The town of Herouxville is our own Sault Ste. Marie

Hysteria over reasonable accommodation has hit small-town Quebec

Hérouxville - l'étincelle

"The municipality of Herouxville welcomes you," it says in French, perhaps ironically, on the town's home page, above a photo of a typical Quebec village church.
Herouxville introduces itself as a town of 1,323 in the Quebec hinterland, straddling Highway 153 between Shawinigan and St. Tite in the Mauricie region. Google Maps says it's a drive of 54.2 kilometres or about 43 minutes northeast of Trois-Rivieres.
Statistics Canada's 2001 community profile says it was 100-per-cent French-speaking, and 96-per-cent Catholic. There were no Muslims, Jews or Sikhs (the nearest mosque, synagogue or temple is nearly 200 kilometres away in Montreal). Only 10 inhabitants were born outside of Canada.
Herouxville's average income was 22 per cent below that of the province, its rate of participation in the labour force 11 per cent lower and its unemployment rate 68 per cent higher. So it's not surprising that between 1996 and 2001, its population declined, by three per cent. And its median age was 40.5 years, nearly two years older than that of an aging province.
The numbers paint a picture of another ethnically and linguistically homogeneous, somewhat remote rural village wasting away for lack of economic opportunity.
In all, Herouxville is exactly the kind of place where immigrants are least likely to settle. The declining population suggests even people born there won't stay.
So it was hardly necessary for the town council to inform prospective immigrants on the municipality's website that burning women alive, among other supposed religious practices of outsiders, is "not part of our standards of life."
But the Herouxville council wasn't meeting even an apprehended local threat. Rather, its members were responding to media reports over the past few months, almost always from distant Montreal, about conflicts between minority religious practices and the values of the majority.
The seven members of the council - all of them, to judge by their names, old-stock Quebecers - were making a statement. They were marking territory, asserting rights of property: This is our house, we are the masters here, and if there are any concessions to be made, it is you who will make them to us. When in Herouxville ...
The tone of the Herouxville code recalls an old country hit, Merle Haggard's anti-hippie, anti-protest, redneck anthem Okie from Muskogee.
And the Herouxville council members were making that statement not only on behalf of the 196 residents of surrounding Mekinac municipal rural county whom they had polled (Sample question: "Would you let someone take away your right to listen to music?").
To judge by the more than 2,000 mostly approving emails that have flooded the town's website since its code made the news on Saturday, it's a statement that has resonated with many of their fellow old-stock Quebecers elsewhere. When in Quebec ...
So when Premier Jean Charest yesterday dismissed the Herouxville code as an isolated incident, he might have been right only for the time being. The resentment at supposedly being imposed upon by the "reasonable accommodation" of minority religions, which is disproportionate to the very small number of Quebecers who have actually been inconvenienced, is approaching the level of public hysteria.
We saw similar hysteria in Ontario in the early 1990s, when councils in small towns like Herouxville were adopting resolutions in response to another imaginary threat by minorities.
In that case, the resolutions declared the towns to be officially English-only, in supposed defiance of a provincial law providing bilingual services. In the first place, the towns had few or no French-speaking inhabitants to require the services. And in the second, the law didn't apply to municipalities.
One of the largest of these towns, and the one that became known in Quebec, was Sault Ste. Marie. Now we have our own Sault Ste. Marie. Herouxville has put itself on the map not only of Quebec but of Canada, and now needs no further introduction.
You can read Herouxville's standards in English and in full at

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