebec government to remedy this problem. One example is Law 101. Originally written in 1977, with amendments continuing into the 21st century, this legislation made French the only official language of Quebec. This means that the names of all government agencies and professional corporations as well as all public signs and advertising must be in French only. But this legislation harms no one. So what if the Mac’s convenience store is Couche-Tard and Value Village is Village des Valeurs? This is really not a big deal and if it bothers you don’t go, pretty simple. I instead prefer to support laws like these which may help preserve the Quebecois culture.

Intent is not everything, but before judging Quebec look at the larger issue here: the Francophone culture of Quebec is endangered. Any signs of xenophobia or racism are likely a preservation tactic. But barring Sikhs from the National Assembly and writing a code of cultural beliefs are not acceptable ways of preserving culture in Canada. Instead, I hope more positive provisions like Law 101 are enacted. Nevertheless, please consider the current state of Quebecois language and culture before pointing the racist finger in the future.

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