It's just a tiny all-white town not far from the site of Quebec's biggest rodeo, but the humble residents of Herouxville have kick-started the national debate over a simmering immigration backlash.
A proposed town council code of conduct for new Canadians, fired off to federal and Quebec politicians for their consideration, has extreme tongue-in-cheek elements -- the local ban on stoning, burning and disfiguring women warped what might've been a more serious message.
But the widespread attention it received suggests our legendary tolerance is wearing thin for immigrants seen by some as trampling Canadian norms and traditions under their cultural or religious intransigence.
As an immigrant from the United States (albeit at age four) with immigrant parents, in-laws and a best buddy who inexplicably refuses to take out Canadian citizenship, I present the following list of suggested attitudes and expectations for new arrivals.
- The golden rule: It's Canada first, wherever you came from second. Emigrating here is not about acquiring a second home, it's about embracing a new life. The minute citizenship is conferred upon you, the Maple Leaf becomes your flag, if not your hockey team. All other nations are a secondary consideration.
- Religion here is about customs, not conflicts. Wearing turbans, headscarves and carrying small symbolic kirpans are acceptable. Burkas, being the mark of an oppressed woman, are strongly discouraged. Worshipping as a Muslim is good, taking out historic grievances as a Sunni or Shiite is very bad. Hindus or Sikhs should leave their Punjab and Golden Temple angst behind them. And no concrete wall is required to divide Palestinians from Jewish communities here.
- Canada is a safe haven for same-sex marriages, but is no place for coercively arranged marriages. Women here are equal in the workforce, free to pursue a mate of their choosing and are spared the indignity of female circumcision.
- Voting in Canada is an individual choice, not a proxy surrendered to ethnic leaders whose clout is wooed by politicians seeking ballots by the bunch. We have a secret ballot here. Vote your own conscience accordingly.
- Minorities should live in mixed communities. While this is easy to say in theory, there's an obvious temptation to cluster in districts with those who have shared traditions, languages and social norms. Unfortunately, ethnic isolation has become the incubator for home-grown fanaticism and terrorism. Residential integration is the key to a successful resettlement here.
- There are only two official languages in this country, which ensure access to government services in English or French. There is no such guarantee for service in other languages in courts, schools or the healthcare system. The federal government offers training in both languages to immigrants. Take it.
- There are no castes in Canada--only upper, middle and lower income classes. OK, you might argue, same thing. But people here are free to work themselves up (or down) the class structure. Failing that, there's always the chance to win a lottery.
- A Canadian passport is the traveller's proof of primary citizenship, not a document of convenience to be held in reserve while living abroad should a war or natural disaster require the holder to beat a hasty retreat on government aircraft, or for emergency access to free health care.
- If your religion calls for a pilgrimage to a specific part of the world, consider one to the country you call home. A tour of Victoria, Calgary, Saskatoon, Toronto, Quebec City and St. John's would give you a profound appreciation of your vast and diverse new homeland.
- In Canada, doing serious crime means more than just serious time. If you're an immigrant, it means deportation and there's no coming back.
- If you're coming from America, learn about Vimy Ridge and try to forget Desert Storm. And accept that Afghanistan is a war against terror, not a crusade.
Now, the Herouxville declaration does make some legitimate points. Canadians tolerate public drinking, dancing and some of us exercise before open gym windows in form-fitting clothes, which can qualify as offensive or attractive depending on the individual's form.
And we do celebrate Christmas holidays, promote tooth-fairy payoffs and look forward to the spring visit from a chocaholic rabbit.
Canada is a proud mosaic, not an American style melting pot. But by that definition, its diverse elements should fit together in an eye-pleasing form and not take the shape of a country fractured by walls, feuds or historic squabbles imported from around the world.