If Quebec did live through a full- blown crisis over the reasonable accommodation issue, much of it was a question of perceptions - and distorted ones at that - commissioners Charles Taylor and Gérard Bouchard conclude in their report.
In fact, after months of study, media hype and almost an entire provincial election campaign spent talking about the question, the commission concluded there had been, in reality, "no striking or sudden increase" in the accommodations for minorities that Quebec's public institutions allowed in the last few years.
"The accommodation practices that we've seen in public institutions do not represent a threat to francophone Quebec culture," Bouchard said at a Montreal news conference to issue the report yesterday.
"Take our word for it. The situation is under control. Of course there are problems, but the situation is under control. There's no chaos, no disorder."
The numbers that researchers working for the commission came up with prove it. After spending four months reconstructing 21 cases that got the most media coverage, "striking distortions" between perceptions and reality popped up in 15 cases.
Only six of the cases studied had no distortion, the researchers concluded in a separate study attached to the Bouchard-Taylor report.
Going back farther in time, the commission identified 73 cases of accommodation in the last 22 years (from December 1985 to April 2008) and of that total, 40 occurred during what it calls a "period of turmoil," from March 2006 to June 2007, when the debate received "exceptionally intensive" media coverage.
"Given this observation, we can only ask ourselves what form debate would have taken if the public had obtained complete, objective information," the commission asks in its report. "The most likely hypothesis is that an accommodations crisis would not have arisen."
Interestingly, if the Charest government wanted to put a lid on debate for a while, it succeeded because as soon as the commission started work, the furor started to die down, they note.
"The accommodation hunt having ended, public attention turned to the commission's deliberations and the content of its public consultations," they write.
Distorted reports fuelled 'crisis'
'The situation is under control. There's no chaos, no disorder,' Bouchard says