'There was exaggeration'

Religious groups applaud report. But B'Nai Brith Canada wants Quebec to take proactive role in fighting racism


Commission BT - le rapport «Fonder l’avenir - Le temps de la conciliation»

JASON MAGDER - Religious groups expressed the hope yesterday's report by the Bouchard-Taylor commission will herald a new era of tolerance in Quebec.
"The crisis is in the past as of today," said Najat Boughaba, a spokesperson for the Canadian Islamic Congress, Quebec division. "We would like to turn over a new page, where everyone lives in peace and in harmony in our society."
Boughaba said she was pleased how the commissioners dealt with perceived clashes between Quebec's majority population and its cultural minorities, saying most Quebecers are very enlightened and the few clashes that have occurred were isolated incidents.
Alex Werzberger of the Coalition of Outremont Hassidic Organizations likes the report's recommendations about accepting minorities.

"It was a crisis of perception. There was exaggeration of certain isolated cases, and that seemed to have affected all the cultural minorities," she said.
Salam Elmenyawi, the president of the Muslim Council of Montreal, agreed.
"I have not personally experienced any discrimination within Quebec," said Elmenyawi, who has a long beard and wears a head covering. "Though I walk around with this appearance, I have been received in a very good way."
Elmenyawi said even though incidents of racism are for the most part overblown, the report is still important because it highlights certain problems and possible solutions.
"It acknowledged the problem correctly," he said. "It admitted the existence of Islamophobia and explained what Muslims suffered. It took away the sensationalism that happened in the reporting of reasonable accommodation issues."
Anti-Muslim sentiment as reported in the mainstream media was one of the triggers that led to the Bouchard-Taylor report.
Muslims were denounced for asking for a special meal at a sugar shack. There were also several incidents in which veiled girls and women were told they could not participate in sports events because organizers believed the hijab was dangerous.
The province's Jewish population - specifically the ultra-orthodox community in Outremont - was also targeted, when the YMCA on Park Ave. decided to frost its windows so Hasidic men would not see women exercising.
Yesterday, Outremont resident Alex Werzberger said he believes the report will help improve relations between minorities groups and the majority.
"The best recommendation from the report is that it tells the francophone population, 'look at these people and accept them the way they are and try to understand them,' " said Werzberger, president of the Coalition of Outremont Hasidic Organizations. "It's a process. It's not going to happen overnight. We need someone to take a leadership role and start that process.
"I think it's going to work. There seems to be goodwill on the part of the population."
However, B'nai Brith Canada, a Jewish human rights group, said the report contained an "overly simplistic and naïve prescription" for overcoming the challenges of integration.
"There is a certain degree of racism, anti-Semitism and discrimination in Quebec society that is not going to go away," said Allan Adel, the national chairperson of the organization's League for Human Rights. "It was there before Bouchard and Taylor met. It's not going to go away now."
Adel said the government must take a proactive approach to combat racism.
"We'd like to see government-sponsored opportunities for intercultural education and outreach. We'd like to see government funding earmarked to support community initiatives that support victims of hate-related incidents."
However, Adel said the responsibility doesn't only rest with the francophone majority.

"I think everyone has a responsibility to be reasonable in their expectations and their demands from what they are requesting and expecting from others. We all have to treat each other with mutual respect."
Alex Werzberger of the Coalition of Outremont Hassidic Organizations likes the report's recommendations about accepting minorities.


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