JILL MAHONEY, With a report from Tu Thanh Ha -
Organizations representing minorities are outraged by a Quebec town's "standards" for newcomers, calling them insulting and xenophobic.
The town council of Hérouxville issued a set of wide-ranging rules for immigrants considering moving there, including bans on beating or burning women alive, veiling one's face and children carrying symbolic weapons to school.
"It is totally distasteful to see someone using this kind of writing and putting it in a public domain, and this is not just an ordinary someone, these are people in authority," said Salam Elmenyawi, president of the Muslim Council of Montreal.
Critics urged Quebec Premier Jean Charest - who called the standards an "isolated case" earlier this week - to strongly denounce the town officials. They also want the mayor and councillors to apologize and retract the document.
The standards, which the town sent to provincial and federal governments last week and wants immigrants to read before deciding to settle in Hérouxville, come during pitched debates in Quebec over the integration of ethnic, cultural and religious minorities.
"It tries to make a mockery of this whole debate about reasonable accommodation, and it tries to say that these are our rules and if you don't like them, don't come here," said Steven Slimovitch, national legal counsel for B'nai Brith Canada. "The whole tone of the document, and it says so quite clearly, is that this is the law of the strong."
Hérouxville is a town of 1,300, including just one immigrant family, in central Quebec, about 165 kilometres northeast of Montreal. Officials, who say they want to attract more immigrants, say the document is intended to help newcomers "integrate socially."
"We would especially like to inform the new arrivals that the lifestyle that they left behind in their birth country cannot be brought here with them and they would have to adapt to their new social identity," it says.
Hérouxville's initiative is spreading, with the town council in a nearby village, Saint-Roch-de-Mékinac, set to debate a similar resolution Friday night. Mayor Claude Dumont said the resolution is "saying out loud what some people are thinking quietly but don't have the balls to say."
Mr. Dumont added that three other communities outside of his village, population 311, are thinking of passing their own resolutions.
Hérouxville officials have said the standards are in response to recent culture clashes, including at a Montreal gym where windows were obscured to block the view of exercising women from a nearby Hasidic Jewish synagogue and school.
The Hérouxville document says women can drive, dance, vote, sign cheques and speak for themselves. Boys and girls swim together in the same pools, men and women ski on the same slopes and play hockey on the same rinks. "Don't be surprised, this is normal for us," it says.
The only time residents can veil their faces, it says, is during Halloween. It also dismisses Muslim and Jewish dietary laws, saying: "If our children eat meat, for example, they don't need to know where it came from or who killed it. Our people eat to nourish the body, not the soul."
While the standards largely target Muslims, they also refer to practices of Sikhs, who carry kirpans, or ceremonial religious daggers; Jehovah's Witnesses, who refuse blood transfusions; and Orthodox Jews, who obey strict dietary laws. However, several of the town's standards, such as not killing women, are already illegal under the Criminal Code and others, such as the right to carry a kirpan or wear a head covering, are protected by court rulings or human-rights legislation.
"It really seems like statements that are very far out there. It's something that I feel that has already been covered and I feel almost as if we're going back to a debate of 30 years ago," said Sameer Zuberi, human-rights co-ordinator at the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Mark Ruge, spokesman for the Jehovah's Witnesses in Canada, took issue with the standard that says health-care professionals "do not have to ask permission to perform blood transfusions or any task needed to save a life."
"It kind of goes against anything we've ever heard as far as laws protecting people's rights. So some town in Quebec is coming up with something very unusual here."