The roots of the "reasonable accommodation" furor that has gripped Quebec in recent years grow from deep in the soil of French-Canadian insecurity. And the uproar over religious and cultural pluralism can be best handled through more communication among groups, not by rejection and suspicion.
Those are the common-sense central points that emerge from key draft chapters, obtained by Gazette reporter Jeff Heinrich, of the long-awaited Bouchard-Taylor report, due out later this month.
The report is the fruit of 15 months of work by two of Quebec's wisest wise men, Gérard Bouchard and Charles Taylor, academics who also have a robust understanding of life outside the ivory tower. At the request of the Quebec government, and aided by a strong supporting cast of experts, the two co-chairmen pondered the issue, organized research, listened to the public in 17 towns and cities, and spent months writing their report.
We have not seen the commission's recommendations. But the chapters obtained by The Gazette make it clear that Bouchard and Taylor have lived up to the promise they made when they were appointed to interpret their mandate widely, by reviewing the whole field of "interculturalism, immigration, secularism and the theme of Quebec identity." Setting themselves that daunting task guaranteed that the report would be somewhat controversial. But a narrowly legalistic review of flashpoint cases - some of them flashpoints only because they were presented imprecisely in some media - would have been of little use.
Although the whole sheaf of issues known as "reasonable accommodation" has receded from public debate lately, publication of the report will surely reverse that.
Bouchard is a historian, Taylor a philosopher. Together they had no trouble recognizing that "the insecurity of a minority" has been a constant in the history of French-speaking Quebec. Worry about the hijab, the kirpan and so on are, we are told, natural heirs to centuries of anxiety about la survivance. That explains the potent emotions around such questions, emotions that generate "unfounded objections" to some religious and cultural practices.
Add the dwindling of Catholic religious faith just while certain other faiths become more visible, include alarm following Sept. 11, 2001, and toss in concern about economic and cultural globalization, and you've got a tinderbox. (We can guess which author added the sentence about how certain Supreme Court decisions added to the mix feelings of "humiliation" about federal meddling.)
For the most part, Bouchard and Taylor write off the notion that this concern about accommodation amounts to true racism. True, some shocking things were said at the commission's road-show hearings, but these come, the two authors say, more from fear than from malice.
They note, too, that religious and other minority groups, and individuals, can feel awfully vulnerable themselves. If there's nothing else we have in common, all groups in Quebec do at least share a powerful reciprocal wariness.
We expect that many of the report's recommendations will flow from its assertion that "the identity inherited from the French-Canadian past is perfectly legitimate and deserves to survive, but it can no longer be the sole element of Quebec identity." Other proposals will come from the report's concern with the disadvantaged status of some in minority communities, and discrimination that members can face.
We look forward to seeing the whole report. What we have seen strikes, for the most part, just the right tone. But the public reaction, and the way Jean Charest's government receives the report and responds, will be more important than the report itself in charting our course, amid all these rocks of mutual wariness, to the calmer waters of what we might call reasoned accommodation.