Le gros bon sens.
Old-stock or newcomers, everyone in Quebec should remember to use their common sense - with a little help from government.
That's the bottom line of an eagerly awaited report on "reasonable accommodations" of minorities that was finally released yesterday.
Preaching reconciliation with the province's minorities, scholars Gérard Bouchard and Charles Taylor say accommodations are a two-way street.
On the one hand, the two blueblood intellectuals recommend the crucifix be removed from the National Assembly, Muslim students be allowed to keep wearing the head scarf in school, and city councils be barred from reciting the Lord's Prayer at their meetings.
On the other, they spell out what they think are unreasonable demands by religious groups for special treatment.
For example, at a public hospital or CLSC, a female patient shouldn't be allowed to refuse care from a male doctor just because he is male. And at public swimming pools, parents shouldn't have a right to demand that boys and girls be segregated.
But it would also be "absurd" to take down the cross on Mount Royal or remove one from the facade of an old building that has long been converted to secular use, the chairpersons of the $5-million Liberal government commission say.
"If our report could be summed up in a word, it's that it's a plea," Bouchard, a Chicoutimi historian and sociologist and brother of former Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard, said after releasing the report yesterday following a series of leaks in The Gazette.
"It's a plea for solutions of balance, solutions of common sense. It's a plea for equity, moderation and compromise," the professor told an overflow crowd of journalists at the Monument national, on St. Laurent Blvd.
"For us, compromise and reciprocity are the two key words," added Taylor, a world-renowned McGill University professor emeritus of philosophy.
"You give a little bit, I give a little bit, and we all put some water in our wine."
Titled Building the Future: A Time for Reconciliation, the report runs 307 pages long.
Among its 37 recommendations, judges and cops should not be allowed to wear religious symbols, the government should produce "a multidenominational calendar" of religious holidays, it should "step up measures" to recognize skills and diplomas of immigrant workers, and it should boost funding for immigrant women trying to make ends meet.
Bouchard and Taylor also recommend the government of Premier Jean Charest adopt a new policy: two "basic texts" that define "an open secular state" and "typically Quebec-style interculturalism."
Taylor used the example of teachers who wear the hijab in school.
"Children are in class and they have different teachers, and the teachers should be a reflection of the diverse society those children are going to grow up in - it shouldn't all be uniform," he told reporters.
"That's what open secularity means."
In their recommendations, the commissioners take no official position on the French language, deeming "this theme to be on the margin of our mandate." However, in the body of the report, they emphasize that French should be better taught in schools as well as in special classes for new immigrants - and so, too, should English.
Under tight security at a budget-style lock-up yesterday morning, journalists were given 21/2 hours to read the highly sensitive French-language report, along with its recommendations. Also available was a 95-page abridged version of the report, available in English and French.
All the documents - as well as 13 mostly-French-language studies the commission ordered from independent experts on various aspects of the accommodation question - are now available on the commission's website, www.accommodements.qc.ca.
The much-anticipated report has been the talk of the province since Saturday, when the three last chapters of the final draft were reported in The Gazette and, after several days of other excerpts, were posted in their entirety on the newspaper's website.
The official version mirrors word-for-word the contents of the final draft as reported in The Gazette.
In both, Bouchard and Taylor discuss what they call the media-fanned flames of the accommodation crisis that began in March 2006.
That was when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of Gurbaj Singh Multani, an orthodox Sikh teenager from LaSalle who wanted to keep wearing his kirpan (a small, sheathed dagger worn under the shirt) to school.
Other controversies followed, involving demands and deals made with orthodox Sikhs, Hasidic Jews and hijab-wearing Muslim women, mostly over issues of clothing they say is part and parcel of their religion.
The crisis came to a head in January 2007 with the publication of a "code of life" by the village council of Hérouxville in the Mauricie, in which foreigners were advised that public stonings, burnings and genital mutilation of women are not allowed in the community.
Fearing unrest over immigrants and religious minorities on the eve of a divisive provincial election campaign, Charest hastily announced he'd name a special body to defuse the crisis: the Bouchard-Taylor commission.
From mid-September to late December, the two scholars criss-crossed the province.
They took their road show to 17 cities and held a series of live-to-TV-broadcast public hearings attended by more than 3,500 people. They also received more than 900 briefs from individuals, interest groups, political parties and university academics, among others.
In early January, the commissioners sat down to digest the material and begin writing their report. Their deadline, originally set for March 31, was extended to May 31 after the government agreed to give them more time.
Heeding the vox populi, the professors now say they have come to a conclusion:
"The accommodation practices that we've seen in public institutions do not represent a threat to francophone Quebec culture - take our word for it," Bouchard told reporters.
"The situation is under control. Of course there are problems, but the situation is under control. There's no chaos, no disorder ... It's not right to say that Quebec's fundamental values, the things we value the most, such as the equality of men and women, are being violated by accommodation practices."
He added: "There is no crisis ... There's no domino effect. There's no snowball effect. There are mechanisms to restrain accommodations, there are mechanisms that seem extremely precise and effective.
"It's a bit paradoxical, but our conclusion is that there is no accommodation crisis, but that there is one in the perception of those realities."
That false perception is dangerous, he added, "because it can feed fears and feelings of insecurity, a reticence toward and suspicion of the Other - I'm speaking of immigrants and, in particular, of Muslims."
"And that can lead to what can be called a spiral of doubt, a spiral of mistrust, which once we get into it is very hard to stop, very hard to break. We're not there yet, but what has happened should serve as a sign to us ... and we should draw a lesson from it. All Quebecers should.
"It is unrealistic to believe that a society will survive without experimentation and change," he added.
"I don't believe that Quebecers of French-Canadian descent will oppose that view. It is at the heart of interculturalism. I think most Quebecers are comfortable with this view."
It's donnant-donnant, Bouchard said. Everyone's obliged to give and take if there's to be any harmony in society.
"In the end, it's the responsibility of all Quebecers, not just one component of society - it's a shared responsibility, between immigrants and the host society," he said.
"Immigrants are invited to adopt the fundamental values of Quebec society, they're invited to learn French, they're invited to participate in civic life, and thereby, to integrate as Quebecers into our society. And in return, the host society agrees to give them the means to integrate," he said.
"It's a kind of contract."
It sure beats going to court with a lawsuit or a human-rights commission with a complaint, Bouchard added.
"The idea we have is to unclog the tribunals, to have citizens get used to settling their problems amongst themselves, instead of always falling back on the courts."
Although the 75 per cent of Quebecers who make up the French-Canadian majority "control the institutions - namely, the state" and "exercise the top-most responsibilities in society," it's wrong to say they're responsible for the crisis over accommodation, Bouchard said.
"But the fact remains that the feeling of insecurity over identity was manifested the most among that segment of the population - and that was very, very, very clear in all the public and private consultations we conducted, as well as in the briefs and all the rest," he said.
In the end, Quebec is no more intolerant than any other society, Bouchard said.
Our society isn't doing all that badly," he told reporters. "There are no reliable data to support the idea that Quebec is more racist or more xenophobic or more discriminatory than in other societies. There are even data that suggest the contrary. Quebec has nothing to blush about."
The Bottom Line: Use Common Sense
'It's a plea'. Accommodations cited as a two-way street