One aspect of Quebec's "reasonable accommodation" debate is the way the majority refers to minorities. When Andre Boisclair spoke of "people with slanted eyes" last March, he caused an uproar among many Asian Canadians but also among many anglophones and allophones.
His response was genuine puzzlement: He had used what he saw as an ordinary expression, with no intent to insult or deride. When francophone commentators echoed his perplexity, it became clear there was a cultural phenomenon at work, and not mere racial arrogance.
Another two-solitudes moment can be detected in some of the editorial cartoons about Mario Dumont's unannounced meeting with Jewish-community leaders this month. B'nai Brith Canada denounced a La Presse cartoon that depicted Dumont in Hasidic attire. The idea that La Presse would purposefully be offensive is scarcely credible, and it is striking that a senior editor responded by accusing B'nai Brith of "serious and unfounded accusations."
Meanwhile, Le Devoir showed Dumont "certified kosher" and, most alarmingly, La Tribune in Sherbrooke showed Dumont with dollar signs in his eyes, greeting two men with Hasidic-style curls as "me$ ami$." That vulgar caricature was plainly over the line.
Are the "chattering classes" in francophone Quebec more relaxed with ethnic stereotypes than their anglophone counterparts across North America? Does this constitute insensitivity to historic realities? Does cartoon emphasis on the Hasidim suggest a lack of familiarity with the broader Jewish community? Shouldn't we all be very careful, these days, how we tread on sensitive turf? Is it a failure of reasonable accommodation on the part of some in minority communities to take offence quickly if no offence is intended?
Quebec is becoming genuinely multicultural, and old assumptions, thought patterns and behaviours require rethinking on all sides.
Perhaps all of us should bear in mind the adage that a gentleman – or a lady, for we mean no slur to women – is a person who never gives offence unintentionally.
This is an edited version of an [editorial yesterday in the Gazette,->7459] Montreal.