We might begin to hear new voices as hearings hit city

So far, old-stock francophones from the regions mainly had their say

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The man didn't raise his voice or rant. He spoke calmly as he explained how the accommodations controversy in Quebec is the fault of Jews.
It was three Jewish justices on the Supreme Court of Canada, the man said, who were to blame for the court's ruling in favour of the "reasonable accommodation" of non-Christian religious practices.
Like anybody else who showed up at that "citizen forum" of the Bouchard-Taylor commission and raised his hand, the man was allowed to speak freely for two minutes.

Co-chairmen Gérard Bouchard and Charles Taylor did not interrupt him, cut him off or correct him.
(In fact, there were only two Jewish justices among the eight who made the unanimous judgment last year that popularized the expression "reasonable accommodation." And the judgment in that case, concerning the wearing of the Sikh kirpan by a school pupil, was written by a Franco-Ontarian, Louise Charron.)
Bouchard did ask the man whether it was worse to have Jews sitting on the highest court of the land than members of another religion. The man did not answer the question directly, but said he was "not an anti-Semite," only "making an observation."
Perhaps fearful of being accused again of not giving the people their say, neither Bouchard nor Taylor said anything else, and the microphone was passed to another member of the audience.
I wasn't at the "citizen forum" last week at which the man spoke, but I was able to watch and listen on a national television cable channel as he presented his theory to a government commission and went unchallenged by its co-chairmen.
And that's been the problem with the commission, and its decision to hold the wide-open forums as well as conventional hearings for which witnesses are selected in advance.
For it's been at the forums, not the hearings, that the remarks that are dividing Quebec and harming its reputation abroad have been made.
The people who speak at the forums represent only themselves, and are not necessarily representative of anybody else. "It's always marginal people who show up to complain at those things," former prime minister Jean Chrétien recently commented to Radio-Canada interviewer Dominique Poirier.
Xenophobia is certainly not confined to Quebec, and Quebecers might be no more xenophobic than other Canadians. And maybe those who are xenophobes are merely more candid about expressing it openly - some might say less hypocritical - than those in other provinces.
But in this province, conspiracy theories and urban legends about Jewish judges or a mythical hidden "kosher tax" on food normally confined to Internet hate sites are given a measure of respectability and legitimacy in a polite hearing on national television by a government-appointed commission.
The commission has been a travelling complaints desk for anybody with a beef about minorities. But now that the commission has hit Montreal, where there are actually minority communities, the recriminations might start flying from more than one direction.
At last week's forum in the multiethnic Côte-des-Neiges district, many spoke of simply trying to get along. But some minorities complained about the majority, about discrimination, problems in the workplace and the lack of language and other programs to help minorities integrate.
It will be interesting to hear whether attitudes toward minority religious practices expressed at the English-language forum to be held at the Palais des congrès on Thursday evening will be similar to those heard from French-speaking Quebecers.
But a positive message is already being heard from young francophones, who have finally started to show up for the forums. They are the other "children of Bill 101," whose classmates were the children of immigrants required by the language law to attend French school, and most of them live in and around Montreal. And they represent the future of Quebec, not its past.
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